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I would like to think that a bit of history is being made today because, as the first Conservative MP to have been elected for Carlisle since 1959, I am the first Conservative from Carlisle to be making a maiden speech for 50 years. Since becoming a new Member,
I have become conscious of the protocol that interventions, questions, answers and speeches should be short and to the point. I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I shall follow that tradition.
My predecessor was a Labour Member, and although our politics, outlook and the way in which we do things are different, I acknowledge that Eric Martlew had the interests of Carlisle at heart. He came from Carlisle, he believed in Carlisle and he clearly did his best for Carlisle, and I do not think that more can be asked of a constituency MP.
I would like to cite two examples of Eric's work. In 2005, when we had the great floods in Carlisle that were devastating for many people, he got heavily involved and managed to convince the Government to spend considerable sums on building flood defences. I am delighted to say that those flood defences are now almost complete. Eric also had a great interest in rail and was a member of the all-party group on the west coast rail line. During his years as a Member, the Euston-to-Carlisle train journey time dropped considerably. I am benefiting from that, in that my train journeys are half an hour to an hour shorter than they would have been. If the high-speed rail link is introduced, I would like think that that journey time will drop further.
If hon. Members were to get the train to Carlisle, I do not think that they would be disappointed by our great city. Our compact border city is welcoming and friendly, and in many respects it is a well-kept secret-it was so secret that it successfully avoided being mentioned in the Domesday Book. The city is just 10 miles from the Scottish border, and as a Scot who has been elected for an English constituency right on the border, I am delighted to report that border relations are good and we support England's result today.
Carlisle has a rich heritage. Its castle was built by William II, and its cathedral, although small, dates from the 12th century. Of course, we have the world heritage site of Hadrian's wall, which is a popular spot for people walking from the east coast to the west coast, as well as the Tullie House museum.
We also have an industrial heritage. In the past, we had railways and crane makers, and the builder Laing originated in Carlisle; today, we still have a lot of manufacturing, with Pirelli cars, Nestlé, Carr's Milling and, with food manufacturing being a big thing in Carlisle, Carr's water biscuits-a real favourite of mine. We also still have a strong building society-the Cumberland building society-and long may that continue to be the case. Sadly, we have lost Border Television, although probably the only thing that people remember about that company is that it produced "Mr and Mrs". I hope that there will be a rebalancing of the economy. Carlisle may well benefit from that, because manufacturing is still very much a part of our local economy.
The most important thing is, obviously, people. I came to Carlisle 18 years ago and was made very welcome by the people of the city. I have lived and worked there, and there is no greater privilege than to become their representative. However, there are problems everywhere, and Carlisle is no exception. We have the legacy of the previous Government to deal with, and I believe that rebalancing the economy, improving education and helping the low-paid will be the key issues for Carlisle.
How are we to make those improvements? In my view, first, we must decentralise. It is important that we take decision making back to the communities and allow local people to make local decisions for themselves. Whitehall has a role, but that role has become far too big. We now have the opportunity to return power to local people. I genuinely believe that elected mayors offer a way forward, because they bring transparency to local decision making and make people aware of who is in charge of their local community.
The Budget has been described as tough but fair. I genuinely agree with that description and think that three things flow from the Budget. First, we must encourage business. The real recovery will come from the private sector and we can achieve that only through the changes to taxation, which I welcome, and, of equal importance, less regulation and less interference in business. That is how businesses thrive.
Secondly, and very relevant to Carlisle, we must look after the low-paid. I think that the Budget helps with that through the increase in the personal allowance and child tax credit, linking pensions with earnings, and the council tax freeze. The pay freeze does not affect the low-paid-those paid less than £21,000-in our public services.
Thirdly, we have the public sector. The public sector is still important-still vital to our economy and our communities-but it has to innovate, think differently and do things differently. Let me make one suggestion to Government Departments. Carlisle has a low cost base, housing is of good quality but relatively cheap and our industrial sites are cheaper than those in many other places. I therefore suggest that the Government should consider moving Departments from the south to the north. Doing so will save them money and help to regenerate parts of Carlisle.
The Treasury team and Ministers in other Departments have many difficult decisions to make in the coming months, but they will not go far wrong if they follow Carlisle city's motto, "Be just and fear not." If I follow that motto as the Member for Carlisle, I think I will have done okay.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Hoyle): Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I say to hon. Members that we are running out of time and quite a lot of Members still want to speak in this debate. I am therefore setting a 12-minute limit on speeches, so that we have time for the winding-up speeches as well.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) on making an excellent maiden speech. I made my own only a couple of weeks ago and know that it is a nerve-wracking affair. He gave an extremely assured and insightful performance.
