Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill

Part of Parliament (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 9:07 pm on 26th October 2010.

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Photo of Gregg McClymont Gregg McClymont Labour, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East 9:07 pm, 26th October 2010

We have heard tonight two main arguments from Government Members. The first, which may be familiar to Members on both sides of the House, is that there is no alternative, but the absurdity of that position should be clear to everyone. Budgets are inherently political acts, and the notion that the Government have no choice is ridiculous. It is nonsense. The House of Commons came into being over the issue of supply. The modern House of Commons emerged because there were debates about how money should be appropriated. So let us nail that myth.

Listening to Government Members, we realise that this argument is only a front for their real argument. We have heard an attack on universal benefits that has been repeated throughout this debate, to which I have listened closely. These attacks have continued despite the fact what we have heard continuously from my hon. Friend Kate Green, who has forgotten more about these issues than anyone on the Government Benches even knows.

I turn quickly to something that Jacob Rees-Mogg mentioned. I am sorry to see that he is not in his place. He might be an historian-I personally will reserve judgment on that-but he certainly is not an expert on asset-based policies, because he suggested that the child trust fund and the saving gateway in particular are examples of nanny-state socialism. I have a message for those on the Government Benches: they are not examples of nanny-state socialism; they are examples of liberalism.

The child trust fund is a policy whose objective is to promote social mobility. It is a starting point-a symbol and a recognition of the fact that massive inequalities of wealth exist in our society, and that these inequalities exist in addition to the massive inequalities of income. The child trust fund is also a policy with a long history. Thomas Paine first proposed the idea of state-backed assets for all individuals reaching adulthood at the turn of the 19th century. No nanny-state socialist he. Thomas Paine suggested such payments because he understood that inherited wealth unfairly tipped the scales of life in favour of those who were born lucky, rather than those who worked hard-something that I am sure Members on both sides of the House agree with.

The child trust fund operates on that principle, by hopefully making it possible for young people from ordinary backgrounds to go out into the world in future with savings to their name. I say "in the future", because nobody is suggesting that the child trust fund was a perfect policy or that it had achieved everything that we hoped it would achieve, but it has hardly bedded down and now it is being abolished. The child trust fund allows ordinary kids going out into the world to ask themselves a basic question that we have all asked ourselves, as we went forward in our lives: what do I want to do with my life?

As such, I am afraid to say that abolishing the child trust fund represents another nail in the coffin of a once great tradition of social liberalism. Social liberals used to recognise-indeed, social liberals still do-that in the absence of a fair distribution of income and wealth, real freedom is impossible for most individuals. "Assets for all" is an inspiring cry that we used to hear from those on the Liberal Benches. No longer do we hear it.