Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and I thank the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) for initiating it. It has been a very good cross-party debate. I also want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) for their contributions.
Dare I say that I am becoming a little more mature in years? I am now the Chair of a Select Committee and can afford to be a little more independent. It is not, however, always easy to further one’s ambitions in a party if one stands up for what one believes to be right. We are standing up for what we believe to be right. It is fundamental that people who work are better off than those who do not. As a Conservative, I believe that we should be encouraging people into work because they will be better off, but if we are not careful, the policy will drive people back on to benefits and take us in the opposite direction from where we want to go.
I support what the Chancellor has done in taking millions of people out of tax, raising the thresholds, halving the deficit, driving the economy and creating vast employment in the country. I come from a constituency with only 1% unemployment, but the average salary, for full and part-time employees, is £18,700 and the number of families claiming both working and tax credits is more than 22%. In addition, the average house price is £190,000—the prices are quite high because it is a beautiful part of the country to live in. However, we have to make sure we support people who are working hard across the country. That is why we need to take this opportunity.
I disagree entirely with what the House of Lords did, but it has given us an opportunity to reconsider. May I be so bold as to say that it does not matter how many spin doctors and people who are clever with figures we have? When someone on a low income who relies on tax credits knows that that money is being taken away from them, it is absolutely real. I hate to say it, but on this occasion, the Government and the Chancellor have to be absolutely certain about how many people will be affected and what we will do about it.
I very much support the national living wage, but the Government and the Chancellor need to help the many small companies in our constituencies to pay it. As people get more in their pockets and more from their employment, we can reduce tax credits and the state subsidy on employment. We all get that. We all know what has got to be done, but we cannot do it at the speed we are doing it and take money from perhaps millions of people. It is simple arithmetic. For someone on a low salary, £1,300 is a huge amount of their disposable income—we must remember that this is about disposable income.
I am optimistic. I have always been optimistic in my life because I believe there are always solutions, and I believe there is a solution to this because the Chancellor is a very clever man. I am sure he is listening and will come back to the Chamber with some proposals. These people, whether they are cleaners or classroom assistants, whether they work in the health service, the private sector, the tourism industry or on farms, are all hard-working, and we must be a party and a Government who support hard-working people. We have done that up until now, and we have just lost our way a little, but we can come back out of the wilderness and put this right.
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party is at its greatest when supporting people getting on in life and providing a safety net for those who need it?
Neil Parish: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, and I am in politics today to try and make that happen. It is why many of us on the Conservative Benches are prepared to stand up and be counted. It is right that we do so, and our constituents expect it. The Chancellor will say, “We must eradicate the deficit”, and yes, we must, but if we are six months or—dare I say it?—a year late in doing that, people will understand.
Heidi Allen (South Cambridgshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the last week, I have received hundreds of emails and letters, as hon. Members might expect, and I have been struck by one thing. When we talk about the debt and the deficit, we are not talking about the Government’s debt and deficit; it is the people’s debt and deficit. I have had countless letters from wealthy people telling me this is wrong. It is absolutely right that they be part of this conversation too about how to repair the damage to our economy. It is their vote, as much as it is that of the person losing money in tax credits.
Neil Parish: That is right. To coin a phrase, we are all in it together. It is right that we reduce the deficit and balance the books—we cannot go on borrowing forever, because it will be our children, grandchildren and, at this rate, great grandchildren who will pay it off—but we have to do it fairly. I do not apologise for repeating that work must pay, and we must make sure that those in low-paid work can carry on their lives.
Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): May I remind Government Members that £375 billion of our debt was the result of quantitative easing? The Bank of England has had to step in and use monetary policy measures because of the failure of the Government’s fiscal measures?
Neil Parish: I will not get into an argument with the hon. Gentleman about quantitative easing, although I rather fear we would not have the employment we have today had we not used some of those tools. Whether they were overused is a matter for debate—I suspect in the history books—but I suggest that QE helped with employment, and that we have got the economy running smoothly and in the right direction.
I make the same plea that I am sure hon. Members from across the Chamber will make. I ask the Chancellor please to consider how we might mitigate the impact of these changes and raise the national living wage so that people are earning more as tax credits are taken away. People will accept that. It is not a crime to be lowly paid. We have got to put this right, because the Conservative party and the Government’s reputation is at stake.