Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 8th March 2017.

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Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn 6:08 pm, 8th March 2017

I congratulate Suella Fernandes on her speech, which summed up the Conservative philosophy of rewarding effort. Today’s Budget puts that reputation in doubt. The Conservative party’s reputation for being on the side of business hangs by a thread tonight. Can anybody who fought the 2015 election, or any previous election, believe that today the Conservative party, the party of the small business, the party that worships at the altar of the daughter of a greengrocer from Lincolnshire, has put up national insurance by 11%? Somebody earning £27,000 a year will pay an extra £30 a month. That is the reality of what the Conservative party has done.

The Conservatives have gone further. They have decreased the threshold of the dividend on profits from £5,000 to £2,000, which is more money out of the small businessman’s pocket. We are not talking about Facebook, Costa, Google or Starbucks. We are talking about the painter, the decorator, the tradesman, the greengrocer and the IT set-up. Those people, day to day, run our economy. Can hon. Members imagine what that greengrocer’s daughter from Grantham would say? She would say: “Think again.” As much as Conservatives worship Lady Thatcher, she would not have endorsed the Budget today. She would not have endorsed that tax on small business people. Hon. Members have stood up today and said that they are Tories because they believe in effort and self-worth, and in taking a punt, as the former Prime Minister said once. Those people are being penalised for taking a punt. Unless they U-turn on this, never again can Conservatives say that theirs is the party of business or of small business. That is a cheek. Tonight in my constituency of Islwyn, 3,300 small business people will be directly affected by that change. So much for “Steady Phil” or “Spreadsheet Phil”, as the Chancellor is called.

More in hope than anything, I expected that this would be the most momentous Budget we would ever see in this country, but what did we get? The Chancellor seemed to totally forget that, on 23 June, this country voted for its desire to leave the European Union. We heard no mention of that in his speech. It is okay saying that he touched on it and is aware of it, but more damning is the Office for Budget Responsibility “Economic and fiscal outlook”, which states in paragraph 3.2 that the Government directed it to two recent statements that set out in greater length their objectives for exiting the European Union. Paragraph 3.3 states:

“While the Government has now set out some of its objectives more formally, there is understandably little detail about how it intends to achieve them. In many areas the policy outcome will depend not just on decisions made by the UK Government, but also on those of the parties that it will be negotiating with”.

In other words, nobody is any the wiser about what is happening.

At the same time, for all the lauding of the success of business and the economy, tucked away on page 8, paragraph 1.7, the Red Book says:

“Business investment fell 1.0% in Q4 2016, following a modest increase of 0.7% in Q3 2016. This resulted in a 1.5% decline in business investment in 2016. Private business surveys cited uncertainty about future demand and the outcome of the EU negotiations as weighing on activity and investment.”

The Prime Minister, who campaigned to stay in the European Union, is as much a prisoner of her Back Benchers as the rest of the Conservative party, but business needs to plan. Business needs five to 10 years to work out where it wants to go. That inertia helps no one. The worrying thing is that the Budget should not have lauded how great the Conservative party is at running the economy. It should have been a road map for how we leave the European Union. All we get, as usual, as we have seen in the debate, is the Tory party patting itself on the back and saying how wonderful it is doing.

I notice in the back of the Red Book that the Government say we have the biggest railway infrastructure developments since the Victorian age. The electrification of the rail lines to Wales, which is very important to my constituency for investment, is overspent by £1.2 billion. It is all very well talking about those projects, but the fact is that many have overrun and are overspent. The National Audit Office said that one third of infrastructure projects might not be achieved at all. When the Chancellor makes those announcements in future, I hope we have a report on whether the projects are still on track and whether they will be achieved.

For me, the Budget was a huge disappointment. I was expecting something better. Britain deserves better, and business above all deserves better than what it got today.