Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Motion made, and Question proposed,
(1) That it is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation,
(b) for refunding an amount of tax,
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.—(Mr George Osborne.)
The Chancellor spoke for an hour, but one fact says it all, and he could not bring himself to mention it. Growth is down, last year, this year and next year. It is the same old Tories. It’s hurting, but it isn’t working.
What did the Chancellor say last year about growth? “Judge me on the figures.” Well, judge him we will. Every time he comes to the House, growth is downgraded. Last June, 2011 growth was down from 2.6% to 2.3%. In November, it was down again. In January, what did the Prime Minister say? His three priorities for the year were growth, growth, growth. And what has happened in this Budget? Growth is down, down, down. Taking account of all the measures—[Interruption.]
What is the Chancellor’s singular achievement? To deliver a budget for growth that downgrades the growth forecasts. Growth is down this year to 1.8%, and it is downgraded next year too. That did not happen by chance; it happened by choice—the Chancellor’s choice—and it was the wrong choice: to go too far and too fast. In the Chancellor’s own words in the June Budget, he chose to go £40 billion further and faster in tax rises and spending cuts than our plan to halve the deficit over four years. That pace of cuts has seen consumer confidence fall in almost every month since the general election.
In his first Budget, the Chancellor promised
“steady and sustained economic recovery”.—[Hansard, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 168.]
When last September’s growth figures were published, he took the credit. He called the figures “a vote of confidence” in the Government’s economic policy. But when the economy contracted in the fourth quarter, what did he do? He blamed the snow. Even he must appreciate the irony. While the Prime Minister was grounded from his Christmas trip to Thailand, the Chancellor was on the piste in Klosters. I suppose it was the right type of snow for a ski-ing holiday; it was just the wrong kind of snow for our economy.
What is it about the British snow? There was worse snow in Germany, a big freeze in France, and in the United States the worst blizzards for decades. Despite all that, those country’s economies grew in the fourth quarter. While our growth forecasts have worsened, theirs have improved. [Interruption.] The Chancellor should calm down a little. The German economy is forecast to grow more strongly than last year, and so is that of the United States. Growth in the world economy has been revised upwards. Which is the major country that is downgrading its growth forecasts? The United Kingdom. It is not the wrong type of snow that is to blame, but the wrong type of Chancellor—the wrong type of Chancellor in the wrong type of government with the wrong priorities for Britain—[Interruption.]
Order. Courtesy should be shown. The public out there also want to hear what the Opposition have to say. If there are Government Members who do not want to listen, will they please leave the Chamber? The public out there want to hear both sides of the argument. Some people may agree, and some may disagree.
Government Members shout and jeer, Mr Deputy Speaker, as unemployment hits a 17-year high. What more do we need to know about the Conservative party?
The Chancellor also promised in his June Budget that he would deliver “low inflation”, and what has happened? Inflation has risen, month after month after month. That did not simply happen by accident. It is happening because the Chancellor made the wrong decision on VAT. Same old taxes, same old Tories.
The Chancellor promised us falling unemployment too, and what has happened since he delivered his first Budget? Over 60,000 more people are now looking for work. To this Tory Government, just like those of the past, unemployment is a price worth paying. People who heard the Chancellor’s Budget speech today will wonder what world he was describing. [Interruption.] I think that the Chancellor should listen to this.
In the constituencies of more than 130 Members of Parliament, 10 people are chasing every vacancy. One in five young people is looking for work. Families are seeing their living standards squeezed, not just this year but year after year. What do the Government say to communities that are losing their jobs? Let me tell the House what they recently told the people of Newport, justifying the closure of their passport office. They said that the redundancy payments of the staff who were being sacked would provide a
“boost in trade for the local economy”.
What kind of planet do these people live on? On growth, on inflation, on unemployment, on the promises that he made, the Chancellor could not bring himself to admit that his second Budget tells the story of the failure of his first. At this stage of the recovery, growth should be powering ahead and unemployment should be falling fast. Every month that unemployment is higher than it should be stores up long-term damage for our country. Every month when growth is lower than it should be, that hits the future potential of our economy. The problem is that, instead of admitting it, the Chancellor refuses to change course. What did the Energy Secretary say? If the figures change, the Government
“should not be lashed to the mast” of their reckless gamble. They should be willing to change and to think again.
It is not as if the Government have not had practice in the U-turn business. Indeed, they are becoming past masters at it. On forests, school sport, housing benefit for those looking for work and even the vanity photographer, they have been forced to climb down. It is on this, the issue that matters most, that they are least willing to change. At the weekend we learned something new about the Chancellor. Apparently, his political aspiration is to be a blend of Nigel Lawson and Michael Heseltine. Another comparison springs to mind. We see the same hubris and arrogance that we saw in the early 1990s, the same broken promises, the same view that unemployment is “a price worth paying”. The Chancellor is Norman Lamont with an iPod, and on his playlist, no doubt, is “Je Ne Regrette Rien”.
This is not a growth Budget. It is not a jobs Budget. It is a Budget for more of the same, from a complacent, arrogant Chancellor in a complacent, arrogant Government. It’s hurting, but it isn’t working.
Let us not forget that these are not just the Chancellor’s decisions, and they are not just the Prime Minister’s decisions; they are the Deputy Prime Minister’s decisions too. He is an accomplice to the Tory plan. When it comes to the economy, the man who coined the phrase “alarm-clock Britain” has the snooze button well and truly on. Nobody voted for this deficit plan, least of all his Liberal Democrat voters, who were told in promise after promise that he would never countenance it. If I can put it this way to him, it is no wonder nobody wants to share a platform with him.
On the measures in the Budget, I welcome the support for the armed forces, and on the measures the Chancellor proposes to support growth, we will look at them but there is little reason to believe they will make the difference to growth that we need. Indeed, the Justice Secretary fell asleep during the Chancellor’s speech, his growth strategy was so compelling. The Office for Budget Responsibility has already factored in every single measure he has just announced, and it still produced today’s downgraded growth forecast.
We cannot blame people for being sceptical when the Chancellor says he has a new flagship policy for growth, because they are asking what happened to his last flagship policy for growth at the centre of his June Budget. Does anyone remember the national insurance holiday? He was strangely silent about it today. In June, he took the credit at the Dispatch Box for helping 400,000 small firms, but how many have actually benefited? He has been strangely shy in revealing the figures, but someone let slip to the Financial Times that by mid-January it wasn’t 400,000, it wasn’t 40,000, it wasn’t even 4,000; it was less than 0.5% of the number he promised, just 1,500 businesses.
On the Chancellor’s incentives for small firms, we will look at the detail, but I have to say that his decision to cancel flexible working for families with children aged between 16 and 18 is extraordinary. This Prime Minister took the credit for championing that policy with Mumsnet, and then a few months later he takes the credit with small business for dumping it. We have to ask, has he got no shame? The idea that families needing flexibility imperil our economic future is, frankly, absurd, and it tells us all we need to know about this Government’s values and how they think our economy succeeds: greater insecurity as the route to greater prosperity. We take a different view. Flexible working is yet another broken promise from the broken-promise Prime Minister.
While we are on the subject of broken promises, let us remember what the Prime Minister said before the election: he said he would be the banker basher in chief. The Chancellor made great play of that in his Budget speech, but the reality is this: last year Labour’s bonus tax raised £3.5 billion—it is in the Red Book—and this year the bank levy raises just £1.9 billion; it is a Tory Government cutting taxes for the banks while they raise taxes for everybody else. He should have used the money from the bank levy to invest in the future jobs fund—which they abolished—to make a real difference to housing in this country and to boost enterprise.
They are failing on growth, and they are failing on living standards too. What did the Prime Minister say before the election to families receiving tax credits? He said that below £50,000 a year, their tax credits were safe. When Labour said otherwise, the Home Secretary said this:
“That is a lie, and it is irresponsible for Labour to be…worrying families needlessly.”
But what is the truth? Next year, over 1 million families with incomes as low as £26,000 will lose all their tax credits. The Government should be ashamed of their broken promises on tax credits.
That is part of the cost of living crisis they are imposing. The Chancellor trumpeted the rise in the personal allowance, and said everybody earning under £35,000 would be better off, but let us look at the facts. He came along in the June Budget and put up VAT, costing families £450 a year. Now he has the nerve to expect them to be grateful when he gives them a fraction of their own money back. What did the Institute for Fiscal Studies tell us this morning? It said:
“there is an awful lot of giving with one hand...and taking away with lots and lots of other hands.”
It is a classic Tory con.
What about their decision on petrol? The Chancellor has done the same thing again. He has cut duty by 1p, but he has whacked up VAT on fuel by 3p. Families won’t be fooled; it’s Del Boy economics. For a two-earner family, both on average wages, it will be 5p up in the basic rate of income tax and just 1p down next year. What do the British people know from history? They know that every Tory tax cut ends up costing them more; same old Tories, same old deceit.
We needed a Budget that changed the direction of economic policy. We needed a Budget that protected the promise of Britain that the next generation does better than the last. We needed a Budget that changed course on cutting too far and too fast. The Chancellor said at the weekend, with his customary modesty, that he had completed his rescue mission of the British economy. After this Budget, it is not the Chancellor who is rescuing the country; it is the country that needs rescuing from the Chancellor. When families look at this Budget—look at the squeeze on their living standards, look at the job losses in their communities—they will conclude: it’s hurting but it isn’t working.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. A former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Hugh Dalton, resigned in 1947 for leaking part of his Budget to a journalist when on the way into the Chamber to deliver it. Given that we have heard nothing in the Chancellor’s statement today that had not already been trailed in the media on Monday, Tuesday and this morning, please will you, Mr Deputy Speaker, use the good offices of the Speaker to make sure that senior members of this Government make important statements to the House before going to the media?
The principle is clear, and it will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. We must now move on.
This Budget will be judged on whether it keeps us on course to tackle the deficit, and on whether it provides a strategy to improve the long-run performance of the British economy. I will mention a number of concerns about the growth strategy shortly, but first let me say that we all need to be clear about one thing: we as a country are living beyond our means, with £1 in every £4 we spend being borrowed. That overshadows everything else today.
Despite all the clash of party cymbals, the gap between the parties on the scale of the action required to reduce the deficit is not so big; at least two thirds of the adjustment had been signalled by the previous Chancellor in his Budget a year ago, and I regret that he is not in the Chamber at present. It was courageous of him to set out that deficit reduction plan and those spending cuts before the election, but he did it, and today the current Chancellor has stuck to his plans to sort out the public finances. That has taken courage too, and he deserves our full support, as he has done the right thing.
I want to make three further points on the deficit. First, the Government are not reducing public expenditure to dangerous levels. At 40% of gross domestic product by the end of the Parliament, it will be returned to broadly the same level achieved by Labour in 2008. None the less—my second point—the retrenchment will feel more painful from this time on. The consolidation in each of the next three years, at about £25 billion to £30 billion a year, is three times the amount implemented in the first year of this Government.
The third point I wish to make on the deficit is that the pressure to flinch will now mount and we simply must not do so, for at least two reasons. First, doing so would cost the country a fortune in higher debt service costs as markets lost confidence in economic policy. Secondly, doing so would mean that the spending lobbies would have a field day and once they smelt blood the Government’s economic strategy would be put severely at risk.
I wish to say a few words about the growth strategy. Today, the Chancellor announced a comprehensive new approach, containing many measures that we should welcome, not least the large list of deregulation measures he cited, the simplification of planning and the measures to improve access to start-up capital. On all those, it is essential that each part of the strategy is consistent with other parts of public policy. Individually, direct measures always sound attractive, but the test is whether they form a coherent strategy. On those grounds, I warmly welcome what amounts to a new agenda for tax reform to create the most competitive tax system in the advanced world. I particularly support the reductions in corporation tax, which will bring it down to 23% within a few years.
It is an absolute disgrace that the UK now has the longest tax code in the world. The complexity of the system is getting in the way of thousands of small businesses in our constituencies—these are the very people who can take us back to sustained growth. We must have a tax system that allows enterprise to flourish. A few weeks ago, the Treasury Committee published a report setting out the key principles that should underpin tax reform. I can summarise them briefly: let us have more simplicity, let us have more stability and let us have lower rates and fewer reliefs, where possible. I note that in this Budget the Chancellor has abolished 43 reliefs and got rid of 100 pages of the tax code, which is a huge step forward. Let us have less meddling in the tax system as well. The Chancellor appears to have set us out in the right direction and it will be for the Treasury Committee and others to judge whether his proposals match up to the principles set out in our report, which match closely what others in the tax advice industry have concluded as being the right way forward.
The Treasury Committee will also examine who gains and who loses from the Budget. Last year, the Committee demanded an unprecedented amount of detail on the distributional effects of the Budget and the Chancellor responded by publishing more information than had ever been provided by a Chancellor before—I commend him for that. This will be particularly important with respect to the plan to merge income tax and national insurance contributions. Successive Chancellors of the Exchequer have examined that beguiling idea closely and in the end rejected it, largely because it hits the incomes of certain groups in unexpected ways. Perhaps its time has come, and the Treasury Committee will take evidence on whether the time has indeed come to implement it. We should also examine a number of other proposals that may have long-term distributional impacts, among which is the encouragement of charitable giving with the sizeable extension of gift aid and the inheritance tax reliefs. I hope that the vast majority of us in the House welcome that too.
The Committee will also do its best to examine the coherence of some of the Chancellor’s other measures when set against wider public policies. I can best illustrate that by alluding to points made to me by colleagues in the House in recent months. For example, the Chancellor announced the creation of 21 enterprise zones, which must be designed carefully to ensure that they create jobs and increase overall activity. The risk with such zones will always be that they distort activity at the boundaries and add no new jobs.
I thank my hon. Friend for his thoughtful remarks. Does he not agree that the enterprise zones should be extended out of the cities and into towns such as Harlow, which has a strong scientific corridor?
It just crosses my mind that my hon. Friend might have an interest in Harlow. The crucial issue is that if we are to create areas that have special reliefs, we must not inadvertently end up merely moving activity around the country while adding nothing to the overall welfare of UK Inc. That involves a difficult judgment and we need to look extremely carefully at it.
My hon. Friend will have heard the Chancellor say that discussions will take place on the position in Wales and Scotland. If the Welsh Assembly were not to follow this policy, the existence of an enterprise zone in the Bristol area might result in that very relocation to which my hon. Friend refers.
I note what my hon. Friend says and think that careful account needs to be taken of those points.
Another area in which it is important to have coherent policy is on the cost of fuel. This Budget gives some relief on fuel duty rises, with the cancellation of the fuel duty escalator, among other things. However, while motoring bills are being reduced, other Government policies are putting up the cost of energy for a lot for businesses and home owners in other ways, not least through the price of electricity, and the cost of rail travel is also increasing. Does all this—a reduction for motorists, but an increase for rail users and much higher energy bills—form a coherent policy? I do not know, but that needs to be carefully examined, particularly in the light of the Chancellor’s announcement of a floor price for carbon. All these issues need to be carefully examined, because a distortive energy policy will make Britain less competitive, particularly in our export markets.
In our efforts to return to sustained growth, we need to make the best use of every pound invested in our public services. Another example of the need to make sure we have coherence in growth policy has been put to me by colleagues on both sides of the House. They have asked whether spending £17 billion on a high-speed rail link is better use of the money than investing in modern rolling stock and improving the existing tracks. I suspect that millions of rail commuters who cannot currently get a seat and whose trains are unreliable and relatively slow will be interested in the answer to that question. I am very pleased that the Select Committee on Transport has just announced an inquiry into that matter, as a lot of people will await its outcome.
What I am trying to do is not answer the questions, but pose them for Select Committees and others to try to answer. I am trying to point out that in order to generate a coherent growth strategy, a large number of policies need to be looked at in the round to ensure that we are not wasting public resources.
Does it not concern the hon. Gentleman that nothing has been said in today’s Budget about the centrepiece of the Government’s growth strategy—the national insurance holiday for small companies outside
London and the south-east? Should we not know more about how that is going and whether it is, in any way, a success?
That is an interesting point. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Committee will be holding hearings next week and we will have an opportunity to take evidence on exactly that point.
I wish to draw my remarks to a close by observing that growth and the deficit reduction strategy—the two issues I have been discussing—will be one and the same thing if a reduction in the size of government allows room for the private sector to grow. I know that this is not something on which agreement will be reached across the House and that it is the very stuff of party politics, but I hope that Members sitting on the other side of the House will permit me to end with a personal view. Even if there were no deficit, we should still reduce public spending because at close to 50% of gross domestic product it is too high. It reduces choice and freedom for millions of individuals, and it burdens enterprises with unacceptable levels of taxation. During the 13 years of the previous Government, public spending averaged about 40% of GDP. I support this Government’s plans to reduce it to that level again.
Order. Many Members want to speak today—quite rightly—and we want to get as many in as possible. There is no time limit on speeches but brevity would help other people.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak early and to follow Mr Tyrie. He made three points that I would like to take up. First, he referred to the reduction in the deficit over the next four to five years and said that he thought that that would cause grave concern and bring great pressure to bear on the Government not to continue with the programme. He is perfectly right: £146 billion will be reduced to £122 billion, which will be reduced to £70 billion, which will be reduced to £26 billion in the years 2015-16. That is a massive and steep drop and will have serious consequences for the public sector, which the hon. Gentleman acknowledged.
In his Budget speech, the Chancellor did not mention the welfare state or the point on which the hon. Member for Chichester finished his speech, which is the balance between the public and private sectors. We will see a clear imbalance between the public and private sectors as regards the question of whether the public sector can shed jobs and whether they can go into the private sector. That is an interesting point that will be followed closely in the north-east of England, where some 47% of employment is in the public sector. We will then see the difficulties and dangers of moving quickly and rapidly with such a massive debt reduction over four to five years.
Harold Wilson once said that one man’s pay rise was another man’s ticket to the dole queue, but the deficit reduction we are talking about today involves one man’s job passing from the public sector to the dole queue. I must tell the hon. Member for Chichester, since he made the point, that he must remember that those who work in the public sector are producers who pay taxes and consume and to remove them from that sector with such a drastic and rapid reduction in the deficit will not add to the prosperity or standard of living of our people.
The hon. Gentleman should remember that the Chancellor has announced today that over five years, this Government plan to borrow an additional £485 billion—or a 50% increase in official state debt. They are not paying down the deficit or paying off the debt—they are just trying to borrow a little less each year, but it is still adding a huge amount to the national mortgage.
I was much amused when statements were made about how the debt was reduced, how much we had to pay off and how much the Labour Government borrowed. In the month of February, the Government borrowed £11 billion when they should have borrowed £8 billion. It is perfectly correct that we have mixed up the structural deficit with the overall deficit, but public spending will continue to go up. There was a certain sleight of hand from the Chancellor when he made his Budget speech.
Does my hon. Friend agree that cutting public sector jobs has a direct effect on the private sector? I do not know whether he has seen the study modelling done by Durham university that shows that in the north-east, some 50,000 jobs will go because of public sector cuts, 20,000 of which will be in the private sector.
I have seen that study. I have also seen the study by PricewaterhouseCoopers about the impact on the north-east of the various deficit reduction plans.
May I, without in the least way being sycophantic, congratulate the Leader of the Opposition? He made a short and precise speech but he hit every nail on the head that needed to be hit. Growth is down. Snow or no snow, we entered into zero growth in the last quarter. Where is growth going this year? It is at 1.7% for the year. How does that compare with Germany, where there is 3% growth?
Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten the House about when in any recovery from any major asset-based deflation growth has returned within even a five or seven-year period? One thinks of the 1930s, and there was no return to growth until the end of that decade, and of Japan, where there was no return to growth until the beginning of this decade. How can he possibly attribute the situation as regards growth to this Government in such a way?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point, because we have argued consistently—and so has the international community—that we had a financial crisis from 2008 and 2009 and that out of that financial crisis, without referring to tsunamis or earthquakes, there have been many aftershocks and it will take much time to get over that. I agree with that point but it was not us who said that we would raise growth last year—it was the Conservative Government. The hon. Member for Chichester made an excellent point when he said, quite rightly, that under a Labour Government we had
40% debt in relation to gross domestic product. My recollection is that for some years it was 37% and it was the financial crisis that pushed it up to where it was.
Would my hon. Friend also say that what is particularly startling today is that, after all the measures we have heard from the Chancellor about in the Budget, the growth forecast has taken place as an after-effect? How bad would the growth forecast have been without those measures? It is still drastically down from what the Chancellor suggested that it would be when he delivered his previous Budget nine or 10 months ago.
That is the point that the Leader of the Opposition made. I was reminded by those on the Front Bench—I had not got so far in my speech—that if growth is down, inflation is up. The Chancellor made a point about commodity prices going up. They are going up in France, where inflation is 2%. We have higher inflation because of the Government’s policy. We have depreciated the value of our currency over a period of time by 25%. We have increased our exports but we have also increased our imports. Our imports are still greater than our exports. We are now importing inflation. The difference between French inflation at 2% and our inflation, which will run between 3.5% and 5%, is that we are importing it, because of Government policy.
Unemployment is going up; it is at a 17-year high. The Chancellor made a great thing about 3,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector, but he did not refer to all the jobs that have been lost. How many more jobs will be lost when we move into the cuts to local councils that will start on
No reference was made, as I have said, to the welfare state. What happened to the welfare state? What happened to the balance between the public and private sectors? What happened to those who are unable to look after themselves? Where was all that in today’s Budget?
The hon. Gentleman has talked about what is happening in the north-east. In the north-west, we have seen public sector jobs increase by 100,000 between 1999 and 2009, whereas in the private sector, we have seen growth to the tune of 10,000 jobs in the same period. That is completely unsustainable. What are the Opposition’s proposals to address that situation?
