Public spending is still going up by 6% a year, though there are plenty of discussions about cuts. One of the reasons is the surge in interest payments we now have to make, as so much has been borrowed in the last couple of years. It makes controlling the deficit all the more critical, as we need to avoid further big rises in the amount of debt interest we have to pay from our taxes.
It made me reluctant to agree to a referendum on AV as this did not seem to be a popular priority for more spending. Once it was clear the government had the votes to require one, I asked them along with some other colleagues to add a question to the referendum about the EU. The government has refused, and very few of us were prepared to vote for this in the Commons. I know many constituents will be disappointed with this outcome. To many the issue of Europe is a more pressing area to ask the voters than the issue of the way of voting. Huge transfers of power from the UK to the EU have occurred since the last referendum was held in 1975. Many voters have never been asked their views on how much power the EU should have. More and more constituents write to me to complain about a particular policy, only to discover it was required by the EU so there is nothing the UK Parliament can do to stop or change it. The government’s new Bill to reassert Parliamentary sovereignty is saying the right things, but I fear it will not reverse the trend of power drifting away from the UK. I spoke last week on the EU Bill, urging a referendum and other changes to give us more democratic accountability here in the UK.
I have been putting in representations on what we need in the Budget. All agree it must be a budget for growth and a budget for jobs. The government’s whole plan rests on getting many more people into work and off benefit. To do this we need stronger expansion of the private sector, and a better background for small and medium sized enterprise to flourish. The more that can be done to cut the costs of taxation and excessive regulation on business the better. I have made various proposals, and am grateful to those who have written in with ideas for improvement.
I have had meetings with welfare Ministers, as I wish to stress to them that during their radical overhaul of the welfare state they should ensure that the disabled, the autistic and others do not suffer from cuts or reductions to services which they need, and should continue to be looked after to the best standard possible. No MP is keener than I on getting down overall spending totals, but I have no wish to do this at the expense of the most vulnerable. The way to cut the spending totals is by leading the public sector to higher levels of achievement and productivity, selling off the banks for a profit, curbing the EU budget, stopping overseas aid to nuclear weapons countries, and above all by getting many people off benefit and into work.
I have spoken out against military intervention in Libya. There should be no question of western involvement without a UN resolution, and without a formal invitation from the democratic protesters and the neighbouring Arab countries. If a No fly zone is requested the USA from its carriers and Italy from its land bases is much better placed to do it than the UK. A No fly zone may well entail bombing Libyan airfields, radar installations and other property, bringing with it the danger of killing civilians on the ground. It is not an easy or risk free option, nor does it tackle the more burning problem for the protesters, the ground troops, tanks and heavy guns the regime can bring against them. As the UK has decommissioned Ark Royal and the Harriers, we are not well placed to launch such an intervention any more.