Financial Statement

Orders of the Day — Ways and Means – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 12th March 2008.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means 11:30 am, 12th March 2008

Before I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it may be for the convenience of hon. Members if I remind them that at the end of the Chancellor's speech copies of the Budget resolutions will be available to them in the Vote Office.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:31 pm, 12th March 2008

The core purpose of this Budget is stability, now and in the future. Its core values are fairness and opportunity, founded on stability and strength.

In every country in 2008, every Government have one aim: to maintain stability through the world economic slowdown. Britain, with its central role in the world's financial system, is no exception. But with low inflation, record levels of employment, and unemployment at its lowest level for a generation, and with the action that we took last year to curb inflation, Britain is better placed than other economies to withstand the slowdown in the global economy.

This year's Budget is a responsible Budget that will secure stability in these times of global economic uncertainty. We will do everything in our power to maintain stability, keeping inflation and interest rates low and maintaining our record of growth. Whilst other countries have suffered recessions, the British economy has now been growing continuously for over a decade—the longest period of sustained growth in our history. Because of the changes we made to entrench stability and increase the flexibility and resilience of our economy, I am able to report that the British economy will continue to grow throughout this year and beyond.

Even in today's difficult and uncertain times, we are determined that we will not be diverted from our long-term aim: to equip our country for the challenges of the future, to confront climate change and to end child poverty in a generation. This Budget is about equipping Britain for the times ahead and making sure that everyone, no matter what their circumstances, can exploit their full potential. It is about building a fairer society, offering more opportunity—a fair Britain in which everyone can succeed.

Throughout the world, economies have benefited from the globalisation of trade and investment, which has delivered strong world growth. Here in Britain, our openness, our global reach and our history of scientific invention and creative success make us uniquely placed to succeed in the global economy. But with the benefits of globalisation, we see, too, how problems in one part of the world can quickly spread to another. Turbulence in the global financial markets, which started in the American mortgage market, has affected all economies, from the United States to Asia, as well as Europe.

We have seen significant disruption across many credit markets, with a number of them barely functioning at all, and since the turn of the year, global stock markets have been affected. This poses a major risk to the world economy, and so we welcome yesterday's commitment by the world central banks, including the Bank of England, to address these concerns.

Here, the action that we took last autumn to support Northern Rock and protect depositors and savers means that despite seeing the worst period of financial disruption for a generation, we have maintained confidence and stability in the banking system.

Between the early 1970s and the mid-1990s, the UK was one of the least stable economies in the G7. Today, we are the most stable. In the past, our economy suffered from high unemployment and high inflation, but today unemployment is lower than in Germany, France and Italy.

Welfare reform makes work pay and encourages people off benefits. Our strengthened competition regime has increased the flexibility of product and labour markets, backed by fair employment laws.

So the reforms that we have made since 1997—independence for the Bank of England and tough fiscal rules—mean that Britain is now more resilient and more prepared to deal with future shocks, and it is better equipped to meet the challenges of rapid global change.

We are developing new strengths in the industries of the future—the creative industries account for 7 per cent. of our economy; pharmaceuticals account for a quarter of the UK's research and development.

Ours is the only major industrial economy to see an increasing share of trade in global services—from 7 per cent. a decade ago to 8¼ per cent. today.

In the knowledge-intensive services, the UK is second only to the United States. High-tech manufacturing has grown by 30 per cent. in the last 10 years.

Driven by improved productivity, the UK's GDP per head—the average income for every man, woman and child—has gone from the lowest amongst the group of seven leading industrial economies in the early 1990s to being second only to the United States last year.

Right across the world countries have lowered their forecasts for growth in the coming year.

In Japan growth is forecast to be 1.4 per cent., in the euro area and the United States, 1.6 per cent., and in Canada, 1.8 per cent. Even in the fastest growing markets—China, India and Brazil, which have enjoyed record growth in recent years—it is expected to slow. Despite the slowdown in the world economy, in 2007 the British economy grew by 3 per cent.—the fastest growth of any major economy.

This year my forecast is that—as growth in the world economy slows further—growth in the British economy will be between 1¾ per cent. and 2¼ per cent. in 2008, but faster than that in Japan, the US and the euro area.

