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3.47 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): The emergency Budget will certainly be remembered for robustly tackling the record Budget deficit, but I believe that its reputation will become much bigger, because it started a shift in the debate on public finances away from spending and cuts to how real value for money must be delivered for taxpayers. That is why it will be seen as a rare game changer in how Government expenditure is measured, managed and even talked about.

We have seen other big Budgets before: Geoffrey Howe’s in 1981, which tackled the rapid inflation that was wreaking havoc in the economy at that time; Nigel Lawson’s 1988 Budget, which significantly lowered the burden of taxes on individuals and created greater incentives for businesses to invest in the UK.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): In my constituency, according to the National House Building Council, building started on just four new houses in the first quarter of this year. Is it part of the game change to destroy for ever housing construction in our nation?

David Rutley: No, it is part of the lamentable legacy of the Labour party. We are cleaning up the mess; you are just talking about it. [Interruption.] Doesthe right hon. Gentleman want to intervene again?

However, no other Chancellor of the past 50 years had to face a budget deficit of the scale that confronted the current Chancellor after the election. He was bold and did not duck the challenge. The comprehensive spending review in September last year built on the foundation, and set out the details of how the Government would bring spending under control and achieve their fiscal mandate. As we have heard in the debate, the Government’s action has won plaudits from the IMF and OECD among others. More importantly, on the doorstep during the local elections, I found a pragmatic acceptance that strong action is needed. One year on, the principles underpinning the emergency Budget continue to win the argument about how the deficit should be tackled.

Clearly, in facing the nation’s finances, the opportunity and the Chancellor’s ambitions go well beyond reducing costs. The economic imperative and the tangible change in public mood represent an important moment in time that must be seized. The Government have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put the spotlight on value for money and bring about a cultural change in the way in which it is delivered to taxpayers, and in confronting that task they are actively learning from positive role models in the public sector. When I worked as a senior executive at ASDA, the aim of lowering the cost of living for customers motivated colleagues throughout the company. Cost control was a vital part of the

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culture that was committed to delivering value for money to our shoppers. At board meetings, customer outcomes and the return on investment were what counted, not how much money should be thrown at a problem. That commitment creates value for money for hard-working families day in, day out.

Earlier Governments have found it difficult to engender a similar culture in the civil service and our public services, but the sad fact is that the last Government did not even try. Their ill-conceived experiment with “big government” backfired, and despite a period of unprecedented economic growth, the United Kingdom was left with a structural deficit—before the economic crisis—that was consistently bigger than the eurozone average for five years. Just as worrying, but not so often talked about, is the fact that public sector productivity fell by 3.4% between 1998 and 2007, at a staggering annual cost of £58 billion, which equates to 41% of last year’s deficit. That is a legacy that will continue to haunt the Labour party in its struggles to rebuild the credibility of its economic policy.

The coalition Government, however, are committed to putting value for money at the centre of fiscal policy and creating a new yardstick by which future Governments will be judged. They are driving major changes in three main areas: institutions, management tools and, most important, the hearts and minds of both the public and our public servants. They are making strong progress in each of those areas.

The creation of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility is one institutional change that will constitute a lasting legacy from the present Chancellor. The creation of an independent body to forecast and analyse public finances means that Government will no longer be able to cook the books or indulge in what Lord Turnbull, giving evidence to the Treasury Committee, described as “wishful thinking”. The OBR will give both Parliament and the public greater confidence in Government spending plans, and a greater ability to hold the Government to account.

Beyond institutions, change is needed in the way in which public finances are managed. That requires new objectives for civil servants, in which value for money is a critical factor in the judging of their performance and their ability to achieve their promotion objectives. I am pleased to note that the Government are raising the bar in terms of the minimum standard of financial understanding that is required for civil servants. In the past, senior civil servants have been more concerned about avoiding bad headlines or the size of their budgets than about finding more effective ways in which to deliver public services. Those days are now long gone.

Sir Philip Green’s review of expenditure showed that Government need to improve dramatically the way in which they gather information on spending across Departments, and the new efficiency and reform group in the Cabinet Office is identifying ways of tackling that task. It plans to improve the co-ordination of procurement across Government, which will lead to savings of about £3 billion a year. Initiatives like those will help to reverse the downward trend in public sector productivity that we saw under the last Government.

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However, the focus on value for money must not be only about the things that Government buy. Public sector pay and benefits represent the largest cost for any Government, and the present Government have had little choice other than to focus seriously on public sector pay and push ahead with much-needed pension reforms. That must happen if a more level playing field is to be created between the public and private sectors which will encourage business-led job creation while also making the taxpayer’s bill more affordable.

The ultimate test of whether value for money has become a real focus of attention lies not in institutions or management tools but in whether there has been a fundamental change in the way that people talk about public funds. I am pleased that the debate is now turning to results and outcomes and not just to the price that is paid for them. Government Members want to move away from and beyond the tired debate about cuts and spending to focusing on value for money for taxpayers.

In the motion, the Labour party looks forward to what it calls “strong” economic growth. Personally, I prefer to think about sustainable economic growth as a far better objective. We saw what happened under the Labour Government when they pressed for strong economic growth fuelled by uncontrollable spending. Labour seems to believe that return to growth is an automatic certainty or a God-given right. One year on, it has completely failed to articulate a credible alternative to explain how it would address the economic crisis. It is as though it has taken a leaf out of the Tommy Cooper school of economics and believes that growth will return magically, “Just like that.” [ Interruption. ] I will work on it. We on the Government side know that growth will be earned through the hard work and dedication of thousands of businesses across the country. The Government’s deficit reduction plans are creating a platform for the sustainable, private sector-led growth that the country so urgently needs.

3.56 pm

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): One year on, it is now abundantly clear that last year’s emergency Budget hit women much harder than men. Some 72% of the cuts are being borne by women, whether they are cuts in the health in pregnancy grant, in tax credits, in Sure Start maternity grants or in child benefit. What is more shocking is that it did not even occur to the Chancellor at the time to consider the impact that his savage cuts would have on women and that he failed to carry out his legal duty of undertaking an equality impact assessment before his policy decisions were taken. Indeed, such was the blatant unfairness and scale of the impact on women of the Chancellor’s first Budget that the Fawcett society stated that it showed

“a whole new level of disregard for the importance of equality law and everyday women’s lives.”

The Chancellor’s first Budget also showed a whole new level of disregard for children and families, flying in the face of the Prime Minister's promise to be the “most family-friendly Government”. One year on, I am particularly concerned about the impact on child poverty—an issue that directly links to the impact of the cuts on women. Although good progress was made by the previous Government, the number of children living in poverty remains unacceptably high. Figures

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recently published by the End Child Poverty campaign suggest that almost one third of all children in Newcastle are living in poverty. The coalition’s policies of cutting funding to Sure Start centres, removing the health in pregnancy grant, cutting tax credits, increasing VAT, cutting housing benefit and dramatically reducing local government funding will have a serious impact on household incomes, which I fear will lead to more children growing up in poverty. My fears are backed up by the OECD, which recently reported:

“Progress in child poverty reduction in the UK has stalled, and is now predicted to increase, and so social protection spending on families...needs to be protected.”

Of course, the cuts imposed by the Chancellor’s first Budget are also hitting home at a time that is already particularly difficult for women.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Catherine McKinnell: I will give way just this once, as I know that many of my colleagues want to speak.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Can the hon. Lady tell the House what kind of savings the Labour party would have made in public spending?

Catherine McKinnell: This is not the opportunity for me to set out what the shadow Chancellor has already set out—the way in which we would tackle the deficit. I do not want to take up precious time that my colleagues want to spend giving speeches in this very important debate.

Women are particularly affected in the north-east, where about 46% of all working women are employed in the public sector. Those women face being one of the 30,000 public sector workers anticipated to lose their jobs in the region; most of those job losses will affect low-paid female workers. They also face pay freezes and the ever-increasing costs of balancing work with family life.

Claire Perry: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Catherine McKinnell: No, I will not, because I want to leave time for other Members.

It is not just women who are bearing the brunt of the cuts and stalled economic growth. One year on, after the Chancellor’s first Budget, a key concern in the north-east remains youth unemployment, with about 19% of 16 to 24-year-olds in the region not in education, employment or training, compared with 15% nationally. Of particular concern is the fact that, over the past 12 months, the number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming jobseeker’s allowance has increased by 10% in the north-east.

Since being elected to the House, I have been a passionate advocate of the important role that apprenticeships can play in supporting young people into the workplace, thereby helping to prevent a lost generation of young people as a result of the Government’s policies. However, Ministers need to recognise that there is a real difference between making limited funding available for apprenticeships—I welcome that and it has been promised—and ensuring that good-quality apprenticeships are offered by businesses in the areas of our economy where we require those skills.

I implore the Government to consider some serious and genuine risks today. We should not allow the number of apprenticeships offered to override the importance

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of their quality, thus ticking the box but failing to provide young people with a decent start to their working lives. To reach such targets, we risk simply converting existing jobs into apprenticeships, when in reality no genuine new employment opportunities are created.

Following the abolition of the regional development agencies—today, we mark the anniversary of that dreadful decision—we have lost the joined-up thinking of bringing the business community, educational providers and RDAs together in a working partnership to ensure that we prevent the over-supply of certain skills and the under-supply of the skills that we need in the areas that we rely on for future growth. The result will be a failure to stimulate growth to ensure that we have the skilled work force of the future and to reach out to those young people who are most in need of the best start to their working lives.

While we are focusing on the impact of the Chancellor’s first Budget in June last year, I should like to turn briefly to two policies that he announced that are particularly relevant to Newcastle. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor announced the creation of 21 new urban enterprise zones, one of which will be located on Tyneside. I should like him to clarify today what progress has been made on this issue. Will he explain, as I did not receive an answer to the question that I asked during the Budget debate, what steps he is taking to ensure that the zone does not simply lead to jobs being transferred from one part of Tyneside to another?

A further issue is that of tax incremental financing, which the Chancellor promised to rollout in his Budget this year, to give cities such as Newcastle borrowing powers to finance much needed job-creation schemes and regeneration projects. In Newcastle alone, it is thought that about 5,000 jobs could be created over the next two decades if the council—now safely back in Labour hands—could borrow about £13 million for important projects such as Science Central and the redevelopment of the East Pilgrim street area. That is particularly important at time when we have lost the investment of our RDA, One North East, and when private sector investment for many major projects has dried up. Yet it appears that cities will not be given those powers until 2014, thus risking three years of wasted growth opportunities and lost jobs. Why are the Government dragging their feet on this important issue, when we need such support more than ever?

