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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:02 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Conservative, Romsey and Southampton North 8:02 pm, 24th March 2014

It is a pleasure to follow Frank Dobson. Constituents in Romsey and Southampton North have welcomed what they regard as an excellent Budget, aimed at improving the lot of doers, makers, savers and hard-working lower earners. It was a Budget that raised the income tax threshold and further shifted the burden for Government spending away from those who can afford it least and on to those who can afford it most.

The Budget also provided help to manufacturers struggling with the costs of energy, including companies in my constituency such as Michelmersh bricks, which welcomed the £7 billion support package that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced. Those of my constituents who enjoy a pint also noted the 1p reduction in beer duty. I join members of the all-party save the pub group and hope that cut will be passed on to the consumer, not kept by the pub companies. Those in Romsey and Southampton North who drive a car are relieved that the hated fuel duty escalator was abolished last year and that we have seen a further freeze in fuel duty, meaning a saving of 20%, given the rises that would have taken place under the Labour party.

I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend’s announcement on changes to annuities. His proposal struck me as a policy that is as radical as the right-to-buy scheme was in the 1980s. That scheme saw the largest ever transfer of wealth from the state to the individual and enabled people to take control of their future and wealth through property ownership. This policy does exactly the same with taxed income that responsible people have chosen to save, yet are restricted from accessing because of the hand of the state. I have always believed that if someone has been responsible enough to save for their own retirement, they should have the absolute right to access their money as they wish and to reinvest or spend it as they see fit.

On the subject of pensioners, Hampshire sees 1,000 more people every year reach the age of 80 and the health and social care requirements of an ageing population is a challenge faced both by central and local Government. Local authorities such as Hampshire county council face significant challenges. The Care Bill, which I welcome, places an additional burden on local government and estimates indicate that just assessing the eligibility of Hampshire’s residents for the new provisions of the Care Bill will run into many millions of pounds. That is not money delivered in front-line services to the elderly, but merely to assess whether they are eligible. Even for a prudent local council, that bill is large and unexpected. Counties such as Hampshire currently have a significant number of self-funders—in the region of 60%—and under the terms of the Care Bill, all of those might apply to the council to see whether they are eligible.

I am relieved that the Budget has not led to further reductions in central Government funding for local authorities, but there is no doubt that the next two years will be tough. Particularly in Romsey and Southampton North, there has been a significant problem with flooding over the past few months—perhaps not on the scale of Somerset or the Thames valley, but it is none the less devastating for the affected residents and businesses.

We know assistance is available, but what Romsey residents want to know, and quickly, is what measures will be put in place to prevent a recurrence in future. Flood defence measures do not come cheap, nor are they easily engineered and installed. We have to be as alert to inland flooding as to coastal flooding and remember that people’s lives and homes do not fall easily into mathematical equations to assess the wider benefit. I suspect that the burden of the winter’s floods will fall on local government, such as the careful, prudent Conservative authorities of Test Valley and Hampshire, and I seek reassurance from the Treasury that they will not be left to shoulder that burden alone.

That brings me to potholes. I welcome the additional funding for pothole repair, but the estimate for Hampshire’s roads is that this winter’s weather will have brought about a bill of £35 million extra, even before the water level has gone down completely and prior to any assessment of damage to bridges. I welcome the £11.5 million that the Chancellor has already committed to Hampshire and I am grateful to him for making £200 million more available in the pothole challenge fund, which local authorities are invited to bid for. I sincerely hope that he will look favourably on an application from Hampshire.