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24 Jun 2010 : Column 477

Alongside the wild shapes and deep colours of the moors and the peaks, we should not forget, of course, that much of the wonderful rural beauty is conserved for our enjoyment largely thanks to the hard work and dedication of farmers. As a result, Staffordshire Moorlands is an important source of the nation's food. We are now entering the summer country show season, when the quality and variety of livestock will be on prize-winning display. We all benefit from the maintenance of the land that supports that vital industry. It will be one of my aims to encourage the House to ensure that farming-not hidden by the catch-all "rural affairs"- is given due attention by the Government.

There are opportunities not only for walking, but for bird watching, including around Tittesworth reservoir, and for sailing on Rudyard lake, the place after which the famous Mr Kipling-not the one who makes cakes-was named. The lake is no mean feat of engineering, and was created at the end of the 18th century to feed the canal network, another important part of our tourism industry. On top of those natural attractions are other reasons to be confident about the future for the Moorlands. The constituency is home to the most visited tourist attraction outside London, Alton Towers. There is also a thriving arts community, building on a long history that includes William Morris, who lived and worked in Leek for a time. Local painters such as David Hunt continue the tradition, capturing the essence of the area.

Of course, Staffordshire Moorlands is no simple rural idyll; it is also home to towns with an industrial, textile and mining history. Biddulph grew up on mining, but has adapted and is now finding its way with more modern industries. Leek prospered from the silk trade and has long been the home to two large providers of financial services, Leek United and Britannia. Contrary to some reports, manufacturing in the UK is not finished. Small firms in the Moorlands are making gearboxes, seat belts, chemicals and agricultural equipment, to name just a few.

I believe that the traditional character of our towns and villages and our farms has been strengthened by a feeling of togetherness-a feeling of the moorlands being something unique-but we have to trade some of that positive feeling for our fellow moorlanders with the difficulty of ease of access. There is, for example, neither a train station nor a dual carriageway in Staffordshire Moorlands. That lack of infrastructure might be one problem for our businesses that seek to connect quickly with others, but another, more severe, problem has been one of neglect of places such as the Moorlands-neglect by the previous Administration who developed policy with an eye only on its metropolitan heartlands and large companies. They were an Administration who strangled small businesses with regulation and looked on in ignorance of anyone who works on the land or cultivates livestock.

However, I do not think that I have been elected by the people of Staffordshire Moorlands just to sing the praises of the area. I consider that they have elected me also to support the new Government in redressing the balance in focus of our legislation. I welcome the intention to devolve powers to the right local level and recognise that the diversity in our country requires that we have strong principles and that we apply them appropriately. I also believe that my constituents expect me, along with
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all other right hon. and hon. Members, to uphold the supremacy of Parliament, because that is how their interests will be represented most effectively.

That brings me to the point I want to make about today's debate. We have the duty, as well as an opportunity in this new Parliament, to hold the Executive to account, but we must understand clearly what we mean by the Executive. Today, it is not simply Cabinet Government, but the extension of Government through the civil service and numerous Government agencies. We must ensure that, as we vote for laws in this House, what we pass is actually implemented in practice.

My professional background is as a chartered accountant and chartered tax adviser-and I realise how many people would be disappointed if the word "tax" did not appear in this maiden speech. Over the years I have advised businesses, large and small, on their tax affairs, I have seen many instances of where the intention of the law has been altered in practice, not by another Act of Parliament or even by a judge, but by officials in Government Departments-in my particular case, by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. That is a question not necessarily of unintended consequences, but of deliberately altered consequences by officials.

Let me provide a concrete example of what I mean; it relates directly to our debate on green energy and reducing carbon emissions. Under the Finance Act 1999, the then Government encouraged people to cycle to work-which given the terrain in the Moorlands, would keep us extra fit. Parliament determined that if businesses provided cycles for their staff, that provision would be exempt from tax. There are several ways that a business could do that-for example, by creating a pool of bikes or by setting up a salary sacrifice scheme. In the latter case, a credit agreement between the employer and employee is required.

One of the principles in the legislation is that the benefit should be "generally available". However, HMRC guidance drawn up in the normal way on the matter results in a subtle, but different, position-that the benefit must be "available to all". Crucially, employees under the age of 18 cannot enter into a credit agreement. This means that most employers could not offer the option to all employees; and, according to the Revenue, if it is not available to all, it cannot be available to any.

A Department for Transport guideline produced 10 years later attempted to clear up the anomaly, but why did we need guidelines from one Department to interpret guidelines from another when the intent of the law was quite clear? Why should HMRC apply the rules in this way? Did not Parliament say that it wanted this tax exemption to be given to employees to encourage green transport? Who gave the Revenue, a Government agency, the right to re-interpret the law? That may seem a small instance, but it is indicative of the larger problem we face. There is a culture of control often masquerading as advice, and there is a tendency to complicate the law-and not just in the area of tax.

