Last week’s Budget was a blueprint for a more connected, more prosperous and more equal Britain—a nation where we deliver on our promises, where investors want to do business and where stable employment, decent housing, reliable transport, excellent healthcare and education, and the same opportunities extend to everyone in society, no matter where they live. Today’s Budget debate comes against a background of a global health emergency, however, so we must come together as a country to face the unprecedented threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
I pay tribute to and thank my opposite number, Andy McDonald, for his truly constructive support through this crisis. For several years, the country has looked on the House and its behaviour and seen it divided, in particular over the vexed issue of Brexit, so the way that this matter is being approached by the official Opposition and others is truly welcome. People will look at the House and see that, when it comes to rising to the occasion, we can to work together in the country’s interests.
This crisis requires radical action and support for our incredible health service, for businesses, for the self-employed, and, of course, for the elderly, sick and vulnerable members of our society. We made a start on that last week in the Budget where the Chancellor set out a £12 billion package of measures designed to counteract the immediate impact of the virus.
I will not give way yet; I want to make some progress.
That package was part of a wider £30 billion stimulus to offset the economic impacts. However, we understand that this is effectively a war. The enemy is a virus, but we must none the less approach it in the same way as a war.
Again, I want to make a bit of progress, because I am aware that many hon. Members want to speak in the debate.
We have been clear about how we will fight the war. The first principle is to follow scientific advice at every step. It is all too easy to be distracted by the demands of round-the-clock media coverage, by the clamour on social media or by means and measures that sound good at the time, but are not based on irrefutable scientific logic. We will continue to base our decisions on what the experts believe is in the best interests of this country.
I wholly support following the evidence and scientific advice, but the Government’s advice yesterday to avoid pubs and restaurants has caused a genuine outcry across the whole hospitality industry, because people are terrified that their businesses will be closing forever in two to three weeks’ time. They cannot manage their overheads, they desperately need support and they cannot even claim for insurance because the Government will not formally close them. Why will the Government not make that decision now?
The hon. Member speaks for the concerns of many across the House and across the country. I do not think there can be any denying it, because that is the severity of the enemy in this war. I reassure him, and many other hon. Members who plan to make interventions, by saying that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say more on that later today.
At no point will we stop listening to the advice or reacting to events, because as the progress of the virus changes, so will the response. The nature of this crisis and the circumstances are changing all the time, so our response will evolve to meet the threat until the virus poses no threat to the country or to our citizens.
The Secretary of State will know that other countries have pledged to support every business so that it does not go bankrupt during the worst period of coronavirus infection, that they are supporting laid-off workers to the tune of 75% of their income, and that serious support is being given to the self-employed, many of whom will now not have any work. When will the Government take similar measures in this country?
My own sector, transport, is massively affected, so we are working to support the whole industry under these extreme circumstances. We are looking at a range of options to help the rail, aviation and bus sectors. We have already taken action to prevent the empty ghost flights that were flying because of the 80/20 rule, which meant that they had to make pointless journeys even if they did not have anybody on board. I took action by writing to Airport Coordination Limited, the slots co-ordinator in this country, and the European Commission on a couple of occasions. They have provided relief, which means that we no longer have to have those flights in the skies, but it will not lead to airlines necessarily losing their slots.
Clearly we all await the Chancellor’s announcement tonight with interest. I hope that it surpasses the response to the 2008 financial crisis. Regrettably, we need a fiscal response and a level of Government intervention on that scale. We do not want to see that, but it is what we need for people’s lives and for strategic industries.
Specifically on transport, the Secretary of State talks about support for airlines and the rail and bus industries. Does he accept that we may have to put some of those into national ownership, even if for a temporary period? Will he consider relaxing the rules on bail-outs for municipal bus companies and others? In Cardiff, Cardiff Bus will really struggle. We need the rules to be relaxed so that we can give it the right support, so it can survive and pay its workers.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the principle should be that, as far as we can make it work, people—individuals and companies—are in the same position when we come out of this situation. I feel that we will be in a somewhat changed world and changed environment on the other side of it, but good organisations should not be going bust. It will be hugely challenging. We will require a lot of different responses and mechanisms to get there, including, on occasion, organisations being run by the public sector, which we have already seen in the case of trains for a completely different reason.
Turning to trains, it makes no sense for us to run empty trains. As fewer people will be travelling following last night’s advice and guidance from the Government and the Prime Minister, timetables may be altered in the short to medium term to ensure that we do not effectively run ghost trains. We are also determined to ensure that companies are left in as strong a position as possible so that they can continue to operate afterwards. Despite the immensely challenging situation in which we find ourselves, we will work in partnership with the transport industry to keep essential services running for the public and for those who need to get to work, who have essential business and who will therefore still be travelling.
On the proposal to reduce the number of trains, buses and tubes that are running, given that so many of them are so crowded at the moment, would it not make sense to keep many more of them running so that those essential workers who still have to get to work have more space?
The right hon. Lady makes an excellent point, as ever. The reality is that, because of social distancing, it might well be desirable to have more space between people so that they can keep some distance. Yes, that absolutely needs to be taken into account as we consider the timetabling.
We will get through this crisis together as a nation. Working in this great national effort, we will ensure that we come through on the other side and provide hope for all our citizens. The Budget shows that we are serious about the pledges we have made and about the trust that the electorate put in us only three months ago. We intend to deliver on those infrastructure pledges.
The Department for Transport has already been working hard to deliver on those pledges. For example, in recent weeks we have taken decisive action to improve journeys for millions of Northern rail commuters by putting the franchise into the operator of last resort. We have announced plans to extend discounted train travel to more than 830,000 veterans. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, has kickstarted work on reversing the Beeching cuts, which have so blighted the nation in decades past and prevented people from being interconnected. In January we announced the preferred route for the east-west rail link that will connect Oxford and Cambridge, which will increase access to jobs and make it easier and cheaper to travel, creating a region that has been dubbed the UK’s silicon valley. We are not only making journeys more efficient and easier; we are also making them cleaner. We are consulting on bringing forward the end of fossil fuel cars and vans to 2035, or earlier if practical. We are taking enormous steps forward.
The Chancellor has delivered a Budget that includes some of the most ambitious infrastructure programmes seen since the 1950s. It will help to level up this country. Infrastructure that is unreliable, overcrowded and no longer fit for purpose acts as a drag anchor on our entire economy. When it is efficient and gets people where they need to be, it can turn around the fortunes of our towns and cities. With interest rates at an historic low, now is the time to get Britain building.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I am pressing for a better deal for the Isle of Wight. What are the criteria for the levelling up agenda? The Island is part of the wealthy south-east, but our economy has more in common with the north, or indeed with parts of east Devon and Cornwall, so what does levelling up look like for us? Is it part of the funding settlement or is it infrastructure projects?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As many Members across the House will know, people often think that just because a constituency is in a certain part of the country—the south-east in his case—it must be enormously prosperous. Many of us represent enormously deprived communities, perhaps just an individual ward, within an otherwise prosperous area, so it is very important that the criteria for levelling up take that all into account. That is why the Green Book is being rewritten as a result of last week’s Budget. We look forward to hearing more about that in due course.
With interest rates at an historic low, it is time to get Britain building. That is why the Chancellor set out plans to inject £640 billion by 2024-25 into roads, railways, hospitals, broadband, housing and research, to modernise the fabric of our country, turbo-charge our economy—perhaps to electrically charge our economy —and get every single region of the UK growing, not matter where it is.
Strategic investment in infrastructure is very welcome, but another Budget measure that the Chancellor announced was the removal of the red diesel rebate for the construction industry, which means the cost of diesel for construction will double. That is predicted in the Red Book to bring in £5 billion over two years. How much of that £640 billion investment will be written off by paying costs for diesel?
The hon. Gentleman, who has questioned me passionately many times about greening the economy, will appreciate that red diesel contributes tremendously to the problems he often cites. There will be a consultation, so he will have an opportunity to put his concerns on the record, as he has done partially today.
The Government will provide more details on our investment priorities when we publish our national infrastructure strategy in the spring and the comprehensive spending review later this year. That will include taking forward Northern Powerhouse Rail, having already committed to the section between Manchester and Leeds, and reversing many of the Beeching cuts, as I have mentioned. I am grateful to Members across the House for bringing forward an extraordinary number of potential Beeching reversals, which the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, is now in the process of assessing, working with colleagues across the House. We are also delivering High Speed 2, to transform rail connections between our major cities while releasing capacity on our existing railways, particularly for freight.
We will present an integrated rail plan for the north and for the midlands, examining how HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail can best work together, along with wider investment in transport across the regions. We have the largest ever investment in English strategic roads. We have £27 billion to tackle congestion and increase capacity. We have £2.5 billion to fill potholes and ensure that more do not develop. We have £5 billion for the roll-out of broadband, particularly in rural areas, to ensure that our four nations are fully linked together. We have record funding of £5.2 billion for flood defences—we have seen recently how important it is to have that cash going in. We have £4.2 billion for urban transport through long-term settlements with eight mayoral combined authorities. We have £22 billion for science, innovation and technology by 2024-25, to help us develop new products and services to sell around the world.
Of course, we also have a massive housing programme. We have made significant progress towards building more affordable, high-quality homes in recent years— far more than when I was Housing Minister—and the housing supply is now at its highest level for 32 years, which is quite an achievement. However, we still have a long way to go. The Budget mentioned remedying some of that shortfall, first by extending the affordable homes programme with a multi-year £12 billion settlement, and secondly by helping local authorities to invest while such low interest rates are available.
I very much welcome the investment that my right hon. Friend has announced. However, if we do not get our businesses through the crisis of the next few months, much of that investment will not bear fruit as it should. He has quite rightly said that he wants businesses to be in the same place in the future that they are in today, but lots of the income they will lose over the next few months will never come back. Does he agree that we must put in place a package of financial support based on grants, not merely business loans?
I do not want to pre-empt what the Chancellor might say later, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I will repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech and then wrap up my remarks, to allow other Members to contribute. The situation is clearly approaching what we would otherwise, in different times, thing of as a war that this country needs to fight. As in a war, we need to deploy every possible weapon, and of course that will involve a variety of financial and other tools to do precisely that. Nothing must be off our radar when we consider the possible responses.
Levelling up will not be achieved through a single fiscal event such as the Budget, but it will be part of an integrated plan over the next five years, and I have mentioned already some of the other fiscal events. One of the most powerful agents for change will be the infrastructure programme that I have outlined today to get Britain building. The process will be triggered by an historic investment, through the national infrastructure strategy, the spending review and an autumn Budget later this year. We know that there are big challenges ahead—the most immediate, as hon. Members across the House have said, is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
This Budget is designed to build a strong foundation to make us fairer and more equal as a country, where we harness the potential of every region, and where people’s ambitions can be achieved. But we also recognise that we are doing so in the immediate short term against the backdrop of tackling what is perhaps the greatest health emergency that the country has seen since the Spanish flu. I know that we can do this as a country. I know that we can do this by showing the same spirit that this House has demonstrated in the past few weeks; by working together, finding the right solutions and getting the job done. That is our vision, and that is what we will deliver.
Order. Before I call the shadow Secretary of State, let me say that it will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to speak this afternoon. We have a lot of time for this important debate, and I am hoping to manage it without a formal time limit because that makes for better debates. We will manage it if everyone behaves with courtesy and speaks for between seven and eight minutes, which is quite a long time. At least, it is quite a long time for everyone who is listening. [Laughter.] So if Members speak for about seven to eight minutes we will manage without a time limit, but if that does not happen I shall have to impose one.
Clearly these are extraordinary times, and everything that we say and do is said and done through the prism of the response to the coronavirus emergency. I thank the Secretary of State for his kind remarks, and also for his courtesy and candour in keeping me briefed as these events unfold. I hope that that conversation continues, and I recommit myself and my party to working with the Government to counter this national and international emergency. I send my sincere sympathies to those who have lost loved ones, and my sincerest thanks to our NHS and public service workers for their incredible work to date and what they will do in the future in response to what is the greatest peacetime challenge to face our country for more than 100 years.
While these are indeed abnormal times, I will endeavour to turn my attention and that of the House to a time when our focus will hopefully return to other matters which we would normally address. Before I do so, however, may I raise with the Secretary of State some points that have arisen overnight and in recent times? As my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband rightly said yesterday, it is no fault of the Chancellor, but his Budget is clearly out of date, and, sadly, a major reappraisal is already necessary. Accordingly, I very much welcome the news that he is to make a statement to the House later today about the additional measures that he intends to take.
Yesterday, at a press conference, the Prime Minister advised people to avoid pubs, restaurants and theatres, but despite that advice, which will result in many businesses being unable to operate and will cause job losses or loss of income, there was no sufficient accompanying support. Will the Secretary of State implore the Prime Minister, and others, to ensure that the right support is made available? I trust that, in addition, the Government will ensure that insurers do not plead force majeure and avoid their liabilities.
The Government are also asking people to self-isolate, but are not providing the financial assistance that those people need. It is not only unfair to ask people to enact social distancing and to self-isolate if necessary without giving them adequate support; it is dangerous and counterproductive, because it risks discouraging people from taking necessary action. In France, after the announcement of similar but more stringent measures, the French Government announced that electricity, gas and rental bills would be suspended. Why has the United Kingdom not announced similar measures?
It is being reported that private train companies are already requesting bail-outs or renegotiations of their contracts. Social distancing will hit fares revenue hard, making franchises unprofitable for some train operating companies, and with demand for travel down, there may be a temptation to run services at a different frequency from what is specified in the franchise agreements. However, along with my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, I ask the Secretary of State to consider the possibility that contagion will be reduced by the presence of fewer passengers with the same level of service. No doubt the medical officers and others will advise.
My hon. Friend is making some important and constructive points. I do not know whether he is aware that the First Minister of Wales has just sent a letter to the Chancellor, in which he makes clear that we will have to intervene in an unprecedented way. Does my hon. Friend approve of the measures that he has suggested, such as tax holidays, loan guarantees to help productive capacity, underwriting the wages of employees who are affected, and, if necessary, the temporary nationalisation of key transport infrastructure?
As I was saying—and my hon. Friend has echoed my view—the state should not bail out the private train companies. Indeed, the fact that those companies are already wanting to be bailed out demonstrates why it is irresponsible for public services to be run in the private sector. Rather than offering a bailout, the Government should offer to take back the keys and return the services to public ownership.
The aviation sector has been hit incredibly hard by the outbreak of coronavirus. We have already seen the collapse of Flybe with 2,000 job losses, not to mention the impact that that will have on jobs at regional airports and across the supply chain. Of course, many thousands of UK citizens are still overseas and will want to return, so the Secretary of State has my full support for his efforts to sustain services to facilitate such repatriation.
Indeed, it is not only a question of passengers: many vital goods and medicines are transported in the belly holds of aircraft. Can the Secretary of State tell us what specific measures are being taken to ensure that those supplies are maintained?
Clearly many people are going to extraordinary lengths to assist their neighbours and their communities, and I know that businesses will bend over backwards to help their loyal workforces at this time. That being so, will the Secretary of State send a message to major employers asking them to do what they can to sustain their employees’ incomes, and will he give an assurance that workers will also be supported by the underwriting of the majority of their wages by the Government should temporary cessations of trading be necessary?
Does my hon. Friend agree that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest burden in seeing our country through this crisis? If so, does he think it right that Richard Branson, the billionaire boss of Virgin, is asking his workers to take eight weeks’ unpaid leave?
My hon. Friend must have read my speech in advance. I was about to ask the Secretary of State to prevail on the very same Richard Branson to look to his own considerable reserves, built on the wealth created by his Virgin airline workforce, and withdraw his proposal that they should suffer eight weeks of unpaid leave. I note that he is asking for a Government bailout, but I trust that the Government may expect him to use his own considerable resources before that happens—perhaps when he is down to his last billion. He might be able to live without two months of income, but his workers cannot.
The Secretary of State’s decision—made in lockstep with the European Union—to end ghost flights involving empty aircraft flying simply to retain slots is clearly right, but can he advise us of the consequences for airline staff and ground crew and the support that they will receive, given that their risk of losing their jobs has undoubtedly increased significantly?
In that context, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition told the Prime Minister yesterday, the Government must now make commitments to extending full sick pay and lost earnings protection to all workers from day one, including insecure, low-paid and self-employed workers, during self-isolation and illness; raising statutory sick pay in line with amounts in other European countries; introducing rent and mortgage payment deferment options, and banning evictions of tenants affected by the outbreak; removing the requirement for people to present themselves for universal credit, suspending sanctions, and reducing the waiting time for the first payment from five weeks; and supporting local authorities working with food banks in the purchase and distribution of food stocks.
The road haulage industry is founded on an army of small businesses, and if they are to be sustained, it is essential for the cross-channel freight routes to be maintained. What assurance can the Secretary of State give in that regard? Northern Ireland should also have special consideration, given that it is of course dependent on goods coming from Great Britain—as, indeed, is the Republic of Ireland. What steps are being taken to ensure continuity of supply across the English channel and the Irish sea?
Over the past few days, it has been self-evident that the Government must commit themselves more fully to communicating truthfully and effectively with the public about the developments of the virus and their response to it. It should not be the case that we have Ministers giving anonymous briefings to select members of the press about facts known to the Government. Ministers must acknowledge that this poor communication has increased public concerns, and I reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition requested of the Prime Minister when they met yesterday evening: I ask that the Government provide much greater transparency in their approach to tackling the outbreak. We must follow the advice of the World Health Organisation and see an increase in testing, along with provision of vital equipment such as ventilators and acute beds.
Sadly, because of this Government’s decade of crippling austerity, we have seen a slashing of over 17,000 NHS hospital beds since 2010, which has led to the disgrace of a private healthcare firm charging the NHS £300 a bed for coronavirus patients. Indeed, the outbreak of the coronavirus has illuminated what has been done to public services in this country over the last 10 years, and I fear that in the coming weeks it will become clear that the situation created by years of underfunding will become unsustainable.
The Budget announced last week showed that the austerity project has failed, even on the Conservative party’s own terms. We now know, once and for all, that austerity was never an economic necessity, but a political choice—a political choice that has left millions of working people across this country paying the price for the recklessness of the financial services industry, when it crashed the economy in 2008.
Today’s debate is focused on the “levelling up” of the economy, but far from levelling up, the Government have presided over huge inequalities on regional investment. In 2018-19, transport spending per head in the north-east, north-west, and Yorkshire and the Humber was £486, £412 and £276 respectively. In comparison, London received £903 per head in the same year. The OECD recently argued that
“addressing the regional productivity divide—between high-productivity areas like London and Southern England and low-productivity regions in the North—can be a key channel for fostering long-term growth and sharing prosperity across the country”, recommending regionally focused investment in transportation as part of an industrial strategy to boost productivity. But this Budget fails to include such policies.
At the general election, Labour pledged to close gaps in regional transport investment by delivering projects including Crossrail for the north and HS2 to Scotland, and upgrading the rail network in the south-west, as well as providing transformational levels of investment for local public and sustainable transport. This Budget fails to even reverse Conservative cuts to the rail network, leaving in place the cuts to electrification in the south-west, the north and the midlands.
The Government have repeatedly talked up their commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail, but they have not committed to the full £39 billion project, as Labour has done. Instead, they will commit money only to improvements between Manchester and Leeds. Critically, there is no commitment to resolve bottlenecks such as the Castlefield corridor, or indeed any of the selected flyover and electrification programmes described in the excellent Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme last night. I can see the commitment to the infrastructure works in my own constituency at Middlesbrough station, which are critical to the running of the entire northern network, but sadly, I have no grounds to believe that the necessary funds will be made available until 2023 at the very earliest.
Similarly, the Government are promising to reverse the Beeching cuts, yet have only made £500 million available, which is small beer in real terms and would be lucky to open a very small section of track.
I note the Government’s interest in buses. I have been banging on about buses for years, and it was good to see the BBC devote attention to buses in another documentary last night, but can I gently try to persuade the Secretary of State to look carefully at Labour’s proposals to bring back and expand routes, increase ridership, decarbonise the fleet and provide free travel for all under the age of 25 within a re-regulated bus network that is wholly integrated with other modes? Were he to do that, he would come to the inevitable conclusion that the only way to achieve all that was within a public transport system that was genuinely public in ownership and control.
When the coronavirus crisis is eventually over—we all hope and pray that will be sooner rather than later—we will still face the climate crisis, and sadly, this Budget does little to address it. Greenpeace commented that
“the Chancellor has completely missed the opportunity to address the climate emergency... he’s driving in the opposite direction.”
Friends of the Earth agreed, saying:
“This Budget contains a massive road-building programme which completely destroys any pretence of UK government leadership ahead of this year’s crucial climate summit.
Funding for cleaner cars, EV charging, action on plastics and more trees are just a few green sprinklings on a truly awful budget.”
The UK is way off track to meet its own climate change targets and is further still from meeting its commitments under the Paris climate agreement. This failure is being driven by a rising trend in emissions caused largely by increased traffic growth, which has left transport as the UK’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the worst-performing sector when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. This failure is the result of deliberate Government policy encouraging traffic growth through an ever-expanding multibillion-pound programme of road building.
This Budget is destined to make the problem worse by pledging over £27 billion for new road building, which will increase car use, worsen congestion and increase air pollution and climate emissions, with little benefit for the economy and at the expense of concreting over large areas of the country. A huge part of the problem is that public transport fares have risen at more than twice the rate of wages since 2010 while fuel duty has remained frozen, meaning the cost of public transport has risen above the cost of motoring, discouraging more sustainable transport and worsening congestion and pollution. Yet the fuel duty freeze continues and there are no measures to reduce the cost of public transport, compounding the failure of recent years.
The contrast between what will be spent on new road building alone and what is pledged for cycling and walking and for public transport illustrates the Government’s priorities, with the investment in roads five times that in sustainable transport. The funding for local transport that the Government announced with significant fanfare simply will not cut it. Labour pledged £6.5 billion over the same period to reverse more than 3,000 bus route cuts in England and to invest in new services. It could cost around £3 billion to reverse the cuts made to bus services alone, yet the £5 billion pledged in the Budget is meant to fund bus services, build new cycle lanes and purchase around 4,000 zero-emission buses. This fund has been over-promised and will not deliver the investment in local transport needed to address the climate crisis and support local economies.
On electric vehicles, it is good that the Chancellor decided to continue the grants. It would have been highly damaging for the plug-in car grant to be scrapped, as subsidies for EVs are required until the up-front cost of EVs reaches price parity with internal combustion engine vehicles. But it should be pointed out that the grants had previously been cut from £5,000 to £3,500—a move condemned by industry. If the UK is to reduce transport emissions in line with climate targets, the cuts to grants should be reversed. By contrast, Labour had pledged to introduce 2.5 million interest-free loans, worth an additional £1,500, for the purchase of EVs so as to allow low-income households, those living in rural areas, and independent contractors and small and medium-sized enterprises to save on new electric cars.
