10 May 2013 : Column 300

In the past few weeks, we have seen the Government prepared to dabble with the welfare and jobs of 3 million people by putting at risk our membership of the European Union. The Conservatives have promised to hold a referendum on renegotiating the terms of British membership. Let me be blunt: many Government Members do not want renegotiation, or the sort of renegotiation that the Prime Minister is likely to achieve—they want out. We will not know the terms of our trading relationship with the EU if we leave. We will have the same lack of benefits as Norway and Switzerland: they have no involvement or control over EU laws and directives, but are obliged to adopt them if they wish to continue to trade with the EU. We will have a referendum on the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without knowing precisely the trading or economic consequences of withdrawal. If we do leave, it will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making his position clear, but I would be grateful if he explained where he found that figure of hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.

Mark Hendrick: Hundreds of thousands is a small percentage of the 3 million jobs tied up in our business and trade with the EU. We will not know the exact consequences of leaving, and we cannot negotiate, while we are still a member, what our trading terms with the EU would be if we left. The German and French Governments—any Government worth their salt—would not be willing to negotiate before a referendum to tell us exactly what the terms would be if we voted no.

Dr Offord: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me a second opportunity to ask him the same question. I am not talking about negotiation. Will he please tell us where the 3 million figure comes from?

Mark Hendrick: The 3 million figure comes from the European Commission and many other respected and independent bodies. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman, from a sedentary position, wishes to challenge that figure. Can he give me a figure and substantiate it? Voting no in the referendum will have a serious impact. We can argue about whether it will affect hundreds of thousands of jobs or up to 1 million jobs, but it will have a serious impact on employment and our ability to trade.

Many people are saying that due to globalisation we are trading more with countries such as China and India. That is welcome, but is no substitute for the market we have on our doorstep—the EU. Any future trade with the EU, should we choose to leave, will be conducted on terms dictated by the remaining members of the EU, not a British Government. That will have a big impact on jobs and a bigger impact on the prosperity of this country.

Gordon Birtwistle: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous. Does he agree with the protestations of some Members that if we pull out of Europe Mercedes will still be delighted to deal with us? My concern is whether the people of Germany will still be delighted to deal with Jaguar Land Rover when we are no longer a member and tariff barriers are introduced.

10 May 2013 : Column 301

Mark Hendrick: That is right. If we left the European Union, tariff barriers, possibly quotas and all sorts of other obstacles would be placed in front of Britain, which would restrict and inhibit our trade with Europe. That could have a serious or even disastrous effect on many of the industries we rely on to provide jobs and business in this country. When we have on our own doorstep a market as big as the European Union— 500 million people—it would be folly to ignore it and to pretend that the UK can do better by going it alone.

A great deal has been said on immigration—even Labour Front Benchers have said that to some extent we got it wrong with the accession of the 10 central and eastern European countries. I disagree. Many of those people came to the UK looking for work when our economy was doing very well and the work was available; in many cases, they took work that some people in this country were not willing to take. In my constituency, there are schools and even Catholic churches that would have closed but for the arrival of many Polish and other central and eastern European families. They came and turned them into thriving communities and schools, so we now have churches occupied that had been threatened with closure.

Half those people have now returned to their country of origin, partly because they have made money and started up their own business back in those countries and partly because the job situation here is now not so good. Quite naturally, if there is not work here, they will look for work that, in many cases, might be lower paid, but is in their own country. Free movement is a benefit: people move only to where there are jobs, and the idea that everyone is coming here to scrounge off the state is untrue and an absolute disgrace—it is opportunist politicking at the least.

Ms Abbott: Is it not a fact that, overall, immigrants put more into the economy than they take out, partly because they are younger and so less likely to claim benefit or to be a charge on the health service?

Mark Hendrick: That is right. If we look at the history of immigration in this country, first we have the Irish, then the West Indian immigration—

Mr Kevan Jones: What about the Huguenots?

Mark Hendrick: That is going back even further. We have had successive waves of immigration to this country, and every wave has benefited this country and made it greater. One of the greatest nations on earth, the United States, is a nation of immigrants. One of the emerging nations, which will be very powerful, Brazil, is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants bring far more to any community than people could possibly believe. Scapegoating them, as some political parties are in this country, is an absolute disgrace. It is opportunism that blames the European Union for our economic woes and foreigners for the state of our public services.

Finally, I want to say something about health tourism, which is also practised by some 1 million to 2 million British people working abroad or living in other parts of Europe, many of whom come back to the UK when they need the national health service, while paying taxes and working in other countries. I have no problem with paying taxes or living in other countries, but we should look at health tourism as a whole.

10 May 2013 : Column 302

To leave the EU would be to cut off our nose to spite our face. The only losers would be the UK, and that would be bad for business and bad for Britain.

12.18 pm

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I rather enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick). At one stage, I think I was the only person in the Chamber listening to him, as there was a gathering around the Chair. [Interruption.] At least one other Member was listening. I found the contribution interesting; I did not agree with everything he said, but I thank him for coming along today and giving us an insight into his ideas.

I want to speak about the Queen’s Speech. The Government have made good progress in the past three years. Yes, we still have problems with our economy, but no one expected it to turn around in the time we have had so far. Nevertheless, we are fixing things, such as our welfare system, to introduce greater fairness.

We are reintroducing different tax regimes, so that fewer people in this country pay tax. We are talking about taking 2 million people across the country out of tax. In my constituency, 49,360 people will be taken out of tax. That is all good, but when we talk about immigration—which I shall come to—we should recognise that there are two stages to it: the accession of people from Europe and the rest, from outside. We have decreased immigration from outside Europe by a third. We have also cut crime by 10%, which is no mean feat either. We should also remind ourselves that we have made significant progress in cutting the Labour party’s deficit, which we inherited.

Mark Hendrick: The hon. Gentleman mentions cutting non-EU immigration by 30%. Can he tell me how many of those affected are people who would have been students, contributing to this country’s economy in cities such as Preston, in my constituency, which is dependent on foreign students for the local economy?

Dr Offord: I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman about Preston, but I can tell him about Middlesex university in my area, which is also suffering from the kind of problems he describes. I also have the National Institute for Medical Research in my constituency. It, too, has problems getting PhD students. That is why I feel that our focus has been on the wrong kind of immigrants. The problems we have in this country—those that have been raised by political parties such as the UK Independence party—are to do with EU migration. For example, Kiplings, the Indian restaurant in my constituency, has a problem getting a curry chef. The local Chinese restaurant also has a problem, because it cannot get people from outside the EU. That is a problem the Government need to face.

Let me return to the Queen’s Speech. There are some things I am very pleased about. My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) spoke eloquently about tackling antisocial behaviour in his constituency. We have a Bill to address that. I look forward to seeing the detail; my concern is that we have had many Bills to deal with antisocial behaviour, since way back when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. My feeling is that we probably need a cultural change in our society rather than more legislation. There

10 May 2013 : Column 303

seems to be something fundamentally wrong with people’s beliefs about their responsibilities and activities in public and the way they impact on others, from simple things such as spitting in the street to putting their feet on bus seats. These are all problems that contribute to antisocial behaviour and a general sense of unease in society among those whom we live alongside.

I also look forward to the Department for Work and Pensions bringing forward its Bill to address pensions inequality. Pensioners have had a hard time in our country for many years. I look forward to seeing proposals that will make it easier for working people to contribute to their pensions, particularly as other significant changes have been made.

The final issue I am keen to address is immigration. This is a debate about jobs and business—the economy encompasses both jobs and business—and immigration, as we have heard, is a major part of that. One thing I like about the debate on the Queen’s Speech is listening to Members’ experiences in their own constituencies, which we have heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), for example. We have also heard about the experiences of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). It is useful—not only for Members such as myself, but for Ministers too—to hear about the problems faced by Back Benchers. We have already heard that the Chancellor is listening—no doubt he was listening to the shadow Business Secretary, and I hope he is listening to me now and can hear about the problems of my constituency.

However, while I was working in my office yesterday, I heard an histrionic speech by an Opposition Member. She was talking about immigration, saying that doctors, nurses and landlords should not be Border Agency guards. There has never been a proposal for that to happen. I believe that the proposal to require landlords to check the veracity and identity of those living in their properties is a good one. I cannot speak for others, but I have rented property to Middlesex university students who were not from the EU or this country. I always made sure that I knew where they came from and that they could pay their rent. That is a sensible thing to do, and most landlords probably do it already.

We have also heard about health tourists coming to this country. We do have people coming here to seek elective or semi-elective surgery—people who might decide that they want their child born here, for instance. It is unacceptable for people to come here in the knowledge that very soon they will have a child, because it has many repercussions for this country.

Ms Abbott: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Royal College of General Practitioners is quite clear that its members have a primary duty to heal the sick and they are simply not willing to be immigration officers. On the question of landlord checks, what will the hon. Gentleman do when his constituents come to tell him that their children, third generation British nationals, are being asked for their passport before they can rent a room?

Dr Offord: I am sure they will welcome the fact that there will be fairness, and everyone is treated the same. That is what they would like. As we have seen across the country—some Members appear to be ignoring what

10 May 2013 : Column 304

has happened in the country over the past week or two —people want their concerns about immigration to be taken seriously. The hon. Lady talks about doctors and nurses acting as border guards, but what happens when we open a bank account? We are required to show proof of identity in many different ways, including utility bills, to prove where we live. Why do we do that? Because of the Terrorism Act 2000. In some areas, that will have contributed to a decrease in terrorist funding. I have to say that when I go into banks, particularly one I already bank with, they already know that I am a British subject and that I receive an income from this country. Such a mechanism is already in place.

Ms Abbott rose

Dr Offord: I shall not give way yet, as the hon. Lady might like to hear what I have to say. Let us not forget that in 2001, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) introduced his asylum Bill, which ensured that carriers such as lorries received a fine if someone was found stowed in their lorry. It was nothing to do with the driver if someone had decided to stowaway on a lorry coming back from France, but they, not doctors and nurses, were required to be border guards.

Ms Abbott: I only hope that residents in Hendon are hearing the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for a kind of pass law for themselves and their children. My specific point about so-called “health tourism” is that doctors take a Hippocratic oath, and all the Royal Colleges have made it clear that they are not willing to breach that oath in order to undertake immigration check duties. If somebody comes to them ill, they have sworn an oath to help them. Is the hon. Gentleman aware, furthermore, of the public health implications of trying to stop people from getting the health care that they may desperately need?

Dr Offord: As I said earlier—I think the hon. Lady has deliberately decided not to understand what I said—this involves elective and semi-elective surgery and other cases. Sometimes people come into the country when they are pregnant and decide to have their child here. If that is a possibility, they should be prevented from coming here. Secondly, and most importantly, they should be forced to have their own insurance policy. I cannot say whether the hon. Lady has been abroad, but I know that if I go to India or New York and find myself in an accident requiring medical attention, I will receive a wallet biopsy from the ambulance man, which will determine the type of treatment I get. [Interruption.] All we are seeking is the same for this country; it is about fairness. It is not about denying people medical treatment; it is about fairness. [Interruption.] I am going to move on. [Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We need the debate to be conducted through the Chair rather than to have cross-channel discussions. I understand that the debate is getting a little tense, but I am sure we can get back to where we need to be on the Queen’s Speech.

