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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:48 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell 8:48 pm, 24th March 2014

I rise in support of a Budget that really gets down to doing the job.

Let me start with a constant bugbear of my constituents: the state of the roads. The additional funding to repair the potholes and road damage that came about over the winter is hugely welcome to my constituents. The funding for my city of Leeds is £949,426—almost £1 million of extra money. Altogether, the Government will have spent £4.5 billion on road repairs in this Parliament, which is £800 million more than the last Labour Government spent in their final term in office.

We need to keep a close eye on where the Labour party on Leeds city council spends that money. It has almost revelled in making cuts to front-line services in our city, purely for politically motivated reasons. That is the only explanation for why, when cutting front-line services, it has spent £1.8 million on a website, £600,000 on furniture and hundreds of thousands of pounds on union time and facilities. We must ensure that the £1 million that goes into Leeds is spent as extra money on the roads, and is not the only money that is spent on the roads. Unfortunately, we have a Labour council in Leeds which governs in its own political interests, not in the interests of those who rely on its services. Even outside the financial issues, the council is too slow to get anything sorted out, such as housing and land supply.

It is massively welcome to cities such as Leeds and constituencies such as mine that a £500 million pot is now available for SME developers. With the inclusion of windfall—and my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew and I lobbied very hard for Leeds to be included in the land supply—it means that we should be able to relieve the pressure that villages in my constituency feel to take some of the 12,500 houses that Leeds city council has designated for the area. The time taken to identify major areas of sustainable development, such as Headley Fields in the north of my constituency and Makins Farm in Garforth, is ridiculously slow, but the proactive stance that we are taking in the city is much better than the Labour policy of building 200,000 new homes and seizing the land to build them on—a frankly Stalinist policy. Labour leaflets talk proudly of that policy, but fail to tell local communities that they would effectively lose any say in the location of that development.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be interested to hear a few other gems from Labour’s latest newsletter on economic policy. Top of the list is a pension triple lock, so that any increase would never be lower than 2.5% and would also be in line with the higher of earnings or inflation. One can only guess how Labour thought that policy up—it sounds like a winner. I would suggest that we adopt it if we had not already done so three years ago. It certainly beats the 75p rise of a few years ago. Labour also voted against our triple lock when we introduced it.

Labour also says that it will cut taxes for 24 million people by introducing a 10p rate, but in office it doubled tax on the lowest earners. We did not double that tax: we abolished it. Effectively, that is a watering down of the policy of abolishing tax for the lowest paid. Labour says that it will back small businesses by—wait for this—cutting the rates in 2015 and then freezing them. We gave £1,000 back to businesses with under £50,000 of rateable value, which had a huge impact on the SMEs and small shop owners in my villages of Wetherby, Garforth and Rothwell—a real investment after years of non-investment.

Labour also says it will strengthen the minimum wage: we are doing that. What we are not doing is chasing easy headlines on the living wage, which has already risen by 40p since the argument started a few months ago. We cannot chase wages with an inflation-led policy: we have to make sure that we cut taxes on businesses so that the money goes into the pockets of hard-working people such as my constituents. That approach is sustainable in the long run and that is what we are doing. I want to see the minimum wage reach at least £7, when we are able to afford it by cutting taxes and making sure that what businesses are not giving to the Government goes directly into the pockets of the people who are doing the work.

Compare our approach to Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee scheme, which no firms have signed up to. It would subsidise public sector jobs and create non-jobs. There is nothing more demoralising than being sent to a workplace with nothing to do. Do not patronise my constituents: do what the Government are doing and ensure that we have strong economic growth, leading to real jobs for people. Apprenticeships in my constituency are up 63% since the election, and that is making a real difference. I have had enough Labour shadow Ministers coming to my constituency recently to hear that from people on the doorstep. Clearly they have their ears closed to them, as they seem to listen only to the Labour candidate with all her ideas from Tooting, where she lives. Perhaps those ideas work well around the dinner tables in London, but in my constituency they would not work at all. My hon. Friend the Minister should take heart from the fact that the Opposition’s economic policies have either already been put in place by the Government or have no traction outside the north London kitchen tables in the multi-million pound houses of Labour Front Benchers.

We froze council tax: that is why hard-working people have seen their taxes cut. But this year Labour has raised it by 1.99%—a disgraceful attempt to dodge the electorate.