I expect growth to shift towards companies and exports, with growth rising to 2¼ to 2¾ per cent. in 2009 and 2½ to 3 per cent. by 2010. My forecast shows that the UK economy will continue to grow throughout this period of global uncertainty—a view supported by the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In the past, inflation has overshadowed many Budgets. From the 1970s until the early 1990s, the British economy suffered through the failure of successive Governments to deliver economic stability.

We have seen recent increases in world food, fuel and energy prices. The reforms that we have made since 1997 mean we can be confident about the inflation outlook. There will be no return to the inflation rates of the early 1990s.

As is happening in many countries because of commodity prices, inflation in the UK will rise in the short term as higher oil and food prices feed through into domestic inflation. But inflation is forecast to return to target in 2009 and remain on target thereafter.

The success of the Monetary Policy Committee and the resilience of the UK economy is clear. Energy prices have tripled since 2002, but over this period inflation has averaged just 2 per cent. and growth has averaged 2¾ per cent.

To provide certainty and to build on this foundation of stability, I am today writing to the Governor of the Bank of England to re-affirm that the inflation target for the Monetary Policy Committee remains 2 per cent. on a CPI basis, which will entrench our commitment to low inflation.

The discipline we have shown on pay in the public sector will support the Bank of England in maintaining low and stable inflation. The reforms we made and this hard won stability mean that—whereas in previous decades, the UK economy suffered more than other economies in the face of global economic downturns—we enter this period of uncertainty better placed than any other major economy. For that reason, I will continue to reject proposals for a £10 billion programme of unfunded tax and spending commitments, which would put that stability at risk.

Our fiscal policy, like our monetary policy, is designed to support stability. It is founded on tough fiscal rules underpinned by the code for fiscal stability and forecast on the basis of cautious assumptions, which are audited by the independent National Audit Office. Our fiscal rules—to keep debt low and stable and to borrow only for investment over the economic cycle—deliver sound public finances in the medium term. They protect public investment and they allow fiscal policy to support monetary policy at the right time to support economic stability and growth.

Over the past 10 years, at all times we have taken the necessary action to meet our fiscal rules. The disciplines we have imposed mean that borrowing is much lower than it was before 1997, and so too is debt. Between 1979 and 1997, borrowing was 3.4 per cent. of national income. Since 1997, it has averaged just 1.2 per cent. Debt, which at the start of the economic cycle in 1997 was 43.3 per cent., has now fallen to 36.6 per cent. of GDP. It is precisely our commitment to this discipline and stability that gives us the flexibility now to respond to the global economic challenges we face today.

Given the fundamental strength of our public finances, it is right to allow fiscal policy to support monetary policy over the period ahead, helping to maintain stability in the face of global downturn. For environmental reasons, we will increase fuel duty by ½p per litre in real terms from 2010. Fuel duty is due to rise again in April, but because I want to support the economy now and help business and families, I will postpone that increase until October.

I can tell the House that our Budget projection for the current budget balance in 2008 will come in as forecast. Our projection for net borrowing, at £36 billion, is £1.4 billion lower than I forecast at the time of the pre-Budget report. Debt this year is also forecast to be lower than the pre-Budget report, at 37.1 per cent. As a result of the decisions in this and recent Budgets that come into effect this year—including a reduction in the main rate of income tax from 22p to 20p—fiscal policy is able to provide real support for the economy this year. This is a responsible approach—within the disciplines of our fiscal rules—that will help entrench the resilience of the UK economy.

Borrowing next year, which peaked at 7.8 per cent. of national income by 1993—that is equivalent to £110 billion today—next year will rise to £43 billion, some 2.9 per cent of national income, less than at its peak and less than the average level of borrowing between 1979 and 1997. And because of the decisions taken in this Budget, it will fall to 2.5 per cent., then 2 per cent., then 1.6 per cent. and then 1.3 per cent. by 2012-13, supporting stability and resilience in the economy. That is £38 billion and then £32 billion, £27 billion and £23 billion by 2012-13.

