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Budget Resolutions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:07 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell 8:07 pm, 16th March 2020

Inevitably, the debate tonight has been overshadowed by the statement we have heard. This should be a moment for us all to reflect on the huge challenge we face, and above all, on the health of our nation. I particularly pay tribute to the staff at Epsom Hospital in my constituency, who are already working hard and dealing with the most challenging of situations, but also with the tragic loss of two lives in the last few days. This team of people constantly work hard for our community and face enormous challenges, and I pay enormous tribute to them. Indeed, I pay tribute to all of the health service workers who serve my constituency in the primary care sector and in the community care sector. We are going to owe those people an awful lot in the weeks ahead.

I also pay tribute to the teams of volunteers coming forward in my constituency and adjoining areas to offer support in particular to the elderly, who are going to face a very difficult few weeks, as we heard from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care this afternoon. I pay tribute particularly to Paul Baker, a man from just down the road in the constituency of my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford. In the last four or five days, he has built a team of volunteers to help deliver support to the elderly as they need it in the coming weeks, and I fear a lot of support and help is going to be needed. We are going to owe an awful lot to the health service workers and to the volunteers who will be, and indeed are already, making a difference in the weeks ahead.

However, this is a Budget debate and it is a debate about our economy. The other group we must be very mindful of today are the self-employed and those who run small businesses. They were already facing a tough enough situation in the last few days, but for them today’s announcement will have come as a bucket of the proverbial. Their lives will be immensely difficult. The Budget contained a number of important provisions that I strongly welcome, such as measures on business rates, or additional support to be channelled through local authorities. There has been a lot of debate about whether we should get rid of or continue the fuel duty freeze, but right now, keeping fuel prices as low as possible is enormously important to this country’s self-employed, as they seek to keep their businesses afloat in the weeks ahead. It is inevitable that the Treasury and Chancellor will have to consider further measures to support those groups.

There are families tonight whose income comes entirely from self-employment, and they are asking how they will pay the bills in the weeks and months ahead. I echo those who say that we must consider every possible way to provide support for those people as we go forward. This is a critical moment for our nation and economy, and I welcome the fact that the Chancellor has chosen to make a large injection of cash into the economy, and to back that up with a huge investment programme for the years ahead. We will need all that to get through the challenges we now face, and we must take innovative steps to help those most affected. Above all, we must get this country, and our economy, through this. We must save lives, ensure that we rebuild prosperity for the future, and move on from what I fear will be a difficult time in our history.

Alongside that we must meet other challenges. I welcome measures in the Budget that encourage motorists to move away from conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, as well as incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles. I hope that we also build hydrogen into the mix for the future, as we will need it. Electric traction does not yet work for heavier vehicles, and hydrogen is an important part of that future. I also add a caveat. There is a lot of talk about going as fast as we possibly can to make the transition to a greener vehicle fleet, and I endorse that ambition. However, we can go only as fast as the technology will allow us, and if we seek to go faster, we will end up doing damage to our society and economy. We cannot transform technology any faster than it is available to be transformed, and particularly in the wake of the current situation, we must also protect the future jobs of those who work in the automotive sector.

It was right for the Budget to postpone the reduction in corporation tax and put that money into the health service, and today’s statement has shown how important it is for the health service to receive that additional resource—and more—in the weeks ahead. We must also remember the benefits of being a low-tax economy. I was employment Minister in 2010 when unemployment was 2.6 million and rising. A decade later, unemployment is a fraction of what it was then, and all through those years I was convinced that one reason for that reduction was because we built a highly competitive tax regime for business, and for investors who sought to come to this country. When we have come through the current troubles and set our economy back on a path to the future, we should not forget that lesson. If we are a competitive place to do business, that means jobs and prosperity for our people, and we will keep unemployment low.

I regard the reduction in unemployment as one of this Government’s great achievements of the past 10 years, and despite the turbulent times that lie ahead, I want to see that achievement solidified for the future. We will do that by ensuring that this country is a great place to do business in, and we must not lose track of that as we take what might be difficult decisions in the weeks and months ahead.

Above all else, this Budget was a stepping stone towards dealing with the challenges we face. I have no doubt that more measures will need to be taken—we have seen the central banks step forward to inject capital into the economy as support for businesses and the rest—and I suspect we will have to do more. Above all, we must do enough to protect the lives of our people, and put this country back on the path to prosperity after a difficult period economically. The Budget was a step in the right direction, but we have big challenges ahead, and we must all live up to them.