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Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he not welcome the proposals in the police and crime reduction Bill to ensure that alcohol will not be freely available to young people as it has been in the past? Does he agree
that it is necessary for us to do something to control the number of alcohol-related crimesthe figure is now 49 per cent? Does he welcome those proposals?
Mr. Clegg: I agree that it is an issue but instead of immediately reaching for the statute book, the Government could now, and could have done so a long time ago, prosecute those licence-holders who are still escaping prosecution for selling alcohol to under-age children and for being the direct source of so much disruption in our town and city centres every single week.
The Prime Minister marches round the world, trying to be the chancellor in chief of every country he visits, but he is supposed to be running this country. He is supposed to be providing help to millions of British families, not congratulating himself on the fact that he is having a good recession. The Prime Minister is showing astonishing hubris today and we need to see a little more humility. People need less of his arrogance and more of his help.
The present economic crisis shows that not only that our economy is broken but that our politics are increasingly broken, too. As people despair about their own economic futures, they will despair, too, at the failure of our political system to provide the responses that they need. This is dangerous; dangerous for this House and dangerous for anyone who believes in a parliamentary democracy. It breeds discontent, extremism, anger and frustration. People need solutions, yet they look around today and what have they got? Pantomime. This is a Government who received barely 22 per cent. of the eligible vote at the last election, who are stumbling through a crisis of their own making, ramming through laws, deaf to all criticism, and blind to all dissent. People will give up on politics if we are not very careful. It is no wonder that in the last two general electionsthose of 2001 and 2005more people did not vote; more people stayed at home than voted for this Government. If this Government were truly a reforming Government, the Queens Speech would attempt to reform our politics as well as our economy: it would move to get big money out of party politics altogether; it would reform a clapped-out, unfair electoral system; and it would devolve power away from Westminster and Whitehall, where it is being hoarded. Yet we have none of that from this Queens Speech.
Mr. Clegg: The hon. Gentleman could have done a lot better than that, but I accept that this is a problem for everybody in this House. Anybody who cares about the legitimacy of parliamentary politics today should care that the public have become extremely sceptical and apathetic. That is why we should all work together. The opportunity was there to make sure big money was finally taken out of party politics altogether, but this Queens Speech was just pantomime.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman has sufficient time to answer the perfectly reasonable question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew): does his party intend to give back the money from the criminal who now languishes in prison?
Mr. Clegg: Being questioned on donations by a member of the Labour party is a bit like being lectured on customer service by Basil Fawlty. As I have said, we all need to work together in order to make sure that such money is removed from politics, as its presence has seriously damaged public confidence.
This Queens Speech was a pantomime: bright colours, bad jokes, little substance. This Government have run out of ideas. It is clear that the country needs a new and different directiona new political beginningand that is what the Liberal Democrats will deliver.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): It is a pleasure and great honour to be called so early in the debate on the Queens Speech, and it is also a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). He described the Queens Speech as a pantomime. I have now attended some 26 Queens Speeches and have gone to the other place to follow proceedings, and I have always thought it more a pageant than a pantomime.
It is clear from this debate and the Queens Speech that there are difficulties in handling the recession. The Gracious Speech must be set against the background of world economic events; we cannot stop the world and get off. The Governments goal is to steer the country through a financial crisis that has converted itself into an economic crisis, and that may yet become a social crisis the like of which we have not seen since the 1930s and the time of the Jarrow marches. There are various corollaries to that: deflation, unemployment and recession leading to depression. That is why, as is clearly stated in the Gracious Speech, the Government place such emphasis on workers, families and small businesses in order to alleviate any effects of the recession and to prevent it from being deeper or longer lasting than it needs to be. That highlights the importance of a fiscal stimulus linked to a monetary policy, and that is where there is a clear difference between the views and positions of the Government and the Opposition.
The Leader of the Opposition made a fine speech. I congratulate him on his humour and on the way he conducted himself; in the House of Commons we can congratulate other Members when they make good speeches, like Geoffrey Boycott would always congratulate the bowler who bowled him a good delivery. However, as is clear from todays debate, there is a clear difference between the views of the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Members and the views of the Government. The Leader of the Opposition today prayed in aid the German Finance Minister and, in the past, he has prayed in aid the German Chancellor. Although Germany has fallen into a recession, along with the other 12 member states of the eurozone, and although it is committed to a fiscal stimulus as well as to monetary policy, the German response has been hesitant and modestsome €12 billion of fresh spending over two years, or roughly 0.25 per cent. of gross domestic product, triggering €50 billion of investment. The German Finance Minister has set his face very clearly against a fiscal policy only; he gave his approval to the idea of a monetary stimulus and, as the Leader of the Opposition mentioned, he discussed events going back to the 1970s. This always reminds me of a line of poetry:
And see how dark the backward stream
A little moment passed so smiling.
