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Harriett Baldwin responds in Budget debate

21st March 2016

Harriett Baldwin moves the motion on the Budget in the House of Commons.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) had certainly prepared his soundbites earlier.

In every region of the United Kingdom, the policies announced in the Budget will bring the economic security that Britain needs. They are the commitments that we set out in our manifesto last year, and the Budget will help to deliver them. Over the past six years, we have worked hard and made the tough decisions. That has brought our country’s economy back from the brink, and growth and jobs are now delivering greater economic security for everyone. Today, I am proud that, here in the United Kingdom, a record number of people are in work, the deficit is down by two thirds and we are well on the path to surplus. Our whole economy is set to grow faster next year than any other major advanced economy in the world. However, with the pace of growth in the global economy showing signs of weakening, now is the time to redouble our efforts, and that is precisely what the Budget does.

Today’s debate is about devolution and local government. The foundations of our long-term success are laid in each and every corner of this country. Every region makes a distinctive contribution to the UK’s economic success and every region benefits from this Budget’s programme for growth. Hon. Members should listen to the facts. Employment is growing quickest in Wales, and it is a shame that we did not hear Welsh voices today. Youth unemployment is falling quickest in the west midlands. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) said that we were not delivering a budget for the next generation, but the next generation is finding work in the west midlands, which I am sure he will welcome. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits is falling fastest in Yorkshire and the Humber. Through a combination of greater devolution, greater investment and targeted support, the Budget will allow our regions to continue growing from strength to strength.

The Budget also delivers for the devolved Administrations. To help Scotland, there are tax breaks worth more than £1 billion to support the North sea oil and gas industry through challenging times and a freeze in duty on Scotch whisky. The Scottish National Party had three demands for the Budget—action on oil and gas, action on fuel duty and action on Scotch whisky—and we have delivered on all three fronts. To help Wales, there is a £1.2 billion deal for the Cardiff capital region and a 50% reduction in tolls on the River Severn crossings in 2018. To help Northern Ireland, there will be enhanced capital allowances for investors in the Northern Ireland Executive’s pilot enterprise zone near Coleraine. For all three of our devolved Administrations, the Budget delivers the benefits of being part of a strong, successful United Kingdom, with the opportunities that come with devolution.

For the cities and regions of England, this is a Budget that creates fresh opportunities and opens new doors. For the north, there is greater devolution to Liverpool and Manchester, a schools strategy for the northern powerhouse, more than £700 million extra for flood repairs and resilience, and the go-ahead for HS3, bringing Leeds and Manchester closer together. For the midlands, the midlands engine investment fund will get £250 million, and there is a new devolution deal for Greater Lincolnshire and a strong statutory body to help provide the transport that the midlands needs.

For East Anglia, we have another new devolution deal, and I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) that the £30 million is indeed new money and that an elected mayor will be the single point of accountability. I can also confirm for my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) that we plan to make the most of the Oxford-Cambridge-Milton Keynes corridor. For the south-west, almost £20 million will help young families on to the housing ladder. For London, the green light has been given for Crossrail 2. In addition, policies such as the cut to businesses rates and our reform of commercial stamp duty will revitalise high streets up and down the country, including those in Bury South.

This is a Budget for a nation of shopkeepers whether they are in Cardiff or Cornwall or Chester or Chelmsford. We have heard from 27 Back Benchers from all over the country in tonight’s debate: North West Norfolk, Glasgow Central, Rugby, Jarrow, Telford, Sheffield South East, Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Bury South, Poole, Batley and Spen, Milton Keynes South, Copeland, Bolton West, and Birmingham, Hodge Hill.

Mr Betts: Will the Minister give way?

Harriett Baldwin: I will not as I have very little time, but I will get to the hon. Gentleman’s point. The list continues: Chesham and Amersham, Henley, Harrow West, Wealden, as well as Southampton, Test, and Bromley and Chislehurst, Washington and Sunderland West, Hazel Grove, North Norfolk, Warrington South, Dulwich and West Norwood, and Aberdeen North. A number of common themes came up in those speeches.

Almost everybody welcomes the business rates cut and the help for the self-employed. This is a Budget that puts our small business job creators front and centre. Many points were made about northern infrastructure, so I draw everyone’s attention to page 77 of the Red Book. I am not referring to Mao’s little red book on this occasion. Page 77 gives a list of projects, including £130 million of road repair funds to deal with the damage caused by Storm Eva and Storm Desmond, in Cumbria and elsewhere.

A number of colleagues mentioned devolution and the impact on business rates. I can confirm that local government will be compensated for the loss of income as a result of the business rates measures announced in the Budget with a section 31 grant. The impact will be considered as part of the Government’s consultations on the implementation of 100% business rate retention in summer 2016.

Mrs Gillan: Will the Minister give way?

Harriett Baldwin: I would love to give way, but I have not got time to do so. The NHS was discussed by a number of colleagues, and I am sure that they welcome the record amount of cash going into our NHS, thanks to our strong economy. A number of colleagues welcomed the fairer funding for schools and the ultimate devolution of power to academies. I can confirm that an extra £1.6 billion is going into schools, with no change at all to the special educational needs obligations on schools. [Interruption.] We have heard a fair number of rants, whinges and lectures from the Opposition tonight, but we will take no lectures from the party that crashed the economy in the first place. We will take no lectures from the Labour party, whose plans, had we followed them, would have led to—

Mrs Gillan: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you could advise me on something. I have asked the Minister, who is speaking so ably and fluently at the Dispatch Box about a Budget, certain elements of which have been well welcomed on both sides of the House. I have asked her to give way on two specific points that I raised in my contribution to this debate. Could you advise me whether it is in order for the Minister to decline, on account of the amount of time left for speaking, when a considerable number of minutes are left until 10 o’clock?

Mr Speaker: It is a matter for the judgment of the Minister, but the discontent of a former Cabinet Minister has been registered.

Harriett Baldwin: In that case, I will simply commend this Budget to the House.

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