As we are marking one-year anniversaries, I point out that the Prime Minister promised last May to create Ministers for big cities such as Newcastle to breathe economic life into the towns and cities outside the M25, by ensuring that Whitehall blockages to economic development were dealt with. Thirteen months on, we are still waiting for further details or confirmation of that announcement. Unlike the previous Administration, no one in the Government is championing the needs of Newcastle and the north-east—a task that was so ably undertaken by my right hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), during his time as the Regional Minister. Indeed, the vacuum has recently been criticised by the North East chamber of commerce, which said:

“We’d be really keen to see the Coalition appoint City Ministers. We don’t have any Cabinet or Ministerial-level representation from the North East. And having senior Government Ministers not only aware of the issues, but actively resolving them is absolutely the right thing to do.”

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I realise that the Conservatives are fairly limited in their knowledge and experience of the north-east and might find it difficult to find a candidate for my city and region, but will the Minister say when that policy will materialise, or will it be another example of a broken promise?

One year on, this Government’s policies are hitting women, children and families, as well as young people, in places such as Newcastle that can least withstand it. I hope the Chancellor will listen to the concerns expressed today, stem the damage and help to return our north-east economy to its trajectory of growth.

4.5 pm

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I shall focus my remarks on the challenges faced by the black country economy and the west midlands to illustrate some of the challenges that the Government face over the next period.

As the Chancellor pointed out, one of the most extraordinary statistics in the west midlands economy is that even in the boom years we saw a 6% decline in private sector jobs in the west midlands, compared with 3.4% growth in private sector jobs nationally. Worse still, after 13 years of Labour, not only was unemployment higher in the west midlands, but productivity was down, the skills gap was widening, the rate of innovation in the west midlands was poor compared with other regions, the rate of new business formation was weak, and the imbalance between the west midlands region and the rest of the country was growing. There was a lack of support for manufacturing businesses and a considerable decline in private sector jobs.

When the coalition Government took over one year ago, that was the picture that we faced in relation to the dynamics of the west midlands economy. It would have been madness to continue to pursue the policies that had comprehensively failed the west midlands region. Recently, I held a manufacturing summit in Cradley Heath with the Sandwell chamber of commerce. Companies such as Westley Plastics reported that they were enjoying strong growth in their order book and seeing considerable growth in export opportunities. Whatever the Opposition say, it is manufacturing that is leading the recovery in the west midlands and in the entire country.

In the west midlands and the black country we still have a vibrant manufacturing and industrial base. Companies in my constituency such as Somers Forge and Thompson Friction Welding are innovative, dynamic and capable of creating the high-quality jobs that we desperately need in the west midlands, but we must do more.

Owen Smith: May I point the hon. Gentleman to unemployment figures for the west midlands? We have heard a lot about those 520,000 net private sector jobs. As the hon. Gentleman no doubt knows, the west midlands has not seen any of those jobs. In fact, the last figures showed that minus 6,000 jobs, public and private, had been created in the west midlands.

James Morris: As I said, one year in, following the policies being implemented by the coalition Government, we are beginning to see clear signs that private sector

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jobs are coming back into the west midlands after 13 years in which, despite quarter after quarter of economic growth, we saw substantial declines in private—

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op) rose

James Morris: I will not give way. I will make progress.

The Government faced a considerable challenge when they came to power. With the growth plan that they have begun to implement, in addition to the important steps that they are taking on deficit reduction, we are moving in the right direction. In the west midlands and the broader black country economy, skills is the No. 1 issue that we need to tackle. It is holding business back. We are investing considerably more in high-quality apprenticeships, involving the voluntary sector and other parts of the economy in making sure that we build a proper skill base in the black country and the wider west midlands economy. We are beginning to build better relationships between small and medium-sized enterprises and institutions of further education, such as Halesowen college and Sandwell college. We are beginning the job that the previous Government did not address, and making sure that we match appropriate supply of skills with demand in the local economy.

As “The Plan for Growth” recognises, we also need a more local approach to stimulating economic development. That is why I have been a strong advocate for the black country local enterprise zone. I have been working with its representatives to define the best way to drive economic growth in the black country, and on how to maximise the potential of the Chancellor’s Budget announcement on enterprise zones to stimulate new investment and new jobs and ensure that the local enterprise partnership is able to drive economic development.

Mr Love: There is a lot of evidence from the 1980s about employment zones, and it shows that the cost of the jobs created was very high compared with alternative models, and that all that employment zones did was shift employment around the borders of the LEP. What leads the hon. Gentleman to believe we will be more successful this time?

James Morris: There is huge potential to stimulate growth in the black country. Especially now when public spending is limited, we need to find creative ways to stimulate economic growth in the various areas of the black country, and we might do so by starting with one enterprise zone, which then develops into more of them so that we seed the black country economy and drive real economic growth. That is what we need to achieve, and I believe that the LEPs have a better chance than many other possible methods of tackling some of the deep-seated economic problems we face in the west midlands.

As many Members have pointed out, bank lending is still an issue; getting credit to the right places in order to stimulate the economy is still a problem, and it may hold back the recovery. There are organisations in the broader black country, such as the Black Country Reinvestment Society, that are developing innovative models to get microfinance to small and medium-sized enterprises, but we need to do more to fill the credit gap. I welcome the Chancellor’s Project Merlin announcement,

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particularly its emphasis on encouraging the banks to invest in the regional economy, because they have a moral obligation to do so. As the Chancellor recognises, the banks have a critical role to play in developing the regional economy, but if there continue to be problems with the availability of credit we might need to consider measures such as counter-cyclical regulation, encouraging the banks not to hoard capital but to get it to the small and medium-sized enterprises in areas such as the black country.

The key decisions that the Government have taken over the past year to tackle the deficit, to restore confidence in Britain’s financial institutions and to build a platform for growth have been crucial in getting the country back on an even keel, but we need to build on what the Government have achieved so far. We must continue to drive innovation. That is particularly important in areas such as the black country. We must address how we can sustain innovation and build on the capabilities that are in place in advanced manufacturing. We also need to continue to support and develop our manufacturing base in the west midlands, so that technologies and vital jobs do not get shipped abroad. Labour market productivity in the black country is increasingly globally competitive, and we need to ensure that businesses continue to invest in domestic manufacturing. The Government must also identify emerging technologies that we can capitalise on and where we have the skills to exploit and commercialise them.

However, the most important signal this Government have sent to the world is that the country is open for business, and in particular that the black country is open for business.

4.14 pm

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): It is encouraging to see so many Members wearing “Yes to High-Speed Rail” badges. That is a much-needed programme to encourage growth, but it absolutely flies in the face of the argument that the Chancellor has made today. The campaign is contrary to his supposed economic growth strategy because it supports a public finance-led project that aims to encourage follow-up investment by private sector capital. There are very few examples of that now, unlike under the previous Administration, when public sector capital was used to encourage and attract private sector investment.

We have heard today that, 12 months after the decision to cut further and faster than any other major economy, the recovery has been choked off, with zero growth over the past six months. The VAT rise has helped push inflation up to more than double the target rate, consumer confidence has fallen and both manufacturing output and retail sales fell last month. There was a welcome fall in unemployment in the last two months, mainly in part-time working, which the Government have started to refer to as “mini-jobs”. Vacancies are down, job creation has slowed in the six months since the spending review and unemployment is set to increase over the coming years to 200,000 higher than was expected in the past few months.

Ben Gummer: Will the hon. Gentleman state the precise source of the 200,000 figure that he has given for the increase in unemployment?

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Tom Blenkinsop: The estimate will be from the OBR, so it is from a Government-sponsored body that assesses the Government’s own figures.

Ben Gummer: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tom Blenkinsop: I am sorry, but I want to continue. I will give way to someone else later.

The Tories are creating a vicious circle in our economy by cutting too far and too fast, hitting families and costing jobs. In fact, they are set to borrow £46 billion more than they had planned last autumn because of slower growth, higher inflation and higher unemployment, which are the consequences of the decision, announced in the Chancellor’s first Budget, to cut too far and too fast.

In the 12 months since the emergency Budget, all the key economic forecasts have worsened. On borrowing, for example, the OBR has steadily increased its forecasts for Government borrowing over the next five years, which means that the Chancellor is now forecast to borrow £46 billion more than he expected to last November.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tom Blenkinsop: Sorry, no.

That is because slower growth and higher unemployment, which means more people claiming benefits, makes paying down the deficit harder.

Gordon Birtwistle: On that point, will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tom Blenkinsop: No.

The best way to reduce the deficit in the long term is by focusing on growth and jobs in order to get people into work and off benefits. Since the emergency Budget, the UK’s GDP for this year has been downgraded twice by the OBR, and three times since it analysed Labour’s plans. It is not only the OBR that has downgraded its growth forecasts; other respected organisations have done the same. The OECD, in its most recent forecast, downgraded the UK’s growth in 2011 to 1.4%, and to 1.8% for 2012. The British Chambers of Commerce, in its recent quarterly forecast, downgraded growth in 2011 to 1.3%, and to 1.2% for 2012. The International Monetary Fund, in its latest report on the state of the UK economy, downgraded its growth forecast to 1.5% in 2010, down from 2% last autumn. The OBR is now forecasting higher unemployment and a larger number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in every year of this Parliament. Its latest forecast now expects inflation to peak at 4.2% this year, up from 1.6% last June when it evaluated Labour’s plans.

The international comparisons are stark. Recent figures show that in the first quarter of 2011 the French and German economies grew by 1% and 1.5% respectively, compared with the 0.5% growth in the UK, which merely cancelled out the 0.5% contraction of the previous quarter. Over the past six months, the UK’s growth has been flat. The Business Secretary has admitted that it is “worrying” that we are lagging behind France and Germany. The OECD’s deputy secretary-general and chief economist told The Times that he sees merit in slowing the pace of fiscal consolidation if growth continues to be slow.

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Gordon Birtwistle: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tom Blenkinsop: No.

This pattern is borne out in my constituency and the local area. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the volume of new construction orders in the first quarter of 2011 fell by 23%, compared with the fourth quarter of 2010. Orders are also down 18% from that time last year. That coincided with 1,500 job losses in the steel industry at the Skinningrove steel works in my area, in Hartlepool, at the Teesside beam mill, and also down the road in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). This Government have taken away public sector orders in steel that provided 46% of the Teesside beam mill’s orders, which have just vanished. Figures published on 10 June show that the seasonally adjusted index of production in April 2011—

Gordon Birtwistle: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Mr Birtwistle, just to save your legs, I do not think that Mr Blenkinsop is keen on allowing you an intervention.

Tom Blenkinsop: Figures published on 10 June show that the seasonally adjusted index of production in April 2011 fell by 1.2% when compared with April 2010. In addition, the seasonally adjusted manufacturing figures saw output fall by 1.5%, and in my area, again, Teesside beam mill has shut down, the Ensus biofuels plant is on a four-month shutdown and the former Enron-run Teesside power station has been half mothballed. That has all happened during the tenure of this Government. We heard from the Chancellor how he believes that the economic ramifications of his policies occur within weeks, so it would be quite refreshing to hear Ministers take responsibility for the manufacturing downturn in my area.