The Leader of the Oppositions response to the Gracious Speech made much of the situation in Germany, so it is as well to remember that Germany signed up to the G20 Washington statement calling for a fiscal stimulus, even if it is a modest one, and a fiscal stimulus has been declared as the way forward by the International Monetary Fund, the Governor of the Bank of England, the CBI and the Institute of Directors.
The Leader of the Opposition said today, as he has done in the past, that he does not necessarily believe in the fiscal stimulus. He does believe in what I would call the single-club economic policy; he believes that tax cuts should be funded from elsewhere in the budget. He referred to that today, putting forward some of his own proposals: freezing council tax; cutting national insurance; creating 3 million jobs; and, again, he referred to his national loan scheme. That is a modest set of propositions when contrasted with the Chancellors proposals for small and medium-sized enterprises£1 billion-worth of tax cuts, £2 billion in loan guarantees and £4 billion from the European Investment Bank, all building on monetary policy. That is a positive and proactive approach to the present economic downturn and recession, which, again, places the emphasis on workers and businesses. The Governments approach differs from the Oppositions on that. The Government believe in a strong dose of intervention at this time to see us through the recession and lessen its impact, whereas the Opposition are content with what I would call a minimum approachlowering interest rates and letting them take the strain.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I agree with some of those policies, because they are eminently sensible, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that the reduction in VAT is offset for small and medium-sized businesses, especially those involving transport, by the increase in fuel duty? In fact, what was given with one hand has been taken away by the other. Unless fuel duty is reduced, the long-term effect of that will be a net increase in the cost of fuel, which will have a devastating effect in constituencies such as mine.
Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, and I would say two things to him. First, I agree with him on fuel tax, about which I have been lobbied by constituents. Road haulage plays a major part in our economy and in the distribution of goods. All the lobbying that has taken place has not succeeded in reducing the fuel tax. Secondly, the VAT reduction, which people tend to overlook, will be in place for 13 monthsit is not something for Christmas onlyso over the long term, it ought to help our economy and lessen the effects of the recession.
Today, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both talked of monetary policy and the actions of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Not only is it committing overdraft facilities, but those are to stay in place for 12 months from the date agreed; it is leaving rates as they are; and it is also providing some 500 managers to offer more intensive support to their small and medium-sized business clients. The Prime Minister referred not only to that, but to the RBS and Bradford & Bingley not repossessing for six months. He also said that eight mortgage lenders would defer interest for two
years, guaranteed by the Government, if that would be helpful. We are seeing a hands-on approach to helping those individuals in our society who have problems.
Getting back to the face-to-face banker, who deals with cases individually, will be a great help to the 1.1 million small business customers of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and that can be emulated by others. That is the sort of interventionism that we should all welcome, although it does not appear to be supported by the official Oppositionas opposed to the Liberal Democrats, whose views I respect and have listened to carefully for many years.
We have seen interventionism in the recapitalisation of the banks and financial sectors, and now the focus must move to the industrial sectors where the situation is less clear. We are clear that we do not want jobs to be lost or businesses put into liquidation, but what will that interventionism mean for business communities, such as the motor car industry? Are the Government prepared to intervene and put some £2 billion into that industry, or should we take a different view? I heard no reference in the Queens Speech to saving Woolworths, for example, and it is unlikely that we will intervene to save that business.
I turn now to the differences between those on the Conservative Front Bench and my party. I was much heartened by the comments of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), the shadow Chief Secretary, who declared only two days ago that, if tax increases are required, the priority of the Conservativesshould they come into officewould be to protect those on the lowest incomes. Those on our side of the House who believe in a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power to workers and their families will be much heartened by the hon. Gentleman joining our happy band of brothers.
We already have British Financial Investments holding shares in banks on behalf of the state, and the Shareholders Executive will work alongside British Financial Investments. President Nicholas Sarkozy has introduced a strategic investment fund in France, in the national interest, to take minority shares in major French companies, essentially to prevent them from falling into foreign ownership, but also if such acquisition is strategic and in the national interest. Is that the approach that the British Government should take? How should we handle the difficulties of the business sector, including major contributors to our economy such as the car industry? Are we proposing an equity participation in those companies, or giving them loans or guarantees?
The Gracious Speech made it clear that the economy and how we handle it will be at the centre of the Governments focus over the year. That is not surprising, as the recession will be with us for a long time. Every day, jobs are lost and businesses affected. What will the Governments policy be? Will the Government assist the car industry or should we emphasise other industries, such as eco-industriesthe new kinds of industry that we have been trying to develop for some time?
