Orders of the Day — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:20 pm on 10th March 1999.

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Photo of Claire Ward Claire Ward Labour, Watford 8:20 pm, 10th March 1999

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on an outstanding Budget, which will, without any doubt, introduce many measures that will benefit my constituents. That is in stark contrast to what we had from the previous Government. A Conservative Member referred earlier to some strange golden legacy. I do not remember a golden legacy when the Labour party came into office. Our only legacy was one of poor investment in public services, poor standards in education because of a lack of investment, poor investment in our infrastructure, including our rail services, and a crumbling national health service. This Government have invested far more money in our public services than the previous Government could ever have dreamed about.

I returned to my constituency today to meet some pensioners who were celebrating an exhibition on memories with local students at West Herts college. I asked those pensioners for their views on the Budget. It was summed up for me by one pensioner who said, "There is something there for everyone and a bit more for those who need it most." That is exactly what the Budget is about.

We can judge our society by how we treat our pensioners, who deserve the very best that the country can offer them after they have committed so much of their life and effort to it. We have shown a clear intention to deliver the best for pensioners. The £20 a year winter fuel allowance has been increased to £100, The pensioners to whom I spoke today recognised that as a major asset. It is difficult for them to decide how to share their small income between heating, food and other necessities. That is clearly a welcome measure for pensioners in Watford.

Nearly 16,000 pensioners will benefit from the other measures introduced in the Budget. The minimum income guarantee will ensure that, through the income support system, a single pensioner will have a minimum income of £78 a week. While many of us with mortgages have seen the reduction in interest as a real blessing, many of my pensioner constituents have regretted them, because they rely on the interest from their savings. This is a section of society who need that little bit more income at a time when they deserve to live their lives in some dignity. Therefore, I welcome the introduction of pensioner bonds to provide better value for pensioners.

This is also a Budget for families, and I welcome the change in the married couples allowance, not because I am anti-marriage or in any way want to penalise those who are married, but because we have rightly given priority to families with children. We have decided that the most important thing is to give the best start to children in all families. By introducing a taper to the children's tax credit, my right hon. Friend has recognised that there are families who do not need that money and that the benefit should not be paid in full to higher tax payers.

The Budget will, without a doubt, reward work and make work pay. Far too often, those on benefits and seeking work have lost out on getting into work. There have been many disincentives to work. The Government aim to make work pay, and the Budget does that, along with all the measures that will be introduced within the next couple of years, including the minimum wage, which will be introduced this year, and the working families tax credit. The l0p rate of income tax will help those on low incomes most of all. Although Watford will be considered a southern town in comparison with other parts of the country that have problems, we still, unfortunately, have areas of low income and low pay. That measure will be an added boost to those families and individuals.

Lone parents will benefit from the Budget. Many have found a disincentive in moving from benefits into work. The extension of benefits for an additional two weeks will give extra security to those who wish to work but might otherwise have felt that they would lose out disproportionately by doing so. That, together with the increase in child benefit and the Government's child care strategy, will make it much easier for lone parents in my constituency to secure work that will pay in the long term.

My right hon. Friend's reluctance to increase duties on alcohol must be welcomed by those of us who like to indulge now and again. I also welcome the reduction in the duty on pools companies. The headquarters of the Ladbroke group is in my constituency and, on its behalf, I welcome such changes. I also welcome my right hon. Friend's decision not to increase duties on alcohol because, although no brewing now takes place in Watford, there are many brewing industries in the town.

I am also pleased that today, which is national no smoking day, the Government can confidently say that they are not encouraging smoking, and are doing everything in their power to reduce the amount of smoking that takes place by increasing the duty on cigarettes. As someone who does not smoke, and who does not wish to have smoke blown all over me wherever I may be, I am pleased that the Government have taken this step.