That might be the figure in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world, but it might not be a figure in other parts of the world.
Let me get back to the point—we created a balance between the public sector and the private sector and we believed that that balance was right for our country. In the north-east of England, when we lost manufacturing jobs, steel jobs, coal jobs and shipbuilding jobs, they were absorbed into the public sector. Those who worked in the public sector created careers for themselves. My hon. Friend Mr Jones made this point: there was a relationship between the public and private sectors. They worked together.
The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way. Can he explain why the Government whom he supported were running a structural deficit several years before the financial crisis?
We had no difficulty with the structural deficit because we believed in infrastructure projects. We believed in public-private initiatives and off-balance sheet finance, which was exactly the same as what the Germans were doing. At the time, it was thought a fine way of doing things and it is still a fine way of doing things. In my constituency, we got the first public-private initiative in the James Cook university hospital, so we have nothing to regret about what is now called the structural deficit. As I said earlier, the structural deficit is like any other, it is part and parcel of the fullest objective. Mr Redwood was right to say that, while we are tackling that particular deficit, public expenditure in other areas is going up. We need to get the balance right, but that is not happening at the moment.
The Chancellor said that we had moved from fourth in the league of competitiveness to 12th and made a big thing about competitiveness, but he did not mention the eurozone, not surprisingly. He did not mention the conference tomorrow and the day after when the 17 members of the eurozone will get together to create a competitiveness pact. Why are they doing that? Because they wish to increase their growth and exports, and we are in competition with them. We are in competition with Germany and France and we will be in competition with those other countries.
The Chancellor talked about Greece, Portugal and Spain, but why does the fourth-largest economy in the world have to compare itself with Greece, which has a deficit of 150% against gross domestic product, not the 60% or 50% we are talking about? Why does our nation state have to be compared with a small country such as Greece? On that basis, we had £67 billion-worth of deficit reduction in one Budget. Today, the Chancellor was very gracious in saying that, now he has taken all that money out of the economy, he will not take any more out. He might have said, “I’ll do you all a favour: I’ve hit you on the head with one big hammer, so I’m not coming back with another.” How gracious of him to destabilise, within the space of nine months, our economy. That is what he has done and is continuing to do. He will certainly rebalance the economy—away from the welfare state, the public sector and the work force of our country—and he will weaken the fabric of our country. He will weaken the standard of living of all our people.
It is not the Chancellor who has associated our economy with those of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, but the international markets. When the Governor of the Bank of England was before the Treasury Committee two weeks ago, he and his team confirmed that without a package of fiscal austerity measures, this country would be borrowing in the international markets at a rate 3% higher than we currently are. That is the Bank’s official position and that is why those difficult measures have been taken.
I am not going to go down the route that the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer might have gone down at one stage of attacking or criticising the Governor of the Bank of England. That would not be appropriate for me. The advice that was given to the Government, when they came to government, was very severe and we were compared with Greece.
Jesse Norman makes an interesting point. At what point in our history did we turn over our economy to the rating agencies instead of saying, “It’s only the rating agencies”. When the rating agencies call the Élysée palace, they have a fit of panic there, asking, “You’re not going to reduce our rating are you?” Why did we, as a nation state, give our economy over to a rating agency—to Fitch, Moody’s or Standard and Poor’s? Where was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who stood up and said, “No, I am not going to do that”? The rating agencies had accepted the Labour Government’s deficit reduction plan and were at ease with it. They were happy with the four-year programme and it was the current Government who fell back to the age of Lord Lamont and John Major, whom my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband has mentioned, and ideas such as, “If it’s not hurting it’s not working”.
That is not true and could not possibly be true.
I have just referred to the fact that we borrowed £11 billion in February alone. My point in relation to Lord Lamont and John Major is that if one takes every aspect of the Government’s policy on competitiveness, growth, unemployment and inflation, one sees that they are falling back to where they were in the years between 1979 and 1983 and into 1992. So, it seems that the public sector and the welfare state do not count for much and that what counts is balancing the budget. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Chichester did not go one stage further and say that in five years we might adopt the German approach of balancing the budget completely.
I do not want to hold up the House for much longer, but I want to mention my constituency and say to the Chancellor that we are very grateful that we have an enterprise zone and a local enterprise partnership for Tees valley and that we will work closely with the Government on both of them. The mothballing of Redcar steel mill has been reversed and there is a new buyer taking it over. On Teesside, we will look to the Budget, the LEP, the new enterprise zone and the new steel mill, which will create jobs and bring in £600 million in investment. So, despite the cutbacks and the impact on local councils, the future is bright for Teesside. I am happy to be confident in that future, notwithstanding all the blows that we will take over the next four years.
I remind the House that I offer industrial business advice to a Swedish, quoted international industrial group and investment advice to a British investment company.
Some Opposition Members have expressed displeasure that Government Members should have mentioned the circumstances in Greece and Portugal. The Opposition rightly remind us that we have a much bigger economy than those of Greece and Portugal and I am pleased to say that ours is also currently better managed. Those points are important because our public deficit was larger even than theirs, as a proportion of national income, when the big deficit reduction programme started. I praise my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for seeing that his single, central task, day in, day out, month in, month out, year in, year out—indeed, the five-year burden for all of us in the House—is to get that deficit down before it kills our public finances and our economy.
If anyone thinks there is no risk, I invite them to visit Greece, Portugal or Ireland and see what happens when a country ignores a deficit for the best of reasons and says, “I do want to spend a little more on a good public cause so I will borrow it to spend it.” Of course, we all have great causes on which we would like to spend more money. Borrowing is so often the easy option, but when a country gets to the point at which it is borrowing too much, it does not just destroy the general economy and place too big a burden on those who have to pay the taxes and interest charges—in the end, it brings down the public sector as well, with far bigger cuts and far less favourable choices than we have when we take matters into our own hands by planning a steady deficit reduction.
We are debating, in a relatively civilised atmosphere and in a relatively sane and sensible way, an economic position about which there are strong disagreements. However, there is no overall disagreement about the imperative to avoid big rises in bond rates and interest rates and to get on with some kind of deficit reduction. It is particularly poignant that we are having this debate on the same day that the Portuguese Parliament is meeting to discuss not its first, second or third, but fourth package of emergency, deep, damaging public spending cuts and unaffordable tax increases. Such is the plight that its economy has been driven into by reckless overspending and too much borrowing and, of course, by being in the euro area.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that to answer the question of Sir Stuart Bell, who asked when the rating agencies took over, one need go no further back than 1949, 1969, and 1976 to 1979, when there were runs on the foreign exchange markets under Labour Governments?
My hon. Friend is quite right, but the Labour party could point to one or two examples under Conservative Governments, so I do not want to be drawn too far down that historical path. We can see what we need to see by looking at the modern reality. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, fortunately, British bond rates—the rate that we have to pay to borrow money for public purposes—are much closer to those in Germany than those in many other countries in Europe. They are under half the level of those in troubled Portugal. The Portuguese 10-year rates went above 8% today. I stress to beleaguered Portuguese parliamentarians, who are battling over whether a general election is the answer to their problems, that if they do not take dire and immediate action, their country simply will not be able to borrow at an affordable rate of interest. They cannot go on spending the extra 10% of national income that we are spending, which is borrowed, to tide us through and get us to better-managed times.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, having set out a pathway for tackling the deficit, was right to turn to the question of how he can accelerate growth. The truth of the five-year deficit programme is simple: we need well-above-average growth in the last three or four years of the programme to deliver the numbers in the Red Book, which are similar to those in the Chancellor’s first edition of the Red Book last summer.
To remind the House of the scale of the task, the Government plan to spend £70 billion a year more, in cash terms, in the fifth year of the plan—2014-15—than in the last Labour year; that is not a big increase, but there will be pressures because of it. They plan to get the deficit down by increasing the tax revenue collected in the last year of the plan to an eye-watering £175 billion more than in the last Labour year. We believe that we have seen all the important tax rate rises that the Chancellor thinks are needed to do that; the rest depends on the above-average growth that is still in the official forecasts of the Office for Budget Responsibility.
As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman is laying out why we need a credible reduction in our deficit in the light of the likely market reaction, but is he not concerned about the impact that any austerity programme might have? Although there has been only a limited impact so far in the United Kingdom, as in Greece and as is likely in Ireland, it may be too much, too soon.
That is absolutely right. The policies that Ireland, Greece and Portugal are being driven to may well not work because they are excessive, but that is the result of going into the euro and following the market pressures that that inevitably produces. I see some Labour Members trying to pretend that that is nothing to do with them, or looking the other way. I remember being a pretty lonely figure in the ’90s when I said that we should never join the euro. I am pleased that my party now seems to be very broadly of that view, and I believe that the other two principal parties in the House have come round to the view that we certainly should not join the euro any time yet, but we have still to receive apologies from them. Surely they must now accept that if Britain had been driven into the euro, as they wanted, we would have broken the euro and broken ourselves. The euro could scarcely contain small economies the size of Greece, Portugal and Ireland, with their amount of debt; it certainly could not have contained Britain comfortably with the level of debt that the previous Government started to incur. It would have found the British banks over-mighty subjects, just as it is finding the Spanish banks rather difficult to tackle.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman added the words “any time yet” to his remarks about joining the euro, because it is inevitable that, over many years, we will join the euro. Tomorrow and the day after, 17 euro states will get together and put forward a proper plan for competitiveness within the euro. For the first time in our history, the United Kingdom is excluded.
If those countries come up with good ideas, we can adopt them, and if they come up with bad ideas, we would be wise to sidestep them; that is exactly the freedom that I and others have argued for passionately over many years, and that the Government wish to enjoy if all goes well.
The hon. Gentleman also said that the reductions could prove difficult. Believe it or not, I did not become a Member of Parliament to have teachers sacked from my schools or doctors sacked from my surgeries; I want them to be well paid and well funded, and I want sensible growth in numbers where there is extra demand. We are all of that view—it is quite misleading of the Opposition to suggest that some of us do not appreciate that and do not want that for our constituents—but it has to be affordable. It has to be within the power of the free enterprise part of the economy to pay for that out of reasonable taxation in a way that does not damage our growth; that is so important.
The Government have managed to find an extra £70 billion of cash spending for the fifth year of the plan, compared with in the start year. It is crucial that we keep public sector costs down, so that the maximum amount possible can go to improving service and quality, and, in some cases, to improving the amount of service, and the minimum goes on extra costs and extra inefficiencies. All parties will say in office that they want more efficiently run public services, but they have to will not only the end but the means. That is why the reforms on which the Government are embarking are so important. It is crucial that the Government listen, and that sensible criticisms be taken on board, but public services have to be reformed so that we can say to people in five years’ time, “You are getting more for that £70 billion. We haven’t had to cut things that really matter, because we have managed things better and have found a bit of extra money.”
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous interest in the private finance initiative community in reform of the PFI? A succession of chief executives of PFI companies have asked me, “Why can we not be allowed to save money?” The reason is the enormously expensive procurement process. Not a single school has been built recently that does not have an atrium, and that is because it has been decided that schools, which have nothing to do with corporations, must have corporate atriums. Nothing could be sillier or more resistant to good Government spending.
My hon. Friend is quite right. Improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of our purchasing is crucial in Government. There are many opportunities; PFI and public-private partnerships provide some good examples, but so does general purchase. It would speed up the deficit reduction if there were a stronger moratorium on purchasing items and supplies where there are already stocks. Any company undertaking the kind of radical turnaround that the country is trying to achieve would immediately freeze all unnecessary purchases and make people run stocks down to save money.
Where I have had answers to my questions on this subject, I have found that the current rate of natural wastage of staff in core Departments is running at about 6% per annum; it was about 4% in the first eight months. Quite a number of those posts have been filled by taking on new people from outside. I urge my friends on the Front Bench to get more of a grip on that, because the easiest way of reducing the administrative overhead on the scale that they want—the least painful way for their staff, who need their morale to be up—is to not replace people who leave and not to make others redundant. We cannot afford the redundancies. If we make greater use of natural wastage, Ministers can say to their staff that it means better opportunities for promotion and a change of job. If the post vacated is not essential, it should be removed; if it is essential, we should appoint someone from inside and remove some other, less important, post. That surely is the civilised, sensible way to tackle the necessary task of cutting the administrative overhead. If the Government can cut their administrative overhead by the very large 30% that they are talking about, it takes the pressure off cuts in the areas where none of us wish to see them—in the schools and hospitals, the front-line services that matter so much.
The question that I was about to ask before the interventions was about the international context. How easy is it going to be for the Government to have the three or four years of above-average growth which are so crucial to the strategy? I must warn those on the Front Bench that I fear that the world background will get more difficult going into 2012 and 2013 than it is at present. There has been a prolonged boom in the emerging market world, and we now see China, India and Brazil lifting their interest rates to very high levels. They are desperately trying to squeeze inflation out of their system, so in a year or so we must anticipate some fall-off in demand and spending power growth rates in those big emerging market economies.
The United States economy will have a good year this year, by the looks of it, on the back of a lot of money printing, low interest rates and other matters. That comes to an end in the middle of this year, so by next year we will see a slower rate of growth in the United States of America as well. Were the situation in the middle east to get worse, and the damage from politics to spread into oilfields outside Libya, we could have another unpleasant external shock on the oil price, which would also serve to impede the growth of the world economy.
The conclusion that I take from this is that the world economy does not look as though it is going to go back into another deep recession—we are not going to have that kind of impossible situation—but the world economy is not going to provide the impetus that it is currently providing. It may not feel that great, but it is providing quite a bit of impetus at the moment. It will provide less impetus next year and beyond. That means that the Chancellor must intensify his pursuit of measures that make the UK that much more competitive and that much more successful.
It is a good point. We have heard figures from the Government indicating that we export less to the BRIC countries combined than we do to Ireland, but we have a close relationship with Ireland and we are close neighbours. It is understandable that we export a lot to Ireland and it to us. That figure conceals one important point, which is that British business has probably been a little more active than it suggests, but for various reasons the larger British companies tend to go into India, Brazil and China and set up joint ventures or factories of their own there to service the local market. It is easier to service those markets in that way, for reasons that we need not go into in detail today, but I agree that it would be good if we exported more, and it would be good if we helped small and medium-sized enterprises that do not have the capability to set up factories on the other side of the world to export in their turn.
The devaluation that happened more than a year ago has given us one nasty result, which is a much higher inflation rate than comparable economies, but it has given us one pleasant result, which is that it is very easy to export out of a British base now because British industry is so much more competitive at the current level of the pound. We should have that on our side. Paradoxically, quite a bit of British business in the manufacturing sector is close to capacity, and those businesses are tending to put the prices up a bit to collect a little more revenue and improve their balance sheets because it is not that easy to expand turnover. That is where the things that the Chancellor is talking about are vital and need to be done speedily.
Britain needs to be able to put up factories more quickly and get them into use more quickly. It needs to define the skilled engineers and the other skilled individuals who want to work in an industrial setting rather than in an advisory or City setting, and then expand the capability of their companies as a result. Modern manufacturing requires a very high degree of skills input, talented people and good management. It does not require so many people to operate machines because really good manufacturing now is highly automated. It needs the precision of expensive machinery. Indeed, the easiest way to compete out of a German or a British base is to have highly automated plant, so labour costs are a rather unimportant part of the total cost. The intellectual property content, the skill content and the plant and equipment content are much higher, but they are affordable with a quality product.
Further to my right hon. Friend’s points, a director from JCB gave evidence to the Select Committee on Education yesterday and said that he had 57 vacancies for engineers that he cannot fill order to ensure that JCB’s products remain globally competitive, reduce energy usage and so on. That, unfortunately, is a legacy of too many years in which we have not delivered the technical, vocational, practical education that is required. Is my right hon. Friend, like me, enthusiastic about the Government taking forward the programme from the Wolf review and supporting Lord Baker with his university technical colleges?
I am happy with those proposals. The Government are clearly on the right lines and I hope there will be cross-party agreement that we need to raise our game at skills, training and education, particularly in engineering, pharmaceuticals, chemistry and so forth, where we have an advantage and can have a much bigger advantage if we do more. Yes, we need to review how easy it is to buy or build a factory and how easy it is to equip it. Anything that can be done to lower the effect of tax rate on business will make Britain a much more attractive place to be.
As hon. Members know, I take the view that if we set lower rates, we normally collect a lot more revenue. If we want that kind of growth rate, the lower the realistic rate that we can set, the more revenue growth and the more overall growth we will have. It would be a great tragedy to abort the recovery in certain sectors because the tax rate was too high. I am pleased to see the progress on corporation tax. We need to see the details of some of the individual tax schemes and how the carbon tax rebate would work. If we went ahead as trailblazers in Britain and set a high carbon price, we would price our energy-intensive business out of Britain into a less clean or less acceptable venue. It is important that the rebates and discounts are properly thought through, so that at a time when the Government are trying to promote more industry, they are not taxing it too heavily.
On the competitiveness of British industry, my right hon. Friend has in the past talked of a cut in regulation being equivalent to a free tax cut. Does he welcome the measures in the Budget to have a low level of regulation for new start-up companies and small companies? Does he share my hope that Europe will become more competitive by reducing the regulatory burden that it seeks to impose on British business and business in other member states?
Of course I welcome that. One of the big barriers to entry and to more effective competition for the large companies in Britain is the weight of regulation, which hits anyone who tries to start up a new business. I have done it in the past and I know what it feels like. One has to raise a lot more extra money because for six months to a year one is just trying to comply in many areas before one can trade. Yes, of course we want sensible regulation. We do not believe in an unregulated world. We believe in the law of contract. We believe that people should have a duty of care towards their staff and their customers, but if there are too many and too detailed competing types of prescriptive regulation, it puts people off and they say, “It’s too expensive. I can’t be bothered.”
But does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the issue for small business today is not so much regulation as liquidity and lending to SMEs by the banks? A constituent of mine, Alun Richards, is on hunger strike. He had a business with net assets and a limited amount of debt, and Lloyds bank came along and withdrew the debt. Now he is going bankrupt because he has no working capital. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is disgraceful, particularly from a bank that is owned by the taxpayer? Poor old Alun Richards wants to run his business, not to be undermined by the banks. What are the Government doing about that?
Of course I agree that if there is a solvent and enterprising business and it is not getting proper banking facilities, that is very bad indeed. It is particularly bad if it is a state-owned or state-influenced bank that is responsible.
My final points are about banking, as time presses and many others want to speak. Of equal importance to the weighty matters covered by the Chancellor today will be the Vickers report and the Government’s response to it. I believe that we will have interim conclusions from Sir John Vickers on
In the last quarter of 2010, lending to the SME sector dropped by 38% from the last quarter of 2008. One of my big concerns is that this reflects the incredible concentration of SME lending among the four or five largest banks, which are responsible for around 90% of all SME lending. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work of the Vickers commission and the Treasury Committee should focus on breaking up the oligopolistic positions of some of those big banks?
I certainly hope that when we see the Vickers report and have a proper debate on it we will be able to find sensible ways of promoting much more competition in the domestic banking market. We need more competition on the high street for individuals and families and more competition in town centres for SMEs, which in previous generations probably had better and more direct relationships with local bank managers, who had a bit more authority to grant loans and make money available on judgment than is currently the case through the box-ticking, centralised computer systems.
In that case, and given the last intervention, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps the Budget should have introduced tax relief or tax credits for individuals wanting to invest in SMEs, because venture capitalists want too high a return and the banks are failing the small business sector? We want an inclusive economy. Surely there should have been some support for SMEs so that we could all invest in small businesses more effectively.
That is exactly what the Budget contained. I think there was a revamped and revised enterprise investment scheme and an improvement in the capital gains treatment for successful entrepreneurs. It is always nice for new people setting up small businesses to be able to dream, and why should those of them who are successful not keep the proceeds if they have created jobs and done so much?
The outcome of the Budget will depend on two important considerations: whether we can put enough measures in place along the lines that the Chancellor has laid out for promoting growth; and whether there is a happy and sensible resolution to the banking problems as they affect SMEs and the wider public in Britain. There has been much discussion of the big banks, the investment banks and all those sorts of issues, but we now need to laser in on how the banks serve local communities and the SME sector. We need a more pro-competitive answer. I have some thoughts on how we could do that, but will not detain the House with them because today is not the day for that. However, without such measures the Budget will find it difficult to deliver the very large figures for increased revenue on which the whole plan rests.
I appreciate being called so early in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. In Northern Ireland we are in competition with neither the Conservative party nor the Liberal Democrats when it comes to elections, so I suppose I can afford to be a little more objective in my assessment of the Budget. As we know, the allies of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland have now abandoned them, and Naomi Long, who had some association with the Lib Dems, has abandoned them since coming to the House, so I hope that I can be objective on this.
The Chancellor made it clear in his speech today that his ambition for the Budget is that it should promote growth in the economy, and I wish him well in that. Coming from a part of the United Kingdom where growth has been most sluggish and, as a result, unemployment is rising faster than in any other part of the UK, I know that success for the Chancellor will mean success for our economy. It will reduce the deficit so that huge resources will not go simply on paying interest, put people back into work, increase living standards and, in the long run, provide funding for vital public services.
I wish the Chancellor well in that, but I think it is a little ironic that the Budget has been headlined as a Budget for growth, because one of its major statistical announcements is that growth forecasts have been downgraded once again. Indeed, the Chancellor optimistically indicated last June, and again in October, that the measures he would undertake would give us growth of around 2.5% or 2.3%, but in the six months since then we have had a 33% reduction in his forecast. There is a certain degree of irony in that, which is one of the reasons I believe that some of the criticisms that have come from the Opposition about the speed and depth of deficit reduction have some merit. I remember that when I used to teach economics I would say that there are always two sides to the economic growth coin. First, there is the question of how to increase the economy’s potential to produce more. If we do not increase potential, once demand goes up, all we get is inflation, or we will suck in imports.
