Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 22nd February 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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2. Whether the commissioners have issued recent guidance to church parishes on securing buildings to prevent theft.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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5. Whether the Commissioners have issued recent guidance to church parishes on securing buildings to help prevent theft.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
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Before I reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, may I pass on my condolences, and I am sure those of the whole House, to the family and friends of Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, who died suddenly last Saturday?

There is comprehensive advice to all parishes on the Church of England website about how to keep buildings secure, which we regularly update. All buildings used for religious worship are also eligible for the Home Office’s hate crime protection scheme.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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I join my hon. Friend in passing on my condolences to the family of the late Bishop of Buckingham.

Vicars tell me that theft from churches is a continuing problem in my constituency and that the insurance sector is now demanding that churches must be locked unless someone from the church is present inside. That clearly creates a big challenge for those wanting a moment of quiet prayer or reflection or to just enjoy the beauty of our historic churches. Can my hon. Friend tell me what the Church Commissioners are doing with the insurance sector to ensure that our churches can remain, while secure, open for quiet prayer and reflection?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am sorry to learn of the experience in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I can tell him that he is completely right about the importance of keeping churches open for those who want to come. The good news is that keeping churches open increases footfall, and that deters criminals. Locking up churches is a poor deterrent to thieves. I can also tell him that funding for roof alarms was provided by the diocese of Oxford back in 2019, when there was a spate of thefts from church roofs in his area. I encourage churches in his constituency to contact the diocese again to see whether that might be made available.

Shared Rural Network Implementation

Greg Smith Excerpts
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Maria, and I congratulate the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) on securing this very important debate. I am lucky enough to represent a constituency that is 335 square miles of pure, beautiful, rural Buckinghamshire. Mobile signal is critical, day to day, in many walks of life. There has been a growth in the number of people working from home, and many try to take Zoom or Teams calls in local cafés. My children endlessly demand that we stream all sorts of dreadful songs to make the journey go a bit quicker, but often, as we go through the villages, Siri delivers that dreaded message: there is a problem because it cannot get a data signal. That comes up time and again when I talk to constituents.

On my summer surgery tour last year, I went to the village of Cuddington, which is not far from my village of Chearsley, in which people also struggle to get mobile signal, particularly inside buildings. Constituents in Cuddington were saying that they literally could not get a signal on any network in that village. That is absolutely devastating for people. They may need to make an emergency call, or they may have an urgent work commitment—they need to get that email out—and they simply cannot do it. It is a huge problem. While the shared rural network is a brilliant idea and a fantastic initiative, we need to put a rocket underneath it to get it working far more quickly.

There really is not a technological excuse for this. Many moons ago, on my honeymoon in the middle of the Masai Mara, I was struck by the fact that there was not a building to be seen, yet there was still a strong 4G signal on my mobile phone. I was part of a delegation to rural Israel just a couple of weeks ago. We went down to the Gaza border. Some of those places had been so brutally attacked that they were literally in ruins, yet there was still a solid 4G—and at times 5G— signal on my mobile phone, but when I am waiting to pick up my son outside the school gates, I cannot even check my WhatsApp messages.

My message to the Minister is that this is a brilliant initiative, but it needs the Government to put a real boost underneath it, and to put pressure on industry. I fully accept and congratulate EE for being ahead of the curve on this, but we need all the networks to be ahead of the curve on this, and we need to get this right for all of our rural constituents.

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Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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Perhaps at some point the hon. Lady might like to update us on the progress and success of the R100 programme and its impact on constituents.

I thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for highlighting some of the issues in Borgie in particular. I will happily take up the issue of Jean’s folly and see whether we can make any progress on it. I thank the hon. Member for highlighting cases showing the real-life impact that poor connectivity can have.

