Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:02 pm on 8th March 2017.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 5:02 pm, 8th March 2017

I will not give way again, because I have already given way twice in the first two minutes of my speech.

The Chancellor made a joke about spreadsheets and his nickname of “Spreadsheet Phil,” but what I quite liked were the tables, and in particular chart 1.2 showing the consistent reduction in unemployment. That again shows one thing that we have always known about Conservative Governments: we find unemployment a lot higher than it was when we left office, and then proceed to reduce it again while in office, giving more people the stability of an income, and making a difference.

To focus on the key issues for my constituency, I greatly welcome the additional funding for social care. I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and we published our report on the NHS and social care last week. There is clearly a need for a long-term debate about how we manage the future liabilities and pressures that will come on those services.

We debated what that means for the future of local government in the Local Government Finance Bill Committee. All of us want to know that when we or our loved ones reach our 70s, 80s or 90s—one of the greatest successes of the NHS is that more people are doing so—the social care will be there. [Interruption.] I will not be cruel enough to point to one particular Member who was making these comments—[Interruption.]—although I will mention Rob Marris, who is chuntering from a sedentary position. To return to the subject, it is right that the Chancellor recognised that challenge, particularly in communities such as Torbay; we do need to make sure the funding is in place.

I would, however, disagree with some of the comments about having a national care service, because I want to see an integrated care service. If we were setting up the NHS and social care system today, we would not set it up with a split between local government and the national health service for services which we would all refer to as healthcare services.

In terms of Torbay, I also particularly welcome the measures on business rates. The discount for pubs is welcome, but I am keen that we must not penalise those who have been most successful. When we look at how we value these things in future, moving away from purely property taxes, we must not hit those who have been very successful, and there has been a debate about that in relation to pubs. The revaluation is broadly welcome, however. Torbay was not served well at all by the revaluation in 2008; our high street was clobbered with rates that are totally beyond likely rental incomes, particularly given that landlords end up offering discount “pay the business rates” deals rather than rent in order to get units occupied. The revaluations will see much of that corrected.

Looking ahead to the future, it is easy to say, “Let’s consider a fundamental change,” but as those of us on the Public Accounts Committee who had the pleasure of taking part in the inquiry into Google know, there is an issue with how we make sure that taxation follows the modern economy. It is much easier to say that a physical building on a high street or an industrial estate should pay x amount of tax, but that is more of a challenge with regard to websites based on overseas servers that allow companies to route their orders and billing and invoicing operations more easily. I hope we can have a sensible and positive cross-party debate about that.

I have two grammar schools in my constituency and one just outside it, so I welcome the support for them. The funding formula presents a challenge, in that a lower percentage of pupils in Torbay grammar schools are on free school meals than those in other secondary schools in the area. The plans to encourage them to increase that rate are welcome, and the three headteachers are absolutely committed to doing that. It is unlikely that we will see a new grammar school in the bay—that has always been clear—but Government support for them is welcome and positive.

Although I felt that going to university was the right choice for me, it is vital that we up-value technical education, so I was pleased to hear about the proposed T-levels. Tomorrow night I will be at the South Devon College apprenticeship awards, presenting awards to those who have done an apprenticeship. It is good to think about how we can get them more recognised. As has been said, they are solid qualifications that an employer can look at and understand in the same way as a degree, an A-level and a GCSE. They also have appropriate rigour. Some people think that a technical qualification is easier, but it is not. When I first spoke about encouraging degree-level apprenticeships, someone wrote on my Facebook page, “Is that like a YTS?” That just showed a complete lack of knowledge about how demanding a top-end apprenticeship is compared with quite a lot of university degrees. It is absolutely vital that people know what is available.

The Chancellor has put forward a solid and effective plan. I welcome the fact that we will continue to meet our manifesto pledges on allowances, particularly the basic allowance on income tax. I also welcome the overall tenor of the Budget: it is a positive statement about Britain’s economic future and many people will want to get behind it. We have only to look at this morning’s opinion polls to see that people have confidence in this Conservative Government and no confidence in the alternatives.