Businesses in Chiswick, Brentford, Isleworth, Osterley and Hounslow have been hugely helped by the Government through lower business rates, reduced tax, better infrastructure and two new free schools, which were announced yesterday, to help build the skills for the future. Does my hon. Friend agree that only a Conservative Government with a long-term economic plan can help make Britain the most attractive place in the world to start and grow a business?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. She is right that we want Britain to be the best place to start and grow a business. I am delighted for her that she has 9,600 new start-ups in her constituency, which she has fought for diligently throughout this Parliament, and that, as a result of this success, unemployment is down 38% in her constituency since 2010. I was particularly delighted to pay a visit with her to one of them, My Plumber Ltd, and to meet the wonderful Ollie, who was the apprentice there in charge.
One fiscal measure that affects business a great deal is the rate of VAT, and every Conservative Government put up VAT. In 1979, they put it up from 8% to 15%; in 1991, up to 17.5%; in 1994, on fuel and power; and in 2010, VAT was raised again to 20%. So we know what they will do, but let us give them one more chance. Will the hon. Lady rule out putting up VAT if in power after May?
It is extraordinary. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman would like to admit that every Labour Government when they leave office leave unemployment higher than when they came in. That is the truth of the matter. The Government are sorting out the mess left by the Labour Government, which was the worst financial crisis in British peacetime.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, thanks to our long-term economic plan, the Government have supported businesses through cutting businesses taxes?
Does she further agree that the real difference between the Government and the Labour party’s approach is that while we have been cutting taxes on businesses, it wants to put them up?
Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. There is the risk under Labour of a return to an anti-business system that has already been recognised by people who are themselves trying to run businesses in the UK that are contributing to our economy. She has been assiduous in her constituency in supporting business. She has more than 8,000 new start-ups, and I was delighted to visit Clare and to meet the Ealing Mums in Business, who are doing everything that they can to build successful businesses from small beginnings, to talk to them about access to finance.
As I think the hon. Gentleman will know, we will agree to devolution for Northern Ireland if it is sustainable, and if it is felt by all sides to be a sustainable proposition.