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Budget Resolutions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:32 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury 8:32 pm, 16th March 2020

This was undoubtedly a serious Budget for serious times and it was undoubtedly right that the top priority for the Chancellor was confronting coronavirus. Our public services are all crucial to that effort, but clearly it is the NHS that is at the forefront of our nation’s battle to tackle covid-19. I wholeheartedly welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to spend whatever is necessary on the health service for this critical moment.

In my constituency, Stoke Mandeville Hospital is caring for a number of patients with coronavirus. I pay tribute to the doctors, nurses and all the other health workers, there and around the country, who are working tirelessly to help those affected by this dreadful virus. Stoke Mandeville Hospital is best known for its world-renowned expertise in treating spinal injuries. I hope the increase in general funding for the NHS, which is being delivered by this Government, will enable the hospital to receive the resources necessary for both spinal units and care for all other patients.

Healthcare does not always come in a hospital or out of a medicine bottle. The village of Wendover in my constituency is home to the Lindengate charity, which uses horticulture as therapy for people who have had mental health crises or are suffering from dementia. As the NHS considers new ways to help patients, including social prescribing, I believe that Lindengate provides food for thought. It provides a means of achieving health benefits directly from our rural environment that can be considerably cheaper than other treatments. It is, therefore, hopefully appealing to colleagues in the Treasury. Public services are not successful purely because of the amount of money provided by central Government. Their success stems primarily from the dedicated public servants who work to deliver them. At their best, public services are a combination of central and local government working in tandem towards the same aims, as we see in the fight against covid-19.

That was particularly the case with what proved to be the highlight of the Budget for Aylesbury: confirmation that the town’s bid for money from the housing infrastructure fund had been approved. The £170-million award was the result of a concerted effort by local and national politicians and officials. Staff and councillors from Aylesbury Vale District Council and Buckinghamshire County Council worked with my predecessor David Lidington and his team to prepare a thorough, comprehensive and, thankfully, compelling bid. I was pleased to pick up the ball and carry it over the line with support from Ministers at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury.

The area of public service that holds particular interest for me is the criminal justice system. I declare an interest as the former magistrate member of the Sentencing Council and former non-executive director of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. HMPPS will face particular challenges from covid-19 but, from experience, I know that its excellent staff will rise to the task, as they always do.

The perspective of the victim should be the starting point for every part of the criminal justice system. I was delighted by the Budget commitment of an additional £15 million for services to support victims of crime, but that is just the beginning of the reforms that we need to make. We must be braver in looking for new ways to tackle offending behaviour.

One of the highlights of my time at HMPPS was being part of the judging panel for innovation awards. There were some excellent ideas, but there is scope to do much more. Technology can undoubtedly play a significant role. Tags to monitor alcohol abstinence have just been introduced, and other tags use GPS to enforce exclusion zones, which strengthens supervision and better protects victims. It is excellent news that that sort of technology will benefit from the £68.5 million devoted to tougher community orders in the Budget. We must be bold and imaginative in finding other new ways to harness technology in the range of sentences we impose. Ultimately, with all the appropriate safeguards in place, we could avoid the need for conventional prisons for some offenders.

I hope that the Budget’s financial commitments will herald greater funding in our prison and probation systems in subsequent fiscal events this year. They may not be glamorous, but crime costs the UK an estimated £60 billion a year, so success can bring savings. The Budget makes welcome investment in the criminal justice system, our infrastructure and our health service. It promises all the resources necessary to fight coronavirus. It is therefore a Budget that I am proud to support.