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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:58 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South 6:58 pm, 24th March 2014

I am very glad to contribute to the Budget debate and in particular to be following Mr Hain because I want to pick up on a couple of the themes he introduced. Before I get on to that, however, I would just remind him that the Office for National Statistics revised downwards the depth of the recession that happened under the Government of which he was a member, which perhaps explains why it has taken us a little longer than we thought to get our economy back on track: the scale of the damage was that severe.

I want to start by welcoming a Budget measure that I hope will be applauded across the House: the Chancellor’s announcement to set up an Alan Turing institute. Thankfully, Alan Turing finally had his name cleared just before Christmas and justice was finally done. I am very proud that Bletchley Park, where he did much of his outstanding work, is in my constituency. Now that we have been able to draw a line under that injustice, it is absolutely right that we concentrate on celebrating his enormous achievements. The establishment of an institute that will further research into cyber-security, algorithms and a whole load of things I will not even pretend to begin to understand will be a wonderfully fitting tribute and legacy. If I may, I will make a gentle bid for Milton Keynes to be the host of that institute. I am sure there will be competition from Manchester, Cambridge and elsewhere, but we would make a very fitting home.

I also welcome the announcement of a new garden city at Ebbsfleet, and I invite the good people of Ebbsfleet and Kent to look at how we in Milton Keynes planned our city. I am sure they could draw many lessons from the design of Milton Keynes and the understanding that went into its creation, inspiring designs of new cities as far afield as China. We would be delighted to advise the good people of Kent.

I welcome the measure in the Budget to extend Help to Buy, a very welcome initiative that has helped many people in my constituency to get on to the housing ladder who would not otherwise have been able to do so. Reference has been made to the housing supply, and I can assure Members that in my constituency, it is growing. The number of letterboxes and doorsteps I have to campaign on is growing at a far faster rate than I am able to cope with. There has rightly been a long-established cross-party agreement in Milton Keynes that such expansion—20,000 new houses over the next couple of decades—should be balanced development consisting not just of owner-occupied houses but of affordable housing in all its forms: some council housing, some housing association properties, some shared ownership properties, some key worker housing.

However, it is not just the numbers and the tenure of housing that is important, but the type. Under previous housing targets, the only thing that was important was the number of houses or flats built, and too many of the wrong type were constructed. There was a glut of apartments, which are fine, but the balance was out of kilter; we did not build enough family-sized dwellings. I am delighted to see some of the planning reforms introduced by this Government, backed up by the neighbourhood planning process. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Nick Boles, who is in his place, has been to Milton Keynes a number of times to see the strength of the neighbourhood planning process locally. That will underpin a more balanced and sustainable approach to housing development.

Housing has to be underpinned by good infrastructure, and this Government’s investment in projects such as East West Rail will ensure that these new houses are. Most of all, housing expansion must have a solid business base. I am delighted to report that Milton Keynes is leading the country in its economic development. New business start-ups are up by 20% over the past few years. Survey after survey from independent bodies such as Experian, Centre for Cities and the

Financial Times place us at or near the top of the national growth league.

Our economic growth is also balanced: it is not just in the service sector, but in high-tech research and development. Last week, I had the great privilege of visiting Red Bull Racing, the Formula 1 team, where the level of engineering research and development is enormous. Budget measures such as the investment allowance, R&D tax credits and the seed enterprise investment scheme all underpin that growth, as do the extra grants for apprenticeships. Without a strong skills base, the economic recovery will not be permanent.

The economic recovery must be soundly based, but so must our long-term financial future. That is why the measures in the Budget on savings and investment were, for me, the most welcome. For too long we have had a culture of instant gratification: if we want something, just borrow and get it. That is not sustainable, and encouraging savings and pensions will help us get back to a secure future in the long term.