It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Anna Turley and to hear a terrific maiden speech from our new colleague, my hon. Friend Gareth Snell, who will be a great asset to the Labour movement, the Opposition and this House.
It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State for Education begin her speech by saying that the Budget was delivered on International Women’s Day, as indeed it was. That makes the insult all the greater that the Government chose not to mention the WASPI women who have been campaigning for fairness. Those women were born in the 1950s and often left school at 15. They are women who have dedicated their life to their job and their family, yet they got not one word from the Chancellor.
Like many Members, last week in Parliament I met a delegation of local women who have been affected by the changes to the state pension law. Women came down from Chirk, Rhostyllen and Llangollen in my constituency. Those women, of whom there are more than 3 million across our country, are not political militants. They do not oppose the equalisation of the pension age, and they certainly do not want the state pension age to go down to 60. All they are asking for is a bit of fairness—a bridging pension to provide for them. It is downright shameful that the Government chose not to listen to them.
Budgets are about choices, and I cannot accept that the Government have put agreeing to £17 billion-worth of corporation tax cuts, £2.8 billion-worth of inheritance tax cuts and many other items above modest bridging support for these women. I am interested in the figures on inheritance tax—my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves recently wrote an excellent article on the subject—because I have read that only 15 houses sold for £650,000 or more in my constituency in 2015-16, which is 0.9% of the 1,700 houses sold during that period. The average sale price in June 2016 was £140,000. I wish those 15 people well, but they do not deserve a special tax cut to enjoy their new property.
Rather than that extravagant change to inheritance tax and the cuts to corporation tax, the Government should have been on the side of the small businessperson and the self-employed. How extraordinary it is that the Conservative party has broken its promise to the plumber in Penley, the cabbie in Cardiff and the grocer from Grantham. Could one believe that a Conservative Government are charging grocers from Grantham more? How extraordinary! We all know it is a trade-off. Being self-employed means no parental leave, no sick pay, no holiday pay and difficulty getting a mortgage, among other things. The hike in class 4 national insurance contributions has broken the consensus that we in this country have believed in for years. It is a £2 billion tax rise.
I also hope that the Government will consider what the Farmers Union of Wales has to say, because the Budget has a particular consequence for our rural communities. The union’s managing director, Alan Davies, rightly asked this question last week:
“Why is it that tax is being increased for those hard working individuals, some of whom only make a profit just over £8,000, whilst at the same time corporation tax is falling?”
The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Guto Bebb, has already said that he thinks the Government should apologise to everyone in Wales who read the 2015 Conservative party manifesto, and I thank him for his apology to me and others. However, I would rather that the Government reversed their tax hike and scrapped the tax.
We all remember the Tories’ 2012 “omnishambles” Budget—remember the one?—when the Government decided to declare war on caravanners, churches, stately homes and even the humble Cornish pasty. Well, that will seem like a picnic compared with the consequences for the country now. It is high time that the Government listened to the voice of the ordinary self-employed workers, strivers and entrepreneurs in our community. It is high time that the Government listened to those women who have worked so hard right through their life and have contributed so much to society. And it is time that this Government acted in the interest of fairness, listened to our communities—rural, suburban and urban—and recognised that they must now restore fairness by doing a U-turn on this ridiculous tax hike for self-employed people and by giving some decency to the people in this country.