I remind the House that I have declared a previous involvement in manufacturing through my family firm.
Before I talk about the Budget, I wish to say something about the maiden speeches that we have heard. We heard an excellent maiden speech from my hon. Friend Karen Bradley. Her seat is similar to my Northumberland constituency, and she spoke eloquently about the contribution that can be made by tourism and farming, which I look forward to championing with her. My hon. Friend Mr Offord also spoke well, and Karl Turner was a great deal more articulate than his predecessor in the House. My hon. Friend George Eustice said that his family lived in his constituency 400 years ago. The constituency was also the home of Ross Poldark, who found fame and fortune in the novels, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will have a similarly colourful career.
It gives me no pleasure-to a certain degree I endorse what was said by Mr Umunna on that subject-to speak in a Budget debate when we all face such difficult circumstances. Unemployment has increased considerably in the four Northumberland constituencies. It has increased by nearly 60% over the past five years in the two Labour-held constituencies of Blyth Valley and Wansbeck, and by a similar amount in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Unemployment in Hexham has increased by 67% in the past five years.
I have heard much of what Labour Members have said in today's debate, but this is not a question of ideology. We are not Thatcher's children producing Thatcherite views. I assure Labour Members that I did not join the Conservative party until considerably after Mrs Thatcher left office, and I am not in a position in which I want to put forward such a point of view. The ideology behind what we are trying to do to put things right is a simple question of maths. We have outgoings of £700 billion and incomings of £545 billion. Those figures are unquestionable; the issue is how we address the situation.
My ideology arises from the fact that my family came to this country nearly 100 years ago as immigrants with next to nothing. They had no opportunities, save what they could make. In the 1920s-when there was a real recession and things were really bad-my grandfather came home from school to be told by his father that school was no longer an option, and he would have to be withdrawn so that he could work for his father. The three children then began to work for their father in the basement of a small flat in Islington and built up a small manufacturing business on the back of a small gift of £40. I wish to say something about manufacturing. In 1997 we made roughly as much as we consumed in this country-about £160 billion, compared with £150 billion. Now, however, we consume nearly twice what we make.
In Northumberland apprenticeships are struggling. I visited Glendinning's, a firm in my constituency, shortly before the election. I was told that the firm could not take up the Government's apprenticeships, for the simple reason that they were so complex and so administratively difficult to implement that it was better off working outside the Government's scheme and ignoring any Government money.
During the election I went round nearly all the stores in Wylam in my constituency and asked the owners what the effect would be if national insurance went up. Every single one said that if it was increased, they would have to put people out of work.
There are many responses to the Budget that we could discuss, but there has been little from the Labour leadership. I have listened to the debates so far, and yesterday I listened to Mr Thomas, who uttered not one word about what he would do differently. It is all very well saying that the Labour Government were going to cut the deficit by 50% in a number of years-but surely the question is what would they cut, and what would they do differently? The answer to that is fundamentally lacking from the Opposition's arguments. It is a bit like watching the French football team: everything is wrong, but they have no alternatives.
I have also read in detail the speeches of the shadow Chancellor, Mr Darling, and Ms Harman, who spoke on Tuesday. The only features of which she spoke in support were the capital gains tax measure, the 50p tax and the bank levy.
Earlier today, to support his argument, Mr Clarke quoted the right hon. John Smith saying, "I judge a Budget on what happens to a person living on a council estate." We have a number of council estates in my constituency, and during the election we constantly articulated the view that to spend £400 a week while making only £300 a week is to head for financial disaster. Everyone can understand that.
We have heard a lot in our debates in the House about various organisations' comments on the Budget. I represent a north-east constituency. The North East Chamber of Commerce, an august body which represents more than 4,000 businesses and more than 30% of the region's work force, says:
"The Budget clearly contained a number of painful measures on...taxation and spending. However... Funding for a strategic economic development body in the North East was maintained".
The NECC continues:
The NECC goes on:
"The scale of the public finance deficit clearly required radical action... NECC believes the measures taken broadly support the wealth-creating part of the economy in the North East."
"Freezing public sector pay and reforms to pensions were difficult but necessary decisions to address the deficit and help reduce the need for large job cuts in the region's public sector."
The NECC has also welcomed the increased thresholds for employer national insurance contributions and changes to the headline rate of corporation tax. The one criticism I put to Treasury Ministers is that, like the NECC, I find it
"disappointing to see no change to empty property rates, which we continue to see having a punitive effect" on businesses, not only in the north-east, but throughout the country.
On capital spending, it is wonderful to see that the Tyne and Wear metro will go ahead, and that the A1 will finally see some form of action, which has long been supported by many hon. Members-albeit that the money still has to be found.
As I was sitting here this morning representing a fundamentally farming constituency during questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there was a brief sighting of an interesting and rarely seen-in the House for the past six weeks-individual, Mr Brown. He is not normally seen at DEFRA questions, and like a small badger he nipped in and, alert to a possible cull, nipped out again very quickly, before any of us could question him in any way whatever, whether on DEFRA questions-not something that I necessarily think he would have been seeking to answer-or on Budget matters. It would have been wonderful to have had the opportunity to ask the former Prime Minister just what he had to say about the state of the budget. I would certainly have wanted to make the point that we are set to miss his golden rule by £485 billion-quite a significant miss, one might think? One thing is for sure: when he is brought to account in this House, he will have to answer for the state of the nation and the country's finances. He may run, but he will never hide from that issue. He has much to account for, and we will ensure that he does so.
I finish by recommending a study of all the finances. Some aspects might be due to other factors, but most of what we now see happened on the watch of the previous Government. I recommend the Budget to the House.
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