Again, the £500 million investment in EV charging infrastructure is better than nothing, but £400 million of this fund is a reannouncement from the 2017 autumn Budget. This money should have already been invested and should have been supplemented by a further announcement in this Budget so as to provide an adequate charging network. By contrast, to jump-start the transition to electric cars and tackle the climate emergency, Labour pledged to invest £3.6 billion in a mammoth expansion of the UK’s EV charging network. A rapid roll-out of charging stations would eliminate concerns over driving range and lack of electric car charging infrastructure by providing enough electrical charge points for 21.5 million electric cars—65% of the UK’s fleet—by 2030.
On the greatest crisis facing humanity, the climate crisis, this Budget is going in the wrong direction. On the most immediate crisis facing us, the coronavirus, the Budget fails to provide the country and its workers with the safety and security they require. On the Budget’s central promise to level up the country, it is an abject failure, failing to reverse the austerity cuts of the past decade and to invest in infrastructure across the country. The coronavirus pandemic is a dreadful and most immediate crisis, but one day it will be behind us. When we are past this, the same problems of social and regional inequalities and the climate crisis will still be there. I worry that, on the evidence of this Budget, the Government do not have the vision or the ambition to tackle them. When we are through this, we should take the opportunity to reset our economy, so that it works for our people, as it always should.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech as the Member of Parliament for South West Hertfordshire, and it is a real pleasure to have you in the Chair during it. I know I am among the last of my intake to address this House. I have had the pleasure of listening to many moving and memorable speeches from my friends over the last few months. I am not ashamed to say that I get goosebumps in this place; as I sit on these green Benches, I feel the weight of history and the legacy of my political heroes all about me. But I hope that, like Trigger’s broom, I will prove to be a worthy replacement for my forebears, whether I am the head or the handle! And I do not intend to ever take the trust of my constituents to represent them in this place for granted. The weight of our responsibility as public servants weighs on us all more now than ever. But everything has its place, and in my maiden speech. I know you want to hear about the best constituency in our country and I intend not to disappoint.
However, I would like to start by paying tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. David Gauke. During his 14 and a half years of public service, David was a dedicated Member of Parliament, and he was highly respected by his constituents and colleagues alike. He was fiercely intelligent and famously cool under pressure. However, during the 2019 general election, the public got to know another side of David: his wicked sense of humour, which was already well known to his friends in this House. As I fought the election, I found I had to overcome the appeal of not one Gauke, but two, as Gauke senior, Jim, went viral in David’s videos. David ran one of the most engaging campaigns to be found during the general election, and I commend his enthusiasm and passion. Despite the difficult circumstances of his fighting against his former party, it was a civilised battle and I thank him for that.
As to David’s political career, he was a heavyweight of the Conservative Government over the last decade. He held many senior roles, including Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and, finally, Secretary of State for Justice. As I have said before, in different times we may well have been colleagues, and I would have been proud to work alongside him. I thank David for his commitment to the residents of South West Hertfordshire, and wish him, Rachel and the rest of his family well in their future endeavours.
Moving on to my stunning constituency, South West Hertfordshire is shaped rather like a couture boot. Picture, if you will, scenic Tring on the thigh, bustling Berkhamsted—Berko to the locals—sitting on the knee, the pretty trio of Flaunden, Bovingdon and Chipperfield making up the calf, striking Sarratt sitting behind the shin and charming Chorleywood on the ankle. Vibrant Rickmansworth, or Ricky, where I live, sits on the heel, and the military base of Northwood headquarters sits on the toe. That is to name but a few of the collection of magnificent communities that make up my constituency, each unique and beautiful in its own way. The arresting natural and man-made beauty of my constituency, top to bottom, is certainly best experienced on foot!
My constituency offers an embarrassment of riches, from its historical market towns, such as Tring, to the Chiltern hills, which are rightly classed as areas of outstanding natural beauty. Further south lies the Colne Valley Regional Park, which is known as the first taste of countryside west of London and comprises some 60 lakes, among woodland, canals and farmland. You can pass many a peaceful afternoon walking here, or visiting the famous aquadrome, where you can water-ski, canoe or sail to your heart’s content.
Behind the thriving Berkhamsted High Street are found the ruins of Berkhamsted castle. It was in Berkhamsted that William the Conqueror received the surrender of the Crown of England in 1066. The castle was then built to assert control over the key supply route through the Chiltern hills from London to the midlands. It is a constituency heaped with history, some of which cannot be retold, like the activities of Northwood HQ. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our armed services for continuing to keep us safe.
The visual beauty of my constituency is only outdone by the warmth and good nature of my constituents. Nowhere in the country better represents the open-minded, tolerant, progressive nature of the United Kingdom than South West Hertfordshire, and I am so grateful that I have been so warmly welcomed. Of course, there are also a number of local concerns and issues to which I will devote my energies. For our commuters, the issues of unreliable rail and underground transport are a repeated source of frustration. There is a lack of access to affordable housing, a concern that has to be balanced against the desire to protect the green belt and character of the area. There are pockets of poverty in a mostly affluent area, resulting in associated social issues, including crime. Of course, we also have many excellent schools in my constituency, including Merchant Taylors’ School and Berkhamsted School, but we need to ensure that good education is accessible for all, not only the affluent.
In the interests of my constituents and the rest of the country, I proudly stand with my Government, who are dedicated to levelling up. This is not only about the north; it is about everyone who is not born with advantage having access to excellent education, public services and visible role models, so that their aspirations and ambitions are not stunted by circumstance. As we know in our hearts, talent does not discriminate and I, like many in my Government, am committed to ensuring that opportunity does not, either. I welcomed the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor specifically targeted at levelling up our country, including public sector relocations and more transport capital investment outside London. I welcome the breaking of the old, tired assumptions of what it means to be a modem Conservative and whom we represent. I stand here, proud to be a British Asian and to inhabit the most diverse Parliament we have ever had. But diversity encompasses all manner of considerations, not just diversity of ethnicity or of gender, although I welcome both and am delighted that 34% of this place is now occupied by women—I look forward to that number being higher.
When we speak of diversity and inclusiveness, we must mean engaging the widest diversity of perspective, formed by bringing together individuals with all manner of differences, including those of upbringing and background. It is about destigmatising all forms of physical and mental health issues, and that starts with us in this House. I am dyslexic, so I understand the frustrations posed by learning difficulties, but I must acknowledge that I have also had the benefit of many advantages. I understand that, like many of us in this place, I have been blessed with the good fortune to have self-belief and ambition nurtured in me, both in the home and in the wider environment, from my earliest days. Many in our society are not afforded this most essential of luxuries, and the impact, compounded of course, by other inequalities, is far-reaching. I am passionate about our commitments, as a Government, to do our part to ensure that aspiration and self-belief are not luxury items. That, to me, is the true meaning of levelling up. I look forward to seeing more and more faces in this House who represent our great country in all its guises.
I have a final brief word on the situation in which we find ourselves, responding to the outbreak of coronavirus across the globe. I am encouraged to already bear witness to many open-hearted and civic-minded examples of individuals coming together to help the more vulnerable and needy in our society during a testing time. I also commend the careful response of Government, based on scientific evidence, and the Budget measures announced last week—and those possibly to be announced later today—designed to protect vulnerable individuals and small businesses, who will most need our assistance to navigate the coming months. Of course, I, alongside my colleagues, will be continuously monitoring how to best assist in our national efforts. Working alongside my constituents, every arm of the Government, and people from every walk of life and every corner of the United Kingdom, we will do what we have always done—we will overcome adversity together. It is the greatest honour to serve my country in a time of need. Like those in my position, here in this place, I will do everything I can. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for indulging me during this debate.
I congratulate Mr Mohindra on his tremendous maiden speech—although it is a good few months since we were both elected, so where have you been, man? You should have been in this Chamber a long time ago. Some of us have obviously been shying away from our duties.
Let me turn to more serious matters. It is important for me to place on record my sincere gratitude to each and every member of our health and social care service at this time. The work that they do the best of times cannot be overstated, but in this unique circumstance we must all commend them. I know from first-hand experience—from my friends and direct close family who work in the care of others—that they do their work selflessly and with pride. I want them to know that we on these Benches are proud of their work.
It is less than a week since the Chancellor came to the Dispatch Box and gave his first Budget, but the reality is that the landscape in the United Kingdom is now much different. It seems almost inconsequential to be debating many of the finer details of the Budget given the ramifications of the ongoing coronavirus situation across these isles, particularly when we bear in mind the fact that the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates did not take into account the initial Government expending in relation to dealing with the coronavirus, let alone what I expect to see come forward later today, but we can and must debate the Budget in full, because we still have the opportunity to encourage the Government to do so much more.
On the topic of doing so much more, let me turn to an item—we heard about it from Andy McDonald, too—on which the Government must act: statutory sick pay. As my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford stated last week, statutory sick pay is currently £94.25. It pales into insignificance in comparison to what is on offer in other European countries and world partners. In fact, I am a little frustrated at the fact that, almost a week since the Budget was announced, we are still debating whether statutory sick pay needs to be increased. I was appalled by some of the comments I saw online from Mrs Latham, who, in response to concerns expressed by individuals about the £94.25 figure, stated that they should “Get a life”. Such comments are deeply unbecoming of any Member at this moment in time, and I expect a much better tone from the Government later today.
If the Government are and continue to be unwilling to increase the level of statutory sick pay, there is an alternative, which is to follow the suggestion of that bastion of socialism in the United States of America, Mitt Romney, and look into the introduction of a universal basic income. He wants each and every adult in the United States to be given the equivalent of in excess of £200 each and every week while this crisis is ongoing. Conservative Members might not agree with me in this regard, but hopefully they will agree with one of their own. If it is good enough for the United States of America, why is it not good enough for the United Kingdom?
If the answer is no to statutory sick pay and no to universal basic income, why not look across the channel at the measures that have been put in place in France by President Macron in relation to the suspension of gas, electricity, water and rent bills? Or why not look further afield to New Zealand, where we have seen the doubling of the winter energy payment? If we are going to be asking individuals, particularly elderly and vulnerable individuals, to spend a prolonged time in their homes in isolation, that is going to cost them, and many of them cannot afford to pay the price. We have to be willing—we should be willing—to support them. That is particularly the case in my part of the world, the north-east of Scotland, where it is currently still Baltic. We cannot ask people to stay in their houses without offering them adequate support. In 2008, the UK Government bailed out the banks; my plea to the current UK Government is for them to bail out the public on this occasion. It is their moral duty to do so.
The public sphere extends beyond individual citizens; it encapsulates businesses, too. We have heard from Members from all parties about how we have all been inundated with concerns from businesses relating to the Prime Minister’s words yesterday advising individuals not to visit many of the hospitality venues on offer throughout this United Kingdom. The reality is that words need to be met with action. We need the Government to come forward today with real, clear action, and for them to state that those businesses have to be closed, so that companies and individuals can access the insurance that they require.
We may even need to go further than that. As it stands, the business rates relief that is on offer simply will not cut it. As we have heard from other Members—indeed, my hon. Friend Alyn Smith mentioned it in a contribution earlier today—we need to look seriously at the possibility of the Government becoming the insurer of last resort to protect all businesses throughout this United Kingdom, to ensure that no business fails on our watch, either at this time or in the current months.
There is, of course, an opportunity for the Government to go one step further. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough said that, when it comes to multibillion-pound bail-outs, many of which have been proposed by those in the private sector in recent days, we should in all seriousness be looking at not necessarily bailing companies out but taking back the keys. That would not only give short-term protection but provide a long-term benefit for this country. There is so much that can be done for the business community, and the Government need to think seriously in that regard.
I am conscious of the time, so I want to finish by talking about the north-east of Scotland. We are not just facing the coronavirus outbreak; we are also facing the harsh reality that at 9 o’clock this morning the price of Brent crude oil was below $30 a barrel. That is completely unsustainable for the industry. In the Chancellor’s Budget last week, there was not a peep in relation to oil and gas—not a single mention—despite the fact that the price has been plummeting for a number of weeks. There is a double whammy there and that industry in the north-east of Scotland needs to be protected.
When the Government make their statement later today, we need and must see protections put in place for the public, and we need and must see protections put in place for businesses. We must all come together to ensure that the future prosperity of everyone on these islands is protected.
I rise to support my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s Budget. We are facing an unprecedented and very difficult situation, but we are better able to deal with it because of how the Conservative party—including in our earlier coalition with the Liberal Democrats—has managed the economy. We need to give credit to George Osborne and Philip Hammond. Philip has taken a lot of criticism because of his views on Europe, but he was a fiscally conservative Chancellor. The fact that, even with the ONS adjustments, the budget deficit will be under 2% this year gives us at least some room for manoeuvre to deal with what is going to be very difficult crisis.
I welcome the increase in investment in the Chancellor’s Budget. I have always felt that we ought to be a bit more French about big projects, because around some of those big projects, private enterprise can grow. Sometimes railways, ports and airports are necessary for an economy to grow. I also welcome the investment in roads—apparently buses as well as cars travel on roads. One of the quickest ways to get an boost to the economy is to take the road network and to add value to it. We have invested billions in roads—in bypasses, extensions and so on. In some areas, resurfacing can make our roads a bit quieter. Those are quite useful things for the Government to be doing, and they will provide a quicker hit than HS2 and other projects, which are far more long term.
In speaking in this debate, I am particularly pleased to follow my hon. Friend Mr Mohindra, who made a wonderful start in addressing this Chamber. He said that he was dyslexic. There are at least two Tory Cabinet Ministers who have been dyslexic, so he should take that as a sign of hope for his future career after his fine start.
I have been in this Chamber a while, and can say that there have been a number of occasions when one has been debating a subject with the full knowledge that, at 7 o’clock in the evening, somebody else will make a statement that will totally change the terms of the debate. I welcome the fact that the Chancellor will be here at 7 o’clock, and I think that we all expect other measures to be announced.
Most economic downturns happen steadily and gradually over a number of quarters. Businesses can manage the change, but what has happened recently—sometimes overnight—is that the business model has been destroyed. What we need to do, certainly for the next three months, is keep all those businesses in a situation from which they can recover and prosper. That will require a lot of money and a lot of creative effort, but I am sure that the Government are up to it. I look forward to hearing what the Chancellor is going to say at 7 pm.
As I have said, we are in a much better position because of some of the things that we have done in the past. We had a big debate over austerity in 2010, and, you know what, we won it and we won the general election. We had a debate in 2015, and, you know what, we won it. We had a debate in 2017, and we just about won it, and we had a debate in 2019 and we won it again. I am perfectly content for the Labour party to argue with us on these terms, because it is 4-0 so far and, from what I can see, it will certainly be 5-0 if Labour does not accept that the British people understand that, sometimes, the books have to be balanced.
I hope that we use the economic scope that we have to provide the firepower to get the businesses through the next two or three months. I am confident that the Government are doing the right thing in terms of what is a very difficult wicket. I am confident that the fundamentals of our economy are sound, but what we must not do is let good sound businesses be knocked down because of a short-term difficulty.
We have seen nothing like this in our lifetimes. We are in a situation where six days after hearing the Budget, it is already out of date. We are at a time when, across the world, aeroplanes are being grounded, borders are being closed, people are staying at home, health services are gearing up, and workplaces are being frozen down. Just two months ago, we had barely heard of covid-19, and since then 6,500 people across the world have died from it.
In China, hundreds of millions of children are being educated at home—some online. In Italy, people are building makeshift hospitals, even tents, to treat the sick. France has imposed a two-week lockdown, and Ireland has closed all its schools. The scale of the action that countries are having to take to deal with this global crisis feels overwhelming, and we are just at the start. Nothing will be normal for very many months, and all of us will have to face up to that in our communities, in our workplaces, and in families across the country. That means that, right now, many people are feeling very worried. Parents are worried about whether to send their kids to school. Pensioners are worried about whether they should be going to the shops. Their sons and daughters are worried about whether they should be visiting them. Cinema and pub staff are just worried about whether they are about to lose their jobs, and many will be facing exactly that fear this week. Self-employed contractors are at a loss because their business is drying up and small businesses fear that their life’s work and savings are about to be lost. Commuters are worried about travelling by bus, train or tube. Doctors, nurses and NHS staff and social care staff are in distress about the life-and-death decisions they know they may have to make on our behalf.
The immediate challenge for Government in the face of this is to provide some urgent answers, urgent interventions, and urgent reassurances so that we can stop the anxiety, the panic and the hardship growing, and so that we can stop a national crisis becoming millions of separate family crises across the country. We can rise to that challenge, but we need to do so now. That means answering some very practical questions. For example, people have contacted me following the advice that was given yesterday, asking, “What should people do if someone in the family has serious health conditions, but they are doing a job that cannot be done from home?” Those jobs may be in distribution, in retail, in education, or working in schools. They may be in policing, or they may be doing countless important jobs across the country. Should they go to work? Should they send their kids to school?
I have been contacted by one mum who is suffering from cancer and who wants to be able to keep her daughter at home. She and others need support and advice. What are the plans to deliver care, food and supplies for those who are going to be at home? Crucially, we will need urgent assurances that no one will lose their home, and that everyone will be able to pay their bills to feed their kids and to keep their families going. We look forward to the response from the Chancellor later today so that we can know that, whatever the changes in our lives that are going to be needed, we can strain every sinew to keep important services going. That means getting some immediate commitments for substantial financial support for families. We all know that the current system of universal credit, of statutory sick pay or of any of those tinkering measures just will not cut it. If the Government try to use them, all they will do is expose even further the weaknesses and failings in our welfare system and our social insurance system that are already causing huge hardship. Quite simply, those systems will not be able to take the strain. There needs to be substantial, unconditional support, so that people can pay their rents, their mortgages and their bills, because food banks will not be able to fill those gaps.
Those urgent assurances and interventions are essential if we are to address people’s anxieties and concerns, particularly in relation to family finances and family health. There is a much bigger task, which is to shift our shared mindset from anxiety to action to ensure that we are not just all overwhelmed by alarm when we have practical tasks ahead of us, and when we need to focus on the practical things that can be done and must be done to come through this together. There is little time for any of us to absorb or assimilate the scale of the changes that will be made in all of our lives this year, so that we can get through this, but we have to get on with it.
Incredible work is already under way. People have already paid tribute to NHS staff who are preparing for the task ahead. We should also pay tribute to emergency planners in our local councils, in social care services, in businesses, in food distribution systems and in voluntary groups across the country. They are already preparing and planning for the challenges that we face and those huge changes that we will need to make. It will need calm leadership, clear communication, frankness about how difficult some things are going to be, but firmness about our ability to come through this, about our resilience and strength, and about our ability to work together in extraordinary ways. In the end, we may be grateful that we are also the generation that now communicates so much online, and that has different ways to hold our families together, to communicate and to work. Some of those new technologies will make it easier to address new challenges than perhaps would have been the case 10 or 20 years ago. It also means that the Government must address the scale of the task, and it does not feel as if they are doing so yet. I do not blame Ministers for struggling to keep up with this, because in the early stages of the financial crisis it took time—often precious time—to realise the magnitude of what was happening and the scale of previously unthinkable things that had to be done to turn it round. We do not have that time now.
It is good that the Government seem to have shifted strategy in the light of evidence from Imperial College, which confirms what the WHO, epidemiologists and public health experts from other countries have been saying for some time, and which shows that the objective should be suppression of the virus, because the number of lives that would be lost by pursuing a mitigation or herd immunity strategy would be far too great. Again, it feels as if the Government still have to do more to shift to that new strategy in practice. For example, we are still only being advised to go to the pub—advised not to go to the pub. [Interruption.] If only! It feels as if we are only being advised, and it feels as if Ministers are being a little too squeamish to tell us what they need us to do, and to tell the pubs what they need to do. My message to Ministers is, frankly, “Get over it,” because there are an awful lot more things that they are going to have to tell us to do before the crisis is over.
It does not feel as if there is a proper strategy for testing yet—a proper plan massively to gear up the number of tests that we need. The chief scientific adviser has said that that is what he wants to see, but we need the same kind of national effort for which the Prime Minister has rightly called to produce ventilators across the country. We need a massive scaling up of testing. The World Health Organisation has said, “test, test, test” and
“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded”.
That is what we need. I have heard from consultants who say that in some hospitals three quarters of elderly care consultants are self-isolating and cannot gain access to tests to find out whether in fact they are fine and can get back to work, where they are urgently needed. If we rely on the information from hospitals to tell us what is happening on the scale of the spread we will be two weeks behind the curve. We cannot afford to do that. We need to learn from what South Korea did, with a massive mobilisation effort.
If the spread is accelerating, keeping schools running as normal is going to become impossible and seriously unwise. Given the reports from London hospitals about rising numbers of covid-19 cases coming in through A&E, and reports that we are three weeks behind Italy, we should ask ourselves what would Italy have done three weeks ago if it had known? That is what we have to face, and it means that we need urgent plans to be in place now on how to close or scale down schools while keeping parents and vital services in work; while stopping grandparents being drawn into childcare and being exposed to the virus; and while supporting families who depend on free school meals as well as those who have safeguarding risks. This is urgent.
The Budget was designed around the old strategy of mitigate and manage, or tinkering with sick pay and staff absence. We are way past that point. Entire sectors such as travel, leisure and hospitality cannot function at a social distance. There are 1.9 million jobs in catering, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops. There are more than half a million jobs in hotels and holiday accommodation. Those sectors are not sustainable, given the way in which we are going to have to operate and live our lives for at least the next few months. How we support those sectors and people who work in them is crucial.
Other sectors such as social care and food distribution need to grow and change to meet community needs. Communities will have to support one another, but we cannot just stand back and hope that the free market will solve the systemic challenges that we face. Emergency planning will be needed, as well as intervention and funding on a scale that the Government would never normally contemplate. I hope that as well as talking more about emergency funding for the NHS, the Chancellor will announce a big injection of emergency investment for local authorities so that they can support public health, emergency planning, housing, family support, social care and children’s services, which are now our crucial community actors, and which urgently need to take on more staff to deliver the changes needed. We need sectoral plans, to make sure that we still have something as simple as community pubs, which can open again when the crisis is over.
This will be a challenge. We all know and fear that those who are on the lowest incomes will be hardest hit, which will be a challenge for all of us. But we can do this, and we have the strength, resilience, ingenuity and ideas. We will have to pull everyone together, not push people apart. We will have to do things in new ways, including doing politics in different ways—pulling people together and facing up to the sheer scale of what needs to change. Politics has to stop being the art of the possible and become the art of the apparently impossible, so that we can come through this together.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I give my sincere sympathy to anyone affected by the coronavirus.
It is with immense pride that I take my place in the Chamber and make my maiden speech as the first Conservative Member of Parliament for Blyth Valley since the seat was created in 1950. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Ronnie Campbell, who began serving Blyth Valley in Parliament in 1987. While we had many political differences, he sought to represent the people of Blyth well, and I am honoured to take over that role. It is a remarkable area and I will do all that I can to ensure that its people and their concerns and aspirations are heard here in Westminster.
