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Baldry makes final Commons speech in Budget debate

20 March 2015

I should firstly, in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner, and soon to be Chair of the Church Buildings Council, like very sincerely to thank the Chancellor the £40 million announced in the Budget towards the repairs of church roofs. This is in addition to the £15 million for the Church Roof Funds made available by the Chancellor a little while ago and £20 million made available for repairs to our cathedrals.

So in the last year, the Chancellor has made £75 million for the repair and restoration of cathedrals and churches.

This is, of course, in addition to the money the Chancellor made available earlier in this Parliament to offset for churches and cathedrals the costs of VAT on repairs and renovation.

I can think of no similar time when any Chancellor has made available such sums for church and cathedral repair.

For many people the presence of a church in their community is symbolic of the nation and a source of support and comfort even for those who are not regular church-goers, and we are constantly seeing what more we can do to make church buildings more serviceable to the wider community so that they can be used as much as possible, and not simply for Sunday worship.

Not surprisingly, immediately after the Budget statement the Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted:

“…money for church repairs will create local skilled jobs, improve community facilities and protect heritage, most welcome”.

Can I also, as a member of the Organising Committee of Agincourt 600, sincerely thank the Chancellor for the £1 million that he has allocated for the commemoration of the victory at Agincourt?

This is not the time for a treatise on the importance of the victory of Agincourt itself or its impact on Tudor England through Shakespeare’s Henry V or its impact in raising spirits during the Blitz with Sir Laurence Olivier’s film of Henry V. But it was an important event in our nation’s history and the money provided by the Chancellor will be put to good educational use.

There is, however, a broader point here: the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Culture have only been able to give support to cathedrals and churches and the 600th anniversary of Agincourt because the Government’s long term economic plan is working and as a consequence the Chancellor has the necessary financial resources.

If I might give a similar example, one of other things that I am going to do when I stand down from this House is to become a Patron of the Katharine House Hospice in my constituency.

This hospice opened shortly after I was elected to Parliament and one of things I did in my first Parliament here was to set up, with the much revered and respected Jack Ashley, the first All Party Hospice Support Group.

In last year’s Autumn Statement the Chancellor completely removed the VAT burden on hospices so that they are now in exactly the same position so far as VAT is concerned, as NHS hospitals – a move which I thought was somewhat overlooked by the national media.

That made an enormous difference to our nation’s hospices, all of which are largely supported by voluntary contributions.

But again, this is something that the Chancellor would not have been able to do unless the Government’s overall long-term economic strategy was working.

This year’s Budget has to be seen as against the achievements of the last five years.

The Coalition Government inherited an unholy mess from the Labour Government of Gordon Brown.

An enormous public deficit.

And perhaps the most appropriate epitaph on the last Labour Government was the Note, the very telling Note, left by the last Labour Chief Secretary – which simply said:

“Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left”.

Under this Chancellor, the mending of public finances is well under way.

The Treasury have stuck to their spending plans, and the fact is that the gap between what the Government receives in tax and what it spends is going to be roughly half what it was when Labour left office in 2010.

Under Labour, Government borrowing to fill the gap between what the Government received in taxes and what it spent reached £163.4 billion in 2009-10 – a peacetime record in proportion to national income.

Under the Chancellor’s stewardship, this is likely to be about half in the 2014-15 financial year according to the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.

Moreover, falling inflation means that the deficit in 2015-16 is likely to be £2-3 billion lower even than the amount pencilled in by the OBR at the time of last year’s Autumn Statement.

Britain now has the fastest growing economy in the world.

The simple fact is that the UK, under the Conservatives, is again full steam ahead, following its deepest post-war recession under Labour.

Growth last year was faster than in any other major industrial economy, including the United States.

More than half a million new jobs were created last year alone and unemployment is half what it is in the Eurozone. The other day I asked my Rt. Hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,

“In the past five years, how many people have moved from benefits into work?”

to which the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions replied:

“The record now for people moving from benefits into work is remarkable. Some 600,000 have moved back into work. Peak to peak, the figures is over 800,000 and we have many, many more people back in employment. There have never been as many people in work and that number is still growing with some 700,000 vacancies in the Job Centre every week.”

We now have the lowest claimant count since 1975.

That significant and sustained fall in unemployment is reflected in my own constituency.

When I was first elected, over 30 years ago, the unemployment rate in and around Banbury was over 14%.

Today the unemployment rate in my constituency is significantly less than 1%.

The Banbury Job Centre, according to JobcentrePlus, has just 17 claimants that have claimed continuously for two years and could be considered “Long Term Unemployed.”

The most recent data shows that 97.8% of claimants in the Banbury constituency leave Job Seekers Allowance within the first twelve months of their claim.

It is perhaps worth recalling that after my Rt. Hon. Friend’s first Budget in 2010, the now Deputy Leader of the Labour Party who at the time was Temporary Leader of the Labour Party, claimed that the 2010 Budget would “throw thousands of people out of work.”

Labour were wrong about that, as with all their other forecasts.

I think it is worth recalling all the numerous scare stories run by Labour suggesting a “triple dip recession”, all of which turned out to be completely unfounded.

