Finance (No. 3) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:39 pm on 12th November 2018.

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Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Independent, Dover 9:39 pm, 12th November 2018

I am going to come on to that in one moment, but I will just finish this point.

When talking about the importance of compassionate Conservatism and the vision we as the Conservative party should have of looking after the least well-off, it can never be right to put jobs ahead of people’s lives. That has been well settled on the Conservative Benches. Let us not forget that it was on these Benches that important legislation such as the Ten Hours Act was pioneered well over a century and a half ago. It was on these Benches that so much of our health and safety legislation was pioneered and put through. It was on these Benches that we made the argument that jobs should never come ahead of people’s lives.

That is why I join my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr, who spoke movingly some moments ago, in saying that we cannot delay the action that is needed on fixed odds betting terminals beyond next April. It cannot be right to delay this, and it certainly cannot be right to do so on the basis of a bogus report. It has been said explicitly that that was not what the report was intended to be for or to do.

For that reason, we need to come together as a House and collectively persuade the Government to think again and accept that we should bring this in from April 2019, as has long been planned. In my constituency of Dover and Deal, addiction is a big problem for many people. Whether it is to alcohol, drugs or gambling, addiction is a big problem. It is the responsibility of this House—and, in my view, this has long been settled as a responsibility of compassionate Conservatism—to look after and care for those who suffer from addiction, so I think it is the right thing to do.

It is important that this is not simply about protecting the least well-off, helping them to have more money and protecting them from exploitation, but about making sure that we can power ahead as a country. It is important that powering ahead as a country is at the heart of this Bill. We need to get big business investing, because it has not been investing; it is sitting on about £750 billion of cash balances. We need to get big business investing in the future of this country. It should not be relying on low-skilled labour from overseas; it should be investing in kit, investing in people and investing in skills. That will ensure that our nation has much greater productivity and a more highly skilled home-grown workforce so that our countrymen will be able to do better and earn more in the years to come. That is important for investment.

It is also important that we back the entrepreneurs—the job creators. Who are they? The figures are clear. Since 2000, 4 million jobs have been created by small and medium-sized enterprises, whereas big business has created only 800,000. The obvious thing to do is to back small businesses—the entrepreneurs—with tax cuts and deregulation and by making it easier for them to get on and do well. That is why it would never be right to increase taxes on small businesses, because that would hold people back. It would never be right to increase the regulatory burden on small businesses, because that would make it harder for them to succeed. Nor would it ever be right to allow big banks to prey on small businesses and to litigate them into bankruptcy, as my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake movingly said in his speech. That is why we need to ensure that there is a financial tribunal system to protect small businesses from being exploited by the oligopoly of big banks.

While we are about it, we ought to think about putting the consumer back in charge and back in the driving seat, by taking action to break up the big energy companies and the big banking oligopoly. We should make sure that we have more competition in this country. We should unbundle Openreach to ensure that we have much better, faster internet access. It is a disgrace the way Openreach carries on, cutting off villages. However, it does not just do that; when people change connection, half the time they have to wait half a month for the connection to be made, because of Openreach’s galactic incompetence. The company is more interested in investing in sports rights than in infrastructure; indeed, it does invest more in sports rights than in its infrastructure, and that has to change as well. If it were a stand-alone company, I am absolutely certain that that would be the case.

So, yes, the Conservative party should be the party of enterprise and of the small businesses that drive the economy, that create the jobs and that have created the jobs over the last 15 years. Yes, we should be the party of compassion for the least well-off. Then, however, I am challenged by Gareth Snell, who says, “Should you not be in favour of increasing taxes on the richest, on businesses and all the rest of it?”