Peter Bottomley – 2020 Speech in Response to the Budget

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir Peter Bottomley, the Conservative MP for Worthing West, in the House of Commons on 11 March 2020.

I think the most challenging speech after the Chancellor’s was the one by the Leader of the Opposition, and he discharged it well. The most challenging to listen to was the one by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the leader of the SNP, who seemed to put each page of his notes to the back of the pack and go through them twice. We were told not to interrupt him, but he interrupted himself about six times, so perhaps we could have a go instead next time. I think he was really saying that he welcomed the freeze on duty on whisky and the promotion of Scottish products overseas, and he will probably welcome the Barnett ​increase in spending available to the Scottish Government. Having said that, I would like to turn to the UK side of the Budget.

The Government will have to recognise that our pattern and levels of taxation will change dramatically over the next 10, 20 or 30 years, with climate change and adaptation to it. If we think of the amount of money that has come from the duties on tobacco, fuel and the like, that is all going to change. We have to be prepared for a proper debate on what we are going to tax, when we are going to tax people and what we are going to spend the money on. I prefer a life cycle approach; I prefer giving people generous help when they are dependent, encouraging independence and making sure that, when people come to later stages of life, they can get proper, full help without having to ask for it.

One initiative from the Chancellor that I particularly welcome is the extra £1 billion to help people affected by dangerous cladding on buildings. That is in addition to the £600 million announced by a previous Communities Secretary. I pay tribute to the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, which I help to lead, and which has managed to give a voice to the voiceless. I deeply regret that the Government’s advisory service, LEASE, did not immediately tell the Government that private leaseholders in big blocks were completely exposed as the only tenants who were expected to pay for the waking watch and for the remediation of dangerous cladding.

I pay tribute to former and present Ministers for getting a grip of this issue, and I hope they will find a way of getting together with the campaigning charity, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and with the National Leasehold Campaign. I also invite the major media to appoint housing editors and housing correspondents who can follow the details of these debates, so that they do not turn up just occasionally on Victoria Derbyshire’s programme—I pay great tribute to her and her producers, and I also pay tribute to some of the money programmes. We need to have housing experts in the media who can help to get these stories into the public domain so that the Government respond faster and more fruitfully more often.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)

I pay tribute to the Father of the House for his work. I want to raise a point that came through this week from a constituent who has been affected by the leasehold issues that the APPG has raised. In instances such as hers—she is in shared ownership—cladding is becoming an issue for those who wish to sell their homes. We need clarity about exactly who will be eligible, and any provisions need to be flexible enough to cater for all those who are affected.

Sir Peter Bottomley

I agree. I also think it would be a good idea in the medium term if the Government and the investment sector found ways of taking freeholds and landlordism away from some of the big, bad owners and giving them to a group of infrastructure holders who would actually treat leaseholders and shared ownership people fairly and properly.

I want to move on to a number of other issues, because of the time limits we are left with. In 2002, the Government gave up the Crown preference whereby a ​failing business had to find how to allocate the money that could be gathered in, especially where attempts were being made to reconstruct the business to keep it going. The Government gave up their priority, but they are now bringing it back. I hope they will meet UK Finance and recovery experts to go through the issues that were debated in the Committee on the Enterprise Bill—now the Enterprise Act 2002—on 9 May 2002. I hope they will ask whether it is necessary for them to try to take a small fiscal gain for themselves at the risk of a 10 times greater impact on our economy. We know that businesses fail, and it is important that they do, but it is also important that they can be brought back to function in our economy. I hope the Government will review the question of whether Crown preference should be brought back in the way it is being.

The Government have rightly paid attention to the pub sector, and I welcome the reliefs announced in the Budget today by the Chancellor. I would refer him to the worries of some family businesses in the brewery sector—I do not want to name any in particular. When a business has been in the same family for 200 years or more, and when the family invest five times their dividends in modernisation and pay a third of their revenue to the Government in taxation, the question of whether business relief on inheritance tax should be under threat is important. That is a separate point from the entrepreneurs’ relief the Chancellor spoke about, which could be a subject of debate now and in the future.