Even taking into account the turbulence in financial markets and the support we are providing to the economy now, the current balance this year is in line with my forecast at the pre-Budget report, at minus £8.8 billion. Next year it will be minus £10 billion, then minus £4 billion, before returning to a surplus in 2010 of £4 billion, then £11 billion and then £18 billion by 2012, forecast to meet the golden rule over the economic cycle. The Budget shows that we are meeting our first fiscal rule—the golden rule—with the current budget in surplus over the economic cycle.

In the previous two cycles, the then Government failed to meet the golden rule. In the cycle between 1986 and 1997, they failed by a margin of £240 billion, and in the cycle from 1977 to 1986 by £140 billion. In the past, the then Government borrowed to fund the immediate pressures of the day, with no long-term return for the taxpayer. It is vital that today our fiscal discipline means that over the cycle we borrow only to invest. Vital investment—in transport, schools and hospitals—has been protected and increased. So whereas in 1996-97 public sector net investment was £5.4 billion, over the forecast period it is set to rise further from £33 billion next year to £37 billion in 2010—the highest in three decades.

Borrowing for investment within the fiscal rules means that we will meet our second fiscal rule—the sustainable investment rule—in each year and over the cycle. This year, debt will be lower than in the US, lower than in the euro area and lower than in Japan. Debt levels are forecast to be 38.5, 39.4, 39.8, 39.7 and 39.3 per cent of GDP by 2012-13: every year lower than in 1997.

In the 18 years between 1979 and 1997, investment increased by only 20 per cent. in cash terms and reached a low of just 0.3 per cent. as a share of national income. But I can tell the House that, by 2011, investment will have increased by 500 per cent. since 1997 and will have trebled as a share of national income. By 2011, we will have seen the longest sustained expansion of investment in public services since 1945. It is an achievement that we can be rightly proud of, and we remain committed to continued investment in these public services.

Building on the platform of stability provided by the fiscal rules, successive spending reviews have delivered sustained increases in spending addressing the backlog of underinvestment in public services. Public spending grew by 3.6 per cent. a year in real terms between 1997 and 2007. Following the comprehensive spending review last October, public spending in the coming three years will grow by 2.2 per cent., building on past increases and underpinned by stretching value for money reforms.

In 10 years, spending on health has almost doubled, and spending on education is up by 58 per cent. As a result, waiting lists are down, and school standards are up. Transport spending is now 90 per cent. higher, with more people using public transport than ever before.

Aid for the world's poorest countries has doubled in real terms. The defence budget has seen the longest period of increased spending in a generation. This year, we again expect to spend over £2 billion more supporting our troops on the front line, including £900 million on military equipment.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our servicemen and women, and their families, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are deeply proud of the bravery, professionalism and courage they display in serving our country.

This has been an exceptional commitment to improving public services. By 2010-11, we will have seen the longest sustained expansion of investment in public services in recent history. In 1997, the annual cost of servicing our national debt was 9 per cent. of public spending. Today, it is 5 per cent., freeing up an extra £23 billion each year to invest in public services—around half the entire budget for schools. In the early 1990s, as much as three quarters of all new public spending went on debt and social security costs. The figure today is just a third of that, allowing us to target spending where it is needed.

We have turned welfare into work and borrowing into wealth creation, and it is essential that we continue to help everyone who can get into work to do so, so we will bring forward further proposals to reform housing benefit to ensure that work pays. From April 2010, all long-term recipients of incapacity benefit will attend work capability assessments, helping them into work. These reforms will continue to free up resources for investment.

It is right that, like any other organisation, the public sector is as efficient as possible and that it delivers value for money. Over the past year, public sector employment has fallen. At the same time, private sector employment has grown strongly, leading to record levels of employment, which again underlines the resilience of the British economy.

All Departments have now published plans that will deliver another £30 billion in savings each year from 2010. All these savings will be reinvested in services and will examine all major spending areas to identify where further reform can be made to deliver better value for money and to maintain improvement in the public services.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that spending must be matched by reform. Reform remains vital. It is not optional; it is essential. It is common sense. Since 1997, we have responded to people's expectations for better public services after decades of underinvestment and neglect. We have driven up standards, developed a greater diversity of providers, tackled failing services, and ensured that the maximum benefit was gained from the investment that we put in.