Prospective packages from INEOS have been blocked, because it is looking for certainty, and a Government who rely on a weak pound for exports to lead their economic recovery are living in a fantasy land, given the constant credit squeeze from the Asian growth markets. The governing parties are quite willing to take the credit for manufacturing output increases, but they are still below 2008 levels and also match other manufacturing increases across the globe. They have nothing to do with the Government’s policies; they are about manufacturing at this moment in time across the globe.

The British Chambers of Commerce described the latest trade figures as “mediocre”, adding that

“the monthly underlying fall in the volume of exports is a matter for concern.”

What concerns me is that a Government who laud the benefits of manufacturing are also imposing ahead of their EU competitors a carbon floor-pricing policy that will stifle the very industries on which they rely for their growth. How are the Government going to get tax revenues from those industries when they no longer exist or move abroad? That is the stark reality, and we have to wake up to the fact that the biggest sectoral exporter in the country is the chemical industry, which will also be the most affected industry as a result of that policy.

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In last year’s Budget, the Chancellor chose to increase VAT to 20%, despite the Tories repeatedly denying in their election that they had any plans to do so. The Treasury’s own figures show the estimated impact of the rise in VAT. The 2.5 percentage point rise will cost an average couple with children £450 a year and a pensioner couple £275 a year.

The rise will also have an impact on growth. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the increase in VAT to 20% will have the effect of reducing GDP during this financial year by about 0.3%. If we had a temporary reduction in VAT across the board, we would provide a boost for consumers by putting more money directly into people’s pockets, and we would be able to maintain it until there were certain figures, proved empirically, to show that an economy recovery was beginning.

The fact that this Government are not prepared to give former regional development agency assets to local enterprise partnerships, which are supposed to be this country’s local economic drivers, is an absolute demonstration that the Chancellor has no confidence in his own economic plan. The LEPs will have no rights to those assets, and that means that the Chancellor has no confidence in those local businesses that are engaged with them.

4.23 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): “The economy one year on”: I admire the Opposition’s gall in inviting us to recollect the state of the economy just one year ago. Let me remind hon. Members, if I may, of a few facts. This country this time last year had the worst budget deficit in the G20. We were paying interest of £120 million a day on our borrowings, and there was rising unemployment. There was also massive household debt, which at the end of 2009 was 171% of disposable income, yet Opposition Members are surprised that consumers show a little reticence about spending their depleted moneys.

There was also a massively unbalanced economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), in an excellent speech, reminded us of the situation in the west midlands and, in particular, our black country under the previous Government. Over the five years to 2008, private sector employment grew by 5.3% across the nation generally, but in the black country it grew by a measly 1.1%. Of course, that is due largely to the decline in manufacturing. That began several decades ago, tragically, and accelerated under the last Labour Government, when, in just over a decade, manufacturing declined from 21% of our economy to 12%.

The legacy was not just one of irresponsible borrowing and irresponsible public spending in every year since 2001; in addition, so much of the money was spent so unwisely. Let me remind my hon. Friends of the unsustainable property boom, almost as bad as Ireland’s, with PFI-built hospitals and schools that have loaded impossible burdens of debt on to those institutions for the next two decades. Our own local hospital in Dudley, Russells Hall, has to pay out 16% of its revenues to service the PFI debt with which it is saddled. I suggest that Labour Members try to attend tomorrow’s Westminster Hall debate on PFI called by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman). They will find it very uncomfortable listening.

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Alec Shelbrooke: To expand my hon. Friend’s point about wasted money, does she agree that it was an absolute disgrace to spend £5 million a year of taxpayers’ money on sponsoring British superbikes for 10 years?

Margot James: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point and I thank him for his intervention.

Mr Bailey rose

Margot James: I will certainly give way to the Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, of which I am a member.

Mr Bailey: I thank the hon. Lady, as a fellow black country Member of Parliament, for giving way, particularly as the other black country Member on the Conservative Benches, the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), refused to take an intervention from me.

We can talk for a long time about the unemployment statistics in the black country over the past decades. I recognise that the hon. Lady is prepared to acknowledge that this problem started long before the previous Labour Government. She is correct that the local hospital was financed by PFI. Would she prefer not to have had that hospital built or to have had it built out of public expenditure, thereby increasing the national debt?

Margot James: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Clearly, I would not have wanted the hospital not to be built. However, I think that Labour took a good idea, PFI, which was started by a previous Conservative Government, and ran amok with it, accepting deals on far too generous terms so that our hospitals are stuck with being forced to pay absurd, non-competitive rates for all sorts of services from their PFI partners.

Mr Love: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Margot James: I would like to make progress and bring my remarks to a conclusion.

Throughout the boom years, nearly 2 million people were living off benefits, at huge expense to the economy, while three quarters of the new jobs went to people from abroad. That was a scandal. It is ironic that the Opposition motion calls for the Government to spend all sorts of money that we do not have on 100,000 jobs for young people. I remind Labour Members that the unemployment figures for people between 16 and 24 started out at 650,000 in 1997 and ended up at 930,000 in 2010, at the end of their Government’s tenure. That is an unacceptable increase.

Owen Smith rose

Alison McGovern rose—

Margot James: I will take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman, who was a member of the Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee.

Owen Smith: The hon. Lady cites a number that we have heard many times from Conservative Members. If she cares to look at what the number was at the end of 2008, just before Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial crisis ensued, she will find that it was significantly lower than it was in 1997—and we all know it.

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Margot James: If the hon. Gentleman has those statistics at his disposal, I am sure that he will enlighten the House later. I cannot precisely recall that figure from 2008. Suffice it to say that youth unemployment went up by more than 250,000 during Labour’s period in office.

We now see signs of recovery, thanks to this Government’s grasp on the deficit, which is the root of the problem that we have to confront. I commend the Government and the Chancellor for at last getting a grip. There are people in my constituency who voted for the previous Government three times in a row and turned on them because they knew that this country was living way beyond its means, which the previous Government just could not accept. One year on, those people are saying to me on the doorstep, “We elected you to sort out the public finances. You are doing what needs to be done. Get on with it.” They are right. We now have a credible plan that has the backing of the OECD, the IMF, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and PIMCO, which is probably the most crucial of all. It would be utterly absurd and extremely dangerous to abandon that plan just because for one quarter manufacturing did not do quite as well as it was doing a few months before. We have plans to stimulate growth and get that back on track.

Opposition Members were clinging to the fact that the US was continuing with its highly risky spending policies. However, as the consequences of those policies have come home to roost, with unemployment in the US now standing at more than 9%, they have accepted that even the mighty USA is not exempt from the basic rules of economics. In the end, one has to live within one’s means. As the great lady once said, “You can’t buck the market.”

This was the first recession in my lifetime when low interest rates prevailed. That is crucial to the recovery of exports and manufacturing, and to the stability that the economy needs to lean on. Unemployment went down by 80,000 last month and the predictions that it would reach 3 million have not come to pass. Although I sympathise greatly with public sector workers in my constituency who have lost their jobs, we can celebrate the fact that private sector jobs have increased by 520,000 over the last 12 months. That is a record of which we can be proud. The Government have a growth agenda, to which I am wholeheartedly committed, including the lowering of corporation tax, research and development tax credits, a record number of apprenticeships, entrepreneurs’ capital gains tax relief, the protection of the science budget, the exemption of micro-businesses from onerous employment regulations, of which I hope to hear more, the regional growth fund, and enterprise zones, of which there will be one in my area of the black country.

The main challenge for the Government is now deregulation. It is a big problem that we are not getting on top of quickly enough, although I understand the difficulties. I echo the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who challenged the Government on European regulation. We need to have a strategy to fight back on that, because it will be the death knell if we do not. I will not give an example, because time is running out.

In conclusion, it would be irresponsible to start proposing spending increases and tax cuts, as the Labour party is doing. That is the way back to instability, the loss of

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confidence and escalating interest rates, which would do for my constituents who face mortgages and other difficulties. An escalation in interest rates would be catastrophic at this time, and that is where Labour’s policies would inexorably lead.

4.34 pm

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): We have heard a lot today about learning the lessons of history, but what we heard from the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) shows that the Government clearly have not learned the lessons of their own history. In the last years of the Labour Government, we listened to the Conservative party talk about wanting more deregulation and complain that we were over-regulating. We concede now that we were not regulating the banking sector as vigorously as we should have done, yet still we hear calls for further deregulation. That is a lesson that Conservative Members really ought to learn.

Equally, Conservative Members ought to look much closer, and with a far less jaundiced and more objective eye, at the Government’s past year of performance. Any objective reading, any audit of how they have performed economically, must tell them, as it tells us, that it has been a disastrous year. Unemployment is higher by 1.5%, inflation is higher by 1.6%, output is down by 0.7% and manufacturing, which went up for a period as there was restocking and which boomed partly because of big deflation in the value of the pound, has now ground to a halt. We are not seeing a manufacturing-led recovery. Critically, growth, the key driver of our economy, is flat, non-existent, zero.

Alun Cairns: The hon. Gentleman focuses on manufacturing, but how does he contrast performance over the past 12 months with that over the previous 12 years, when manufacturing in Wales in particular, and in the west midlands, fell dramatically from representing close to a third of the economy to nearer 20%?

Owen Smith: I answer candidly that we have already said that we need a rebalancing of our economy. On both sides of the House, there was far too great an emphasis on the belief that we were in a post-industrial society and manufacturing was not an important part of the mix. We have learned the lessons, as I hope Government Members have. I hope that there will therefore be an active industrial policy from the Government, like the one that the Opposition are talking about. That is the only way in which we will improve manufacturing.

Gordon Birtwistle: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Owen Smith: I cannot resist.

Gordon Birtwistle: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the country takes on the debts that the Opposition suggest by cutting VAT and spending vast sums, interest rates will rise? That alone will stifle any economic growth.

Owen Smith: No, I do not agree with that for a moment. A VAT holiday right now would stimulate the economy. We saw it work previously and it would work today, and that is why we advocate it. The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong.

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It is clear that the past year has been disastrous, so let us look ahead. Let us not rely on the Opposition or the Government, but instead examine the Office for Budget Responsibility’s projections. It projects lower growth than it did last time, lower in fact than in its last three projections. It projects increased unemployment, with 200,000 more people unemployed by the end of this Parliament. Most critically and damningly of all, it projects ballooning borrowing, with £50 billion extra in borrowing in this Parliament as a result of the dreadful mistakes that the Government are making. [Interruption.] That is the reality—borrowing went down by £20 billion last year as a result of the stimulus, and it is now going up. No amount of shouting can get Members away from that fact.

What do those desiccated numbers mean for ordinary working people in this country? They mean heartache and misery. As one leading economist said last week when reflecting on a market survey that showed household income going down and household debt rising at the fastest rates since the depths of the crisis,

“The grim figures show household finances deteriorating at the fastest pace since”

2008-09, with people

“eroding their savings and taking on more debt to finance strong rises in living costs”

and reductions in their wages. That is the reality, as the Governor of the Bank of England recognised when he said that we were facing the biggest squeeze on living standards and wages since the 1920s. We can lay the blame for that directly at the door of the Conservative party.

