First, Mr Speaker, let me give you an apology for missing Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions earlier today. I was suitably admonished by you and by people at home.
I want to focus on a couple of issues: the Chancellor’s assault on the Scottish whisky industry and the ill thought out increases in national insurance contributions for the self-employed. Let me declare an interest as the treasurer for the all-party group on Scotch whisky—a position that has offered me the opportunity to establish a close working relationship with this vital industry, which is very local to West Dunbartonshire.
As I am the Member for West Dunbartonshire—a constituency that is home to two well-known distilleries, Auchentoshan and Loch Lomond, and that has seen massive investment over recent months in a new bottling plant by Chivas Regal—the House will understand why I have strong reservations about the impact of the Government’s decision to increase excise duty on spirits by 3.9%. That money grab has been described by Loch Lomond distillery as a
“spectacularly poor decision by the chancellor” and by the Scotch Whisky Association as a “major blow” to the industry which will undermine the progress that the industry has made in recent years. I therefore urge the Chancellor to use the opportunity to carry out an urgent review of the UK’s alcohol taxation system to give the industry—described by the Prime Minister only a week and a half ago as
“a truly great Scottish and British industry” producing “the world’s pre-eminent spirit”—the support it requires to remain competitive in this vital global market.
I turn from the ill thought out increase in excise duty to the potentially disastrous impact on the self-employed of the increase in class 4 national insurance contributions by nearly 11% over the next two years. In my constituency, the local community and economy are built on a strong foundation of small businesses, and I have serious concerns—similar concerns have been expressed by many Members in the House—about the long-term impact and pressure of these increases on small businesses.
In a briefing that it sent to my office, the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland voiced its concerns about the proposed policy and stated:
“The risk that the self-employed face makes them fundamentally different to employees. This is why the proposed National Insurance tax grab on this group is an absolute kick in the teeth, just at a time when we need to create more entrepreneurs, not fewer.”
The fact that Members on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s own Benches do not support this policy—we hear them in the Lobby all the time—sends a strong message to the Chancellor and the Treasury that the business community must be understood and consulted before any drastic changes are made. There is still time for the Chancellor to see sense and give small businesses the respect and support they deserve. To fail to do so would be a dereliction of duty and a show of no confidence in those who ensure that the economy is built on a strong base.
Finally, the utter failure in the Budget to even mention the WASPI women shows that the Treasury has failed to grasp the reality facing women born in the 1950s: poverty, destitution and a political state unwilling—not unable, but unwilling—to offer them equality in the 21st century.