Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:51 pm on 25th March 2013.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester 7:51 pm, 25th March 2013

The announcement to help first-time home buyers is great, but the wording needs to be tight to prevent it from being misused as a licence for people to buy a second home or to add further to the buy-to-rent racket that has led to so much misery for those trapped in the private rented sector, while others have become property millionaires by sponging on funds from housing benefits paid for by taxpayers to help people who cannot afford to buy or who cannot get a council house. It would make more sense to spend this money on new council houses—or social housing as it is now known.

Next, there are mixed messages on alcohol tax and the coalition Government’s desire to tackle binge drinking and improve the health of the nation. One minute there is disagreement about whether there should be a minimum unit pricing of alcohol; then the Chancellor knocks 1p off the price of beer, rather than raising it by 3p, as would have happened under the ever-rising structure inherited from Labour. Thus the cost of a pint of beer has gone down by 4p on Labour’s pricing policy. This is not going to help tackle binge drinking or the growing health problems associated with excessive drinking.

We need a variable price structure to help traditional, community and village public houses, which would fit well with the coalition Government’s localism agenda and the last Government’s sustainable communities legislation. Tax on beer and lager should be raised significantly in the mega-pubs and to stop irresponsible discount pricing in supermarkets, but reduced in our neighbourhood public houses, which are closing at a rate of 18 a week, owing, in no small part, to the lack of a level playing field. It is these neighbourhood hostelries that, in the main, are less likely to cause antisocial problems. On 1 November last year, I told the House:

“We need to amend the tax levy on beer sold in our traditional public houses. We should have a tax-neutral approach to keep the Treasury happy and bring huge social benefits, including job retention and creation, rather than there being the loss of jobs that we continue to witness in the sector. Most publicans of neighbourhood and village public houses run responsible establishments. Their customers should be rewarded, not financially penalised because of the irresponsible marketing carried out by supermarkets and mega-drinking establishments.”—[Hansard, 1 November 2012; Vol. 552, c. 429.]

On tackling binge drinking and the often associated incidents of people being injured, deliberately or accidentally, from broken glasses or beer bottles, sometimes used as weapons in fights, I urge the Chancellor to give a tax discount to brewers who put their product in plastic bottles—more accurately polycarbonate bottles. Likewise, I urge him to encourage major drinks venues to use the same material for the glasses in which alcoholic drinks are served. This would dramatically reduce the number of people taken to hospital for injuries caused by broken beer bottles and glasses. I refer the House to the ten-minute rule Bill in the name of Ian Lucas, which he brought in on 4 September last year. In his speech, he pointed out that according to the Home Office there are about 87,000 violent incidents involving glass every year. Just think how much it costs the NHS to deal with the vicious wounds inflicted.

I urge the Chancellor to introduce a levy on football television rights. There is already too much money sloshing around in professional football, and it is only going to get worse. The next television deal will bring in £5 billion to inflate still further the obscene payments to premiership footballers and a big creaming off by their parasitic agents. I suggest a 20% levy, which the Chancellor could ring-fence and direct to be spent, as a £1 billion Olympic legacy, on school and grass-roots sport.

Thank goodness we have not had a repeat of the pasty tax nonsense, although we are left with the unfairness of VAT being levied on the Subway toasted sandwich. I urge the Chancellor to try a little harder with his attempts to be the common man and axe the 20% tax on toasties and the like.

Finally, how about this for a new income stream? I am grateful to Mr Richard Spendlove, doyen of the BBC evening radio airways across the eastern counties, for this suggestion. He points out that people will pay a small fortune for so-called personalised or elite registration number plates for vehicles, so why not, he asks, re-issue all those abandoned and forgotten numbers from the early years of motoring? Whenever such live number plates come on the market, they can fetch as much as £4,300, which was the asking price yesterday for registration number 88 VR. Mr Spendlove suggests that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency dusts down its records, identifies the tens of thousands of similar historic numbers that decades ago ended their days in the scrap yards of yesteryear and makes them available. The revenue generated could, I suggest, be used for road safety measures outside schools.

If the Chancellor wants to be popular, he should adopt all those suggestions.