Theresa Villiers – 2022 Speech on the Cost of Living Crisis

The speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.

There is much to welcome in the Queen’s Speech programme, but I want first to highlight a very serious concern about clauses 83 and 84 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which could massively erode local decision making on planning. I hope that Ministers will think again about awarding themselves the power to override local development management policies, which provide such important protection against over-development.

The main theme I want to cover today is the broader economic theme and how we ensure that we have a sustainable way to help people with the cost of living. Crucial to that is the regulatory reform envisaged in legislation such as the Brexit freedoms Bill, the financial services and markets Bill and the data reform Bill. As inflation returns to the global economy at levels not seen for 30 years, it is imperative that we have a clear, long-term economic plan to grow the economy, raise living standards, repair the public finances after covid and bring down taxes. This is the best and most sustainable way to help people with rising household bills.

Of course, like everyone else in the Chamber, I know how urgent it is that we help people with rising household bills, which is why I very much welcome the Chancellor’s £22 billion intervention. Raising the national insurance threshold is one of the biggest personal tax cuts in decades. Increasing the amount people can earn before benefits are withdrawn has put £1,000 in the pockets of low-income families, and of course the 5p fuel tax cut can help everyone.

In addition to this, we need a convincing programme to grow our economy out of the traumas being inflicted on us by the global rise in energy prices. That is why the regulatory reform in the Queen’s speech is crucial. I was one of the members of the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform established by the Prime Minister. Our report set out a substantial list of regulatory improvements to boost the economy and create thousands of well-paid jobs, especially in high-tech sectors such as bioscience. This kind of reform—only possible because of Brexit—is one of the most effective ways to grow our economy. It is the sustainable long-term way to ensure we have the Goldilocks combination of sound public finances, money to fund our public services and lower taxes.

Put simply, supply-side reforms to set enterprise and innovation free are the means by which we can make the numbers add up. We cannot spend our way out of an inflation crisis and we certainly should not borrow our way out of an inflation crisis, but we can grow our way out of this inflation crisis. None of these reforms needs to jeopardise safety, consumer protection or the environment. As set out in the TIGRR report, we need regulation that is more modern, more flexible, more proportionate and more targeted. We need new rules that are rooted in our common law tradition, can be piloted and tested, and can be amended if they turn out to have unintended consequences, so that we deliver the regulatory outcomes and high standards we want, but at a lower cost and with far less of a burden on business and industry.

Regaining the right to make our own decisions on regulation is one of the key benefits of leaving the European Union. For six years as a Member of the European Parliament, I saw at first hand how the EU legislative process works. It is slow, it is cumbersome and it gets so bogged down in political horse-trading between countries that it is no wonder it often produces such poor results. I was one of just a handful of Conservatives to vote three times against the first version of the withdrawal agreement. I did that because I did not want us locked forever in the regulatory orbit of the EU. Now we are free of that gravitational pull, we must use the opportunities it gives us. Otherwise, all those years of Brexit rows and divisions will have been for nothing.

Only when we have charted our own course on regulation can we truly say that we have got Brexit done, so now is the time to get on and do this—for our whole country, too, and that means significant changes to the Northern Ireland protocol. Now is the time to set out a clear plan for growth that will deliver the high-wage jobs, the opportunities and the lower taxes that our constituents want to help them with the cost of living and the inflation crisis we face in this country and across the global economy.