At no time during any Labour Government have we seen so many jobs created, in such a short period of time, as has happened under this Chancellor’s watch since 2010.

This increase in economic activity is not restricted to London and the South East, but is being felt across the UK.

Business investment is higher than it was a year ago and the latest trade figures show the gap between exports and imports narrowing.

It is not surprising that OBR has upgraded its growth forecast this year from 2.4% at the time of last year’s Autumn Statement.

In North Oxfordshire we have a vibrant economy.

There are comparatively few large employers – there are some such as Prodrive or Norbar Torque, Mondelez or EP Barrus and they are all excellent – but it is also an economy of large numbers of small and medium sized businesses.

I think large numbers of those will very much welcome the Chancellor’s wide-ranging review into business rates.

I represent two market towns and I am sure that high street shops will particularly welcome the business rate review, as I know they feel that the present system places them at a disadvantage to online competitors because business rates are only charged on “bricks and mortar”.

You cannot create jobs without successful businesses.

I think the simple fact is that the current system of business rates has not kept pace with a need for a modern economy and in particular changes to our town centres.

Business rates are in need of far-reaching reform.

Indeed, business rates are based on prices from 2008 at the height of the property boom which don’t take into account the effects of the recession.

The system also means that some small shops on busy high streets pay very high rates whilst online giants such as Amazon with large warehouses and cheaper locations pay less.

We need a resurgence of help for independent shops so that they can compete fairly with online businesses.

We need to ensure that we don’t lose the face-to-face service of shops on our high streets.

I know that Victoria Prentis, my successor as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for North Oxfordshire, is already organising meetings with the local business community so that she can hear first-hand their thoughts and views on the Government’s consultation on business rates.

It is clear that the Chancellor is determined to help hard working people by raising tax allowances.

The Chancellor has increased the amount people can earn without paying income tax.

In last year’s Autumn Statement the Chancellor said the personal allowance would be £10,600 from this April.

In the Budget the Chancellor announced further progress by outlining his plans to raise the personal allowance to £10,800 next year and £11,000 the year after.

Let’s be clear what the Chancellor has achieved.

This Budget means big tax cuts for families.

Significant increases in personal allowances are a tax cut.

As a consequence of this Budget 27 million people will get their taxes cut as a consequence of raising personal allowances.

And through, raising tax allowances almost 4 million people on low wages have been taken out of the income tax system altogether.

This is a very popular policy.

It is what people want.

Many people also want to own their own home.

I very much welcome the fact that first-time buyers are going to be able to benefit to a new “Help to Buy” ISA that will offer a tax-free way of saving to buy their first home.

So for every £200 they save towards a deposit for their first home, people will receive £50 from the Government.

The Treasury estimate that 285,000 first-time buyers will use the scheme every year.

So someone trying to save a 10% deposit for a £150,000 home would have to save £12,000. The Government will then contribute £3,000 taking the total to £15,000.

It is effectively a tax cut for first-time buyers.

It is a very simple policy where the Government works hand-in-hand with first-time buyers to help them buy their first home.

It is worth noting that accounts will be available per person so a couple saving together can effectively boost their budget by 50%.

I know from those who come to see me at constituency surgeries that being able to own their own home is very important to very large numbers of people.

I welcome the fact that in my constituency, Cherwell District Council are in the lead in promoting a new garden town at Bicester and also the largest self-build scheme in Europe where people are going to be able to buy land and themselves build up to nearly 2,000 homes with help from the local council.

The Chancellor’s Help-to-Buy ISA will give those self-builders further assistance as well as other first-time buyers in my constituency and elsewhere.

I also think many of my older constituents will welcome the fact that from April next year the first £1,000 interest earned on savings will be tax free.

I think all of this symbolises the fact that under this Government we are moving from a country built on debt to a country built on saving and investments.

It is clear that the Chancellor is seeking to manage the public finances in such a way as to steward the nation’s finances prudently but yet seek to invest as much as possible in key public services.

Substantial public money is still going to be invested in those public services on which working families – indeed on which all of us – depend, notably the NHS and education.

This public investment will be available because the Chancellor is reducing the deficit and paying off the national debt resulting in much lower interest payments on the money we owe.

I think over recent years there has been a lot of confusion between tax evasion and tax avoidance.

I think it has much helped that the Chancellor has launched a new crackdown on tax evasion.

The damaging revelations about the activities of HSBC in Switzerland have undermined confidence in a whole number of institutions. It is absolutely right that the Chancellor has made clear that there will be penalties for bankers and accountants who assist their clients to avoid paying their fair share of UK tax.

I don’t think there is anyone who will not have welcomed the proposal for the so-called Global Tax, or to put it more formally, a Diverted Profits tax, which is aimed at preventing multinationals, such as Google, from shifting their profits around the world to the lowest tax jurisdictions and thus not paying their fair share of tax in the UK.

Throughout this Parliament, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has persistently confounded his critics.

So, for example, in 2013, the IMF’s Chief Economist was telling the BBC that it was time for the UK to consider Plan B, or, to quote Olivier Blanchard, IMF’s Chief Economist exactly, “…there should be a reassessment of fiscal policy”, he said of the Chancellor’s Budget Plans in 2013.