In Wales, my part of the country, we are feeling the pinch harder than most. We have already heard the number of people unemployed in the midlands, the area that we hear the Chancellor have the temerity to talk about from the Dispatch Box. Employment there was down by 6,000 in the last period. In Wales it is barely creeping above the positive line, and in the north-east it is down by 14,000. The notion that there is a private sector-led jobs recovery spreading equitably across the country is absolute fantasy, and we must expose it.

Consumer Focus Wales, the body that looks after ordinary working people’s rights, says that some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including older people, those on low incomes and those with long-term conditions, are right now cutting back on essentials such as groceries and energy usage. That is a disgrace in this day and age, and the Conservative party must face up to it.

In my constituency of Pontypridd, three times the number of people are looking for every job this year than last year. That is the reality of employment in my constituency. Three people on jobseeker’s allowance looked for every job in the jobcentre last year, but now nine are looking for it. The citizens advice bureau is in jeopardy as a result of another of the Government’s cuts—the cut to legal aid—but in one single year, there has been a 20% increase in the number of people going to the CAB for advice about debt, family breakdown and job insecurity. That is the largest increase in the history of that CAB. Those are all clear indicators that it is not working but it is hurting. More austerity and pouring misery on misery will not help my constituents, just as it is not helping Greece.

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Alun Cairns: The hon. Gentleman talks about the number of people looking for jobs in his constituency this year compared with last. What would he say to the Welsh Government about that, and what is their responsibility for it? They have contributed to the greatest decline in Welsh gross domestic product over the past 12 years, making Wales the poorest part of the UK, which it was not previously.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Before the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) answers that intervention, I ask hon. Members please to keep interventions very short, because a lot of hon. Members wish to speak.

Owen Smith: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I completely reject that entirely false characterisation of the Welsh economy. Most importantly, the Labour Government in Wales understand that growth will deliver improvements to our economy, not austerity, cutting or increasing the viciousness of the circle. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) ought to read The Times from this morning, because it is not only Labour Members who are worried that they have got no economic plan for growth from the Chancellor, but the chief executive officers of this country. On page 2, a reflection on the CEO summit states:

“There is...a real fear that a long, slow, feel-bad recovery will leave Britain a helpless bystander as the new economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America storm ahead.”

What does the article go on to say? It says that we need a plan for growth, that plan A is not working, and that we need an industrial strategy that highlights growth sectors, just as the Labour Government in Wales have highlighted life sciences, digital economy and advanced manufacturing.

We need to target and invest in such sectors in a serious, intelligent and structured way, but we are not doing so. As the CEO of Vodafone, which is not exactly a Marxist-led workers’ co-operative, says in The Times today, we in Britain have a “faith” that

“the market will sort it out”—

a misplaced faith that the market is always the answer. That is another lesson that Conservative Members have not learned. The market alone cannot deliver growth in this country. The Government need to intervene and direct intelligently. That is what history teaches us.

Finally, I was not going to talk about banking reform, but the Chancellor ended his speech by saying that Opposition Front Benchers did not talk about it, which admittedly they did not. We will wait and judge Government Members and the Chancellor by what they do on banking reform, but we do not know exactly what will happen on that yet, do we?

We know that the Chancellor has cancelled the bonus tax, and we know that he is talking about looking at banks’ capital-to-asset ratios and trying to ensure that the leveraging they have on their debts is brought into line, but we will see whether the Government make good on those promises, whether they go beyond Basel III and whether they do what the OECD, which has been prayed in aid several times today, is telling them to do and split off high-risk investment banking from commercial banking. These are the tough decisions that

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have to be taken by a party that likes to listen to its erstwhile colleagues in the banking sector—there are probably a few Conservative Members who used to work there. These are the people who speak and whisper in the Chancellor’s ear. He is not listening to ordinary working people in this country. He needs to start doing that, understand the pain he is causing and move to plan B.

4.45 pm

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): I was not expecting to be called so early in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am very grateful.

It is easy in this environment and this highly partisan—[Interruption.] I know exactly what I am going to say, so please hear me out. It is easy to lose sight of the big picture in terms of where we were when we came into government in 2010, and it is easy for Labour Members to forget the huge deficit and the terrible mess they made of the country’s finances.

Mr Bailey: The hon. Gentleman talks about the big picture, but will he acknowledge that when the Labour Government came to power in 1997, the national debt as a proportion of GDP was 6% higher than when we left it?

Kwasi Kwarteng: I will acknowledge that the budget in 1997 was balanced, in that we took in £315 billion of revenue and spent £315 billion. I also have to acknowledge—I have to be candid—that under the first Labour Administration, between 1997 and 2001, the budget remained in balance. That was the prudent Chancellor whom many in the House will remember. We did not get into fiscal trouble with an increasing deficit until the 2001 to 2005 Parliament, in which, as people will remember, we had sustained growth. However, just at the moment when we were growing sustainably, the naughty, imprudent Chancellor took over. Having been prudent in the first four years of the Labour Government, between 2001 and 2005 he turned on the taps, to speak metaphorically.

Mr Bailey: I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but it is somewhat incoherent given that, in 2008 I think, the current Chancellor, then in opposition, said that he would match the Labour Government’s public spending plans.

Kwasi Kwarteng: The principal point—if the hon. Gentleman will listen—is that Labour gambled with the country’s economy. It sincerely believed that it had abolished boom and bust, so it made spending commitments on the basis that the economy would grow indefinitely year after year. Unfortunately those spending commitments could not be rescinded when reality dawned—when the economy faltered and the revenues collapsed, leaving us with huge spending commitments and creating this unprecedented peacetime deficit.

It is unfair and wrong for Labour Members to say that it was a global phenomenon. Our deficit was not comparable to Germany’s. As far as I know, Germany operates in the same global space and is a competitor in many of the same markets as us, yet its deficit-to-GDP ratio was 3%. Ours, I believe, was 12.8%—the highest in

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the OECD and the G20. These facts are known to everybody, including all economists and many journalists—everyone knows them—yet consistently, ever since I have been a Member of Parliament, Labour Members have completely denied any responsibility and have given every reason under the sun for the appalling fiscal position we were left in. It is vital that every single Member bears in mind those big facts. Labour’s stewardship of the public finances was catastrophically negligent.

Mr Bailey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kwasi Kwarteng: This is the third time that the hon. Gentleman has tried to intervene, and I am afraid that I must press on. I am willing to take interventions from other colleagues, but he has had his say and I would like to have mine.

We have had a difficult time over the last year, during which time my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) has been Chancellor of the Exchequer. No one will dispute that: the situation has been tough. However, it would have been far worse if we had followed the policies of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) and not tackled the deficit in the rather aggressive but timely way in which we decided to. Hon. Members referred earlier to Greece, which has indeed been a Greek tragedy. People are on the streets, the Government are practically insolvent and there is a real risk of some kind of political revolution—I am choosing my words carefully, but the situation is very unstable. The situation facing this country was, I confess, not as bad. However, if we had not been serious about tackling the deficit, there was every likelihood that the international markets would have forced our interest rates up, that our cost of borrowing would have increased and that markets would not have bought gilts in the way that, over the past year, they have. The consequent rise in interest rates would have affected every family in this country, who would have had to pay high interest rates simply because the Government did not have the courage or the conviction to deal with the deficit.

Toby Perkins: As for the comparison with Greece, does the hon. Gentleman recognise that if we had followed the advice of the Chancellor when the recession struck back in 2008, although events here might not have followed what happened in Greece, they would quite probably have followed what happened in Ireland, which saw huge public spending cuts? Ireland went into a cycle of more and more cuts, and more and more people being put out of work. The result of those cuts was not that Ireland’s deficit shrank, but that public services and poverty got worse.

Kwasi Kwarteng: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about Ireland, but let us look at what happened last year and the situation that we faced going into the general election in May. The shadow Chancellor quite rightly observed that the market price of gilts was rising and that interest rates on them were coming down in the period before the election. It is true that in the six weeks before the election, interest rates on gilts came down, but that was only because the market realised that there would be an end to the Labour Government. The market anticipated the result of the general election,

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after it became clear that, as a consequence of Labour’s total irresponsibility, the end of a Labour Government would mean a new Government who were serious about dealing with our financial position. It is true—I remember this—that the rates came down from mid-March, but that was only as a consequence of people in the markets literally rejoicing because Labour was going to leave. The shadow Chancellor was quite right to make that point; I just felt that we needed a bit more context.

Owen Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kwasi Kwarteng: The hon. Gentleman has had his say, but I will give way to him.

Owen Smith: I cannot help but point out that if the markets had been so omniscient and all-seeing, surely they would have spotted that the Tory party was not going to win the election.

Kwasi Kwarteng: The only question that the markets were interested in at that point was whether Labour would be re-elected. When it became obvious that Labour would not secure a majority in the House, they started buying lots of British Government debt, and the interest rates in the six weeks before the general election came down quite rapidly. Those are the facts, and one could find them out from the Financial Times, Bloomberg or any other information provider in financial services.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): Since the last election, when we got a Conservative-led coalition, unemployment has fallen in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Spelthorne by almost 5%. Does he think that we would have achieved such a fall if we had followed the Opposition’s policies?

Kwasi Kwarteng: I can give my hon. Friend a very short answer: there is no way that any businessman in Spelthorne—[ Interruption. ] Well, the short answer is no, but the longer, slightly more involved answer is that there are lots of small businesses in my constituency, and a lot of them are related to Heathrow, and the international market and trade. As a consequence of Labour’s complete failure over the previous 13 years, no Labour councillors were returned to our borough council. In fact, Labour contested only one of the 13 wards in the borough, which is only 35 minutes on the train from Waterloo. That is indicative of Labour’s utter failure to make any headway.

Let me tell the House why Labour was completely wiped out. The people in Spelthorne realise that Labour does not understand anything about the economy. Time and again when I have knocked on doors in Ashford, Sunbury and Shepperton—and even in Stanwell, which was traditionally a Labour area—I have met people who realise what this Government have to do. They say to me, “You’ve been put into power to clear up the mess that the other lot created.” I shall not repeat the unparliamentary language, but they tell me to “something well get on with it.”

4.56 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng). Reflecting on the lack of Labour

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representation in Spelthorne, I am reminded of the similar lack of Conservative representation in Liverpool. I am prepared to bet the hon. Gentleman that Spelthorne will get a Labour councillor before Liverpool gets a Conservative one.

We have seen some extraordinary complacency on the other side of the House today, given the economic circumstances that people are facing in communities up and down the country. Sometimes we forget the human cost of the decisions that are made in this House.

Kwasi Kwarteng: The hon. Gentleman talks about the human cost of economic mismanagement. Could he tell us more about the human cost of Labour mismanagement over the past 10 years?

