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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 20th March 2014.

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Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence) 4:08 pm, 20th March 2014

The Chancellor talked about an economy that is now improving and I do not think anybody would be so churlish as not to acknowledge that there is some improvement, but he also suggested there is further pain to come and it is clear to everyone outside this place, if not to those on the Government Benches, which people and families are going to bear the brunt of the prolonged period of austerity. It will not be millionaires; it will be low-income families, who are not actually terribly impressed by the raising of the tax threshold when the overall cost-of-living increases are hitting them a great deal harder and when, for those who will be in receipt of the new universal credit, almost every penny will be clawed back.

Citizens Advice tellingly confirms that those earning around £100,000 will benefit more than those earning the minimum wage. What we need, and what was missing from the Budget, is positive news about infrastructure investment in our region, such as the building of homes that families and first time buyers can afford to rent or purchase, and major projects such as the diversionary rail line to ensure that the region is resilient in severe weather events. I agree with Mr Heath that expectation is elevated in the south-west about what the autumn statement might contain.

The Labour leader of Plymouth city council has made it clear that investment in new signalling to increase line speeds, new rolling stock and improved rail resilience would help to generate some 32,000 new homes and 42,000 new jobs in the south-west. That investment would bring work, taxes would roll into the Treasury, the south-west economy would benefit and large and small firms would feed into the procurement process, supporting all that growth.

Such investment would undoubtedly support the excellent work of our universities, which could without doubt do even more to support entrepreneurs. Plymouth university is working closely across local enterprise partnership boundaries in support of the work being done by Sir Andrew Witty to drive economic growth.

There were some positive measures in the Budget to help business. I welcome the support for exports, as I welcome the reduction in bingo tax, because it is something on which I have campaigned under both the previous Government and this Government. Devon air ambulance will be much better placed to continue to offer its life-saving service following the changes to VAT on fuel. There was no mention of the business rate change, which many small businesses in Plymouth would have liked to see. I have concerns about the pension proposal, given the history of mis-selling and given personal experience of someone who was persuaded, with expert advice, to take equity from their mortgage while they were seriously ill in such a way that after their death, their partner was left in a dire position. The quality of the advice offered is a serious matter. There is also the question of whether people can get advice on more than one occasion.

I was accused by the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, of being patronising because I dared to ask whether women of a certain age—roughly my age—would face disbenefits as a result of some of the pension changes. He failed to answer that question, and he also failed to offer to place the evidence, particularly that concerning women and the wider risk assessment, into the Library for hon. Members to see.

My colleague the Labour candidate for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, Luke Pollard, yesterday produced figures showing that in Plymouth the average family is about £1,800 a year worse off because prices are rising much faster than wages. When we consider that the average income in Plymouth is about £20,000, not the £100,000 mentioned by the Chancellor yesterday—he is clearly very out of touch if he thinks that that is an average wage—£1,800 is a huge loss. How is it fair that nurses in Derriford get only a £250 pay rise, while higher- rate taxpayers become significantly better off?

It is the same old Tories. I look back at my father’s election address from February 1974, in which he highlighted tax cuts for the rich paid for by price rises for the rest, rising house prices and rents, and the worst house building record since 1963. Of course, we are now facing the worst housing building situation since the 1920s. The attempts to rebrand the stalled Ebbsfleet development would be laughable if the problem was not so serious. Initially, the Minister without Portfolio, Grant Shapps talked about building 22,000 homes there, but we are now being promised only 15,000 homes on a site that has little inherent land value.

If the Chancellor is serious about ensuring that the economy continues to grow and does not falter, he must consider the measures proposed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor—