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Tax Avoidance and Evasion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge 2:25 pm, 25th February 2020

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am thrilled to be standing here today in this great place—the mother of Parliaments—as the hon. Member for the Stourbridge constituency, which is the jewel in the crown and the beating heart of the urban west midlands. It is a constituency with a rich history in glass making; the beautiful Mary Stevens Park; a market town of residential streets interspersed with green spaces; and the stunning Old Swinford Hospital, which is now a school. Only my constituency could have a branch line that is a mere 0.8 miles long. Not even a model railway can compete with that—nor, it seems, can a main line, as I am reliably told that it is the most efficiently on-time train service in the country.

My constituency is the true face of conservatism, defined by the warmest, kindest, and friendliest people. They are hard-working and talented individuals who recognise the importance of responsibility and have pride in their own ability to make something of themselves. My predecessor, Margot James, understood that well. She was the MP for Stourbridge for nine years. She rose up the ranks fast and served Stourbridge well. Some may not agree with her view on Britain’s role in the EU, but that should not distract from her overarching sense of responsibility. In her maiden speech, she said:

“The people of the black country and Stourbridge hold on to certain basic truths that are not just old-fashioned notions that can simply be cast aside…that one should never borrow what one cannot pay back, that we should not foster a culture in which people are led to expect something for nothing”.—[Official Report, 7 June 2010;
Vol. 511, c. 61.]

Those are principles that I share with Margot.

I chose to speak in this debate as the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone—whether as an individual or as a business—pays their fair share of tax and understands their responsibility to do so. The Government are, after all, the custodians of taxpayers’ hard-earned money. They have an obligation to spend it as wisely as if the taxpayer were spending the money themselves. Of course, many here will recognise the hand of Mrs Thatcher in those principles. Indeed, it was Mrs Thatcher who changed my world order and who shaped my political thinking. On 4 May 1979, as a teenager, I woke to a Conservative Government. The established political order had been demolished overnight as swathes of the UK turned blue. Fast-forward 40 years and not only has history repeated itself, but the Conservative party has doubled down on Mrs Thatcher’s extraordinary reshaping of our political landscape, with a resounding 80-seat majority.

I would like to take this opportunity to say congratulations to all my hon. Friends whose seats are Tory for the first time in history, from Scunthorpe to West Bromwich West and Dudley North. There are too many for me to mention them all. I thought that 1979 was special, but 2019 was something else. I am thrilled to be sharing these Benches with so many friends and colleagues.

Let me go back to 1979 and the start of my political awakening. A few days after that historic election, my two brothers and I were talking to nan, who, it remains the truth, made the best lemon meringue pie on this earth. My nan and grandpa never spoke to us about politics—ever. The money was on them being lifelong Labour voters, and so it had proved, but, on that fabled day, nan confided to us that she and grandpa had chosen to vote Conservative for the first time in their lives. She said they did so because it was about responsibility. Nan loved Mrs Thatcher’s ethos that the Government are the custodians of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, paid in tax by the likes of my school dinner lady nan. She related to Mrs Thatcher’s simple message that espoused the individual values of ownership, having a society of savers, and the responsibility and accountability of Government to respect and reward this. Nan shared the simple value that it is the responsibility of individuals to take pride in their own ability to make something of themselves—a value that she lived by for the rest of her life.

These values were espoused by my parents, affectionately known as Mac and Babs, and passed down to me and my two brothers. My mum was a teacher and my dad was a white-collar worker. Both were hard-working, resilient and committed to ensuring that their kids had a good education. They created the conditions whereby a comprehensive girl could go to university, own her own home, have a career working across global markets for more than 29 years, and, of course, stand here before the House as the MP for Stourbridge; and whereby one brother went on to become a lawyer and the other a headmaster.

Those values taught me the importance of hard work, resilience and a good education—an education defined not just by academic achievement, but by running for the county and by volunteering for Phab leading one-week holidays for more than 10 years, which I loved with a passion. Fast-forward 20 years: I want to continue this passion to ensure that places of employment become disability confident. The voluntary party has played a big role in who I am today, and I want to say a special thank you to all those who helped and supported me; you know who you are. You can take the girl out of the voluntary party, but not the voluntary party out of this girl. I will continue to support it with the passion with which it has supported me. And so it remains true—as it remains the truth that my nan made the best lemon meringue pie ever—that it is the responsibility of individuals to take pride in their own ability to make something of themselves, and it is with that same pride and responsibility that I will serve my constituency.

With the backdrop of our Prime Minister’s instincts towards opportunity, egalitarianism and one nation Conservatism, it is the opportunity of a fourth industrial revolution that I want to seize in the urban west midlands —a revolution of gigabytes. We have the commitment from the Government for HS2. We now need the commitment to bring the gigabyte factory to the heart of the economic renaissance in the urban west midlands led by the magnificent Andy Street.

We should be bolder when it comes to climate change—not the prophets of doom, but the pioneers of change. I refer specifically to the green belt, which is under much pressure in my constituency. I have long championed the protection of the green belt, and I know that we can do things differently when it comes to building houses. After all, these green spaces are the lungs of this great country. If we are serious about climate change, we need to start thinking differently about how we plan for our future homes and cities, and—importantly—about how we can protect those vast green lungs with fair funding for remediation, and focus on the regeneration of brownfield land.

We need to tackle knife crime—a terrible crime that Stourbridge has witnessed at first hand. My thoughts are always with the Passey family, and I will continue to support the Justice for Ryan campaign until justice is indeed done.

I am a proud midlander, and in true midlander speak, these are pretty bostin’ times. For those who do not know, “bostin’” means amazing and brilliant. Throughout this speech, I have talked about responsibility, whether as a Government or as an individual, and about taking pride in everything we do. I am proud to be part of a Government who understand their own responsibilities: towards fiscal conservatism, advocating low taxes while understanding their obligations to schools and further education; to the NHS, security and policing; to facilitating conditions that are beneficial to the business community; to their solid commitment to the transport infrastructure of the future; to their unwavering commitment to one nation Conservatism; and to those who lent us their votes in 2019. It will be my responsibility—one that I will not take lightly, but with great pride—to ensure that the Stourbridge constituency is a key beneficiary of this fantastic one nation Conservatism, which has its heart firmly rooted in this great and united kingdom.