Ten years ago there were 600 schools in which less than a quarter of pupils gained at least five good GCSEs; today, there are fewer than 50. Compared with 1997, 10 per cent. fewer people die from cancer each year thanks to faster and better treatment and more specialist doctors. But the test for public services in the future is not whether they are better than before or simply good enough. It is whether they are as good as they can be. So if the focus of the past decade was on repairing the old, the focus of the next must be on developing genuinely world-class services.

After a decade of hugely increased investment, we will continue our spending at a sustainable rate alongside our wider objectives for the economy and public services. This Budget therefore confirms the spending plans set out in last year's comprehensive spending review, and makes an assumption for continuing real growth in public spending after 2011 at a rate of 1.9 per cent. a year, which will allow departmental resources to continue to grow broadly at the same rate for the next three years.

I now want to turn to the steps that I believe are necessary to equip this country for the future. There is no greater moral imperative than to make sure that every child has the highest aspiration and ambition and the best possible opportunity to go as far as they have the talent to go—not some children, but every child in this country.

If we are to build a fairer future for our children, we must eradicate child poverty in Britain. Between 1979 and 1997, the number of children living in poverty doubled. Since then, I can report that 600,000 fewer children live in relative poverty, and we have halved the number of children living in absolute poverty. We have set ourselves an ambitious target to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and to halve it by 2010, and today I want to do more to deliver that ambition.

I will help families to escape permanently the cycle of deprivation that has blighted too many lives. Central to that is helping more parents into work. We want to demonstrate our commitment to supporting parents through a contract in which the Government undertake to provide the support that families need to move into work, and the other side of this contract is that we look to families to make a commitment to improve their situations where they can.

From October 2009, we will change the rules for housing and council tax benefit so that parents are better off in work than on benefit. As a result, a family with one child on the lowest income will gain up to £17 a week. This measure alone will lift 150,000 more children out of poverty. And I can do more to help all children of hard-working families.

In 1997, child benefit for the first child was just £11 a week. I can tell the House that, from April 2009, I will increase child benefit for the first child to £20 a week—a year earlier than planned. I will increase by £50 a year above inflation the child element of the child tax credit for families on low and middle income from April next year. That means that a family with two children earning up to £28,000 a year will be over £130 a year better off. To make further progress, we will spend a further £125 million over the next three years targeting help on those who need it most and where the challenges are the hardest, developing new approaches that help families in the long term. Taken together, these measures mean that even at a time when we need to take difficult decisions we are investing a further £765 million next year and then a further £950 million the following year to take 250,000 more children out of poverty.

Today I am publishing analysis on what further steps we intend to take to eradicate child poverty, and I believe that further action is also now needed to help vulnerable groups deal with rising energy prices. We want to see the 5 million customers on prepayment meters given a fairer deal and energy companies increase their support to vulnerable customers. We will work with the companies to take forward further action on a voluntary and on a statutory basis to underpin this as necessary and we will legislate when it is necessary to do so. Energy companies currently spend around £50 million a year on social tariffs. I want to see this rising to at least £150 million a year in the period ahead.

We are committed to helping people who need the help most. We are also committed to encouraging more people to save. There are now over 17 million people with individual savings accounts and, from this April, we are increasing the annual individual savings account investment limit to £7,200, while the amount that can be held in cash will rise to £3,600. Parents have now opened over 2.4 million child trust fund accounts, saving more for their children's future.

But we can go further. So I can also announce that the Government will launch the savings gateway nationally with the first accounts available from 2010. By contributing to these accounts, we will offer incentives to save to up to 8 million more people on low incomes. Ending child poverty, encouraging saving, raising ambition and providing greater opportunity—that is the objective of this Budget.

For business, my Budget provides continuing stability and certainty and introduces new opportunities for entrepreneurs and also maintains the three critical factors contributing to the strength of the UK's business environment, ensuring that we remain one of the best places in the world to do business. We will continue to promote open and competitive markets, by removing barriers to trade across the world through bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, including the conclusion of the Doha development agenda.