Blyth is, of course, the main town, which gives its name to the constituency. My family have farmed the land there for generations, and Blyth is part of my DNA. It is a town steeped in history, but one that is dynamic and forward looking. It was a submarine port during both world wars; the place where the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal, was launched in 1915; and, not forgetting, the home of Blyth Spartans football club. I am so proud to wear their tie today. Built on coalmining and shipbuilding, Blyth is now at the forefront of developing renewable energy technologies. The port of Blyth will continue to play an important role in trade after Brexit.
Cramlington, also in my constituency, is the former home of the No. 36 Defence Squadron, which protected the north of England during the first world war, and one of the new towns that were built across the UK in the 1960s. This comparatively young town has a fantastic community spirit and residents have made their mark in so many areas, including sports, the arts and industry. I particularly enjoyed a visit to the Blagdon amateur dramatic society panto earlier this year—hon. Members are supposed to say, “Oh no you didn’t!” I was very impressed by the talents of that group of young people.
A number of villages, including Holywell, New Hartley, Seghill, Seaton Sluice and Seaton Delaval are also found in the area, which is more generally known as Seaton valley. With its beautiful coastal scenes and stunning countryside, Seaton valley illustrates why Northumberland is one of the most beautiful places in the north not just to live but to visit. Home to Arrighi’s café since 1925—without doubt, it sells the best ice cream in the UK, at least according to my wife, who visits regularly on Sundays—it is also the birthplace of Captain William Smith, who discovered Antarctica on a worldwide voyage on his Blyth-built ship, The Williams.
I started my working life in Blyth market when I was 13. Leaving school at 16, I worked for the council as a gravedigger. Back then, we had to dig the graves by hand; there were no machines to do the job. When I was 21, the family suffered a major setback: my dad was knocked off his motorbike by a hit-and-run driver, and never walked again. He became severely disabled. With my brother and sister both away from home, I provided support to both my parents at this relatively young age. That made me acutely aware of the need to support carers and of the challenges faced by both carers and the disabled people they look after. I eventually became a mental health nursing assistant and worked for the NHS—a role I had and loved for over 20 years.
My political journey began in 2016, when I became fed up with the state of my home town and some of the long-running problems that he area faced. After many months of my complaining, my long-suffering wife Maureen told me, “Ian—shut up or do something about it!” Recognising that I needed to act if I wanted to improve things, I wrote to the then Prime Minister David Cameron, joined the Conservative party and started working for what I believed would be a better future for Blyth Valley. Looking back at my journey now, I am honoured and proud—as well as mildly surprised—to find myself representing the area I call home down here in Westminster.
I give my sincerest thanks to all those who helped and supported me—from my agent Richard Wearmouth, my family, my friends and my NHS colleagues at Willow View, where I worked for many years, to the people who helped both during my campaign and since. I believe that my election proves that the Conservative party is one of real opportunity: it does not matter if you are the Eton-educated son of an earl, a council gravedigger or a nursing assistant with the NHS—if you have a passion for improving things for people, then you are welcomed with both arms.
The people of Blyth Valley voted for change in December 2019. They share my ambition to energise the town centre through the future high streets fund and a Blyth town deal and to connect our towns and communities with a new rail link and an improved road network. They want to support our industries and ensure that our children in Blyth Valley have the skills to secure employment in a thriving local business and they want to see a revolution in green technology. The people of Blyth Valley will rise to the challenges and opportunities that our departure from the EU—and that is what they voted for—will bring. For those reasons, I am proud to support this Budget: a Budget that recognises our country’s priorities and gives communities such as Blyth Valley the opportunity to thrive as we strive to make our way as world leaders of the future.
It is an immense privilege to stand in the House today as the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, West Derby—the community that made me. With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe, this is a worrying time for the people we represent across this House. In light of that, the speech I deliver today will be very different from the one I wrote three weeks ago.
I would like to start by thanking my predecessor, Stephen Twigg, for the service he gave to West Derby constituency during his time in this House. I have heard from many people first hand what a good constituency MP and excellent parliamentarian Stephen was, and I am sure the House will join me in wishing him every success in his post-parliamentary career.
The constituency of Liverpool, West Derby has many notable sons and daughters, including Bessie Braddock, the formidable former Labour MP, who lived with her husband Jack on Zig Zag Road in West Derby in 1942. West Derby is home to The Casbah coffee club—a legendary venue that played a huge role in the formation of the world’s greatest band: the Beatles.
Continuing the theme of world class, as an avid Liverpool fan it would be remiss of me not to mention our legendary former manager and great socialist, Bill Shankly, who lived in West Derby opposite Liverpool’s Melwood training ground. The constituency is also the birthplace of currently the best right-back in the world: Trent Alexander-Arnold. We have, in our current manager Jurgen Klopp, a man who is showing more leadership and wisdom off the pitch during this crisis than some of our world leaders.
I grew up in West Derby in the ’70s, against a backdrop of de-industrialisation and Thatcher’s Government. Labelled “the hardest nut to crack” by the Tories and earmarked for “managed decline”, the Liverpool I grew up in knew the despair of joblessness and economic deprivation. It was a city on the brink—but one that dared to fight back. I am proud that, 35 years on, Liverpool’s red wall stands firm. People in our city know that Liverpool City Council has £436 million less to spend per year now than it did in 2010—that same council will be straining every sinew to keep its people’s heads above water, despite being hollowed out by cuts.
We now know that austerity was a political choice. I know the human cost all too well. In 2015, I teamed up with my Evertonian mates Dave and Robbie to co-found Fans Supporting Foodbanks, a grassroots initiative that puts football fans at the heart of the fight against food poverty. What started with three fans standing with a wheelie bin collecting tins of food outside the pub on match days now supplies 30% of all donations to North Liverpool Foodbank and has become an operation that stretches from Glasgow to London to Dublin. We have united people of different backgrounds, different faiths and even people who wear different colours at the game, because our problems were not caused by other working-class people, but by a rigged system propped up by the born-to-rule elite who only represent the interests of the 1%—a system that means 1.6 million people need help from a food bank in one of the richest countries on earth. I am here in Parliament to challenge that system.
In West Derby, we are also immensely proud of our two world-class hospitals, Broadgreen Hospital and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. I am proud to have organised workers in both hospitals for better pay and conditions as a trade union organiser for Unite the union. Now, as we face the coronavirus pandemic, I would like to express my unreserved gratitude to all our NHS staff for their dedication and courage. This pandemic clearly demonstrates how free health and social care is not a cost, but a precious and crucial asset when fate comes calling. The Government must rise to this challenge. We must act now to support those who need us. In the immediate term, we need a rescue package for working-class people and communities with the same scale and urgency as the bail-out of the banks.
The first duty of any Government is to protect their people, so the Government must adopt clear commitments to prioritise human need—that no one will lose their home, no one will be plunged into hardship, and no one will go hungry as a result of a virus that is not their fault. I say to the Government that now is not the time for half-measures. They should guarantee decent sick pay for all workers, suspend rent, mortgage and utility bills, make private healthcare facilities available for our NHS rent-free, ban evictions, end sanctions, scrap the five-week wait for universal credit and consider rolling out a basic income.
We cannot leave it to the whims and the warped priorities of the market. Only bold state intervention will see us through this crisis, if only we had the political will to act. Our demand must be an end to the broken political and economic model of the last 40 years. The reversal of the Thatcher doctrine will never be more critical than in the coming weeks, because there is such thing as society, and we must shape that society to place the health and needs of its people above the interests of profit. That is what socialism is. That is what humanity is, and without that we are nothing.
Quite a few of us on the Government Benches stand up and, before opening our mouths, have great visions of sounding thoroughly Churchillian. But with as strong a Boltonian accent as mine, I will not be trying too hard to imitate Churchill today. [Laughter.] This is the greenest of days: St Patrick’s Day. For many an evening, I looked out on to the falling sun on Mount Slemish in my birthplace of Ballymena, the home of St Patrick.
Indeed, these Benches are green, a colour evoking camouflage—a colour that is restful, harmonious and self-effacing, and a colour of modesty and humility. I got that from Parliament’s intranet, in the hope of sounding cultured. You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, the people of Bolton North East are a self-effacing and very humble people who none the less have a proud history, producing some of the greats like Bolton-educated Sir Ian McKellen, and home to the magnificent Hall i’ th’ Wood Museum and the historic St Maxentius church in Bradshaw.
My predecessor, Sir David Crausby, was elected in 1997, and he has many admirers in both Bolton and Westminster. Sir David led on many campaigns, including to help save Bolton’s fire stations and, over many years, being a voice for improving railway services for the town. I know that the House will join me in wishing Sir David and his family all the best.
Despite being thrown into a global crisis at the beginning of 2020, I believe that, as a nation, we must aspire to pull through together. It was aspiration in the midst of the post-world war crisis that led the United Kingdom to found the NHS—an aspiration that we have the breadth of shoulders to shoulder every one of our fellow countrymen in time of need. This virus is causing a global crisis, yet I can feel that aspiration in every one of my fellow Members, irrespective of which side of the House they sit on. I, you, we represent our 66 million people’s united aspiration for security, prosperity, quality of life and a dynamic, exciting future. For that is why we are here. This is why Parliament exists.
When I think of aspiration, I recall the aspiration of the young lad at Eden Boys’ School in Halliwell to become head boy and lead his fellow students into a new digital age. I think of the aspiration of a group of early-20s fellas, yearning for more from a society that they felt had let them down and branded them as useless—yet few more stimulating conversations was I part of during the winter campaign. You, the young people in Tonge with the Haulgh, can help build our future.
I have been deeply impressed by the aspiration of Sharples School in Astley Bridge, which goes by the motto “Learn, dream, achieve”, and St Catherine’s Academy in Breightmet, who impressed on me, “We aren’t just teaching kids; we are bettering our local community.”
The collective aspiration of the people of Bolton North East is manifested in our ambitious town regeneration vision—not so much a project, but a blueprint for the future of the UK’s largest town. It is spearheaded by the leader of Bolton Council, who represents Bromley Cross and who I personally thank, along with my local association, for taking a punt on me. I was glad to enjoy the luck of St Patrick in winning the election by an almighty 378 votes! I aspire to work hard to make our vision of a regenerated, prosperous town, and the required Metrolink from Bolton to Manchester, a reality.
You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, Bolton North East was once the epicentre of the textile revolution. Samuel Crompton was born in what is known today as Crompton ward. As the British inventor of the spinning mule, which permitted large-scale manufacture of high-quality thread and yarn, he had a decisive impact on the British—and, by extension, the world—economy. Where, might you ask, is my connection to the land of the spinning mule? Well, I was at one time the spinning mule of the Foreign Office in east China, serving as chief spokesman at the British consulate in Shanghai, and spinning the yarns of the coalition Government to help build relationships with an emerging superpower. For an extended period of time, I had a front row seat in the story of the 21st century: the re-emergence of China and of the Asian region more broadly, or in Chinese—if I am permitted—wo cengjing qinyan kandao zhongguo de jueqi.
I encourage ambition, entrepreneurship and innovation in my own country. I believe in Britain, and I believe we can benefit from the rise of Asia through trade and partnerships. Bolton’s fortunes, much like the ebbs and flows of international relations, experienced one of their first highs with the advent of the spinning mule, but once we get through this current ebb, another high point is beckoning.
This Government are committed to levelling up, and Bolton is once again the epicentre of this. You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, we are a creative people, curious and always finding new ways of overcoming old problems. For example, the Radic8 company in my constituency is using innovative technology designed specifically for protecting people with weak or compromised immune systems against airborne viruses.
Often, Bolton North East’s businesses have a special feature: you pay a few pounds, and then you add a few pounds to your waistline. There is Shahi Bakers on Blackburn Road, an area of much diversity, where I almost ate myself into oblivion on Friday past—it was that good—or like the week before, when I nibbled on a pizza flavour traditional pie at Empieor. Both of these small businesses are brand-new in Bolton, and even though I did not spend a single pound in either—the freebies of being an MP—the owner of the pie shop was ecstatic that the Chancellor spent a few quid in last week’s Budget.
It would be remiss of me to skip arguably Bolton North East’s most successful export, Warburtons bakery, which once featured Sylvester Stallone in an advert. I never thought I would be quoting Rocky Balboa and “Eye of the Tiger” in Parliament today:
“Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive”.
Metaphorically, we must fight to keep our Union alive—our united aspiration.
Our institutions have taken a bit of a battering of late, yet it has also been in times of adversity that our most integral of institutions, the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has shone. You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, I spoke earlier of looking out on to St Patrick’s Slemish mountain, but only a few miles east over the glens of Antrim, I looked in awe, many a time, across the Irish sea at western Scotland towards the mull of Kintyre. At our closest point, it is only 12 miles away, and I say build that bridge! I say that in the spirit of aspiration, similar to my belief that we can lead the world in science, and I welcome the Chancellor’s increased spending for science and innovation in the Budget equalling £22 billion. We can continue to be a real success story that others look to with admiration and a desire to emulate.
I am incredibly honoured and excited to represent the hard-working people of Bolton North East. Even though I am not necessarily Bolton-born, you could say I am “Bolton bread”—and that at the very least, for the future of Bolton North East and our Union of united aspiration, it is time for me to earn more than just my mere crust.
It is a pleasure to follow Mark Logan, and I particularly congratulate him on that bit in Mandarin, which was blatant showing off. Nevertheless, it was quite impressive.
As the country struggles to deal with a global health pandemic, the very structure and foundations of our economy are coming into focus. Today’s debate is an important opportunity not just to talk about how we deal with the immediate impact of the virus, but to consider the foundations and structure of our economy. We must build resilience. We know that this shock will not be the last that our economy faces, and we need to build an economy that is able to absorb and bounce back from future shocks.
The introduction of the Government’s so-called levelling up agenda reflects what many economists, politicians and commentators have recognised for many years: the gross inequalities that exist in the UK economy are, in no small part, down to where someone is born. Tackling regional inequality must be central to any strategy to create a fairer Britain.
In London, Britain plays home to the richest area in the whole of northern Europe, but the UK is also home to the five poorest regions in northern Europe, with west Wales and the valleys the poorest of all. In 2016, average incomes in London were 77% higher than the UK average, which is as staggering as it is unsustainable. We need a commitment from Government that they will bridge the widening gap between our cities and our towns.
The economic story of the past 40 years has been one of a job market that has shifted from manufacturing to services, boosting metropolitan cities, but leaving industrial towns bereft of opportunity, wealth, power, investment, and a sense of security. Workplaces have changed beyond recognition, with productive and meaningful industrial work evaporating, and high streets being ripped up due to rapid technological change. A winner-takes-all post-18 education system has whisked certain young people off to university, but delivered nothing for the individuals and communities left behind. All that has been compounded by a decade of self-defeating Tory austerity—a party that responded to seismic shifts in the global economy by treating industrial areas with a toxic mix of indifference and incompetence.
Now, for electoral reasons, the Conservatives have put levelling up front and centre of their agenda. They know that their success in keeping hold of leave voters in the north, the midlands and parts of Wales will be largely dependent on how they manage to transfer wealth and opportunity in those directions. That aim is worthy in itself, but will the strategy succeed when the motives are skin deep?
Let us look at the baby steps that the Conservatives made with this Budget. Commitments on improving infrastructure and devolving power to city Mayors are central to the Chancellor’s promises, but we get the sense that this Budget is really a continuation of the city-centric model on which the British economy is based, and which has failed our economy and country for far too long. There is plenty to say about Leeds; not that much about Leigh. Policies for Birmingham; pittance for Bassetlaw. As a country we must be far more ambitious in tackling regional equality, as well as the gaping chasm that exists between our towns and our cities.
The likes of economist Paul Collier, the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Industrial Communities Alliance have each identified important levers for the levelling up agenda. Across the board there is recognition of the need to focus on local political autonomy. Whitehall simply cannot plan the economy of a distant area; it must devolve more power everywhere, not just via piecemeal city devolution deals. We also need a locally based finance industry. It was a huge mistake for the Bank of England to force the merger of regional banks, because local knowledge is essential in knowing where to lend. We need locally organised business communities that work closely in lockstep with locally based college education. Local youth should be trained in pertinent skills, which in turn will help the surrounding firms. For example, German tertiary education has much stronger links with local business.
For a decade, the Conservatives have failed those who do not go to university. Far from reviving vocational education, the Government have poured money into universities which, as well as failing to defend free speech, have loaded students with debt, and too often failed to provide them with any significant return on their investment. That cycle must be broken and must change.
The Government must also support the clusters of industries emerging around the UK—steel and clean energy in south Wales, tech in Cambridge, chemicals in Hull and metals in Yorkshire, for instance. We need a comprehensive and integrated policy agenda. Investing in transport is important, but it will not suffice. A continuation of the city-centric model will lead to more social damage and increasing travel congestion, and will do nothing to green our economy.
The most critical part of rebalancing our economy has to be a commitment to a modern manufacturing renaissance. UK manufacturing has been in decline for decades, dropping from 30% of GDP in the 1970s to a meagre 9% today. That is very much a political choice; it is not an act of God. Germany’s manufacturing base has remained strong, at more than 20% of GDP, thanks to proactive Government support and a proactive industrial strategy. Its economy is more resilient as a result.
Of course, any UK manufacturing renaissance must be underpinned by a thriving UK steel industry. Steel is the backbone of the British economy. It is not a sunset industry but a 21st century industry that continues to underpin our entire manufacturing base, from defence to aerospace, and our everyday lives, from the houses we live in to the offices we work in and the trains, buses and cars we travel in—including the electric vehicles of the future. Steel jobs are well-paid manufacturing jobs, offering people in so-called left-behind communities real opportunities in life, yet the Chancellor’s Budget did nothing to address the sky-high energy costs that are crippling the steel industry—UK steelmakers pay 80% more for their energy than their French counterparts —or to tackle the extortionate business rates that are crippling our industry.
If the UK Government are serious about levelling up, steel simply must be front and centre of that strategy. Without its steel backbone, the British economy will not be able to stand up, let alone level up. There is still no word on the UK shared prosperity fund, which will replace EU development funding from 2021. The clock is ticking, but there is still no sign of the consultation on that fund, which the Government promised at the end of 2018.
Levelling up cannot just be a buzzword. Getting Brexit done is already starting to come unstuck, with the Prime Minister’s “oven-ready deal” seemingly stuck at the back of the frozen food section. The levelling up agenda must not be left to thaw, and neither must it come out of the oven half-baked. We need a whole-nation industrial strategy that actually reaches places such as Aberavon—one that goes beyond the city-centric model laid out in the Budget and begins to reunite our deeply divided country.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make this speech today. It is an important day in our history.
I am told that one of the few pleasures—perhaps the only pleasure—in making a maiden speech is that it affords you the opportunity to thank your predecessor. It is none the less daunting for someone who has sat in this House for only a number of weeks to attempt to review the long career of Sir Patrick McLoughlin, who spent 33 years in this place, 30 of them on the Front Benches. Sir Patrick is much loved in the constituency. He assiduously balanced working hard on his constituents’ behalf with serving as a constant figure nationally. I am very grateful to him personally both for going out of his way to help me settle into the constituency and for coming out on the campaign with me so often during the general election. He left big shoes—or, in the case of Derbyshire and the rain of December, big wellington boots—to fill.
In the course of my research, I had the chance to read “Chance Witness”, the memoirs of another of my distinguished predecessors, Matthew Parris. I strongly recommend it to all Members of this House, particularly new Members. He made several observations about the place. The book provides salient lessons for a life in politics, not the least of which is about the dangers of assumption. While a Member, Matthew Parris courageously argued for the reform of sexual offences legislation, calling, for example, for the abolition of the penalty of imprisonment for the crime of prostitution. As part of his campaign, he invited a coachload of prostitutes to address a relevant Select Committee. At the appointed time, he entered Central Lobby to meet his guests. He cast his eye over those present and went up to a promising group of women and asked, “Are you the prostitutes from Birmingham?” There followed, as he described, “an awful silence”. “No,” came back the response. They were, in fact, a west midlands Catholic women’s group. [Laughter.]
It is a very great privilege to be standing here as the hon. Member for the Derbyshire Dales and the constituency’s first woman Member to boot. It is a large constituency of outstanding beauty: 377 square miles in size, most of which stands within the Peak District national park. It is bigger than several vocal European countries. The four main towns are Ashbourne, Bakewell, Matlock and Wirksworth and it includes over 100 villages. In large part, it is made up of rolling landscapes, green valleys and ragged moorland, and it is inhabited by fierce, independent and proud Derbyshire men and women, the backbone of this country. Bakewell and Ashbourne are established agricultural market towns, whereas Wirksworth, Bonsall, Monyash and Tideswell were centres of lead-mining. The population lies mainly along the River Derwent.
I am proud to state that there is a very clear connection between my constituency and this place. It is said that Henry Yevele, from the village of Yeaveley in the south of the Derbyshire Dales, did for English architecture what Chaucer did for English literature. He built the Jewel Tower across the road from this place and helped to remodel, reface and reroof Westminster Hall, as well as much of Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral. He used Derbyshire stone in his projects—this is of national significance—just as it was used several hundred years later when Birchover gritstone was used as load-bearing columns in the construction of Portcullis House. The flagstones for Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park Corner and the Thames Embankment also came from the Derbyshire Dales.
My constituency can also lay claim to be the home of the vigorous contact sport similar to the game of British bulldog so beloved of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Royal Shrovetide football match is a game played annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in the town of Ashbourne since the 1600s. It is played with a hand-sewn leather ball throughout the entire town, in its streets, fields and waterways, with sometimes more than 5,000 people divided into two teams made up of those born north of Henmore Brook, the Up’Ards, and those born south of it, the proud Down’Ards. The game is played over eight hours and the goals are three miles apart. It can be best described as a huge moving scrum with very few rules, the first and earliest of which is “no murder”. I know that the Prime Minister is not averse to a rough and tumble, and I cordially invite him to come and possibly participate, incognito, should he wish to come next Shrovetide.
Speaking of Ashbourne, I give notice to my friends on the Front Bench that they will be hearing a lot about the Ashbourne bypass, which we desperately need. It is a project of tremendous national strategic interest, because it services the quarries that provide minerals that are mined only in this particular constituency. We are fortunate to have many buildings of national significance in the constituency, including Chatsworth, Haddon, Sudbury and Kedleston, as well as Tissington, said by some to be the prettiest village in Derbyshire. In the words of that famous Chief Whip, Francis Urquhart, I could not possibly comment.
Derbyshire Dales has long been noted for economic innovation. We must not forget our historic traditional roots as we stand in these difficult times. It was the Silicon Valley of the 18th century. Richard Arkwright built the first water-powered cotton-spinning mill at Cromford in 1771, using waterpower provided by the fast-flowing streams. Inspired by the factory system pioneered by Arkwright, John Smedley, the knitwear company, was founded in 1784 by John Smedley at Lea Mills in Matlock. This factory, at over 230 years, is the world’s oldest continuous manufacturing factory in the country. It inspires generations of local families with its good practices of employer-employee relationships.
