Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill

Part of Parliament (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 9:18 pm on 26th October 2010.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 9:18 pm, 26th October 2010

Early in the Minister's introduction to the debate, one of the reasons he gave for not going ahead with the savings gateway account was that there had not been enough take-up by banks. He also argued that credit unions did not exist in every deprived community, and that they would therefore be unable to operate the savings gateway accounts adequately. I think that he was putting the cart before the horse. The savings gateway would have given the credit unions a huge boost and allowed them to develop.

The credit union in my constituency is fragile, because it serves an area in which people have difficulty saving. They might wish to borrow, however, and to do so through a credit union is much better than using some of the other methods on offer in the area. It is difficult for credit unions to balance their savings and their borrowings, even without taking into account their administration costs and all the other expenses that they incur, and they need to get volunteers to do the work. So, if we want the credit unions to grow, we need to assist them, and retaining the savings gateway account would have been one way of putting credit unions such as the one in my constituency on to a firmer footing.

If a credit union is not an example of "the big society", I would like to know what is. I believe this illustrates a fundamental incoherence, which we can see in many of the policies presented by the coalition Government. They have a lot of the words and a lot of the language-in fact, I sometimes think that Government Members are stealing our language-but if we look at what is being done as opposed to what is being said, we see the truth. Here is an example of something that should be encouraged as part of the big society, which we are all supposed to be supporting, but some of its lifeblood is being cut off through this policy.

Another incoherence is seen in considering what types of benefits we should have. As I said before I was elected, we all need to discuss that-I am not suggesting that my party has no need of further discussions-and I shall carry on saying it. Do we want universal benefits or not? If we have them, yes, there are costs. Personally, I would have been happy to see child benefit made part of taxable income in a more coherent way. If we want universal benefits, yes, there are tax implications.

There are some strange inconsistencies around. I may have imagined it, but I thought I heard the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills extolling on the radio yesterday-several times throughout the day on the BBC-a policy that he claimed the Government would adopt over the next few years: providing pensions and giving the current rate of means-tested pension credit to everybody over pension age. I think that would be fantastic, especially if we could further reduce the dependence on means-testing. Many of my constituents, particularly those just over pension credit level, would feel that that was fair. There is a huge cost, however, which would have to be paid for. Is that really the policy of the coalition Government, or only that of one party trying to distract attention from the comprehensive spending review? Can it be the policy when we have heard today all sorts of arguments against universal benefits being made very strongly by Conservative Members? I found it quite offensive to hear some Conservative Members describe what they thought people might use their health in pregnancy grant for-it is not necessarily eased by other benefits. That is why I have referred to incoherence in the policy, which needs to be sorted out. It is right for us to expose it.

We have different views on how the economy works and on how to get out of the recession. We could go into all sorts of history lessons. The 1930s are often mentioned, but we have to go beyond 1931, 1932 and 1934. There is a strong economic argument for saying that we did not get out of the recession until re-armament started before the second world war. It can also be argued that the UK went through a double-dip recession in the mid to late-1930s. Economists disagree, of course, but none of us should take such an absolutist position as to suggest that we are simply right. We have a view; you have a view- [Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr Speaker, you do not have a view. The coalition Government have a view, but we should be prepared to listen to alternative points of view.