Stephen Twigg: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but it is the only one that I will take. I want to give other colleagues on both sides a chance to speak. We have heard a lot about Labour’s legacy, and about where Labour stands, and we get severely misrepresented by the Government parties opposite. We are not denying the deficit. We adopted a plan to halve it over the four years of a Parliament. We have been very clear that we would have made cuts in public spending, that we support some of the cuts that are now being made, and that certain tax increases would have happened under a Labour Government.

The real challenge in this debate is to address the questions of growth and employment. There is no value in cutting public spending as the Government are doing if it damages the prospects for growth. The impact on the economy is that tax revenues go down, unemployment goes up, benefit costs therefore rise and the deficit position gets even worse. My right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor reminded the House earlier about what both the parties that are now in government said when they were in opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) has pointed out that the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, said in July 2008 that

“we are sticking to Labour’s spending totals.”

That was the view on the Conservative Front Bench in July 2008. In fact, my hon. Friend did not quote him in full; the right hon. Gentleman went on to describe those Labour spending totals as “tight”. The views that the current Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer are now expressing are not the ones that they held at that time.

A year ago, in the emergency Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:

“In this Budget, everyone will be asked to contribute…everyone will share in the rewards when we succeed. When we say that we are all in this together, we mean it.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 167.]

Our motion today welcomes the recent fall in unemployment, and I have heard hon. Members on the Government Benches talk about falls in unemployment in their constituencies, but are we really all in it together? Let us look at the figures.

Ben Gummer: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Twigg: I will not take any more interventions, for reasons of time.

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We have seen a small increase over the past year in the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants. I want to compare two different constituencies in the north-west: my own, and another one just down the road, called Tatton. In Liverpool, West Derby, we have seen the number of JSA claimants rise over the past year by almost 5%. In Tatton, the number has fallen by 4%. [ Interruption. ] Well, I would love to know who the MP is who can make that much difference in a year. Somehow I doubt that that is possible. There are 4,000 JSA claimants in my constituency, and 1,000 in that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I sometimes think that Government Members underestimate the scale of anger in constituencies such as mine, which went through the experience of living through a Tory Government in the 1980s and have a sense that they are going through exactly the same experience again now.

Mrs Louise Mensch (Corby) (Con) rose

Stephen Twigg: I am not taking any more interventions.

As I say, there are 33 JSA claimants chasing each vacancy in my constituency, but only two and a half in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s constituency not that far away.

If we are going to recover and see jobs and growth, we need capital investment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) spoke about the importance of housing investment and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) spoke about high-speed rail, so let me say something about schools.

The decision to cancel the Building Schools for the Future programme has not only had an impact on educational opportunities for children and young people in constituencies like mine, as it has had a devastating effect on the construction industry. I urge the Government to look again—not at recreating the Building Schools for the Future programme, as we have moved on from that, but at the critical importance of investment in schools in our communities.

My hon. Friends have already mentioned the future jobs fund, from which more than 90,000 young people directly benefited—6,500 in the city of Liverpool alone. The Government’s own study from the Department for Work and Pensions this January described the fund as

“successful in preparing customers for work…The improvements to customer skills sets are likely to remain for the long term.”

I want to address a specific question to the Economic Secretary, who is responding to the debate. Last night, I tabled early-day motion 1960 on the issue of asset sales by regional development agencies. Nationally, these assets are valued at about £500 million, and the Treasury plans to have a fire sale of these assets throughout the country—except in Greater London, where the assets of the London Development Agency have been gifted to the Mayor. I have no quarrel with that decision. It is a good decision, and I do not disagree with what is being done in London, but I do not see why we cannot have the same decision for local authorities and local economic partnerships outside London. I asked that very question at Business, Innovation and Skills questions recently and I was told that the reason was that the London Development Agency had been merged with the Greater London Authority. Actually, that has not happened, as the legislation is still going through Parliament. I urge

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the Treasury to think again, because if assets can be gifted to Boris Johnson, why on earth cannot they be gifted to local authorities and local economic partnerships outside London?

Let me deal now with the issue of fairness. I have already drawn one contrast between my constituency and the Chancellor’s. Another contrast is on the scale of the cuts. Of course there have to be cuts to local government funding—we accept that—but Liverpool city council has seen its spending power cut by 8.8%, resulting in cuts of £91 million this year. Cheshire East, which is where the Chancellor’s constituency is based, has had a cut of 1.7%. That is why people are angry—not because they deny the deficit, but because they see the burden of deficit reduction falling far more on some of the most deprived communities in the country. The Government need to think again.

Even in these tough times, Labour’s Liverpool city council is working to improve things. It is working on a plan B for Building Schools for the Future. I urge the Government to engage with it. The council is working with the Government on the enterprise zone and it is creating 133 new apprenticeships to give opportunities to Liverpool’s young people.

Finally, on the cost of living, in the year to April, we saw average weekly earnings rising by 1.8% while inflation was at 4.5%. For a family on average earnings with both adults working, that is loss of £1,000 to the household income each year. The pain is not being shared. When the Government abolish the bankers’ bonus tax, yet go ahead with that cut in real earnings for average families, it is not about protecting low and middle-income Britain.

An economic gamble is being played by the two parties in the coalition. The speed and scale of deficit reduction could itself damage our ability to reduce the deficit, by damaging growth and increasing unemployment. Yes, we need cuts; yes, we need to reduce waste: but we need to protect the front line as far as we possibly can. If the Government continue down this path, there is a serious danger that they will both weaken the prospects for economic recovery and create an even more divided society in our country. I urge them to think again.

5.5 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): I thank the Opposition for this debate, which provides Government Members with the opportunity to remind the country of the economic disaster that the Labour party presided over, and the appalling legacy that they left for this Government to deal with. I find it pitiful but ironic that Labour Members have the audacity today to make sweeping claims and generalisations about the economy, when it was their former Chief Secretary to the Treasury who left that dreadful note to his successor that said, “There is no money.”

Rather than being advocates for job creation, enterprise growth and the private sector in their constituencies up and down the country, Labour Members have consistently talked down the economy in this debate. They complain that the Government are not spending enough hard-pressed taxpayers’ money, but that would lead to further deficit. As everyone knows, the Labour party left the economy on the verge of bankruptcy.

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This time last year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor stood in the Chamber and set out a robust plan to rid the UK of its worst ever peacetime budget deficit. As we all know, deficit denial syndrome is rife on the Labour Benches, so let me repeat: the aim of the emergency Budget was to rid the country of its worst ever peacetime budget deficit. There is a strong message to the country: Labour should never again be allowed to run our economy into the ground.

Several hon. Members rose

Priti Patel: I will take one intervention, from my hon. Friend there.

Alec Shelbrooke: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Labour Members like to harp on about the ’80s, but if we are going to go that far back in history, let us go back to the ’70s, when again a Labour Government completely bankrupted the country. They have learned nothing.

Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. The 1970s was also the era of strikes, and as we all know, strikes cost jobs, they do not create them. Before last year’s Budget, we had the deepest recession, record rates of job losses, and national debt increasing to a peacetime record—

Mr Anderson: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Priti Patel: I have said that I will take only one intervention, because of pressure of time; other Members want to speak.

Families and businesses across the country, and across my constituency, have faced genuine hardship, and I speak as someone from a small family business background. Let us not forget that 12 months ago the country faced a severe sovereign debt crisis. The prospect of Ministers having to go with a begging bowl to the IMF, as Labour did in 1976, was daunting. The Government should be congratulated on bringing Britain back from the brink.

Last year’s emergency Budget was about rescuing the nation’s finances and paying for Labour’s mistakes and its scorched earth policy. The Government have absolutely the right focus: reforming the economy, ensuring jobs and growth for the future, and doing what we can to help families with the cost of living. Last year’s Budget marked the first step towards rebalancing the British economy on to the path of long-term sustainable growth.

I want to highlight three areas in which the Government have laid the foundations for future growth: first, the promotion of business and job creation in the private sector; secondly, focusing on getting people into work, with the creation of half a million private sector jobs, which Labour Members seem to be mocking, which is completely insulting to the people in those jobs; and thirdly, restoring confidence in the British economy. The Government are doing the right thing: sticking to the plan, backed by the IMF, OECD, PIMCO and every major business body in the country, the key objective of which is to put the public finances back on track, after the Labour party maxed out the nation’s credit card.

Instead of being positive and optimistic, Labour Members have the audacity to talk our economy down. They sneer at this, but when they do so they talk down to the enterprising individuals who run independent shops and small businesses, who create jobs and have

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the initiative to invest, start new businesses and generate welcome prosperity for our country. That should not be overlooked. The Opposition’s dogmatic attitude to those who work hard, pay their taxes and contribute to our economy is starkly obvious, and I believe that they should never again be trusted with the nation’s economic finances.

The Government are boosting manufacturing, jobs and growth by cutting key taxes for business and entrepreneurs and scrapping much regulation, although I think that we could scrap even more, particularly the gold-plated stuff that comes out of Europe. They are also giving more support to young people by providing 50,000 more apprenticeships, as well as work experience schemes. At long last we can start making things in this country again.

Let me end by making a salutary point. There is no doubt that it will take time for the economy to recover fully given the extent of our dreadful legacy, but throughout the business world, from investors in the City to small shopkeepers and small businessmen, it is recognised that we have a business-friendly Government who are committed to cutting the deficit and promoting job creation and investment.

5.10 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): We were treated to a typically Panglossian picture by the Chancellor, as though there were nothing currently wrong with the economy. The Chancellor is not a man who does humility. When challenged, he could cite only three developments that he regarded as successes. The first was the rise in exports, but he failed to mention that imports are rising faster. The second was the increase in jobs, which, although certainly welcome, will be soon swamped by the increase of 1 million in unemployment in the public and private sectors that has been forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility. The third was the improvements in the manufacturing sector, which, as has been said many times, have now sadly embarked on a downturn.

Mrs Mensch rose—

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con) rose—

Mr Meacher: I will give way only once. As the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) has had plenty of opportunities to intervene, I will give way to the hon. Lady.

Mrs Mensch: Is the right hon. Gentleman not a little put out by the fact that the IMF, the OECD and every major economic organisation backs my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and that his party is entirely on its own in its view of the situation?

Mr Meacher: I am afraid that the hon. Lady is behind the curve. The fact is that there has been a major change in the IMF’s view of the balance between cuts and the promotion of growth. I shall say more about that later.

The negatives that the Chancellor ignored are far more numerous than the positives. Let me begin with an important one. The latest figures for public sector net borrowing—which show levels 50% higher than last year, just before the election—are the first clear sign that the Chancellor’s massive cuts strategy is not just in

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serious trouble, but going backwards. That comes as no great surprise to people like us who have constantly argued that lower growth—and growth has been nil over the last six months—and the prospect of a prolonged period of stagnation will lead to a fall in tax receipts that will swamp the effects of expenditure cuts. That is central to this whole debate, but the Chancellor did not mention it.