10 May 2013 : Column 305

Dr Offord: I can assure you that it never gets tense, Mr Deputy Speaker, particularly with the hon. Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Mr Abbott) and for Preston.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I think I will be the judge of that from the Chair.

Dr Offord: I bow to your superior knowledge, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I want to move on to discuss other aspects of immigration and what I would like to see in the Government’s legislative programme. We heard earlier about people entering this country from the EU and migrant countries and about the problems they have caused. I have a lot of problems with this in my constituency. In Edgware, for example, several people living in garages told me that they could not afford to go home. On a recent ward visit to Watford Way in Hendon, one of my constituents and I went to an old commercial garage in which scores of people were living rough. These were people who beg locally and they were visibly east European. I spoke to some of them who claimed that they did not have the money to get back home. Funds are available, however, and I should like them to make use of them, because their current lifestyle is unacceptable. That is the face of Labour’s immigration policy in the last decade: people sleeping in garages in my constituency.

As recently as this week, we saw members of the Metropolitan police on horseback going to areas around Marble Arch, rounding up people—particularly Bulgarians and Romanians—and checking their identification papers to establish what they are doing, who they are and why they are here. At present, as the House knows, they are not allowed to work, but those restrictions will soon end, and they will have three months in which to demonstrate that they can support themselves. If they cannot do that, the Border Agency will summon them for an interview and ask them what they are doing. If they refuse to turn up, there is nothing that the agency can do. It should be an arrestable offence not to turn up, but it is not, and they can be picked up again in future sweeps. Moreover, they can leave the country and come back again, in which event their three-months time frame will start all over again. The Immigration Bill should address some of those points, and I hope that the Government have heard my plea.

I now want to talk about what will not be in the Bill. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick)—who is not in the Chamber at present, but who has been described as “the popular Member for Limehouse—referred to some of the issues that would not be included, but omitted to mention provision for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Lord Lawson made his position clear at the weekend. Within hours, the Deputy Prime Minister had decided that he knew better than Lord Lawson and, indeed, better than anyone else. He said:

“There are 3 million of our fellow countrymen and women in this country whose jobs rely directly on our participation and role and place in what is after all the largest borderless single market.”

The hon. Member for Preston also gave that figure. I asked him where he had got it, a question that I do not believe he was able to answer.

10 May 2013 : Column 306

Mark Hendrick: From the European Commission.

Dr Offord: That is not correct. I remember the figure being bandied about a decade or so ago, when I was working at the BBC. We used regularly to fact-check such things.

In 2000, research conducted by economists at London South Bank university suggested that about 2.5 million people owed their jobs directly to exports of goods and services to countries in the European Union, and that a further 900,000 jobs had been created indirectly by trade with the continent. If we left the single market, however, Britons would not be simply thrown on the dole, for the simple reason that Britain would still be able to trade with countries in Europe even if it were not a member of the EU. I understand that 20 countries continue to do so. Switzerland and Norway, for instance, have negotiated free trade agreements with the bloc without signing up.

Mark Hendrick: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Switzerland and Norway have to abide by all the EU regulations and directives pertaining to the single market, but have no control over or say in them because they are not EU members. While enjoying some of the benefits of being in the single market, they have none of the decision-making powers that membership of the EU confers. If we leave the EU, we will have to start from scratch, and will probably have to do exactly what Norway, in particular, is doing: accept, wholesale—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick) made a 19-minute speech, and has made, I think, five interventions since then. Interventions should not be a way of making another speech. They must be short, because others wish to speak.

Dr Offord: Let me respond briefly to the hon. Gentleman’s point by saying that I think there are certain products that parts of the EU cannot do without. For instance, I know that places such as Italy could not do without Lancashire cheese. I have tasted that very cheese in your room on occasion, Mr Deputy Speaker, during some of your receptions.

Was the Deputy Prime Minister claiming, in his “3 million” statement, that Britain would not negotiate a reciprocal deal to avoid tariffs? I should like to know the answer to that, particularly given that we import more from the EU as a whole than we export to it.

According to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, there is

“no reason to suppose that unemployment would rise significantly if the UK were to withdraw from the EU. Withdrawal could cause disruption”

—I acknowledge that—

“but it is most unlikely that export sales to EU markets would cease completely”.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse quoted from The Daily Telegraph. One of the quotes cited the Institute of Directors, which in 2000 came to the opposite conclusion to that of South Bank university. It estimated that there was a net cost to the UK from staying out of the EU of about 1.75% of GDP, which was about £15 billion at the time, but all those figures are completely worthless now as so much has changed since then. We

10 May 2013 : Column 307

were promised no more boom and bust, but we now realise that that is not the case—it has not been the case for the past couple of years.

All the underlying calculations are simply wrong now, and we no longer know what the true situation would be. I therefore ask the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to commission a cost-benefit analysis on Britain’s continued membership of the EU, to establish what the economic consequences of Britain’s withdrawal would be. I ask it to do that for no other reason than that the Business Secretary said in opening today’s debate that he was interested in dealing with “factoids”, and I would like to see the relevant factoids. I would also like the Deputy Prime Minister to use the correct factoids, instead of scaremongering people into thinking that Britain cannot leave the EU.

There has been some talk about the UK Independence party today, and I, too, will mention it briefly. I believe that in the past couple of weeks UKIP has come to be seen by some as offering a panacea for all the problems of the UK, but I do not believe that is true. I do not think its members and supporters are all fruitcakes, nuts and loops either, and I believe we need to take them on on policy—or, rather, on their lack of policies. I agree with them in some areas, however, and many people voted for UKIP last week not because they want UKIP to be elected, but because they want some of the policies that it raises to be addressed, and they are looking to us to do that. It is wrong for Members on either side of this House to reject UKIP supporters, and it sends out a message that the political class is not listening. Gillian Duffy stated the case well in the 2010 general election, and we ignore it at our peril. I therefore respectfully ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to ask Mr Speaker to select the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), to which I have added my name, so that we can have an opportunity to vote on it next week.

12.37 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): The hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) has sat down a little earlier than I thought he would—and I was enjoying his speech so much!

My constituents were looking forward to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech, as they have looked forward to every Budget and autumn statement since this coalition assumed office. They have been looking for a sign that Ministers had abandoned government by dogma and were prepared to prioritise targeted programmes to tackle the problems of unemployment and under-employment, particularly among young people, but there has been no such sign.

Youth unemployment in my constituency is currently 14.3% as against a national average of 7.2%. That is totally unacceptable. It is double the national average and will be blighting the lives of those young people, possible irrevocably. Why is it always the north-east that suffers when there is a Tory in the Prime Minister’s office? Do not our kids deserve as fair a chance as the kids in the shire counties? Are they always going to be at the bottom of the list of priorities for Tory and for Lib Dem Ministers, perhaps because their parents vote for Labour in droves? One nation Labour will not behave in such a way when we are in office. We will govern for the whole of the country and all young people regardless of how their parents vote.

10 May 2013 : Column 308

My constituents have been looking for signs that this Government are on their side, rather than on the side of the super-rich, and for signs that they are going to tackle the big issues which have such a big impact on the quality of life of so many people—lack of affordable housing, rising fuel bills, poor economic performance, zero growth and a weak jobs market. They will have been sorely disappointed as there were no measures to tackle any of them, and there was nothing to arrest the increase in child poverty. Earlier this week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies projected that there would be more than 1 million extra children in poverty, wiping out the progress made by the last Labour Government, and surely saddling the country with huge costs over the lifetime of those children in lost opportunities and increased health and earnings inequality.

There were some important items of legislation in the Queen’s Speech, of course, but in the main my constituents got a list of vague ideas designed by Lynton Crosby to try to woo right-wing voters back into the Conservative fold—I include some Government Back Benchers in that group. There was very little positivity for the future, very little vision for a fairer and more modern Britain and very little to put food on the tables in Washington and Sunderland West.

Having said all that, I am hopeful about one Bill. The consumer rights Bill announced in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech has, of course, been long anticipated; indeed, time is running out for it to be introduced. As Members will be aware, the European directive on which it is based needs to be implemented by December, so the Government will no doubt be in a rush to make significant progress on the Bill before the House rises for the summer.

During that rush, I hope to make my case for the Bill to include measures to reform the secondary ticketing market to ensure that fans get a fair deal. I was very encouraged to hear the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), confirm in response to my intervention during his opening remarks that, if the Bill introduced by the Government contains no such measures, he will seek to make amendments to ensure that the wild west that the secondary ticketing market has become is reined in and regulated.

Members, and certainly Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will remember that I introduced a private Member’s Bill in the first Session of this Parliament that attempted to start this process. It would have established a scheme whereby those who are putting on a ticketed event—whether that is a gig, a west end show or even an art exhibition—could, if they wanted, protect those tickets from being resold by unauthorised individuals or companies for a mark-up of more than 10%. People would still be able to resell their tickets if they could no longer attend an event, but not for a huge profit.

Members might have noticed that I said, “even an art exhibition”. There is actually a roaring trade for such tickets. The Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery hit the headlines last summer because tickets were being snapped up by touts, much to the annoyance of the National Gallery, which felt absolutely powerless to do anything to prevent it. Anyone who wants to see the exhibition on David Bowie that is on at the Victoria and

10 May 2013 : Column 309

Albert museum will find themselves having to fork out at least £60 for a weekend ticket, which is more than four times the face value.

Back in 2010, I thought that my Bill was a sensible way to empower artists and event-holders to protect their fans from the rampant profiteering that we see on a regular basis. I believe that even more now. However, I also believe that the market needs to be much more transparent, as consumers should know who they are buying from and the provenance of the ticket. That is how any market should work.

There are a number of reasons why I am more convinced than ever that we need action. Since my Bill was talked out by the usual suspects on the Government Benches, we have had an excellent exposé by the “Dispatches” programme of how websites such as viagogo and Seatwave, through which the vast majority of secondary tickets are now sold, operate. Surprisingly enough, that differed greatly from the image that they used to portray of themselves as being fan-to-fan exchanges. They used to have that description on their websites, but since they have been exposed they have taken that down. We saw tickets being sold as if by fans when those companies were receiving allocations of tickets directly from promoters, or using banks of phones and batteries of credit cards registered to multiple addresses. We also saw how those companies court what we call “power sellers”—professional touts who manage to secure huge inventories of tickets to events by highly dubious means such as botnets, which Chris Stewart of Ticket Hut was recently found by the Daily Mirror to be using to secure vast swathes of One Direction tickets. I am sure that there are a number of One Direction fans in the Chamber today.

What makes me more concerned about the murkiness of this industry is that football tickets are now being sold through those websites, with clubs exploiting their right to authorise resale by saying that the likes of viagogo and StubHub can do that, even though it is actually random season ticket holders who are doing so. The resale of football tickets through other channels is understandably banned, due to safety concerns, and many people might think that the resale of football tickets is illegal, because there is supposed to be legislation. The purpose of the ban is to ensure that hooligans cannot get their hands on any tickets, and that fans of each team are segregated.