Derbyshire Dales was also the home of Florence Nightingale, the godmother of nursing in Britain and internationally. I do not forget agriculture, tourism, quarrying and mining. These are all vital aspects and activities of the district. I will do everything I can to support those communities and the farming communities, which are the backbone of the economy.
Derbyshire Dales is mineral rich. It has a long history of mining and quarrying. It shaped the landscape that built Britain over centuries. The Longcliffe quarries in the constituency provide key materials that we need nationally for all sorts of manufacturing and capital projects.
Also in the Derbyshire Dales are a variety of other world-class businesses ranging from family firms to artisan businesses and creative entrepreneurs. As a new candidate, I was duty bound to sample the world-famous Bakewell pudding, Derbyshire oatcakes and outstanding English cheeses, such as Dovedale Blue, Hartington Stilton and Peakland White, all washed down by a variety of local beers, including Chatsworth Gold and Bakewell Best. Some had to be sampled several times, I am afraid. Another example of the bespoke businesses in the Derbyshire Dales is the exquisite jewellery made by the world-class creative designer Jane Orton, an example of which I am immensely proud to be wearing today.
Moving swiftly on, I was honoured to attend a large Remembrance Day parade of those proud people in Derbyshire Dales, just two days after I was selected. In so doing, we honoured the men and women of the armed services, many from Derbyshire, who lost their lives in the service of our country. It falls on us to protect their reputation in the face of opportunistic and vexatious prosecutions.
The security of this great country is not only entrusted to our gallant armed forces. We are also protected by our intelligence and security services, which are often the unsung heroes of battles fought in the twilight and dark, and in the cold. One hero in that field was Sir Maurice Oldfield, the seventh director of the Secret Intelligence Service back in the days when it did not officially exist. I took some time off during my election campaign to visit his birthplace in my constituency, the village of Youlgrave, as well as Over Haddon, the village where he grew up and where he was buried in St Anne’s churchyard.
A tenant farmer’s son, Maurice Oldfield was one of the country’s most distinguished intelligence officers. He served at the height of the cold war and was described by the arch Soviet agent Kim Philby as formidable. He returned to Over Haddon for weekends as often as he could. He was noted for Derbyshire common sense. It is that sort of common sense that we need to embrace for the security and defence of the country in today’s world.
As for myself, I am a Conservative by both nature and nurture. I was born into this tribe. My first association, back in what was then the nuclear-free Labour heartland of Basildon, was a family enterprise run by my mother from the kitchen table in our council house. She canvassed with me in the pram. At the age of eight, I delivered my first Conservative party leaflet. At the age of 17, I was part of the selection committee that launched the distinguished parliamentary career of my hon. Friend Sir David Amess, who I am delighted to see here today.
Like so many on our side of the Chamber, I am a living embodiment of Conservative policies. I am a working-class, council-reared, comprehensive school-educated Conservative—a product of Margaret Thatcher’s blueprint for change. Her vision socially and economically enfranchised millions of individuals across our country, presenting them with opportunities unavailable to previous generations. I am one of those people. This country needs to continue to level up.
For example, vocational guidance at my comprehensive school scoffed at my stated ambition to become a barrister, suggesting hairdressing instead. I pushed back at that arbitrary ceiling for girls and women then, just as I now push for the levelling up at the heart of the Prime Minister’s vision for our country. I believe in the free markets, free trade, rule of law and meritocracy that made this country the greatest nation in the world.
I am humbled to stand here today in this Chamber, which has echoed with the speeches of many great people, including my hero Margaret Thatcher, and the largely unsung heroes, such as Airey Neave, Ian Gow— both tragically assassinated—and others, who paved her way.
My politics are simple: I am instinctively cautious of the encroachment of the state into the lives of everyday people. I believe that George Washington—an Englishman born in America, of course—got it right when he observed that government, like fire, is both a fearful master and a dangerous servant. It is our duty as legislators to act as an ever-vigilant fire brigade keeping government in check and dampening down its innately incendiary tendencies.
The Prime Minister has spoken of the importance of levelling up and I, for one, could not agree more. In so doing, the Conservative party would rightly claim the mantle of other historic movements, such as the Levellers of the 1640s and 1650s—the blue collar Conservatives of their day—whose free-market and social radicalism indelibly shaped so much of the parliamentary system and rights that we have today. Their vision might have been too much for the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, but their time may well have come under this Prime Minister.
I thank you for your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, and other right hon. and hon. Members for theirs. It was a privilege to speak today and I am very proud to represent the people of the Derbyshire Dales in this House. I hope that I might be able to catch your eye from time to time.
Order. I remind the House that if Members do not stick to seven minutes, I will have to impose a time limit, which might be even shorter.
It is a pleasure to follow Miss Dines. I congratulate her on delivering her maiden speech, and indeed on becoming the first female MP to represent her constituency, and wish her well for the future. She said that she embodies working-class values and that Margaret Thatcher is her hero—that is a concept that I have yet to get my head around, to be honest, but I wish her well.
Having been a civil engineer before coming to this place, I am instinctively in favour of investment in infrastructure, so I welcome the Government’s pledge to increase infrastructure investment. It can be truly transformational. The Scottish National party has argued for years that, instead of austerity, targeted investment can help improve the economy, especially with borrowing rates at an extended all-time low. It is good to see that this Government are finally listening. However, infra- structure investment should also fit a strategic picture and be part of long-term planning. It therefore does not make sense that the Budget and its headline announcements pre-date the Government’s long-overdue response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s national infrastructure assessment, which was published in July 2018.
A strategic approach also means avoiding a cavalier approach and glib announcements, such as proposals for a “Union bridge” between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Mark Logan also made a fine maiden speech, but in the last couple of minutes it went badly south. He might be demanding the construction of a Union bridge, but the Secretary of State for Scotland has said that it is just a euphemism for a tunnel. If the Government cannot agree on whether they are going to build a tunnel or a bridge, surely they should instead allocate the money to the Scottish Government, who will use it much more wisely.
“Levelling up” is another Government catchphrase, but at least it acknowledges the neglect of some of the regions and nations of the UK over the years. That is particularly true in Scotland, where the lack of infrastructure investment by Westminster is an historic disgrace. Hansard is littered with broken promises of particular road schemes—projects that were subsequently delivered by the SNP Scottish Government. It took an SNP Government to construct a full-length motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and it took an SNP Government to construct the missing M74 linkages. It was the SNP Government who build the M80. It is the SNP Government who are dualling the A9 and making it an electric highway. It is the SNP Government who had to complete the upgrading of what was the last single-track trunk road in Great Britain, the Road to the Isles between Fort William and Mallaig. To date it is the SNP Government and the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster, who have been doing the levelling up for Scotland.
Anyone driving around the highlands or across the Western Isles will see many road upgrades and causeways built by the Scottish Government with the help of EU funds. That was another way of having to make up for Westminster letting Scotland down. How will Scotland get its full share of the UK prosperity fund, given that access to the EU structural funds is no longer available?
We can talk about levelling up, but, as the Prime Minister said himself in the build-up to the Scottish referendum,
“A pound spent in Croydon is of far more value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde.”
Given that he has never apologised for that, it is hard to believe that he is taking the “levelling up” agenda seriously.
Another contradiction in the Budget and the big infrastructure projects proposed by the UK Government is the fact that they also propose to remove the red diesel rebate for construction plant. That would double the cost of fuel for plant hire companies, which would be passed on to clients. Have the Government considered the cashflow implications? Have they actually thought through the measure in total? The Red Book shows an income of an extra £5 billion over two years. That is £5 billion, more or less, added on to construction projects, so the Government are robbing Peter to pay Paul. Because of Scottish devolution, the Scottish Government and local authorities need to pay more for construction projects, and that money goes back to the Treasury, so we will be subsidising the Treasury yet again.
Another transport project that was supposed to level up connectivity between the regions and nations is the third runway at Heathrow. However, the UK Government lost in the court because they did not allow for aviation emissions to be aligned with the Paris agreement. They will now turn round and say that it does not matter because it is private investment, and it is up to Heathrow to sort it out. Well, it is not up to Heathrow to sort it out; it is up to the UK Government to do that, because climate change is their responsibility. They should follow the Scottish Government’s lead, and include aviation emissions in their net zero target. Moreover, if they are clear about levelling up, where are the public service obligations to protect the extra slots if the Heathrow third runway goes ahead? That is another vital aspect of connectivity.
There is also the issue of HS2. Where is the levelling up there? The route starts in London. The first phase is between London and Birmingham, and the London-Crewe section will follow. Trains will travel more slowly between Crewe and Scotland, because they cannot travel as fast on the existing main line. How can it be levelling up for us to have a poorer service once the high-speed trains are up and running—and where is our share of the Barnett consequentials? Roughly £750 million is due to us to date. If we are given that money, we can get on with our own infrastructure projects.
The Government have a big job to do if they are to hit their net zero carbon target by 2050. It will mean further strategic infrastructure investment, which will need to be done correctly to achieve this levelling up. That means investment in energy infrastructure. Again, we await the Government’s White Paper. When will it come, and when will we have a coherent energy policy that makes energy efficiency measures part of a national infrastructure project? The National Infrastructure Commission has long called for that, as has the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. The Scottish Government have led the way, spending four times as much as the UK Government per capita.
We need proposals for carbon capture and strategy—the current Budget proposals are too vague—and we need to end the nuclear obsession. It is completely illogical to pay £92.50 per MWh for Hinkley for 35 years, compared to just £40 per MWh for offshore wind and a 15-year concession. We need to invest in renewable energy.
We need a levelling up of broadband and mobile coverage. The proposed infill still leaves Scotland behind. The UK Government are contributing only £21 million to the £600 million R101 programme. The size of Scotland’s land mass is roughly 60% of the size of England’s, yet we will get only 18% as much funding as England from the UK Government. That is not levelling up.
If Westminster were serious about levelling up, it would make up for those deficiencies—and if it is not willing to level up, let Scotland become an independent country and we will level up on our own terms.
The backdrop to the debate is very much one of a serious crisis with huge implications for us individually and collectively, for our country and for our economy. Before I touch upon the Budget itself and the subject of today’s debate, I want to make one observation. The overwhelming majority of the people of this country are employed by small and medium-sized businesses; people’s mortgage, lifestyle and standard of living depend on them. Indeed, the wealth of this country very much depends on small and medium-sized businesses. Therefore, looking at this crisis, I hope that when the Chancellor makes his statement this evening he concentrates on the lifeblood and the success of those businesses. Otherwise, the crisis will be detrimental to the long-term health and success of this country.
Specifically on the Budget, I want to make three comments. The first is one of support and encouragement to the Government. The second is one of hope. The third is a word of caution from somebody who is a strong supporter of the Government.
I very much support and congratulate the Government on the serious amount of capital investment that they propose for the regions, and not just for the north. It is widely recognised that that is badly needed, and indeed, many people would suggest that it is long overdue. The important thing is that this must not be a splurge. We must not see a surge of money going into investment and then a famine in a few years’ time. We need consistent and maintained investment for many years—indeed, beyond this Parliament. We should almost be suggesting that this is a cross-party initiative, because it might well go beyond the Conservative Government. If we are to see real change in our regions and in the north, in our roads, rail and airports, and in digital and skills we need a sustained period of investment.
Through that investment, what we ultimately want to do is create an environment for business to thrive. In many respects, the success of this investment will not be the new roads, new rail and so on. It will be whether there is private sector investment following Government and taxpayer investment. We want to see private sector jobs and wealth creation in the north. Indeed, I want people wanting not to come to London for their career, but to go to other parts of the country. I also give a word of warning: we should always remember that Governments do not create wealth; it is business and the private sector that do so.
I also support the Government’s review of the Green Book, which again is long overdue and extremely welcome. That will create a real opportunity to see investment going to places that have wrongly missed out in the past.
My second point is about hope—a hope that the Government’s is a real ambition to change our public services and our complicated tax system; a hope that we have the ambition to reform social care and to look at how we can reform other public services, improve their performance and develop them for the future; a hope that we have true reform of local government and real devolution to the regions, so that they can make their own decisions and investments, and have some self-governance in a way that we have not seen in our regions for many years; and a hope that we see some reform of the taxation system to make it efficient and fair, and making a real contribution to the economy—less tinkering, more simplicity.
To give one specific example, I suggest looking at reform of inheritance tax—a tax that is disliked by many people, by those who are going to pay it and those who are not, and indeed by future generations, who think their parents might pay it or that they themselves might have to pay it. It is not a tax that raises a huge amount of income for the Treasury, but, through some simplicity and with some changes, it could be fairer and at the same time generate more money.
Thirdly, I have a word of caution. I appreciate that we have a serious crisis going on, and I recognise that the Government will be looking to supply a great deal of funding and support for businesses, individuals and organisations up and down the country, but I am a fiscal conservative and I do, in the long run, believe that we must live within our means and that we must have balanced budgets. We cannot borrow forever. Looking around the world at other economies, we see that those that are debt laden do not function as well. Looking back to the 2008 crisis, the borrowing was £40 billion a year. That was after 16 years of economic growth, yet the Government at that time were still borrowing instead of repaying debt.
We have had 10 years of growth, yet we still have a substantial budget deficit. The danger for us is that if at some point in the future there is a rise in interest payments, that will have a very detrimental effect on the state of our nation’s finances. Rates might well rise at some point, and unexpectedly, in the way that other things can hit an economy out of the blue.
I therefore suggest to Government that while they plan for future annual growth in the economy, we must always remember that recessions will happen. Indeed, given the present crisis, a recession might already be under way, so we must be prudent in the long run to ensure that the nation’s finances stack up and that we have the firepower to deal with downturns when they come. A final point: prudence is a virtue, and it is one that I believe the Government should follow.
Although the investment that this Budget provides in our public services is welcome, it does not go far enough, and it does not bring our public services and local authorities back to a level we saw before this decade of austerity began in 2010. Our councils and public services are suffering and they need some genuine hope that austerity really has ended.
The Government’s new commitment to borrowing to invest, set out in this Budget, shows that the past decade of austerity was a failed experiment and that, ultimately, our communities and public services endured a long decade of hardship and immense pressure for a political choice. As we know, the budget for the Welsh Government has been cut by £4 billion since 2010, and this new investment does not come close to delivering the support our local authorities and our communities desperately need now. The additional £360 million of funding promised for Wales is welcome, but much more is needed, especially given that the UK Government clawed back £200 million from Wales on a recalculation only earlier this year. We all know that this welcome money does not come close to dealing with the cost of repairs and recovery following last month’s floods, let alone to supporting the Welsh NHS and all our other public services, which continue to suffer and operate under continued pressure from austerity, particularly as they prepare for dealing with the virus. We have been told time and time again that austerity is ending or has ended, and this Budget was a missed opportunity to give us all some hope that that is now truly the case. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has since confirmed what we all already knew: that this Budget does not end austerity or truly reverse the decade of cuts our communities have suffered.
On the virus, although the extra package of support announced by the Treasury to help the Welsh Government deal with the outbreak in Wales is welcome, we need clarity on exactly what will be provided and when, so that Wales can be prepared for the next stages of the spread; especially as the Welsh NHS is already under significant pressure from operating on budgets that we have endured since 2010. We have concerns about the impact on the training-based apprenticeships and on training providers, trainees and apprentices. Obviously, a lot of that is a devolved area, but we need much more support from the UK Government to ensure that Wales is able to meet its responsibilities in these areas.
Due to the unprecedented nature of the spread of this virus and its devastating impact on businesses, communities and, crucially, families, I urge the Chancellor to bring forward emergency measures to support jobs, small businesses, including pubs and restaurants, and the most vulnerable in our society, as we all attempt to weather this increasingly serious and constantly changing situation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we need support for not just small businesses, but one-person businesses? I have been inundated by constituents contacting me because they run a business by themselves and do not qualify for much of this support. I hope that the Chancellor will make an announcement on that, because many people are desperate for that help in the future.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on that. Indeed, only yesterday, I received an email from a constituent who was having similar problems. Such support is appropriate and we hope that the Chancellor will bring forward some measures later today or in the very near future.
I welcome the Welsh Labour Government’s response to the outbreak, which has seen a £200 million emergency package provided to support retail, leisure and hospitality businesses across Wales suffering due to the outbreak. We must also support our food banks in the coming months, because we know they will be needed much more than ever.
It was shocking that the Chancellor made no mention of Wales when talking about the damage from last month’s flooding. Communities in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, and across Wales, were some of the hardest hit by last month’s storms, and the funding we desperately need to recover must now be forthcoming, as it has been promised—by the Prime Minister indeed. The cost of the initial repairs is estimated to be more than £15 million in my constituency alone, and we need assurances that Wales will not lose out and will get the funding it needs for our communities and businesses to recover.
As my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock mentioned earlier, it was alarming not to hear anything in the Budget statement about progress on how EU development funding will be replaced at the end of the year. There are just nine months to go until the EU development funding programmes end and we have still not had any information or clarity from the Government on how the funding streams will be replaced, or any clarity on the proposed shared prosperity fund. For months, Members from all parties have called for clarity on the fund. The people of Wales need answers. There is a gap of well over £300 million in EU funds for the Government to fill. They cannot hide or kick the issue into the long grass any longer. Our public services, local authorities and businesses need assurance and must be given time to prepare for the transition. I urge the Minister to give us clarity and confirm that it will be “not a penny less, not a power lost,” as we have been promised time and again.
I welcome the measures introduced so far to help our communities and businesses to cope with the current situation with covid-19. I praise the Welsh Government in particular, and local authorities and community organisations in Wales and throughout the UK, for how they have responded to the virus and sought to protect the most vulnerable among us. I also praise the incredible acts of kindness and compassion that we have seen from so many residents—I know that all Members are seeing the same in their communities—as well as the community initiatives we have seen as we endeavour to help those who need it most. We will unfortunately need much more of that in the coming months.
Finally, I urge the Chancellor and the Government to take the decisive action required to protect those who will be hit hardest by the virus outbreak and who do not have the means to support themselves. It would be a good start to remove the five-week wait for universal credit and to support self-employed workers with a realistic statutory sick pay. I hope the Minister will show that this message and the calls from other Members have been heard, and that the Government will now do what is necessary in this increasingly severe and fast-moving situation.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in this debate as part of a Government who understand their fiscal responsibility and have produced a Budget that delivers on its promises to the British people and lays the foundation of prosperity for tomorrow. I am grateful for the firm economic foundations as the economy and the Budget are currently overshadowed by coronavirus.
I pay tribute to the support workers, nurses, doctors, volunteers and residents in my constituency. I am immensely proud of them all. The community has come into its own during this incomparable crisis with a sense of true British “Keep calm and carry on” spirit, helping those most vulnerable and in need. I would expect nothing else from my brilliant constituents.
Last night, when I thought about speaking in this debate, I thought at first that my heart would not be in it because of the pressing crisis, but instead that crisis has highlighted to me the importance of the Budget, which is about levelling up and getting Britain building, and whose foundations will see us through this crisis. Levelling up has been compared by some in the media to the verbal equivalent of Polyfilla or mere political jargon, but levelling up has been taking place for the past three years in the urban west midlands, with not an ounce of Polyfilla in sight. For this debate, I will specifically focus on the urban west midlands.
After decades of losing out and falling behind after successive Labour councils across the region failed to work effectively together, the urban west midlands is starting to catch up. It is without doubt that that is because in 2017 the West Midlands elected its first Mayor, who of course was Andy Street, a Mayor who recognised the need to level up because the people in the west midlands had fallen behind London, Manchester and other cities. His approach has secured £2.3 billion of extra funding from central Government; brought jobs and investment to the west midlands; secured investment from overseas companies; and brought together the team to secure investment from the Government to ensure that the Commonwealth games will be hosted in Birmingham. His approach has seen the urban west midlands on the cusp of economic renaissance.
I wish to take a few minutes to correct politely a few comments made by Liam Byrne last week. He asked for some evidence of Andy Street’s influence, and I am happy to oblige: £350 million for building homes on brownfield sites; £210 million for expanding the metro; £150 million for apprenticeships and skills; £30 million for new bus routes; £10 million to tackle rough sleeping; and £250 million for improving our high streets.
There is more. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned unemployment, which has fallen in the west midlands by nearly 50% since 2010. In the years during which Andy Street has been Mayor, some 97,000 new jobs have been created and there are nearly 7,000 new businesses. Nearly 50,000 people have started apprenticeships, too.
The right hon. Member mentioned housing. More than 31,000 homes have been built across the west midlands since Andy became mayor. That is a 42% rise, and, as I said last week, he smashed his own target of 25,000. Rough sleeping is down by a third because of his Housing First scheme.
This Budget gave us £160 million for the metro and for buses and a share of £4.2 billion for more rail and metro improvements. Construction has begun on the £449 million metro to Dudley and Brierley Hill. Please, Andy, if you are listening, do not forget to add a few extra tracks of the metro stretches to Stourbridge. This Government are also levelling up on the railways, developing the west midlands rail hub
The west midlands has been levelling up for the past three years, and, thanks to this Government, it will continue to do so in the future. That is the same levelling up that this Government are bringing to the whole country to provide opportunity and to share prosperity across the UK. The Government’s commitment to levelling up and getting Britain building will see impressive feats of engineering not just in the west midlands, but across the country. My one request to this Government is to do it sustainably and sympathetically to our natural environment. Whatever we are investing in for the future, we must respect the environment that they will share.
I welcome the announcement last week to reform our planning system and to bring forward a White Paper by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. I hope that this planning reform will make the most of disused and neglected land. I welcome the Government’s announcement that they will launch a register of brownfield sites, which is backed by £400 million across the mayoral combined authorities to bring mostly unused land back to use. I hope the White Paper will have the confidence to follow the brownfield first example, which was set in the urban west midlands.
In conclusion, I welcome this Budget and the opportunity to level up and get Britain building. The only way to drive economic growth, as the urban west midlands has shown, is to boost productivity. Thankfully, it is this Government who will see us through this medical crisis—a Government who have a sense of fiscal responsibility and who recognise that levelling up will ensure the future prosperity of every town and city in this great and United Kingdom. It is a Budget that delivers on its promises to the British people to get things done, while also understanding that additional support in light of covid-19 will now have to be considered.
The Budget that the Chancellor introduced six days ago is already out of date. While I appreciate that we are in untested times, I urge the Government to get ahead of the curve, as opposed to behind it.
I welcome the shift in policy yesterday away from the assumption that most people would get infected with covid-19 to stopping the spread in its tracks. I must say that I was a little surprised that, after seeing what happened in other countries, we thought that it would be different in Britain and that perhaps the virus would spread differently.
