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It is a pleasure to speak on Second Reading.
After all the years of hard work since 2010, and the necessary repair of the public finances after the catastrophic failures of the last Labour Government, this Budget was a turning point for our country. The Government are meeting their fiscal rules three years early and the deficit has been reduced to its lowest level since 2001. Debt has started its first sustained fall in a generation. The Bill reflects the success of that hard work and it rewards the British people for what they have achieved.
No Government have money of their own, only taxpayers’ money. It is right that hardworking taxpayers be allowed to keep more of their own money now that the economy is back on track; people in Stoke-on-Trent have more money in their pockets due to the measures in the Bill. It is also right that a new path is set for the public finances that reflects the huge efficiencies and fiscal improvements that have been achieved. Combined with Brexit, the Bill means that after eight years of hard work to get out of the mess left behind by the Labour Government, those of us on the Conservative Benches can focus on the measures that will take our country forward to a global future in the decades ahead.
What a contrast in approach: a Conservative party working to take us forward to the 2070s against a Labour party scheming to take us back decades to the 1970s. In his initial remarks, the shadow Minister, who is no longer in his place, tried to say that the Conservatives are not a party of opportunity. I would like to ask him what he would say to my constituents, as well as millions across the country, who were subjected to a life of dependency and worthlessness under the last Labour Government and who are now in work thanks to Conservative policies.
At a time of momentous change as we deliver on Brexit, the Government’s continuing commitment to sound economic management is to be welcomed. There are continuing efforts to make the tax system fairer, with anti-avoidance measures to ensure that legitimate reliefs are not abused. In addition, there are measures to increase the generosity of certain reliefs and exemptions where they encourage behaviours that are beneficial to the economy and to society. For example, the quintupling of the annual investment allowance, from £200,000 to £1 million, is a strong response to the very temporary uncertainty that Brexit might bring.
That measure is hugely welcomed by manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent South, as it will be across the country. Indeed, when I visited Walkers Nonsuch Toffee last week, it was very clear that these measures will see it invest in more new machinery to build on the great success it is experiencing. I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I very much enjoyed tasting some of its products on my visit. A family business since 1894, it exports England’s finest toffee from my constituency right around the world, with many of its largest growing markets in South Korea, Australia and China. Equally, I welcome measures such as the 60% increase in the charity small trading tax exemption limit to £8,000 and £80,000 depending on turnover, and the extension of the first-year allowance for electric car charging points for four years. While there is a case to be made for having reliefs and exemptions to encourage beneficial outcomes, there is also a clear case for increasing taxes on harmful and detrimental behaviours. That is why I welcome the action on white, high-strength ciders and continuing strong fiscal disincentives to smoking, both of which are having major impacts on the lives of individuals, public health and our NHS.
In addition, I welcome the measures for a new tax on the largest online companies to ensure that they pay a fair share. That is very important for the revival of our town centres, as is reducing taxes on smaller retailers and putting in place funding for the town centres in places such as Longton and Fenton, which I hope will benefit from the additional funding for the conversion of some of the empty units.
For areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, which is made up of six historic market towns with a strong manufacturing tradition, opportunities have arisen for a sustained revival. The Office for National Statistics last week reported that
“around half of total production growth in Quarter 3 was driven by manufacturing.”
That is very good to see and suggests that the slippage in quarters one and two was anomalous to a longer-term trend of manufacturing growth under this Government. Goods exports are also back in quarter three to a position where they are rising faster than service exports, which is a positive sign for a country that needs to rebalance our national economy to areas where people are skilled and proud to make things. No manufacturers are more skilled and proud than the local advanced manufacturers of Stoke-on-Trent.
Moving on to trade and our global approach, we need to ensure that trade is more international as we move through Brexit. Global Britain starts from a solid economic base, underpinned, of course, by the attraction of a world-renowned, trusted, legal system and sound rules of governance. As a country that plays by the rules, the UK is a great partner to trade with and a great place to invest in. I know that the Government will rightly enter all trade negotiations in a spirit of optimism and generosity in offering free and fair rules-based trade deals. There are great opportunities ahead.
In Stoke-on-Trent, despite manufacturing making up 15% of the economy, I am afraid that we do not export enough of the fantastic products that we make, falling well behind our statistical neighbours in the rest of Staffordshire. Far too often, historical trade beyond the EU has been occurring by chance rather than from concerted efforts to promote British products. Brexit must lead to opportunities to broaden trade and especially to help smaller businesses in places such as Stoke-on-Trent to export more, and it is pleasing to see the Department for International Trade ramping up its efforts in these global markets. We can look to open up new channels for inflows and outflows of foreign direct investment, particularly to facilitate UK direct investment in sales and distribution operations beyond the EU, and look to strengthen our presence in key markets of the USA, the Commonwealth, South America and south-east Asia, which promise many opportunities for Stoke-on-Trent’s fantastic export offer.
There is much to be positive about in the Government championing free and fair trade, but it is inescapably the case that some of our competitors, in an effort to boost their state-aided, quasi-private businesses, do not always play by the rules. So, where we are rightly open to proffering carrots, we must also be pretty clear that we will keep a few sticks if the agreed rules with our new trade partners are not kept. I know from correspondence I have had with Department for International Trade Ministers and, indeed, the Prime Minister, that this is very much the case and the intention, moving forward.
Global Britain is our future and we must be prepared for that future so that we can seize the opportunities available on the world stage. The Bill certainly moves us forward to that future. Through a fairer tax system, growth deals, city deals, sector deals, local funds, transport projects, devolved funding and international trade support for local businesses on the world stage, this Government are ensuring that no part of the United Kingdom is left behind and, as part of that agenda, I am very happy to support the Bill tonight.