Stephen Pound: Every word I hear from my hon. Friend makes me all the more furious that her excellent Bill was talked out. Is she aware, as many of us are in the House, that Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match in charge of a certain team from up north is already attracting ticket prices of £3,000? Surely, under those circumstances, action must be taken.

Mrs Hodgson: I agree. There is obviously the unfairness, but there is also the fact that there was supposed to be legislation to protect football audiences from unscrupulous fans. Nothing stops any of those fans who might be able to get hold of that amount of money going along and ruining an amazing occasion such as the last match that Sir Alex will be in charge of. I certainly do not have any confidence in the websites that are now authorised by the clubs to sell tickets, because their ultimate aim is to

10 May 2013 : Column 310

make profits and I do not think that they are best placed to uphold the principles with regard to hooligans and segregation.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): What did my hon. Friend think of the Olympic ticketing system? That seemed to work quite well.

Mrs Hodgson: As my hon. Friend knows, we introduced legislation to protect the Olympic tickets. It was a proviso of the International Olympic Committee that the country that hosted the Olympics must protect the tickets, and it worked very well. Although the tickets were really hard to get hold of, the allocation was made fairly and they did not go to the highest bidder. Later I shall mention Operation Podium, the Met unit set up to police that legislation.

Despite the clear evidence in the “Dispatches” programme, and in a number of Penman and Sommerlad columns in the Daily Mirror since then, the sports Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), has remained steadfast in his opposition to such a move. So I am now looking to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to look more favourably upon such measures in his forthcoming consumer rights Bill. The sports Minister has, however, always been at pains when we have debated this issue to say that his mind could be changed. Indeed, in a Westminster Hall debate on secondary ticketing secured by the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), who also campaigns on the issue and who supported my private Member’s Bill—he was the only Conservative Member who did—the Minister said:

“Purely in my own opinion, the moment that the security services or the police say the activity is becoming a proxy for large-scale criminal activity, and that large amounts of money are being laundered through the system, the case for legislation will become much easier to make.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 65WH.]

Well, now the police have that evidence. Operation Podium, which Members may be aware was the Metropolitan police’s dedicated response to the serious and organised crime affecting the economy of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, in a report entitled, “Ticket Crime: Problem Profile”, published in February to coincide with the unit’s abolition, set out the extent to which fans are being “ripped off” through dodgy practices. It also laid bare the involvement of organised criminal networks, which will always be involved where there are large sums of money to be made in a semi-legitimate way. As for large sums, the Met estimates that the “industry”, if we may call it that, is worth £1 billion a year—a not insubstantial sum of money.

Lyn Brown: So my hon. Friend is basically making the case that it would be harder to launder money from drugs, for instance, if we had better legislation on this issue.

Mrs Hodgson: That is exactly the point, and it is well made.

For the benefit of the House, I shall quote some highlights from Operation Podium’s report. It makes very interesting reading. It found that

“due to the surreptitious way that large numbers of ‘primary’ tickets are diverted straight onto the secondary ticket websites, members of the public have little choice but to try to source tickets on the secondary ticket market.”

10 May 2013 : Column 311

It concluded that

“the lack of legislation outlawing the unauthorised resale of tickets and the absence of regulation of the primary and secondary ticketing market encourages unscrupulous practices, a lack of transparency and fraud.”

This is the Metropolitan police recommendation:

“Consideration must be given to introducing legislation to govern the unauthorised sale of event tickets. The lack of legislation in this area enables fraud and places the public at risk of economic crime.”

They went further still by saying:

“The primary and secondary ticket market require regulation to ensure transparency, allowing consumers to understand who they are buying from and affording them better protection from ticket crime.”

In short, the report sets out how this market is failing, and how it works in the interests of a handful of professional touts, middlemen and the criminal underworld, with dubious practices and tax arrangements. As an example, in the wake of the “Dispatches” documentary, it emerged that viagogo had transferred its formal head office for legal and tax purposes from the UK to Switzerland, despite the fact that all its staff are still working right here in London. One must ask why.

The Government could take action in the Bill to make the secondary market work in the interests of the consumer, which is to say the genuine fans and event-goers who want to enjoy and patronise the arts. In doing so they would also make the market work in the interests of those who are investing time, energy and resources, as well as talent, of course, who at present have to make the invidious choice between being leeched off by touts or getting into bed with them to get a little piece of the poacher’s pie.

This pie, as I said, is estimated by the Met to be worth in excess of £1 billion a year. No wonder there is such interest from the criminal world. We are talking about huge amounts of money to be made from doing very little. But this is not a victimless abuse. I get e-mails from dozens of victims every week. They are law-abiding regular citizens, adults and children, who have found themselves drawn into this murky world because they just want to see their idol play a gig or go to the theatre or an art exhibition. They end up feeling that they have no choice but to buy their tickets from the secondary market because that is the only place where the tickets are. Some realise that they are being fleeced and some do not, but all feel they have no choice.

These tickets end up changing hands for four, five or even more times their face value, as we heard—sometimes thousands of pounds. Who gets all that profit? The tout does, mainly, but as I mentioned, the situation is now much more complicated, as the Met made very clear in its excellent Operation Podium report.

Leaving aside the criminality, murkiness and lack of transparency, I am doing this for the fans—for the millions of music, sport, art, comedy and theatre fans out there who are routinely priced out of this wild west of a marketplace. It is not fair. I read all the e-mails I get. Some are heartbreaking, especially those from children. These are tickets to an experience, sometimes a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This cannot and should not be compared to the usual rules regarding supply and demand. As someone once said about football, “It’s not a matter of life and death; it’s more important than that.” I really believe it is. Other countries have chosen to regulate the

10 May 2013 : Column 312

market, most recently France under Sarkozy, who is hardly a left-winger. It did so because that is the right thing to do and we should do it as soon as possible.

The Bill is fundamentally a consumer protection Bill, so let us take the opportunity to protect live event consumers. Let us bring some transparency to a very murky market. Let us give those whose talent and investment create this demand in the first place greater control over the supply of their tickets. But most importantly, let us put fans first and let us take action on ticket touts now.

12.53 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): A few weeks ago I sat in the Chamber listening to the Budget debate. My overwhelming memory is of the Chancellor sitting on the Front Bench looking like a little boy lost, with no idea what to do about a flatlining economy, the loss of our triple A status or the level of borrowing, and no idea how to balance the books. So he delivered a Budget that did none of that, sitting on his hands, hoping that things would just happen.

After that disappointment, one might think that I would learn, but sadly not. I listened to the Queen deliver the Gracious Speech, hoping that she would tell us about the action Her Government would take to improve life for my constituents. It seemed to start pretty well:

“My Government’s legislative programme will continue to focus on building a stronger economy”.

I frowned a little at the word “continue”, because after three years they seem to have failed to build anything, but still I sat in hope. She continued:

“It will also work to promote a fairer society that rewards people who work hard.”

Well, we all agree with that. She went on:

“My Government is committed to building an economy where people who work hard are properly rewarded. It will therefore continue to reform the benefits system, helping people move from welfare to work.”

I frowned a little at that, too. As I see it, their reforms of the benefits system are not helping people to move from welfare to work; they are making them move to food banks and to skip meals so that family members can eat. If they are even more unfortunate, they might be one of the families who have been made homeless.

Even so, I waited to hear what the Government would actually do to build our economy. I waited and waited—I did not have to wait long, because in less than 10 minutes the speech was over—but there were no answers and no relief for my constituents. There was a little tinkering, but it was yet another wasted opportunity from this failing Government. They are out of touch and out of ideas.

How much evidence do the Government need that their policies are failing? The International Monetary Fund says that growth in the UK is slower than in 23 of the 33 advanced economies it monitors. Olivier Blanchard, its chief economist, warned the Chancellor that he is “playing with fire” by refusing to change course. However, there was nothing in the speech to address the IMF’s call to boost growth and rethink the speed of the deficit reduction. Starting to build HS2 in a few years, welcome though that is in Bolton West, will do nothing to build the economy now.

10 May 2013 : Column 313

On the same day that the Queen delivered that terribly thin speech, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that 1 million more children will descend into poverty as a direct result of benefit policies. Simply saying that people should work hard and blaming the poor for the situation they find themselves in is an insult. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that 6.1 million people living in poverty are in working households, 6.4 million people lack the paid work they want and 1.4 million part-time workers want full-time work, the highest figure in 20 years.

The Government like to boast that they have created over 1 million new jobs, but they do not tell us how many of those jobs are a direct transfer from the public sector or how many are unpaid. Unbelievably, workfare jobs, where people work for their dole, are counted as jobs created. Despite the Secretary of State’s denial, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility unpaid work experience and work placements make up 14% of those so-called new jobs. The Government do not tell us how many of those jobs are on are zero-hour contracts or how many are part time, and they do not tell us how many of them no longer exist because the business has failed or downsized.

The Government like to peddle the myth that the 2.5 million people who are out of work and the 1 million young people who do not have jobs are skivers and shirkers. The reality is that millions of people are desperate for work and there is a substantial churn of people in poverty or out of work. Although 18% of people are on a low income at any one time, one in three of us experience at least one period on a low income in a four-year period, and 11% of people are on a low income for more than half of those four years. More people are out of work under this Government than were when they took office, and the flagship Work programme gets only two in every 100 people into work—fewer than if the Government had done nothing at all.

Tax credits have been cut so hard that a previous Work and Pensions Minister revealed that some families with children could be £728 a year better off if they were out of work. The Department for Work and Pensions impact assessment reveals that universal credit will fail to make work pay for 2.1 million workers and that real wages are down by £1,700 since the election. The welfare bill has continued to go up since the financial crash and is increasing in real terms by 2% each year. Borrowing is going up and unemployment is set to rise even higher.

Of course, the Government like to blame Labour for everything. According to them, the Labour Government caused the global economic crash—a crash that started in America and spread to the rest of the world. They like to say that we did not fix the roof while the sun was shining, but they forget that the Labour Government paid off the second world war debt, built hundreds of new schools and hospitals, and invested more in the railways than the so-called record spending that this Government currently claim. At the time of the general election we had growth of 0.7%, unemployment was falling, and the deficit was coming down.

The Government need to start to take responsibility for a double-dip recession, for soaring borrowing, and for failing to meet every one of their predictions on

10 May 2013 : Column 314

growth, borrowing and deficit reduction, yet they carry on with their failed policies. Have they never heard the old adage, “You can’t cut your way out of a recession”? They need to take action to grow the economy. Building homes would be a good place to start, as would ensuring that businesses get the finance they need with a British investment bank.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I do not know whether the hon. Lady is aware that when she stood for election in 2010 her party set out spending plans for this Parliament that involved substantial spending cuts.

Julie Hilling: Absolutely; I am well aware of that. In fact, we said that we would halve the deficit over this four-year period. The Government said that they were going to cut it completely in one term, but they are not even three quarters of the way there yet. They told my local council that it would have to find £20 million-worth of cuts over the course of the Parliament. It has already had to find £100 million-worth of cuts. That is the difference between a planned deficit reduction and planned action for growth and a Government who sit there saying, “If we cut, something miraculous will happen to grow our economy.”

