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It is a great privilege to speak in this Budget debate and to follow all the previous speakers, who have passionately expressed their views. I want to pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friends the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition, who spoke thoughtfully and in great depth, sharing their vision of how our country can and should be better, and describing how this Government have failed working families. That is the real debate of this Budget—the one the Conservatives do not want to have.
I suspect it is even the reason why the Prime Minister is refusing my right hon. Friend the courtesy of a one-to-one television debate. The Americans have been doing this since Nixon and Kennedy, and at the last election the Prime Minister said that his predecessor would show that he was “out of touch” if he did not agree to such a debate. This is not like the Bullingdon club photograph that the Prime Minister has done everything in his power to stop media outlets showing: he cannot airbrush out a television debate. He can hide and refuse to debate, but he cannot stop the real debate taking place in households, workplaces, communities and families the length and breadth of the country.
We well remember the debate about “broken Britain”, thoughtfully expressed in the research of the Centre for Social Justice, which the Conservative party often trumpeted. However, that now demonstrates itself in the nightmare of the anti-family, debt-inducing curse of zero-hours contracts. It is a debate we hear in community groups, charities, churches and other faith organisations.
As we debate this Budget, it is worth noting that the 2014 National Church and Social Action survey reports that food distribution tops the list of church community activities. It is above parent and toddler groups; above community festivals and fun days; it is even above school assemblies and religious education. As someone who worked for charities for 15 years before becoming a Member of this House, I do not just welcome voluntary endeavours, I consider them vital. However, the Government have shown where their priorities lie—and it is certainly not with people facing zero-hours contracts. A lady in my constituency whose church collects food regularly for the Oswestry food bank just over the border, put it memorably:
“We’re used to collecting, but it used to be for Romanian orphans, not for people in our country without enough to eat.”
That is not to say that everything the Government do is bad. There were some positives in the Budget and I want to mention two I particularly liked. I welcome the increase in personal allowances, and in the gift aid-like payment in the Small Charitable Donations Bill, not least because a number of Labour Members worked on that Bill Committee to increase the threshold. The details need to be worked out, but there are some real positives. However, the Government need to increase support for the self-employed. I am very much of the view that if we as a nation handle this right, the potential for private sector-led regeneration in rural and semi-rural communities is great.
Let me tell the House about the kind of enterprise in my area that I am talking about. Recently, Alice Murray, who lives in Overton, in my constituency, visited me here in the Houses of Parliament. Alice is responsible for setting up the company Giggles and Games, and last year she won the prestigious “Entrepreneur of the Year” award at the Free2Network business awards. Alice had not worked outside the home during the 17 years she brought up her four children. By her own admission, she was too nervous to attend an open day at Glyndwr university in Wrexham five years ago. But she grew in confidence while studying. Having organised a major event as part of a college module in entrepreneurship, Alice, after graduating in 2012, established Giggles and Games - The Giant Game People, a company that has achieved great acclaim for its games for parties, weddings and corporates. Based in north Wales, it covers Shropshire and Cheshire, but its staff are more than willing to travel further afield. The Giant Games include Giant 5ft Buzzers, Giant Connect Four, Giant Chess, Giant Snakes and Ladders—3 metres by 3 metres—and, best of the lot, Giant Stocks. The company is innovative, different and appealing, and it employs people and brings money into our local economy. I appreciate that Giant Space Hoppers are not everyone’s thing, but the business is thriving because it is innovative.