The Chancellor outlined a number of measures today—I will not go through them all—some of which are contradictory. The measure that he held out as the beacon at the start of his speech was the decrease in corporation tax, which he argued will give firms the ability to keep more profits and, therefore, the opportunity to invest in new equipment, new markets or research and development. According to the Red Book, the decrease in corporation tax should put £1.075 billion into the coffers of companies over the next five years, so it could certainly be argued that the Chancellor has released resources for companies to invest if they choose to do so.
However, on the next page we see that, as a result of wanting to be a trendy green, or I suspect of looking for a stealth tax, he is imposing a carbon floor price. By 2015, all the additional revenue that firms will have from the decrease in corporation tax will be more than absorbed in the carbon price floor tax—£1.41 billion. On the surface, the measure appears to be a way of releasing resources to companies, but closer examination shows that companies will not be much better equipped.
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the whole purpose of a carbon tax is to incentivise firms to change their behaviour so that those that do change their behaviour by producing goods more sustainably will pay less carbon tax and benefit from reduced corporation tax and those that do not will pay more?
That is clearly not what the Chancellor intends, because he hopes to raise £1.4 billion. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that this is all about changing behaviour so that firms do not get the money, there is an immediate hole in the figures the Chancellor is presenting to the House today. I suspect that it is not all about that at all, but is another way of raising tax. What appears on the surface to be a good supply-side measure will be more than offset by some of the other measures undertaken. Of course, the kinds of firms that are most likely to be hit by this are the very firms that the Chancellor says he wishes to promote: those in manufacturing industry. The service industry will not be hit by those measures as much as manufacturing will, and, given Northern Ireland’s reliance on gas and oil to fuel and power manufacturing industry, and the fact that our energy costs are already higher than in other parts of the United Kingdom, that will gravely disadvantage manufacturing firms in Northern Ireland, at the very time when the Executive in Northern Ireland is trying to rebalance the economy.
The hon. Gentleman started his speech by saying that he would provide a more objective analysis, and I was excited by that. In that vein, does he accept that the Chancellor’s announcement that, for the first time, as a major departure from corporation tax policy, he would consider a separate tax rate for Northern Ireland, making the whole Province an enterprise zone, is very welcome and could help with some of the things that the hon. Gentleman is pointing out?
I wish to come to that point later, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that my comments so far, at least, have been objective, because they are based on the figures that the Chancellor has provided.
The Chancellor talked about another measure today for encouraging growth, the enterprise zones that the hon. Gentleman mentions. When we look at the figures in the Red Book, however, we find that in the first year, 21 enterprise zones will eventually be in place but the money made available to businesses as a result of tax exemption will amount to £20 million. By the final year, the figure will be £80 million, and I do not know whether £4 million in each zone will generate a great deal in additional output.
That probably puts it all in perspective. The measure looks good in the Chancellor’s speech, but, when one looks at the resources that it releases, which in turn are supposed to increase the willingness of firms to invest and the productive potential of the economy, one sees just how miniscule it is, and we have to judge whether it will make a very great impact.
My hon. Friend speaks with great expertise as the Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland, and I congratulated him on the production of his budget there just a few weeks ago. Does he share my concern at the response from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, during Northern Ireland questions? When asked about the enterprise zone and the real substantive changes, he said that it was really a phrase he had been using to “cover”—that is the word he used—the idea of Northern Ireland being more open for business in relation to corporation tax. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, in Northern Ireland, there might not be much substance to that phrase?
My fear is that, not just in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom, the measure will be more like a branding exercise and good for a soundbite, rather than something that will have any real impact. I hope that the measure has an impact, but, if I look at the amount of resources that will go into the zones, and at what really is required to lift such areas, I fear that it will not.
Other changes have been mentioned, such as those to the tax structure, and I noted what the Chancellor said, but some of them might not include extensive consultation—the issue is complex—and might be years away. So, again, they look good in the Budget, but what is the immediate impact going to be?
On that point, it is interesting to look at the changes to national insurance contributions, which are forecast to have an impact right out to 2016, because they show that the proposed bringing together of the two taxes—national insurance and income tax—will not happen for at least five years.
I hope I am not quoting the Chancellor wrongly, but I think he talked about nine years in the future before those changes have an impact, so again we have to ask, “What is the impact going to be?”
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Chancellor missed a vital opportunity for the Northern Ireland economy today? Does my hon. Friend think it right that a £7.5 billion loan from the British Exchequer to the Government of the Irish Republic should be used to enable that Government to abolish air passenger duty, which in turn gives them an unprecedented competitive edge on flights, bearing in mind that it impacts on my constituency and the international airport in it?
I am a bit miffed, because I wanted to use that point later in my speech, so I will have to scribble it out. When we look at some of the issues, whether they are the delays, the amount of money being put in, the offsetting of increases in taxation when some tax cuts have been made, the regulations or the consultation that has still to take place with Europe to see whether we can reduce red tape, we have to ask whether the predictions for future growth based on the supply-side measures in the Budget are as fragile as the autumn predictions that were wiped out by a fall of snow. If that is how fragile the predictions are, then I have concerns.
There is another side to the coin, because not only do we have to increase the productive potential of the economy, but people must be willing to purchase the goods that can be produced, and aggregate demand can be made up of several different factors. The Government have already ruled out one for very good reasons, and I accept that the deficit has to be reduced. I may have some issues about how quickly it is being reduced, but the one thing we do know is that Government spending is not going to take up the slack that already exists in the economy.
Consumer spending is not going to take up the slack, either, because the Chancellor made it quite clear that he would not make any tax giveaways. Indeed, if one looks at what he said about the indexation of direct taxes, one finds that he has now built automatic increases into the tax system for the next four years. There will not be discretion on a year-to-year basis; inflationary increases are now built into the tax system.
That leaves investment demand and exports, and it seems that the Chancellor is emphasising the role of exports. Given that over the past year and a half the exchange rate has fallen by 20%, our export growth is still one of the weakest among the OECD countries. Investment might improve competitiveness, but the only direct measure that the Chancellor has produced today is the export credit guarantee. I have quickly looked through the Red Book to see how much the guarantee involves, and I cannot get a figure, but that is the only measure to increase the one component of aggregate demand on which the Chancellor is relying to improve growth in the economy.
If we look at the supply-side measures and the lack of demand-side measures, we have to ask, “Can we really be confident that this is a Budget for growth?” The conclusion that I come to—not because I want to take a pot-shot at the Government, but because I want to get in behind the figures to see whether the hope being held out is genuine—is that I am left with some concerns.
The hon. Gentleman is right to be sombre because of the situation the country is in. The Chancellor mentioned what is happening in other countries, and we are in a fragile position because of the appalling inheritance. The growth predictions, however, are no longer the predictions of a politician; they are the predictions of the OBR. We are in a very fragile state, and it is no wonder that predictions change, but the prediction is that over this Parliament this country’s growth will be higher than the EU average. That, considering where we started, would not mean golden times, but it would be a solid achievement.
Of course, the earlier growth figures were also OBR-ified, if one wants to use that term, yet they did not prove to be realisable over a six-month period. We cannot simply rely on the assurances that the OBR has looked at the figures and thinks they are okay, as there could well be a revision. I am merely pointing to some aspects within the Budget document that give me cause for concern as to whether these growth figures can be achieved. If they cannot, there are implications for the deficit, for employment, for living standards, and for the ability to provide public services in future.
Let me turn to some of the measures that apply to Northern Ireland. As we heard in an earlier intervention, tomorrow morning an announcement will be made about the corporation tax proposals for Northern Ireland. I am waiting to see that. I have no doubt that the ability of the Northern Ireland Administration to reduce corporation tax could be a useful lever. As a Unionist—I know that Stewart Hosie will probably be totally appalled that anyone from a devolved Administration should say this—I do not want to see huge fiscal powers devolved to Northern Ireland. I am part of the United Kingdom, I want to remain part of the United Kingdom, and I wish fiscal powers to stay part of the United Kingdom.
There has been a groundswell of opinion for some variation in corporation tax; indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been very enthusiastic about it. However, there is no point in devolving corporation tax if the price tag attached is such that it savages public expenditure, which has already suffered a huge cut as a result of the Budget decisions made last October. There would be a gestation period between a reduction in corporation tax and the impact on jobs on the ground, whereas any cut in public spending or in the block grant would take immediate effect. There would be no increase in private sector employment, together with an immediate decrease in public sector employment, and that cannot be good for economic recovery.
I fear that the figures in the document that we have tomorrow will be neither a fair reflection of the cost of devolving corporation tax to Northern Ireland nor the kind of opportunity and offer that would be attractive to the Northern Ireland Administration. We will want to see that the Treasury and the Government have not made a savage reduction in the block grant even though it bears no relation to what the real cost of devolving corporation tax might be.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a supreme irony in the fact that as part of the conditions for the bail-out of the Irish Republic—£6 billion of UK taxpayers’ money—the Irish Republic insisted that its corporation tax rate would stay at 12.5%, yet Northern Ireland, which, uniquely within the United Kingdom, is in direct competition with the Irish Republic, would be allowed to reduce its corporation tax but would not receive any similar subsidy from the UK Treasury, whereas the subsidy is going directly to the Irish Republic?
We can see how the bail-out of the Irish Republic conflicts with what is happening in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend Dr McCrea mentioned air passenger duty. I am disappointed about this because the Chancellor could have done something about it. In particular, the one flight between Northern Ireland and North America is very important in attracting not only tourists but inward investment. A sum of £2.1 million would have ensured that that flight continues, yet the Chancellor did not find that he could allow for regional variation. There are precedents for that because regional variations are allowed for Scotland. The irony is that the Irish Government, using the £7.5 billion that was obtained from the United Kingdom, are now going to abolish air passenger duty, which places them at an even more positive advantage regarding the service that flies from Northern Ireland.
I find it strange that the hon. Gentleman should want to apologise for the Irish Republic, which is in direct competition with the economy of the area that he represents, but we will leave it to his constituents to question him about that.
The Chancellor has made much of the fuel duty escalator. Northern Ireland does not have the highest fuel prices in the United Kingdom, but it certainly has the second highest, and we also have the problem of the border with the Irish Republic. I would have hoped that the Chancellor would come through on the promise that he made when he was in opposition. We have a promise that future price increases will be deferred, but the impact on current prices will be very slight. That leaves Northern Ireland, with its high dependence on road transport for its manufactured goods and its dispersed rural nature, at a disadvantage.
I acknowledge that the Government have responded to some developments recently. I look forward to seeing the outcome of the aggregates levy and the allowance that has been made. I welcome the fact that the loan facility for the Presbyterian Mutual Society has been built into the Budget. In his concluding remarks, the Chancellor said that he would put the fuel in the tank of the British economy so that it could drive forward. I may be about to show my age, but I hope that it is a tiger in the tank so that we finish up with a tiger economy. I fear that we are going to run out of fuel very quickly, and we will all be poorer for it.
I should like to draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in case I stray into the subject of property or something similar.
The situation at the end of the previous Government’s time in office was unprecedented in international terms. The way that they handled things in their last 18 months was not too bad. They went down to 0.5% interest rates, allowed the automatic stabilisers to come in, and allowed the pound to devalue, as we could because we still control our own monetary policy. Everything possible was done to adjust to the dire situation in the banking system.
To be less complimentary, the regulatory regime that allowed the banks to do some of the things that they did was set by the former Prime Minister when he was Chancellor by taking powers away from the Bank of
England. That was a retrograde step, and I am glad that the current Government are reviewing it. Before we hit trouble, the deficit was 3%, whereas the German economy had a surplus of 3%. The difference that we can see today is that the Germans have a deficit of 5% or 6%, while we have one of nearer to 10%. That means that the adjustments we will have to make over the next four or five years will be much more difficult, and it will take longer to get there.
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about bank regulation, but he has a very short memory, because I remember being in this House when the current Chancellor and Prime Minister were calling for more light-touch regulation of the financial industry, not for more regulation, as they seem to be doing now.
It was nothing to do with light-touch regulation; in fact, we needed more competent regulation. The Financial Services Authority was not up to the job, and the Bank of England would have done a better one.
The key thing is that we now have a great imbalance in our economy. Over the long term, Britain has always tended to have public spending of about 40% of GDP, taxation of about 40% of GDP, and a national debt of about 40% of GDP. We have always managed to grow and export, and to be a fairly successful economy. We now have to yank public spending and the deficit back to those sorts of levels. As was pointed out earlier in the debate, even after five or six years, we will only be back down to where we were towards the end of the Labour Government when we had to go into deficit to deal with the difficult economic situation.
I think that the Government’s response is sensible. It is planned over five or six years, and is gradual. For all the talk of expenditure cuts, the expenditure cuts will be gradual over that period. The plan, as the Chancellor set out today, is for the economy to grow. That should generate more tax revenue. The difficulty, of course, is that we will have to raise taxation, as can be seen in the plans, to help balance the budget. I hope that that is more of a short term, rather than a medium to long term thing, because we need to build incentives back into the British economy.
On that point, has the hon. Gentleman not noticed that table 2.1 on page 42 of the Red Book shows that, over that period, personal tax allowances will increase substantially, because the switch to CPI and the changes to national insurance outweigh significantly—by several hundred million pounds—the increase in personal allowances that the Chancellor made? This is a tax-raising Budget, not a neutral Budget as he said.
The key fact is that the Government whom the hon. Lady supported left us with massive debts. There is no honest or honourable way in which we can deal with that problem, other than taking tough decisions, which will involve many of our constituents paying considerably more money. Over the next five years, unfortunately, more money will come in through taxation. There is no way around that. That is the legacy that Labour has left us. If we want to be responsible, to get the economy back into balance and to have long-term economic growth, we have no choice but to take tough measures.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the previous Government were the worst villains in fiscal drag that this country has ever seen? They failed to raise thresholds year after year, and dragged many taxpayers into higher income tax brackets.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I welcome what the Chancellor has done with the personal allowance and the £10,000 target. If a central part of the Government’s plans is welfare reform, it is inevitable that we must reduce the tax on the lowest-paid. Otherwise, we will not get people off welfare and into work, which I think is what all of us want.
I will touch on one or two measures, but I do not want to take up too much time. I welcome the Government’s plans to assist the housing market. I wish they had gone farther, because there is a lot of capacity in the housing market, which could provide more jobs and help to get the economy going. However, what the Chancellor announced was very good.
I welcome the Chancellor’s proposals on charities. Poole has one of the biggest charities in the UK, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which raises a considerable amount of money from bequests. People getting relief on inheritance tax will be a major boost to that charity and to many others.
I welcome the move back to enterprise zones, because we have to become an enterprise economy. One lesson of the last decade is that we do not want to rely on an overheated south-east and London. We must ensure that future growth is balanced so that it occurs in greater Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and many of our great provincial cities. What the Chancellor announced will assist in that.
The Government are doing what they can to help people, with limited room for manoeuvre, by putting off the fuel duty rises and freezing council tax. We have a difficult inheritance and the Chancellor has precious little room for manoeuvre. He started his Budget speech by saying that this is basically a neutral Budget. I think that it is right to have a neutral Budget. In some respects, it would be better not to have a Budget at all, but just to let the long-term plans of the Government roll on. That gives the best hope of getting the economy sorted, and of restoring growth to the British economy.
We have heard debate about the OBR forecasts. They are forecasts and will change several times before we know what the situation is. I think that we have an excellent chance over the next four or five years to get growth. I think that the Government’s strategy is right. They are concentrating on training and simplifying the tax code. Hopefully, when we can, we will start to reduce the rates.
At the end of every Budget speech, the Chancellor has to pull a rabbit out of the hat. I will begin my remarks on the rabbit that I was not expecting today. It is something that will affect my constituency. Because I have been sitting in the Chamber since the Chancellor made his speech, I have not been able to quantify exactly how it will affect my constituency, but I have great fears that it might have a devastating effect.
I should explain that as a Member for Aberdeen, the economy of my constituency is based on the offshore oil and gas industry. I should also explain that I am the chair of the all-party group on the offshore oil and gas industry. Aberdeen has survived the downturn probably better than anywhere else, because the oil industry has been fairly buoyant. Unemployment in my constituency has risen from only 1.9% to 2.5%. I appreciate that that will sound very good to many Members. I fear that because of the rabbit that the Chancellor pulled out of his hat, that may not continue.
I speak, of course, about the fair fuel stabiliser. I think that that has the potential to destabilise the offshore oil and gas industry quite dramatically. I appreciate that the Chancellor was looking for something so that he could bring down fuel prices. However, it appears from the Red Book that huge amounts of money will come from the North sea. Apart from in the financial year 2011-12, in which the amount that will be given back to the taxpayer is £1.9 billion and only £1.78 billion will come in from the North sea from the increase in the supplementary charge, in every other year more will be raised by the Exchequer from the North sea oil and gas industry than the Chancellor will give away by bringing down petrol prices.
I also noticed that very interesting line in table 2.1—line 28. It shows that the proposed revenue stream is the same in every year. However, as the Chancellor said, that will depend on the oil price. Unless he is absolutely confident that the oil price will remain at the same level throughout the period, these are completely unfounded forecasts and estimates.
Indeed, if the oil price goes up, the amount that the Chancellor gets will go up. These must at best be guesstimates. Therein lies the problem for the offshore industry. The North sea is a mature province, but there is still a lot of oil left. In fact, there are probably as many known oil reserves in the North sea today as there were in the 1970s, but they are much harder to reach and more challenging to get out of the ground. The one thing that the offshore oil and gas industry needs is stability—stability in what the Chancellor is going to do. The last time the tax revenues for the offshore industry were changed, by the last Labour Government, there was a slowdown in the industry for a good two years before it recovered. The industry complained about the unexpected nature of that change and the fact that it was not able to plan for it. This change comes into effect from 12 o’clock tonight, so it will come as a huge shock to the offshore sector that it will be affected.
Does my hon. Friend recognise, given her expertise on the oil industry, that investment in exploration is long term? In some of the fields that she is talking about, planning and investment can take up to 10 years. A fluctuating oil price will make such decisions very difficult. That will have a direct impact on Tyneside and Teesside, which are strongly supported by the supply industry for North sea oil.
I could not agree more. In fact, I believe that 200 constituencies have 50 jobs or more that are directly related to the supply chain of the offshore industry. The change will come as a big shock out of the blue, and I do not think people are prepared for it.
As my hon. Friend suggests, in its long-term planning, the offshore sector tends to use an oil price of between $50 and $60 a barrel. In other words, it projects a stable oil price in its forward planning. That is clearly not the real situation, because sometimes the price dips below that level and sometimes, as at the moment, it goes up to $100 a barrel. The fluctuation of the oil price makes the sector’s long-term planning difficult, and the Chancellor has added another factor that will fluctuate, making the situation even less stable. To call it a fair fuel stabiliser is a complete misnomer.
Like the hon. Lady, I represent an area in which the oil and gas industry is prevalent. Does she agree that the measures that the Chancellor has taken today deal with the problem that arises when there is effectively a windfall for companies because of oil prices? In the long run, the change will be neutral to the taxpayer and the companies will not be at a loss. It just deals with what are effectively windfall profits that they have received because of the current high oil prices, to the benefit of the consumer.
With all due respect, that is not how the Chancellor has sold it. Even if there has been a windfall, perhaps it would have been better had he given some warning of the change so that people in the oil industry in particular could have taken account of it in their planning.
When we look at the Red Book, we see that the change is not tax-neutral. It states that by 2012-13, the tax raised will be £2.2 billion, and that it will be £2.1 billion the following year. The Chancellor is expecting to raise more than £2 billion a year—a much larger amount than is being given back to the consumer who buys petrol at the pump. Line 6 on page 42 of the Red Book shows that the Chancellor is taking more from the offshore oil and gas industry than from the banks, by a factor of 10.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. The other interesting thing in those numbers is that whereas the Chancellor claimed that the banks would not benefit from the corporation tax change, we can see from the Red Book that corporation tax reliefs will rise over the period in question but the bank levy will absolutely collapse.
Indeed, the bank levy will come down to just £100 million by 2015-16.
The change to the oil and gas charge has come as a bit of a shock, and it worries me. From looking at the Red Book, I am getting more and more worried about what the Chancellor has announced today. The Red Book states:
“The Supplementary Charge on oil and gas production will therefore increase to 32 per cent from midnight tonight.”
There was no warning, and it will have come as a big shock to the industry. The effect could be dramatic in my constituency. I only hope that the Chancellor has thought the matter through and had some discussions with the industry. I suspect he has not, and I am worried about what will happen.
I wonder what other nasties are lurking in the Red Book. Last time it was the 10% sanction on housing benefit when someone had been out of work for a year, which we did not discover until days afterwards. I am glad that the Government have backed down on that and that today’s Red Book shows that money again.
From a cursory glance at the Red Book, I discover something that comes as a bit of a surprise to those of us who were here for Prime Minister’s questions today. The Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister why the Government were taking the higher-rate mobility component of disability allowance from people living in residential care. Those who were here will remember that the Prime Minister replied, “We are not”—a simple, straightforward answer. However, line d on page 44 of the Red Book is about the plan to
“remove mobility components for claimants in residential care from April 2013”,
with a figure of £155 million to be saved. That is different from the last Red Book, which stated that the change would come in in 2011-12 and save £135 million. All that the Government have done is delay it by two years. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, the change is still in the Welfare Reform Bill, and here it is in the Red Book. Perhaps the Prime Minister might want to come to the Chamber and apologise for not having been as accurate as he might have been.
