It is an honour to address this House for the first time today. It is an equal honour to do so as the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands. I could easily use up all the time available in praising my beautiful constituency, and although I shall resist doing so, as there are pressing matters facing the House, I make no apology for my pride in representing the people of the Moorlands, among whom I feel very much at home, as I represent the seat where I was born.
I would like to start by paying tribute to my predecessor, Charlotte Atkins. She made many friends in the constituency in her 13 years of representing the seat. There are many local causes that she made her own, including her advocacy for the charity Sailability and her vocal campaign for the preservation and promotion of the canal network. I am privileged to take up the baton in representing the Staffordshire Moorlands in this House.
Right hon. and hon. Members may be aware of the unique character of the Moorlands. Staffordshire is a large county with a great industrial history, but sometimes we overlook its claim as home to much of the Peak district. The geography of Staffordshire Moorlands is demonstrated not only by the name, but by the fact that one third of the seat is made up of Peak national park land. I see it as one of my responsibilities to encourage visitors to that beautiful place, which is something of an undiscovered tourist gem. When hon. Members visit the Moorlands, they will find a wealth of natural attractions. The very many hills enjoyed by walkers provide striking and inspiring scenery, including the famous Roaches. While among the peaks, hon. Members can slake their thirst in up to five of the 10 highest pubs in Britain.
Alongside the wild shapes and deep colours of the moors and the peaks, we should not forget, of course, that much of the wonderful rural beauty is conserved for our enjoyment largely thanks to the hard work and dedication of farmers. As a result, Staffordshire Moorlands is an important source of the nation's food. We are now entering the summer country show season, when the quality and variety of livestock will be on prize-winning display. We all benefit from the maintenance of the land that supports that vital industry. It will be one of my aims to encourage the House to ensure that farming-not hidden by the catch-all "rural affairs"- is given due attention by the Government.
There are opportunities not only for walking, but for bird watching, including around Tittesworth reservoir, and for sailing on Rudyard lake, the place after which the famous Mr Kipling-not the one who makes cakes-was named. The lake is no mean feat of engineering, and was created at the end of the 18th century to feed the canal network, another important part of our tourism industry. On top of those natural attractions are other reasons to be confident about the future for the Moorlands. The constituency is home to the most visited tourist attraction outside London, Alton Towers. There is also a thriving arts community, building on a long history that includes William Morris, who lived and worked in Leek for a time. Local painters such as David Hunt continue the tradition, capturing the essence of the area.
Of course, Staffordshire Moorlands is no simple rural idyll; it is also home to towns with an industrial, textile and mining history. Biddulph grew up on mining, but has adapted and is now finding its way with more modern industries. Leek prospered from the silk trade and has long been the home to two large providers of financial services, Leek United and Britannia. Contrary to some reports, manufacturing in the UK is not finished. Small firms in the Moorlands are making gearboxes, seat belts, chemicals and agricultural equipment, to name just a few.
I believe that the traditional character of our towns and villages and our farms has been strengthened by a feeling of togetherness-a feeling of the moorlands being something unique-but we have to trade some of that positive feeling for our fellow moorlanders with the difficulty of ease of access. There is, for example, neither a train station nor a dual carriageway in Staffordshire Moorlands. That lack of infrastructure might be one problem for our businesses that seek to connect quickly with others, but another, more severe, problem has been one of neglect of places such as the Moorlands-neglect by the previous Administration who developed policy with an eye only on its metropolitan heartlands and large companies. They were an Administration who strangled small businesses with regulation and looked on in ignorance of anyone who works on the land or cultivates livestock.
However, I do not think that I have been elected by the people of Staffordshire Moorlands just to sing the praises of the area. I consider that they have elected me also to support the new Government in redressing the balance in focus of our legislation. I welcome the intention to devolve powers to the right local level and recognise that the diversity in our country requires that we have strong principles and that we apply them appropriately. I also believe that my constituents expect me, along with all other right hon. and hon. Members, to uphold the supremacy of Parliament, because that is how their interests will be represented most effectively.
That brings me to the point I want to make about today's debate. We have the duty, as well as an opportunity in this new Parliament, to hold the Executive to account, but we must understand clearly what we mean by the Executive. Today, it is not simply Cabinet Government, but the extension of Government through the civil service and numerous Government agencies. We must ensure that, as we vote for laws in this House, what we pass is actually implemented in practice.
My professional background is as a chartered accountant and chartered tax adviser-and I realise how many people would be disappointed if the word "tax" did not appear in this maiden speech. Over the years I have advised businesses, large and small, on their tax affairs, I have seen many instances of where the intention of the law has been altered in practice, not by another Act of Parliament or even by a judge, but by officials in Government Departments-in my particular case, by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. That is a question not necessarily of unintended consequences, but of deliberately altered consequences by officials.
Let me provide a concrete example of what I mean; it relates directly to our debate on green energy and reducing carbon emissions. Under the Finance Act 1999, the then Government encouraged people to cycle to work-which given the terrain in the Moorlands, would keep us extra fit. Parliament determined that if businesses provided cycles for their staff, that provision would be exempt from tax. There are several ways that a business could do that-for example, by creating a pool of bikes or by setting up a salary sacrifice scheme. In the latter case, a credit agreement between the employer and employee is required.
One of the principles in the legislation is that the benefit should be "generally available". However, HMRC guidance drawn up in the normal way on the matter results in a subtle, but different, position-that the benefit must be "available to all". Crucially, employees under the age of 18 cannot enter into a credit agreement. This means that most employers could not offer the option to all employees; and, according to the Revenue, if it is not available to all, it cannot be available to any.
A Department for Transport guideline produced 10 years later attempted to clear up the anomaly, but why did we need guidelines from one Department to interpret guidelines from another when the intent of the law was quite clear? Why should HMRC apply the rules in this way? Did not Parliament say that it wanted this tax exemption to be given to employees to encourage green transport? Who gave the Revenue, a Government agency, the right to re-interpret the law? That may seem a small instance, but it is indicative of the larger problem we face. There is a culture of control often masquerading as advice, and there is a tendency to complicate the law-and not just in the area of tax.
Too many times my constituents have said to me that they do not understand why MPs or councillors have to take legal advice or are following the official guidance rather than doing what the intent of the law says. Parliament must be supreme, and not just in fiscal matters. Ministers and Members of this House must be confident that they are the masters of the rules, because they are accountable to those who have sent them here. If we pass fewer but simpler and clearer laws, there will be less scope for confusion. Simplicity will help Parliament maintain that supremacy, while transparency will also help to restore the reputation of politics.
Our electors are more than capable of judging what we are doing-and seeing whether it is worth while-if they can see what it is, and clarity of principle might even increase interest in the business of Parliament. People will see this House as a place of serious and relevant debate, and, dare I say it, simplicity might even help us make efficiency savings. I therefore ask that in this Budget debate, and in the debates that follow on of the Finance and other Bills, we ensure that what we intend the legislation to do is what officials implement and enforce.
Before I sit down, Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope you will indulge one final comment, as I want to thank the voters of Staffordshire Moorlands for putting their trust in me. I will endeavour to work hard for all of them and represent their interests in this House.
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