China is ahead of us and is therefore at least a model of what is likely to happen here. In China, there has been a 20% drop in economic activity. Something similar will happen in the UK, so we need a plan and we need urgent and decisive action. A significant drop in economic activity already means redundancies and people being laid off, especially the millions in the gig economy or on zero-hours contracts. There will be no alternative for them but to sign on. The current benefits system, with its six-week delay, is not fit for purpose. We need a system that can act fast. There must be no delays in payment and processing—no delays at all.
Secondly, we will have millions of people in the UK who—hopefully temporarily—will have less money coming in. Hundreds of thousands of those who are just about managing will not be able to manage without extra support. We must not allow this sudden loss of income turn into a housing crisis, so my second ask of Government is to protect renters and to make it temporarily illegal to evict tenants for non-payment of rent because of the covid-19 crisis.
My third ask of Government is to support businesses through the next few months. That is particularly important to my constituents in Bath, many of whom are in the leisure and hospitality industry. It makes no sense for these businesses to go under because of a temporary loss of customers. The Government need to make it easy and quick to access bridging loans, as announced in the Budget last week. Currently, there is no detail of how that access and the process are working, and we need that information fast. We need a serious commitment from Government that none of those businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector will go under because of the coronavirus.
Turning to the Budget response to the climate emergency, the Budget should have been an opportunity for Government to match their rhetoric on tackling the climate emergency with real action—now, more than ever, as Parliament voted to commit to a net zero target and as the UK is hosting COP26 later this year. The UK should show leadership on tackling the climate emergency, but the Budget falls short in many ways. While there were encouraging announcements on electric vehicles and charging points, they were negated by the Government’s continued support for road building and petrol and diesel vehicles. The fuel duty freeze in the past 10 years has not resulted in an increase in people taking public transport but in an increase in cars on the road and fewer people using public transport. That should not be the direction pursued by a Government who are genuinely committed to taking all petrol and diesel vehicles off the road in 12 years’ time.
Where are the plans for the complete electrification of rail travel? The electrification of the line to Bath has been halted. When will it be completed? Most worryingly, there was no mention of any Government plan to tackle the UK’s greatest source of carbon emissions—our homes. The challenge is twofold: first, to ensure that any home that is a new build is fit for a net zero future and, secondly, to upgrade our current housing stock to make it energy-efficient.
There is no real ambition on that—the Government have only committed to require the future homes standard from 2025. They should legislate now, so that the thousands of new homes that will be built over the next five years will be net zero straightaway. The greater challenge is to retrofit the current housing stock so that it is energy efficient. That will be challenging and expensive, but is crucial, both in reducing the emissions from our houses and for alleviating fuel poverty. It is therefore frustrating that there was no mention of any action on that in the Budget. It is not enough simply to hope that people will upgrade their home’s energy efficiency. People living in homes with the worst energy efficiency ratings are often the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
The Government, who cancelled the Liberal Democrat green new deal scheme without a replacement, need to take the climate emergency seriously, and replace words with action. That means ensuring that we have just measures so that the burden of the net zero transition does not fall on those who can least afford it. The Chancellor should use the Government’s new-found affection for spending to provide support for upgrading all houses and building to energy efficiency grade C or higher. Rather than building roads, we should invest a lot more in public transport.
The coronavirus crisis is uppermost in our minds, but it has not simply replaced the climate crisis, which continues to be the most pressing issue of our generation. Not responding adequately will result in catastrophic cost to human life. The Government must step up.
It is a pleasure to follow Wera Hobhouse. I offer congratulations, too, to my hon. Friends the Members for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy), for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) and for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), as well as Ian Byrne, on their maiden speeches. It is a real honour to serve in Parliament. I am proud to be part of the 2019 intake of MPs across the Chamber, and we are all profoundly humbled by the circumstances and responsibilities that are on our shoulders.
The Budget was delivered in truly exceptional circumstances that have grown ever more so in less than a week. This is a challenging economic environment for us as a nation as we face the global coronavirus outbreak, and I hope that colleagues across the House will recognise the Chancellor’s willingness, first of all, to give the NHS whatever help it needs to get through this unprecedented challenge. To describe this as a baptism of fire for the Chancellor and, of course, for the new Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, whose appointment I welcome, would be significantly to understate things.
Our new Chancellor was extremely impressive last week, as he set out the measures that we are taking to protect, as best as we can, our economy, our workforce and indeed our entire population from the damaging financial effects of coronavirus, and I look forward to his making a statement later today in the same vein but with significantly more firepower. I must especially speak up for the small business owners of pubs, bars and restaurants and all their employees, many of whom have been in contact with me today. This is a hugely worrying time for these firms, which are pillars of their communities as well as of their local economies.
I turn to the substance of the Budget. The first point that I want to make is that it has delivered on the promises in our manifesto—promises that the British people voted for last December and that won us our majority. We are delivering the largest cash boost for the NHS in history, as we promised. The announcement of funding for 40 new hospital projects and the protected capital investment budget, to ensure that estate refurbishment and maintenance across NHS buildings goes ahead, is another manifesto pledge delivered.
I am particularly pleased by the announcement of £17.6 million of capital investment for the Royal Stoke University Hospital to build three new modern wards to increase capacity there. This Budget was also the first part of our long-term plan for levelling up the British economy—something that my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme will hugely welcome. North Staffordshire has historically not had the best deal, so I am delighted to see concrete plans in the Budget to ensure that everyone across our country has the opportunity to succeed, especially in Newcastle-under-Lyme and north Staffordshire more widely.
I am also pleased at the announcement that the Department for Transport has included improvements to the notorious M6 junction 15 in the second road investment strategy. I promised Newcastle-under-Lyme residents that I would call on the Government to act and am delighted that my concerns and those of my colleague and neighbour, my hon. Friend Jack Brereton, who has also been campaigning on this issue in his time in the House, have been heard. Work must now be done to see what a new junction 15 could look like and how quickly that much needed improvement can be brought forward. That will have important benefits for my constituents, particularly those in the southern suburbs of Clayton, the Westlands and Westbury Park.
I hugely welcome the Government’s commitment to put 0.8% of GDP into research and development; it is particularly welcome that that would place us above countries such as the US, China and Japan as a proportion of GDP. I especially welcome the commitment that more R&D funding will go to universities outside London, the east and the south-east of England. World-class science is happening right across the country. For example, fantastic, innovative projects are taking place at Keele University science park in my constituency, such as the smart energy network demonstrator and the hydrogen project HyDeploy, which should provide greener energy from our gas network. We also have a number of world-class firms in our science park, such as the vaccine manufacturer Cobra Biologics and Pharmaceutical Services, whose skills and capacity will, I hope, be tested sooner rather than later.
I hope that Keele will benefit from the increase in R&D funding, along with many other institutions across our country. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement about investing £800 million into a model based on the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency is also very welcome and relevant at the moment. I know colleagues across the House will be particularly interested in seeing how that money is going to be used. Alongside my colleagues on the Science and Technology Committee, I will be looking at how it is best spent to ensure that we are investing in ideas and pushing our country forward.
I turn to a couple of campaigns. I am glad the Chancellor responded to the lobbying on the issue of the fuel duty freeze from me and other MPs in the Blue Collar Conservatism group. We promised during the general election that we would be on the side of hard-working families if we got into government, and that is why I am so delighted that he confirmed that fuel prices will not be going up in this Budget. The fuel duty freeze will make a huge difference to hard-working people in Newcastle-under-Lyme who rely on their cars—the cumulative effect is now about £1,200 more for the average driver. I also repeat my previous pleas in the House for investment in public transport provision across north Staffordshire, starting with a super-bus network.
I am delighted that the Chancellor has announced he will axe the reading tax on digital books, newspapers and academic journals from
In conclusion, I welcome the Budget and I expect to welcome the additional measures the Chancellor will be taking later today. These are unprecedented times, and he and the rest of the Government will have my full support in dealing with the challenge that we must now face.
I start by paying tribute to all the staff of our national health and social care services, who are working around the clock at the moment in difficult and unpredictable circumstances. They are doing an amazing job. They are resilient and hard-working, and I want to thank them all. I also thank all the staff in both Houses and on this estate for persevering and coming into work at this worrying time.
My message to the people of Newport West, and people right across our country, is that they must follow the medical advice published by the devolved Governments and the Government here in Westminster, to stay as safe as possible. I pay tribute to the well-established and enduring community spirit of the many people in Newport West who have got organised and are looking out for their neighbours and ensuring that all those in need get the support they deserve. They are a credit to their communities and I thank them for their public-spirited nature.
I welcome the measures in the Budget that will be directed to efforts to combat covid-19. I agree that this is a time for calm heads and wise decisions. We meet today in unique and uncharted territory. I recognise that this is a time for respectful and sensible co-operation among the parties in this House. I know that we, the Opposition, will play our part, but one specific request I must make on behalf of small businesses, including the pubs, clubs and bars of Newport West, is for the Minister to please ask the Chancellor to bring to the House special measures to help people who are so worried for the future of their businesses and their staff.
The background to this Budget is a climate emergency, a global pandemic and a Tory Government who have finally found the magic money tree after a long 10-year love affair with austerity. Four Chancellors, three Prime Ministers and a decade of under-investment have forced the Government to launch a levelling up agenda. I think it is less about levelling up and more about making up for lost time and the wrong decisions. From my weekly surgeries and talking to people right across Newport West, I know that our social security system has lost its way. We need to rebuild it from the principles on which it was founded: supporting people rather than policing them, and alleviating poverty rather than forcing people into it. The first missed opportunity of this Budget was to scrap universal credit once and for all. It has caused severe hardship for many people because of the major flaws in its design and the way it has been rolled out.
The second missed opportunity in the Budget was keeping our communities safe. Since 2010, the Tories and their allies—the Lib Dems and the Democratic Unionist party—have cut the police, police community support officers and police civilian staff, and that has been made far worse by the fact that the prosecution rates for all crimes has hit a new low. The other side of this important issue is the fact that the prison system in England and Wales has been pushed to breaking point through under-resourcing, with widespread violence and evidence of radicalisation in prison. That has been made worse by the fact that legal aid and the courts have been decimated by cuts, undermining access to justice. That proves that the Tories cannot be trusted to keep our country safe.
Another issue I am increasingly concerned about is the fact that free access to cash is reducing at an alarming rate. That is hugely impacting on the most vulnerable people and communities in all parts of the UK. The Government must take the strongest and most effective action to maintain free access to cash in our communities, and I particularly welcome the campaigning work done by the magazine Which? on that important issue.
In the recent debate on the Queen’s Speech, I noted that in my constituency of Newport West the average household wage in Marshfield is double the average household wage in Pillgwenlly. Those two communities are separated by just a few short miles. I hope the Government will focus on levelling up wages and creating a more equal society by deeds and not just words. I am pleased that the Government have listened to Members on all sides of the House and abandoned their plans to hike tax on motorhomes by 705%. That is a welcome step for those who own a motorhome, and it shows that campaigning by MPs of all colours can work.
Lastly, I want to say a word about our country. This United Kingdom is meant to be a Union of equals, but the lack of investment in and respect for Wales is nothing short of disgraceful. I caution the new Tory MPs in north Wales to not think that the Chancellor is their friend if this Budget is anything to go by. Just weeks ago, the Welsh Government were forced to return £200 million to the UK Treasury. That was just a couple of weeks before the people and communities of Wales saw millions of pounds-worth of damage caused by the recent flooding, which hit Wales and its communities very hard indeed. The Government allocated funds for flood resilience, but they need a fully funded and long- term plan, and they need it now. The Government talk about levelling up, but they now need to start thinking up and talking up our communities, too, in deeds as well as words.
I am proud to serve the people of Newport West, the people of Wales and the people of our United Kingdom, so I will keep working to scrutinise the Government and hold them to account to ensure that we can all be part of the building up—whenever it happens—and not just the favoured few.
I would like to echo many of the words of my hon. Friend Aaron Bell about the coronavirus outbreak. While there were measures in the Budget to provide increased and potentially unlimited funding for the NHS if required, we look forward to hearing more from the Chancellor today for our small and medium-sized businesses, charities, employees and employers, businesses of all types and schools and colleges—particularly in areas such as mine, where people often do not have the option of working from home, including those in the manufacturing sector and the tourism and leisure sector. This is also massively affecting our high streets, and I hope that specific measures will be brought forward to look after them. I urge Members and their communities to sign up to become Red Cross community reserve volunteers, which is a very effective way of getting involved in the local community, particularly if the coronavirus spreads as rapidly as one expects it to over the next few weeks.
Turning to the substance of the Budget, I echo the words of Ruth Jones on the motorhome tax. She and I have both been campaigning on that and I am glad to see the Government move swiftly to reverse that measure, which would have done great damage to both our communities.
More broadly, I very much welcome the extra funding for 4G roll-out and high-speed broadband in constituencies such as mine with large rural communities. That will help us to compete in this new era, especially when so many of our homes and businesses are so far away from telephone exchanges. Full-fibre broadband will help them move into the 21st century.
I welcome the news on buses. Through the national bus strategy, I hope that some of my rural communities—those in Crook, Willington, Tow Law and Weardale—will be able to benefit from increased services, particularly later in the evening and at weekends, when many people struggle to get out and about if they do not have a car. I also welcome the extra cash for high streets and the reopening of the towns fund. My constituency did not get any of that money in recent years and the town of Consett and the villages in the south of my constituency are looking forward to working with Durham County Council to bid for that money.
Research and development is immensely important to my constituency, which lies just outside the university town of Durham. We are looking forward to getting cash in this area, particularly as some of the university’s facilities brush the edge of my constituency. We would like that extra money to help us to upskill the economy. I welcome Stephen Kinnock saying that steel is not a sunset industry. We can certainly see that in north-east England, with the Mayor of Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, bringing back steelmaking to the region.
The more than £100 billion of investment in transport infrastructure, out of a total £640 billion on infrastructure over the next few years, is most welcome. We need to see our region tied into the major transport hubs across the north-east, and I hope that Consett and the surrounding area will get their connection over the next few years into Newcastle, so that we can be part of that growing and thriving city.
Before I finish, I want to pay tribute to some of the maiden speeches today. On election night, the victory of my hon. Friend Ian Levy gave me the first indication that it was possible that I might be entering this place. I pay tribute to him and his wife Maureen for the welcome they have given me since I joined the House. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Mohindra, who has joined me on the Public Accounts Committee. I look forward to working with him on investigations into how we spend taxpayers’ money.
Ian Byrne said that it is important that individuals and community groups are able to take on public authorities and the state when they feel that they have been threatened, such as in the Hillsborough situation. I commend those words and support him in that. My hon. Friend Miss Dines spoke of the Prime Minister’s rough and tumble approach to politics. I am sure that she will be more than capable of dealing with the rough and tumble of this place.
I am always keen to start speeches with a note of consensus where that is possible and I am sure there is much consensus today. We are dealing with a very serious situation. It is an unprecedented crisis and it brings unprecedented challenges for individuals and businesses. As we are all sitting here in this ivory tower, we need to be really focused on doing the very best that we can to acknowledge what is needed and to do what we can to make sure that that happens, while there are people outside this place keeping essential services running and doing the hard shifts for all of us.
In that consensual vein, I am pleased to add my congratulations to the Chancellor on his presentation of the Budget at this very difficult time. His speech was upbeat. It was positive. It was almost convincing. He sounded as if he believed the Budget he was delivering was as good as the circumstances, which were certainly very difficult, would allow. The circumstances have certainly changed, and changed markedly for the worse. However, as reflection on the Budget itself has shown, it was not as good as it sounded. It was not as good as it could have been and it was not as good as it should have been. For example, COP26 is taking place in Glasgow later this year, we hope—coronavirus permitting—but his Budget did nothing to deliver net zero by 2050. Going into the Budget, we heard repeatedly about this promise of levelling up for people and for places across these islands, but on both fronts the Budget failed to deliver.
All these issues and difficulties are so much more pressing now because of the huge additional challenges we are facing. If we think back to the 2015 Budget—a key event in the austerity agenda—chasing welfare savings and the disastrous roll-out of universal credit have caused misery to countless thousands of the most vulnerable people in our communities—and they are all the more vulnerable just now. So we need to hear significantly from the Chancellor how we are going to stop people falling through the welfare gaps that we know already exist and are going to get so much more significant. This is hugely pressing and it is going to become increasingly so.
The Chancellor needs to tell us what he is going to do to deal with the magnitude of need, and the urgency with which he deals with that will be absolutely vital for our ability to support people, businesses and communities. That is the more pressing because of the unprecedented crisis we are dealing with at the moment. The Chancellor was right that the focus of his Budget was coronavirus and how we deal with that. It dominated everything he said. As he acknowledged, Government action or inaction can influence the spread of coronavirus. Exhorting people to wash their hands, to use handkerchiefs and to self-isolate—these things are really important and we do need everyone to follow the advice that is being given. However, we in this House also need to help people to make the right decisions, even if these decisions will impact on them financially. In that respect, what the Chancellor said fell very far short of what is needed. The measures he announced failed to extend statutory sick pay to roughly 2 million low-paid workers. They have been left to rely on universal credit. Members all across the House will be familiar with the huge number of difficulties that universal credit causes for people, day in and day out, when they fall foul of the delays and the chaos that are essentially built into the system itself. That is not good enough in the situation we are in: it was not good enough before and it certainly is not good enough now.
Following the Cobra meeting yesterday, the approach has been significantly ramped up. The Prime Minister has told people to stay away from many of the services that people who are self-employed, who are on zero-hours contracts and who work in the gig economy are employed to provide. So it is really important that the support available to people in these situations is stepped up. We need to hear more about this—much more—as a matter of considerable urgency.
The Secretary of State for Health also said yesterday in this Chamber:
“We should steer clear of pubs, clubs, cinemas and restaurants.”—[Official Report,
But he did not say anything—he declined to comment—when he was asked whether he actually wanted these businesses to close. That is not okay; it is not good enough. The Government have to formalise their position on business closures. Only then might affected businesses be able to trigger business interruption cover, if that is available and applicable to them. If it is not, the Government need to bite the bullet, to step in and to be the insurer of last resort. They need to do this and to confirm that they are going to do this quickly, because the current lack of clarity spells the death knell for many businesses all across these islands. We need action now. The Government need to take action to stop that from happening.
The Chancellor’s announcement of temporary extensions to statutory sick pay has focused attention on the weekly amount of £94.25, which is the equivalent of someone working fewer than 12 hours a week on the national minimum wage. Surely the Chancellor does not believe that that will encourage people to act early and responsibly if they think they might have coronavirus. It is not good enough and we need much further action.
The Health Secretary said that the Government will give the NHS whatever it needs and do whatever it takes to tackle coronavirus. We can all agree with those sentiments. It is now time for the Government to match their deeds to their rhetoric and they need to do that now.
I was pleased to be here this afternoon to listen to a number of maiden speeches from colleagues. Before I talk about the need for infrastructure to level up opportunities, I want to address the immediate challenge of coronavirus. I applaud the exceptional dedication of our health service workers and medical experts in delivering a professional response to an international emergency. We all need to play our part, heeding medical advice, but also supporting those who are most vulnerable in our communities, whether it be neighbours or relatives.
I am pleased to see measures in the Budget to support smaller businesses and high streets in the difficult times ahead but I hope that we will be able to go further. It is vital to support employers most affected by this situation and all necessary steps must be taken to preserve jobs for people to go back to. Disruption to transport and travel is particularly acute, and I welcome the measures being undertaken by the Government and by operators. Once the situation is resolved, it will be vital to get the country back on track and refocus on the investment in infrastructure that was promised as part of the Budget.
We in north Staffordshire are well connected to the national infrastructure. The M6, A50, A500 and west coast main line all serve Stoke-on-Trent and, in future, there will be High Speed 2 connectivity. But local transport in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire is very poor, with chronic congestion on our roads. The A500/A50 currently operates at 110% capacity and often resembles a car park. Incredibly, there is a great dependency on cars, despite 30% of the city’s population having no access to one.
Everyone struggles to get around the conurbation, which limits access to employment, education and leisure opportunities. It also has a dramatic impact on local air quality. The city is currently under ministerial direction to improve dangerous levels of air pollution. It is time to level up. Road congestion and poor connectivity are a major barrier to employment for one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country; it already struggles to access better opportunities. Improved local public transport would support wider developments in the area, unlocking sites that are currently unviable for housing and economic regeneration.
The decline of bus use across the Potteries has been at some of the highest levels in the country, with more than 1 million fewer bus journeys in Stoke-on-Trent in the last year alone. The main reason for that, according to operators, is a lack of reliability and delays caused by road congestion. Perversely, that has led operators to run fewer services at rush hour than during off-peak times.
I am encouraged by the Transforming Cities fund commitment to delivering a multi-modal transport hub at Stoke station, but it is essential that Stoke-on-Trent gets the full ask from that fund. I will be pressing Ministers, and the Secretary of State, on that point. A multi-modal hub at Stoke station is needed, but it also needs to be well connected to local communities across the whole area. It is vital that we see improvements to bus services across the city as well as to smaller local stations. I hope the Government will also give serious consideration to our superbus bid, which would focus on restoring routes, increasing frequency and capping fares, creating more bus priority measures and reintroducing cross-city routes.
In my constituency, I am campaigning to get a station restored at Meir on the existing north Staffordshire line, as well as to reopen the mothballed Leek to Stoke line, with a station at Fenton Manor. With HS2 serving Stoke-on-Trent via the promised Handsacre link, it is imperative that local feeder lines and local feeder stations are opened to spread the benefits of HS2 connectivity across the whole of north Staffordshire. I hope we receive support for our bids to the reopening of railways and stations fund.
On roads, I am grateful that my stream of letters to Transport Ministers and Highways England about M6 junction 15 has not gone unnoticed. As my hon. Friend Aaron Bell mentioned, we are delighted that the second road investment strategy—RIS 2—will work up a scheme for junction 15 so it can enter its development stages in the RIS 3 pipeline. The Government are delivering the largest ever investment in strategic roads, and I will work with local partners to build the case for much needed local improvements.
I must also mention potholes. I am glad that Stoke-on-Trent has been promised more money to address the decades of under-investment in road maintenance by previous Labour councils. The council is now putting more in, and extra help from the Government means we can replicate elsewhere schemes that have been delivered in New Inn Lane, Anchor Road and Times Square in my constituency over the last 12 months.
I know that the Government are determined to deliver for Stoke-on-Trent, which, as the Prime Minister himself put it to me last week, is
“the crucible in which the future of this country will be forged”.—[Official Report,
I am delighted that we are in the running for transport investment from the Government, and I hope they will give us their full backing to truly level up opportunity in Stoke-on-Trent.
This is my first Budget as a Member of Parliament. When I registered to speak in the debate more than a week ago, I chose to speak about the topic of levelling up and getting Britain building, because after 10 years of austerity hitting hard in my constituency, it is about time we saw some investment. Although the coronavirus crisis overshadows everything, I am still here to speak up on behalf of my constituents, who have been affected by a decade of decline. As my hon. Friend Andy McDonald said from the Front Bench, we will get through this crisis, but it highlights the fragility of many of my constituents’ lived experience.