For clarification, has the hon. Lady checked the following page, page 45, which mentions the disability living allowance reform gateway funds, which will kick in at £360 million in 2013-14 and rise to £1.45 billion? How does that match the figures that she has given, if at all?
They do not match, because they are totally different things. In fact, the Prime Minister did not quite understand that. The DLA gateway is about tightening up the criteria for those coming on to DLA. That will come in with the introduction of personal independence payments. The reform of the gateway is totally different from taking DLA away from people who live in residential care. By any criteria, such people would qualify to get through the gateway. The Government have decided that they will not get the money because they live in residential care, not because they do not fit the criteria.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that clarification. I am sure she will recognise that there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who share concern about the continuation of the mobility component of DLA. I believe that Ministers are looking for a way to both maintain the mobility component and expand personal payments, so that people with disabilities who live in care homes continue to receive the funding that they require for a decent living. If that is not included in the Budget, I will be very interested to talk to her about it.
What I have said is based on a cursory glance at the Red Book, but the evidence from the Welfare Reform Bill, which states that those in residential care will not get higher-rate mobility DLA, and from the Red Book makes it appear that the Government still intend to take the mobility element away from such people, albeit two years later. Those of us who said that the proposal was unfair thought we had won the battle, but it now appears that we have not won it at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his
intervention, because I know that Members of all parties objected to the proposal. I hope that he will put pressure on his Government to reconsider the matter.
I wish to say a wee bit about the merging of national insurance and income tax. It was trailed slightly in the press, but we needed to find out what it meant in reality. The Chancellor said it would not be the end of the contributory principle, but it is very hard to see how it cannot be. There needs to be a debate about the future of that principle, because other measures that the Government have taken have undermined it. People are quite shocked about what is happening, having paid their national insurance all their lives thinking that they were paying into an insurance scheme and that they would get money out of it when something went wrong. People get only six months’ jobseeker’s allowance of £65 a week as a result of their NI contributions when they are unemployed. Under the Welfare Reform Bill, people will get only one year’s sickness benefit under the new employment and support allowance as a result of such contributions. Most people assume that they get the basic state pension because of their NI contributions. That is the big one, because people are quite happy to pay their NI contributions for that, but the Government plan to introduce a flat-rate, £140 a week state pension. Such contributions pay for the basic state pension state and the earnings-related pension scheme as well as pension credit, and everything then gets divided out.
It is difficult to see how pensions can be based on a contributory record, as the Red Book says they are, if everybody gets the same. The Work and Pensions Secretary said a couple of weeks ago that he will introduce the flat-rate pension, and that that will help women, but it will do so only if it is not dependent on contributions. The Government cannot have it both ways. Either people get the flat-rate pension based on their working record and NI contributions, which will be part of income tax, or they get it because they have fulfilled other criteria, such as residency. The country and all parties in the House need a proper debate on how we fund welfare, the basis of our welfare system, and the future of the contributory principle.
The Liberal Democrats take pensions very seriously. I acknowledge that a lot of consultation and working out must be done, but does the hon. Lady welcome a basic state pension of £140 a week?
I advocated a universal or citizens pension as a Government Member for many years, but one strong argument against such a pension is that many people are very attached to the contributory principle. That came out in the original discussions, when the Government of the day decided to reduce the state pension qualifying years down to 30 for both men and women.
Part of the problem in this country is that we have no means other than NI contributions by which to determine who should qualify for a state pension, because we do not keep residency records, which is how the judgment is made in, for instance, New Zealand. The problem in this country is more complex than it may seem.
The state pension age is about to go up to 66 for men and women by 2020. This was meant to be a Budget for growth, but the very first thing the Chancellor spoke of was the downgrading of the growth figures. I am worried about where all the jobs will come from given the increased number of people in the workplace. The numbers in the work force are expected to increase because of the new work obligations on jobseeker’s allowance claimants; because lone parents will be expected to look for work when their youngest child is five; because 30% of incapacity benefit claimants will be assessed as fully fit for work and expected to go into the workplace; and because another 30% of such claimants will end up in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance. Huge numbers of people are expected to go into the workplace. It is difficult to get figures on how many more people will be looking for work because the Department for Work and Pensions could not give them to us, but on top of those, the raising of the state pension age means that even more people will be looking for work.
I was going to talk about housing, but I could speak for another three hours if I go down that route, so if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall resist.
Will older people who have not reached state pension age be in work or not? At the moment, only 30% of men are still in work aged 65—not only because of early retirement and other things, but because people lose their jobs towards the end of their working lives—but they will be expected to work another year. Only 47% of women aged 60 are still in work, but they will be expected to work for another six years. Those people will not necessarily get anything under the universal credit, because they will probably have saved a nice little nest egg—a nest egg of just over £16,000—to see them through retirement. They will not get jobseeker’s allowance—or rather, they might get it for six months, but that is all they will get through the contributory principle. If they have fallen out of work because of ill health, the most that they might get is a year of employment and support allowance before then getting nothing. Those are big figures, and that is where a lot of the welfare reform savings in the Red Book will come from.
Indeed, it is perhaps worth alerting the House to the fact that the big savings in welfare reform do not come from getting “shirkers” back into work; they come from taking money from those who would normally have got contributory incapacity benefit, but will now get only contributory employment and support allowance for a year. That means that around £80 a week will come out of those people’s incomes. They will get nothing else if they live in a household with someone in work or with any other source of income, or if they have a small pension or savings of more £16,000. Therefore, there will be a new group of people struggling, and they will not be old-age pensioners; they will be pre-old-age pensioners, as it were. They are people who have fallen out of work, but not been able to work to 66 and get their state pension. They have been left with little—in fact, in some cases nothing—from the safety net that we think the welfare state is there to provide.
There is a lot more that I could say; indeed, I am sorry that I have spoken for longer than I intended. Over the coming days I will go through Red Book in a lot more detail than I have managed to today. However, from what I have seen already, there is a great deal for people to be concerned about in what the Chancellor has announced today.
This is, of course, the second Budget of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition Government. The first Budget was put together in the extraordinary circumstances that followed the 2010 general election, when the two parties came together to co-operate in government and clear up the mess left by the Labour Government. In that Budget we dealt with the emergency, and set out a plan to restore fiscal credibility and put Britain back on track. Today we begin the next phase of this coalition Government. Over the next four years we will build a stable economic future, with growth in our economy that is regionally balanced, encourages innovation, and is green and sustainable. We have moved from the rescue stage. We are now on to recovery, and we look forward to reform.
When the hon. Gentleman stood for election last year and his leader said that making deep and fast cuts in public services would be dangerous, did he believe it? If he did, but then came to a different view, what made him change his mind?
I would remind the hon. Lady that we can all be selective with quotations from different party leaders or finance spokesmen in the general election. Indeed, we could do that all round the Chamber. I well remember the leader of my party saying that there would need to be “savage cuts” in public expenditure to deal with the desperate circumstances that whoever won the general election would have to deal with. He was heavily criticised for using the phrase “savage cuts”; none the less, he gave a stark warning that was also timely and well made.
Despite those circumstances, we—and in particular the Liberal Democrats in the coalition—have endeavoured to ensure that all the measures that we put in place, whether in the emergency Budget, the spending review or the Budgets to come, are underpinned by fairness. It is important that we recognise people’s concerns about the cost of living and the pressures on their household budgets. That is why today Liberal Democrats in particular welcome the further step taken towards our main manifesto commitment of ensuring that nobody on an income of less than £10,000 should face an income tax bill. From April this year, almost 900,000 people will be taken out of income tax altogether, with all average earners getting a tax cut of £200. In a year’s time, 1.1 million lower-paid people will be taken out of the income tax net altogether, leading to a tax cut for everyone on average earnings of £326 a year. This measure will, as we always pledged, help the poor and reward work.
I warmly endorse my hon. Friend’s comments about taking low-paid people out of tax. Does he agree that it ill behoves the Opposition to criticise these measures, given that Labour’s contribution was to get rid of the 10p tax rate and import more than 1 million unskilled, low-wage workers from eastern Europe over 13 years to undercut the pay and conditions of the poorest people in this country?
I well remember sitting on the Opposition Benches during the final Budget of Mr Brown, and being one of those who spotted the fact that the tax cut being given to higher-rate taxpayers and the cut in capital gains tax, which were cheered by Labour Members at the time, were effectively being funded by a tax rise for the poorest people in society that doubled their rate of income tax from 10p in the pound to 20p.
People are also rightly concerned about their household budgets as a result of high fuel prices. You and I will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is difficult now to find petrol or diesel costing less than 130p a litre anywhere in the city of Bristol. Even the local fuel station in my constituency is now charging 140p for diesel. I therefore welcome the measures to address those concerns by reducing fuel duty by 1p and by stopping Labour’s planned further increases, leading to a further 5p reduction in fuel duty. This will be welcomed by people not only in cities, such as those I represent, but in the rural areas around Britain represented by my colleagues.
I also welcome the fact that the rate of fuel duty on the islands will be cut by 5p a litre, starting from April 2012. That will put an extra £5 million into the economy of our islands.
My hon. Friend is of course referring to the derogation from the European Commission that has been applied for in order to ensure that the coalition Government’s Budget promise is deliverable under Community law, unlike the undeliverable measure to reduce VAT proposed by Labour.
Fuel duty is, however, a blunt instrument for taxing the motorist. I welcome the measures put forward today to stabilise the prices in between the oil companies and the consumer, but in the medium term, we must look for a much better way of developing a market mechanism for taxing the use of our roads.
A further issue of fairness relates to tax avoidance. Whether practised by large companies or by rich individuals, tax avoidance is an affront to fairness, when ordinary people around the country are going out to work, paying their taxes on time and making their contribution. It is an affront to them that some companies are using the tax system unfairly to avoid tax. Some rich people in society—including sportsmen whom people admire—are also using those schemes. It is therefore right that the Government should take further measures today to close down some of those avoidance schemes and introduce an increased levy on non-domiciled individuals.
Right across the age scale, from pensioners who will benefit from the triple lock, guaranteeing that their pension will go up each year, to children from the poorest families, whose schools will receive the pupil premium, this Government are delivering for all sectors of society. These are fair measures that meet the concerns of ordinary Britons, the people who, according to the term that my party leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, has recently injected into the political debate, wake up to alarm clock Britain.
I knew people would like that, but those are the ordinary families around the country whom all hon. Members represent, and we should not laugh. They are the people who get up and go out to work. They work hard, they want their children to do well and they want their parents to be secure in old age.
Another major element of the Budget, along with fairness, is the plan for growth in the green book that has been launched today. It is important that the plan should be regionally balanced. One of the unfortunate legacies of the last Labour Government was the overheated economy in London and the south-east of England, and the credit bubble which, as we know, eventually burst. We cannot allow that to happen again. This Government are determined that growth should be shared fairly right across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. That is why I particularly welcome the announcement today of 21 enterprise zones and I look forward tomorrow to hearing confirmation from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of where they will be based. I hope that one of them will be in the Greater Bristol local enterprise partnership.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the Red Book. If he looks at the figures for the local enterprise zones, he will see that they add up to about £900,000 for each one. That needs to be compared with the funding for the regional development agencies in the last year of the Labour Government, which was more than £2 billion.
We will have to wait and see the detail on the local enterprise zones. What we know from the detail we have had today is that there will be a year’s tax holiday from business rates for people locating in those zones. They will also be equipped with superfast broadband and, I am sure, other measures of support and advice. This issue is bound up with other announcements already made this week about the technology innovation centres and the Manufacturing Advisory Service. There is a whole package of measures that I suggest the hon. Gentleman looks at.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the test of how well a Government policy works is not how much money is spent on it, but the benefits it has? That is why I hope my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the steps taken to help entrepreneurs and scientific research in areas such as Babraham near my constituency.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and he is, of course, quite right. The question from Labour Members when they were in government was always, “How much money can we possibly spend on this situation?” rather than “What works?” That is the difference between this coalition Government and Labour. I commend my hon. Friend for the measures he has recently published on entrepreneurship.
Another aspect of growth that I want to see in the future that we have not had in the past is green and sustainable growth. I particularly support the confirmation that a green investment bank will be set up with initial capital not of £1 billion, but of £3 billion, to incentivise investment in the low-carbon economy of the future. The Red Book, quoted so much already, suggests that this will leverage into the low-carbon economy a further £18 billion-worth of investment. Before the end of this Parliament, once our finances are stabilised, that bank will be able to borrow in order to make further investments.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the downgrading of the Government’s flagship policy, the green investment bank, from what should have been and would have been a bank able to issue bonds from day one to what amounts to a fund for the next five years effectively reduces the prospects of our country becoming a world leader in green innovation? Does he also agree that by failing properly to back our fledgling green economy, we will find it harder to cut our emissions and harder to achieve or boost energy sovereignty, and we will be missing out on one of the greatest economic opportunities of all time?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has been making that case in private to his well-connected friends. I and my colleagues have also been making the case for a green investment bank, not a green investment fund. It has been confirmed as a green investment bank today and it will have £3 billion of seedcorn capital to get it off to a flying start. It is going to start a year earlier than originally suggested. By the end of this Parliament, it will be able to issue bonds so that if we wish, we could all deposit our funds with that bank to invest in our green future.
I also welcome the investment made in innovation and skills, particularly in technology innovation centres. I talked a lot in the last Parliament about the skilling of our young people and how we needed to get more people to take up apprenticeship places, so the confirmation of 50,000 more places today means that there will be 250,000 more in this Parliament than we were left by the last Government.
Speaking as someone who before entering this House spent 17 years in a career in the private sector, advising small businesses on how to set up and take off, I welcome the confirmation or enhancement in the Budget of many reliefs designed to help new and innovative businesses to take off and the fact that by 2014 we will have the lowest rate of corporate tax in the G7. We now look forward to a further period of reform.
Dame Anne Begg rightly mentioned the integration of the income tax and national insurance schemes, on which there is to be consultation after the Budget. It is, of course, 100 years since Lloyd George, my political hero, introduced the national insurance scheme. During the slump of the 1920s, however—this deals with the point made by the hon. Lady—the actuarial soundness of that scheme was essentially undermined, and ever since then the fiction has been maintained by Governments of all hues that it is a separate fund. In fact, it is a second income tax in all but name, and the time has come to reform it. I am very glad that the Government are going to do that; and because they are going to consult on how it should be done, all the issues raised by the hon. Lady about contributions-based benefits are likely to be dealt with.
The other reform to which I look forward is the move to a system based more on sustainability, involving a tax on carbon. I am delighted that the Chancellor has confirmed the introduction of a new carbon floor price. On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I will shortly produce a paper fleshing out how that can work during the rest of the current Parliament.
It is disappointing that we have not been able to agree internationally on further taxes on aviation—both coalition parties wanted an aeroplane tax rather than air passenger duty—and I hope that international agreement will be secured so that that can be achieved. However, I welcome the confirmation that we are to end the absurd anomaly whereby the jets that most of us use when travelling abroad are subject to air passenger duty while private jets are not. Under the existing law, a plane full of football fans going off to watch their heroes must pay tax, while the team itself takes off in a private plane and pays none.
The measures that have already been outlined, and the reforms to which we look forward, reward hard work, incentivise enterprise, and make progress towards a low-carbon economy.
Let me deal finally with the issue of the banks. I welcome the fact that the Government have introduced a levy that will be permanent, throughout the life of this Parliament. It has been confirmed today that the banks will not benefit from the reduction in corporation tax, and that the levy will be increased in future. We shall have to wait for the results of the Vickers review to find out whether there are proposals to break up the banks.
How can the hon. Gentleman say what he has just said about the banks, given that the bank levy is falling from £600 million to £100 million within three years? That is patently ridiculous.
I understand that the bank levy is about £2.5 billion a year. The Chancellor announced recently that the levy, which was £1.8 billion in its first year, would be increased to £2.5 billion, and today it has been confirmed that the banks will not benefit from the reduction in corporation tax and that the levy will be increased.
Another issue connected with the banks is what we should do with our ownership, as taxpayers, of Lloyds Banking Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland. That is an issue with which the Government will have to deal at some point in the next few years. A couple of weeks ago I published a pamphlet, with CentreForum, which suggested that the shares should be given to the people so that the state could recover the £67 billion that was invested in the banks bail-out in 2008. The citizen should enjoy the upside: the citizen should enjoy the growth in those shares in the future. I hope that my Treasury colleagues will look favourably on that proposal as they decide what to do with the legacy from the last Government.
The Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition Government have dealt with Labour’s toxic legacy, but Labour Members seem to be still in denial about the problem. They have not acknowledged its existence, let alone shown any sign of contrition for their role in the deficit. The Leader of the Opposition produced some very good jokes today—I will give him that—but he could at least have made an apology. We have started to clear up the mess. Today’s Budget sets in train a plan for a Britain that is fairer, with a stable economy and a low-carbon future. It recognises the need to help households with their budgets now, and to give them confidence that the economy and their country are back on track.
Several hon. Members rose—
Before we move on, I have to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. On the question relating to a stability mechanism for member states whose currency is the euro, the Ayes were 310 and the Noes were 29. Therefore, the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates .]
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this Budget debate. The first time I remember feeling like this was when I was being summoned by an RAF instructor to make my first parachute jump—a leap of faith into the unknown. Today, however, as I rise to make my maiden speech in this Chamber, I am reassured by knowing that the hon. Members who have gone before me—most of them—have landed without incurring permanent injury.
The people of Barnsley Central have a long history of electing good people to serve as their Member of Parliament. Only time will tell whether I extend that record, but it is a great privilege to pay tribute to my predecessors. It is truly humbling to think that I follow in the footsteps of the former Barnsley MP, Roy Mason, a coal miner at the age of 14. Lord Mason went on to serve the town as its MP for 34 years. During that time, he served in a number of Governments and held a number of high offices.
I also have the great privilege of representing wards that were previously in the Barnsley, West and Penistone constituency. Before being abolished, the constituency was represented by the formidable Michael Clapham. As an MP, Mick did tremendous work to support other former miners, securing compensation for those who had been injured through their work and for the families of those miners who had been killed.
As it was for Roy and Mick, so it was for Barnsley: coal mining was at the heart of the community. Barnsley is a town with a proud history of linen, wire and glass making, but coal mining once accounted for more than 30,000 jobs. It was a community built on coal. In good times and bad, in war and in peace, places such as Barnsley kept this economy and this country going. As is said in Barnsley: “We dug the coal.”
I would also like to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Eric Illsley. It is acknowledged that Eric made mistakes—mistakes that cast a shadow across his good work for the people of Barnsley—but we should not forget that Eric chose to dedicate his life to the betterment of the lives of working people. Like Mick and Roy, Eric served the community and spent 10 years as a National Union of Mineworkers official, including during the miners’ strike. Many people have told me that Eric was a very hard-working and conscientious constituency MP with a strong record of supporting and representing working men and women in Barnsley.
Having served two tours in Afghanistan, I was relieved to fight a—relatively, at least—peaceful by-election campaign in Barnsley, but I was ably supported by some brilliant local campaigners: people such as Anita Cherryhome and Tracey Cheetham, to name just two among the many to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude. My transition from the Army to civilian life has been made a pleasure because of the people of Barnsley and their support. I remember the warmth of the welcome I received at the New Lodge working men’s club while having a pint with Roy Butterwood, and from the fantastic people working in Barnsley hospital. Both institutions are, in different ways, at the heart of the community.
I met hundreds of amazing people during the by-election, including teachers, NHS workers, police officers, business owners and volunteers: remarkable people working hard and achieving remarkable things in Barnsley, in Yorkshire and beyond.
My constituents are proud people. People such as Len Picken and Jenny Platts are proud of their industrial heritage, proud of who they are today and proud of what Barnsley can continue to be in the future. There is no question but that the people of my constituency have the energy, skill and dedication to make our community a better place. The question today is whether Barnsley’s future is safe under this Government or whether it will be savaged by spending cuts and by a failure to protect jobs and opportunities for the young, as it was in the 1980s.
The people of Barnsley were looking for today’s Budget to pass two clear tests. Did it deliver for families who are finding times hard as pay freezes hit, world prices rise and the VAT increase takes up to £450 a year out of a family’s household spending; and did it demonstrate that the Government have a plan to generate jobs and the growth that would create jobs? The Barnsley of today, after more than a decade of investment and reform to our public services and our infrastructure, is not the Barnsley of the 1980s. Barnsley and our country can and should thrive. Indeed, a year ago, growth in this country was rising, and unemployment and inflation were falling. We had hoped that the mistakes of the past were forgotten and that communities such as Barnsley would not be abandoned as they were then, leaving a generation scarred.
The 1980s and 1990s were a dark chapter for the town, as the then Government closed down the mines which were the heart and soul of our community and stood back and let unemployment and misery linger for a generation. In recent years, Councillor Steve Houghton, the outstanding leader of Barnsley council, was instrumental in working with the Department for Work and Pensions in devising the future jobs fund, which helped more than 600 people find jobs in Barnsley. But the future jobs fund ends this month and Barnsley is facing some of the deepest cuts in the country. The council has to find £26 million this year and £46 million in total, and jobs will inevitably be lost. The truth is that today South Yorkshire police are losing 400 police officers and facing deeper cuts than many other forces. The increase in
VAT on fuel is costing people in Yorkshire £53 million in extra fuel tax this year. The education maintenance allowance was helping more than 3,500 of Barnsley’s young people to afford to stay in education. This September, some of the poorest young people going into education will be £30 a week worse off and, even on the Government’s own figures, one in 10 of them will drop out of education as a result.