Lyn Brown: Is my hon. Friend as confused as I am that the Government cannot see that their policies over the past three years have caused the economy to flatline? Why does she think they will take no responsibility?

Julie Hilling: That is the million dollar question. I have no idea why the Government will not take responsibility. They like to trot out the same old line that it is all the Labour party’s fault, but they must start to take responsibility.

We can all see the cost of the Government’s policies for the poorest in our communities, who are being hit not only in their pockets but by cuts in the services they depend on. We can see the consequences of cuts to in-work benefits, no pay rises, and rising inflation for those who used to feel comfortably off. We all know that there are only two ways to balance a budget: cut expenditure or increase income.

The Government’s cuts are harming not only individuals and their communities but the economy. A recent Financial Times study showed that cuts in social security payments would take £19 billion out of the economy. However, it is not just about social security spending. The low-paid spend more of their income, so less money in the community means more jobs lost, which means more people on benefits, and more jobs lost again—a downward spiral. The only way to reverse that spiral is to grow the economy by investing in properly paid jobs so that people are not dependent on social security but are instead paying into the coffers.

The Government do not have any real answers to the problems that we face. Unemployment in my constituency is up. One in 10 people in Greater Manchester skips meals so that family members can eat. Nationally, homelessness and rough sleeping are up by a third, and Shelter says that every 15 minutes another family is made homeless. The economy may be flatlining, but people’s incomes and spending are not. The Office for

10 May 2013 : Column 315

Budget Responsibility has said that in 2015 people will be worse off than they were in 2010. Wages are £1,700 lower than in May 2010.

Behind those figures are real people having a desperately hard time—people who are losing their homes, having to choose between heating and eating, and relying on food banks to feed themselves and their children. The people of Bolton West are struggling, and many are more than struggling—they are finding it hard to survive day to day. The Government blame them and are hell-bent on making the situation worse. They say that they have to cut the welfare budget but neglect to say that the majority of that budget is made up of pensions and in-work benefits. That does not fit the picture they are trying to portray of the skivers who are ruining the economy. They forget to say that jobseeker’s allowance accounts for less than 5% of the budget and that cutting benefit not only forces people to food banks but harms the economy. They forget to tell us that the private rented sector is far more costly than social housing. They will do nothing to introduce fair rents and nothing to curb the cost of private rented accommodation; they simply cap benefits in the hope that that might just bring down the rents. They introduce a bedroom tax that drives people to desperation.

The Government refuse to acknowledge that the work capability assessments that are conducted on ill and disabled people are fundamentally flawed. Even people who are too ill to leave their homes are being found fit for work. People who have lost their jobs through illness or disability are being told that they should get a job, but jobcentres will not sign them on for jobseeker’s allowance because they are too ill to work. Even though our staff are dealing with suicidal constituents on a daily basis, the Government accuse us of blowing the situation out of proportion.

Mrs Hodgson: My hon. Friend is making a fantastic, powerful and moving speech. Is she aware of other cases like my constituent Michael Moore, who was classed as fit for work and died less than 18 months later, or was that an isolated case?

Julie Hilling: If only that tragic case was an isolated one. There are many more people who have committed suicide after being told that they are fit for work or who have died between being told that they are fit for work and their appeal. That is a tragedy. The system is cruel and heartless, but the Government will not listen or say that they have to do something about it.

The Government blame migrants for unemployment but do nothing to enforce the national minimum wage, tackle the agencies that recruit only from abroad, or deal with the abuse of inflated accommodation charges for vastly overcrowded houses being taken out of people’s wages.

The Government have proposed a deregulation Bill. I shudder every time I hear those words. Of course we should get rid of unnecessary burdens on business, make compliance with legislation as simple as possible and listen to the concerns and proposals of businesses, but every time this Government have proposed changes, they have eroded the hard-fought-for rights of workers.

10 May 2013 : Column 316

Ms Abbott: What does my hon. Friend say to those who propose effectively to deregulate child care and to reduce the ratio of carers to toddlers? Could it be that those people have never actually looked after four toddlers on their own?

Julie Hilling: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That fits with the Government’s pattern of not looking at the reality and not talking to people who work at the coal face or the chalkboard—the people who actually do the job and know what is needed.

The proposal to exempt self-employed people from health and safety law may sound reasonable, but it will not be if it means that corners are cut, lives are lost and the cost to the taxpayer for hospital treatment and disability benefit increases. Perhaps I will be pleasantly shocked and the proposals will be fair to both employer and employee—we live in hope.

There are many things that the Government could have done to bring growth to the economy, to give 2.5 million people the dignity of work and to give a decent standard of living to those who are too ill or disabled to work. It is a pity that they have wasted yet another opportunity.

Before I sit down, I must bring up one more issue. The Government have failed to take the opportunity to introduce holistic legislation to tackle dangerous dogs. Although the proposal to extend the legislation to cover dog attacks on private property is welcome, the lack of proposals to promote responsible ownership and prevent dog attacks is more than disappointing.

Each year, there are 210,000 dog attacks and more than 6,000 people are admitted to hospital, often suffering life-changing injuries. On average, 12 postal workers are attacked each day. The NHS spends £3 million on treating the victims of dog attacks and local authorities spend £57 million on kennelling costs. There have been nine deaths since 2006, the last of which was that of my constituent, 14-year-old Jade Lomas-Anderson.

The last Government started a consultation on dangerous dogs that closed in June 2010. There was a consensus among organisations including the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust, the RSPCA, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Veterinary Association and the Communication Workers Union that dog control notices should be introduced. Those would give the responsible officer the ability to instruct an owner to keep their dog muzzled, on a lead or away from children; to order the owner and dog to undertake training; and potentially to reduce the number of dogs in a particular household. That would be good for the community and for the welfare of the animals. There was also a call to extend the legislation to cover attacks on other animals and to restrict the number of puppies that are bred by unlicensed breeders.

The Government said no to all of that. They are missing an opportunity to introduce holistic legislation that would protect not only the community, but dogs themselves. None of this will help Jade, but one thing is certain: inaction will mean that there will be more attacks and that more families will suffer the terrible tragedy of the death or injury of a loved one. I ask the Government to reconsider their position. I will certainly be campaigning for vast improvements to their very limited proposals.

10 May 2013 : Column 317

1.9 pm

Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): I am delighted to follow that passionate and insightful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley—for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). [Interruption.] I am still learning the constituencies!

As a relatively new MP, I found it a privilege to be present at the Queen’s Speech for the first time. There was a sense of occasion and history; the sight of Her Majesty on the throne; Black Rod hammering on the door of the Chamber—so much to see everywhere except, unfortunately, in the Queen’s Speech itself, which was remarkably light on content. Outside in the real world there is a financial crisis. People cannot find work, living standards and incomes are being squeezed, and vital public services are being cut to the bone. Long-term youth unemployment in Croydon North, which I represent, is at a record level and continues to rise. That destroys people’s futures and crushes their life chances. How disappointing to hear a Queen’s Speech that fails to meet the challenge for jobs and growth or find new ways to provide the services and support that people need.

As a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament I want to focus my contribution on co-operatives. There was little support in the Queen’s Speech for the co-operative economy, but that sector is a significant and growing part of the overall UK economy, and is worth more than £35 billion. It is owned by nearly 13 million adults in the UK and has grown by nearly 20% since the start of the credit crunch, while the rest of the economy has shrunk. Start-up co-operative businesses have a 50% greater chance of surviving past three years than other businesses. That means jobs and growth, which is what we are looking for.

In the words of the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, growth versus austerity is a

“false debate…Countries can choose a strategy that is good for today and good for tomorrow.”

Countries can make that choice, and co-operatives are part of it. Unfortunately, however, our Government have chosen not to do that, despite all the evidence that their current economic policy is not working.

Co-operatives and the principles of co-operation have more to offer than just economic resilience. Co-operation offers an approach that we can use to transform public services so that we can do better for less. Co-operative housing offers a means for first-time buyers to get a foot on the housing ladder, as well as a safe way for people on lower or fixed incomes to build up a share of equity in their home. Energy co-ops offer a way to generate energy more sustainably, while lowering prices for hard-pressed households and helping to break the stranglehold of big energy corporations.

Labour-led co-operative councils, such as Oldham, show how more co-operative approaches to tackling unemployment can get people back to work. Instead of forcing unemployed people on to prescriptive DWP programmes that rarely lead to jobs, such councils are sitting down with unemployed people and asking what support they need within the financial envelope available. Instead of endless courses on how to write a CV, people can choose training in a profession such as plumbing, be given a bag of tools, and go out and find work. That

10 May 2013 : Column 318

gets them off benefits and allows them to make a positive contribution to the community of which they are part.

In Lambeth—another co-operative council—the local authority is tackling violent youth gang crime by sharing its power with the community through a new youth services trust—the Young Lambeth co-operative. Instead of putting vulnerable young people on courses and programmes that do not cut offending by anywhere near enough, it is helping communities choose the support their young people need. That is proving far more effective at getting young people out of gangs and away from crime, and steering their lives back on track.

Mr Umunna: I am proud to be a subscriber to the community youth trust in Lambeth to which my hon. Friend refers, and it is doing fantastic work. Has he, like me, noticed the absence of any co-operative Bill in the Queen’s Speech?

Mr Reed: I know how passionately my hon. Friend supports empowering communities to tackle the problems they face, such as violent youth crime. Like him, I have noticed the absence of such a Bill, which is a huge disappointment, because that agenda offers huge opportunities for the Government and people to reconnect to start to deal with the problems that disfigure some of our communities. The problem is not just violent youth crime. I hope he agrees that the examples I have outlined deliver better outcomes for citizens, and that those measures will save money, which we are desperate to do when resources are so constrained.

Co-operation means handing power to the people who use public services so that their insights help to make those services more efficient and effective. It hands back to people control of their lives, so that they can break free from dependency on others’ decisions. The Queen’s Speech does nothing to promote such models more widely. Co-operation offers a vision for greater economic security, more resilient communities and more effective public services, but, instead of a vision that meets the challenge of our times, the Queen’s Speech is one that my nan would have described as all mouth and no trousers. There is plenty of glitz and glamour, but no answers to the questions our country faces.

1.15 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): The Government have had three years in office, and the Queen’s Speech offers us a timely opportunity to assess their record. As we have heard, what the Government have achieved and not achieved is striking. They have delivered rising unemployment, 1 million young people out of work, prices that are rising faster than wages, and a chronic drop in living standards for British families.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies this week forecast that the Government’s reforms since 2010 will lead to one in four children living in poverty by 2020. That is scandalous in the 21st century. The Child Poverty Act 2010 set a goal to set a target to reduce child poverty to one in 10, which is still not acceptable. It is therefore an absolute scandal that the Government are doing nothing to address that important problem.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): My hon. Friend was not in Parliament before 2010, but I am sure she kept a close eye on child poverty in her work at the time.

10 May 2013 : Column 319

Does she share my frustration? Many of those now on the Government Benches signed up to the child poverty pledge and said that the abolition of child poverty was their No. 1 priority. I was sceptical of that at the time. The moment the Conservatives got into government, they spoke of revising the targets and said they did not want to assess child poverty in this way or that and so on. I am not allowed to say that people were misled, Madam Deputy Speaker, but does my hon. Friend believe that people will feel let down by the fact that Conservatives were vociferous in their support for the pledge and then reneged on it?

