Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:07 pm on 23rd March 2015.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham 7:07 pm, 23rd March 2015

It is always interesting to follow Mr Campbell. I am glad that he is such a supporter of the triple lock on pensions. He must remember, of course, that it was the Liberal Democrats and not the Labour party that introduced the triple lock and restored the link with earnings broken all those years ago by Mrs Thatcher.

The economy is undoubtedly looking stronger now, not just according to the headline figures, with unemployment down, growth up, the deficit cut by a third in absolute terms and half in terms of GDP, inflation and interest rates both under control and living standards finally on the rise. It is stronger in a more subtle way, too. We have invested in infrastructure and in apprenticeships and skills, and carbon emissions are falling even while economic growth is increasing. Renewable energy has nearly tripled. This is a more sustainable economy and has strength in that regard as well.

I have some sympathy with something that Wayne David said. When we think about the performance of the economy, we do not think enough about quality of life, and it would be a good thing to have a well-being Budget as well as a classical economic Budget, perhaps delivered by the Prime Minister the day before to put the economic Budget in context. It is important to think about not just economic growth but our quality of life and the state of the nation’s well-being, as well as to have reported to this House indicators on things such as mental and physical health, crime and sense of security, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and access to green space, and education and children’s happiness. That would be good in setting the context for the main Budget.

There is no doubt that in classical terms, at least, the economy is looking much stronger. Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have both taken the flak for the difficult decisions made in government that were necessary to secure those improvements and both parties should share the credit. I am certainly finding that the most popular headline policies in the Budget seem to be those pushed by the Liberal Democrats, such as taking more and more of the lowest paid earners out of income tax altogether; providing £1.25 billion over five years for mental health, particularly for children and new mums; and smaller items that might have passed almost unnoticed, such as £10 million for new school kitchens in support of the provision of free school meals.

It is on future spending plans, of course, that the coalition parties somewhat part company. The Chancellor identified £5 billion from tax avoidance and evasion and aggressive tax planning to help balance the books, which clearly we would welcome, and perhaps even push further on, but the other £25 billion he identified are all from public spending cuts, either in welfare or unnamed Government Departments. Of course, he wants to carry on cutting, even after the books are balanced, and apparently without seeking to raise a penny from those who can afford to pay more. That seems to me to be calculated to damage public services far more than they need to be damaged, to cut more than needs to be cut and to take us towards a less fair society, not a fairer one.

There were a few items in the Budget of particular interest to Cheltenham. I am very pleased that Cheltenham racecourse got a mention; it is not quite in my constituency, but it is economically very important to it. The commitment to a racing right that guarantees a more secure income from betting to racing is very much to be welcomed. I also welcome the commitment on superfast broadband, although there are still questions to be asked on exactly how that will be implemented, even in urban areas such as mine.

I welcome the endorsement for tidal lagoon power, although there are a few qualifications around that. I hope that the negotiations on the strike price will be negotiated quickly and hopefully concluded before the general election. I hope that they will reflect the fact that, unlike the nuclear industry, which receives a huge subsidy, being a 60-year-old mature industry, lagoon power is a cutting-edge, pioneering feat of engineering which has enormous potential for safe and sustainable growth in energy.

The Budget also included a reference to the intelligence services. The Chancellor made a very welcome commitment to right the injustice that has been suffered by the widowers, widows and former civil partners of firefighters, police officers and those in the intelligence services with regard to their pension rights. In the Budget documents, however, the commitment for the intelligence services is not quite so cast-iron; they talk about examining the possibility of doing the same thing for the intelligence services. Many of my constituents work tirelessly for the safety and security of this country. It is fantastic that the widowers, widows and former civil partners of firefighters and police officers will have their pension rights looked at and the injustice remedied, but it would be very unfair if the same right were not extended to the intelligence services. That is just one small way in which we could make our society fairer as well as building the stronger economy that we can all now celebrate.