The Government told us that we were out of the danger zone, that their plan was working and that they should be judged on the figures. Today, inflation is rising, partly as a result of the VAT rise, unemployment is rising and growth has stalled. Barnsley urgently needs an alternative: a plan to get jobs and to help families feeling the squeeze. The Government could have chosen to repeat the bank bonus tax—a tax on those on whose shoulders much of the responsibility for our predicament should fall. That money could have funded a plan—a plan to build houses, to invest in infrastructure and to get young people in work—but they chose not take that approach. The real test of this Budget was whether the voice of the country had been heard, whether the evidence had been heeded and whether the Government had listened on jobs and on the cost of living. They have failed this test.
The previous Labour Government, whatever their faults, did their bit to invest in the future, and their investment in education and training was particularly important. In Barnsley, the Building Schools for the Future project has successfully provided new schools such as Darton college, the Dearne advanced learning centre and the Carlton community college, with six more in the pipeline, to sit alongside the inspirational Barnsley college, rated as “outstanding” in Ofsted’s last inspection.
My service in the Parachute Regiment has taught me that so much can be achieved when people are given the right tools, the right skills and the right training—when they are given the support and funding to be the best. I know from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that the men and women of our armed forces are the best. I have had the privilege of serving with some amazing people, but, above all, it has been a pleasure to serve with the soldiers and NCOs—the backbone of our armed forces. Today, I particularly remember Corporal Bryan Budd VC and Corporal Mark Wright GC, both of the Parachute Regiment, who lost their lives while serving our country with the most outstanding valour. I pay the highest tribute to them and to all those men and women who have fallen in the pursuit of maintaining the security of our country. We must never forget their families who are left behind to grieve, but it is not enough just to praise the armed forces. They must be supported with the best training and equipment, and the military covenant is not an optional extra but an essential piece of kit.
The strategic defence and security review may come to be remembered as the Fox review, but only in the future will we know whether it is as cunning as its name might suggest or if it is, as Professor Paul Cornish states in his recent Chatham House report, merely an attempt to “muddle through”. This is no time to muddle through. Clear policy and decisive action are a must, and we must move the debate on to determining the desired strategic outputs rather than merely considering defence inputs.
Although there is rightly much focus on Libya and events in the middle east, in Afghanistan the efforts of our armed forces are nothing short of heroic, and they are buying space and time for the Afghan Government, but the question remains of how we should use that time. In the end, the true measure of progress is how far Afghanistan has advanced towards a political settlement capable of providing enduring stability, because that is the safest way of securing both our interests and those of the Afghans. We and our American allies should not wait to push forward a serious dialogue for reconciliation. Ultimately, politics is always the solution. Whatever the progress with that effort, it is critical to address not only the external and regional elements of the conflict, but its internal cause: the issues of legitimacy, the rule of law and grievance that push people to support the Taliban and to which my right hon. Friend Mr Murphyreferred in his recent speech to the Royal United Services Institute.
I must thank hon. Members on both sides of the House who, through their advice and kindness, have ensured my safe landing in this place. It is with my deepest thanks to them that I now feel a little more able to live up to my old regimental motto, “Utrinque paratus”, or “Ready for anything”.
Finally, if I have learnt nothing else during the by-election campaign, I have learnt this: the spirit and aspiration of the people of Barnsley cannot be trodden down and I, as their Member of Parliament, will do all I can to stand up for them. It is their hard work, their pride in themselves and their compassion for others that makes me so very proud to represent them here today.
It is an honour and privilege to follow any maiden speech, but it is particularly so in this case. I know I speak for the whole House when I congratulate Dan Jarvis on a magnificent performance. He spoke with command, it was a measured speech and in every sense—whether it was the humorous side or the remarks he made about his predecessors—it was an absolute example of how an hon. Member should make a maiden speech. When I made my maiden speech at the end of 1983, it was an ordeal not only for me but for the House that had to listen to me.
The hon. Gentleman performed splendidly. I also held his predecessor in high regard as a parliamentarian and I much regret the way he left this House. Colleagues listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech will have come to the conclusion that he brings unique experience to this place that will greatly enrich our deliberations in the future. I certainly would not willingly jump out of an aeroplane, you would have to push me and that would be the end of it. I speak for the whole House—I do not think we get much Conservative support in Barnsley Central—when I wish him a long and successful career.
Turning to the Budget, there is no doubt that this has been the most difficult and gloomy time I have known for people in business—until today. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his well-crafted and clever Budget, which will cheer up the country. It has already cheered up Government Members and, as colleagues will have observed from the general atmosphere among Opposition Members three or four hours ago, it has absolutely cheesed off the Opposition. I am getting sick to death with Members on the Conservative and, dare I say, Liberal Benches being castigated for the absolute mess that the country is in. One party alone is responsible for that—Labour. It is because of the Labour party that we are facing debt interest of £120 million a day and because of the Labour party that we have the biggest structural debt in the G7.
I want to share with colleagues who were elected last year what the past 13 years have been like. As hon. Members will know, the last Prime Minister was previously the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I had the experience of listening to 10 of his Budgets, which he greatly enjoyed delivering. He used to come to the Dispatch Box and two thirds of the way through his speech he would wind Conservative Members up. Then he would make what he thought would be the headline-grabbing news item that would cheer everyone up. But then we would all go away and people would read the Red Book and within a few weeks we would find out that what he had told us was not in any sense accurate. So I congratulate the Chancellor on the new Red Book, because unlike the previous one it is not big enough to use as a doorstop, which is all that one was fit for.
Labour Members seem to think that Government Members relish making cuts.
We do not, and I find it hypocritical that although Labour Members used to speak about cuts before the general election—I can only talk about those who were here before the election—we no longer hear about the cuts they were going to make. It is as though the Conservatives and Liberals rejoice in making cuts. If anyone wants to know why the country is in a mess, I can tell them it is because the Labour party took away regulation from the Bank of England and gave it to an organisation that was not fit for purpose. Also, as one of my colleagues said during Prime Minister’s questions, Labour stupidly sold off our gold reserves.
I will go further: in all his Budgets the then Chancellor of the Exchequer would make announcements about spending in terms not of millions but billions, and we in opposition used to wonder how it could be funded. We now know that it could not be funded and that we were spending money we never had. I will never forgive Tony Blair—[ Interruption. ] Hon. Members might huff and puff, but I am entitled to say this because it was Tony Blair who got me to vote for the war in Iraq and I will never forgive him for having told us a pack of lies at the Dispatch Box.
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels very passionately about the subject, but perhaps he would like to temper his language and, in particular, withdraw the accusation of lying.
The hon. Gentleman can make remarks about people who are not Members of Parliament. I am touching on his language, and the convention in this House on the moderate use of language and on allegations against people who are unable to correct what has been said.
I hope that Tony Blair will correct what I have said when he again gives evidence, but I blame him for the way he completely misled the country on any number of issues. Not the least part of his lasting legacy is the fact that he destroyed the House of Commons, because this is certainly not the place that I entered in 1983. I further blame the last Prime Minister, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer. New Labour Members come into the Chamber and castigate Government Members for what is going on; what on earth were they standing for in the general election campaign in May?
Having listened to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, I wish he was in an aeroplane so that we could push him out. He feels that he has been duped on Iraq and on spending, but why, then, did he and the leader of his party say right up to 2008, including in a speech by the leader of his party in July 2008 to the CBI conference, that the Conservatives would match the Labour Government’s spending?
I wanted to check whether the hon. Gentleman’s position of not relishing cuts—I am sure that he does not relish them—reflects the position of his party generally, given that the Chair of the Treasury Committee said this morning that he believed that public spending should be reduced, even if we were not in deficit.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that it takes an enormous degree of mismanagement and incompetence, after 12 years of economic growth, to leave 5 million people on out-of-work benefits, languishing in a half-life on the edge of society? That is the legacy of the Labour Government.
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend, but I would just say that if Labour Members feel that they were absolutely spot on in their judgment on the economy, why was Labour not re-elected last year? We had a general election last year, and the Conservative party was overwhelmingly the largest party returned; in any case, the Labour party was defeated. I am afraid that the Labour party’s reaction to the Budget today—they were absolutely cheesed off—says it all.
Before the Budget, I had representations from all manner of organisations, including the Association for Consultancy and Engineering and others in a conglomeration of engineering companies, and Essex chambers of commerce. I have to say that the Budget was much brighter and more positive than I expected, so whatever demands have been made, I think that the Chancellor has met them completely. I am delighted that at long last something is being done about regulation.
I am absolutely delighted that we are looking at how we deal with income tax and national insurance. I am delighted about the cut in corporation tax. I am absolutely delighted with what we are doing about fuel duty; one could see from Labour Members’ glum faces that they were very disappointed with that. I am glad that in the east of England, 106,000 people are being taken out of a tax band, and I am very pleased with what has happened about gift aid.
I hope that Conservative Members will become a little more robust when Opposition Members have the temerity to castigate them after nine months for the mess that the country is in. Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members are looking at the party that is entirely responsible for meltdown Britain. I congratulate the Chancellor on his Budget today and on cheering up the country.
I would love to say that it was a pleasure to follow Mr Amess, but instead I will restrict myself to saying that I agree with him entirely that Dan Jarvis made a very good maiden speech indeed. It is certainly a pleasure to follow him, if not the hon. Member for Southend West. [Interruption.] The Economic Secretary to the Treasury says from a sedentary position that that is harsh. It is only a little harsh.
The Budget was billed as a Budget for growth, and by goodness, we need it, so let us test that. In his statement and in the Red Book the Chancellor gave us a great deal of information. Our national debt for 2010-11 was expected last year to be £932 billion. It is now forecast to be £909 billion for that year. It was expected to be £1.6 trillion next year, but it is coming in at £1.46 trillion. The deficit was expected to be £149 billion for last year. That seems to be coming in at £146 billion. But the figure for 2011-12 was forecast to be £116 billion and that is now up to £122 billion, if the numbers are to be believed. That tells us that the Chancellor may have had a little room for manoeuvre, but growth is essential if the figures are to remain on target and if we are to have any chance at all of protecting jobs and services.
I welcome the direction of travel on corporation tax but, because the Budget was so thin and fiscally neutral—the entire Budget barely shifted £10 million in total—it effectively confirms that the cuts, which were forecast last year at £99 billion and revised down to £81 billion in the comprehensive spending review, are still there. It confirms that £29 billion of tax rises announced last year are effectively still there. It confirms the swingeing benefit cuts of £11 billion announced last year and confirmed in the CSR. It also confirms the changes in some of the pension component, particularly the RPI-CPI switch, which will yield the Exchequer £1.2 billion this year, rising to nearly £6 billion in 2014-15.
On pensions, the Chancellor spoke about a single-tier pension. That is similar to the citizens pension concept that many of us support, but to deliver that with savings predicated on changing not just the state pension, but all public sector pensions, which are contracted and paid into, in some cases, for many, many years, cannot be right. He also said in relation to pensions that he would accept all the Hutton recommendations. It may well be that all of us have to save a little more a little longer for the pension that we expect at the end, but let the Government be in no doubt that a 3% hike in pension contributions now will put some of our constituents—indeed, many of our constituents—in serious financial difficulties in the short term. I hope that the implementation of that is carefully considered.
On PFI—the Labour party’s worst legacy—the figures are truly frightening. The value of the capital projects is some £56 billion. The cost of the outstanding repayment liability is £214 billion. The average repayment each year until 2047-48 will be £6 billion, and that will peak at more than £9 billion in 2017-18. The Chancellor said nothing about that, or about how we would replace the PFI system. Throughout his speech he spoke of encouraging private investment, and some of that is to be welcomed, but he said nothing about how we would replace PFI by means of public capital investment. We know how vital that is, given that the economic impact multiplier for capital expenditure is 1:1. It is the most significant thing we can invest in and, more dangerously, the worse possible thing we can cut.
The Chancellor had a great deal to say about oil, which is not surprising given that the forecast for 2011-12 shows that the North sea will generate an additional £4 billion. He is right to take immediate action because households and businesses are struggling. The price of a gallon of petrol in rural Scotland is routinely £6.50, and we know that in the past four or five weeks the price increase in diesel has added £1,000 to the annual cost of running a truck. That is unsustainable and inflationary. I welcome the 1p cut and the fact that the proposed increase has been stopped, but the Government said that they had introduced a stabiliser, and I have re-read his speech any number of times. The stabiliser seems to me to suggest that when the barrel price increases it is merely the escalator that is cancelled, leaving the indexed rise in place. I always understood that the stabiliser would reduce the duty level when the price rose so that we could temper out some of spikes in rising prices. By only including the escalator, we do not have a stabiliser at all and will still see many of the spikes that we have been trying to smooth out to bring some stability back into the economy, particularly in the haulage sector.
The Chancellor said surprisingly little about the banks, so I will go back to what he said in February. He announced that the banks would lend more, especially to small businesses, pay more taxes, bring responsibility and restraint to the sector, pay less in bonuses, be more transparent and make a greater contribution to the regional economy. That is all fine, but in order to thrive and grow companies need access to affordable and flexible funding, and they need it now. That remains a huge hurdle for many of our businesses.
The lack of new lending in particular is continuing to have an adverse impact on individual companies as well as on the economy as a whole. Business investment, as the Minister knows, will remain some 20% below pre-recession levels. Indeed, there was a 0.5% fall in gross fixed capital formation in the last quarter of 2010, which is extremely worrying, given that this is supposed to be a business growth and export-driven recovery.
All the evidence I have seen highlights the importance of expanding sustainable lending. Although we welcome the lending commitments agreed between the Government and the banks, it is important to ensure that they move quickly on the issue. I would have thought that the Chancellor had much more to say today about how the banking community would increase even gross lending to businesses across the country. Instead, although he did increase enterprise investment scheme limits to encourage private investment, which I welcome, he said nothing about bank lending. It is the retail banks on the high street that most of our small businesses depend upon for both capital and cash flow.
The two key issues of oil and access to finance are not just about economic recovery, but about fairness, as is alcohol duty, and there were a few changes on that today. However, the Government brought forward no measure whatsoever to tax alcoholic drinks by alcohol content. Whisky is still penalised and we still have the ludicrous situation where 4% beer is taxed more heavily than 7.5% cider, which does nothing to promote public health or address the wider social and economic consequences of excessive drinking. Picking up the tab for those costs is estimated to equate to a tax of some £3.5 billion in Scotland alone. I am surprised that the Chancellor did not use the Budget to take measures to deal with that problem.
There are also huge dangers in the Budget, as it confirms the cut to the Scottish budget and threatens recovery there. I am sure that the whole House will welcome the recent reduction in unemployment. The figures for March show that unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 16,000 and employment has risen by 8,000, the eighth consecutive reported rise in employment. That is all good news, and we have to drive it forward, but cutting the Scottish budget, particularly £800 million from the capital budget, will have a huge impact on the Scottish Parliament’s ability to drive forward many of the initiatives that were making a difference as we came out of the recession.
Given the economic backdrop, particularly the fourth quarter figures for the whole UK and the need to continue to support growth, the Scottish Government and, indeed, the UK Government need a Budget that supports clear, targeted resources. Given also that the Chancellor had some flexibility, I am surprised that he did not offer up a targeted measure to increase capital expenditure, because it has the most significant impact of any public spending.
What the Chancellor did talk about was enterprise zones, of course, and we certainly welcome those as a concept. They could be used in Moray, for example, given the closure of RAF Kinloss, but the Budget offered little detail beyond suggesting some business rate reductions and streamlined planning measures, both of which the Chancellor rightly said are devolved. For enterprise zones to work properly, they should revert to the old form, which included the significant use of capital resources, but, given that there is only £80 million in four years’ time, or £4 million per site, much of which I suspect will be used to offset business rates for local authorities, it strikes me as inconceivable that the Government have planned and prepared for the significant use of capital allowances to deliver their potential.
The amount is actually less than that to which the hon. Gentleman refers, because, although page 42 of the Red Book cites £80 million in year four, over the period, if we spread the amount across the 21 proposed enterprise zones, we find that it works out at less than £1 million per zone.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has done the four-year forecast and the average for me, but the point is the same: there is very little money in what ought to be an initiative with the potential, at least, to deliver some significant economic investment.
We need targeted measures, and one measure that the Chancellor could have introduced today was targeted help for the computer games industry. A targeted tax break was suggested previously but pulled from the previous Budget. Debates in the Scottish Parliament have backed it, and debates in Westminster have had all-party support, but he rejected the idea in 2010 and rejected it today. He did say, however, that he would improve the intellectual property regime and increase the small companies R and D tax credit, and I look to understand from the Government at some point whether there is a specific way in which the video games industry and other growing high-tech industries might access it, and access it in an appropriate way that protects them and grows them in future.
In terms of targeted measures, we also believe that there was a compelling case for the Scottish Government to be given responsibility for the administration and revenues of the Crown Estate in Scotland, given the focus in Scotland and the UK on driving a low-carbon economy and the existing responsibilities for marine planning and economic development. This Budget provided the Chancellor with the opportunity to indicate that he was prepared to do that through Government amendments to the Scotland Bill, but no commitment was made.
The Chancellor could also have demonstrated—another small targeted measure—that he was prepared to adjust the tax treatment of participants and sponsors at the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014 so that there was equality of treatment with participants and sponsors at the Olympic games in 2012. I know that the Scottish Government and others have contacted him on the matter, because it is important to the overall success of the 2014 games and to the economic regeneration of the east end of Glasgow, so I am deeply disappointed that, in a Budget when he had the opportunity to talk about parity of tax treatment, he did not take it.
I know also that, following the abolition of the end-year flexibility agreements with the devolved Administrations, a new system was to be introduced and the Chancellor intended to set out details in this Budget. They might be tucked away in a document I have not read, but there was no mention made of that at all, or of whether a new end-year cash reserve could be established so that end-year flexibility was maintained in a way that was beneficial not just to the Scottish Administration, but to Wales and to Northern Ireland.
The Chancellor spoke a lot about the green economy and about several measures that he intends to take, and, as the Economic Secretary and the Chancellor know, there is still accrued £195 million of fossil fuel levy that only the Scottish Government can use. It ought to be released, but under the current rules it cannot without a comparable claw-back from the block grant. This was the opportunity for the Chancellor to release those funds, but he missed it.
That is particularly disappointing in relation to the announcement about the green investment bank, which was supposed to be the alternative. In November 2010, in the Treasury Committee, I asked the Chancellor what the timing was for its establishment, and he said that he wanted to get it up and running as soon as possible. He said that he hoped to come forward with proposals on how it was going to be structured between now and Christmas and that he would have set aside money to go into the bank in the comprehensive spending review. It is therefore hugely depressing that we have to wait another year, until 2012, before it can start to function. Given the press coverage that I am sure we have all seen, it looks as though it will be 2015 before it is fully operational.
A further green disappointment is that there was no mention whatsoever of green individual savings accounts—a key Tory policy to be introduced within two years as a way of helping savers to benefit from the growth of the green economy, because the billions raised from their sale would fund the state-backed green investment bank. Yet it seems that because of objections they are to be dropped, choking off a funding stream that would have channelled an estimated £2 billion a year into green technologies. I do not know if the shutdown of green ISAs is part of a wider move to curtail the potential operations of the green bank before it is even set up, but it is extremely worrying. Finally on green issues, the carbon floor price was mentioned. I understand from those who know more about that than I do that it is, in effect, a secret subsidy to the nuclear industry, which is anything but green.
The Chancellor said that this was a Budget for growth, but growth will be stifled if the banks do not lend, and if he takes no action on alcohol duty. Growth will be restricted by his failure to reassess the cuts in capital expenditure, and the opportunity of enterprise zones will be squandered without the proper application of capital allowances. Growth sectors such as the games industry will be damaged by the refusal to introduce tax breaks. Growth in the green economy will be slowed because of the refusal to release funds from the fossil fuel levy, and investment in our green future will be reduced because of delays in setting up the green bank. The Chancellor took an hour to shuffle £10 million. It was a profoundly wasted opportunity when he could have done so much more.
It is an honour to follow in the slipstream of Dan Jarvis, who has executed an elegant parachute jump into the Chamber. His forceful and powerful speech was a reminder of how important it is, at a time when the country is making ever greater demands on its armed forces, that we hear the voices of our servicemen and women from all parts of the Chamber.
Thus far we have touched several times on the critical role that the bond markets are playing in framing the budgetary policy of this coalition Government. Sir Stuart Bell, who is no longer in the Chamber, asked when it was that bond markets acquired this pivotal role in our national economic policy making. If I may venture an answer, I think that the views of rating agencies became impossible to ignore when towards the middle of the previous decade—before the onset of the financial crisis—the British Government
“lost control of public spending” in three key Government Departments: Health, Education and Defence. Those are not my words or views but those of Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the permanent secretary of Her Majesty’s Treasury, as expressed in a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee not so long ago; they are available in the Committee report if people wish to have a look.
It is also important for the hon. Member for Middlesbrough to realise that we live in a globalised financial market, and if one cannot fund one’s borrowing requirements from captive domestic sources, inevitably one is forced upon the mercies of the international capital markets, and that is exactly where we find ourselves today.
I know that the Conservatives are peddling the line that we are in hock to foreign banks, but does the hon. Gentleman not realise that only about 35% of our gilts and debts are held abroad? Greece is always held up as the big pariah, and its figure is nearly 70%. The hon. Gentleman’s argument is frankly complete nonsense.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that elegantly expressed critique. It is a significant proportion of our borrowing. It is not the totality, and I never said that it was. However, if our marginal investor, whom we need to supply that additional pound of borrowing, is setting the price for our borrowing, that determines the rate at which we finance ourselves. It is as simple as that. That is straightforward marginal pricing through supply and demand.
