Today is the last day of sitting for the House of Commons before the Easter Recess starts tomorrow. The House of Lords rose for Easter yesterday. After Energy Questions and the Business Question the main business will be that determined by the Backbench Business Committee and will be a debate on courts followed by a general adjournment debate. I am chairing the Committee Stage of the Policing and Crime Bill.
Finally, my parents-in-law celebrate their diamond wedding today. 60 years of marriage is a terrific achievement and many congratulations to them.
On the day when Councillor Rob Hodkinson from Ramsbottom came down to visit Parliament I had two pieces of good news for Ramsbottom.
Firstly, since it was brought to my attention that farmers in Ramsbottom were being denied access to the Farming Recovery Flood because they are classed as being in Greater Manchester rather than Lancashire. I raised the problem directly with the Secretary of State at questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last Thursday. Well, the good news is that yesterday the Farming Recovery Fund was extended to Greater Manchester so that all farmers in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington will be able to claim.
Secondly, Sport England announced they are making a payment of £12,500 to the Ramsbottom Cricket Club to help them recover.
The budget was approved by a majority of 35 ( considerably more than the government’s notional majority of 12 ).
Today, the main attention will be on Prime Ministers’s Questions the final session before Easter. This is followed by the next chapter in the saga of HS2, a farcical piece of business where we have to explain to the EU what we are doing to converge our economy with the rest of the EU! Then there is a proposal to update the amount of taxpayers money given to the Opposition parties.
The debate on the 2016 budget enters its final day today and at the end of the day will come the votes on whether to approve or amend the budget. I have signed two amendments\; one to prevent the imposition of VAT on insulation, solar panels and other energy saving materials and one to prevent the imposition of VAT on women’s sanitary products. The current expectation is that the government will accept these amendments. Whilst it seems the Prime Minister has persuaded the rest of the EU to allow member states the freedom to set their own VAT rates on women’s sanitary products I am not aware any such agreement has been reached on insulation products. It remains to be seen how the government will actually implement zero rating of these products and more importantly what the European Union does about a member state having the audacity to show some independence. With the referendum three months away I doubt very much the European Union will do anything at the moment!
Yesterday evening I attended a reception hosted by the Prime Minister at 10, Downing Street to thank some of those who had helped respond to the flooding which occurred following the storms in December and January.
Parliament resumes today for the last week of term before the Easter Recess. Following the dramatic and unexpected resignation of Iain Duncan-Smith on Friday the third day of the budget debate will attract greater media attention than it would otherwise. Inevitably, the resignation will be seen through the prism of the ongoing referendum on the UK’s future membership of the European Union.
Whatever anyone says it will be alleged their view is biased depending on which side of the referendum debate they are on. So, with that been taken as granted, my view is that Iain genuinely did resign because he does not want his welfare reforms to be seen only as part of the need to balance the books. My view is that the welfare reforms have been necessary and I have always defended them. Apart from all those who oppose any form of welfare control the ending of paying housing benefit for unused room and introducing a cap on the amount of welfare a family can claim have been generally widely accepted as being necessary to try and control a welfare budget which was seen as spiralling out of control under Labour. The introduction of Universal Credit and the simplification of the fiendishly complex welfare system must be persevered with. It is because so many politicians over the year have shied away from trying to do this long overdue reform that the system is the way it is today. I hope the new Secretary of State in his understandable desire to impose his own imprint on welfare does not abandon this particular reform.
The vast majority of businesses in Bury are not giant multi-nationals or even giant UK companies. Most are small or medium sized companies. There are hundreds of small enterprises in retail, manufacturing or services. One of the most frequent complaints I receive from these small businesses is about the amount of rates they have to pay on their premises. This is a particular problem for small retail units who are having to battle to survive against Internet retailers.
The government announced last year it would carry out a review of the way business rates operates and it has now completed that review. The good news for hundreds of small businesses in Bury is that the temporary Small Business Rate Relief scheme is to be extended from 50% to 100% and the scheme is to be made permanent. Businesses in a property with a rateable value of less than £12,000 will now pay no business rates at all. Those with a rateable value between £12,000 and £15,000 will receive tapered relief
From April next year any adult under the age of 40 will be able to open a new Lifetime ISA will be able to open a new type of savings account called a Lifetime ISA. Every year they will be able to save up to £4,000 a year and will receive a bonus of 25% for every pound they save. Contributions can continue to be made up until the age of 50. The account can be used as a deposit for a first home and can be withdrawn with the government bonus at any time after the age of 60. Although it will not affect many people in Bury the Government will put a limit on the price of the first time home that the fund can be used to purchase of £450,000. The interest and any growth in the underlying investments will be tax free.
It is always difficult to predict how a new idea like this will develop but my gut feeling is that this savings vehicle will continue to develop and become the principal means of people saving for their retirement. Traditional pension plans have had such a bad press and even after the recent changes which mean retirees are no longer forced to purchase an annuity they are still seen as being very inflexible. Hopefully, lots of people will make use of the new Lifetime ISA’s. I wish such a product had been about when I was starting out in work.
So we now have it the Chancellor duly delivered his budget yesterday and everyone will be working out whether it leaves them better off or worse off. It has become something of a tradition over the years that Chancellors save their most eye-catching announcement to the very end of the Budget Speech. The rabbit out of the hat. An announcement which is intended to take everyone by surprise, one that has not been previously trailed. Yesterday, was slightly different, the Chancellor ended by announcing the increase in the income tax personal allowance and the threshold at which people start to pay 40% tax. This is a further step taken on the road to delivering the pledge contained in the Conservative Manifesto so no real surprise. The real surprise yesterday was the announcement that a levy was to be made on manufacturers of sugary drinks. Obviously not a measure I approve of! More nanny state nonsense as far as I am concerned and I hope it does not overshadow what in other respects was a very good budget which I will be looking at in my posts in the days ahead.