Terminology such as “levelling up” allows the Government to create a picture of improving living standards and opportunities, but it is a fairy tale. Instead, the Budget focuses on levelling up the market at the expense of the social infrastructure that serves people across the country. As working people continue to struggle to make ends meet in insecure employment, the benefit system continues to punish the most vulnerable in society and public services are squeezed, the Budget ensures that fat cats in the City of London and big business continue to profit.
To consider whether the Budget can deliver the levelling up it so boldly claims to, we must judge it in the context of a decade of decline and consider whether it will directly improve the lives of our constituents. The political choice of austerity and cuts in public spending over the past 10 years has contributed to a severe housing crisis, and the distinction between the haves and have-nots is stark.
Inequality has rocketed as young people cannot get on the housing ladder, renters are stuck in unfit homes, families in need cannot get a council house, leaseholders are exploited by the system, and homelessness has reached a disgraceful record high. The Conservatives’ reliance on a deregulated free-market ideology has also allowed weak housing standards, as we see from the many poor homes created under permitted development rights, and emboldened commercial property developers. There must be greater investment in good-quality council housing.
According to Shelter, in 2018-19 only 6,287 new council houses were delivered in England, despite 1.15 million households being on housing waiting lists. In the same year, 24,000 social rented homes were lost through sales and demolitions. Since 2010, the number of new Government-funded social homes being built has dropped by 90%. Instead of building council houses or genuinely affordable homes, the Conservative Government have tried to obscure their cuts by labelling more homes “affordable”—even when they are priced for sale at up to £450,000, which would require someone to be lent a mortgage worth nearly 15 times the average UK salary, or to rent at up to 80% of the market rate. Both are completely unaffordable for most families in Luton.
I know the Government will point to the commitment in the Budget to develop brownfield sites and to lower interest rates by 1% when councils borrow for social house building. However, neither commitment will sufficiently address the crisis. Brownfield land, because of quantity, location and remediation costs, will never come close to meeting housing need on its own. The 1% reduction in borrowing costs comes only one year after the Public Works Loan Board increased borrowing rates by 1%. This is smoke and mirrors. To level up and to end the housing crisis, the Government need to be driving a national, publicly funded housebuilding programme alongside councils and housing associations, not simply leaving it to the market.
Similar disappointment is replicated in the Government’s much anticipated and much needed transport infrastructure investment plan. We have a climate emergency and emergencies require urgent action, so public transport must be at the heart of the climate strategy. Instead of investing in a sustainable integrated public transport system, however, the Government announced a £27 billion investment in roadbuilding and a fuel duty freeze. That is more than the investment for all other modes of transport combined. This is ill-thought-through policy- making, when we consider that over 60% of the UK’s rail routes have yet to be electrified and that many train stations, such as Luton station, are in desperate need of remediation.
The underfunding of public transport is not restricted to rail. A decade of austerity has led to buses suffering a real-terms funding cut of £645 million per year, the withdrawal of 3,300 routes, fares soaring at two and a half times the rate of wages, and bus usage in England outside of London falling by 11.9%. Buses are vital to the economic prosperity and social wellbeing of our communities, but the cuts and restrictions imposed on local councils have led to a franchising system which is run to deliver profit to shareholders, not an excellent service for passengers. The creation of an integrated publicly owned transport system would provide a brilliant opportunity to level up our country by addressing regional inequality. Regionally focused investment in transportation is an important part of an effective industrial strategy to boost productivity.
The Budget, however, does nothing to address regional investment inequality and accepts the outdated status quo of London receiving £410 more investment per passenger than the east of England. Rather than using taxpayer’s money to invest in green affordable public transport to promote regional growth, the Government have subsidised failed rail franchises, which, after their collapse or even now in the wake of the crisis, has exposed the limitations of a profit-driven privatised railway and funded the profits of bus operators. Virgin Trains East Coast, Arriva Northern Rail and the loss of bus routes in my constituency demonstrate the failure of a market-driven transport system.
Bringing transport into public ownership is not radical. We have German, Italian and Dutch state-owned companies running our railways and buses, and the profits are used to subsidise European transport. By pursuing a publicly owned, integrated transport system, we could ensure that every penny invested is focused on improving the standard of the service and working to tackle the climate emergency.
This Budget is not about levelling up the country, but a series of policy proposals designed to distract from the damage inflicted over the past 10 years. Our social infrastructure is crumbling. We have a housing crisis. Our transport system is broken. Regional inequality is growing. The Budget is an extension of austerity and a reminder that it is a political choice. It is political opportunism to protect the financial sector and burden our communities with a decade of cuts. It reaffirms what we already knew: the Conservative Government will time and time again choose to put profit over people.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. It has been a real honour to hear so many excellent maiden speeches. Like my hon. Friend Mr Holden, the moment the Blyth Valley result was declared was the moment I thought I had a chance of entering this place. I will never forget the look on the face of my hon. Friend Ian Levy when he stood on the podium to make his acceptance speech and started with the words, “Thank you, Boris.” It was a memorable moment.
The progression of coronavirus over the past few days, and our response to it, has overshadowed the Budget. It is right that we focus every attention and effort on this significant challenge to our health, economy and way of life. Although it may take some time, we will overcome this challenge. I want to reflect on last week’s Budget statement and how my right hon. Friend the Chancellor signalled the most significant change to our national economic direction in my lifetime.
For the last few decades, our economy has followed a path of centralisation. As a result, money, investment and opportunity have been concentrated in London and the south-east. Cities have prospered while our towns and villages have been left behind. Business in our capital city has boomed, but if someone wants to start a business in one of our northern towns, such as Penistone, Stocksbridge or Chapeltown, they will be lucky to find a bank that will help them with a start-up loan. In fact, they will be lucky to find a bank at all. If someone wants to travel from Croydon to central London to work, they can choose from more than 20 services an hour with a journey time of about 20 minutes. If someone wants to get from Sheffield to Penistone, which is a similar distance, they can expect a journey time of 45 minutes and just one train an hour.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, talent is spread evenly across our country, but opportunity is not. Last Wednesday, the Chancellor delivered a Budget that begins to spread opportunity across every part of the UK. During the election campaign, our manifesto commitment to level up our transport infrastructure and public services struck a chord with voters in my constituency. When I was knocking on doors in Burncross, Midhopestones and Dodworth, people talked frequently about poor or non-existent bus and train services. They spoke of a lack of opportunity for young people and frustration about always losing out to the big cities. Our promises to invest heavily in public transport, hospitals, GPs and schools encouraged people to lend their votes to the Conservatives. We know what happened next.
The Budget was about delivering on those promises and demonstrating to people across the UK, but especially in the north and in left-behind towns, that we meant what we said. We have heard important announcements on infrastructure, such as the commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail and a £4.5 billion transforming cities fund that will revolutionise the way that northern towns and cities connect, and give access to jobs, training and opportunities.
Andy McDonald mentioned the £500 million Restoring Your Railway Fund. He was right that that will not open many miles of track, but he has misunderstood what the fund is for, which is to fund business cases for new lines or for existing lines to be reopened, such as the Stocksbridge to Sheffield line in my constituency. Along with the Sheffield city region, we have completed the next stage in our bid to the Department for Transport to hopefully get some of that money to make a clear business case for that service, which will connect residents with jobs, training, leisure and healthcare, and allow cyclists and tourists to visit our fantastic area.
A £5 billion fund for buses and cycle routes shows that the Government recognise how important those local journeys are to our communities. I am holding out for a new number 26 bus between Penistone and Fox Valley. Of course, the £33.9 billion for the NHS and the additional relief measures will make sure that our most valuable national service continues to be the envy of the world.
The Budget sets out a path to future prosperity, in a future where opportunity and growth can be spread evenly and fairly across our country. The key to our success in improving productivity will be helping people in areas such as Penistone and Stocksbridge to start their own businesses that employ people, grow and create wealth. The Budget was unequivocally pro-business. It increased employment allowance, cut rates and made provision for start-up and scale-up loans.
We have a major hurdle to overcome that will require Government intervention, individual effort and national unity. We face economic disruption, but the Government are doing everything they can to make sure that the disruption is temporary, so that when it has passed, we can take hold of our one-nation mission to level up our economy and spread prosperity and opportunity to every corner of the United Kingdom.
While I welcome the Government’s delayed decision finally to ramp up some measures yesterday, I am not alone in feeling that far too many major questions have been left unanswered and that not enough is being done. Today’s Financial Times reported that our mortality rate tracker shows that we have more deaths at this stage of the break- out than anywhere except Spain.
A number of questions need to be addressed. Parents with serious health conditions have not been told whether they should send their children to school or keep them at home. What plans do the Government have in place to deal with those families and what is the timeline? If they are supposed to self-isolate with their children, what steps should schools take to ensure that those children are not held back at school? What about cases where a school closes and parents cannot work? How will they get paid?
I want to ask the Government to consider seriously the question of closing schools. I have just received an email from a constituent who says that her son, who is at Salford University, has been sent home for five weeks, but her other son, who is disabled, is still having to attend his primary school. Such inconsistencies need to be addressed.
We are also told that frontline staff are not being tested for coronavirus. Can the Minister confirm whether that is true? If so, what is the Government’s reasoning behind it? We need to know more about NHS capacity. What steps are being taken to move beds from the private sector, and what is the timeline? Will the Government consider following Spain’s example by nationalising all private hospitals?
What about ventilators? To date, 69 people have died, and everyone knows that those who fall seriously ill as a result of coronavirus will need ventilators—they will be our saving grace, and the one thing that will help prevent deaths. However, it seems that we might not have enough ventilators. Germany and Italy are ramping up production of medical ventilators, which cost about $17,000 each. In Italy the army is now involved in the production lines. Can the Minister confirm whether the reports are true that the UK has one small manufacturer of ventilators that has a 40% market share? Will the Government consider giving Ministers specific responsibility for ensuring that UK production is increased urgently by following what Italy has done?
We also have to deal with older people who are vulnerable in our communities. Many of my constituents are coming together to help out, and it is great to see that community spirit, but there are people who are homeless and food banks are reporting shortages. What provision is being given to help local authorities and voluntary bodies meet the needs of vulnerable groups? Again, we need to know what will be given and what the timeline is.
Insecure workers and those on low pay must be protected and supported through this crisis. Many people in Bolton are self-employed or on zero-hours contracts. Now that whole households are being advised to quarantine together, many families will lose all their income unless the Government step in. We will all be in danger if those with symptoms feel unable to stay at home. If they are not going to have any money, they might take the risk of going to work even though they should be self-isolating. That is why full sick pay is needed to cover the entire period for which someone is in self-isolation, and of course if they are then diagnosed with the virus. That has been done successfully elsewhere in Europe. It is a responsibility that we cannot avoid.
Furthermore, some people will be unable to pay their bills, so what is the Government’s plan in relation to mortgage payments, rent, council tax, utility bills, VAT and business rates? Are they thinking of cancelling the debt, or saying that people can defer payment? Rent and mortgage payment deferment options should be made available so that landlords cannot evict tenants and mortgage companies cannot take action against people in these circumstances. The Government need to work with the banks and mortgage lenders to offer mortgage payments.
The same questions about paying staff and bills will apply to businesses that have seen demand plummet, and some are facing bankruptcy. How do the Government propose to help them? How will their policies help those who run out of cash, which is a particular problem for small companies? Of course, other businesses will also be affected.
At the moment, I am not entirely confident that the Government will move quickly to give workers the support that they will need in the coming months. So far, many of their announcements have not been full enough and have not dealt with all those different issues.
Another industry that will be hit is, of course, the hospitality industry. A banqueting suite in my constituency is already preparing for cancellations. It will probably go out of business. Pubs, cafés and other such places will be closing down. They may well go out of business, and all their staff will be laid off. Because the Government have not introduced a compulsory lockdown, those businesses cannot even claim insurance. I know that this question has already been asked, but I do want to know what the answer is. If it is to stop insurance companies having to make a big payment, then the Government can reach an agreement with them. They can subrogate their losses for what they pay out, which is a traditional way of dealing with some of these matters.
Full sick pay and lost earning protection are needed from day one for all our workers, including insecure workers, low-paid workers, and the self-employed who are self-isolating. The Government must give quick consideration to the issue of compensation, and to how much it should be. There will be a great many job losses. That is why there should be urgent action and a rethink on universal credit, which started some time ago. The five-week waiting time should be cut immediately, and the process of making a claim should be simplified. Will Ministers reconsider the requirement to be present for universal credit interviews, immediately suspend sanctions and claimant agreements, and reduce the waiting time for the first payment? What about all the people who have to go to jobcentres to sign on regularly? Have the jobcentres been told to say that those people do not have to go out for the next few months? That would obviously reduce the number of contacts.
I understand that the Government say that their strategy is being led by scientific advisers when it comes to closures of schools or other places, but over the weekend 200 scientists wrote that that was not a good enough policy, and that the Government should be considering closures to ensure that there were the fewest possible contacts in the UK.
That is linked with the question of airports. What are we doing about them? It has already been said that some airlines will be cancelling flights. Of course there are British citizens who are abroad, and who need to come back. What will be done about them? I know that this was raised during Foreign Office questions earlier today, but I think that the Government need to come up with a proper plan for all those people, some of whom live here and work here, and some of whom are not British nationals but work here.
As a famous political scientist once said, the first responsibility of the state is the protection of its citizens, and at this time the citizens of the United Kingdom need their health, and their economic health, to be looked after. In 2008, the Labour Government invested a substantial amount to bail us out of the economic disasters. I know that people have made this a party political issue, but virtually all economists, all world banks and central banks agreed that Labour’s 2008 bail-out package saved our economy. We need that level of intervention now to save our economy. We need to ensure that our people who might be losing their jobs do not lose them, and that companies will be kept afloat. We require the Government to intervene—not in a few weeks’ time, but today.
I am delighted to speak in this debate about levelling up, especially in relation to the Budget. Following the comments of my esteemed hon. Friend Jack Brereton, I could not think of a better place for the levelling up agenda to take place. We in Stoke-on-Trent are at the heart of the midlands engine. We are on the cusp of the northern powerhouse. We have the M6, the A50 corridor, the A500, the Handsacre HS2 link is coming to our fine city, and we have four international airports within 60 minutes of us. I could not think of a better place, and I am delighted that the Chief Secretary is in his place. I remember when he came with me to Stoke-on-Trent North to visit some of the amazing businesses that we saw on display. He was excited and impressed, and I am sure, having had my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South as his Parliamentary Private Secretary in his previous role, that he has heard about Stoke-on Trent more times than he cares to imagine. I know that the Treasury will be looking to ensure that this fine city, and obviously Kidsgrove and Talke, are delivered for as well. [Interruption.] I say to Stephen Flynn: I will say Stoke-on-Trent much more, believe me, my friend!
I welcome the business-friendly measures set out in the Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, especially the effective abolition of business rates for businesses in properties valued at £51,000 or less as we fight coronavirus for the next financial year. This is excellent news for the high street across my patch, and an opportunity for regeneration as we rebuild after coronavirus, so that we can review business rates to make them fairer and not a burden to our beloved high streets.
I welcome the town deal in Kidsgrove and the opportunity that that will bring to economically regenerate a much-forgotten town, but I also wish to urge that we see an opportunity to improve the high streets within the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Many Members might be aware that, while we are a city under the Office for National Statistics definition, we are the six towns. Sadly, under the future high streets criteria, we are unable to access that type of funding. I hope that when that scheme is rolled out again, towns such as Burslem and Tunstall, but also ones such as Fenton and Longton in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, will get an opportunity to bid. Burslem, tragically, already has the most closed high street shops in the UK. With this terrible coronavirus, which is going to ravage our economy, the high street will only suffer more.
That is why I urge the Government to continue what they did in Burslem by match funding us to allow £10 million for the Royal Doulton site, so we can redevelop and repurpose the use of some of the land and buildings that we have. Sadly, in Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke, property is so cheap that there is no financial incentive for developers to go in, regenerate those high streets and turn buildings into purpose-built flats. I would be most grateful for any help from the Government in that regard. As we learn to adapt to the consumer changes brought about by the digital revolution, it is absolutely right and correct for the Government to step in and take action to protect the hearts of our towns and cities.
In addition to the supportive measures for business announced in the Budget, I was delighted, as I know many of my constituents will be, to see the national insurance contribution thresholds increase, saving the average employee £104 per year from April. In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, changes to national insurance mean that people can keep more of their hard-earned cash, and with the increase in the national living wage, those hard-working people will also see a pay rise.
I can hardly go any further without mentioning education. I have a vision of prosperity for Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. That vision can materialise only through investment in education. With the Government investing vast sums in further education, silicon Stoke is very much a real possibility. I want to see Stoke on Trent College partnering with Staffordshire University and Keele University to become an institute of technology and a beacon of the technological revolution. That is even more possible with the money invested prior to this Budget in the redevelopment of Burslem campus, which has included a new, innovative £10.5 million technology hub.
My ambition is to bring free schools to my constituency. I want schools with high standards and high expectations, both at primary and secondary level, which could therefore drive outcomes. That could lead into the ambition of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for one of 11 16-to-19 specialist maths schools to be opened in Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke, with support, I hope, from local entrepreneurs such as Denise Coates of Bet365, Carol Shanahan of Synetics Solutions and Ian Donaldson of Autonet.
Added to that is the £14 billion going into schools to level up per-pupil funding. That means my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke can be provided with more opportunity to unlock their potential. It is fantastic to see investments also announced in apprenticeships and sports.
On a similar note, the Government announced a whopping £5 billion of investment in ensuring that gigabit-capable broadband—that is full fibre, 5G and so on—can reach every UK home by the end of 2025. I have held meetings with the excellent Swedish firm, VX Fiber, operating in Stoke-on-Trent, which informed me that the UK is around 15 years behind Sweden in this technology. This money is enormously welcomed, not only to bring silicon Stoke ever closer, after the Government have already invested £9.2 million to support gigabit into every home in Stoke-on-Trent, but to increase entrepreneurial endeavours, boost the housing market and increase provisions for flexible working. I have been working with my Staffordshire colleagues to bring the very best connections to Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke, so much so that silicon Stoke is slowly morphing into silicon Staffs.
We have a plan, with the backing of our local enterprise partnership, businesses such as JCB and Bet365, and local universities, for a Staffordshire 5G-connected regional growth deal. That would make Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent the first region in the UK to develop a publicly owned digital infrastructure, underpinned by fibre, 4G and 5G, and would make us the first region in the UK to provide 100% gigabit coverage, as this Budget demands. Such a development would create both an at-scale commercial 5G network and a regional 5G demonstrator for future roll-out across the UK. That could potentially unlock billions into a region that, for too long, has seen very little investment.
In one of the first debates I took part in, I advocated a freeze in beer duty and championed the great British pub, so I am over the moon to see duty rates frozen on beer, cider and spirits. I know that Titanic Brewery, a first-class brewing company that I have mentioned before in this House, will be relieved and will be celebrating appropriately.
I applaud my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the Treasury team for their hard work on finding a way to freeze fuel duty for another year. That is an essential measure to ease the cost of living for many across the country and help people and businesses reliant upon vehicles. I do believe we should set our sights to the longer term when considering greener transportation and more public transportation, and this Budget’s record investment in infrastructure will certainly help to deliver that. However, in the meantime, I believe securing access to be extremely important, and I am proud to be a part of a Parliament that is taking ordinary people’s lives and concerns seriously.
I would like to take this moment to unreservedly welcome Stoke-on- Trent’s shout-out in the Red Book as a potential multi-modal transport hub, under the transforming cities fund. Such a hub would change the landscape of travel across Stoke-on-Trent. A revamped travel map for Stoke could improve connections, with Longport receiving a park and ride, if we are given, as we must be, the full ask in the transforming cities fund bid, and finally deliver accessibility for all at Kidsgrove. Back in 2015, under my predecessor’s predecessor, £5.5 million of public money was given to Network Rail for this, but it is yet to deliver those important Access for All upgrades—that is an abomination.
We could also realise the huge potential for improved cycle and pedestrian routes, especially alongside the Trent and Mersey canal to Stoke station, and pave the way for improved bus services. We hope that that would be through the excellent superbus pilot, which I know my colleagues from north Staffordshire have been anxiously bidding on in order to secure it, especially for Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke. To parrot the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South again, we have seen 1 million fewer passengers on our buses in the past 12 months and 5.4 million fewer over the past decade. That is a shocking thing to hear and it is certainly not going to help us to reach our net zero target, so that superbus pilot, with the transforming cities fund, would fundamentally revolutionise public transport across Stoke-on-Trent.
This vision stands strong enough on its own, but let us imagine the connective capabilities when the Handsacre link of HS2 is delivered to the area. The transforming cities fund and the opportunities it unleashes for my constituency cannot be understated. This hyper-connectivity could set the foundation for further expansion, such as reopening the Stoke to Leek line, bringing back Milton station and having a station at Chatterley to serve Tunstall. It will also be central to delivering on our campaign promise of levelling up, and regenerating post-industrial towns and cities, while remaining conscious of the environmental framework to reduce emissions and improve air quality. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has an awful lot on his plate, and of course our response to coronavirus must take precedence over all other things, but I would like to raise some issues that remain prominent to my constituents.
Chatterley Whitfield is an incredible example of a heritage site that has huge historical significance and huge potential. Would the Minister be willing to meet me to discuss regeneration projects for sites such as Chatterley Whitfield and how we can create financial incentives for former coalfield sites and communities, as we have seen in the industrial Ruhr, in Germany?
Kidsgrove sports centre is another key local campaign of mine, and its closure, under the then Labour-controlled Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, was a blow to the local community. Is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor making all provisions necessary to ensure that, public health allowing, core community hubs, especially those focused on encouraging a healthy lifestyle, are supported to remain open and active?
I wish to finish by putting on record my thanks to all those in our NHS, social care, schools and other public services, and hope that every one of them is as safe as possible. I know that that feeling is shared among Members from all parties. Like them, I will work tirelessly to ensure that people, businesses and voluntary sector groups are protected as much as possible during these unprecedented times. Never in my lifetime have I ever known such a situation.
In my short time as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, I have met some remarkable people such as June Cartwright, and organisations such as Middleport Matters Community Trust. I know that they will work tirelessly to ensure that we level up Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke and unlock its potential. I know that my community is stronger than any adversity.
This Budget has been presented at a time of national and global crisis relating to coronavirus. Indeed, that crisis dominates people’s minds and thinking throughout the country. It is right that one of the main features of the Budget is the measures on coronavirus, and it is those measures that I shall address first.
The Government committed in the Budget to have an open purse for the NHS to combat covid-19. That is exactly the correct approach, but it is wrong to ignore the current state of our NHS and public health service. There have been years of cuts under this Government—cuts to community health provision, the closure of hospital departments and understaffed medical professionals in our hospitals. The list goes on. All those aspects lead to longer waiting lists, delayed appointments and cancelled operations, and cause increased pain, discomfort and burdens for our constituents.