No, I will carry on for a little.
In my view, it is only thanks to the resolve and determination of this Government that we have sufficient credibility with the bond markets to have delivered a Budget for growth. The Budget includes an acceleration of the plans to cut corporation tax, which will give a much-needed boost to Britain’s international competitiveness. I am particularly pleased by that because at a time when countries need to compete ever more aggressively to attract highly skilled labour, the UK is increasingly being seen not just as a high-tax economy, but as one with a highly complex and unwieldy tax system. The World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report for 2011 ranked the UK tax regime the 95th most competitive out of 135 countries—almost at the bottom of the world rankings. That sends out a terrible signal to global business.
The UK tax regime was once viewed as an asset and I am glad that the Government are proceeding with plans to make it an asset once again. I fully support the Chancellor’s plans to give Britain the most competitive business tax regime of any major western economy, and to reverse our slide down the global competitiveness rankings. Already, the coalition Government have reversed planned increases in payroll taxes and lowered small business rates. As we heard from the Chancellor this afternoon, they will accelerate reductions in corporation tax so that by 2014, the rate falls to 23%—the lowest ever rate in this country and the lowest in the G7. That is something that we should celebrate if we are serious about enterprise and entrepreneurialism in this country.
I also welcome the Chancellor’s decision to analyse closely whether the top rate of tax is yield positive or negative for the British economy. It is worth considering whether it is deterring investment, thereby losing us more revenue than it is bringing in. A more competitive, simpler and more stable tax regime is an essential precondition for growth and will ultimately be better for everybody in this country, rich and poor alike.
When countries that had public finances in a comparable state to ours last May are still fighting off the terrible spectre of sovereign debt default, it would be terrible folly to slow the pace of what is widely regarded as a necessary fiscal consolidation. Our policies are under intense scrutiny by the international bond markets, to which we are paying £120 million in interest daily. We cannot afford for our borrowing costs to rise, as they have elsewhere. We are paying 3.6% in the gilt markets on our staggering public debt. Other countries are paying rates closer to 8% or 9%, and Greece is paying a staggering 12.6%. We simply cannot afford to be complacent, as the Governor of the Bank of England made clear in a recent hearing of the Treasury Committee, at which he stated firmly that UK gilt rates would rise by three percentage points if we backtracked from the course of fiscal consolidation that we have outlined.
I wish the hon. Gentleman would do some homework before he makes accusations, and not just swallow the central office lines on such things. He does not tell the House that less than 20% of our debt needs to be repaid in the next three years, whereas Greece and other countries need to repay 36% or 37% of their debt in the next three years. The idea that we have an instant crisis is wrong. Can he tell me when a UK Government have ever defaulted on a gilt payment?
There are problems when a country has a stock of debt as massive as ours. Even with the Government’s plans for fiscal consolidation, it will not start declining for some years to come. Under the Labour Government our stock of debt would have peaked at about 80% of gross domestic product, but under the current Government’s plans it will peak somewhere below 70%—69%, I think I recall. [Hon. Members: “71%.”] Either 69% or 71%. Such a massive stock of debt means that every year, we have to refinance several hundred billion pounds of Government debt. Even if it is not all the debt, that is still a very substantial amount of money.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will be interested to read on page 25 of the debt and reserves management report issued today that the gap in the five-year forward rate on debt borrowing is at its highest point for 10 years. That reflects the fact that the market is buying only short-term debt. One of the few assets of this country that the last Government did not sell down the river was the long-dated debt that we have compared with other countries. If we had carried on with their policies, even that would have been lost as a result of their profligacy and waste.
The Conservatives spend all their time suggesting that this is just a national problem. The hon. Gentleman cited the possibility of our debt being 71% of GDP, but in Germany the figure is 79%, in France it is 75%, in Italy it is 116% and in Japan it is 194%. These problems came to every country in the world, and my right hon. Friend Mr Brown was not responsible for all of them.
Markets can turn on a dime if they detect backsliding. Recovering lost confidence would require much bigger cuts to public spending than the credible ones that the Government have outlined. Evidence for that is in abundant supply in countries on the periphery of the eurozone. Despite the agreement on the post-2013 European stability mechanism, concerns about the underlying solvency of the most vulnerable countries—Portugal, Ireland and Greece—are growing.
I did not touch on it directly because the reply is obvious. Yes, other countries have large debts, but that does not mean that we do not have an urgent need to reduce the scope of our borrowing and our national interest payments.
Chris Bryant should recognise that every country’s situation is different. He mentions Japan, whose debt might be about 190% of GDP, but it is also the largest creditor nation in the world. Only about 5% of its total debt stock is held by foreign investors. The situation is quite different in our case.
That is an excellent point.
As my right hon. Friend Mr Redwood said earlier, Portugal’s position is particularly precarious at the moment because opposition parties there, much like here, have refused to back the austerity measures needed to help the country avoid a bail-out. That could force Portugal further down the international bail-out route that was first trodden by Greece last spring and then by Ireland at the end of last year. Portugal’s 10-year Government bond yields rose comfortably above 8% yesterday, for the first time since the start of the crisis, reflecting plunging market confidence in the resolve of that country’s political class. That cannot be said of the occupants of Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street.
The hon. Gentleman uses Greece, but my hon. Friend Chris Bryant makes a very good point: we must look at countries individually. Our economy is larger than Portugal’s or Greece’s and completely different in other ways. In addition, countries such as those have a tradition of being unable to implement fiscal reductions, unlike ours. The basic, simple point is this: £5,000 is a lot to owe for someone earning £10,000, but it is a completely different thing for Zac Goldsmith or other such people to owe that much.
I am not sure which of those many points to focus on. Greece’s economy is of course very different from ours, and we have a history of repaying our creditors in full, on time and when we say we will. We do not want to lose that reputation, which is why it is so important that the Government stick to their plans to bring our public finances back on to a sustainable path. We cannot compromise or jeopardise our standing in the international financial markets.
Does not the fact that £332 billion needs to be raised on the gilt market over the next two years, which at an extra 3% would be £9 billion a year of extra interest, show the utterly cavalier approach of Opposition Members in their recent interventions?
Absolutely—their way of looking at our borrowing requirements is completely irresponsible. To think that we should pay more than £120 million a day in interest, which we are currently paying, is utterly absurd.
Incidentally, it is interesting to hear Jacob Rees-Mogg condemn cavaliers. I thought he was one in the 17th century.
Many countries whose debt is a higher share of gross domestic product than the UK’s are not cutting anywhere near as fast as we are. Of all 29 major industrialised countries, only one is cutting faster than us: Greece.
The hon. Gentleman may be a great economic expert, but he might find that the world’s foremost economists and international financial organisations, from the International Monetary Fund to the OECD—the entire gamut of respected economic thought—see this fiscal consolidation as necessary. There is no backsliding, which I applaud.
Before those interventions, I was saying that Portugal is moving ever closer to becoming the third eurozone periphery country to need a bail-out. Borrowing costs are again rising to a new euro-era high in Ireland, which desperately needs eurozone members at tomorrow’s summit to reach a political compromise on revised lending terms.
By contrast, Britain is a different story, thanks to the credible policies in the emergency Budget last June and the policies announced in October’s spending review. There is no sign whatever of any funding problems in the gilts market—quite the opposite—and we must prize that achievement. We have saved our triple A credit rating, which was under threat of downgrade in the last months of the previous Government, and kept our borrowing costs close to historic lows.
The coalition Government have earned the respect of the international capital markets and have their confidence, because the combination of a tight fiscal and a loose monetary policy remains the best chance of avoiding a sovereign debt crisis while ensuring acceptable increases in GDP. Britain simply could not for long run a budget deficit of 11% of GDP—the second highest in the OECD—without taking the unacceptable risk of losing the confidence of the bond markets. Almost a year on, the wisdom of taking decisive action to reduce the risk of sovereign debt crisis is obvious to all except perhaps
Labour Members. Even Gavyn Davies, the Labour-supporting economist, conceded in yesterday’s
Financial Times that getting the deficit down was a “defensible decision”.
A debt crisis would have been disastrous for growth and unemployment, as many European nations are now discovering. Furthermore, unlike those countries, Britain can, and is, using monetary and exchange rate policy to offset the fiscal tightening, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said. I hope that that will keep the economy recovering.
As I have said, all manner of international bodies, from the IMF to the OECD, are unanimous in urging the Chancellor to stay the fiscal course that he has so consistently outlined for this country. Yes, real GDP growth may have dipped temporarily as consumers’ expenditure has been weakened, and today’s growth forecasts for 2011 from the Office for Budget Responsibility may be a little lower than we would have liked. However—
I will continue, if I may.
However, business surveys have been much stronger than the official data, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the chances of a double-dip recession are no more than 20%. Even Gavyn Davies, the great Labour-supporting economist, admits that this figure is
“not high enough to jettison the government’s main strategy, with the loss of credibility which that would imply.”
Mr Davies is, of course, completely right. Maintaining the current policy remains the best bet for Britain in the medium to long term, and that is what matters most.
Let me start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis on making an excellent maiden speech. He talked about the spirit and aspiration of the people of Barnsley. I know that he will make a very good Member of Parliament and will certainly bring that spirit and aspiration to the House of Commons. Let me also say what pleasure I took in the election result in Barnsley. Seeing the good people of Yorkshire give the Liberal Democrats a real pasting—they put them in sixth place and made them lose their deposit—was enormously pleasurable.
The Chancellor talked about the necessity for growth across sectors and across the country. He also said that growth should be properly shared across all parts of the country. I want to talk about growth and the impact on the regions, and particularly the Yorkshire region and the sub-region in the Humber. We recently had some good news in Hull, which is that Siemens will hopefully set up a manufacturing site in east Hull to build wind turbines. That will result in about 10,000 jobs, which is excellent news for Hull and the Humber region. Like all Members across the House, I want a growing economy, high-skilled jobs for all the people in this country, and a well-educated and well-skilled work force. We have a history in Hull, having lost the fishing industry in years gone by, and other historic employment issues that we still need to address, so growth is important for my constituents and my city.
However, it is important that we take an economic reality check and ask what the Budget will actually deliver. The key thing—this has been mentioned by many hon. Members across the Chamber—is that the growth forecast was down last year, it was down this year and it is down the year after. The hopes and aspirations of all my constituents have been dashed by what has happened since this coalition Government came into power.
I want to set this debate in the context of what it means for my city of Hull. Since last May, £20 million has disappeared from Hull’s local economy because of the coalition’s council cuts. We will see £25 million leaving the NHS in Hull, while £160 million has already gone because plans for the regeneration project in Orchard Park have been axed. Hull’s housing pathfinder funding has gone. There is zero decent homes funding for the next three years. Some £21 million has been cut from Hull’s Building Schools for the Future programme, and the university of Hull is getting a 5% funding cut.
There are major cuts to services across the piece in the public sector in Hull, which has a direct impact on the private sector. I fail to understand why the coalition does not see that cutting the public sector to the extent that it is will not help growth, but produce even more problems.
Will the hon. Gentleman just let me finish? I paid him the respect of listening to his question; I would appreciate it if he would listen to what I have to say.
One way of getting out of the problems that we have experienced as a result of the bankers’ problems—not the Labour Government’s problems, as Mr Amess tried to suggest—is to grow the economy. I am with the coalition Government on the need for a growth strategy for the economy, but the measures that have been taken so far will not help to grow the economy in Hull and the Humber.
No, I want to carry on making the point about why there is a real need in Yorkshire and, in particular, the Humber to grow the economy. The measures that have been taken are not helping. The result of all that money being taken out of my city is that construction jobs are going and we shall not have the training or the apprenticeships that the Chancellor has talked about. For the first time, we have seen compulsory redundancies at BAE Systems, a major private sector employer just outside Hull on which many of my constituents rely for skilled jobs. It is a place where people want to work, but private sector jobs are being lost there.
The abolition of the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, is a huge loss to the region and to the building up of the regional economy. The coalition has introduced local enterprise partnerships to assist regeneration. We all agree that we need to regenerate areas such as East Yorkshire and the Humber, and Yorkshire Forward was doing a very good job of building up the economy. The Government’s answer was to remove the RDA and create a regional growth fund. Now, whenever a question is raised about where funding can be accessed, we are told to go to the regional growth fund. The housing pathfinder has been scrapped, and the Prime Minister told my hon. Friend Karl Turner to go to the regional growth fund for money. It seems to me that the fund must already have been spent about 100 times over. It is just ridiculous.
That is absolutely clear.
The proposal for a business-led solution to deal with economic growth in the regions appears sensible. In my area, however, local authority politicians on Conservative-led East Yorkshire council and Liberal Democrat-led Hull council have been squabbling among themselves. The business leaders have made it clear that they want a pan-Humber LEP that will bring the economy together on the north and south banks of the Humber. As I said, we have had the wonderful announcement from Siemens on the future of renewable energy in our area, but because of the way in which the local councils in East Riding and Hull are behaving, the business community has been left without an LEP; the Business Secretary would not agree to one because it did not have the support of the business community.
This just shows that the Government’s approach is flawed. My area desperately needs economic growth, yet it has been left with no LEP and with the council in Hull squabbling with the councils on the south bank of the Humber. We have great potential for growth in the renewable energy sector, but there is no co-ordinating force. The idea is that LEPs will lead us into the growth strategy that we all want to see, but that is not going to happen in my area.
I fear that the hon. Lady might be suffering from selective amnesia. My recollection is that, in 13 years of a Labour Government, the per capita public expenditure for the people of Hull was significantly higher than for most parts of the UK—it was certainly in the top quartile—yet educational attainment, housing, skills and health outcomes were all in the bottom quartile. Why does she think that was?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that, because of the additional funding that the Labour Government put in from 1997, huge strides were made in education in my city, with more children achieving at GCSE level and more young people going on to college and university. That is important because it links into the growth strategy. Unless we have an educated, skilled work force, employers will not be attracted into the area. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman.
What the Chancellor announced today is a return to the 1980s. As mentioned earlier, the detail on the enterprise zones is very sketchy and it looks like only limited resources will be available to the 21 areas granted this status. Hull, however, is not in the initial 10 announced today, which is very disappointing because Hull and the Humber is one area where I would have hoped the Government would see the need to invest in and support the economy for it to grow.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady is so supportive of our policy on enterprise zones. Perhaps she can encourage her local LEP to bid in the next round for one of them to be based in Humber and then to make a compelling case for the Humber to benefit from the policy.
With the greatest respect, if the Minister had listened to what I said, he would know that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who run the local authorities in my region cannot agree on an LEP, so there is not one. There is no procedure whereby anyone can lobby the Government for an enterprise zone. I question what will be delivered for local communities through an enterprise zone, and I also question how this policy fits with the localism agenda that the coalition is so keen to promote, whereby local areas are supposed to decide for themselves what they want to do and what best fits their particular needs. I question the announcement today, what it will mean and how it will help areas like the Humber.
I am also intrigued by this start-up Britain initiative. How is that going to help Yorkshire businesses? How is it going to help businesses in the Hull area? This start-up business sounds like a roadshow; I understand that the Prime Minister is going to tour around the country with some business leaders. If that is part of the growth strategy, then we have a long way to go.
Is this really a Budget for growth? I am concerned about some of the announcements that roll back people’s rights at work. A race to the bottom is not part of a sensible progressive growth strategy for our economy. We want high-skill jobs; we want a highly trained work force; and we want people treated properly in the workplace. Under the Labour Government, we married up social justice and economic efficiency from 1997 up until 2008, when we had the crisis with the bankers.
I am also concerned that women will lose out in this Budget. I was disturbed at Treasury questions yesterday when one of my hon. Friends raised the issue of how measures taken by the Treasury team were affecting women, only to have it dismissed along the lines of “We cannot possibly provide that information. We can only drill down to a household level. We can’t be gender specific.” In this day and age, the Treasury can be gender specific and should come clean on what these measures will mean for women and families.
Young people in Hull is another important issue. We are seeing a lost generation of NEETS—those not in education, employment or training. The coalition policies to remove education maintenance allowance and treble university fees will mean more and more young people deciding not to get the skills and the education that we all want them to have. It is a retrograde step when the Government pursue such an agenda against our young people.
I am listening to what the hon. Lady says about young people not being given the skills they need and about NEETs. I do not know whether she was here earlier this afternoon when the Chancellor announced £200 million for 50,000 extra apprenticeships, which are targeted specifically at those young people who need training and skills to be able to get on the employment ladder.
Like all hon. Members, I think apprenticeships are an excellent idea. Employers in Hull, however, will tell anyone that the new criteria that have to be fulfilled to take on an apprentice mean that many of the young people cannot get into the workplace. They may be with a training provider, but actually finding an apprenticeship with a business is proving very difficult. I do not know where these 250,000 apprenticeships are going to come from. If the Government can do this, I say “Excellent, we are all supportive,” but to be honest, you are in la-la land—[Interruption.]—or, indeed, in the land of green ginger, which is another very good example.
The hon. Lady said that employers did not seem to want to take up the offer of apprenticeships. She is entirely wrong. The Government’s current scheme, which will generate a further 40,000 apprenticeships over the next couple of years, is over-subscribed. How can she square that with what she said?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not what I said. Employers in Hull tell me that the opportunities available to their businesses are limited because growth is so restricted, and that they therefore cannot take on apprentices. Meanwhile, providers tell me that they bring young people into the training centres, but then cannot find the apprenticeship places that would enable them to do their training.
There have been a good many academic debates today about what the Budget means—about bond markets and so forth—but in practical terms, for our constituents up and down the country, the real issues are connected with the cost of living. The rate of inflation in this country is now the highest in western Europe, people are worried about whether they will have jobs in the coming months, and there are problems with fuel duty. I am glad that the Government have been able to reduce fuel duty by 1p, but I find it rather ironic that the Conservatives are not able to challenge the European Union on VAT and derogation. Surely this is an opportunity for a party that is for ever wanting to take pot shots at the EU to do something constructive.
I believe that the deep cuts that are being made now will lead to social costs in the long term. It is dreadful that the coalition Government are targeting their cuts at communities in some of the most deprived areas, and at the most deprived and vulnerable groups in those communities. For instance, Hull city council’s early years service is being scrapped. We shall have no officers, no support for our nurseries, and no support for children in nurseries who have special educational needs, because the early intervention grant that the Government said would cover the cost of children’s centres and support for children under five does not do what it says on the tin. We shall end up with buildings that are open, with caretakers and receptionists, but with no children in them.
As I have said, the coalition Government’s cuts will store up a great many problems for the future. They utter plenty of fine words about the need for early intervention and support for families and communities, but they do not deliver the finance.
The Government strike me as a group of deficit deceivers and growth deniers who are making our country a less fair and secure place in which to live. Until 2008, the spending commitments of Mr Osborne matched those of the Labour Government across the board. Only when the banking crisis arrived did the then Opposition take a different approach. The Liberal Democrat council in Hull took the view that the Labour Government should be spending far more on Hull, but now Kingston upon Hull council is losing 9% of its budget, while Kingston upon Thames is losing 3%. That is not fair. The Chancellor may stand up and talk about a fair Budget, but this is not a fair Budget; neither is it a Budget for growth.
Order. By convention, there are no time limits on speeches on Budget day, but many Members still want to take part in the debate. Any Member who speaks at excessive length—for more than about eight minutes, that is—will prevent others from contributing. I ask Members please to show some restraint. There will be other opportunities for them to speak during subsequent Budget debates.
I assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I will stick to the guidelines you have given. In fact, uniquely both in this House and in life generally, I find that I am speechless after listening to Diana Johnson. There is a holiday attraction somewhere called la-la land. I cannot remember who mentioned it but, obviously, it is nothing to do with Kingston upon Hull North. The picture the hon. Lady painted forgets who has been in power for the last 13 years and who has been responsible for a bloated public sector and a starved private sector, as well as for unemployment and all the other problems that many people, including the Chancellor, have spoken about today.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but we heard about Siemens so long ago that it had slipped my mind.
I shall restrict my comments to my experiences in business of dealing with the economy, and the experiences of my constituents and their businesses in Watford. Watford is not dissimilar to Kingston upon Hull. It has significant unemployment and shares all the same problems as many other parts of the country. Notwithstanding the Chancellor’s commendable statement today, the most significant factor in encouraging businesses to invest is the general macro-economic situation. Therefore, the most important aspects of this Budget and the last Budget are the measures for reducing the deficit.
The comments that the hon. Lady somewhat generously applied to my erudition can also be applied to hers. To respond to her question on growth forecasts, we cannot select one figure and say that it makes a fundamental difference, because assessments of growth must be made over a period of time. In my experience, the most important factor for growth is the confidence people have in the economy, and that will definitely come about because of the Government’s sensible approach, as opposed to the reckless irresponsibility of their predecessor.
Is it not the case that in almost every recession that this country has had to fight its way out of, there have been choppy times and there has never been a smooth upward trajectory? It is always the case that some quarters are better than others.
With the possible exception of the la-la land factor, my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
I want to talk about some specific factors that are important to business people, and therefore important to growth. There is a lot of talk about banks and the availability of capital, and about what the Government should do and what they have not done. Again, I want to comment based on my experiences in the constituency. The bank lending situation is getting better; there is no doubt about that, as the loans are beginning to come through. In Watford alone, under the enterprise finance guarantee loan scheme, 23 companies have already borrowed money amounting to £4 million. That is a comparatively small sample and it reassures me for the future that this scheme, which is to be expanded, does work, and that it does so in a comparatively short period of time.