As Lord Mandelson told the CBI only recently, the next industrial revolution and the low-carbon and post-carbon technologies are what will define the 21st century, including manufacturing areas such as fuel cells, plastic electronics and Bluetooth technology. He hoped that
the United Kingdom would be a magnet for what he aptly described as green collar jobs. That sector could be worth trillions of pounds annually by the middle of this century. In June, for example, the Prime Minister said that renewable energy could provide 160,000 new jobs. We did not hear too much about that today, but any review of eco-industry will show that that is where future investment should lie. We need an industry that is diverse, covering manufacturing and services; using new technologies; seeking to minimise environmental damage; supported by public and private enterprise; improving water, soil and air; minimising pollution; and creating a new tier of personnel with commensurate management skills. That idea is at the heart of the Queens Speech, at the heart of what the Government are trying to say and at the heart how we deal with our economic problems, how we deal with the future and how we reorient our industries.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. May I talk to him about some old jobs that also need to be considered? There was nothing in the Queens Speech about the thousands of people employed in the British pub industry; I know that the hon. Gentleman supports pubs. The Government have announced a devastating increase in duty and we have not heard a single thing about plans to reverse that or about how they will support the pub trade through this difficult time.
Sir Stuart Bell: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As the recession develops, each sector and each segment of our industry must be looked at and dealt with and cannot be swept aside. The trade to which he refers is part of the service sector and employs quite a lot of people, and we have to consider its difficulties as we consider everything else. The Government have to be a listening Government and an active Government. They must be proactive and they must deal with problems, as they come along, in the best way. They ought to do that within the following framework: they should ask whether when they intervene they should intervene within the free market or in a stronger regulatory form; and they should ask how they can protect jobs and small businesses. That was made very clear in the first four paragraphs of the Queens Speech, which were the essence of the speech.
The United Kingdom has invested some £600 million in private research and innovation in low-carbon technologies, replicating plans in other European Union member states and in the United States and south-east Asia to create, as the former Chancellor said in March 2007,
a global network of collaborative sustainable energy research centres
the creation of a global research platform and hub.
Let me return to the essence of how we deal with our industries. I note that Lord Mandelson is assembling a route map to assess those industries that are viable and those that are not, as well as those that need help, which would include the industry mentioned by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland). Lord Mandelson will not go back to the ethos of national champions and he will probably not go back to the suggestion of an industrial investment fund to take equity participation, but whatever he does will have to fall within the principles
of new Labour. New Labour is not a carcaseit is not dead. Its principles of fairness and justice will help small and medium-sized enterprises. We will not look back at the days of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation but we will look to a future where the emphasis is on new eco-industries and technologies.
Reference was made in the Queens Speech to the hosting of the G20 summit on 2 April, and President-elect Obama will be coming. Emphasis will be placed on the financial markets, the world economy and the reform of our various financial institutions. The package will have to be proactive. As I said in the beginning, we cannot simply deal with the problems of the economy on the basis of interest rates. Interest rates might come down tomorrowthey might go down further. In Japan, they went down to zero, but that did not turn the economy around. Interest rates in the US might go down to zero, but that will not turn the economy around. We need the positive input of a fiscal stimulus, coming from every side that we can think ofagain, that was mentioned in the Queens Speechto help small businesses, medium-sized businesses, the workers and the workers families. Those principles will see us through the recession. They will lessen its impact, although they will not get rid of it altogether.
There has been lots of talk about electioneering and how we handle elections. Those are not the issues that face the British public. The British public must come out of the recession in a better and stronger position than the one in which they went into it. It will take time, but it can be done. As the Prime Minister said, it must be done in the interests of the British people. The Gracious Speech sets the framework for that and as a nation state we all ought to work together for that aim.
David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): It is always a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), who is my esteemed colleague on the House of Commons Commission and the Members Estimate Committee. I do not speak in this House wearing my Commission hat but, with that as background, it may helpful if I comment on a few Bills in the Queens Speech. I shall begin with the one that proposes to strengthen the role of Parliament, but I too regret that there is no Bill on the civil service, as it has long been Conservative party policy that we should have a Bill to restore the civil services neutrality and impartiality.
It is interesting that a Bill to make the police more accountable should be in the Queens Speech only a few days after the outrage that has concerned everyone in this House. Like nearly all hon. Members, I am appalled at the Home Offices reaction and the polices over-reaction.
Let us get to the key point. It does not involve Mr. Speaker, although too many people are focusing on this House as the scapegoat; in fact the House was at the end of the line of action. Instead, we should look at who started this assault on democracy. We were told that the Home Office permanent secretary called in the police, but the Met said today that the police were called in by the Cabinet Office.
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