I want to nail a disgraceful canard, which has been repeated several times this afternoon, that Welsh Members present today are absolutely uninterested in the England
football score. I assure the House that I am very interested in that. I wish England well and hope they go all the way, but, to be blunt, such is the seriousness of today's debate that I had to forgo the pleasure of watching the game and instead sit in the Chamber throughout the afternoon, listening to the excellent speeches made by Members on both sides of the House. Far more seriously, there is another canard that I would like to try to nail: the belief that Labour Members have acted both before and since the election as if nothing needed to be done in the face of the economic crisis. We did act before the election, and made tough decisions to attempt to shore up the economy to make sure that there was not a more profound recession or, indeed, a depression as a result of the global economic crisis. I believe that we secured a better future for the country as a result of those actions.
Before the election, we acknowledged that we would need to tighten our belt and make post-election savings to redress the balance and to draw down the deficit. We certainly spelled out the fact that we would make cuts and savings of £40 billion. We did not spell out exactly where those cuts would fall, but neither did the then Opposition. They gave us the impression that they would do more, and they mentioned £6 billion of savings that they would make in efficiency cuts. We were not told about the specific measures that appeared in the Budget yesterday. We were not warned about the VAT rise that they have now deemed necessary, and we were not warned about the enormous and savage cuts that we expect in the autumn to public services. Those things were not spelled out by the then Opposition. If we had won the election-doubtless, many Liberal voters, both in my constituency and up and down the country, now wish that we had done so-we would have to make some tough decisions. However, I believe that we would make them in a way that was genuinely fair and informed by principles of social equity and economic justice.
I do not believe that the decisions announced in yesterday's Budget meet those principles. Many people say that politicians are all the same but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), we can no longer go on believing that there are not genuine ideological divides between the two sides of the House. Yesterday's decisions clearly mark out the Government's territory, and I contend that if we were in a similar position, the values that I have just outlined and which inform our politics would lead to a different set of conclusions that would not result in the poorest and the most vulnerable having to bear the pain and pay the price for paying down the deficit.
I commend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills for the chutzpah with which he performed today's volte-face. It was truly remarkable to see him stand at the Dispatch Box and defend this Tory Budget and Administration to the hilt. He bore eloquent testament to the old adage that there is no one as zealous as a convert. He invoked the name of Sir Stafford Cripps, the famously austere Labour Chancellor, who-this says a few things about austerity-was rumoured to get up in the morning and prepare with an ice-cold bath at 5 am before coming to the Chamber. I am not sure that the Secretary of State does that yet; perhaps he will move on to that. It was wholly unfair of him to invoke the name of Sir Stafford Cripps, because while the 1949 Budget was an austere Budget-he was right at least to imply that it was a Budget in which a Labour Chancellor
raised the forerunner of VAT-the austerity of the measures that were recommended yesterday is such that even Sir Stafford Cripps would find them breathtaking and, indeed, eye-watering.
We have heard invoked many examples-analogies-of other countries where similar cuts, or allegedly similar cuts, and programmes have been implemented, but today we have heard those analogies thoroughly knocked down. Canada and Sweden are two such examples. We know that Canada succeeded in implementing a programme of cuts which was half the size of what the Government now propose, and did so in twice the time. Government Members have repeatedly referred to Sweden, but again the very clear evidence of history is that Sweden tried to implement swingeing cuts of only 20% and did so over 15 years, not five. So we have something that is twice as draconian as what was done in Canada, three times as draconian as what was attempted in Sweden and, on many measures, more punitive than the extraordinary programme of cuts that the IMF has imposed on Greece-an analogy that even the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills acknowledges is not appropriate. Many Opposition Members have already outlined the statistics that underpin that contention.
I stand here as a Welsh Member fearful that my constituents will suffer disproportionately as a result of the Budget. The Financial Times stated earlier this week and the Manchester school of economics pronounced only this morning that, inevitably, parts of the country such as mine will suffer disproportionately. For all sorts of reasons, we have greater economic problems, relating to our post-industrial heritage, and a greater reliance on public sector jobs and spending, and I am deeply worried that currently there are no indications from the Government about how they will alleviate or offset that damage in areas of Wales such as my constituency.
As we look at the blizzard of statistics in yesterday's Red Book and trade them across the Floor of the House, the human impact of those cuts is too often forgotten. I went back to my office yesterday evening to find several e-mails from constituents who are deeply worried about the proposals. I highlight the case of a couple, Phillip and Sandra Woods, who said that they were terrified that they would see an assault on the benefits that make their life liveable. They are severely disabled and rely on disability living allowance, jobseeker's and employment allowances and housing benefit. For those people, who live on meagre amounts of money, hand to mouth, week to week, the Budget presents a horrifying prospect. Equally, they were right to point out their anger that so many Government Members castigate such people as part of the problem, as opposed to people who need to be supported in our communities.