Real incomes fell last year for the first time since 1981, and are on course to fall again this year. Inflation is higher, and consumer confidence has slumped to levels that we saw during the depths of the recession. High street retailers are sending out profit warnings and, to cap it all, the Government have been forced to revise upwards the forecasts for the budget deficit. We should not forget that driving down the deficit is the Holy Grail of Government policy, but it is going in the wrong direction.

Where is the evidence that Britain is enjoying what the Chancellor ironically calls expansionary austerity, on the spurious ground that the knowledge that the Government are getting a grip on the public finances will produce confidence and will encourage spending by the public to replace the cuts in public spending? That policy relies on a tighter fiscal policy while allowing a looser monetary policy to remain loose, but if the monetary policy was already ultra-loose—as it was when the Government came to power—there is certainly no scope for it to be made any looser. Any tightening of fiscal policy, let alone the massive tightening that we have seen in the Budget and the comprehensive spending review, is bound to lead to a lower level of aggregate demand in the economy. That is exactly what we are now seeing. Despite two years in which the bank rate has been almost on the floor at 0.5%, there is a marked reluctance to borrow. Mortgage demand is running at half the levels it was in the 10 years up to the financial crash and lending to business is not picking up.

The key question for this debate is: where is the growth to come from? Even Martin Wolf, the distinguished right-wing commentator for the Financial Times has acknowledged that the only plausible source of increased final demand is export growth, but export growth is in effect blocked off, because almost all EU markets are depressed as they all try to export their way out of crisis at the same time. To cap it all, the likely eventual Greek default could severely depress further any prospect of early EU recovery and therefore of UK export markets in the EU.

I repeat the question: where is the growth to come from?

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Meacher: I have not got time, I am afraid.

Incredible as it might seem, the last straw that the Chancellor is clutching at is a huge increase in personal and household borrowing, which is already at more than £1.5 trillion—well above the level of Britain’s entire gross domestic product. Although it was falling at the last election, the OBR is now forecasting that it will reach £2.13 trillion by 2015—half as large again as Britain’s entire GDP. That is an extraordinary admission. The Government’s only way of imposing massive public expenditure cuts is by pumping up a gigantic financial

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bubble in the private sector, which can only end in another colossal financial crash. I would be the first to admit that that depends on the private sector’s being willing to load up on hugely more debt, but the other side of that coin is that if households save more, as they are very likely to do because they are extremely worried about their prospects, demand is going to plummet and the economy is likely to hit the wall with an almighty crash. I ask again: where is the evidence for this expansionary austerity that we are being told about? It is not in the balance of payments figures, which are getting worse, not better; it is not in the high street, because consumers would need an increase of about 6% in their incomes to compensate for the price rises and tax increases of the past year; and it is not in the business community, where investment has fallen.

The latter point has an important story behind it. In the commercial private sector there is currently a huge net corporate financial surplus that is almost without precedent. Among the banks and the rest of the financial sector, that now amounts to £44 billion, while for the big corporations in the non-finance sector, it is larger still at £67 billion. Together, the corporates are running an unprecedented surplus that is nearly equal to 8% of Britain’s GDP. Still, however, the banks are not lending—they are already well short of their Merlin targets after only a couple of months—and the big companies are not borrowing. Why? It is because they see little prospect of demand for their products and services to justify their investment. That is the problem and it is not resolved by the current strategy. That is exactly the opposite of what they were expected to do by the Chancellor, who predicted that as the public sector was cut back, the private sector would surge forward to fill the gaps.

It is tragic that the historical evidence that expansionary fiscal contraction has never worked has not been learned. It has been tried three times in the past century. It did not work in the huge public expenditure cutbacks of 1921 to 1923—the so-called Geddes axe, which was very similar in size to the current Osborne axe; it did not work in 1931 to 1935 in the great depression; and it appeared to work in the Howe Budget of 1981 only because it was accompanied by a sharp reduction in interest rates and the major US-driven international recovery of the early 1980s, neither of which applies today. What is not just tragic but deeply culpable is that the same approach is being imposed today, not because there is any evidence that it makes economic sense, but because it is really driven by an underlying ideological motive to shrink the state and to maximise the privatisation of the economy. And it is not working and will not work.

5.20 pm

Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher). He spoke after my maiden speech, and he is a man whom I respect greatly for his integrity, honesty and the consistency with which he has held his views over the years. However, he has also been consistent in his economic views, and over 30 years he has been consistently wrong—in his judgment of Mrs Thatcher’s economy, John Major’s economy and Tony Blair’s economy.

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The fact that his views now come into the same alliance as that of the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us all that we need to know about where the Opposition’s economic policy has gone.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Will my hon. Friend remind the House about the consequences of the 1981 Budget and what happened at the subsequent general election?

Ben Gummer: I do not know what position my hon. Friend took against the 1981 Budget, but all that I can say is that that Budget, which was opposed by Labour Members, started the rebuilding of the British economy, much as we are doing now.

I was not planning to speak today, but I entered the Members’ Lobby and looked at the Opposition’s motion on the Order Paper, which is entitled, “The economy one year since the Government’s first Budget”. I thought, “That’s brave of them, to pick a fight on this, but I’ll give them a chance.” I read on and thought, “This will be amusing.” The motions says:

“That this House notes that on 22 June 2010”—

there is a preamble, and we agree with that bit, because there was an excellent Budget this time last year—and it continues:

“further notes that over the last six months”.

I thought, “Hang on a minute. I thought we were talking about after a year,” but they have chosen six months for the economic growth figures. Why six months? It is because over a year the economy has grown, has it not? Already, in the terms of their own motion, the Opposition are failing, because they have to pick a six-month figure. Do hon. Members know why they pick that period?

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) talked earlier about businesses. Her parents run a business in my constituency. She understands businesses. She understands that, with a difficult start-up, some weeks are not as good as others and that things are rocky and choppy. Not many Opposition Members have ever seen a balance sheet or a profit-and-loss account in their lives, and that is why they might not understand what she explained earlier. That is why, after a year, the economy is growing—but after six months, it was flat, because we are having a choppy recovery, as the Chancellor said.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Ben Gummer: I have taken one intervention; I will not take any more.

I am afraid that the Opposition are falling down already with their motion, but let us go on to the next phrase:

“in the last month retail sales fell by 1.4 per cent.”

[ Interruption . ] If hon. Members listen carefully, they might find that their interventions are prefigured. Not content with six months’ worth, the Opposition have to go to the last month, but let us go back to the motion and what has happened over the past year. In the past year, retail sales have grown by 4.5%. I congratulate the Opposition on their motion, as we are seeing growth in the two key figures—GDP and retail sales—that we have considered so far.

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The next thing in the Opposition’s motion is manufacturing output, which, it says, “fell by 1.5%” over the last month; but actually, over the year, it has risen by 1.3%.

Alison McGovern: I am going to skate briefly over the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Labour Members never having seen a balance sheet. I hope that he will discuss economic variables and lag times and say whether, in fact, what happened in the previous six months might have been attributable to the last Government and that we need to allow time to feel the impact of this Government’s policies. Will he cover that?

Ben Gummer: The hon. Lady makes a perfectly reasonable point, but it is not one that she has conveyed to Opposition Front Benchers, because they chose as the subject of the motion, “The economy one year since the Government’s first Budget”. I am merely commenting on that, not on the rather crass detail in the motion. So far, we have growth in manufacturing, growth in retail sales and growth in the economy. Let us go on to the next thing that they are talking about.

The motion refers to

“a welcome recent fall in unemployment”.

The Opposition concede that. It was not just welcome; it was the largest fall in unemployment for 10 years—88,000—and larger than that achieved at any point when the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), whose Parliamentary Private Secretary questioned me a moment ago, was Prime Minister.

Andrew Griffiths: Returning to the point about manufacturing, is my hon. Friend aware that under the premiership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, we saw a sharp—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The hon. Gentleman must refer to another hon. Member by his constituency.

Andrew Griffiths: Does my hon. Friend agree that manufacturing declined more sharply under the previous Government than it did under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher? Under the Labour Government, we saw an unprecedented decline in manufacturing.

Ben Gummer: My hon. Friend is entirely right. In my constituency manufacturing fell more quickly in the 1970s than it did in the 1980s. The last bit that was left in the 1980s was stolen by Robert Maxwell, a previous Member of Parliament for the Labour party, though happily not in my constituency.

Let us move on and go through the motion, which says that

“the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that future unemployment will be up”

by 200,000. The Opposition Front-Bench team fail to be able to read a fan chart. That is the upper part of the forecast, but there is also a 200,000 dip at the bottom end of the fan chart. The OBR has said that unemployment is performing much as it had predicted. The forecasts are not changing and unemployment is going down more quickly than the OBR estimated in March.

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A series of suggestions from the Opposition Front-Bench team follows. I wonder if I can prompt an intervention from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). The announcement on VAT mentioned in the motion was mentioned to her before it was mentioned to the shadow Cabinet or to the London School of Economics. She tuts me away. It is, according to the Financial Times, the biggest change in Opposition economic policy since the general election. I wondered whether the hon. Lady could comment on when it was announced to her colleagues, so we must take it that it was not.

We then come to the gravamen of the motion. It refers to the

“long-term damage to the economy”

caused by the Government’s policies. Let us look at underlying trends, which are probably the best indication of how the economy is performing. The savings ratio is higher now than it was at any point, apart from one quarter, in the whole of the previous Government’s time in office. The investment intention of the private sector from the CBI industrial trend survey is also higher than at any point in the 13 years of the previous Government. It reached that level previously only in the first quarter of 1997. Export orders are at a 15-year high, and CPIY—underlying inflation, excluding tax rises—is within the Bank of England remit.

We know that tax increases are coming through into inflation, and that there was a massive injection of cash into the economy through quantitative easing by the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is the combination of those and the necessary tax increases to deal with the appalling deficit which is causing the unfortunate inflation figures now, but the underlying figure is at about 2.4% or 2.5%, and I hope that in time it will return to that, as the OBR predicts.

The last part of the increasingly risible motion refers to

“temporarily cutting VAT to 17.5 per cent.”

When VAT was put up in the emergency Budget, I remember hearing from those on the Opposition Front Bench that that was an iniquitous rise that should never happen, but now it is to be temporary. Can the shadow Minister tell us why she is proposing a temporary cut rather than a permanent one, as she was proposing this time last year?

The motion mentions the bank bonus tax, a canard put out constantly by the Opposition. The bank bonus tax raised £2.4 billion on the best estimate, but £2.6 billion has been raised by our bank levy, which will be set every year in this Parliament, unlike the bonus tax which, by the previous Chancellor’s own admission, was a one-off event.

Finally, we come to the two most egregious statements in the entire motion. First, there is the reference to the need for “25,000 affordable homes” from the party that built fewer affordable homes in every single one of its years in office than were built in every single year of the Major and Thatcher Governments—but Labour does not admit to that shocking record in its motion. Secondly, we return to the issue of jobs. The motion calls for the creation of

“100,000 jobs for young people”

just days after we have heard of the greatest fall in youth unemployment in 10 years.

