I congratulate Mrs Grant on her maiden speech. As she admitted, she has a difficult act to follow, but the confident and assured way in which she addressed the House shows that she is well up to meeting the challenge. We look forward to listening to her on many occasions in the future.
This Budget is hypocritical, regressive and vindictive. It is hypocritical because, as recently as April, both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats rejected the idea of an increase in value added tax. The excuse that they have given since forming the coalition Government is that they found that matters were much worse than they had thought once they managed to see the books. I find that somewhat difficult to swallow, given that the problems relating to our finances have been well documented.
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend Mr Robinson that the Government have been suckered into believing information from the Bank of England about the danger of our being sucked into eurozone problems, when in fact we are no such danger. Before the banking crisis and the recession struck, our historic debt stood at about 40%, a level comparable to that in some other regions. It was not particularly excessive.
It is rather galling that the Liberal Democrats have fallen so easily into the coalition Government, agreeing not only to the £6 billion of cuts that affect my area but to the cuts that form part of this emergency Budget. They seem to sit comfortably in this cutting Government; they seem to be comfortable wearing the Tory mantle that they appear to have assumed. I think that many people in the country will rightly feel that they voted for Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament only to be presented with Tories.
The Budget is vindictive because it attacks the less well off: the lower paid and benefit claimants. Mr Jackson let the cat out of the bag when he called it a Conservative Budget-a traditional Conservative Budget, which attacks the public sector and cuts the welfare state. Are the Government trying to tell us that, in an emergency Budget, they will remedy all the ills of recent years in which our welfare budget has increased? Are they going to do all that in one Budget? Surely not. Surely they could have taken time to examine our debt problems in depth before making slashing, swingeing cuts such as these.
It seems that we are returning to the old Tory mantra: if it is provided by the public sector it is bad but if it is provided by the private sector it is good, and everything to do with the private sector is far superior to everything to do with the public sector. That simply will not wash. It is the old dogma that we have heard in the past.
VAT is obviously a regressive tax. It affects the less well off far more than those on higher incomes. It is a question of involuntary versus voluntary expenditure. Yes, people on higher incomes will pay more in VAT, because they will spend more of their disposable income on luxuries. Unavoidable expenditure on food, groceries and other necessities will affect the lower paid much more than the well off.