Paul Holmes – 2022 Speech on the Finance Bill

The speech made by Paul Holmes, the Conservative MP for Eastleigh, in the House of Commons on 28 November 2022.

Thank you for calling me so early in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker—presumably the answer is that you are saving the worst for first.

I rise to speak in favour of the Bill because in it we have the outlines of the clear steps necessary to ensure a solid financial footing and the path to growth in the medium term. I congratulate both of the Ministers on the Front Bench, my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who are friends of mine. I am delighted to see them in their place, and I know they will take their roles seriously and deliver that much-needed economic growth.

We have to remember the context in which we find ourselves and this Bill: not just the £400 billion that we have spent on support for businesses and people during the covid pandemic, but the terrible situation we see in Ukraine. Those are the reasons why the nation finds itself in this situation today, as do many nations across the globe. I think the Minister said that one third of the world economy will be in recession over the next year, and that includes the United Kingdom. We need to set out that context and those reasons why we have to take the tough, difficult but fair decisions outlined in the Bill.

I remain convinced that the actions taken last week in the autumn statement and in this Bill put us on a path to growth and to a stable financial footing. I think that is what the public expect. When I go into my constituency every week and speak to people, they now want—dare I say it—boring leadership. They want us to have a stable and sound economic plan for the future, meaning that in the end they will have more money in their pockets and will know what this Government stand for. This Bill, the Minister and the Chancellor last week have all outlined that very clearly. As I say, that is what the public expect. They expect to be treated in a fair way, and this Bill outlines that fair way, with an equal base of spending cuts and tax rises.

I want to focus on some specific things in the Bill that we can achieve because of the tax measures that we are outlining, and what they will deliver. Because of this Bill, the most vulnerable in society will be protected. The announcements made in this Bill and the autumn statement mean that welfare and social security will rise in line with inflation and pensioners will be protected by maintaining the triple lock. That is incredibly important to the 19,500 pensioners in my Eastleigh constituency, as is the £300 they will get this year to support them with the rising cost of energy.

Particularly in areas such as Hampshire, we do not have particularly cash-rich pensioners; they may live in quite large houses in my constituency, but that does not mean they are cash rich. They have invested and saved and they have lived responsible lives. They are people who have paid into the system and deserve to get some stuff out of the system. That is why I am delighted that the Government are protecting the triple lock and have announced that extra support to pensioners, going some way to reassure them as they go through some of the challenges that we all face over the next year or so. We have also seen, through this Bill and the measures that the Minister has outlined, a total of £12 billion of support for the most vulnerable in our society. I am proud that the Conservative principle of protecting the most vulnerable is in full force.

Added to that is the £7 billion being spent on health services. I am sorry to see the Labour party this evening speaking against a Government measure that will see unprecedented amounts of investment going into our national health service as we come out of the covid pandemic and with the backlogs we have. I never thought I would see the day when Labour Members would stand up in this Chamber and argue against record amounts of investment in the national health service, but they have done so. I hope their constituents will see that when they watch this speech—or when they watch this debate. They will not be watching this speech, but they might watch the debate.

Crucially, we have also outlined £4 billion-worth of investment in our schools. When I went round my constituency during the covid pandemic, many students had missed out on vital schooling. The Government helped with that by putting in place measures such as remote learning, but we have to put in that investment to ensure that those students—often in some of the most deprived areas of my constituency, which does have areas of deprivation—are brought back up to the expected attainment levels.

Again, I am sorry that Members across this House—not on the Conservative side; or not yet, anyway—have again spoken against measures that would see record amounts of investment in our public services. Over the next two years, there will be £11 billion more for schools and the NHS. We will tackle the post-covid backlog and deliver for the future of this country by bringing in measures that we so desperately need after the shock that our economy has gone through in the past few years. The Chancellor has firmly set out the actions necessary for reducing inflation. The Minister has—ably, if I may say so—outlined the measures that the Chancellor has taken. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray), who I have a lot of time for—I used to work with him when he was London’s Deputy Mayor for Housing—refused to accept, or at least did not put the necessary emphasis on, the fact that the international crisis we are in has caused many countries and many of our neighbours to go through the same issues we are going through.

The Chancellor has outlined measures to bring down inflation, including the £6 billion-worth of investment in capital spending for businesses, which is crucial. I do not expect you to remember this, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you were in the Chair when I made my maiden speech about the crucial investment needed in infrastructure across the United Kingdom. Investing in infrastructure across the United Kingdom means employing people, keeping businesses in work and bringing inflationary pressure down. That is why I am so pleased that the Chancellor outlined that last week, along with the measures in the Bill. The Government are protecting R&D spending and providing £14 billion of relief for small businesses by cutting the rates of tax that they have to pay.

Labour criticised the lack of inclusion of the Office for Budget Responsibility in the financial measures that were taken a few months ago. The Government have now included an OBR outlook, which states that 1% will be added to our GDP over the next year. Now, Labour suddenly wants to say that the OBR is very important. I agree, but Labour cannot have it both ways by pooh-poohing the OBR’s findings—that this Budget will help to grow our GDP—and then not necessarily taking its advice as read as we go forward.

Overall, the Bill is hard for now and takes some really tricky decisions, but I am convinced that it will deliver a stable economic outlook for everybody. I will go into a bit more detail on the measures that will reduce inflation. The Bill is split equally between tax rises and spending cuts. We are protecting and maintaining public spending for the next two years at the level set out in 2021, and then increasing spending by 1% in real terms every year until 2027-28. We have invested in our NHS and schools, which is, as I have said, important for the attainment and health outcomes of my Eastleigh constituents.

In the difficult measures that we will go through over the next few months, we are, vitally, protecting people from the shock of their living costs and energy bills going up. That is the most crucial thing: this Government have stepped in. The Labour party might not want to recognise that billions of pounds were spent during the covid pandemic. That has to be paid back at some stage, but we are now spending billions of pounds to protect people from the shock of energy bills.

I say again that I have a lot of respect for the shadow Minister, but I will not take lectures from him when he says that we are not taking the necessary action on nuclear or energy planning. It was his party that pre-emptively scrapped nuclear energy as an option for this country, which is partly why we are in the situation we find ourselves in today. I think he should go back and possibly rewrite his speech, and then come back and outline that his party is partly responsible for the crisis we are in.

I know that Ministers will not have been immune to hearing the press and some colleagues saying that the Bill, and some of the measures that have been outlined this evening, are not Conservative enough. Despite what many colleagues on my side of the Chamber may think, I am a fiscal Conservative, but I have to disagree with some of those assertions. In the Chancellor’s statement and in the Bill, we have framed the narrative on four things that I think are important: protecting the vulnerable, investing in public services, fairness in the tax system and delivering growth in the economy.

Standing here today, I am 100% fine with the measures outlined by this Conservative Government, because they are asking people with the broadest shoulders to pay the most, on a temporary basis, while we look after the most vulnerable in our society and target support during a troublesome time on people who genuinely need our help. If that means I am not a Conservative—I do not think it does, because the Budget and the measures are based on solid conservative principles—I am quite happy with that, but I think that this is a Conservative approach and one that we should be all proud of.

As is usual in these debates, we have opposition from the Labour party. In my seat, I often contest Liberal Democrats, but there are no Lib Dem Members here to outline their lack of plan for the cost of living crisis—but there we go. I am massively in favour of what is set out in the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for outlining the measures that he has taken, because I know that, over the medium term, we will have growth back in the economy and people will see and be grateful for the Government’s actions.