On that note, I thank all the campaigners who some years ago campaigned, with the local authority, to save Lewisham Hospital’s A&E service. I pay special tribute to my predecessor, Heidi Alexander, for the role that she played. That campaign demonstrated what we can do and achieve when we come together as a society, which is exactly what we need to do now.
Years of cuts have meant a reduction in the number of hospital beds and in the number of acute beds in intensive care units. According to figures from the OECD, the UK has just 6.6 ICU beds per 100,000 people, compared with 29.2 in Germany, 12.5 in Italy and 9.7 in France. Sir Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, was arguing that the NHS needed an extra 10,000 acute hospital beds even before coronavirus was spoken about.
We are behind our European friends. I am sorry to say that we are not leading the way on this—not under this Government—and nor are we leading the way on the climate crisis. Out of the G7 countries, the UK’s health spending per person is the second lowest, behind France and Germany. We do not want to be a country that is behind others; we want to be a country at the forefront—at the cutting edge. Our current position is a consequence of a decade of NHS underfunding, wrapped around the auspices of austerity.
Although the Government are picking up the pieces of their own failure by now investing in hospitals and resources to combat coronavirus, I do believe that they are doing so with a level of sincerity. It is not quick enough, though, and there is not enough openness and transparency. We do not need dither and delay. We need more coronavirus testing for public health staff, NHS staff and the public. No one can expect staff to carry on as usual without first being tested. We owe it to the public, and to ourselves, to be able to see a clear picture of how the virus is spreading, who has it and how to manage it.
The people of this country are behaving responsibly. I applaud the British public for beginning to stay at home and for acting sensibly, as well as for working at home, but I encourage them not to panic buy, so that there is enough for all. For example, we all need toilet paper, so will people please consider their neighbours at this time? The legislation that is coming out later this week will seek to address the financial aid that is needed to prevent our society from diving further into unnecessary poverty.
I turn now to pressing issues in my constituency which the Budget did not address: education and social care. This April, 83% of schools will be worse off than in 2015. The National Education Union has claimed that the Budget does not support a long-term plan for the millions of young people being educated within a chronically underfunded system. The Government know that a lack of funding is putting schools and colleges under greater pressure: class sizes are rising; subjects are being dropped; SEN support is disappearing; and inadequate pay is making the staff crisis worse. Furthermore, on the issue of SEN spend and support, from next month, councils will no longer be able to reduce education budget deficits by taking money out of other spending. That will almost certainly squeeze funding for early years and for special educational needs—two areas already financially stricken—and force even more parents towards legal action to get the necessary support for their child’s education.
The Prime Minister gave a commitment in his first speech in Downing Street to fix the crisis in social care with a “clear plan”. That has not happened and is not happening. There is no legislation in the Government agenda on social care and no reform. The Prime Minister needs to keep his promise. He needs to stand by his word to deliver long-term reform, which is needed to increase access to social care; to help the 1.5 million people who are currently going without the support they need; and to support people with dementia to ensure that they receive the additional support that they need. Carers are also part of this as they play a vital role in our society. They are often under-appreciated and underpaid. Standards need to be raised by ending the use of zero-hour contracts, ensuring that carers are paid a real living wage, ending the 15-minute care visits and improving access to training and development for care staff. I wait for the Prime Minister to keep his promise to our country, to fix the crisis in social care and to have a plan.
Finally, I welcome the upgrade to two stations in my constituency and I wish to thank all NHS staff for all they are doing to support our country and to support patients and people affected by coronavirus. I appreciate and thank the medics, the porters, the cleaners, the ambulance drivers and all people who are working for our NHS.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this Budget debate. It is also a great pleasure to speak after some very excellent maiden speeches from my hon. Friend Ian Levy, Ian Byrne, and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) and for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines).
I was particularly intrigued by my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley who told us that his wife, Maureen, had said, “If you feel strongly about something get out and do it.” That is why he became an MP. His wife Maureen has much in common with my own wife, Sue. Whenever I complain about something, she will say, “You are a Member of Parliament, do something about it.” So I endeavour to do so immediately, as you can imagine, Mr Deputy Speaker.
We plan to level up the whole country, and we are starting very well with this Budget. As we go north, let us also goes south, west and east. Let us do it all while we are at it. We have excellent new Members of Parliament on these Conservative Benches, plus those of us who have been here a little while, to help get this policy delivered, because it is right that we do that.
I welcome the Chancellor’s first Budget. He came into the hot seat and delivered an excellent Budget, but the coronavirus has meant that the six days from the time that he delivered the Budget to now is a long time, so I look forward to his statement this evening.
It is my understanding that the Chancellor has just made an announcement in relation to support for businesses. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that, when the Minister sums up, he should provide clarity in and around the terms of the loans that are being proposed for business. Although the overall sum is welcome, we do need some clarity on the loans.
The hon. Member has very much made his point, and I suspect that our Ministers and the Secretary of State have listened to what he said, and I suspect that there will be complete clarity from the Government, as I would expect nothing else.
And, of course, I know the Chief Secretary very well.
I am encouraged by the tireless efforts of NHS staff, and I very much pay tribute to what Janet Daby said: we need to thank medical staff throughout the NHS for all the excellent work that they are doing to tackle coronavirus because it is unprecedented, though we can make all sorts of predictions. We need to be out there and sort it out. That is why the Government have introduced clear measures that will help.
We are going to come under greater pressure over the coming weeks and months, so I welcome the £5 billion emergency response outlined in the Budget. The funding will ensure that the NHS will receive the support that it needs. Even with that large sum of money, we will probably need to keep it under review. I welcome, too, the Government’s commitment to support local councils—the £500 million hardship fund will help local authorities to protect the most vulnerable members of our community. The Government, however, must ensure that that funding is readily available and distributed quickly. We must cut bureaucracy to ensure that individuals and businesses get the support that they need. Very often, we are laudable in this place—Governments of all colours always want to take action—but we must make sure that we take action quickly.
Many local businesses have contacted me rightly to express concern about how covid-19 will affect them. Government measures to suspend business rates and refund sick-pay payments for smaller firms are welcome, but the Government need to be ready to provide more emergency payments to support those businesses. My fear, especially for smaller and, indeed, all types of businesses, is that if they cannot pay their bills the knock-on effect on all other businesses and employees will be huge. This is unprecedented, and we need to take action.
The scientific knowledge and understanding of the virus are constantly changing. We need to ensure that the Government have the flexibility to adapt as the situation unfolds. Across Devon, we have seen an outpouring of offers of support for all those affected. I wish all charities and organisations well across the country, especially in my constituency, so that they come together and keep communities together, because we will very much need to do so through this very, very challenging time. As many Members have said in the House, it is probably the most challenging time that anyone has experienced in living memory, especially because the virus has the potential to lay the whole economy low.
In the Budget, we predicted that the economy would grow by 1.1% this year. It will be interesting to see the effect of coronavirus on that. I would say to the Opposition, who will naturally pour a little doubt on the economy, that in both the coalition and Conservative Governments we have turned the country round with the hard work of the British people. We have turned the economy round, so that we can go forward and spend this money on infrastructure in particular. At the moment, interest rates are low, and we have the ability, according to the Chancellor, to take up loans over 15 years, so we can set reasonably low interest rates for them, all being well, over that period. We need to upgrade our rail and road infrastructure, and deliver broadband across the country, and now is the time to do it. I have said in three or four elections that I am going to deliver broadband to the whole constituency, but I think my constituents are still waiting. I do not want to have to go to them in another election and say about the promise of broadband, “It’s coming—it’s still definitely coming!” Seriously, we have to make sure that we deliver that, as the issue has a huge effect on our economy and businesses as well as on our ability to deliver good business opportunities in the countryside. With the right broadband infrastructure and a very good broadband connection, many businesses can be run anywhere in the countryside.
Naturally, I am delighted that the Chancellor maintained the availability of red diesel for farmers in particular, but also for commercial ferries and fishing boats. It is absolutely vital that we maintain that at this particular moment. Agriculture has seen one of the wettest, if not the wettest, winter of all time, and there are huge challenges. That brings me neatly to the doubling of the money for flood defences to £5.2 billion over the next five years. We have to work out what we are going to do about flood protection. The Environment Agency needs to be absolutely clear about what it is and is not going to defend. We may have long periods of dry weather, but when we have rain it comes quickly and we get a lot of flooding. I look forward to putting the money to good use, but we must be clear about where we are going to spend it.
I am happy to see that £2.5 billion will be made available to fix potholes. Perhaps not at the moment, given the coronavirus, but in normal times, believe it or not, one gets as many letters about potholes as anything else. There are as many roads in Devon as in the whole of Belgium, so imagine the number of potholes. One or two constituents have lost wheels and various other parts of their cars going over them, so it becomes a major issue.
I was very keen to see the money for the A303 and the tunnel under Stonehenge. If my hon. Friend John Glen were here, he would be delighted. Edward du Cann talked about the A303 in 1958, and it has still not been dualled. We now have the opportunity to build the tunnel and the rest of the dualling from Andover right the way down to Ilminster. I would then like the last piece from Ilminster to Honiton to be done, but I will wait for that to happen. We must get the diggers actually digging the road and delivering. It is important that not only do we put these roads and rail in our Budgets but that we actually deliver them. That is what people want.
I welcome the £1.5 billion in capital spending on further education colleges. There are FE colleges in Axminster, Honiton, Cullompton and Tiverton, and they provide a very good education, including for those who left school young and perhaps did not know exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. They go to further education colleges later in life and do good things for themselves, their families and the country.
On further education, does my hon. Friend agree that it is so important that we continue with level 2 courses? They may be at a lower level, but for the people my hon. Friend is describing they are an access route to higher level apprenticeships further on.
I could not agree with my hon. Friend more on level 2 schemes. Going back to nursing and all those types of occupations, it is so necessary and there is a pool of people out there who will be wanting to do that work, so long as they can build their skills and so long as we have the necessary education there. I very much welcome that suggestion, but again we have to deliver it to our colleges.
I also very much welcome the £500 million over the next few years for electric vehicles and charging infra- structure, because we will need many more electric cars. I do not think building roads and bypasses is wrong for air quality and air pollution. Actually, Mr Speaker— Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg your pardon; I have elevated you—I think that when we build a bypass or a dual carriageway and we stop that congestion, we lower the pollution that comes from our vehicles. It is therefore not only good for getting people through. Looking at the A303 and the motorways into the west country—it is a very big holiday area and very good for the economy—it is good for air quality if we can keep those cars moving. If we can make sure that in the future the majority of cars and eventually all cars are electric, then we solve many problems. We would also still have a great ability to have the family car, which I think so many people want.
Can I remind my hon. Friend that I think hydrogen cars will be making a big entry into the market very shortly? I am waiting for the hydrogen car, so I do not have to plug it in every night.
My hon. Friend may have to wait a little while for the hydrogen car. I think that there will be some hydrogen cars, but what there will be many more of before that are hydrogen lorries. There is no doubt that the one vehicle where we have a problem is the lorry. It needs huge power for towing loads and the diesel engine, whether we like it or not, has that capability. We actually need a hydrogen lorry, rather than an electric lorry, because at the moment an electric lorry would have to carry most of the weight that it can carry in batteries in order to deliver the power. I can therefore see hydrogen lorries being very effective in the long term.
On that topic, I invite the hon. Gentleman to Aberdeen, where we have hydrogen lorries, hydrogen cars and hydrogen refuelling stations.
Putting my hat on as the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and having done a lot in previous inquiries on air quality, I should come and see exactly what Aberdeen is doing, because hydrogen has huge capabilities.
Forgive my ignorance, but does a hydrogen-propelled vehicle work on the same principle generally as the internal combustion engine, in that there is an explosion that creates a vacuum that turns a crank?
I do not have the detail to give an exact answer to my right hon. Friend, but I do know that hydrogen is mainly produced from water with electricity, so the actual fuel itself is so much cleaner and so much less polluting. I cannot give him all the details of exactly how the engine itself runs, but it uses a clean fuel and gives that support.
Overall, I believe that this Budget is very good for the future of this country and the people of this country. I look forward, as I have said, to the statement later this evening from the Chancellor, because I think that the thing that is worrying all our populations and all our constituents at the moment is coronavirus. We need to get through this. We need people to have enough income to pay their rent or their mortgage and keep their families running, as well as their businesses, so that we do not have a knock-on effect of business failure bringing other businesses down with it. I look forward to the statement, and I very much welcome this Budget.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Neil Parish, who has such knowledge of rural matters. It is also a pleasure to follow so many fine maiden speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy), for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) and for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines) and Ian Byrne—they were all fantastic speeches.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I would like to talk primarily about the impact of the current situation on business, but I will touch briefly on levelling up, which was going to dominate my speech. I have always been a huge advocate of levelling up—we used to call it “a fairer deal for the north”—so the investment spending is welcome. However, I have made the point before in the Chamber that simply public sector spending will not do.
It is said that if all the economists in the world were laid end to end, they still would not reach a conclusion. I will mention two economists who have different views on this subject. Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, said that connectivity is crucial to prosperity. At the other end of the scale, Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs points to places like Doncaster, which are very well connected, yet their economy is not in great shape. The arbiter on this is another economist, David Smith, who writes in The Sunday Times. He says that public sector spending without private sector investment is a waste of money, so we need to ensure that we encourage and incentivise the private sector to invest.
One way of doing that is through super enterprise zones. We could look at the devolved regions. The Tees Valley is a very good example in my neighbourhood. There are nine devolved regions, each with an elected Mayor, and of all those regions, the Tees Valley comes bottom in terms of average wages and GDP. We could, for example, make the bottom three combined authorities super enterprise zones for their entire area, with enhanced capital allowances and no business rates.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. In Stoke-on-Trent we have the ceramic valley enterprise zone, which is thriving. Does he agree that, especially in the time of coronavirus, such zones should be expanded to give those businesses every opportunity to survive?
Yes, definitely. That will level up in the process, but we have to get private sector involvement. It is the private sector that creates jobs, not the public sector. That is a means to an end in terms of transport spending. We have to get the private sector to move into these areas, start up and scale up or expand their businesses.
I primarily want to talk about covid-19. We are talking about levelling up. If we are not careful with this, there will be levelling down, because the coronavirus will have a huge impact. We cannot even contemplate the size of the impact that this could have on our economy and business sector. This could be an existential crisis for hundreds of thousands of businesses. It is huge.
The situation is so fluid, but we need to give people confidence—and we are getting there—that we will support them through this crisis. I was heartened by the Chancellor talking at the Dispatch Box about what he has done so far and what he will do in future if that is not enough. He has spoken this afternoon about a massively enhanced package, and that is exactly what we need, because the scale of this is huge. Capital Economics does not give the rosiest outlook in its forecast of the economic situation in the UK. It predicts that there could be a 15% drop in gross domestic product within a three-month period. If we compare that with the great financial crash, we saw a 6% reduction in GDP over a few years from 2008.
We need to say to businesses and consumers—and if we do not, it will cost us the amount anyway—what the German Finance Minister said a week ago: that, as far as possible, no company should get into existential trouble and no job should be lost as a result of this crisis. That is the message we need to get out. Macron has said the same thing, with a €300 billion guarantee that no firm will go bust due to social distancing.
That is an admirable ambition to have and I do hope that the Government accept that ambition, but be in no doubt that we have, in effect, closed down the hospitality industry and public entertainment, and that will require the Government to pay those wages.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. One of the difficulties with the announcement last night was that it was not brought forward with a package of remediation or mitigation. I think that has come today, and clarity of that is very welcome.
We are going to need to pump hundreds of billions of pounds—not the odd billion, £5 billion or £10 billion—into the economy. I think the Chancellor has announced today £330 billion-worth of loans for the business sector, which is absolutely right, with £25,000 for businesses that are not insured for losses from business interruption, plus business rates holidays and three-month mortgage holidays, which is also absolutely right. If we talk about this in terms of hundreds of billions of pounds, the natural question is: where are we going to get that money from? This is a time when we have to set aside the fiscal rules. We will be paying for this anyway, in lost jobs and businesses, redundancy payments and reductions in tax receipts, if we do not put a huge fiscal stimulus into the system right now, so I welcome the measures from the Chancellor.
We need a few things in addition. We saw in 2008 that banks did not support businesses through that financial crisis—there is no doubt about it; in fact, quite the opposite. We need a commitment from the banks, UK Finance and the Treasury that they will continue to cash-flow businesses for as much as they need until they get through this period. To make sure that they do that, we should introduce emergency legislation to bring SME loans and financing commercial loans within the regulatory perimeter. That would mean that banks would have to have the oversight of the Financial Conduct Authority, and indeed of Members in this place, if they did not do the right thing through that period.
We need to urge the banks to make sure that they offer commercial loans at very competitive rates. We do not want to see the banks trying to profit from the misery for all the businesses out there.
I absolutely agree with that, and we must have oversight of that. We also have to make sure that all banks are included in these emergency loan schemes, such as business interruption loans. At the moment, some of the major banks, such as OakNorth, are not in that scheme, because they are not overseen by the British Business Bank. We need to see a widening of the scope of the scheme. We need to do a lot more for micro-businesses, the self-employed and sole traders. I have not seen a lot of support for those people at the moment.
The big thing I want to say is about how the support is provided. The £330 billion of support is great, but businesses will never again see the income lost, so in my view support cannot purely be through loans. We have combine loans—soft loans, interest-free loans or whatever—with putting grants into these businesses, otherwise we are just kicking the can down the road. We cannot simply say that businesses will have to pay, which is what we are saying if they are loans. We are going to have to go further, and that will put up the national debt by a significant degree: £100 billion, £200 billion or probably £300 billion. I am sure we will get the Opposition’s support for that. We have to see businesses through this time, because we will pay for it whatever happens.
I really welcome the measures from the Chancellor so far, and there are great measures again today. We must get through this. We have to give businesses confidence and to say to consumers: “You won’t lose your job. You won’t lose your business. We will get you through this.” That is what we have to say, and that way we will avoid the worst possible side of recession, we will save jobs and we will save businesses. It is the right thing to say, and I am absolutely confident that the Chancellor will do it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. Last week’s Budget focused on two issues: the UK’s co-ordinated initial response to the serious threat posed by coronavirus to the UK economic outlook, and a significant increase in public spending to raise productivity, promote growth, and spread its proceeds to all corners of the UK—a process that has been dubbed “levelling up”. That is particularly important in my constituency of Waveney, which is the most easterly constituency in the UK. I shall be focusing on the second issue, but such is the gravity of the first—it is increasingly apparent that this will not be a short-term blip—that the two issues are increasingly becoming intertwined.
It is right to increase public spending in this way, although it is not without risk. It is right because as we leave the EU, we need the economy to be firing on all cylinders, not spluttering along in third gear. Our productivity remains stubbornly low, and in many places our infrastructure is crumbling. We have a host of challenges to address, such as climate change and promoting the green economy, the crisis on the high street, and the urgent need to improve social mobility, so that young people, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances, have the opportunity to realise their full potential. Added to that cocktail, we must now support people and businesses to get through the enormous challenge of coronavirus.
It is important to emphasise the political case for this about-turn. The Brexit vote, which in many respects was repeated last December, was a cry for change. The UK economy as a whole has performed well over the past 40 years, but the proceeds of growth have not been evenly distributed, but rather concentrated in London and the south-east. For so many people, and so many communities, the improvement in our national economic performance has passed them by. They voted for a different way of doing things, and we must now deliver for them.
That different course is not without risk, and it is important that the Government provide reassurance that in the long-term, the UK is still committed to the sustainable and responsible management of our finances. When it comes to infrastructure, the right schemes must be chosen—not vanity projects, but productive and growth-enhancing schemes that are a catalyst for private sector investment. We must ensure that we have the capacity to deliver those projects: the right skills, enough engineers, project managers and planners, and a ready supply of steel, concrete and tarmac. If we do not do that, prices will escalate and schemes will not be delivered on time.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech, and although we differed on the question of Brexit, I agree with many of his points. Does this current crisis reinforce the fact that we must also ramp up UK production and UK ownership of production, and have more British-owned firms? In times of crisis such as this, production overseas and overseas ownership create difficulties. Although we obviously need inward investment, we must balance that with UK ownership.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to a large extent, and we need more companies to be investing in, and based in, the UK. It is important to have UK companies, but I am also proud when companies from around the world invest in the UK. That is something we should be pleased about.
Let me return to infrastructure projects and the need to have the right skills and supply of materials. In 2014, funding was provided for six schemes on the A47 from Lowestoft through Norfolk to Peterborough. Six years later, five of those schemes have yet to see any work starting on the ground. We must ensure that planning and legal frameworks are fit for purpose. The third crossing project in Lowestoft will bring about great positive change to the town. It is an oven-ready scheme—we are ready to go, yet we still await a planning decision that should have been made more than three months ago.
I wish to highlight three aspects of levelling up. First, coastal communities have been left behind in recent decades, but they have so much to offer to UK plc. In Lowestoft, there is a compelling case for investment in the port, which occupies a strategic location. It lies in close proximity to one of the UK’s most productive fishing grounds, from which, as we leave the EU, we have a great opportunity to land more fish and to revive the local industry.
There is a huge opportunity as we leave the European Union; we will gain much more fish for our fishermen. We must ensure that we not only land those fish but process them. We also need a great marketing ploy across the country to encourage people to eat many more different types of fish, so we do not have to export quite as much and we eat more of our own fish.
My hon. Friend is spot on. To make the most of this opportunity, we need to invest in infra- structure—in port infrastructure, markets and processing factories. That would be so much help to coastal communities that have been left behind.
In Lowestoft, we are close to the main cluster of offshore wind farms in UK coastal waters. We are also an area of the southern North sea UK continental shelf, which has an important role to play in the transition to the low-carbon economy, and where there will be an enormous amount of work in the decommissioning of gas and oil facilities over the next decade.
The Budget places much emphasis on free ports. It is good news that the Government recognise the important role that ports play, but it is vital that free ports add to the UK’s trade, making our ports more attractive than their international competitors, rather than diverting business from one UK port to another.
Coastal communities along the East Anglian coast face a significant challenge from coastal erosion and storm surges. The sea does not just damage homes and businesses; ultimately, it destroys them. The Lowestoft flood defence scheme will remove that threat. At present, it is only part funded, so it is good news that the Budget recognises the threat of coastal erosion, provides an additional £5.2 billion for flood defences and includes an undertaking to carry out a review of the Green Book.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend might add to his thinking on this subject support for the internal drainage boards, which do such great work in the fens in particular, including in his constituency. Will he implore the Government to ensure that the Environment Agency works with the drainage boards rather than against them, as I am afraid it sometimes does?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I have internal drainage boards in my constituency, although I sense they may not be such big players as those in the fens in his constituency. From what I see of them, however, they are the ones who know the local area best and are best placed to come up with tailored, bespoke solutions.
