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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:48 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 9:48 pm, 24th March 2014

Let me begin by thanking hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber for their contributions this evening. I will do my best to respond to as many of the points raised as I can.

I will start by saying this: of course the Government, and everyone in the Chamber, want to see our economy growing and our living standards rising. The best way to achieve that is by ensuring that more people are going to work every morning and that those people are keeping more of the money they earn. That is exactly what last week’s Budget will help everyone to achieve.

Let me turn to the comments made in this wide-ranging debate. My right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames, in setting out his support for the Budget, mentioned the fact that we need more productivity. He also mentioned the need for investment in skills, as did other hon. Members. Mr Kennedy talked about a sense of opportunity for the youth of this country and a sense of security for older people. He welcomed the freezing of whisky duty. My hon. Friend John Howell set out his support for the development at Ebbsfleet and mentioned neighbourhood plans, which he said were key, explaining that it was Thame in his constituency that launched the neighbourhood plan.

My hon. Friend Paul Uppal talked about Labour always raising taxes—how very observant he is—and set out the help for businesses that the Chancellor announced last week and the successes in his constituency.

My hon. Friend Mary Macleod talked about the support that the Government are giving air ambulances, as well as the support for tax-free child care, for which 1.9 million families will be eligible. She also mentioned the record numbers of people in work, including women.

My hon. Friend Jonathan Evans talked, as other Members did, about the support that the Government are giving energy-intensive industries, and my hon. Friend Iain Stewart made a bid for the Alan Turing institute to be based in Milton Keynes. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science will have noted that plea. My hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier said that he was in favour of freedom for those with pensions to make decisions that are right for them, which was a key cornerstone of last week’s budget.

My hon. Friend Stephen Mosley made a terrific speech about falling unemployment in his constituency and the great work that he has done on jobs fairs. My hon. Friend Gareth Johnson welcomed the Chancellor’s announcements about Ebbsfleet, of which I know he will be a great champion.

My hon. Friend Bill Wiggin talked about the cuts in cider and beer duty, which he rightly said were good news for pubs and brewers. He also mentioned that the mother-in-law of my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury lives in his constituency. I am not sure whether there is any connection with cider and beer, but perhaps that is how those in Herefordshire like to spend their time.

My hon. Friend Caroline Nokes mentioned funding for flood defences and the repairing of potholes. The Government have introduced a £6.5 million severe weather recovery scheme to support local authorities, including for highway infrastructure repairs. The scheme is now paying 100% of local authority costs above the threshold, rather than the usual 85%, and the threshold has been reduced for all county councils and unitary authorities to make it easier for them to claim support. Of course, we have also provided a further £140 million to help repair roads hit by weather damage and, in the Budget, £200 million for repairing potholes.

My hon. Friend Mark Pawsey talked about the importance of new homes and, like other Members, rightly pointed out that the rise in house prices is not universal across the United Kingdom. There is a particular impact in London and the south-east. My hon. Friend Annette Brooke mentioned the rise in the personal allowance, which the Government are proud to have delivered, and financial support for exporters.

My hon. Friend Mr Newmark, the founder of the Million Jobs campaign, talked about the work that he has done, including on the Braintree jobs fair, and said that more growth needs more jobs. My hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke mentioned the Labour newsletter put out in his constituency about Labour’s economic policy. I wonder whether he would like to share it with Opposition Members, particularly the shadow Treasury team, because we did not hear much about that today.

My hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng mentioned the recovery, as Catherine McKinnell just has. He reminded us that a year ago the Opposition said that there was no recovery. Now, of course, it is the wrong kind of recovery. To say that it is hard to please them would be an understatement. My hon. Friend David Rutley talked about the important reductions in corporation tax and employment allowances.

I turn to the speeches that Opposition Members made. I must congratulate them on one thing—at least most of them talked about the Budget. That is remarkable given last week’s Budget response speech by the Leader of the Opposition, in which I think he failed to mention a single Budget measure. I have to say that listening to Opposition Members is like watching arsonists making a call after they have started a fire and saying, “Please, the fire’s not being put out quick enough.”

Hilary Benn asked various questions. I probably do not have time to go through all of them, but it is interesting to note that Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest boroughs in London, has received £49 million from the new homes bonus, compared with £6 million for Wokingham, so he is not entirely right to say that money has been taken from the poorest authorities in the country. He also asked about the Financial Policy Committee’s remit on monitoring the housing market. The latest remit was published last week, on 19 March, and, as the FPC has said, it will monitor in particular developments in house prices,

“relative to indicators of affordability and sustainability.”

Mr Denham talked about student loans and debt. I do not think he is in his place now, but—[Hon. Members: “Yes, he is.”] I am sorry, I missed him. I ask him just what Labour’s policy is on student loans. I represent a large university in Loughborough, and the vice-chancellor would like to know.

Robert Flello spoke about fuel price cuts. Average pump prices under this Government’s policies will be 16p per litre lower than under the plans of the previous Government. Mr Campbell, who sadly is not in his place, blamed the entire financial crash on Lehman Brothers, but I point out to him that Northern Rock collapsed before Lehman Brothers.

The hon. Members for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), talked about protecting pensioners from themselves, which I think is deeply patronising.