Rushanara Ali: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That episode highlights the fact that the Conservative party was desperate to decontaminate its brand as the nasty party. As soon as it returned to power, all the bad old Tory habits crept in—and they are now flooding in. There is no pretence and no attempt to rebrand the party. The Conservative party stands up for millionaires and not for ordinary people or for children who live in poverty in constituencies such as mine—more than 50% of children in my constituency live in poverty, and that will get worse by 2020.

Mark Hendrick: My hon. Friend mentions those living in poverty. Given her role on the shadow Front Bench, she will be aware of the failure to include in the Queen’s Speech the Government’s promise of a law on the 0.7% commitment of gross national income. All three parties agreed to that before the general election, but the Government have failed to deliver it.

Rushanara Ali: The Government’s record in tackling poverty domestically is risible, and their inability to stick to the commitment to enshrine in law the commitment of 0.7% of GNI is deeply disappointing. I hope they will act on that. It is disappointing that the commitment was not in the Queen’s Speech, and that it was not in previous Queen’s Speeches.

I want to return to the Government’s failure to take child poverty seriously. In my constituency we also have some of the highest rates of youth and graduate unemployment. If the Government were serious about lifting families out of poverty, they would increase the number of training opportunities to help graduates into work and increase the number of apprenticeships. We have 10 young people chasing every single apprenticeship opportunity—that is completely unacceptable. The money spent on the millionaires’ tax break could have been used to create more apprenticeship opportunities. We cannot go on like this, with 1 million young people out of work.

Steve Webb: The hon. Lady said that half the children in her constituency are living in poverty. She will know that the official published figures on child poverty show a fall since the general election. Presumably, after 13 years of a Labour Government, half the children in her constituency were in poverty. Will she apologise for that record?

Rushanara Ali: The hon. Gentleman’s Government should apologise for their failure to reverse the increase. Child poverty in my constituency has gone up consecutively in the past three years. He ought to apologise for that

10 May 2013 : Column 320

and he ought to act. He should have lobbied his Government to propose measures in this Queen’s Speech to tackle child poverty. He ought to apologise and I give him the opportunity to do so today.

Clive Efford: I am reading the conclusion of the Institute for Fiscal Studies report into child poverty, and it states that relative child poverty is projected to be 6% higher, reversing the fall in relative poverty between 2000 and 2010-11.

Rushanara Ali: What can I say to my hon. Friend but, “Well said”? I wish the Minister would take these issues more seriously. Instead of tackling the substantive problem of child poverty, his colleagues in the Treasury have decided to redefine it. As with many things the Government are doing, they find it is easier to meddle with the figures and interfere with the statistics—rewrite them, even. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is not in his place. He has just had his wrists slapped once again by the Office for National Statistics for meddling with the statistics.

The Government should rebuild trust with the British people by coming clean on these issues. They should not try to rewrite the figures, but actually do something about child poverty, an issue that is of great concern to families and to all people. Doing so would address the point, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), that the Conservative party is not just in the business of pretending to change on these substantial issues. We live in hope, although there is not much of that left.

The Government’s approach to child poverty and the response of the Minister highlight how out of touch they are. If he and his colleagues cannot understand the seriousness of falling living standards and rising levels of child poverty—to name but two issues—and what they mean for ordinary people’s lives, I cannot understand how we are to trust them to get us out of the economic mess that they have put us in over the past three years. It is their mess: they need to clean it up and they have categorically failed to do so.

Julie Hilling: Does my hon. Friend agree that many Government Members do not have an understanding of what the cuts to living standards mean? It is not that people cannot just go to the pub one night a week. The cuts mean that people cannot feed their children, that there is no food in the cupboard and that they go to bed hungry. Does she agree that it does not feel like Government Members understand that that is what it is like?

Rushanara Ali: With a Cabinet full of millionaires, I think the empathy will be limited, but I hope that those Cabinet millionaires speak to Government Members who come from the kind of background that means they might have some understanding. If they even talked to some of their own colleagues—such as the former shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who, I understand, grew up on a council estate, and raised the issue of the Government and the Prime Minister being out of touch—they might learn a thing or two about how people have to live their lives. If they paid attention to ordinary, poorer constituents, they might learn a thing or two about what it is like to live below the poverty line or to

10 May 2013 : Column 321

struggle on a modest income. The changes the Government have made in people’s incomes—a reduction of £1,700 a year—have had a devastating effect on families and children.




The Minister is heckling, but I cannot hear what he is saying. He is welcome to make an intervention. Does he wish to make an intervention? No. He does not have much to say.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Minister, either intervene or stop heckling. It does not help the recording of the debate to throw comments across the Chamber that not everyone can hear—the Hansard Reporters in particular.

Rushanara Ali: I am interested in hearing the Minister, if he would like to say anything.

Mark Hendrick: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given that we are debating the coalition Government’s Queen’s Speech, is it in order that only a Minister, a Parliamentary Private Secretary and a Whip are present? Not one Government Back Bencher is present for this very important debate.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Mr Hendrick, that is not a matter for the Chair. Who is in the Chamber or who answers for the Government is a matter for the Government and Government Members. You have got your point on the record, but perhaps we can now return to the debate on the Gracious Speech.

Rushanara Ali: I was about to come on to that. Clearly the legislative programme in the Queen’s Speech is riveting, given the extraordinary presence on the Government Benches—just four Government Members, including Front Benchers. That says it all. The Government cannot even pull together more than a handful of Members to defend their legislative programme. [Interruption.] There are five of them now. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is here. Perhaps he can defend it singlehandedly on behalf of the two parties in government. It says it all that so few people are in the Chamber to speak up for the Government’s legislative programme—or, rather, the lack of it.

I want to focus on unemployment, which, yet again, the Government’s programme—or lack of it—fails to address. In constituencies such as mine, long-term and youth unemployment continue to soar. The lack of opportunities remains significant; the lack of sufficient numbers of apprenticeship programmes to meet the demand is a real problem and a real challenge. If young and other unemployed people were given the opportunity to get a foot on the employment ladder, we could reduce not only the level of deprivation in constituencies such as mine, but the burden on the taxpayer of welfare costs. The way to reduce the deficit is to ensure that we get people back into work and economic activity.

The Government’s Work programme has managed to find work for only 2% of participants in my constituency. It is a scandalous waste of public money that only 2% of people are in jobs through that programme. Will the Business Secretary and the Work and Pensions Secretary look again at why their programme has had such little impact? Why not consider improving the system for

10 May 2013 : Column 322

getting people into work so that we can give people, in particular young people, hope and a chance to make a contribution to our economy? That kind of wasted talent cannot be good for our society or communities, and is certainly not how to recover from the economic troubles that we continue to face.

One suggestion that my party has made, but which the Government have failed to take on board, is the compulsory jobs guarantee. We know that having training programmes with a genuine guarantee of a job works. We demonstrated that it worked when we were in power, through the future jobs fund and apprenticeship programmes. I believe that the Business Secretary and the Work and Pensions Secretary want to get people into work. What I do not understand is why, if a programme does not work properly and manages to get only 2% of people into jobs, the Government will not reform it. When the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions went on his journey in opposition to discover poverty in constituencies such as mine, I thought he might have learned a thing or two about how to get people out of poverty and into work, but he clearly has not. He is too busy focusing on punishing people, rather than giving them hope and the opportunity to get a job.

Mr Duncan Smith: The hon. Lady is wrong about the Work programme. In fact, I will show her later that the UK Statistics Authority has taken her party and others to task for their use of the statistics, which it says is incorrect. The reality, as she will see when we come forward in June, is that the programme is a success, and it is cheaper than anything that Labour produced.

Rushanara Ali: Perhaps the Secretary of State can also explain why he got a slap on the wrist today—and previously—for meddling with the statistics, because people—

Mr Duncan Smith: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Rushanara Ali: No, I will not give way until I have finished my sentence. I will give way when I am done; then I will listen to the Secretary of State’s response.

The Secretary of State is damaging public trust in statistics—there is that old phrase about “damned lies and statistics”. That will lead to further distrust, not just of politicians such as him, but of important institutions that are there to provide independent, credible statistics. He should not be meddling with his figures. The fact that only 2% of participants in my constituency managed to get jobs through his Work programme is an absolutely appalling indictment of his performance in his role and shows his failure to get people into work. I find it deeply disappointing, because I happen to have admired his work with the Centre for Social Justice, which he set up before he got into government. Although I was a sceptic about his conversion to understanding poverty and deprivation and wanting to reform and improve society, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but no longer, because he has returned to the approach that the Conservatives have always taken and failed to do anything to give people genuine opportunities. That is summed up by his Department’s failure to get people into work in constituencies such as mine. The facts speak for themselves. I am afraid that he does not have much to offer, other than trying to rewrite statistics.

10 May 2013 : Column 323

Unless the Secretary of State has something else to add, I will move on.

Mark Hendrick: He has forgotten his intervention.

Rushanara Ali: The Secretary of State has forgotten, but I am happy to give way.

Mr Duncan Smith: I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw the idea that I am rewriting statistics. She will see from the letter written to me today by the UK Statistics Authority that no mention is made of that. I continue to believe, absolutely correctly, that the work of the cap will help and will lead to people getting jobs. That was the whole purpose, which is why we left those on tax credits off the cap. I believe that people are moving into work, and will continue to do so, as a result of the cap, and I will be able to demonstrate that.

Rushanara Ali: Perhaps the Secretary of State could start by demonstrating now and explaining why only 2% of participants have got jobs in my constituency. What is the reason for such a ridiculously small number, when there are so many people chasing apprenticeships and job opportunities? How can that be acceptable? Why is he so complacent? I thought he was interested in getting people off welfare and into work. It seems that he is interested only in attacking people, rather than helping them to get back into work. That is deeply disappointing. I had more hope that he would do something constructive to get people into work, given his track record in opposition and his efforts to get to know communities in our country and understand where the barriers were, but perhaps I should not have given him the benefit of the doubt.

Julie Hilling: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State’s comment absolutely reinforces what seems to be his view that people are choosing to live a life on benefit rather than the fact that 2.5 million people are unemployed, the vast majority of whom would love to be in work? The benefit cap does not drive people into work; what gets people into work is the creation of jobs for which they can apply and then go and do.

Rushanara Ali: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The crux of the matter is that the economy is flatlining and there is no prospect of people having a chance to get a foot on the employment ladder. Such opportunities as are available are too few. We need an economy that can grow and a Government who can act as quickly as possible to boost demand and reverse the trend we have seen. We need more genuine training and employment opportunities, particularly for young people.

I raised with the Business Secretary the issue of graduate unemployment, as this is another pool of talent that is being wasted in our country. I was the first in my family to go to university and many in my constituency are in the same position. They have worked hard, played by the rules and just want to make a contribution.

Mr Steve Reed: Has my hon. Friend noticed that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions likes to claim that his benefits cap is responsible for the number of

10 May 2013 : Column 324

people moving off benefits into work, yet he does not comment on the fact that roughly the same number of people are moving out of work and on to benefits, with both those aspects being part of the usual cyclical change? His interventions have made not a blind bit of difference to any of that.