Too many times my constituents have said to me that they do not understand why MPs or councillors have to take legal advice or are following the official guidance rather than doing what the intent of the law says. Parliament must be supreme, and not just in fiscal matters. Ministers and Members of this House must be confident that they are the masters of the rules, because they are accountable to those who have sent them here.
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If we pass fewer but simpler and clearer laws, there will be less scope for confusion. Simplicity will help Parliament maintain that supremacy, while transparency will also help to restore the reputation of politics.

Our electors are more than capable of judging what we are doing-and seeing whether it is worth while-if they can see what it is, and clarity of principle might even increase interest in the business of Parliament. People will see this House as a place of serious and relevant debate, and, dare I say it, simplicity might even help us make efficiency savings. I therefore ask that in this Budget debate, and in the debates that follow on of the Finance and other Bills, we ensure that what we intend the legislation to do is what officials implement and enforce.

Before I sit down, Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope you will indulge one final comment, as I want to thank the voters of Staffordshire Moorlands for putting their trust in me. I will endeavour to work hard for all of them and represent their interests in this House.

2.25 pm

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) on a genuinely excellent maiden speech. She mentioned 10 pubs that were among some of the highest in Britain. My love of a pint of beer will ensure that I visit her constituency very soon, perhaps over the summer holidays, and avail myself of a pint of bitter-or maybe even two-in each one of them. As a fellow midlands MP, it is a great pleasure for me to welcome her to the House. I was the Government Whip for her predecessor, Charlotte Atkins, to whom she paid worthy tribute. Perhaps I can encourage the hon. Lady to join us in the Lobbies next week, as I used to encourage her predecessor to do, but on the basis of her excellent speech, I think I might have some problems achieving that.

I want to speak about some general issues surrounding the Budget. First, I was struck during the Budget debate over the past couple of days about how the Budget failed to mention the scale of the global downturn over the past three or four years. Anyone listening to the Chancellor would not have believed that the world economy had gone through one of the greatest downturns-indeed, the greatest downturn-since the second world war. This omission amounts to a significant rewriting of history.

I recall visiting the United States when the housing crisis, prompted by the mis-selling of mortgages in the US, was just beginning to take hold. There was real fear on Wall street about the value and confidence of what was then triple A-rated debt. It sent a shockwave around the world, yet we heard no mention of that in what the Chancellor had to say, which I found quite remarkable.

I also found it remarkable that the Chancellor had nothing to say about the decisions taken by the Labour Government to support the economy at the height of the recession. I still believe that those decisions were the right ones to take, supporting the banks during the crisis and cutting VAT-perhaps the Liberal Democrats would like to reflect on that when it comes to the vote next week-to provide a stimulus to the economy. The car scrappage scheme was a particularly successful economic
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stimulus and was important for companies in my constituency and across the midlands. Quantitative easing was another positive step. During that period, the Conservative party largely got it wrong. It opposed a number of those initiatives, and was particularly slow when it came to supporting bailing out the banks. In large part, it got a number of those decisions wrong.

The crucial question facing us now is the speed at which we pay down the deficit that resulted from the global recession. We are all agreed on that. The risk is that if we take too drastic action, we could find ourselves pushed back into recession. On "Newsnight" last night, which I watched with my cup of tea, an economist, Richard Koo of Nomura Investment in Japan, said that there is a danger that the Budget will take too much cash out of the economy, and made the point that the private sector is deleveraging and might also be tempted to pay down debt. He made the point that, as a result of the Budget, we might find ourselves in a low-growth, low-inflation economic position, as experienced in Japan. At such times, he said, a portion of financial stimulus needs to be sustained, and that should have happened in Japan in the late 1990s. What happened in Japan was that it bumped along the bottom in economic growth. That is a worry.

The Budget envisages a massive shift to private sector investment and exports over the next three years. We should all support that and hope that such a strategy succeeds, but such a significant rise in private sector investment and exports over a three-year period is a tall order, especially if, as the Prime Minister said proudly from the Dispatch Box the other day, economies across Europe are contracting public spending. Several European Governments have withdrawn stimulus from the economy, which is a concern in relation to demand for exports over the coming three to four years. That is why the question of the speed of cuts is crucial.

The Canadian deficit reduction model, which is often cited by commentators in relation to the Budget, was pursued at a time of growth in the economy. I want to see more growth and I want to see the country succeed, as we all should, but my concern is that growth is fragile here. Businesses are concerned about the impact of cuts on levels of demand in the economy. The Shropshire Star, my local paper, did an excellent piece on the Budget-that will get me a good slot in the editorial tonight-and quoted Geoff Parkes, who runs a company in Telford, ASC Finance For Business. I do not know him or pray him in aid of the Labour party's position, but he had this to say about the Budget:

He said that this

He is right: companies will have to compete harder for their share of the recovery. My concern is that we are taking public spending out of the economy too quickly. We need to cushion the impact of the cuts over the next two to three years; otherwise, we might find ourselves in a double-dip recession.