I have one more human example of the cuts: the public sector workers at Companies House in my constituency at Nantgarw. They are relatively low-paid public sector workers, working in a Government Executive agency-sitting beneath the Department for Business, Innovation Skills-that is profitable. It is statutorily mandated to operate within its costs and to return to the Exchequer 3.5% per annum. I cannot understand the logic or fairness of what has happened to those people, because they are being asked to suffer 11% cuts.
That means moving jobs out of my constituency, fewer jobs moving into Cardiff and the local management imposing a pay freeze that will not be offset by the £21,000 cut-off suggested by the Government yesterday. Companies House management, in order to meet their requirements of 11% savings, will have to freeze pay across the board and stop any staff promotion. Both measures are punitive and unfair, and when I meet the workers at Nantgarw I cannot explain why they should be asked to pay the price for a crisis that was made on trading floors and in bankers' back rooms.
It is a shame that the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) has left the Chamber, because he gave a paean of praise to UKTI earlier, and he ought to know that UKTI will be subject to that 11% cut. Far from its being protected, it too will be subject to serious cuts.
Why have we been told that we need to make these cuts? It is because of the false spectres that are being raised on the Government Benches, including the notion that our markets were in danger of pulling the rug out from under the economy and that we were about to have our triple A rating withdrawn by the very people who got all the ratings wrong, or certainly got their call wrong on where we stood in respect of sub-prime debt. Equally, we are being fed lines about the nature of the unaffordability of our debt that I suggest we should ignore.
I close with a plea that Government Members remember the human cost of budget cuts and look ahead to the comprehensive spending review, when we anticipate seeing even greater cuts implemented. They should think hard about how that will bite on ordinary working people in our communities in places such as Pontypridd, and think hard about what we can do to alleviate that and to implement cuts in the most sensitive and affordable manner possible.
Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) on his passionate speech and on speaking up for localism. That is something that Government Members strongly believe in, and I hope that we will see it acted out in the Government's manifesto.
Having listened to Opposition Members during today's debate, it is interesting that not a single one of them had anything positive whatsoever to say about this Budget; in fact, many of them have denounced it in no uncertain terms. There has been a great deal of shaking of heads and gnashing of teeth. What always happens in these cases is that Labour develops something called collective amnesia about why we are having to make these tough choices on public expenditure and on taxation. Let me therefore remind them, once again, why that is the case. I see that the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) is laughing, but he really should try to understand why this is happening. The reason is very clear. Under Labour, we have had the deepest recession on record and the longest recession of all the G20 countries. Under Labour, we have ended up with the largest deficit in Europe, and the national debt has doubled.
"The UK is a must to avoid. Its gilts are resting on a bed of nitroglycerine. High debt with the potential to devalue its currency present high risks".
The trajectory under Labour's plans is pretty clear. If we were to do what Labour is suggesting, we would have the potential loss of our triple A debt rating, higher interest rates, more business failures, and sharper rises in unemployment-everything that nobody, on either side of the House, wants to see. There has been a lot of talk about Greece. Perhaps Labour Members should look at what happens in a country such as Greece when it does not get to grips with its public finances and there is a loss of confidence by the capital markets.
In 1997, the Labour Government inherited a golden economic legacy. In 2010, what did Labour leave the current Government? Oh yes-a note from the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury declaring, "I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left." That is exactly why we are having to make these cuts. Let me absolutely clear about this, although Labour Members may not agree: out there-outside this House-very many members of the general public take the view that these public expenditure cuts are ultimately Labour's public expenditure cuts, and that the tax rises are ultimately Labour's tax rises.
Of course, the pied piper of Labour's decade of debt-the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)-has not been seen in the House for quite some time, but I hope he has had the chance to reflect on the damage his Government's policies did to our economy, and that when he returns, he will say the one word we had hoped to hear from a Labour Member: sorry. I am sad to say that we have not heard it.
In the past four years, I spent a lot of time talking to businesses and business organisations in Reading, so I should like to spend the rest of my speech talking about the measures in the Budget for them, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, which are the backbone of our economy, save to make one point on public services. We can all agree that we want a world-class health service and the best schools for our children, and we want dignity and financial support in retirement for our pensioners, but to fund high-quality public services, we need a vibrant private sector to lead growth and recovery.
Businesses in my constituency in the past few years have invariably told me that they feel overtaxed, overburdened by red tape and regulation, and overwhelmed by a complex tax system. They want help in getting credit flowing. The base rate may be 0.5%, but that bears little relation to the spreads that businesses must pay when they go for bank debt. We need to get to grips with that. Above all, businesses want us to tackle national debt and to get some confidence back into the country. That is what we hope the Budget will do.
We talked about over-regulation and the tax system. Because of the previous Government, we now have the longest tax code in the world. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, small businesses spend seven hours a week filling out forms. According to the British Chambers of Commerce, new regulation since 1998 has cost British businesses almost £77 billion.
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