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So the Opposition have come to this House with a motion judging the Government on the economy one year after our first Budget, yet they cannot choose one single figure by which to judge the Government’s record, and in the end they put forward a series of disingenuous statements by which their own record would look very poor.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. To enable more Members to contribute to the debate, the time limit for speeches is now being reduced to six minutes.

5.30 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), who enriched us by deploying such a rich lexicon in dissecting the motion. Indeed, this debate is, in part, about language. I began my working life as a teacher of English, and although I have moved on from that, I can still identify a good yarn when I read or hear one, and that is what the Conservatives have been spinning since the general election. They have been spinning a good yarn—a seductive fable—but in truth it is a Tory tale of woe, with brief Lib Dem notes in the appendices. Regardless of how seductive and engaging people have at times found this yarn, it is not an accurate account, because the reality is very different.

The truth is that the country is facing difficult times because there has been a global banking crisis that required strong and decisive action to avoid a global catastrophe. That action was partly led by the then Prime Minister of this country. The situation is still challenging for our economy and others across the western world, as we have heard in the debate, but we must tackle the challenge in a sensible way.

In the general election campaign, the people of this country had every opportunity to hear the different arguments about how best to tackle that challenge, and they mostly supported candidates who proposed addressing the deficit in a serious and sensible way by halving it over the lifetime of a Parliament. The electorate voted for more candidates who supported that than Conservative candidates who, quite fairly, proposed a different approach. This is in part a sorry tale, therefore, because there is no mandate for the Government position.

When Labour left office a year or so ago, the economy was starting to grow strongly: inflation had fallen, and unemployment was falling month by month. As a result, in 2009-10 the Government borrowed more than £21 billion less than had been expected. Yet a year ago today, the Chancellor announced in his Budget speech that instead of following Labour’s plan to halve the deficit over four years—the plan that had been backed by the British people through votes cast in ballot boxes only a month earlier—he would eliminate the structural deficit by the end of this Parliament. That was a reckless decision; it was a choice to go too far, too fast, and the country is now facing great difficulties as a result.

In our debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) has highlighted that figures for construction and retail sales have been falling, that the consumer

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prices index target rate is higher than hoped, and that VAT has stimulated inflationary pressures. We have also heard that we have flat growth and that seasonally adjusted trade figures also remain flat.

The European Commission has just published the full results of a survey that shows a high level of dissatisfaction with the Government’s laissez-faire approach to tackling unemployment. The survey’s 22,560 respondents were asked whether they agreed that the economic crisis means that we should increase public deficits to create jobs. Two third’s of the UK respondents agreed with the statement, which is a much higher proportion than in any other major western country. They agreed that there should be investment in infrastructure. The Government have pulled Building Schools for the Future and various other infrastructure programmes, which has had a devastating impact on the construction industry.

In the community I represent, which is still quite dependent on steel jobs, the collapse in demand for construction has led to Tata Steel’s announcement of 1,500 job losses in its long products business. It is not surprising that Karl-Ulrich Köhler, when he came to Scunthorpe to make that announcement, gave two reasons for the decision: the fall in demand for section steel, both globally and domestically; and the threat of carbon taxes rising in 2013.

The Government’s decisions are having an impact today and for tomorrow on British manufacturing. We need to get behind projects such as the high-speed rail endeavour, which we hope, if it goes ahead, will be built with British steel. The Government have failed to deliver on their promises to invest in the British people. They have brought severe medicine to the country, much severer than was needed. There is real danger that the country will be left in a very difficult situation, after the legacy of an improving economic situation that they were left, which should have been—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I call Dr Thérèse Coffey.

5.36 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I always enjoy these occasions and think that it was a very good birthday present from the Opposition to allow the Government to defend their record. As my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) said, the debate gives us an opportunity to remind the British public not only of the legacy we inherited, but of the positive action we have taken.

I always enjoy the contributions of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), which I find quite jovial occasions, although I was disappointed that he would not allow me to intervene. The only slight challenge about listening to the right hon. Gentleman, who seems to live on planet Balls or in la-la land, is that I wake up and realise that I have participated in a horror show. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) seems to be adding to Aesop’s fables with his portrayal of a golden legacy that we apparently inherited. So what do we end up with? A second-choice shadow Chancellor asking for a second chance. Hopefully, the British public will realise that his plan B just means more boom and bust, more borrowing and potential bankruptcy. Frankly, I do not see the British public voting for that again in the near future.

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The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) referred to a plan B and quoted the CEO of Vodafone. Normally Labour Members are not the biggest fans of Vodafone when it comes to aspects of its contribution to the economy. He will probably not be impressed by the conversation I had with the CEO, who criticised the Government for not cutting fast enough or deep enough and said that, by not making quicker progress on that, we would make a rocky road for ourselves.

The right hon. Gentleman used to cite the USA in support of his plan, but we now see the Obama Administration stepping up the pace of deficit reduction, which they need to do.

Thomas Docherty: I suspect that the hon. Lady was not here in May, but I certainly recall President Obama making it absolutely clear that he did not agree with the current Government’s policies on the deficit.

Dr Coffey: Well, perhaps he did not, but he seems to have changed his mind and is stepping up the pace of deficit reduction.

Plan C is the VAT cut that the shadow Chancellor announced, unknown to some of his shadow Cabinet colleagues, it seems. Yet again, it is another unfunded tax cut. I was not a Member the last time that happened, in 2008, but many people will remember that earlier that year the 10p tax rate was abolished, and what was the impact of that? The economy continued to contract, leading CEOs said that £12.5 billion had been wasted on that tax cut, and hon. Members may recall the Federation of Small Businesses survey, in which 97% of its members said that their earnings had not increased.

In spite of all that, the right hon. Gentleman has wheeled out the plan again, and eight times today the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) refused to endorse it. We have been told that we need a credible plan with public and political support, but perhaps the shadow Chancellor needs to start with his Back Benchers, rather than by trying to persuade the British public.

I know brotherly love is a big feature of the Labour party, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will start with his brother, who I understand works for PIMCO, the world’s biggest bond fund, which has publicly stated that the UK has the best combination of fiscal and monetary policies in the G20—and so say all of us. No wonder in a Populus poll last week, only 23% of the population supported the Labour leadership in its desire to control the economy, a reduction of 10% in the past three months.

Instead, the British public have responded to the two parties on the Government side of the House, which just over a year ago came together in the national interest to form a coalition, and which with wide political support have put together a credible plan to restore fiscal sanity. Government Members have demonstrated a proactive attitude in starting to untangle red tape; in incentivising the creation of small businesses and entrepreneurs; in the significant policy of welfare reform, whereby we have been very clear that people will be better off if they work, unless they cannot; in the extra money going into apprenticeships, building on the good work—I recognise—of the former Government; and in funding infrastructure.

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I was a little surprised at the contribution of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), who seemed to have forgotten the amount of money that the Government are spending on infrastructure. Indeed, we recognise that we need to do so.

Reference has been made to RDAs, but a PricewaterhouseCoopers report last year suggested that generally they have been poor value for money, and despite spending those billions, the prosperity gap has widened.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) referred to life in the ’80s in Liverpool, but I grew up in Liverpool and was there in the ’80s. I am going to do a lame Welsh accent, because it was a Labour council—a Labour council—that fired 30,000 employees to stave off bankruptcy—[Hon. Members: “By taxi”]—by taxi. Those people were understandably fed up with the Labour council leader, and they did not just take the ferry across the Mersey to Birkenhead; they left Liverpool. We have seen that with the reduction in the number of people living there, and in the money that is left, too. Ironically, the port of Felixstowe in my constituency benefited from the situation, but it has been a great shame, because I am very proud of where I grew up.

The Conservatives went in and put in investment.

Alison McGovern: The hon. Lady cannot mention our home city of Liverpool without acknowledging the previous Government’s role in rebuilding it and in restoring the pride that we take in it. Will she acknowledge their role, because her comments do not paint a true picture?

Dr Coffey: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I am very proud of my home city, but I hope that she will also credit Lord Heseltine. We started back in the ’80s, we saw the Albert dock and other aspects of the city transformed, and some of that continued under the previous Government, but investor confidence in the city was knocked by that legacy of the ’80s which was referred to earlier.

The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood also seemed to use marine terms, trying to suggest something about fancy yachts and the similar. The previous Government, in marine terms, were possibly the equivalent of the Titanic. People took their eye off the ball—holed by an unseen disaster, perhaps—with unintended, tragic consequences. That is the state of the economy which has been left behind, however, with tens of thousands of pounds of debt being loaded on to every child born and on to children not yet born.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) referred to the impact of the Budget last year on mothers and families, but every mother and family I know has to cope with a household budget which means that they have to try to balance the books every month. That is absolutely key.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Coffey: No, I have already given way a couple of times to Opposition Members.

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It is absolutely key to ensure that when one has already maxed out the credit card, one cannot not keep spending but has to stop and start paying it back.

Staying with the nautical terms, I recognise that it is not going to be plain sailing ahead, but I can assure members of the British public that Conservative Members will be firmly on watch. We may need to tack and jibe to reach our final destination, but that destination is fiscal sanity, a growing economy, and a prosperous working Britain. That is why I will support the amendment to the motion.

5.45 pm

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): The past 13 months have been framed by Conservative Members talking about deficit denial, but the truth is that what we have gone through is deficit deceit. They have spun a tale that ignores the fact that what we went through when we saw the failure of the big banks was a failure of capitalism in this country. They never mentioned the fact that Lehman Brothers, HSBC, Lloyds and Northern Rock had collapsed. They ignored the fact that we had light-touch regulation, which they had criticised for not being light enough. The situation that we got into was not just about what our party had done—it was supported by the Tories and by the capitalist system.

When the collapse happened, we took tough decisions not to repeat Tory mistakes—not only those of the ’80s and ’90s, but of the 1930s. We refused to accept, and we still do, that unemployment was a price worth paying. The reality is that the Conservatives still believe that and always have believed it. They ignored the fact that the Labour Government were praised at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh and by the OECD for the work that we did. In fact, the OECD said that the Labour Government had led the world and prevented a recession from becoming a depression.

The Tories must have been happy, because all they wanted to do was stand back and let the market take the course. We have seen them do that in the past. They did it in the 1930s when my father was 14 years old and was sent to work in the coal mines—one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. One thousand men a year were being killed in British coal mines—one every six hours—and someone was injured every two minutes. They went home to houses that were not fit to live in. They had poverty wages, desperate living conditions at home and at work, and no respite. It took a world war and a Labour Government to address those appalling conditions.

The Tories have a long memory, and when they got back into power in the 1980s they went back to the same programme that they had in the 1930s. Under the banner they are flying today—“There is no alternative”—they attacked working people and closed mines, steelworks and shipyards. They used the same language when they outsourced hundreds of thousands of workers from councils, hospitals and universities. They cut their terms and conditions, undermined their security and decimated the services they delivered. Does that sound familiar? Yes, because they are doing it again today, and the Liberal Democrats—those who are here—are backing them up.