My hon. Friend briefly mentioned the Green Book. One of the reasons the A64 in my constituency has not been dualled is that, according to Highways England, it was competing with the Oxford to Cambridge corridor and the lower Thames crossing. How ludicrous is that? How easy would he feel explaining to his constituents that such an iniquitous situation is baked into the system for deciding where money is invested?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. The Green Book is long overdue a complete overhaul. It has held back communities all around the country—those we are looking to help with their issues—for far too long. It is right that we are now getting on with giving it a complete, radical overhaul.
My second request to the Government is not to forget the east. Our region is a net contributor to the Treasury, notwithstanding that at present we get poor local government, education and transport funding settlements. With the right investment, we could deliver so much more. The New Anglia local enterprise partnership recently published its report “Delivering an infrastructure revolution in Norfolk and Suffolk”, which outlines 12 connectivity infrastructure improvements that will boost productivity and make us global leaders in clean growth. I will not list the “clean dozen”, but I urge the Government to study these compelling schemes closely and to respond positively.
The third aspect of levelling up is to highlight the threat to our towns and their high streets, which are the heart of local economies all around the UK. There is an urgent need for towns to reinvent themselves. With the towns fund, the Government have recognised that, and Lowestoft is one of 101 towns eligible to bid for money that can be used to promote change and attract inward investment. That needs to be accompanied by a comprehensive reform of, and quite probably a replacement for, business rates. It is good news that the Government are committed to a fundamental review, although we have been talking about that for a long time and we now need to get on with it.
Investment in bricks and mortar and in concrete and steel is very important, but it is investment in people that matters most. The fact that the Government recognise the importance of further education in achieving levelling up is extremely good news. The additional £1.5 billion for capital investment in further education colleges and the £5 billion national skills fund to improve adult technical skills are welcome, and it is very good news for colleges like East Coast College, which last week achieved a good Ofsted rating. Those announcements follow on from the increase in revenue funding for 16 to 18 education that was announced last autumn, although there is still some way to go to get that day-to-day funding up to a sustainable level that will enable colleges to provide the full education, training and support needed to properly prepare young people for the workplace.
In conclusion, I welcome the Budget and I support its ambitions. I believe we are pursuing the right course. That said, there are hazards, obstacles and pitfalls lying immediately in front of us. It is important that the Government are flexible, and prepared to adapt and vary policy to meet challenges that will suddenly present themselves.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Peter Aldous, who spoke passionately about coastal communities. My beautiful constituency of Milton Keynes North is not famously coastal, although we apparently have more miles of shoreline than Jersey; the definition of shoreline is stretched somewhat to include the many beautiful lakes that Milton Keynes has.
Milton Keynes may not have much coastline, but it does have a lot of people. My hon. Friend could promote the great fish we catch all around our coast. I urge him to go out and feed his constituents with our great British fish.
That is an excellent point and it is well made. The nutrition of the people of Milton Keynes is well served by the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
We find ourselves in a strange situation in this Budget debate. It is almost as if the rules have changed. As I stand to speak, we are digesting the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has launched a £330 billion fiscal bazooka at the coronavirus to support our businesses, many of which are in my beautiful constituency. In that context, it feels odd to be talking about last week’s Budget. It was going to be the levelling-up Budget. It was going to be the got-Brexit-done Budget. It was going to be the Budget of infrastructure. Of course, it was the first-swing-at-corona Budget. As we look at it now, it was last week’s Budget. These are indeed strange times. However, I am sure that many Members on the Conservative Benches, and possibly some others, were struck by the optimism, hope and positive spirit of the Budget. It was enthusiastic about our future. While we deal with the sheer scale of the coronavirus outbreak, we should take some joy from the fact that this is a Government who are looking forward beyond the coronavirus and into a world where we have levelled up and we will have a more equal, more productive and more aspirant, tolerant society. It is a Budget of hope and positivity.
Does my hon. Friend recall a poster from the 2010 election campaign? It had a picture of a baby and the slogan, “He’s got his mother’s eyes, his father’s hair and Gordon Brown’s debt”. Does he think that future generations will applaud us for the action that we are taking, or curse us?
My right hon. Friend refers to the bail-out of the banks over a decade ago, which cost our economy in the region of £860 billion. It proved 10 long years before we could get over its effects, during which the British people worked incredibly hard and everybody came together, putting us in a position now where we are dealing with the next crisis. Will we be left with a burden of debt? Undoubtedly. Is it the right thing to do? Given the context, it probably is.
Last week’s Budget was excellent for families, not just in my constituency, but across the country. As set out by the Chancellor of fiscal bazooka fame, it will level up the economy, raise our regions, increase investment and encourage growth across the country. On transport, I particularly welcome not the big flashy transport projects, but the smaller, almost overlooked projects that engage our transport networks on a more local level.
Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the wide range of investments, particularly in local transport, contained in the Budget. My constituency cannot boast an extensive coastal area, any more than Milton Keynes, although the outstanding natural beauty of the Ruislip lido, London’s only beach, is one of its most prominent features. I certainly urge all those with an interest in the coastal aspects of London to take an interest in that site.
To pick up on a point that several hon. Members have made, even London, which remains a buoyant part of the United Kingdom from the perspective of economic growth, high levels of employment and high levels of productivity, seems at risk of being overlooked in one key respect. It greatly concerns me that my in-laws, who live in the Chancellor’s constituency, are set to benefit significantly from the pothole fund. My parents in south Wales will also gain because of the Barnett consequentials. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a shame, though, that there is no plan for London to benefit from the pothole fund, as is a reasonable expectation?
Order. For future reference, we are not desperately stuck for time, and therefore I have allowed the hon. Member, who is new to this House, to make his intervention, but lest anyone be misled, it was far too long.
The intervention may have been long, but it was well put and I appreciate it. In broad terms, my hon. Friend’s point was that we must not forget the other traditionally more productive parts of our economy. Interestingly, Milton Keynes is part of the south-east and people overlook the fact that we sit as almost the gateway to the north. A journalist from The Economist telephoned me last week and told me that Milton Keynes was the most productive part of the UK. I said, “Do you mean not including London?” and he said, “No. When you look at the OECD measures, they take in the whole of London, which includes the suburbs in Greater London, and actually, Milton Keynes comes out as more productive.” I therefore welcome any intervention that draws attention to the fact that we should be investing in the productive parts of our economy as well as levelling up the slightly less productive parts.
I warmly welcome the £500 million to roll out a fast charging network for electric vehicles over the next five years, ensuring that drivers will never be more than 30 miles from a rapid charging station. During the general election I was privileged to have a visit from the Secretary of State for Transport. We visited a charging point so that he could charge his electric car—he is very on brand, is our Transport Secretary. After a photo-op, he said, “Show me some transport infrastructure that needs a bit of investment.” I took him to junction 14 of the M1, which really does need an upgrade. We stood there, watching the traffic go past, and then we went to an island in the middle to make a little video, saying how much it needed an upgrade. Then, like life imitating art, we having stood there saying that the transport infrastructure needed an upgrade, suddenly all the world’s traffic came off the M1 and zoomed up junction 14. We were marooned on that island in the middle of an M1 slip road.
Now, our Transport Secretary, being an energetic fellow, cannot be held down for long. After a few moments he set off down the slip road, running—in fact, our Transport Secretary does not run; he scampers. Fortunately, my social media adviser was there to film the entire thing. He pulled out his camera just as our right hon. Friend was sprinting down the road, merging with the traffic in order to cross it. The video is available for parties, for a small fee.
As a Member who lacks a social media adviser, and as the pioneer of the Government’s electric car policy, I am delighted that my hon. Friend has welcomed the additional charging points, for which I take the lion’s share of the credit.
The point that my hon. Friend is making about productivity is critical. The Government’s commitment to skills and to research and development, through the Budget, will allow us to tackle the prevailing macro-economic challenge facing this country and most of the west: the productivity gap.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course, the productivity gap is core to levelling up.
Speaking of gaps, I have to declare an interest before moving on to the next important section of my speech: I am a councillor. The next section includes the perennial election-winning issue of potholes. The Chancellor has announced additional funding—£2.5 billion over the next five years—to fill millions of potholes across the country, which will make a huge difference for the many people who spend hours each week travelling on poorly maintained roads. That will speed up journey times, reduce vehicle damage and make our roads safer.
The Government are investing record amounts in improving and expanding our transport infrastructure—triple the average of the past 60 years. The Chancellor has announced £640 billion of capital investment in roads, railways, communications, schools, hospitals and power networks over this Parliament. I know that many of my colleagues will join me in welcoming this investment not just for the large national infrastructure projects, but for local roads, regional railways and urban transport. We will be increasing bus journeys. We will be reducing the cost of transport for young people, workers and those in retirement. We will have a modern and well-maintained road network.
I am a big fan of this Budget, as Members have probably noticed, but there is one piece that I was surprised to see in there. It is my single criticism of the Budget, so please bear with me. The small print of the supporting documents for the Budget contained an allocation of £94.6 million for a housing infrastructure bid to build 5,000 homes east of the M1 in Milton Keynes. That housing infrastructure bid is an indicative commitment to fund, subject to continuing local commitment, which is how the bidding process works for housing infrastructure fund bids. “A continuing local commitment” is news to me. Anyone who looked at my postbag and my inbox would not find a continuing local commitment; they would find quite the opposite.
That is not to say that people in my constituency are anti-growth. Far from it: Milton Keynes is a growing place. It is growing because it is a great place in which to live and work, in which to grow a family and grow a business. However, we must have the right houses in the right place at the right time. There is a balance to be struck. We need to get this right. We have a choice between growing local jobs and becoming a dormitory. If we get the right houses in the right place at the right time, we will incentivise pure economic growth—local, productive growth—but if we get it wrong and build too many houses, Milton Keynes will be cursed by the very benefit of being only 32 minutes away from London on the train. If we build too many houses too quickly we will become a dormitory for jobs elsewhere, and that is not what we need.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we need a good-quality mixture of housing, from one and two-bedroom homes to city centre living, and also the four and five-bedroom homes that the executives are seeking?
Absolutely. The point is well made, but I will not dwell on it, because, finally, I want to say this. We must also have the benefit of a university in our town, and I am proud to support a £100 million bid to make Milton Keynes a university town. The benefits will be fantastic.
With that I will sit down, having had a very good Budget, apart from that very small thing.
Let me begin by welcoming the Chief Secretary to his position. As the former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, he may be spending a bit more time with his family now. I am sure that he is happy about that. I am not sure that his family are happy about it, but that is a different kettle of fish.
I do not have time to recap on what Members on both sides of the House have said today—except to say that we heard fantastic maiden speeches from Mr Mohindra, who made a generous tribute to David Gauke, and Ian Levy, who talked about the building of the Ark Royal in his constituency. I have a fantastic picture of the Ark Royal in my office, and if he is ever in Bootle, he can come and have a look at it. I will secure a secure passage out of Bootle for him.
My hon. Friend Ian Byrne was doing well until he mentioned Liverpool football club. He brought things back by mentioning that great socialist Bill Shanklin, and went on to talk about justice for Hillsborough. Mark Logan made an interesting speech. A teacher once said, “We are not just teaching kids, we are backing Bolton”, and I think that that sums it up. It was an excellent comment. Finally, Miss Dines described very well the beautiful landscape and historic architecture of her constituency.
The substance of the announcements made by the Chancellor last week has had a very short life. In the light of the coronavirus emergency, I am glad that the Government have had a serious rethink about their economic and financial support response to the challenges facing the country. I will take advice on this, but they appear to be getting their act together, and we welcome that. However, at the time—last week—the package of measures did not go far enough. For example, while President Macron has announced €547 billion of support for French businesses, we have got £330 billion, apparently, although I am pleased that the Chancellor has followed the suit of the French President.
Just a moment. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
The Financial Times reported:
“The German budget currently guarantees KfW”— that is the credit institute for reconstruction—
“a financial framework of €460bn, but officials said this could now be raised by €93bn, giving the bank more than €550bn in available firepower.”
Mr Altmaier said:
“And that is just the start”.
I am glad that the Chancellor has followed the line—the model—that the Germans are taking as well.
In the meantime, notwithstanding the Government’s apparent announcement, significant parts of the economy are in freefall, as well as, more immediately, places, organisations, agencies within the hospitality sector both large and small, the travel industry and retail. So, okay, a bit late, but, nevertheless, moving in the right direction. But what this does not indicate yet, as far as we are concerned, is what support will be given to employees—the people working in those industries. The industries themselves might get support, but we have to be clear about what actually is happening. People in here will have constituents losing their jobs.
In a moment.
It has to be said that the Government simply underestimated the challenge facing the country, but better late than never. However, many millions of people still have no financial certainty from the Government. People are worried about their livelihoods. The Government are responsible for our decaying social and physical infrastructure. They bear a huge responsibility for the parlous state of our public realm. While we will support measures to aid our economy, we will not settle for half measures, so we will look carefully at the Chancellor’s statement and at what he says later on.
The Government’s mantra of “levelling up” also completely misjudged the serious issues facing the country. The Government are not a new Government. They have been in power for 10 years. The
The gap between what the Government spent and the 3% level over 10 years in office is £192 billion. That is the size of the hole the Government have spent 10 years digging, and if you were to sift through the hype, Madam Deputy Speaker, and note the fact that the Government’s headline figures on infrastructure double-count existing spending—one estimate has put the Government’s new capital spending at £143 billion, excluding depreciation—you would see that what the Government announced last week would not even fill the big hole they dug in the first place. Now, they appear to want to be congratulated on a pathetic attempt to rebuild what they spent 10 years destroying and dismantling.
The Resolution Foundation has pointed out that the UK has a very low level of Government capital stock at about 46% of GDP. That is three quarters of the advanced economy average of 63%, so the Government are levelling up from a very low base—a low base of their own creation.
Another problem with the Government’s levelling up agenda is that there is a series of one-off announcements without any coherent plan. For a start, the Government postponed their national infrastructure strategy. Again, they have cut skills funding in recent years. By the end of the last decade, spending on apprenticeships and work-based learning had fallen by a quarter since 2009-10 in real terms. That is according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The Budget was disappointing in relation to climate action. The environmental justice commission set up by the Institute for Public Policy Research said that £33 billion of green investment was needed a year to get to the Government’s weak target of net zero emissions by 2050. But there is £27 billion for road building, although nothing for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. We have heard excuses over the years that they inherited a poor economy, but they have been in power for 10 years and the responsibility for the poor performance of our economy in the past 10 years lies squarely at the Government’s door. They did not believe that public investment could boost the economy. In a speech in 2009, George Osborne said that
“fiscal policy is more or less powerless to affect output”.
He was wrong about that. Let us consider the statement that a
“large planned increase in public investment should boost potential output”.—[Official Report,
Who said those words? It was the Chancellor, when citing the Office for Budget Responsibility. Other countries took a different approach from us and did invest, and they have recovered more quickly. We have had the slowest recovery for a century in this country, and we have had the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane describing a pay “disaster”.
On that point, let me deal with the issue of the so-called “jobs miracle”, so beloved of Conservative Members. What they fail to mention is that low pay, zero-hours contracts and insecure working conditions bankroll that act of God, meaning that 8 million people in working households are living in poverty. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual poverty report, seven in 10 children in poverty are now in a working family. I am not sure that God would like his name associated with that outcome.
The Office for National Statistics is reporting falling manufacturing output and zero growth in the three months to January because of “widespread weakness”—and that was before the outbreak of the coronavirus. The Government could have started in the Budget to invest in our public services, as well as our infrastructure, but they chose not to do so. As the IFS said last week, after this Budget spending on day-to-day services will still be well below what it was in 2010-11 per head—so much for levelling up. What we have is the Government putting off tackling areas in our economy where bold decisions are needed. The economic crisis facing the country as a result of the coronavirus simply proves their lack of foresight and planning. They have left our public services so depleted of capacity that many fear they will struggle to cope.
We have before us the so-called “Get it done” Chancellor, but he is more like the put-it-off Chancellor. He even put off his announcement today. What about social care—is he getting that done? No, he is having another review. He has put it off. What about the Green Book—is he getting that done? No, he is having another review. He is putting that off. What about the fiscal rules framework—is he getting it done? No, he is having another review. He is putting it off. What about the national investment plan—is he getting it done? No, he is having another review. He is putting it off. He cannot even decide when he is going to have a comprehensive spending review. In a footnote on page 30 of the Red Book, which I know all Conservative Members will have assiduously read, he says that he will
“keep the timing of the CSR under review”.
I hope you will bear with me here, Madam Deputy Speaker. In other words, he is even putting off the timing of the review of the review of the comprehensive review. So much for getting things done.
There is a great deal of not getting things done going on in No. 10 at the moment, contrary to the belief of the backslappers opposite. The word “review” is mentioned no fewer than 117 times in the Red Book, which has only 120 pages in it, including the blank ones. The Chancellor reminds me of the character in one of the less well-known Monty Python sketches: the self-satisfied president of the royal society for putting things on top of other things; we have a meaningless body of men gathered together for no good reason—that is the Cabinet. No wonder we have the lowest productivity levels of our G7 partners, and this is getting worse because the man in charge of getting things done is far too busy putting things off.
Let me give the Chancellor a word of advice. [Interruption.]
I thank Peter Dowd for his warm welcome to me in my new role. I join him in paying tribute to the number of excellent maiden speeches that we have heard today. The first was by my hon. Friend Mr Mohindra. It was fitting that he paid tribute to his predecessor David Gauke, who was not only respected across the House but very much liked and respected within the Treasury as an institution.
In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend Ian Levy spoke about his personal experience of working for two decades in our NHS. He must be particularly proud of everything that the NHS is now doing as we face the challenges ahead.
Ian Byrne gave a strong speech about the need for bold action on covid-19. I assure him that the Chancellor will be true to his word when he says that we will do everything needed in response to the situation. The hon. Gentleman’s speech shows that he will be a valuable colleague representing Liverpool, together with his Front-Bench colleagues.
In a first-class speech, my hon. Friend Mark Logan said that this great House exists exactly for times like these. I could not agree with him more. He will be a fantastic addition to the House, and in particular his experience from his time in the Foreign Office will be valuable in the weeks and months ahead.
My hon. Friend Miss Dines pointed out that she is the first woman to represent her constituency, just as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were the first woman to chair a Budget. My hon. Friend invited my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to join in with the Shrovetide football next year. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has quite a lot on, but knowing my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch as I do, I am sure that there will be colleagues in the House keen to partake of any football with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales.
Rachel Hopkins gave an excellent speech about her commitment to her constituency and highlighted issues such as housing, railway electrification, bus routes and the climate emergency. It is clear from the range of contributions from new Members that they will all contribute considerably to the House in the weeks and months ahead.
It is no surprise to me, in closing the debate on the Budget, that many of the contributions from Members from all parties have focused less on the text from last week and more on the national challenge of our economic response to coronavirus. Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and the shadow Secretary of State, Andy McDonald, struck a constructive tone in their opening remarks, recognising their collaboration in meeting the challenge. Many other Secretaries of State have been similarly collaborating with their counterparts. On behalf of the Government, I should say that their approach has been much appreciated.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for Middlesbrough that our focus today is, as he said, primarily on the challenge, nationally and internationally, of fighting the virus. He was also right to recognise that it is no fault of the Chancellor that much has happened since last week and that since the Budget we have needed to move further. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will update the House shortly and will respond to the legitimate point that the hon. Gentleman raised in his opening remarks.
At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that he would do
“everything we can to keep this country, and our people, healthy and financially secure.”—[Official Report,
At that time, less than a week ago, that involved a £12 billion temporary and targeted set of measures to respond to coronavirus, supporting public services, individuals and businesses. My right hon. Friend will shortly update the House on the further measures required to provide a comprehensive, co-ordinated and coherent response to the serious and evolving situation that we face.
As my right hon. Friend has said, we will do whatever it takes to give the British people the tools to get through this challenge. I can also announce that the Government are postponing the reforms to the off-payroll working rules IR35 from April 2020 to
Let me turn in the remaining time to a number of key measures within the Budget, which, for understandable reasons, have perhaps received less focus in the course of the debate in light of recent events. [Interruption.] In particular, infrastructure links people to jobs, delivers products to markets and underpins supply chains and, indeed, supports domestic and international trade. Better roads, better rail and better internet connections enable businesses and individuals to work more quickly, cheaply and efficiently. While more quality infrastructure boosts social well-being, it means less time stuck on motorways—[Interruption.]
Infrastructure is an issue that concerns all Members of the House. We are committed in this Budget to boosting productivity and to levelling up opportunity across all regions within our United Kingdom. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out half a trillion pounds of investment in our public sector, and the Government will bring those plans together in the forthcoming national infrastructure strategy. We already know a lot of the details. For example, there is the commitment to the Northern Powerhouse Rail to enable faster more frequent services between northern cities. In February, the Prime Minister announced that we will proceed with High Speed 2, and last Wednesday, the Chancellor confirmed a £27 billion investment in strategic roads and motorways, the UK’s biggest ever outlay.
At the same time, we are investing £5 billion to support the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband, starting with rural communities that have felt excluded up to now, binding all parts of the country closer together in the virtual realm and connecting global Britain to the global marketplace.
Alongside the big ticket eye-catching projects, the Budget also focused on meeting the most pressing local needs, whether that is the £2.5 billion for potholes, the £1.2 billion to support local transport infrastructures or, indeed, the funding for bus routes, trunk roads, cycle paths, trams, and park-and-ride schemes that all have the potential to make a transformative difference at a local level. Together it represents an infrastructure transformation that brings faster speeds and greater capacity and that would breathe new life into communities across our United Kingdom.
This transformation is not only about making every town and city more productive, but about recognising their uniqueness of character. Each place in this country has its own quirks and curiosities, traditions and traits that people depend on and draw strength from. Levelling up is about respecting and retaining those brilliant characteristics and making sure that each town keeps hold of its civic soul, while helping every region and nation of the United Kingdom make of its best. The Government know that civic pride and regional identity matter, and we want to bring about a strong and vibrant connected community where people choose to live and work. It is for that reason that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in the Budget the largest affordable homes programme in a decade, with £12 billion in additional funding to support home ownership. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has already laid out our proposals to bring Britain’s planning system into the 21st century.
Although this is the end of the Budget debate from last week, many of the speeches have looked forward to the challenges ahead posed by covid-19 and its impact on our health, our businesses and our resolve. Much has changed over the past week and people are worried and their livelihoods are at risk. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will update the House shortly on the further measures that we intend to take. I commend this Budget to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That income tax is charged for the tax year 2020-21.
And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.
I must inform the House that for the purposes of Standing Order 83U and on the basis of material put before him, Mr Speaker has certified that in his opinion motion No. 2 on income tax main rates relates to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is within devolved legislative competence. If the House should decide to divide on this motion, it will be subject to double majority voting.