Before I respond to points raised by other hon. Members, it might be helpful if I explain how the SRN will be implemented across the UK and what has been achieved for some time when it comes to boosting mobile coverage. To deliver the programme, the operators are investing about half a billion pounds to eliminate the majority of partial notspots, which are the areas that receive coverage from at least one but not all four operators. The Government will then go even further and tackle the total number of notspots with our contribution of half a billion pounds. Those are the hardest-to-reach rural areas that currently have no 4G coverage at all.

By upgrading existing networks and working together on shared infrastructure in new sites, we will transform mobile coverage in rural areas and—this is key—maximising the use of existing infrastructure. I was particularly glad to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan about how we are seeing that sharing of infrastructure in his constituency. We want to minimise environmental impacts, but also ensure best value for the taxpayer.

One of the ways we are trying to speed up roll-out is by easing the planning process. Several hon. Members raised the need to make more straightforward the erection of new infrastructure, as we did in the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act 2022. It can be a difficult balance, because a number of hon. Members are unhappy about the siting of masts, and we are encouraging operators to put in mast applications in sensible places. To have engagement with local authorities, I wrote to all councils to set out where they have powers in that regard. I also raised the matter with Ofcom, because I know that there are some issues in particular parts of the country. We want to make sure that we can ease people’s concerns about the impact of mast infrastructure on communities, because pausing roll-out on that basis is in nobody’s interest.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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I have multiple examples, particularly of 5G masts. One was quite literally put in somebody’s back garden, right on the fence line; another, in Monks Risborough, was right on the edge of a shopping parade. Are the networks actually being receptive to my hon. Friend’s demands? Are we seeing a real change in where they are putting in applications to put up the new infrastructure?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. One of the challenges is trying to get that transparency and get data and information that goes beyond the anecdotal, to give us a proper picture of what is happening on the ground. It seems to me that this is happening in particular areas with particular companies, so I am trying to get that information. In the meantime, I am talking to Ofcom and local authorities and trying to understand where there are problems. There are also working groups between altnets so that there can be better sharing of mast infrastructure, which I think will ease some of the challenges.

BBC Funding

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 7th December 2023

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns about the language that the BBC has chosen to use in relation to Hamas. I have made clear my views—they are public on this issue—and I have stated on the record and raised with the BBC privately that Hamas is a terrorist organisation both legally and factually, and that it is important to call them what they are. As for her constituents’ concerns, all of us, of course, get comments from our constituents, and that is an excellent avenue for people to pursue. However, I remind her constituents and others that there are also formal channels through which they can make their views known, if they feel strongly that they should pursue those matters. We are looking at impartiality in the mid-term review, which we will publish shortly. Like her, I am also concerned about the prosecution of people and I have said that I will look at that in the charter review.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I welcome the announcement of the funding model review. It is the responsible thing to do given the changing media landscape that my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned. However, my constituents will raise an eyebrow at the BBC’s prices going up this year to deliver less, with the BBC having closed the Oxford newsroom and made severe cuts to Three Counties Radio. Will she lock into the review a mechanism so that if the licence fee is to remain compulsory for those wishing to have a television, there has to be a consumer test to properly monitor what viewers actually want to watch and listen to?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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As always, my hon. Friend makes some interesting points. As we look at the licence fee review and the funding review, it is really important that we consider all aspects very carefully. The BBC is there to provide a great service to the public, and that is what the public expect.

Bill Presented

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary James Cleverly, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Oliver Dowden and Michael Tomlinson, presented a Bill to make provision about the removal of certain migrants to the Republic of Rwanda.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 11 December, and to be printed (Bill 38) with explanatory notes (Bill 38-EN).