My concern about the Budget is the ideological drive of the Conservative party to reduce the role of the state. This is the kind of Budget that the Conservative party would have introduced whether we had these economic
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problems or not. The Conservatives have a big society view about the country based on a US small state theme. The headline from the Budget is, "Pain now, more pain later". The massive spending cuts are pushed away to the autumn, when they can be announced by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Chancellor's personal human shield. I would not be surprised if the Prime Minister and Chancellor were well away-probably out of the country-when the Chief Secretary stands at the Dispatch Box to announce the savage cuts later in the year. In the meantime, the Budget can be presented as half the story of what needs to happen in our economy.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said clearly that if some Departments are to be protected, with perhaps 10% cuts, others will have to bear cuts of about a third. That is an enormous amount to come out of the budget in the next two to three years. I am extremely concerned about the impact that will have on police services in constituencies such as mine, where we will see fewer police officers on the street, fewer community support officers and fewer front-line services. Telford is heavily reliant on civil service jobs: defence jobs, Department for Work and Pensions jobs, and jobs that are reliant on work from the Treasury. I fear that there will be a significant reduction in the number of civil service jobs in Telford, which will have a consequential impact on our economy. I want us to protect those jobs in Telford, and I will fight to protect them. It is important for us to protect our local economy-an economy that relies so much on public sector jobs.

I was disappointed that the Building Schools for the Future programme was not mentioned in the Budget. A significant amount-more than £200 million-has been invested in the renewal of our schools in Telford, but there is currently no security for head teachers, pupils or parents with regard to the future of those schools. Secondary schools such as Wrockwardine Wood arts college, the Phoenix school, Lord Silkin school and Sutherland business and enterprise college are waiting to see whether the Government will proceed with Building Schools for the Future. I shall campaign with local communities to ensure that we complete that programme-a programme that we initiated as a Labour Government, and of which I am incredibly proud.

I believe that the Budget will have a disproportionate impact on the poorest people in the country. The Institute for Fiscal Studies stated clearly today that it believed that it would have a greater impact on the lower paid and the poorest than on anyone else. As our discussion over the past couple of hours has made plain, Labour's last Budget was progressive and this Budget from the Conservatives is regressive. That has been the focus of the debate.

The core tax rise in this Budget is, of course, the increase in VAT. Before the election, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said that they had no plans to introduce increases in VAT. This VAT rise is a bombshell. We talked about it during the election in Telford, where it will have a significant impact on families. I shall be in the Lobby next week opposing it. Indeed, I shall be in the Lobby opposing the entire Budget package, because it is damaging to communities such as Telford and damaging to the country. We should oppose it because it is non-progressive-in fact, it is regressive-and I look forward to Liberal Democrat Members joining us in the Lobby to oppose it next week.

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2.37 pm

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) on her charming maiden speech. She spoke with great passion about her constituency, although I felt slightly guilty when she lamented the fact that there were no railway stations in it. There are 32 tube stations in my constituency, along with no fewer than three of the four railway stations on the Monopoly board. Perhaps we can swap a few between Cities of London and Westminster and Staffordshire Moorlands before the world is too much older.

The first Budget of any new Administration is always a momentous event. It inevitably sets the seal for much of what will follow economically. This is a groundbreaking and very brave Budget, which has expressly changed the terms of trade. In his speech, the Chancellor made a robust case for the nation to have a future that would be underwritten by the success of business and enterprise.

It is only the third time in more than three decades that such a Budget has been delivered. In the infinitely more clement economic weather of 1997, the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), while ostensibly sticking to his predecessor's spending plans, announced fatefully his intention to restrict private pension tax breaks. At a stroke, the culture of personal savings was undermined, and a distinct shift from individual responsibility to collective state provision was flagged up. It has, perhaps, taken a full 13 years for us to appreciate the true implications of what many then regarded as a technical manoeuvre born largely from a need to secure an easily available pool of cash to spend on pet projects, a state of affairs that was necessitated by the making of an orthodox manifesto pledge.

In the emergency Budget of 1979, the incoming Conservative Government signalled a desire to unleash the power of the free market from the state's grip, and to promote free trade after a characteristic spell of Labour mismanagement. Indeed, in the run-up to the general election this year, it became the pastime of many political commentators to draw comparisons between that momentous 1979 election and the political and economic landscape that faces us today. Yet, of course, that simplistic analysis ignored the significant differences between the two episodes. When the Conservative Government took control of the public purse in the final year of the 1970s, our nation had been subject to monetarist policies for two and half years courtesy of the IMF. In essence the very toughest decisions on public spending had already been made at that time.

In contrast, this year, while there was a superficial acceptance that the best of economic times was over, the sheer gravity of our economic problems has been too lightly skated over during the campaign skirmishes. Indeed, it served the expedient interests of all three main political parties to confine any economic discussion to a somewhat fatuous battle over public spending cuts of £6 billion; a sum of money that we borrow, not spend, every fortnight.

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