Rushanara Ali: What can I say? The Secretary of State made some interventions earlier, but they provided very little room for optimism. We need to look at how people’s everyday lives are affected by these issues. As I was saying, in my constituency, graduates, school leavers and those who have left further education just want an opportunity. They want this Government to answer their needs, but that is what is failing. Whatever our political leanings and whichever parties we happen to be in, the critical thing is to get people into work so that they can make their contributions. The fact that that is not happening is the Government’s failure, and they need to take responsibility for it and think again about their policies, which are not working adequately.

Let me deal in more detail with graduate unemployment. In a constituency such as mine, numerous family members are coming out of university, often having been the first in their families to have gained degrees, but they are often struggling to get into work. Despite some major economic opportunities around the City and Canary Wharf, there is a mismatch between people’s potential and their skills and the opportunities to get into those institutions. I believe the Government could do more to support graduates and those leaving further education by making it easier for them to make the transition into those institutions that are traditionally not easy to enter—financial organisations, the creative industries and many other sectors in our city. The cost of graduates being out of work and claiming benefits when they could be making a contribution and lifting their families out of poverty is an example of the missed opportunities. Taking action to deal with that could provide an easy win.

I therefore hope that the Business Secretary will think again about how to get a large number of graduates back into work, as they get very little help when they leave university to make that transition. Graduate unemployment among those from working-class or ethnic minority backgrounds is disproportionately higher than it is for other groups, but it is a real struggle for all graduates. I ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to think about this issue and to highlight in his response whether he has any proposals to deal with it.

I should like the Government to think again about whether they have set the right priorities in giving tax breaks to millionaires at a time when working families are losing so much as a result of the changes that they are making. It is proving incredibly difficult for those families to make ends meet, and to pay for such things as child care and heating. The increasing number of people who are going to food banks in constituencies all over the country shows just how much they are struggling.

It is strange that the Government have stuck to their commitment to give tax breaks to millionaires rather than, for instance, introducing the mansion tax on which the Business Secretary was so keen before the election. I hope that he can persuade his colleagues in the Conservative party to take on board an excellent policy idea, which is supported by both my party and

10 May 2013 : Column 325

his. It would raise additional revenue and help us to meet some of the vital challenges that we face, especially in relation to getting people back to work.

As some of my hon. Friends have already pointed out, a temporary cut in VAT could help to stimulate the economy. When we were in power, there was evidence that a VAT cut could make a significant difference by boosting consumer demand. We desperately need to establish ways to stimulate demand in the economy. The Government should think again about how to generate growth and create jobs. That is not happening, and it has been not happening for too long, despite the promises that were made in 2010 and despite all the forecasts—which, thanks to the Government’s policies, have turned out to be wrong.

I want to make two points about the impact of unemployment on women in particular. The unemployment figures highlight its disproportionate impact on women, and the position is worsening. The Government’s attempt to water down the powers provided by the Equality Act 2006 is very worrying, given that in the current downturn the impact on ethnic minorities and women is greater than ever before. We need organisations that can ensure that those unequal impacts do not become even worse, and I hope that the Government will think again about their strange decision to water down the powers of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The pay gap between men and women—as well as the fact that women are more likely to lose their jobs and remain out of work—is deeply worrying. I hope that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will tell us what his Department is doing to address the real concern that is felt about the effects of that on women.

The content of Queen’s Speeches is ever-diminishing, and this year’s is particularly disappointing. It is clear that the Government have run out of ideas and energy in just a few years. My constituents, and constituents throughout the country, desperately need a plan for jobs, a plan for growth and a plan for economic recovery, none of which the Government are providing. If they cannot be bothered even to come up with a decent legislative programme in the Queen’s Speech, we have to wonder why the public should trust them to restore our economic future and create jobs and growth. I hope very much that the public will see through the Government and their failure, in these very difficult times, to understand and respond to their needs and to the fact that they are struggling.

1.44 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): As many Opposition Members have said over the last few days, in this Queen’s Speech the Government have comprehensively failed to address the real issues and the scale of the challenge facing this country. They have missed a good opportunity to set out an economic programme that can rebuild our failing economy and address the rocketing cost of living.

That is not talked about enough, because the problem is not just the fact that people cannot get jobs and are struggling to find work; it is also that even for those in work, the cost of living, with rising fuel bills, food prices and rail and bus fares, alongside what is happening in

10 May 2013 : Column 326

the private rented sector—I could give many more examples—is having a major impact on people’s lives, yet the Government do not seem able to act.

There is a paucity of imagination and a dearth of ideas in the Queen’s Speech. As many have said, there is a very thin legislative programme. The Queen’s Speech could have contained several measures that were floated in advance of it, such as minimum alcohol pricing, plain cigarette packaging and the lobbyist register. I am sure the reasons why they have been dropped will be revealed in time, but there does not seem to me to be any good reason.

It was also disappointing that the Queen’s Speech did not include the legislation to enshrine in law the promise made in the coalition agreement to spend 0.7% of gross national income on the aid budget. As the head of advocacy at ActionAid said:

“The aid budget is a tiny proportion of Britain’s national income. Having it enshrined in law would provide poor countries with the certainty they need to plan their development and deliver the best value for money from UK aid. A constant debate about volumes of aid is not in the interests of either donor or recipient nations and the Government should have recognised this.”

Mark Hendrick: My hon. Friend will recall that I introduced a private Member’s Bill that would have put that 0.7% of GNI commitment into statute. It was scuppered by the Government twice, which was an absolute disgrace.

Kerry McCarthy: I share my hon. Friend’s disappointment that that Bill was not supported, and I was present in the Chamber during some of the debates on it. Although the Prime Minister has said publicly that he is determined to stick to the 0.7% target, the fact that he promised legislation and has now reneged on that sends out a signal that he is not absolutely committed to it. I have heard many calls from his Back Benchers saying it is wrong to have that 0.7% target and that the money should, for example, be moved over to the Ministry of Defence and be spent on defence instead. Given those ripples of discontent emanating from the Conservative Back Benches, the Prime Minister should have nailed his colours to the mast and made it very clear that the Government were not for turning on that target.

Just before Prorogation, the Government published a draft Bill on wild animals in circuses, but that, too, was not specifically mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. Animals in circuses might sound like a trivial issue compared with big topics such as jobs and employment and getting economic growth going again. However, this omission sends out a signal about the Government’s lack of will or nerve to introduce legislation. My view is that we could deal in just a day or two with legislation to outlaw wild animals in circuses. Almost 95% of the public back a ban, and when the House debated a motion on this on 23 June 2011, the Government made concessions to a Conservative Back Bencher who was pushing the issue, and said, “Yes, we’ll bring legislation forward.” That was almost two years ago, and now we have a half-hearted measure saying, in effect, “We’re going to bring forward draft legislation because this is such a complicated issue.” There are only 20 animals left in circuses in this country, but apparently this is so complex it has to be put out in the form of draft legislation and then examined by Committee, and the Government will not be able to

10 May 2013 : Column 327

bring in a ban until the end of 2015. That seems absolutely laughable given that there has already been a two-year delay. Basically, we should just get on with it.

One of the Bills that I was pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech was the Mesothelioma Bill, although I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) that it is not comprehensive enough and does not deal with all the details. When I was a junior lawyer—I think that it was 25 years ago, which is quite a scary thought—I acted on one of the very first mesothelioma cases. It took us six years to get resolution. One problem was that the deceased man in question—we were acting on behalf of his widow—had worked for some very small companies. He was a central heating engineer and it was absolutely impossible to trace those companies, because they were almost one-man bands and were no longer in business. However, for a period he worked for Vauxhall Motors. The breakthrough moment came. We could not find any living witnesses who could prove that the deceased man in question had worked with asbestos at that time. Then I happened to talk to my grandfather and it turned out that my grandfather had worked with him and knew him quite well, so we came up with a witness almost by chance.

Nevertheless, it was a struggle to get that case through. At the end of the process, the man’s widow received a settlement of about £80,000, which in the late 1980s was a considerable sum. However, she said, “If I had known the pain and hassle that I’d have to go through, and the endless meetings with solicitors, I really would not have done it.” We want to ensure that other widows and other people who are suffering from mesothelioma do not have to go through that process.

The consumer rights Bill has the potential to be a very interesting and useful piece of legislation. However, it will be quite difficult to pull together all the measures needed to tackle the problems. I am very supportive of the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) on secondary ticketing. I hope that the Government will listen to them and take them forward. I have talked to my hon. Friend in some detail about the research that she has done on the problem, which affects many fans and musicians alike.

We have not seen the text of the consumer rights Bill yet, but I was interested that the commentary on it says that it will help people who want to switch suppliers or make purchases via the internet or the phone. In my surgeries, many people come to me who are just banging their heads on the desk because they cannot get a company to respond. I think I spent the best part of yesterday and the day before on the phone to a particular mobile phone supplier. I am very tempted to name and shame it, given the number of times that I was told I would be called back and was not. I was then sent a text message saying, “What’s your experience of the service we’ve provided?” I could give a 10 for “excellent” and a zero for “dismal”. Every time I tried to text zero, the message would not go through. Perhaps if I had tried to text 10, the message would have gone through and the company would have said, “Thank you very much, we are happy to have been of service.”

It is so frustrating for people when they have to go through such minefields, and a lot of people end up stuck with services they do not want. There is another company I could mention on whose website it is almost

10 May 2013 : Column 328

impossible to find out how to go about cancelling a contract. When a caller phones up, the options are, “Press this if you want to pay your bill, press number two if you want to spend lots more money with us and number three if you want to change your address.” There is never a button with a message saying, “If you want to tell us to get lost, press this” or whatever. I am not saying that it should be compulsory for companies to have a “We want nothing more to do with you” button on their automated phone systems, but it should be made much more apparent to consumers how they can get out of such contracts. Otherwise, they are tied in for a very long time at considerable expense.

On the question of carry-over Bills, the Government have confirmed that they will carry over the Energy Bill. However, that Bill needs extensive changes to address not only the reality of rocketing fuel bills, which I have mentioned, but the issue of climate change. Again, anything on that issue is lacking in the Queen’s Speech. There is nothing to suggest that the Government want to be the greenest Government ever. There is little that will do anything to promote green investment and green jobs. That is a real missed opportunity.

I have real concerns about where the Government are going on green jobs. There was a complete shambles over feed-in tariffs, and I know from speaking to people in Bristol, where there are many companies that are involved in green technology, including research, that they do not believe that the Government are supportive enough of their efforts to make the UK, and Bristol, a real hub for that sort of work.

I have real concern about the policy on fracking. There are again suggestions in the paper today that the Government may be too close to people who have a very personal vested interest in making money out of it. In the forthcoming parliamentary Session, we need to have real scrutiny of whether fracking is the right way forward for our energy policy, taking into consideration environmental consequences such as disruption to local water supplies. There are a lot of unanswered questions about fracking, which the Government should answer before they pursue that path.