Gambling Act Review White Paper

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 27th April 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I recognise the points that the hon. Member is making, but I would like to congratulate the Premier League on the action it has taken. It has talked about it for a long time, and it has now taken action. The White Paper today brings in a large number of actions that will make a significant difference. We will obviously keep matters under review, but the statutory levy will help us and enable us to do that.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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It was ever thus that when Governments ban or curtail legitimate activities, underground markets bubble up to fill that void. I was struck by some evidence from the Institute of Economic Affairs that shows that even without things such as stake limits, 5% of UK gamblers have used unlicensed and unregulated sites and half could name a site where they could gamble in an unregulated way. While I hear the measures that the Secretary of State has outlined around greater powers for the Gambling Commission to shut down black market operators, what assessment has she made of the volume of current gamblers who could move to underground gambling? Does she think that the Gambling Commission, even with its new powers, would be able to keep up with that?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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It is important to ensure that we protect people from legitimate gambling where we have problem gamblers, but also from the black market. I emphasise one important point, because some of the measures we are bringing in today are already in place for some companies. Some responsible companies have already taken the measures we have announced today, and they have punters and successful operations. The issue is that not all companies are doing the right thing, so our measures seek to ensure consistency across the board to ensure that the system is not prejudiced against companies doing the right thing and that we protect those who might become problem gamblers.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 26th May 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that such services are now key utilities. As he will know, we debated the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill yesterday, in which we are seeking to bring down rents to reduce prices for operators and, therefore, for consumers.

The hon. Gentleman will also be aware of the great work we did on social tariffs with providers throughout the pandemic. The Secretary of State recently wrote to providers to understand what more the Government can do to promote those social tariffs. We have also been working with the Department for Work and Pensions to roll out social tariffs to even more people, particularly those on universal credit.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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It is pleasing, week on week, to see more and more villages in my constituency getting fibre-to-the-premises broadband, but many small operators tell me that the “Equinox” Openreach discount on the wholesale price is having a distorting effect on the speed of roll-out from those smaller operators, particularly to rural communities. Has my hon. Friend modelled the impact that that discount is having on the market? What can her Department do to fix it?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important regulatory issue, which is actually led by Ofcom. It has been raised with me by altnets, and it is of concern. The Government want as much competition in the market as possible, as we think that is speeding up roll-out. The commercial sector is going great guns on this. I appreciate his concerns, and this week I met Councillor Martin Tett in the Buckingham constituency to talk about what more we can do to speed up the roll-out to my hon. Friend’s constituents.

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Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The Minister for Sport, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), and, I think, probably the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure would be happy to meet him to discuss that. As the hon. Gentleman may know, the broadcasting White Paper has just been published and the media Bill is coming forward shortly. I am sure his comments can be considered, and he may want to contribute to the process.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith  (Buckingham) (Con)
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T3.   How can my right hon. Friend ensure the availability of sufficient clean spectrum for programme making and special events, or PMSE, after 2030 to support the use of radio microphones in our vibrant entertainment and film industry?

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure (Julia Lopez)
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We are in regular contact with Ofcom and the radio industry on these issues, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further, so that I understand the interest driving his question.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 10th February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank the hon. Member for raising the important connectivity needs of Scotland. This is a Union issue and the Government are keen to help. I recently had a productive meeting with Kate Forbes—incidentally, I congratulate her on her pregnancy—who is an excellent Minister. Ensuring connectivity across the Union is very much part of our levelling up plans, and I am happy to continue working with the Scottish Parliament on such issues.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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The Government’s focus on gigabit roll-out is absolutely right and I am grateful that Buckinghamshire is included in the current public review of gigabit broadband infrastructure. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that there is a plan to tackle the problem in villages such as Mentmore in my constituency, where fibre has been installed but 20 commercially unviable houses have been left out, leaving those people and homes behind? How can we narrow that gap and ensure that once fibre goes into a village, it really reaches everyone?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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This is a common challenge across the country. We are trying to focus public resource on premises that are not being connected by the commercial roll-out and ensuring that we share data with commercial providers so that we know which premises we need to cover in our contracts. I am happy to look into my hon. Friend’s area to ensure that we do that.