It is very fortunate for us that interest rates are low, but the decisions made by businesses do not change when fluctuations are minor, such as 1% up or 2% down. Their decisions do change when the situation reaches a ludicrous point; I was once left with a loan on which I was paying 2% over base when the base rate was 15%. Variations such as 1%, 3% or 5% make little difference. Again, what matters is confidence in the economy and confidence that the Chancellor has done the right thing today. So I must encourage what the Government are doing on the fundamentals, because people and businesses will want to borrow money only when there is confidence in the future and confidence that we are doing the right thing.
My next point relates to the availability of skilled staff. Despite the fact that 3.7% of people in Watford—more than 2,000 people—are on jobseeker’s allowance and 700 or 800 young people there are not in education, employment or training, I visit factories and businesses that cannot recruit staff of the right calibre every week. A few weeks ago, I visited Davin Optronics, a manufacturing company that uses skilled labour to make lenses—it deals with complicated stuff. Its fear was that its work force were getting older and younger people did not want to join manufacturing businesses. That is a fundamental issue and we have to change attitudes.
The hon. Lady and I were at university at broadly the same time, so we were very privileged. We could debate tuition fees for hours, but no matter what one’s arguments on that, the new regime has not changed the current situation and we are, thus, dealing with Labour’s policy on tuition fees at the moment. I would be happy to debate tuition fees with her on another occasion, but the real issue is that we have young people and older people who are unemployed, and we have vacancies in jobs that people will not go into. The Government’s efforts on work experience for young people—today’s announcement on that was tremendous—and on expanding the apprenticeships scheme are very important, as are the technical universities. I commend those efforts because we must have a work force who have the right skills. That is not solely about graduates; it is also about people who are leaving school and are doing apprenticeships and further education courses. What the Government are doing to help will change the availability of staff.
No, I must make progress.
I normally agree with everything said by my right hon. Friend Mr Redwood, who is not in his place, and one might think that, as a Conservative Member, I would have an overwhelming interest in bureaucracy, labour laws, red tape and obstacles to business and that dealing with those things would be my top priority. However, important though they are, I think that they are secondary to the macro-economic factors—they are secondary to stability and the feeling of confidence. Germany is a classic example of that, because despite its labour laws and the fact that it has lots of regulation, manufacturing industry works well there. So I am very pleased that we are concentrating on the other issues.
I am keeping in mind your earlier comments, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I just wish to remind hon. Members that Watford is an average kind of constituency and so has 3,000 businesses, with eight being roughly the average number of people employed in them—these are predominantly small businesses. I believe that this Budget will help the long-term confidence for them, despite short-term growth forecasts, and so it is a Budget very much for the small business. It is also a Budget for the larger business, given the corporation tax measures. However, more importantly, it is a Budget for ordinary people and for their prospects. I believe that it is the best Budget that we could have, given the mess that the Government were left.
It is a privilege to speak in the same debate as my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis—the new Member for that constituency—who will be a credit both to his constituents and to this House. We should listen carefully to his words and his warnings.
Today’s Budget is equally noticeable for what it does and does not include, because the Chancellor has not heeded the many warnings showing that the Government’s economic policies are not working. Gross domestic product figures for the last quarter of 2010 showed that our economy contracted by 0.6%. Government Members blamed the snow, but it snowed in Germany, yet its economy grew by 0.4%, and it snowed in the United States of America, yet its economy grew by 0.7%. The difference is that we are cutting too fast and too deep and they are not.
Another warning can be found in last week’s unemployment figures, which showed that unemployment is the highest it has been for 17 years and that youth unemployment is the highest on record. The OBR today showed that unemployment is set to rise to 8.2% this year and 8.1% next year—higher than it was even at the height of the recession. House prices continue to fall and yesterday we learned that the consumer prices index has increased to 4.4% and the retail prices index to 5.5%. There are many warnings that the Government’s policies are not working.
We would like to vote, for example, on the bank bonus levy and other components of the Budget. My right hon. Friend Edward Miliband set out today that we will consider areas of growth in “The Plan for Growth” green book. There are areas where we want to work with the Government but also areas where we disagree with what they are doing.
Given the warnings I have mentioned, it is hardly surprising that the independent OBR has today downgraded its growth forecast for 2011 to 1.7% and has revised growth for next year to 2.5%. Let us put that in context. Before the Chancellor’s first Budget last year, the OBR predicted growth in 2011 of 2.6%. That forecast has now been downgraded three times—to 2.3%, 2.1% and today to 1.7%. Every time the Chancellor gets to the Dispatch Box, the OBR has to downgrade its growth forecasts.
The Government will say that the only way to get growth back on track is to reduce the deficit, but we have also seen today that the OBR’s borrowing forecast is expected to be £44.5 billion higher over this Parliament as a result of lower growth and higher unemployment. Despite today’s opportunity to think again, however, the Chancellor will still not accept that plan A is not going to plan.
Although the Chancellor has no plan for growth, his implicit plan B, I think, was looser monetary policy, yet today’s Monetary Policy Committee minutes show a further split over whether to increase rates and yesterday’s inflation data show more pressure for a rate rise. Plan B is looking as forlorn as plan A, with householders likely to see a mortgage rate rise by the summer.
We have heard many times today that the Government cannot change course, but that is a fallacy. Jonathan Portes, the new director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, recently said that that intransigence
“relies on an odd view of market psychology, one that says markets have more confidence in governments that never adjust policy, even when it is sensible…history suggests the opposite: that the real hit to credibility comes from sticking to unsustainable policies”.
He is right. Now is the time—more than ever—for the Government to rethink their plan, which is sapping jobs and growth out of the economy.
We need to begin to build the Britain of the future, because confidence in UK plc requires a belief that we have a competitive economy that productively employs its resources, draws on our strengths across the sectors and regions and invests in science, skills, technology and infrastructure. Today’s Budget, however, does nothing to foster investment or hope. Although I welcome “The Plan for Growth”, which has been published today, and the announcements to relieve us of a further increase in fuel prices and to provide help for first-time buyers, the Chancellor could and should have done more.
Most of all, although the Chancellor has said repeatedly that he will be tough on the banks, page 103 of the Red Book shows that the bank bonus tax brought in £3.5 billion in 2010 whereas the bank levy will bring in just £1.9 billion this year. There is no guarantee that the banks will lend any more to small businesses because the Government agreed gross lending targets and no net lending targets. No wonder the Treasury spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, Lord Oakeshott, resigned, saying that if this was tough action, his name was Bob Diamond. The Government have washed their hands of any responsibility to help small businesses, which are being hit hard by the banks’ actions.
There are other areas where the Chancellor could have acted today. We need a plan for green jobs and there is still the potential for Britain to be a world leader, as my hon. Friend Diana Johnson pointed out earlier, in the green technologies of the future, but the market requires certainty and we are losing the initiative to countries that are willing to provide it. We need action, not just words, on the green investment bank, yet today we found out that it will not be fully operational until 2015.
We need regional economic strategies. The regional growth fund is estimated to be 10 times over-subscribed, and with a two-thirds cut to regional economic investment, cities and towns across Britain are missing out on opportunities to grow and diversify their economies. We risk another overheating in London and the south-east while the potential powerhouses of the north of England are being left behind. Although I welcome the enterprise zones, the evidence from the 1980s shows that such approaches move, rather than create, jobs. Of course, the funding for enterprise zones is a fraction of what the regional development agencies had to spend.
Does my hon. Friend agree that because the enterprise zones are being imposed on regions, unlike in London where the Mayor will decide where they are, entire areas of the north-east such as Northumberland and Durham will be completely excluded from them and the little help they will bring?
I do agree. Of course, only half the plans were announced today, which was disappointing.
We need an approach to business taxation that fosters growth. Although the Government have trumpeted the cut in corporation tax, it has so far been funded at the expense of investment and manufacturing allowances, so while big businesses have benefited from a tax cut, start-up and investment-intensive firms have seen their taxes rise. If we are to create the jobs of the future, we need today’s entrepreneurs to innovate and that is where the limited funds should be targeted.
We also need greater investment in skills and education. Last year, 8 million people graduated from universities in China and India. No other country is cutting investment in universities, reducing the teaching grant by 80% and cancelling partnerships between business and universities, but that is what the Government are doing.
Last week, we heard that the youth unemployment figure is approaching 1 million and it beggars belief that the future jobs fund is closing its doors in the same month that youth unemployment has risen yet again. One in five young people—more in my constituency—now claims unemployment benefit. Today’s unemployment figures are likely to rise further and today’s Budget is bad news for young people up and down the country.
The public recognise the need for austerity, but they also want to know that the Government have learnt lessons from the crisis and are determined to build a fairer and more sustainable economic future. Britain could be a world leader in the jobs, technologies and industries of the future but only if the Government support growth. Today was the Chancellor’s opportunity to show that he understands the needs of businesses and families, but the OBR’s verdict was to downgrade growth for the third time in 2011 and for next year as well. The Government have ignored the wake-up calls. This Budget is a missed opportunity and I urge the Chancellor and his colleagues to think again about what is really needed to ensure that we emerge from this recession with a stronger, fairer economy for everyone in the country.
The main thrust of my speech was to point out that growth had been downgraded and we did not know that until today. It was only when we heard the Budget that we knew that growth had been downgraded, for the third time in a row, to 1.7%, so I could not have written it earlier.
I know that the hon. Lady has some expertise on these issues. She can rest assured that my criticism will be confined mainly to the Leader of the Opposition, who delivered a master class in opportunism and vacuity. His loquacity was in inverse proportion to his intellectual insight. In his 15 minutes of speaking, no policy whatever was articulated.
The Budget is supported by the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and business leaders such as the deputy director of the CBI, John Cridland, and David Frost of the British Chambers of Commerce. It is about the Government putting in place the conditions for sustainable, balanced economic growth. Let us remember that the Institute for Fiscal Studies still says that public finances remain in a critical condition, but we have had no alternative whatever from Her Majesty’s Opposition. Indeed, we might have to call in Professor Brian Cox, the noted cosmologist, to search for the black hole where the Labour economic policy should be.
I will make some progress; I am sure that I can let the hon. Lady in a bit later. The priorities of the Budget are primarily to reduce the deficit; rebalance the economy, which was left out of kilter by the Labour Government, with an over-concentration on financial services, the housing market and public expenditure; reform public services; and grow, via initiatives such as the green investment bank, green expertise, knowledge, skills and jobs. If I may give a plug, yesterday a collaboration was announced between Peterborough city council and Cranfield university on a centre for renewable energy and biofuels, to be based in Peterborough.
We need to move towards a high-wage, low-taxation economy with less pressure on household incomes, and the Budget provides a road map for that. No one denies that we have had to make some very tough decisions in the comprehensive spending review and in last year’s emergency Budget. There were real-terms cuts in departmental expenditure; the cut to departmental expenditure will be, on average, 11%. However, we should remember that between 1998 and 2010, there was a real-terms increase in budgets in each Department of anything between 2% and 8%. The fiscal tightening between now and 2015-16 will mean that we have to reduce public expenditure and put taxes up, with capital gains tax, tobacco, fuel, the bank levy, consumer prices indexation and child benefit affected. Contrary to received wisdom among Opposition Members, the richest 2% will be hit hardest by the tax benefit and other changes.
What choice do we have? Labour’s poisonous legacy and debt millstone left us with simply no alternative. In 2010-11, we had to borrow about £140 billion—perhaps around £10 billion less than expected. Only Ireland has a bigger cyclically adjusted deficit. Labour ran a structural deficit some seven years before the banking crisis in 2007-08, and we entered the financial crisis with the largest structural deficit in the G7. The national debt doubled between 1997 and 2010. In May last year, we were at significant risk of a downgrading in our international credit rating, with a catastrophic impact on public services, business and consumer confidence, a long period of stagflation, and a contraction in the economy.
I want to enlighten the hon. Gentleman with two facts. First, in 1996, just before the Labour Government came into power, there was a structural budget deficit of 4%, whereas it was 2.5% in 2007. Secondly, he compares the UK economy with that of Greece, but does he recognise the figures that show that although bond yields in Greece increased from 7% to 12% between January and May 2010, in the UK, before the Conservatives came to power, they were falling?
The hon. Lady will know that the markets have recognised that the fiscal consolidation that the Government had to put in place as part of a policy of growth in the private sector and consolidation in the public sector has resulted in a lessening of the pressures in the gilt markets, with gilt yields down to 3.53% since May last year, and every 1% is £1 billion of interest payment. Of course, that is change in the pocket to Labour Members; we are spending £120 million on debt every day.
No, not at this moment.
To put that in context, £95 million could have been spent on schools each day, but we are servicing Labour’s debt, and we could be spending £35 million on police, £25 million on social care, and £90 million on defence. The entire budget deficit that the Labour party ran up in government is £42.7 billion. That is 40 Type 45 destroyers, 33 Astute class submarines, 42,700 MRI scans, or 1.3 million nurses. That is the reality of the appalling profligacy and mismanagement of the Labour Government. We do not hear alternatives. We hear a policy that is dishonest, incoherent and irresponsible. Ed Balls shares very few values, I imagine, with the former US President Ronald Reagan, who once said, “I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.” That sums up the Labour party’s attitude in government, and the deficit denial on the Opposition Benches now.
Even some sensible and pragmatic Labour supporters are troubled by the incoherence and the substitution of political opportunism for a realistic alternative policy. The erstwhile Cabinet member, Hazel Blears, said at the weekend:
“The public expects us to at least give a broad direction—but I think they are worried that we haven’t been as clear as we ought to be.”
She is absolutely right.
The former general secretary of the Labour party, Peter Watt, went further. In a rebuke to the institutionalised deficit denial of the shadow Chancellor, Mr Watt said on the labour-uncut website that Labour
“is . . . a highly toxic brand. . . we are still opposing every cut . . .It might make us feel better and win some short term popularity. But it isn’t an answer to the charge that we had become economically illiterate and had allowed massive overspending.”
If there is one lesson that I can offer the Labour party from our long period in opposition, it is this: rarely is it enough to be populist to win the respect of the electorate. That rarely forms the basis of a credible election strategy.
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with a Budget to which the oil and gas industry responded this afternoon by expressing its shock and stating that the investment climate has been seriously damaged and the Budget will drive jobs away from this country?
That is one viewpoint from one group of people. Others, such as Baker Tilly, the tax accountants, say that it is an excellent Budget. So do the CBI, the OECD, other industry groups, house builders and others. [Interruption.]I am glad the hon. Lady thinks it is humorous that people are supporting my right hon. Friend’s Budget.
One group of people who will welcome the measures in the Budget today is motorists. Does my hon. Friend agree that the measures cutting fuel prices ensure that petrol prices will not only not affect motorists directly, but will not have an impact on the price of goods in the shop, which in turn will assist middle England?
My hon. Friend makes an apposite point. I lobbied the Chancellor myself, I campaigned for the policy and I am glad that he has listened to the views of people, many of whom rely on the car to travel to work. It is a matter of public record that had Labour been re-elected in May last year, petrol prices would have been going up an extra 6p. That would be the price of Labour’s profligacy.
I am delighted that we are taking more poor working people out of tax, and that we are creating local enterprise zones to drive regeneration in some of the more difficult economic areas of Britain. I am delighted, too, that we are tackling corporation tax and creating conditions in which business wants to relocate to the UK and create jobs.
But does the hon. Gentleman not realise the great damage the Budget has done by saying to investors, “You come to the United Kingdom, you invest in success, you employ 450,000 people, you make 20% of the Exchequer’s corporation tax, and then, once you have made all that investment, the Government move the goalposts and whack up a huge extra tax on your industry”?
I fully understand and respect the hon. Gentleman’s constituency interests. Were I in his position, I would make the same points. Clearly, when we are in a less than benign financial situation, clearing up the abysmal mess left by the Labour Government, we have to make difficult value judgments. To govern is to choose, and sometimes the choices made will not please everyone. I understand and respect the hon. Gentleman’s views, and I am sure the Chancellor and the Treasury Front-Bench team have heard his views.
No, I do not have time. Although other Members spoke for much longer, I will have to finish quickly.
I am delighted about the permissive nature of the reforms to the planning system and about the desperately needed initiatives for first-time buyers. It was extremely important that the mortgage market review of the Financial Services Authority was not going to choke off first-time buyers. Some figures show that 37 is now the average age at which young—less young—men and women buy their first homes. We had a significant housing boom in the 1990s and 2000s and need to encourage the house building industry to build more homes without choking off house prices or the capacity of young people to own houses and flats.
I am also delighted that residential estate investment trusts will be looked at. We need to clarify the regulations relating to brownfield remediation, which is an important part of bringing back into use residential and commercial sites. In future Budgets we need to think carefully about giving tax incentives for saving to first-time buyers so that they can build up moneys for a deposit in preparation for buying a home. We also need to look at stamp duty land tax. I am pleased that we are beginning to look at self-invested personal pensions in relation to people’s capacity to invest in the housing market.
In conclusion, the Government have had the courage and determination to take tough decisions and to prepare the ground for economic recovery. A credible plan to deal with our record budget deficit is an absolute precondition for growth. The Chancellor is right to strive for a balanced Budget and a firm and consistent strategy that will deliver for ordinary families in my constituency and across the country lower taxes, more jobs, better living standards and a renaissance in our international competitiveness. That is the only way to achieve future prosperity, which is why on Tuesday I will be supporting the Budget.
I was going to say that it was a pleasure to follow Mr Jackson, but we have heard a succession of speeches from Government Members that were not only economically illiterate, but stuck to the rhetoric pumped out during the general election. They seem unable to get away from that rhetoric even when the reality of what this country is facing hits them. We heard a rant from Mr Amess and, frankly, a very strange speech from Joseph Johnson, who clearly had read something about the gilt market but did not quite understand how it works.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis on an excellent maiden speech. I think he will be a great asset to the House. He is a man of great courage in both his private and personal life and in the service of this country. I look forward to many more contributions of the standard he gave today.
I would like to focus on two issues: the lack of a policy for growth in the Budget and how that will not affect positively the economy of the north-east of England. Growth figures for the last quarter of 2010 show that the economy contracted by 0.6%, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves. The Government blamed snow for that, but she eloquently pointed out some great examples of economies that grew despite having weather that was far worse than it was in this country.
On top of that, last week we saw a 17-year high in unemployment, set against a continuing fall in house prices and an increase in inflation to 4.4%. It would not take an astrologer, as was mentioned earlier, or a genius to work out that the OBR was going to have to downgrade its growth forecast today. Initially, it said that growth would be 2.6%; then, that it would be 2.1%; and today, that it will be 1.7%. The lack of growth is the main risk to our economy, and let us be honest, the Budget was spun so much that we could have read or predicted most of it before the Chancellor even stood up at the Dispatch Box today to announce it.
The Government also say that the key thing they have to do is to reduce borrowing, but borrowing is now going up, so even by their standards the economic pill is clearly not working. What is happening now is both risky and dangerous to the UK economy, and, although history cannot be repeated precisely, we need to look back, because one of the key lessons we have learned from the 1920s and ’30s is that recovery from large financial crises is delicate, slow and stuttering. Now, as a precise result of this Government’s policies since May, growth is down and unemployment, borrowing and inflation are up.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me and the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Olivier Blanchard, who says:
“Unless advanced countries can count on stronger private demand, both domestic and foreign, they will find it difficult to achieve fiscal consolidation”?
Yes. That is the entire flaw in the Government’s policy: the idea that they can cut public expenditure as deeply and savagely as they are going to, and that somehow jobs will be created in the private sector—something that will just not happen. It might happen in parts of the economy, but there is certainly no indication that it will happen in my region. In fact, the situation is even worse, because Durham university’s model shows that taking out 20% of the public services will lead to 50,000 jobs going in the north-east, with 20,000 of them actually in the private sector. Replacing those jobs, in addition to the 30,000 in the public sector, is going to be very difficult.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, if the growth figures are wrong, the impact will be magnified and multiplied the further one moves away from the south-east of England? The impact on regions of the United Kingdom will be much more severe if the Chancellor has got it wrong.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, but do the Conservatives care? No, I do not think they do. We saw that in the 1980s and early 1990s in the north-east of England. His constituents will face similar problems to constituents in the north-east, given the contraction of public sector jobs, which will have a direct impact on the private sector. Trying to attract business and growth to those areas will be very difficult, and I fear that we could have a two-speed Britain: a reasonably prosperous south-east of England, but stagnant or even declining regions, such as the north-east and Northern Ireland. Does the Conservative party care about that? No, I do not think it does.
How does the hon. Gentleman deal with the fact that, even with Labour’s slower rate of deficit reduction, he could not have avoided a significant decrease in the number of public sector jobs to meet his party’s own projections of how it would reduce the deficit?
I find that hard to stomach, coming from the right hon. Gentleman, because he is giving succour to the proposals before us, which could damage the north-east economy more severely than even those in Thatcher’s day. He is looking both ways, as a Liberal saying one thing in the region, and then coming here and supporting and voting for a Conservative Government who are putting the proposals forward. [ Interruption. ] I will tell him exactly why. What we would not have done is put forward his and his party’s ludicrous proposal to abolish the regional development agency, One North East.
The right hon. Gentleman now has to defend his ludicrous policy on local enterprise partnerships, which I shall come to later. He struggled to get re-elected this time; I doubt whether the voters of Berwick will re-elect him if he stands next time. It is important to remember that none of this could have happened without the Liberal Democrats blindly going along and supporting those savage cuts, which will have a terrible effect on a region I know he actually cares deeply about.
