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Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 22nd March 2016.

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Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough 3:21 pm, 22nd March 2016

I will not at the moment.

I welcome the lifetime ISA. I welcome the tax crackdown on offshore property developers and transfer pricing. It was good to see the changes in the personal allowance, which will take many of my constituents out of tax.

Indeed, my constituency is in a very fortunate position, and I pay tribute to the Chancellor for delivering nothing short of a jobs miracle. We have seen the largest reduction in youth unemployment in the history of my seat—and probably in England as a whole—at over 70%, and there has been a more than 60% reduction in adult unemployment. We also have record numbers of apprenticeships. That is taking people out of poverty. That is the great record of this Government.

The decision to resile from the commitment on PIP was absolutely right. There is a moral, social equity issue—[Hon. Members: “A U-turn.”] It is a U-turn—that was well spotted by Labour Members. However, it was absolutely right to make that decision. It was right for my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith to point up the juxtaposition of tax reductions for well-off people and the change in PIP. However, it ill behoves Labour Members to lecture the Government, when they voted against every welfare change in the last Parliament. What would they have done, and what would they do now? It is incumbent on the Opposition to come through with a coherent, comprehensive alternative on fiscal policy, public expenditure and tax.

Let me raise two issues that have caused me some concern with the Budget. The problem the Government have encountered, which we have discussed over the last few days, has given rise to a proper debate about intergenerational fairness. We need to look again at pensioner benefits. We cannot discuss welfare without looking at things such as the triple lock and pensioners benefits. I rarely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, but he is absolutely right that we cannot see these things in a vacuum, and it is important that we look again at means-testing and pensioner benefits. It is morally wrong to make large transfers of wealth from the young to the old. There has to be a consensus on this issue.

One suggestion I would make is that, if we are going to means-test pensioner benefits, we should perhaps link that to the most acute societal issue we have at the moment, which is adult social care. We should have co-ordination and integration between acute district hospitals and the provision of care and housing for older people. I think there are older pensioners who would understand that, and it is something the Treasury needs to go forward with and look at very seriously.

The second concern is that, as we speak, Cambridgeshire County Council—it is not my local authority, because Peterborough City Council is a unitary authority—is looking at the devolution plans for East Anglia. At the moment, those do not stack up. We have not had enough information—in some senses, I am reprising the comments of my hon. Friend Sir Henry Bellingham yesterday—and we need more. The proposal has been rushed to get it in the Budget statement. It needs to be finessed. We need to carry businesses with us. Neither local enterprise partnership agrees with it. The majority of councils are, at best, ambivalent, and that includes Cambridge City Council, which has rejected it. We need to look at this proposal again.