BBC Funding

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 17th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
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I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to thank me for the additional £7.5 million that we are giving to S4C. I thought he was going to thank us for the fact that S4C’s funding, having been frozen for the past five years, is now being increased and we are freezing the BBC’s funding. I have never mentioned the word “subscription”. As I have said time and again, we need to start a dialogue about how we fund the BBC in the future.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I welcome the freeze in the licence fee and the debate that is to come. Given the millions across the United Kingdom and abroad who do love the BBC, there must be countless options for future funding models for content that can be commercialised, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important strand of any reform is de-linking the requirement that in order to watch other content people must pay for the BBC?

Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
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That is an interesting concept, and I am sure that it will be part of the discussion.

Events Research Programme

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Indeed, this is a hugely important sector up and down the country; it is a major employer and makes a major contribution to our economy. That is precisely why a variety of schemes, including the Government’s general support measures and the culture recovery fund, have been pivotal in helping the events sector. Importantly, we are also encouraging those in the supply chain to apply for the additional restriction grant, and we are encouraging councils up and down the country to be sympathetic to applications to that programme from events supply chain businesses.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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The events research programme has been an invaluable lifeline for many flagship events. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone, due to be held between 15 and 18 July, is the UK’s largest annual sporting event, with more than 140,000 in attendance. It contributes more than £100 million to the local economy in my constituency and neighbouring areas, sitting in the heart of “motorsport valley”, supporting 40,000 UK jobs. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that the Formula 1 British Grand Prix goes ahead as part of this programme, as a fully attended spectator event?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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It does not surprise me at all that my hon. Friend raises this issue; we have had many conversations about the importance of the motorsport sector. We continue to work very closely with our partners in Formula 1 and elsewhere in Government to deliver this year’s Silverstone grand prix with as many fans as possible. Plans are progressing very well, the discussions are constructive, and we hope to be able to set out further details shortly.

Spring 2021 Covid-19 Road Map

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 22nd March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

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This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Mundell. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) on securing and opening the debate. I wish to speak particularly on the petitions before us that relate to gyms and fitness. It may be obvious to most that, unlike the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), I am not regularly found in a gym myself, but I know that they are very important to millions of Brits, not least the entrepreneurs who run them and the staff whose jobs depend on them.

All of us have appreciated the need for measures to control this virus and to save lives, not least our local gyms and fitness centres themselves. Across the board, they introduced comprehensive and robust covid-secure measures very early. Last October, I had the pleasure of visiting Intent 2 Improve, a gym in the town of Buckingham in my constituency, where I saw at first hand the measures that have been put in place to secure its members’ safety: hygiene, ventilation and social distancing measures.

However, as we all know, as part of the national lockdown restrictions that gym, and all other gyms and indoor and outdoor leisure facilities across our country, closed. Given their excellent track record on hygiene and safety, and the corresponding extremely low incidence of transmission of the virus in such settings, it was, I fear we must acknowledge, a bitter pill that such severe limitations were placed on opportunities for exercise in a safe environment.

I am sure that I am not alone in this House in saying that the consequences for the physical and mental health of my constituents of those closures has been significant. It has never been more important for the nation to take responsibility for its own health, thereby protecting the NHS. There is a clear correlation between covid complications, hospitalisations, the tragedy of losing life to the virus and obesity-related conditions. Even more concerningly, Office for National Statistics data shows that suicides have increased by some 20% since the first lockdown. It is indeed a tragedy that, alongside the pandemic, there is likely to be a mental health pandemic that, if left unaddressed, will have a long-term impact that is much more far-reaching and difficult to recover from.

It may once have been true that exercise was a leisure activity, but with covid and the mental health crisis this country now faces, gyms and leisure centres have become a lifeline for many people, including many constituents who have written to me to make that point and who have, equally, signed the petitions we debate this evening. The industry is one of the only sectors scientifically proven to be able to support our nation with underlying health conditions, mental health conditions and other physical conditions. It is and must be part of the covid solution. As such, I very much welcome the Government’s decision to prioritise the reopening of gyms on 12 April. However, I have become increasingly concerned that fitness studios are not being classified in the same band as gyms.

