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It is an honour to follow Mr Lewis, though, in contrast to him, I believe that there is much to praise in this year’s Budget. I was particularly pleased to see the focus on investing in technical skills, school buildings, broadband infrastructure, transport and road infrastructure, and of course the increased funding for social care.
The Chancellor absolutely struck the right tone in outlining the overall state of the British economy. He highlighted the record employment numbers, increasing GDP and wages, and lower debt, while underlining that Government debt remains stubbornly high, at an astonishing £62,000 per household. That is one of the figures that really stood out for me in the Budget speech. Of course, another term for that level of debt is deferred taxation; it has to be paid off at some point, and we need to take responsibility for doing that, rather than leaving it to future generations.
While we are paying off the debt, the reality is that despite all the comments about cuts and all the rhetoric about austerity, Government spending overall is increasing by significant amounts; it was £754 billion last year, versus £716 billion five years ago. In the last five years alone, spending has increased by more than £11 billion on the NHS, £2 billion on overseas aid, £7 billion on transport, £4 billion on education, and £13 billion on welfare and pensions. We may well, and do, disagree on how Government money has been spent, and whether the spending is enough—certain areas have been cut—but the fact cannot be avoided: Government spending has increased by about 9% since the last Labour Government, and it is expected to reach £800 billion by 2018.
The theme of this debate is Britain’s place in the world. It is worth remembering that we are world leaders in many aspects of our economy, including in the pharma industry and precision engineering. We have some of the best universities in the world, and we are one of the world leaders, if not the world leader, in the digital space. At 12.4% of GDP, our digital economy is the largest in the G20—something that we should be immensely proud of and should shout from the rooftops. As the Budget indicated, investing further in digital skills, technology and broadband will enable us to keep that leadership position.
On the subject of changes in the landscape, it is heartening to hear some indication and recognition that perhaps taxes like business rates have had their day—ones based on bricks and mortar, as opposed to clicks and order. We need to change the dynamics of the economy, reflect the fact that the economy has changed, and tax appropriately. I am looking forward to the debate that I am sure that we will have in the House looking at ways of raising business rates that are fairer to companies, including small businesses, that have a presence on the high street, as opposed to the likes of Amazon. I also ask the Chancellor and the Treasury team to look again—I am sure that they will—at cases such as individual cinemas, which seem to have been unfairly hit by the changes in business rates.
Finally on Britain’s place in the world, there was perhaps one missed opportunity in the Budget, which I am sure will be taken in the November Budget: air passenger duty. Perhaps as early as April next year, the Scottish Government are likely to reduce air passenger duty by 50%. That would immediately put English airports at an unfair disadvantage. Many of us have been discussing with the Treasury whether, or how, we should respond on air passenger duty. It is absolutely vital that we support our aviation industry; it is the third largest aviation industry in the world, and at this time of Brexit, there is great uncertainty about the future of the aviation industry; after all, there are no non-WTO alternatives, should we not reach a deal. The share price of easyJet has fallen by a third, and £2 billion has been wiped off its value since Brexit. I look forward to playing my part in further discussions about APD and how we can support the aviation industry, and I look forward to further statements on the subject in the November Budget.