Energy bills are one of the biggest costs that families now face. A typical dual-fuel bill is now £1,420—up more than £300 since the Government came to power. The number of households living in fuel poverty is predicted to rise to 8.5 million in 2016—up from 4.75 million in 2010. The big six energy companies have rightly been accused of “cold-blooded profiteering” after figures emerged showing that they have more than doubled their retail margins over the past 18 months and are now earning a staggering average of £95 profit per household on dual-fuel bills.

In a recent debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) highlighted the case of a large supplier in south Wales, which has now increased its standing charge to £200 for both gas and electricity. That is hitting the poorest households hardest. They have to pay £200 before they use even 1 W of electricity. I hope that problem will be addressed, if not in the Energy Bill, then in the consumer rights Bill.

The thing most notably missing from the Energy Bill is a target for decarbonising electricity by 2030. By putting off the decision about decarbonisation until 2016, after the next general election, the Government are locking our economy into increasingly expensive

10 May 2013 : Column 329

gas, which is bad for carbon emissions and for energy bills. The Committee on Climate Change has said that the gas strategy set out by the Chancellor in December is “completely incompatible” with the UK’s legally binding carbon emissions targets, and should be “plan Z”. I wonder whether the Government have any intention of decarbonising our power sector by 2030. I also increasingly doubt their commitment to meet our legally binding carbon target of reducing our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Again, there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to help us move towards that.

As I mentioned, the one thing that the renewable energy sector needs to enable it to create more jobs and encourage investment is confidence that the Government are committed to renewable energy and will support it over the long term. The lack of a target also puts the sector in a difficult position in that regard. It is deeply disappointing that the Government do not capitalise on a golden opportunity to drive economic growth and create jobs. A CBI report published in July showed that the UK could become a global front-runner in low carbon, adding £20 billion to annual GDP by 2015, and that a third of the UK’s economic growth from 2012 to 2013 came from green businesses. As the former Energy Minister, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), has said, extending uncertainty about that until 2016 will lead to higher capital costs and higher energy bills. That is backed by the Committee on Climate Change, which has said that

“continued reliance on unabated gas-fired generation carries the risk of electricity bills for the typical household being up to £600 higher than under a low-carbon power system over the next decades”.

In the remaining two minutes, I want to flag up what has become a topic of particular interest to me during the past year—food waste. There was an opportunity for the Government to bring forward in this Queen’ Speech measures that would tackle the issue. I was very disappointed yesterday when phase 3 of the Courtauld agreement, a Government-led commitment to reducing food and packaging waste, was announced. There is a target for retailers and manufacturers to work to reduce household food waste by just 5% by 2015, and to reduce their own waste—the waste that they create in the supply chain—by just 3%. Given rising food prices, and as people become better educated about the things that they buy, it is estimated that we will meet such targets anyway. So the target is meaningless. The Government had a real chance to push forward with measures to prevent food waste. Between 30% and 50% of edible and healthy food is wasted in this country, and half that waste is generated by the food industry. In Westminster Hall recently we heard the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), telling people how they could reduce food waste and stop throwing away food that was in their fridges. He told them not to keep bread in the fridge and offered other helpful little tips, but we need to tackle what the food industry is doing. It is the industry that should drive the level of change that is needed. If the industry will not do so and if the Courtauld commitment does not contain the targets that will make the industry act, there should be a mandatory obligation on large retailers and manufacturers to take steps to

10 May 2013 : Column 330

reduce their food and packaging waste. The Government could have introduced that in the Queen’s Speech but they did not.

2 pm

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to wind up this debate on the Gracious Speech, but on a topic as serious as this, I cannot help but express a little disappointment at the fact that there have been twice as many speakers from the Opposition Benches as we have heard from the Government Benches. Often, as we have looked at the Government Benches in the course of the debate, we have found them as empty as the Queen’s Speech. There appear to be very few people on the Government Benches who are prepared to defend this Queen’s Speech, just as there were very few people to defend the Budget earlier this year.

Mr Kevan Jones: I agree with my right hon. Friend’s observation. It obviously reflects the amount of support that the Prime Minister has from his Back Benchers. He was so desperate in the earlier stages that he had to have his Parliamentary Private Secretary intervening in the debate.

Mr Byrne: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Looking at the Queen’s Speech, perhaps it is not a surprise that so few people in the Government party are prepared to defend it.

I shall start where my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), the shadow Business Secretary, concluded. After three wasted years, we have this year had a wasted Queen’s Speech. The task on Wednesday was simple—to give us a legislative programme as big as the challenges that face our country. What we got instead was practically nothing. It seems that this Government are incapable of proposing any ideas that they can agree on. They are a weak Government who are out of ideas, and that is why the public want them out of office. They have chosen to fight the biggest economic battle confronting this country for decades by arming themselves only with pea-shooters.

We should be clear about the task that we confront. It was set out brilliantly by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham. We have an economy that is flatlining. We have growth of just 1.8%. That is a third of the level of growth seen in the United States. Living standards are falling. The wages of our constituents have fallen by £1,700 a year since the election. Our constituents are getting poorer. GDP per capita has fallen by £1,500 since the election. Unemployment is rising and is 90,000 higher than at the election. The consequence of all this is a catastrophe for the public finances. Borrowing is now £245 billion more than forecast. Worst of all, perhaps, is what is happening to the fundamentals of our economy.

The hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) expressed some confidence that the economy is beginning to rebalance. If only. Consumer demand is flat. Business investment is stalled. We had great hopes that economic growth would come from some kind of rebalancing towards exports. As the Business Secretary said in his lengthy but rather good essay in the New Statesman not long ago, there is not necessarily a problem with global demand. The problem is that we in these islands are not tapping into that demand.

10 May 2013 : Column 331

Our exchange rate has fallen by roughly 20% since 2007, but exports have grown by 1% or 2%. Once upon a time the OBR forecast that net trade would add 1.2% to GDP. Now it admits that net trade is a drag on growth, not a boost. That is a huge contrast to what we saw in the 1990s, when sterling depreciated by about 20% and exports grew by a third. If our economy is to grow at the level that the OBR forecasts it should between now and 2016-17, we need to grow exports by 45% over and above the level we saw in 2009, but we are simply not on track to deliver that change.

Mark Hendrick: I am listening with interest to my right hon. Friend’s comments on growth. Does he think, as some Government Members do, that withdrawing from the European Union is likely to increase jobs and growth in this country?

Mr Byrne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that was outlined very well in today’s newspapers by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. At a time when we are struggling to grow our export base, why on earth would we choose voluntarily to put in jeopardy our membership of the world’s largest free trade zone?

The challenge is not simply that global demand conditions are weak—the Business Secretary said as much in his New Statesman essay—but that our exporters are losing market share. The Prime Minister is fond of telling us that we are in a global race, but the problem is that we have stalled on the starting grid. He is instead locking us into a race to the bottom, with a policy that will deliver nothing better than low growth, low skills and a low-wage future.

Those are the challenges that the Queen’s Speech should have addressed—the investment crisis on the one hand and the jobs crisis on the other—but there were big holes where the Bills on promoting investment and growing jobs should have been. Let us start with the investment crisis. The Breedon review showed some time ago that SMEs in our country confront banks that are deleveraging on a scale unseen anywhere else in Europe. The country’s investment rate is now under 15%. It is flatlining and well below the levels seen elsewhere in Europe. Business investment is £11 billion lower than it was during the peak before the crash, and there is falling investment in the venture capital industry, which is £80 million down on the latest set of figures.

Meanwhile, in corporate bank accounts cash is piling up. It is what the incoming Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has criticised in Canada as the phenomenon of “dead money”. Dead money is piling up in bank accounts in this country because the business community does not have confidence in the Government’s economic plans, yet all we got in the Queen’s Speech was a carry-over Bill on bank reform. As the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) said, that will probably not unlock the kind of business and banking investment we need. The Chair of the Treasury Committee has criticised the Bill because he found the Government’s arguments insubstantial. We did not get answers to Britain’s investment crisis in the Queen’s Speech, which is why it is such a wasted opportunity.

The wasted opportunity on jobs is perhaps more serious. Unemployment today is 90,000 higher than it was at the general election. There is simply not enough

10 May 2013 : Column 332

work to go around. Once upon a time we were promised a welfare revolution, and no doubt it was well intentioned, but the Work programme is not delivering for those who need jobs or those on employment and support allowance. I look forward to some reassurance from the Secretary of State when he responds. Universal credit, again, was a good idea, but if its virtues are confined to 300 citizens in Tameside, I am afraid that it will not revolutionise the back-to-work business here in Britain.

Perhaps worst of all, the Secretary of State stands before us today as a man who has failed the test he set himself in Easterhouse. Unemployment on three quarters of our worst estates is going up, not coming down, and long-term unemployment is going up on two thirds of those estates. Three years into this Parliament, that is simply not good enough, and it is not good enough that there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to fix it.

Stephen Metcalfe: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about rising unemployment on some of our estates. Does he not accept any responsibility for failing to give those people the skills they need to access the opportunities that do exist across our economy? I think that is why some people on our estates are, unfortunately, finding it so hard to get the employment opportunities that do exist.

Mr Byrne: Apprenticeships quadrupled during our time in office. In the decade before the crash, we achieved rising productivity and rising wage growth. That is why wages were so much higher when we left office than when we began. Because we invested in skills, our record on rising wages was beaten only by Ireland and Australia. The Government should be building on that record, not watering it down.

Christopher Pincher: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Byrne: I am going to move on quickly because I need to refer to some contributions to the debate.

The price that is being paid by our constituents, including our young people, has been well set out. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) spoke eloquently, with force and power, about the price being paid by young people and the long-term damage that is being confronted. Some of my colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), face very high levels of youth unemployment in their constituencies. To echo the substance of the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick), we need more apprenticeships, not least because in many parts of our country right now—in Yorkshire, the north-east and the north-west—employers are saying that they cannot get skilled workers at a time when unemployment is higher than it was at the last election. That shows that the system put in place by this Government is not working.

We need to do more for the long-term unemployed. We also need to do more to support women back into work. In a brilliant speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) argued powerfully that women are not being supported into work at the rate we would like. The shambles that we saw in the House yesterday on child care policy did not

10 May 2013 : Column 333

give us much confidence that things are going to change. The price of failure is being paid by families and the 2.5 million people denied the chance to work. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). As we heard in the powerful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), very many families are contending with falling wages and rising living costs because there is simply not enough work to go round.

Perhaps worst of all for the long term is the price being paid through rising levels of child poverty, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow spoke eloquently. We lifted 1 million children out of poverty during our time in office, and now most commentators agree that all that progress will be wiped out by the decisions of this Government. It is record of shame that we will hang around their neck at the next election. That is why it is such a tragedy that at a time when so many people are paying so much, the Government singled out as their chief priority giving a £2,000-a-week tax cut to millionaires.

We will look carefully at some of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech. We will study with close attention the proposals on mesothelioma. I will heed the words and sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham. The consultation that we undertook in February 2010 is the benchmark against which we will judge the Bill, and if we find it wanting we will oppose it.

