Cost of Living

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 14th May 2013.

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Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 6:49 pm, 14th May 2013

As Hilary Benn has said, this has been a full and wide-ranging debate, covering energy prices, climate change, housing policy, heavily fruited confectionery and a brief excursion into the world of J. R. R. Tolkien. The debate was opened by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend Mr Davey who, among other things, gave the House a masterclass on Professor Hills’ theory of fuel poverty. That clearly demonstrated that my right hon. Friend is completely on top of the job.

Caroline Flint announced three Labour policies. Just like buses—you wait around for ever, then three come along in quick succession. She rather dampened the House’s excitement, however, when it was discovered that she was merely reheating some old policies.

My right hon. Friend Mrs Spelman spoke knowledgeably about the need for biodiversity offsetting. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell reminded the House why the coalition was formed: it was to deal with Labour’s poor record in Government. He went on to speak with great knowledge about the current situation in Syria, as did my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke).

My hon. Friend and neighbour, Mrs Laing, spoke about conviction politics. My hon. Friend Mr Ruffley warned about an ever-closer union. My hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) spoke of the effect of interest rates on the cost of living. My hon. Friend David T. C. Davies spoke about climate change and the lack of sustainable development in Middle Earth. My hon. Friend James Morris made some telling points about the impact of fuel duty on the cost of living, and my hon. Friend Damian Collins talked about the need for co-operation between the private sector and local authorities.

We must congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour, Robert Halfon, on being perhaps one of the most influential Back Benchers and on the marvellous work he has done on fuel duty. He spoke about the effects of taxation. My hon. Friend Graham Evans said that he had grown up on a council estate under the James Callaghan Government, and that that was why he was a Conservative. I am slightly older than him, and I grew up on a council estate under the Harold Wilson Government. That is why I am a Conservative.

As my hon. Friends the Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham) said, council taxes more than doubled under Labour, taking bills up to £120 a month for a band D home. The coalition Government have worked with councils to freeze the council tax, and bills have fallen by 10% in real terms. The freeze was opposed by Labour, however. The leader of the Labour group in the Local Government Association, Councillor David Sparks, said that councillors were wrong not to increase their taxes. Labour’s local government spokesman in the Commons, Chris Williamson said that the freeze was

“nothing more than a gimmick”.—[Hansard, 17 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 531.]

The Leader of the Opposition dismissed it as involving a “small amount of money”. Actually, the freeze has resulted in a cumulative saving of up to £425 on average band D bills over the last three years. For most people, £425 is a lot of money, but I recognise that, for Labour members, it is nothing. For the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, it is probably just an average morning’s takings in the tea room at Stansgate Abbey.

We have reformed council tax support as well. Spending on council tax benefit doubled under Labour, but we are getting it under control. Such benefits cost taxpayers £4 billion a year, which is equivalent to roughly £180 a year per household.