Business relief for inherited family businesses is important if we want to have middle-sized companies that invest for the future year after year, and if we want to have a way for them to pass down their assets to future generations. That does matter in this country. The gap has been identified almost since the Macmillan gap 50 years ago—when I was studying economics rather badly—and it needs attention now.

While I am talking about the pub sector, I should mention that there are many vacancies, especially in the south. The limit on people coming into this country with the £12.63 an hour rate of pay will leave a number of vacancies. I therefore hope the Government will talk to the family brewers, in particular, and work in detail through whether there can be transitional relief or arrangements that will allow our hospitality sector, employing two thirds of its people from this country, but requiring a fair number of cooks and others from overseas, to continue safely and securely.

I talked about the life cycle approach to things. I happen to believe that the change introduced by a previous Conservative or coalition Government to make child benefit ineffective for people on £60,000 a year or more was wrong. I believe that support for children should come automatically. In a couple in which both people may be earning £60,000 a year, the taxation they pay on their £120,000 combined earnings will easily outweigh the child benefit they receive. We do not need to have people declaring or opting out of child benefit, or discovering that some change in their pay during the year has put them in a tax trap. I would restore child benefit for all children and expect that the cost of that would come out in the wash for those who are very well off.

The leader of the SNP talked about the 1950s women and the WASPI campaign. Anyone who thinks we can rectify the whole issue of state retirement pension for ​women at 60 is wrong. That approach was put forward at the last election, and it was rejected. However, there should be some give. That might involve an actuarial calculation, which is something my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and I put to a previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, although he would not let his officials do the calculations. Equally, we could have at least some give, and give the Freedom Pass to these women so that they get some recognition of the fact that they have been double-hit by the changes. That would be a welcome initiative, and one that I would put forward to the Government.

While I am talking about pensioners, the biggest stain on this Parliament is that overseas pensioners in dominion countries and some others do not get the increases in the state pension. The law, as judged by case judges, is that while what the Government are doing may be legal, it is quite clearly wrong. The fact that we had pension agreements with Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and some of the Caribbean countries from the 1950s, when inflation was not an issue, should not leave us going on defending the indefensible. Why do half of our overseas pensioners get the increase and the other half do not? The Government really must build in getting rid of that anomaly by the end of this Parliament. It is unfair and unjustified, and it should not continue.

If we take a long view of taxation, we can afford to pay for essential public services and the cost of borrowing for investment. I do not believe our taxation system should be unchanged forever. We may find that people are willing to pay more at certain stages of life or in certain circumstances, and less at other times.

It is crucial that we recognise the value of health and education, and the Government have been doing that. The campaign to get fairer funding for schools has been successful, and those who tried to make school funding party political have failed, and they will fail if they try again. Let us unite on fairer funding for schools, as we have on leasehold issues, and on getting our health services to adjust the best way they can.

As an overall judgment, no one can tell what effect this coronavirus will have on the economy as a whole, except that the economy will be challenged in some ways that can be foreseen and in some ways that cannot. I hope the Chancellor will take the opportunity in the coming nine months to keep the balance between opportunity and fairness, with consultation on major changes before they are suddenly thrown on to an unsuspecting public.

The Government should never fear to talk about their options in the open, as they do between Government Departments. I wish the Chancellor well, I hope the Government succeed in our adjustment to being outside the European Union, and I hope our partnerships within this country, across Europe and across the world will bring the kind of prosperity that makes a difference to us.

I have been around long enough to know that, between 1979 and 1985, Britain went from being the sick man of Europe to being one of the most prosperous and most go-ahead nations. Some of those changes were planned and some were forced on us, but the key point is that we took advantage of the opportunities, and that is what we need to do again now.