That has particularly impacted a small fitness studio in my constituency, The Energy Effect. Dozens of constituents have contacted me about their disappointment that this business will not be able to reopen on 12 April. Exercising together as a group brings immeasurable benefits to everyone—fun, laughter, friendship and health. I saw for myself last year the studio’s approach to mitigating the risk of covid transmission, with enhanced cleaning regimes, restricted numbers, clearly marked and spaced positions in which people do their exercises, and only ever personal equipment being used. Its model kept people as far apart, and as socially distanced and safe, as any other regular gym. In the time it was operating in person, there was not one confirmed case of covid transmission. The owner, Kirsty, has given everything to keep her clients going in these dark times. Day in, day out she has delivered online classes, with 24 a week to choose from. Her business has undoubtedly been a lifesaver for so many of her customers, but an online future is sadly not a sustainable future for that business. I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister that it surely cannot be fair that this fitness studio has to stay closed while a gym less than a mile away can reopen.

There has to be an equality of opportunity, and every small business must be given the opportunity to rebuild. The UK’s 7,000 gyms and leisure centres have been open only for very limited periods since the first lockdown. For that reason, I would also support a work out to help out scheme, as called for in one of the other petitions we debate today. A financial incentive would encourage people to renew long-lapsed gym memberships and to support their local gym and fitness centre. It could be via a tax incentive, a VAT cut or holiday, or something similar to the eat out to help out scheme that was so successful last summer. Some sort of grant on a pay per use basis would be good for those businesses as they make every effort to bounce back and good for our nation’s health. The alternative, I fear, would be swathes of gyms and fitness centres closing, thousands of jobs disappearing and more empty spaces in our towns and cities.

In the light of the petitions before us today, I urge the Minister to do all he can to champion further our local gyms and fitness centres and to ensure that there is a level playing field and a fair playing field for all. If we can get this right, it will undoubtedly save lives and livelihoods.

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 8th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I rise to speak in support of the Budget, which is a trifold balancing act in respect of continuing covid support, stimulus for recovery and fixing the public finances.

Faced with £335 billion in borrowing from the covid support schemes, the Chancellor has a difficult task, but I can help him immediately with in excess of £100 billion of that: I would not be true to myself or my constituents if I did not urge him once more to cancel HS2, a project that had a flimsy business case to start with that has now been blown apart by projections that rail demand is down for the long term.

Critically, we need stimulus for growth. The capital gains tax increases are uncomfortable, but I very much trust that the Treasury modelling will show the new rates to be on the right side of the Laffer curve. Fundamentally, the Budget has many measures that will stimulate growth. I particularly welcome the super deduction measures to unlock investments; fuel duty freezes for families and businesses alike; the restart grants, along with the extension of the 5% VAT rate, to give retail, hospitality and others a fighting chance; frozen alcohol duties; freeports and Help to Grow; and the extension of furlough and the self-employment grants, to give businesses, particularly those with long lead times for new contracts, certainty as they plan ahead.

It remains a mystery to me why some of those who are self-employed and earn more than £50,000 and owner-directors of limited companies who pay themselves through dividends have not enjoyed the same support as those on furlough or the SEISS. Such micro and small businesses, many in the creative, cultural, tourism, events and hospitality sectors—entrepreneurs to the core—are essential to our recovery. We must find a fiscal way to get them to the other side of this crisis. I am proud that my local council, Buckinghamshire Council, has been able to support many such businesses through the additional restrictions grants, but I have heard, with enormous sadness, of far too many businesses in my constituency simply giving up.

I particularly urge the Treasury to look once more at a sector I have spoken about before: the coach industry. One firm in my constituency is shouldering over £30,000 a month in losses, serving debts that have been caused because the state has asked it to meet PSVAR and Euro 6 standards. More debt simply cannot be the answer for such firms.

To conclude, this is a very strong Budget, a Budget that is honest about the level of national borrowing, but which understands that the path to recovery must come from growth. If we can close the gaps and open up as soon as possible, this Budget will stand us in good stead for growth and prosperity.