Our goal is, and will continue to be, to maintain the most competitive corporation tax rate of any major economy. We already have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7 and a competitive and simplified tax regime is essential, which is why we cut the main rate of corporation tax in 1997 and again in 1999. And from next month the main corporation tax rate falls again from 38 per cent. to 28 per cent.

The UK is one of the best places in the world to do business. We remain committed to consultation with business to maintain a stable business tax regime that remains responsive to business needs and is internationally competitive. Underlining our commitment to maximising the economic recovery of the UK's oil and gas reserves, I can also confirm reforms to the North sea oil fiscal regime to help incentivise investment and support production.

But today, I want to do more to support small and medium enterprises, now and in the longer term. Thirteen million people work in those enterprises and there are over 750,000 more small and medium firms than there were in 1997. The new capital gains tax regime will come in next month including the entrepreneurs relief that I announced in January. That will benefit over 80,000 businesses and investors in the next year alone: 90 per cent. of them will continue to pay capital gains tax at 10 per cent., one of the lowest rates in the world. This Budget continues a programme of tax simplification. I am today announcing further steps to help small companies simplify their tax calculations.

Especially at this time, we need to do more to help small and medium enterprises to get access to the finance that they need. To help them in the current conditions, I can therefore announce that funds available through the small firms loan guarantee scheme will be increased by £60 million for the coming year. I am from next month extending the scheme to all small and medium firms. I am also increasing the amount of investment on which tax relief is available under the enterprise investment scheme from £400,000 to £500,000 and the employee share limit for tax relief under the enterprise management incentive scheme will increase from £100,000 to £120,000. The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will consult with radical new proposals to impose a limit on the amount of regulation that can be imposed by Whitehall Departments. I will also provide a capital fund of initially £12.5 million specifically to encourage more women entrepreneurs.

There is also more I can do to ensure that small and medium firms win more business from the public sector, so we will take immediate steps to give firms better access to Government contracts and help them with their cash flow. I am asking Anne Glover, the chief executive of Amadeus Capital Partners, to look into what other barriers we can remove and the practicality of also setting a goal for small and medium enterprises to win 30 per cent. of all public sector business in the next five years. I believe that that could help promote enterprise in one of our most innovative and dynamic areas of the economy. I also believe that we can help support them grow their businesses, which will create new jobs and opportunities.

We welcome the contribution made by people born outside the UK who choose to come and work here. They are an important and central contributor to our economy's growth and prosperity. They pay their taxes on their earnings here; they also pay tax on the money they bring into this country from abroad. But for those non-domiciled individuals or families who have chosen to make Britain their home, I believe that it is right and fair that they should, after seven years, pay a reasonable charge to maintain the right to be taxed differently from other UK residents. Beyond that, as I have said before, we will not seek to charge UK tax on offshore income or capital gains that are not brought into the UK. This new charge will be implemented from April. There will be no further changes to this regime for the rest of this Parliament or the next. [Interruption.]

Last October, I said that I would also consider a scheme that claimed to raise an additional £2.8 billion from people who are non-domiciled. On closer examination, it was clear that the sums that did not add up—not for the first time, given the source from which that representation came—and I rejected it. We will continue, though, to be vigilant against tax avoidance, and we are publishing today further measures to ensure fairness for all taxpayers.

If we are to compete in the future, it is essential to do even more to drive up standards in education and improve skills. Increased spending on education has benefited children right across the United Kingdom. We have cut the number of underperforming schools dramatically in the last decade and building on last year's spending review will raise standards even further to create greater opportunities for children.

So the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families will be investing £200 million to bring forward by a year to 2011 the Government's aim for no schools to have fewer than 30 per cent. of its pupils achieving five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths. We will also extend the successful London Challenge model to enable the best head teachers to turn round low-performing schools, to create new trusts and federations around successful schools and, in areas of greatest need, to drive forward a faster expansion of our academies programme. As a result, by 2011, we will ensure that every school is an improving school meeting the standards that we have set.

I can announce today that we will commit £10 million over the next five years, which, alongside contributions from the Wellcome Trust and private sector, will create a £30 million Enthuse Science fund. That will give every science teacher in secondary and further education access to high-quality professional development, helping to improve the science on offer in today's schools.