Within just two years the IMF completely changed its tune, throwing its weight behind the Conservative Government’s policies and describing the Chancellor’s policies as a “ . . . strong and credible plan . . . essential to ensure debt sustainability” and in an unambiguously supportive statement, the IMF said the Chancellor’s programme was “appropriately ambitious”.

I like the Leader of the Opposition.

I bear him no ill.

Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition spent much of the 1983 General Election as a school boy delivering leaflets in my constituency for the Labour candidate.

The Labour Party at that time being committed to:

• Britain’s withdrawal from Europe.

• Unilateral disarmament of our nuclear deterrent.

However I thought that the Leader of the Opposition’s response to the Chancellor’s Budget statement was the most feeble that I have heard from a Leader of the Opposition in such circumstances in my whole 32 years membership of this House.

The Leader of the Opposition seemed only to have two points.

His first point was a complaint that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was cutting public spending.

Well hang on a moment, I have here in my possession a copy of Hansard for Tuesday 13 January 2015.

On that day, the House voted to approve an update to the Charter for Budget Responsibility following the Autumn Statement.

The motion before the House could not have been more succinct or straightforward.

It was:

“That the Charter for Budget Responsibility: Autumn Statement 2014 update, which was laid before this House on 15 December 2014, be approved.”

At the end of the debate, the House divided.

515 voted for the Charter for Budget Responsibility to be approved.

Only 18 voted against.

The Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Cabinet and almost all the Parliamentary Labour Party were in the same lobby as us in supporting the Charter for Budget Responsibility.

So the Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party can’t one moment vote for budget and fiscal responsibility and getting a grip on public finances and the next moment bleat about cuts in public spending.

The Leader of the Opposition’s second point was to seek to suggest that somehow the Government were failing on the NHS.

I have to say that this is a particularly feeble mantra of the Labour Party that whenever they feel themselves under serious electoral pressure, they seek to “weaponise” the NHS.

I think that electors are now seeing through this ploy and I think are finding Labour’s approach to the NHS increasingly cynical.

However, I think it is also important to consider what has actually been happening in the NHS over these last five years and it may be helpful if I refer specifically to the performance of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust not least because it is a Hospital Trust that covers both my constituency and the Prime Minister’s constituency.

Since 2010 the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust now has:

• 264 more doctors;

• 415 more nurses – of which 35 are extra midwives.

• Last year the Trust carried out 134,998 operations – an increase in operations and operating activity since 2010 of 8.6%

• In 2010 the Trust carried out 145,936 diagnostic tests including tests for cancer.

• Last year they carried out 230,258 diagnostic tests, including tests for cancer – an annual increase of some 84,322.

So whether it’s diagnostic operations, diagnostic tests, the number of people treated for cancer, the number of CT scans carried out, endoscopy tests or tests for bowel or stomach cancer, by whatever criteria you choose this year the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust is undertaking considerable more activity than in 2010.

Not surprisingly, the Trust’s overall CQC rating has been that of “good”.

So it is important to remember that we have only been able to see this significant improved increase in activity in the NHS because of the continuing strengthening of our economy and the success of the Government’s long-term economic plan.

The reality is that by contrast to the Chancellor’s focused Budget Statement, the Labour Party is now genuinely in chaos.

On Friday 13th March, an article appeared in the Evening Standard, written by the Shadow Chancellor, in which he supposedly unveiled Labour’s five priorities for Government.

The only difficulty was that the Shadow Chancellor’s five priorities for Government were all entirely different from the five Labour pledges unveiled just 24 hours later by the Leader of the Opposition – and the Labour Leader hasn’t even yet got to Labour’s Party Manifesto’s launch which comes next month, which on that form will probably contain a statement of yet a further entirely different five pledges for Labour.

It is not just that the Leader of the Opposition has two entirely different signatures on Labour’s much vaunted Pledge Card, but I understand that the internal debate on what should be on Labour’s Pledge Card became so protracted that the deadline for the Freepost mailing in which the Pledges were supposed to be sent out to voters was missed. Indeed I understand in the end the Labour Headquarters had to tell Labour Parliamentary Candidates to make up their own Pledges.

If Labour is so chaotic in Opposition, how can they possibly be trusted with Government?

Personally I think that critics branding the Labour Leader “Two Kitchens Ed” are unfair, but I do think it is not unreasonable to, at the very least, expect Labour to be able to sort out and agree on their basic Pledges to the electors.

By contrast, with the Conservatives, there is no disagreement between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

We know that with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister that we have a long-term economic plan.

It is clearly working.

And you can’t afford to let Labour put it at risk.

This will almost certainly be my last speech in the House of Commons.

I am glad that I am able to make it in support of the Chancellor’s Budget.

In 47 days the nation will go to the polls.

The nation will have a straightforward choice as to whom they wish and whom they trust to be Prime Minister: the Leader of the Opposition or my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister.

I have every confidence the nation will put their trust in the Prime Minister and I like everyone else on this side of the House will be spending the next 47 days bending every sinew to help ensure the Prime Minister’s return to Government and No.10.