We will look closely at the plans for flat-rate pensions. We support the principle of a flat-rate pension, which locks in the changes we made in office that lifted so many pensioners out of poverty. We hope, however, that the Government will acknowledge that many people’s income replacement rate will fall very low under these proposals. Unless there is reform of the private pensions industry that frees the fetters on the National Employment Savings Trust, caps charges and ensures that there is real transparency, we do not believe that plans are yet in place for a low-cost, low-risk private alternative to help people to save for the long term. That will be the thrust of our opposition to and constructive engagement with the Bill when it comes to this place.

As many colleagues have said, the tragedy of this Queen’s Speech debate is that there was an alternative. We proposed a jobs Bill that would have given the chance of work to young people unemployed for more than a year and to the long-term unemployed out of work for more than two years. We would have used an injection of capital into the construction industry to get our country back to work.

Christopher Pincher: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Byrne: I will not.

We would have used procurement powers much more strategically to get our young people and long-term unemployed back into work.

Christopher Pincher rose

Mr Byrne: I am going to spare my time for the Secretary of State, I am afraid.

10 May 2013 : Column 334

Those were the kinds of measures that we should have seen in this Queen’s Speech. They are simple, costable and easily affordable, and they would have helped to get our country back to work. To conclude, the struggle for jobs has always been at the heart of the struggle of our movement. When Keir Hardie rose on the Benches behind me to make the first speech of a Labour MP in this House, he insisted on the principle of work or maintenance. In our first election address, “Useful Work for the Unemployed” was our rallying cry. Next year marks an important anniversary in that long struggle for jobs. It is the 70th anniversary of the White Paper on employment policy, which accepted for the first time that the Government had a responsibility to ensure that everybody who wanted to work and could work had a job.

Once upon a time, the Conservative party agreed with that principle. When Rab Butler spoke to the 1953 Conservative party conference he said that anyone who believes in

“creating pools of unemployment should be thrown into them and made to swim”.

It is 40 years since the Conservative party backed away from those principles, starting with Sir Keith Joseph’s speech in Preston.

We could pay down our national debt faster if we got our country back to work. That is why the one idea that should have been at the heart of this Queen’s Speech was a plan for jobs and full employment. That is how we rebuilt our country after the second world war and how we rebuilt public services in 1997. Those are the ideas that we needed in the Queen’s Speech. Instead, we have a Government who are out of ideas. The day is fast approaching when we will run them out of office.

2.16 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): It is a great pleasure to conclude this debate on the Gracious Speech. I congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House and will deal quickly with some of the points they made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) made a good speech in which he supported the changes in the Deregulation Bill. I agree with him that it will be excellent for small businesses. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills stressed in his opening remarks, our record on small business creation is very good.

I have known the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for some time and am glad to see him back in his place. He was a very good Minister and talks a lot of common sense. His comments about the overseas aid budget were well made and are well taken. I know that there is some disappointment that we have not legislated on that, but the Government’s record of reaching the 0.7% obligation and sticking to it is second to none. It has been said at the United Nations that we have given a lead to the rest of the world. I am pleased that he supported that. I recognise his concerns about youth unemployment and will return to them in a second.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) reminded us of the record deficit that Labour left us with and made the strong point that everything stems from that. Labour’s

10 May 2013 : Column 335

spending, borrowing and taxing left us with a bust economy. As a man who has set up and run his own small business—it is not so small now, but it is certainly a good business—he knows everything about small businesses.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) on his comments about manufacturing industry. He has been very good at supporting manufacturing in Parliament and beyond. He made the very good point that the last Government ran manufacturing down. Under the tenure of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, we are doing our level best to rebalance the economy after manufacturing was destroyed by the Labour party.

The hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick) said that international factors caused the 2008 slump and that he was pro our membership of the EU. I had assumed that everybody was pro that. It is all well and good for him to say that everything was somebody else’s problem before 2010 and that now everything is our problem, but that means that Labour, somehow, bears no responsibility for anything.

When I asked the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills whether he would like to apologise for the economic shambles that Labour left, he did a delicate dance around the words, “I am sorry.” He can say that now if he wants to intervene. I know that sorry is a hard word, but perhaps he would like to lead for once for the Government and say—[Interruption.] They were in government. He should lead for them and say that he is sorry for the shambles and the mess that they left. I am ready to give way if he would like to say sorry for the mess that the Labour Government left.

Mr Umunna: I am happy to remind the Secretary of State that we bequeathed a situation in which unemployment was falling, growth was rising, and stability had set in. As I said earlier, we expressed regret for not better regulating the banking system, and I look forward to hearing his apology in that respect as well.

Mr Duncan Smith: I think it is shameful that an individual who represents a party that when in government ran up the biggest deficit and, as my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary said, created the biggest bust since the first world war, cannot genuinely say to the British people, “I am sorry. We got it wrong.” They did get it wrong and will bear the consequences of that all the way to, and including, the next election.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Duncan Smith: I will finish a couple of quick points and then I will happily take more interventions.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) made a point about unemployment in her area and the north-east in general. Employment and unemployment are big issues for us all, but I say to the hon. Lady, and to others, that since the election employment in every single area and region of the UK is up from where we found it. Employment is up—I will return to that point in a moment—and what the Government have done has helped that.

10 May 2013 : Column 336

The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) complained about the absence of legislation on overseas aid, but I thought she might have been a little more generous about the fact that this Government are the first to make such a commitment— stay static, get to 0.7% of GDP, and implement it. It would be more helpful to say, “Yes, this is the right thing to do.” We can by all means debate whether we need to lock that commitment into legislation, but the reality is that we have locked it in because the Government have made it clear that we will not depart from it. We can debate the realities of the legislation, but we are spending more as a proportion of our gross domestic product than any other Government have previously done, and that has shown a lead to the rest of the world.

Let me turn to the Gracious Speech, which I feel has set the tone for a real change to society. I am proud that my Department will be initiating and taking through the Pensions Bill, which is the most important reform and change. It follows a series of reforms and changes that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb) has taken through with me: automatic enrolment and ensuring that consultants will not be able to overcharge people for that; making the necessary changes; and, finally, the single tier pension, which I know is close to his heart. I take this opportunity publicly to congratulate my hon. Friend on the hard work he has put in. Without it, the Bill would not exist and it is a very good thing.

With the Immigration Bill we are picking up the pieces of Labour’s immigration strategy that saw net immigration of more than 2 million people between 1997 and 2010. New legislation will ensure we have the power to limit access to public services and housing, attracting people who will contribute, and deterring those who will not. As contributions from Government Members have made clear, we are already making progress towards that business-led recovery, and out of the mess left by the previous Government we are creating jobs and helping people get into work.

That brings me to a series of points about labour market stats. Let me run through a few of the realities, even though sometimes it does not help the Opposition. Since the last election, the number of people with a job is up by well over 750,000. There are 1.25 million more private sector jobs since the election, meaning that over the past year, six private sector jobs have been created for every job lost in the public sector. The number of people of working-age—

Mr Byrne rose

Mr Duncan Smith: I want to get through this point because I think it is important. The number of working-age people without a job is down—I stress that—by 350,000 since the 2010 election, driven by falling inactivity. Inactivity is now at its lowest level for two decades; the Labour party left us with a high rate of inactivity, and we have lowered it. There are now fewer people and fewer young people on jobseeker’s allowance than when Labour was in office. The number of claimants aged 18 has fallen for the 10th consecutive month. In April, we had the lowest number of new jobseeker’s claims for four years, alongside falling redundancies. Let me deal with Opposition Members’ suggestion that those people are moving not into real work, but into part-time work.

10 May 2013 : Column 337

That is not true. In fact, full-time employment is up more than 500,000 since 2010—it is up 64,000 on the last quarter alone.

My final point on that is that Opposition Members need to lift their heads up occasionally and look elsewhere. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills compared our situation with that of France, which has 11% unemployment. That comparison bears out very well what the Government are doing. The UK’s overall employment rate is growing at almost double that of the US, and faster than the rate in any other G7 country. That is because the Government have taken the tough decisions to ensure that we have the flexibilities and that people can get back to work. The private sector is now creating jobs, whereas under the previous Government, it was shedding jobs.

Let me remind Labour Members that, for all their crocodile tears, long-term unemployment nearly doubled in two years under the previous Government—from 400,000 in 2008 to 800,000 in 2010. That was a failure on their part. They gerrymandered the figures on youth unemployment, but when we take the gerrymandering out, we find that youth unemployment is now lower than when the Labour Government left office.

The Work programme is a success. In fact, the Office for National Statistics wrote the other day to a number people correcting how they interpreted the figures. It made it very clear that what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill and others have said about the statistics was completely wrong. The ONS has said that the reality is that the figure of 2% or 3% that he has been using, which is below the minimum performance level, is incorrect. It went on to say that the realistic and more relevant figure is that 8.6% of those referred to the Work programme are in sustained employment in the first six months. That was ahead of the previous position. By the way, I remind him that, unlike all his other programmes, people do not get paid unless they get people into sustained work. That is unlike what happened under the future jobs fund and the flexible new deal, when the Labour Government paid up ahead and wasted the money.

Mr Byrne: A payment-by-results system does not cost much money if there are no results. If the Secretary of State is so proud of the 8% figure, why did his Department not use it when it published the results?

Mr Duncan Smith: The figure was there and we told the right hon. Gentleman, but he refused to listen—[Interruption.] Yes, it was. The ONS has pointed that out. The point I am making to him is that, when we produce the next figures, the Work programme will show that it is dramatically improving and getting more people back into work. [Interruption.] I will deal with that point, because the right hon. Gentleman believes

10 May 2013 : Column 338

he has an alternative. He spoke of introducing a new programme. His new programme is a real mess—it has changed on a number of points. When he first referred to it at, I believe, the last Labour party conference, he was offering those who had been unemployed for one year or more a guaranteed job for 12 months.

Mr Byrne: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr Duncan Smith: Hang on a second. As I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman at the time, that programme sounded rather familiar, so I looked up the programme the previous Government were considering—it was called “step up”. That programme, which was piloted in 20 areas and which bore an uncanny resemblance to his latest programme, gave paid employment to new deal failures who had been out of work for two years. It was never rolled out nationally because it was discredited, even within the Labour party, as not giving value for money. For those nearest to the labour market and those under 25, “step up” had a negative impact on work prospects and came in at a massive cost of £10,000.

After the programme he announced at the party conference was discredited, the right hon. Gentleman went away, fiddled with his plans and came back with a new plan. He will now mandate people to a job for six months, which is half the length of time he previously advertised. Even as recently as April, the Opposition seemed to be in a mess. There is complete confusion. The shadow Chancellor spoke of a guarantee of one year for young people and two years for adults.

Mr Byrne: Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?

Mr Duncan Smith: I will give way in one moment. The shadow Chancellor gets in a real mess, so I say simply to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill that the Labour programme will cost huge sums of money. Like the future jobs fund, it will be good only for the public sector, and there will be a net cost to the Exchequer. He will compound all the failures they ever made. They left us with the biggest deficit. We are cutting the deficit by a third and borrowing is down by £38 billion. We have the fastest growing employment rate in the G7. This Queen’s Speech builds on our success, not on Labour’s failure.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Greg Hands.)

Debate to be resumed Monday 13 May.