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John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): The hon. Gentleman’s party’s solution is to borrow more money. From whom is it going to borrow it and how much interest is it going to pay?

Mr Anderson: My party’s policy is not to borrow more money—it is to increase taxes on bankers and make those people pay.

John Hemming rose

Mr Anderson: Sit down and shut up.

The Tories have made deliberate decisions and claimed that there are no alternatives. When my party came back into government in 1997, the people from where I came from said they wanted us to put right the attacks that had happened in the 1980s. They said, “We’re sick of living in second-class conditions.” That is why I am proud, and my party is proud, of what we did.

Mr Hanson: May I remind my hon. Friend that at the last election the Liberal Democrats wanted to spend more than the Labour party?

Mr Anderson: I was not going to discuss the Liberal Democrats because they are obviously not relevant to this country any more. I thought that perhaps they were outside unveiling a new placard about the bombshell or signing a few pledges; obviously, they are too busy to come in here.

John Hemming rose

Mr Anderson: I am not going any further.

I am proud of what we did. We put record investment into the national health service. We had the Decent Homes programme, which, in my local council area, provided £360 million to put right homes that were desperately in need of it. There was a huge improvement in school results. We had more doctors, nurses and police on the beat. We had the national minimum wage, peace in Northern Ireland, new schools and hospitals, better health outcomes, and record numbers at university and in work. We also had—Conservative Members have not mentioned this while attacking the economic progress of our Government—a record period of growth over more than 11 years before we were hit by the global crisis.

What is certain is that the Conservatives and their yellow human shields, the Liberal Democrats, will never learn from history. They want to ignore the history of ordinary men and women. Indeed, when the Chancellor was asked in 2007 about his memories of the miners’ strike, he said:

“I’m trying to see if I can honestly remember.”

What we have is a party that selectively forgets the past, including the suffering and misery of a generation of people whose only crime was to want to live in security, bring their kids up well, have a good life and go to work. The Conservatives refuse to remember those things. They are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, and ordinary people will pay for those mistakes.

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5.50 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I want to start by putting an end to the myth that the Government have no mandate for the action they have taken. [ Interruption. ] Already I can hear somebody saying from a sedentary position that there is no mandate. Let us look at the figures. I do not think anybody in the House would deny how unpopular the Conservative Government of 1997 were. That led to the Labour landslide. I therefore wonder how the Labour party managed to take an even lower share of the vote in 2010 than the Conservative party took in 1997.

We went into the last general election saying that we would get the budget and the deficit under control, and that we would introduce welfare reform. Everybody heard that message, not least because the Labour party kept delivering leaflets to everybody’s houses saying that we were going to do those things.

Sheila Gilmore: I do not dispute that the Conservative party went into the election with those things in its manifesto. The point is that the Conservative party did not secure a majority and its coalition partner went to the electorate with a completely different prospectus.

Alec Shelbrooke: I am not sure that I quite understand the hon. Lady’s point.

John Hemming: The hon. Lady claims that the Liberal Democrats fought the election on the basis of not dealing with the deficit. We fought it on dealing with the deficit and that is what we are doing.

Alec Shelbrooke: Absolutely. It is a salutary lesson in the history of British politics that it has taken two parties to come together to deal with the mess that that lot left behind.

Labour Members say that there is no mandate, but nobody in this country was in any doubt about what the Conservative party would do in government, and they voted for us. [ Interruption. ] I have already given way twice and I will not give way again because I have only six minutes. The public voted for the Conservative party in big numbers. The only reason that it did not end up with a majority was the in-built advantage to the Labour party. Even with that, Labour could not win the election.

Labour Members have learned nothing from their election defeat a year ago. As far as they are concerned, there was nothing wrong with the economy and they knew how to sort things out. They think that the only reason they are in opposition is because people accidentally voted Conservative, and that we are in government only because of the Liberal Democrats. Well, I point out that we have a majority of 83 in this House. As I said, two of the main parties have come together to deal with the mess left by the Labour party. When I was campaigning up and down the country, that is what the British public wanted. They wanted a coalition Government and they got a coalition Government because this mess needed to be sorted out. I think that we should be proud of our record over the past year: job creation in the private sector—up; export growth—up; manufacturing growth—up; the largest fall in unemployment for more than 10 years; 50,000 apprenticeships; 100,000 work experience places; and millions invested.

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What is Labour’s plan? From what we can work out, it is to cut taxes and carry on borrowing. What would be the consequences of that? If we had carried on borrowing money at the rate at which it was being borrowed, the people lending us the money would have thought, “Will they be able to pay it back?” They would have said, “Here, have some money, but I’m charging a higher interest rate.” This country faced the danger of unfettered borrowing, which would have meant higher interest rates in the gilt markets and everywhere else. That would have worked through to people’s mortgages. We have spent the last 12 years on interest rates of about 3% to 4%, which were seen as historically low. If the interest rate went back to 3% or 4% tomorrow, it would cause real damage to the people of this country, who for almost 18 months have been on an interest rate of 0.5%. A responsible Government must ensure that frivolous spending and unfettered borrowing do not end up with the people about whom the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) just spoke suffering the consequences of not being able to borrow, not being able to afford their mortgages and not being able to live within their means.

It was interesting that the shadow Chancellor had clearly spent a long time looking into details about Government Back Benchers whom he though might intervene on him, instead of looking into a credible policy. He picked out statements from Government Members to paint the picture that we were all demanding higher spending. Of course, the reason why he thinks that is that the Opposition have no concept of governing for the long term. They do not understand that when my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) talks about the policies that he wants to have in his constituency, he is talking about the long term. I am sure my hon. Friend will expand on that when he speaks.

I am sure that the shadow Chancellor, having a neighbouring constituency to mine, had a few choice phrases ready for me. I have made no secret of the fact that I would like a better rail infrastructure in my city. However, I have always made it quite clear that my aspirations are for the long term and do not have to be achieved tomorrow. We do not have to borrow trillions of pounds to put them in place now, but such infrastructure could be built up in the next decade or even two.

John Hemming: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that by reducing the rate of interest and the amount of interest paid, in the long term we will be able to spend more on infrastructure than the Opposition would?

Alec Shelbrooke: Absolutely, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I have said in the House before that when we tell people that we have a deficit of £1 trillion that will go up to £1.4 trillion, they look at us blankly and think, “What’s a trillion?” It is such a huge number. However, when we tell them that every day of every year we are giving £120 million to foreign countries—that is the money that we borrow—they recognise the mess we are in. They recognise that we cannot give schools the improvement that they need, because of the absolute shambles of the private finance initiative projects in Building Schools for the Future. Money was wasted once again on bureaucracy.

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Labour Members have banged on about regional development agencies all afternoon, but they were a great way to spend bureaucratic money. The RDAs very proudly said that they had created x number of jobs, but they did not create those jobs, the private sector did. The jobs that they created were paid for out of the public purse. Where did that money come from? From the wealth creators in this country. Everybody understands that if I want to spend £1.25 and I have only £1 in my pocket, I cannot afford to do so. We understood that idea, and the country understood it, which is why Labour Members sit on the Opposition Benches and we sit on the Government Benches.

5.57 pm

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I think the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) forgets that the reason he sits on the Government Benches is that the Liberal Democrats changed their policies and decided to let him sit over there.

John Hemming rose

Toby Perkins: It is so good to see a Liberal Democrat turn up that I have to let him in. It will encourage him to come again.

John Hemming: I simply point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have not changed our policies. He is asking for more money to be borrowed. Where would it be borrowed from, and what would the interest rate be?

Toby Perkins: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman assumes what I am going to say already. I am only three seconds into my speech. I will come to that point.

The hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell said that he was proud of the Government’s record so far. I would not like to be here when he is ashamed. Government Members would like this debate to be about whether we need to reduce the deficit, but that is not what it is about at all. Everyone recognises that we need to do that, and that in 2008, prior to the onset of the biggest global economic crisis in history, we had a lower deficit as a ratio of GDP than in 1997 when we came into power. It was only the scale of the economic crisis that forced the Labour Government to spend money to stop the awful situation that ordinary people were finding themselves in, with jobs being lost and the danger of houses being repossessed. We are proud of the decisions that we made at the time, which were supported by the IMF. It said strongly that this country, under the Labour Government, showed leadership when the rest of the world did not know what to do in the face of a terrible global economic crisis.

Kwasi Kwarteng rose

Toby Perkins: Because the hon. Gentleman was so generous to me, I will allow him to intervene.

Kwasi Kwarteng: I believe in debate—it is good that interventions are taken. If the problem was global, why was our deficit to GDP ratio four times higher than that of the Federal Republic of Germany?

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Toby Perkins: Each country was in a different situation. Our ratio was much lower than Japan’s. There are a number of reasons why the German economy was different from ours. We over-relied on financial services and our manufacturing sector was reduced. We had high increases in housing prices. I do not remember any point in the past 13 years when Conservatives jumped up and down saying that they wanted the Government to engineer a house price crash.

Claire Perry: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Toby Perkins: I think I have given way enough. I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Lady has turned up for the debate, but I shall carry on.

As someone who for the five years prior to coming to this place ran a business that relied on people having money in their pockets to buy non-essential items, I know very well how important it is that decisions on our economy are balanced between the need to support growth and the need to reduce the nation’s borrowing. However, we are debating the economy today because since the Chancellor’s Budget a year ago, the OBR’s initial predictions get worse at every stage. The OBR now predicts £46 billion more borrowing than it predicted a year ago. The Government have discovered that the policies that they are pursuing are not working, so why do they not listen to the advice, change course and ensure that we protect not only the growth that we need in our economy to reduce the budget deficit, but the people on the ground in our constituencies—that includes the constituencies of Conservative Members—who are struggling to get by, whose houses are being repossessed? Repossessions are increasing.

John Hemming: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Toby Perkins: I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once. I am grateful for the fact that he has turned up, but I do not want to give him any further encouragement.

The scale of the deterioration in the OBR’s forecasts is stark. The OBR, which was set up to provide an independent view of the state of Government finances, has downgraded its forecasts three times. The Chancellor told us of all the steps he is taking to stimulate growth, but even taking those into account, the forecast is that public sector net borrowing will increase by £46 billion over the next five years, which demonstrates the failure of those policies.

The Chancellor might be failing to get our economy growing, but the same cannot be said of unemployment. Government Members are celebrating, as we all do, the fact that unemployment is down in the last month, but unemployment over the course of the Conservative-Lib Dem Government will go up. Youth unemployment is up. The OBR forecast is that unemployment will rise––[Interruption.] Going forward, the OBR is now predicting that in every year over the next five years unemployment will be higher than in its prediction of a year ago.

Ben Gummer: The hon. Gentleman is factually wrong. The OBR says that unemployment will peak at the end of this year and the beginning of next year, and that it will fall in every successive year.