Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 22nd March 2012.

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Photo of Stephen Gilbert Stephen Gilbert Liberal Democrat, St Austell and Newquay 5:17 pm, 22nd March 2012

Again, there is an obsession for a policy that Labour implemented only during the last 37 days of its Government. If it was so keen on the 50p rate, why did that not last for 13 years under Labour, rather than 37 days? This is nonsense from the Labour party.

Some of the measures to improve finance for small and medium-sized enterprises will build on some of the other mechanisms that the Government have introduced in Cornwall to try to drive the Cornish economy. I am thinking of the enterprise zone at Newquay airport, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership, the fact that Cornwall will be the first county—not just in the United Kingdom, but across Europe—to have access to superfast broadband across its entire length, and the commitment to renewable energy generation as a way of driving some of the job creation of the future.

I also welcome the measures on housing growth that the Chancellor announced. Government and Opposition Members recognise that there is a serious housing crisis in the country. We need to get on and build our way out of it to ensure that we meet the aspirations of those, many from my generation, who simply want to start their lives with their partners, but are unable to do so because they do not have access to stable, decent and affordable accommodation.

In my remaining time, however, I would like to put a few concerns on the record. The first is about alcohol taxation. Duty on beer has gone up by 42% in the past four years. As my hon. Friend Andrew Griffiths, who is not in his seat, said earlier, the community pub is at the heart of many areas, including many of Cornwall’s villages. Community pubs serve a useful function, employing 300,000 young people across the country. When the Government bring forward their alcohol strategy, I hope to see some redress from the burden that beer taxation has taken on in recent years.

I am also concerned that air passenger duty has gone up by 360% over seven years. When I talk to the manager of Newquay airport, he tells me that that is having an impact on its ability to continue to drive custom.

I share the concern of my hon. Friend Mr Cash about fuel taxation in rural areas. An innovative scheme is being trialled in the Isles of Scilly and other places, but the Government need to consider again whether the balance is right.

I have two final points. I disagree with my hon. Friend Michael Fallon, who thinks that the introduction of regional pay will be a welcome move. Far from it—it runs the risk of institutionalising some of the inequalities in regions, such as Cornwall, with above-average housing costs and below-average wages. I have deep concerns about this proposal, as do my hon. Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Finally, I turn to an issue that is exercising my countrymen in Cornwall. There is some ambiguity about whether the increase to 20% in VAT on hot food will include pasties that are served from bakeries. The Minister will no doubt be aware that the pasty is not only a staple, hearty meal but, in effect, employs thousands of people and brings millions of pounds into the Cornish economy. Will he give some clarity on whether we can avoid a pasty tax?