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Capital Gains Tax (Rates)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 23rd June 2010.

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Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd 5:43 pm, 23rd June 2010

Noted, Mr Deputy Speaker. I welcome you to your new position.

I congratulate John Stevenson on making an excellent maiden speech. I made my own only a couple of weeks ago and know that it is a nerve-wracking affair. He gave an extremely assured and insightful performance.

I want to nail a disgraceful canard, which has been repeated several times this afternoon, that Welsh Members present today are absolutely uninterested in the England football score. I assure the House that I am very interested in that. I wish England well and hope they go all the way, but, to be blunt, such is the seriousness of today's debate that I had to forgo the pleasure of watching the game and instead sit in the Chamber throughout the afternoon, listening to the excellent speeches made by Members on both sides of the House. Far more seriously, there is another canard that I would like to try to nail: the belief that Labour Members have acted both before and since the election as if nothing needed to be done in the face of the economic crisis. We did act before the election, and made tough decisions to attempt to shore up the economy to make sure that there was not a more profound recession or, indeed, a depression as a result of the global economic crisis. I believe that we secured a better future for the country as a result of those actions.

Before the election, we acknowledged that we would need to tighten our belt and make post-election savings to redress the balance and to draw down the deficit. We certainly spelled out the fact that we would make cuts and savings of £40 billion. We did not spell out exactly where those cuts would fall, but neither did the then Opposition. They gave us the impression that they would do more, and they mentioned £6 billion of savings that they would make in efficiency cuts. We were not told about the specific measures that appeared in the Budget yesterday. We were not warned about the VAT rise that they have now deemed necessary, and we were not warned about the enormous and savage cuts that we expect in the autumn to public services. Those things were not spelled out by the then Opposition. If we had won the election-doubtless, many Liberal voters, both in my constituency and up and down the country, now wish that we had done so-we would have to make some tough decisions. However, I believe that we would make them in a way that was genuinely fair and informed by principles of social equity and economic justice.

I do not believe that the decisions announced in yesterday's Budget meet those principles. Many people say that politicians are all the same but, like my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, we can no longer go on believing that there are not genuine ideological divides between the two sides of the House. Yesterday's decisions clearly mark out the Government's territory, and I contend that if we were in a similar position, the values that I have just outlined and which inform our politics would lead to a different set of conclusions that would not result in the poorest and the most vulnerable having to bear the pain and pay the price for paying down the deficit.

I commend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills for the chutzpah with which he performed today's volte-face. It was truly remarkable to see him stand at the Dispatch Box and defend this Tory Budget and Administration to the hilt. He bore eloquent testament to the old adage that there is no one as zealous as a convert. He invoked the name of Sir Stafford Cripps, the famously austere Labour Chancellor, who-this says a few things about austerity-was rumoured to get up in the morning and prepare with an ice-cold bath at 5 am before coming to the Chamber. I am not sure that the Secretary of State does that yet; perhaps he will move on to that. It was wholly unfair of him to invoke the name of Sir Stafford Cripps, because while the 1949 Budget was an austere Budget-he was right at least to imply that it was a Budget in which a Labour Chancellor raised the forerunner of VAT-the austerity of the measures that were recommended yesterday is such that even Sir Stafford Cripps would find them breathtaking and, indeed, eye-watering.

The scale of cuts proposed by the Government-25% in non-ring-fenced departmental budgets-was previously unimaginable in the history of Parliament. We have never seen cuts on such a scale.

We have heard invoked many examples-analogies-of other countries where similar cuts, or allegedly similar cuts, and programmes have been implemented, but today we have heard those analogies thoroughly knocked down. Canada and Sweden are two such examples. We know that Canada succeeded in implementing a programme of cuts which was half the size of what the Government now propose, and did so in twice the time. Government Members have repeatedly referred to Sweden, but again the very clear evidence of history is that Sweden tried to implement swingeing cuts of only 20% and did so over 15 years, not five. So we have something that is twice as draconian as what was done in Canada, three times as draconian as what was attempted in Sweden and, on many measures, more punitive than the extraordinary programme of cuts that the IMF has imposed on Greece-an analogy that even the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills acknowledges is not appropriate. Many Opposition Members have already outlined the statistics that underpin that contention.

I stand here as a Welsh Member fearful that my constituents will suffer disproportionately as a result of the Budget. The Financial Times stated earlier this week and the Manchester school of economics pronounced only this morning that, inevitably, parts of the country such as mine will suffer disproportionately. For all sorts of reasons, we have greater economic problems, relating to our post-industrial heritage, and a greater reliance on public sector jobs and spending, and I am deeply worried that currently there are no indications from the Government about how they will alleviate or offset that damage in areas of Wales such as my constituency.

As we look at the blizzard of statistics in yesterday's Red Book and trade them across the Floor of the House, the human impact of those cuts is too often forgotten. I went back to my office yesterday evening to find several e-mails from constituents who are deeply worried about the proposals. I highlight the case of a couple, Phillip and Sandra Woods, who said that they were terrified that they would see an assault on the benefits that make their life liveable. They are severely disabled and rely on disability living allowance, jobseeker's and employment allowances and housing benefit. For those people, who live on meagre amounts of money, hand to mouth, week to week, the Budget presents a horrifying prospect. Equally, they were right to point out their anger that so many Government Members castigate such people as part of the problem, as opposed to people who need to be supported in our communities.

I have one more human example of the cuts: the public sector workers at Companies House in my constituency at Nantgarw. They are relatively low-paid public sector workers, working in a Government Executive agency-sitting beneath the Department for Business, Innovation Skills-that is profitable. It is statutorily mandated to operate within its costs and to return to the Exchequer 3.5% per annum. I cannot understand the logic or fairness of what has happened to those people, because they are being asked to suffer 11% cuts. That means moving jobs out of my constituency, fewer jobs moving into Cardiff and the local management imposing a pay freeze that will not be offset by the £21,000 cut-off suggested by the Government yesterday. Companies House management, in order to meet their requirements of 11% savings, will have to freeze pay across the board and stop any staff promotion. Both measures are punitive and unfair, and when I meet the workers at Nantgarw I cannot explain why they should be asked to pay the price for a crisis that was made on trading floors and in bankers' back rooms.

It is a shame that Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has left the Chamber, because he gave a paean of praise to UKTI earlier, and he ought to know that UKTI will be subject to that 11% cut. Far from its being protected, it too will be subject to serious cuts.

Why have we been told that we need to make these cuts? It is because of the false spectres that are being raised on the Government Benches, including the notion that our markets were in danger of pulling the rug out from under the economy and that we were about to have our triple A rating withdrawn by the very people who got all the ratings wrong, or certainly got their call wrong on where we stood in respect of sub-prime debt. Equally, we are being fed lines about the nature of the unaffordability of our debt that I suggest we should ignore.

I close with a plea that Government Members remember the human cost of budget cuts and look ahead to the comprehensive spending review, when we anticipate seeing even greater cuts implemented. They should think hard about how that will bite on ordinary working people in our communities in places such as Pontypridd, and think hard about what we can do to alleviate that and to implement cuts in the most sensitive and affordable manner possible.

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