To improve skills, the spending review last year increased the amount of money for adult training. Extra funding will enable nearly 3 million adults to gain new, high-level skills by 2011. Today I can also announce an extra £60 million over the next three years to provide new opportunities for people to gain the skills they need to enter the labour market, to remain in and progress through work. That includes additional apprenticeships with leading employers to help tackle skills gaps and shortages.

By 2010, we will be spending over £6 billion a year supporting British science and innovation. Tomorrow, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills will publish the science and innovation White paper, which will include proposals for a further education innovation fund to help support businesses to develop their innovative potential.

If we are to compete in the future, not only do we have to have the best business environment and higher skills levels, but we also need good transport links to make up for decades of under-investment. In the last 10 years, we have doubled the amount of money that we spend on transport—£7 billion on the west coast main line to cut journey times—and public transport usage is at a 25-year high.

Last November, following the Government's investment of £6 billion, we saw the completion of the channel tunnel rail link and the opening of the St. Pancras international station. This week, terminal 5 opens at Heathrow. Today, I can announce new measures at Heathrow and other airports to ensure greater use of biometric technology to speed up the time that it takes passengers to get through immigration control. Government funding for Crossrail is now secure and that will support economic growth not just in London but in the whole of the United Kingdom by adding an estimated £20 billion to national income. That will help London retain its position as the world's pre-eminent international financial centre.

We are spending more on public transport, and we also need to spend more to reduce congestion and improve transport links. If we are to remain competitive over the next 20 to 30 years, we need to take more radical steps to reduce congestion on our roads. We do need more capacity on the roads, but we cannot build our way out of all the problems we face.

Last week, the Secretary of State for Transport announced further measures to ease congestion. In addition, she has made available funding to develop local schemes to tackle congestion in the short term. In the longer term, though, road pricing could reduce congestion in the future, as well as helping to meet our wider environmental obligations, so I am setting aside new funding to develop national road pricing, inviting tenders to test road-pricing technology, with the results expected next year.

Just as we need good transport links, we also need to make sure that we have more housing to meet the rising demand for homes as well as to support our growing economy. Since 1997, as a result of historically low mortgage rates, we have seen 1.5 million more home owners. Already, we have helped 95,000 families into new homes through shared ownership and shared equity schemes. We will now spend £8 billion more on new, affordable and social housing over the next three years. That will enable the Housing Corporation to develop 70,000 new affordable homes each year over the next three years.

But I want to go further. From this April, key workers, such as teachers and nurses, and first-time buyers will be able to borrow money from new shared equity schemes. Up until now, those were available only to people who could afford three quarters of the price of their new home. I am now extending the scheme to help those able to afford half the price of their new home. I can also announce that, from today, stamp duty on shared ownership homes will not be required until buyers own 80 per cent. of the equity in their home.

It is precisely at this time that we need to do more to promote longer-term stability for home owners and mortgage holders. Already, the reforms we have introduced have created much greater stability with consistently low mortgage rates for home owners. However, the uncertainty in the financial markets is having an impact on mortgage lenders here in the UK, so I want to take measures that will keep mortgage rates low and stable.

In 2006, 30 per cent. of mortgages agreed in the UK—£100 billion of lending—were funded through secondary funding markets. Current conditions in these mortgage markets are extremely difficult because of the financial turbulence in global markets. In some countries, those markets are closed. It is, however, imperative that lenders have access to stable and low-cost funding so that mortgage rates can come down as soon as possible. We want to bring together investors and lenders with the Treasury, the Bank and the Financial Services Authority to find market-led solutions to strengthen these funding markets further.

I also want more people to have the choice of a long-term fixed mortgage. These protect borrowers from risks and allow them the flexibility to move and to get a new mortgage if rates go down. Today, however, most people in the UK have short-term fixed-rate mortgages for two or three years, leaving them exposed to interest rate rises when their mortgage deal ends. That is not the case in other countries—Denmark, for example—where the majority of home owners take out long-term fixed-rate mortgages. I want to see more flexible and affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgages for 10, 20 or 25 years.

I am today publishing the findings of a review of housing finance in the UK. The conclusions show that long-term fixed-rate mortgages can reduce some of the risks of taking out a mortgage, especially for first-time buyers and lower-income families, and this will help more people get on to and stay on the housing ladder. So I want to seek views on how we can deliver—drawing on international experience—the right framework for the UK to achieve long-term fixed-rate mortgages, and I will report back in the pre-Budget report.

The best way to improve long-term affordability and stability is to build more houses, which is why we are committed to building more homes by 2020. So I can announce that in addition to the 40,000 already under construction, we have, through the review of public sector land, identified sites for 70,000 more houses.

We are determined to take decisions now for the long-term future of our country, helping to improve affordability, supporting long-term stability for home owners, and meeting the needs of future generations, and our greatest obligation to the future must be to tackle climate change. Britain has been at the forefront of international action. We are one of the few countries to meet our Kyoto target. We are working with other countries following agreement in Bali last year to agree tougher global goals after 2012, and the UK will use our £800 million environment fund to work with the United States, Japan and other countries, as well as the World Bank, to fund clean technologies in developing countries and adaptation to climate change.

We are already the leading financial centre for carbon markets, and we are also working with California and other American states to build these markets and strengthen partnerships. We need to do more and we need to do it now, though. Few doubt the science. The need to take action is urgent; the effects if we do not will be catastrophic.

Recognising this threat, we are the first Government anywhere in the world to introduce legal targets compelling us to take action to cut carbon emissions. We have established a target to reduce emissions by at least 60 per cent. by 2050, but I believe that we should go further. That is why we have asked the committee on climate change to advise us on whether, as part of an international commitment, we should raise our target not to 60 per cent. but to 80 per cent. And if we are serious about reaching demanding targets, every Government, every Department in Government, every single public sector body, every business, every one of us needs to play our part. To ensure that carbon reduction is a central part of our economic objectives, I can tell the House that the first carbon budgets to 2022 will be announced alongside the Budget next year.

Long-term growth must be sustainable. There are huge opportunities there too for businesses, and there could be over a million jobs in our environmental industries within the next two decades. Meeting these long-term challenges will require us to make substantial reductions in emissions across the economy, in energy supply, in transport and in our business and our homes. But I believe there are three key steps that we can take now.

First, working within Europe we have helped to build the emissions trading scheme to curb the amount of carbon produced by generators and large industrial users. The scheme imposes a cap on the amount of carbon that companies can generate. Companies get allocations for credits to help them to adapt. But if we want to encourage investment in low-carbon technology, in energy renewables and in nuclear, for example, and if we want to make the industry more carbon-efficient, we need to go further. So in the next phase, instead of auctioning of just 7 per cent., I want to see auctioning of 100 per cent. of these allowances for electricity generators. Last year's energy White Paper committed us to increasing the supply of renewable energy, and the Energy Bill now going through Parliament will allow us to triple renewable energy by 2015. We will consult on how to meet our share of the European Union target in the summer.

Secondly, we need to do more to reduce the amount of carbon generated at home and at work. Given the damage that single-use carrier bags inflict on the environment, we want to be able to take action now, so we will introduce legislation to impose a charge on them if we have not seen sufficient progress on a voluntary basis. Legislation will come in in 2009, and on the basis of other countries' experience it could lead to a 90 per cent. reduction, with around 12 billion fewer plastic bags in circulation. The money raised should go to environmental charities.

Next month we will launch the most ambitious household emissions reduction programme. Energy companies are obliged through the carbon emissions reduction target to give their customers better deals for energy efficiency and therefore cut bills. This means cavity wall insulation for nearly 3 million homes, loft insulation and more energy-efficient appliances. I can announce funding of £26 million next year for a Green Homes service to help people cut their carbon emissions and their fuel bills. We will also extend the use of smart meters to medium and large companies over the next five years to provide them with greater incentives to reduce the amount of energy that they consume.

We already have a target to make new homes zero-carbon from 2016. I believe that we need to go further, and I can announce today that new non-domestic buildings will become zero-carbon by 2019. We will consult on achieving that target, with the potential to achieve 75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. The climate change levy, which is the main reason why we have met our Kyoto targets and which is still opposed by the Conservative party, will increase in line with inflation from April.

I believe that the third key area in which we need to take action now is transport, which accounts for nearly a third of our carbon emissions. We recognise the contribution of aviation to the UK economy, which is why we support expansion at Stansted and Heathrow, but I have always been clear that aviation must meet its environmental costs, and that is why we want it to be in the European Union emissions trading scheme. Because emissions from aircraft are forecast to continue to grow, I am also announcing that revenue from the duty will be increased by 10 per cent. in the second year of operation. But Britain's 30 million cars, vans and lorries together account for 22 per cent. of total carbon emissions. Over the last 20 years new cars have become 50 per cent. more efficient, and new technology will bring further improvement.

Today I am publishing Professor Julia King's review of low-carbon cars, in which she examined new technologies which could help to cut carbon emissions further. Professor King found that simply by switching to the cleanest cars on offer, motorists could save 25 per cent. of their fuel costs. She also found that manufacturers needed to be encouraged to bring new technology to the market. I am asking the European Commission today to set a tighter target which reduces the cap on emissions from 130 g per km to 100 g per km by 2020.

But I believe that the road tax system should do more to support the use of more carbon-efficiency, and therefore less costly cars. It will continue to reduce the average carbon dioxide levels in new cars. First, I propose a major reform of vehicle excise duty from 2009 to encourage manufacturers to produce cleaner cars with the introduction of new bands. There will be an incentive to encourage drivers to choose the least polluting car.

As a second stage for new cars, from 2010 there will be a new first-year rate based on carbon dioxide emissions from the car. Cars that emit less than the proposed 130 g European standard will pay no car tax at all in the first year, but a higher first-year rate will be introduced for the most polluting cars. Cutting taxes for those who cut carbon emissions; but it is right that if people choose to buy a more polluting car, they should pay more in the first year to reflect the environmental cost. These changes will provide a real incentive for both manufacturers and motorists.

We must encourage sustainable biofuels, and therefore the biofuel duty differential will be replaced by the renewable transport fuel obligation. I am also reforming capital allowances for business cars to increase the incentive to move to lower-emitting cars.

Today is No Smoking day, and from 6 pm the duty on tobacco will rise, adding 11p to the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes and 4p to the price of five cigars. To help people stop smoking, we are continuing the 5 per cent. reduced rate of VAT on smoking cessation products beyond 30 June this year.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, as incomes have risen, alcohol has become more affordable. In 1997 the average bottle of wine bought in a supermarket cost £4.45 in today's prices; if you into a supermarket today, the average bottle of wine will cost about £4. So from midnight on Sunday, alcohol duty will increase by 6 per cent. above the rate of inflation. Beer will rise by 4p a pint, cider by 3p a litre, wine by 14p a bottle and spirits by 55p a bottle, and those duties will increase by 2 per cent. above the rate of inflation in each of the next four years.

It is only because I have taken these decisions on alcohol and on closing tax loopholes that I am able to provide additional support for families and lift more children out of poverty. It is also why I am able to make two further announcements, while still meeting our fiscal rules. As the House will know, the basic rate of income tax will fall by 2p in April. Because charities have a vital role to play, we will therefore implement a transitional rate of 22 per cent. to allow them to continue to claim gift aid at the current rate, delivering £300 million-worth of relief. It will provide charities with certainty for the next three years.

I also said that one of the key features of this Budget is fairness and I want to do more to help older people, especially this year. We are spending £11 billion more in real terms per year on pensions, with over half this extra money going to pensioners on the lowest incomes. From April, as a result of the changes we made last year, a further 600,000 pensioners will be taken out of paying income tax. The pension credit now guarantees a minimum income of £124 a week from April.

Before 1997, there was no winter fuel allowance. For this year, I have decided to help pensioners who are facing pressures such as high energy bills, so I intend to raise the winter fuel payment for the over-60s from £200 to £250 and for the over-80s from £300 to £400. Nine million pensioner households will be better off.

This is a responsible Budget to secure Britain's stability in the face of global uncertainty. I have made my choice: responsible decisions, not irresponsible, unfunded promises; fairness and opportunity for everyone in Britain to secure a strong and sustainable future. I commend this Budget to the House.