Another major aspect of the current economic situation is inflation. The Bank of England is stuck between a rock and hard place. Interest rates are as low as they can go, and quantitative easing is continuing, yet the inflation target is way above where it should be. It is difficult to know what the Bank will do.
We continue to hear, as we have heard several times this afternoon, that there is no alternative to this approach. I am sorry, but there is a definite alternative. We also hear that the fact that we are in this mess is all down to a Labour Government—that only Britain went through the recession in 2008, while the rest of the world did not, and that we got into the position we did only because of Labour’s reckless spending and financial management. I want to put some facts on the record. Conservative Members use a lot of rhetoric and soundbites; the famous one from the Prime Minister was that Labour did not mend the roof while the sun was shining. In fact, we did, because when we came to power in 1997, the level of debt was nearly 50% and we reduced it. I remember the tremendous debate within my party when we sold off the 3G licences. People said that we should use that money to fund public expenditure, but the then Chancellor took the very good decision to drive down the level of debt. That left us, going into the economic downturn, in the strong position of having the lowest debt, unemployment and inflation in the G7, and the highest investment from overseas.
Was it right to transform and invest in our public services over those 13 years? Yes, it was. They have been transformed in many parts of this country, certainly in my constituency. When I was first elected in 2001, the hospital in Chester-le-Street was in the old workhouse. We now have a brand-new hospital in Chester-le-street, as well as three others in the area. We have six or seven new primary care centres in County Durham. That is a direct result of public investment. When the economic crisis hit, did we have to respond to that by borrowing? Yes, we did. Was it the right thing to do? Yes, it was.
At the time of the crisis at Northern Rock, if we had followed what the Conservatives, including the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, wanted to do, which was basically to let it fold, we would have had a far worse situation, with a banking crisis that would have devastated not only Northern Rock but every other bank. The then Chancellor put in place a package to support banks, subsidise mortgages, cut VAT, fund apprenticeships, and give people money to buy new cars and stimulate the economy—and it worked. If people want to look for the evidence for that, there is the growth of the economy in the months prior to, and just after, the general election.
Contrast that with what we have now—a Government who do not have a growth strategy and are wedded to a strategy that they feel it would be politically weak to go away from, repeating time and again that there is no alternative. I ask Conservative Members to reflect on what they would have done at that time. Last weekend, the Chancellor said that we were in this financial state because of a decade of over-expenditure by the Labour party. Well, the Conservatives supported our spending targets right up until 2008, so they cannot have it both ways. I ask them to look at the facts rather than what central office spun during the election campaign, which, unfortunately, some of them are continuing to repeat.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that one should look at the facts. Is he aware that the spending cuts over this parliamentary period are only 3.7%—0.9% a year—in real terms, which is lower than the spending cuts that were implemented by Denis Healey, a former Chancellor? On that basis, would he still describe them as swingeing, drastic or tough cuts?
I am sorry, but yes I would. If hon. Members are going to make comparisons, they should compare like with like. Whoever writes the central office briefings does one thing all the time. They compare our economy with that of Greece or, as the hon. Gentleman just did, they compare the British economy today with that of the 1970s. That is complete nonsense.
The central point—some Liberal Democrats are starting to wake up to this, including the Deputy Prime Minister—is that although there is a need and a desire to reduce the deficit, there is also an ideological drive to have a smaller state and to put into practice the ideological prejudices that the Conservatives have yearned to implement for many years. The people of this country will suffer from that. Is there an alternative? Yes, there certainly is.
This trip down memory lane is very interesting, but, if he does not support the expenditure cuts, will the hon. Gentleman tell us how much more he thinks we as a nation should be borrowing?
Something that the central office spin machine does very well, and which Thatcher did, is somehow to compare the national economy to somebody’s personal expenditure. Can we afford to borrow at the moment? Yes, we can. Borrowing to invest in infrastructure and other things is the right thing to do, and is exactly what we were doing in government. We are increasingly borrowing not to invest in the economy and infrastructure and to add to the country’s economic power, but to support unemployment. That is exactly what the Major Government found in their dying days.
It is important to recognise that unemployment in the north-east has reached 10.2%, and that is before the real effects of the public expenditure cuts work their way through. The idea of economic zones or business development zones, or whatever they are called, was announced in the Budget, along with the local enterprise partnerships. One North East was very successful in regenerating the north-east economy. It actually moved the economy away from the public sector and grew the private sector. It had real money. It had £180 million a year, and worked with the local university sector and local authorities to spend European regional development funding. The LEPs have no money attached and the regional growth fund has £1.4 billion to be competed for around the country. Today, we have the enterprise zones.
The Government have said that they want enterprise zones to support real growth and long-term sustainability. Does my hon. Friend agree that the announcement of an enterprise zone for Tyneside means little for growth or sustainability when the Transport Secretary has said that he will not provide funding for the much-needed upgrade of the A19 Silverlink interchange, which businesses have told politicians is essential for the economic development of Tyneside and the wider region?
I do know that, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is important to get these things on the record.
My hon. Friend Mrs Glindon makes a good point. The two enterprise zones for the north-east will be in Tyneside and the Tees valley. That important piece of infrastructure is somehow supposed to be funded by the private sector, but that is exactly the kind of public expenditure that should be going into the region to create jobs and regenerate infrastructure. My concern about the enterprise zones is that places such as Durham and Northumberland have been left out. If we look back at the old enterprise zones, we see that all we got from them was a shovelling around of businesses and artificial borders. The zones will make it very difficult to attract inward investment to Durham and Northumberland.
As has been said, page 42 of the Red Book shows that funding for the 22 enterprise zones will add up to about £1 million each over their lifetime, which will not in any way help the regeneration of either Tyneside or Teesside. We will have the talking shops of the local enterprise partnerships, but no real money to do anything.
The disastrous situation at the moment is that we have £106 million of European regional development fund but no money for One North East, local authorities or universities to match fund projects. The Government’s regional strategy is in a complete and utter mess, and the Budget will do nothing to assist.
One issue that has already been raised is—
If the hon. Gentleman continues, I might go on for a bit longer, so he must be clever and not do so.
As my hon. Friend Dame Anne Begg said, it has been billed that the Government have somehow saved the motorist by reducing tax by 1p, but the effects of paying for that will be disastrous for the oil industry in this country, including Scotland. They will be disastrous for the north-east, as it relies heavily on Teesside and Tyneside to supply the expanding gas and oil fields, which need long-term investment. It is completely and utterly irresponsible to throw a spanner into the works of the investment in developing some of the most difficult oil and gas fields in the North sea.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the danger of today’s proposals is that they might fatally undermine the whole North sea offshore sector, which is fragile anyway because the geology makes it difficult to get the oil out? As a result, the country may lose even more money, because the sector is a huge taxpayer. As my neighbouring MP, Sir Robert Smith, said, 20% of all corporation tax is paid by the industry. What is being done today could put that in jeopardy.
I agree, and there will also be a direct impact on jobs in oil exploration and in the booming oil supply business in Tyneside and Teesside. The short-term measure to try to get the Government out of a political fix on petrol prices will cause deep and long-term damage to jobs in the north-east and in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
The first-time buyer scheme, which the Red Book states will cost £250 million for just one year, will not help the north-east in any great way, because it will clearly be concentrated where a large number of houses are being built—the south-east and other areas. Because the Government have removed housing targets and affected social landlords’ ability to build new houses through the ham-fisted way in which they have structured the financing of social house building, I doubt whether there will be much effect on the north-east.
I also note that none of the £200 million additional investment in regional railways will go further than Leeds. Investment schemes for railways in the north-east—I have been calling for extra capacity for people to commute into Tyneside from Chester-le-Street and other places—will clearly not be forthcoming.
Finally, I wish to mention armed forces pay. The Chancellor said that there would be a £250 uplift for those in the armed forces earning less than £21,000. I remind the House that that is from the same Government who have frozen armed forces pay for the next two years. In addition, they have changed the calculation from RPI to CPI, which will cost many thousands of servicemen and women huge sums of money over the coming years. The Government should not be proud of that. I get rather annoyed because if the previous Government had done that, when I was a Defence Minister, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would have howled us down and called us a disgrace.
Is this a Budget for growth? No, it is not. Will it help the north-east of England? No, it will not. Under the confused regional policy that is proposed, which is supported by Sir Alan Beith and his Liberal Democrat colleagues in the north-east, we will find that as the country’s economy declines and contracts, regions such as ours will go from the very bad position that they are in now to an even worse one.
I will be a Jones who shows some brevity out of courtesy for his colleagues on both sides of the House.
I welcome the Chancellor’s Budget and congratulate him on it, because this is a difficult time to be a Chancellor and to deliver a Budget, as it will be for the rest of this Parliament. As much as Opposition Members like to deny it, the Chancellor is constrained by the straitjacket of the deficit and the debt left behind by Labour. We must view the Budget in context. We are paying £120 million a day in interest alone on our debt—£43 billion this year, which is more than we spend on the armed forces, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development combined—which is a scandal.
I therefore commend the Chancellor for what is, in the circumstances, a first-rate Budget. It goes some way to recognising the financial pain that is being felt in the country, and serves to set a clear tone for the business community. This Government take businesses far more seriously. They recognise that people and businesses and not the state create jobs—sustainable jobs—and that if we are not serious about business, the country cannot sustain in a settled fashion the important public services on which we all rely.
There are positives in the Budget for individuals and businesses, but I shall also respectfully mention one or two concerns about it. I welcome the announcement on fuel, which is currently the biggest issue for my constituents. People will tonight breathe a sigh of relief that the 5p a litre increase programmed into the Budget by the previous Chancellor, Mr Darling, has been deferred. I am delighted that that has happened. People will also breathe a sigh of relief that the Government recognised the importance of that, and decided to get off the escalator at the right time, unlike the previous Government, who did not know when to get off, as we saw in 2000 when our fuel depots were blockaded by truckers and angry motorists, which I hope will not happen now.
I am not giving way, I am afraid, because certain Members have taken far too long in the debate, thereby stifling others.
I am delighted that the personal tax allowance has been increased to more than £8,000 this coming year. It is vital that we free people from the shackles of tax, particularly those on lower incomes. It is excellent that 1.1 million people will be lifted out of income tax altogether—[ Interruption. ] Kate Green does not understand. The previous Government shackled people to income tax. They increased the minimum wage way above inflation year on year, but they did not increase the personal allowance, which meant that more and more people were sucked into income tax.
No. I am not giving way to the hon. Lady.
Moving on, I welcome the help that we are giving first-time buyers, although I would ask those on the Front Bench to consider a couple of issues. Can we build the properties that we need to sustain the scheme quickly enough? Would it be better to extend the scheme to older properties, as well as new-build properties? First-time buyers are the lifeblood of the property market and of any chain. I acknowledge that the policy will do a lot of good for the building industry, but we also need to put in place measures to ensure that the property market can sustain itself. Currently it is under intense pressure. Expanding the policy to cover the property market as a whole will do a lot of good and improve the situation for the industries that rely on it.
I make a plea for the Chancellor to look at stamp duty land tax in his next couple of Budgets, because it is quite punitive in terms of the slab rate, particularly up at the £250,000 threshold. Over this Parliament, if not during the next one, we need to look at putting in place changes to stamp duty land tax that result in more marginal rates, just as we have different levels of income tax.
I also make a plea for anything that is done in the property market to be implemented as quickly as is practically possible. Back in 2008, the Labour Government introduced a stamp duty holiday, but if I recall rightly, they suggested in the press that they were doing so about six or eight weeks before it was actually implemented. That had a dramatic and devastating effect on the property market and those involved in it during that interim period. Therefore, we need to ensure that we are expeditious in implementing policies.
This has been a great Budget for business, within the constraints that the Government face. I would like to mention fuel again. Many small and medium-sized hauliers in my constituency are struggling to cope with increases in the price of fuel. In the main, they have to pay for fuel at the pump, but they are not paid by those for whom they work for 60 to 90 days. I am sure that they will welcome the Chancellor’s announcement today.
Regulation is one of the biggest banes of business, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, and costs them £80 billion a year, so they will welcome a reduction in red tape and regulation. They will also welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is looking to reduce regulation in the European Union to make it more competitive as a whole, which is vital. I hope that Government Members will continue to press the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to ensure that those plans bear fruit, because they are important to freeing up our businesses and allowing them to expand and employ more people.
I want to mention the beer and pub industry. I am slightly disappointed that in today’s Budget we have not sought to do anything about the beer duty escalator introduced by the previous Government. Since 2008, beer duty has increased by 26%. Unfortunately, we have not looked to soften that blow today. However, I hope that those on the Front Bench will listen to what I am saying and look to soften the blow for both the brewing industry and the pub industry. We have hundreds of thousands of pubs closing every year. Our great British pub is under pressure, and we should look to support it. I hope those on the Front Bench will take that on board.
Finally, I want to mention the advances that we are making on skills, which are vital to ensuring that our work force can sustain the jobs that we will hopefully help to create in the economy with the additional measures that the Chancellor has mentioned this afternoon. It is fantastic that we will have another 250,000 apprenticeships over the next four years. I am heartened by that, because young people have for so long been cast adrift, and this will help to bring them into employment and training in a sustainable way, and also in a way that will perhaps enable them to garner the knowledge to create their own businesses one day and employ others, which is what we have seen over many years.
I welcome the university training colleges, and I am sure that the large industrial companies in the west midlands will welcome that approach. I hope that it will help people to acquire the skills to fill what those companies are describing at the moment as a void. Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover want to expand greatly, and they need a supply of skills to sustain any such expansion. They need skills from local people in the west midlands. We do not want to bring in people from other countries to fill that void.
Given the constraints that the Government are having to work under—it was far from a golden legacy that we inherited from Labour—this is a positive Budget with good intentions for business and for creating jobs with substance. It also contains measures to bring back to this country the prosperity that has been badly needed for many years.
I want to comment on two aspects of the Chancellor’s statement: first, on inflation and the cost of living that people in Wirral and elsewhere are facing; secondly, on young people and employment. On inflation and the cost of living, we all need to acknowledge the global pressures that are causing price increases in the shops. Those pressures, including what is happening in the middle east and the price of food and other basic materials, make it more important that we get our policy right domestically. We have recently seen CPI inflation rise to 4.4% and RPI inflation rise to 5.5% in the UK, yet inflation for the EU as a whole is 2.8%. This picture of increased prices must also be taken into consideration in the context of our constituents whose wages are being held down. People have not seen an increase in their pay packets, but they are seeing price increases in the shops.
What is causing this inflation? I am well aware of the structure for setting interest rates and controlling price increases, and I look to the Governor of the Bank of England for an explanation as to why inflation has moved away from the targets. He says that
“three factors can account for the current high level of inflation: the rise in VAT relative to a year ago, the continuing consequences of the fall in sterling in late 2007 and 2008, and recent increases in commodity prices”.
He cites the Tory tax hike as having played a part in building inflation. My worry is not just about inflation this year, however; it is about people’s expectations of building inflation and the permanent hit that they will have on families.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind; I am conscious that other Members want to speak.
Labour rightly instigated a temporary reduction in the rate of VAT to help us through the downturn, but I am now worried because the Tory-led Government have implemented a permanent hike in the prices that ordinary people in my constituency face in the shops. That is clearly having a huge impact on our economy and threatening future growth, as has been illustrated by the reduction in the growth forecast.
On the increase in commodity prices which has also caused inflation, the Chancellor said in his statement that the UK would seek to have an impact on those prices through the G20. It is therefore incumbent on Ministers to explain how they are going to engage with our international partners to achieve that. There is no doubt that those worldwide events are having an impact on the streets of Bromborough, Bebbington, Heswall and New Ferry in my constituency, and I would like to know what action the Government are going to take in that regard.
I shall deal briefly with young people and employment. I know that Members across the House care about the issue, but we need to bring some words of caution to the debate. The Chancellor rightly reserved extra funds for the future training of apprentices, but money reserved does not equal apprentices hired. Other factors are necessary for getting young people into employment. The first, business confidence, is vital: businesses must have the confidence to invest. I refer hon. Members to what I said about the in-built inflationary expectations in the economy and what they might do to investment. It is a matter of great concern. A second necessary factor is growth, and it is worrying to see growth forecasts revised downwards. The Chancellor might have said that this was a Budget for growth, but I feel that it was all words and very little action. A final necessary factor is a change in culture, whereby businesses feel that it is their role to bring on the next generation. The current generation at work should be allowed to share their skills in the informal setting of the workplace to bring on the next generation.
I highlight, as always, the role of my own local authority. Wirral has shown great leadership in the sphere of encouraging small and medium-sized businesses to take on apprentices. However, the local authority cuts, which have been much greater in our area than in others, have put Wirral’s ability to play this role in jeopardy. The Government need to think about how they will bring about this change of culture in practice rather than simply reserve the funds and say they are there if business wants to take them.
Finally, I fear that Britain is seeing the end of any interventionist role for the Government. I feel strongly that the future jobs fund was an excellent answer to youth unemployment, but the Government have withdrawn from it. They say they are reserving funds for apprentices, but they are doing little more than that to encourage businesses to invest. We are also seeing inflationary pressures on the cost of living, which the Governor of the Bank of England relates to the rise in VAT. This is a price hike that hard-pressed families in Wirral and elsewhere can little afford. On those two issues that I have prioritised, I would like to see Ministers taking much more action.
May I draw your attention, Mr Deputy Speaker, and that of other hon. Members to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and to my interests in venture capital and small businesses? I would also like to join others in praising Dan Jarvis for his maiden speech, which I thought was eloquent, relevant and insightful.
Unfortunately, I cannot apply those three adjectives to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, which is a great shame. When I listened to Edward Miliband during Monday’s debate on the UN resolution, I thought he spoke as a serious statesman on behalf of not only his own party, but the whole country. Today, however, I am afraid that his speech was more like a pantomime act than a serious contribution. I hope that the shadow Chancellor will provide a better and more insightful response tomorrow. It is a shame because the people of Bedford and Kempston want to hear not what is not going to be done, but what is going to be done. They heard very clearly from the Chancellor what he was going to do.
It is not my job to tell Opposition Members to do their job, but I think it is time that we heard from them what they would do, which I did not hear. Up until the last speech by Alison McGovern, I had not heard that at all. If Members are challenged and accept that there is a deficit, it is important for them honestly to come forward and say what steps and measures they would cut. They should not just throw out the next unfunded commitment in response. That does not help achieve consensus in what are very difficult times.
In addition, we are done a disservice because Labour Members’ failure to atone makes their constant outcries sound like a masquerade of keening by discredited professional mourners of the past. It would be much more insightful if they were able credibly to engage in the issue of how to get the deficit back under control. As their own unofficial website, labour uncut says, their current strategy of
“Hang on, I haven’t decided” does not answer the needs of the time.
I think that Labour has a plan. As we discovered from its press conference last week, the plan is to repeat last year’s bank bonus tax and spend the £2 billion that it raises in 10 different ways.
I shall be interested to see how Opposition Members respond to what my hon. Friend has said.
I would subject the Budget to the tests specified by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central: the impact that it will have on the most vulnerable, and what it will do for growth. It is difficult to introduce deficit reduction measures that do not disadvantage the poorest. What the hon. Member for Wirral South said about the impact of rising prices on people who were not receiving increases in their pay packets was absolutely right. I say to Ministers that—not necessarily for the purposes of the current year, but certainly as we look forward to next year and the year after that—we must think very carefully about what we will do for public sector workers who have experienced a pay freeze in at least one year, and in some cases in a number of years. Members on both sides of the House will want to hear a little more about that.
As I said earlier when I intervened on Dame Anne Begg, the issue of the mobility component of disability living allowance is also of vital interest to Members in all parts of the House. We must ensure that we protect the most vulnerable people in our care homes. I have met the Minister responsible for the disabled—the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Maria Miller—on many occasions, and I know that she shares my passionate interest in that subject.
In the context of protecting the most vulnerable, let me first urge Ministers to continue to give full support to the welfare reform measures that are being pushed through by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The universal credit will be of major, long-term, significant and beneficial advantage to low-paid and poor people in our country, and it is a measure that those on the Treasury Bench should support in the years ahead.
Secondly, I should have liked to hear a little more about support for our charities. I was very pleased to hear about the £550 million of support that the Chancellor was offering to them in the form of various benefits, but I should have liked him to be more radical. There are many steps that we can take to ease the rules and regulations and break down some of the barriers that prevent social investment from various sources. We should be a bit more open in relation to the way in which money can flow from social investment to outcomes and social impact bonds. I should have liked to hear about personal tax deductions for charitable donations, and I should very much like the Treasury—either directly or through the big society bank—to help charities to procure local government services. They need that support to arm them in their continuing battles with bureaucracies.
The Budget expresses strong support for those who wish to invest in our small businesses. It strongly supports angel investment and mentoring. Small businesses and entrepreneurs want support from people—from local people who may have started up their own businesses—and we will seek to provide it in Bedford and Kempston. We will seek to bring together successful local business people who can provide financial support through the advantages offered by the Budget in terms of angel investment, and through mentoring to provide guidance and advice so that small businesses can grow.
The Budget challenges us. As many other Members have said, we are about to be tested, and to go through very difficult times. It is important for Members on both sides of the House to argue constructively, but we should also rest on the great creativity and ingenuity of our small business people and entrepreneurs, because they offer the future that will achieve growth in this country.
I shall try to honour the time constraints that you have imposed Mr Deputy Speaker.
Today the United Kingdom has the highest inflation since the days of Margaret Thatcher. The RPI stands at 5.5% and the CPI at 4.4%. Today the United Kingdom has seen the Chancellor announce a lowering of the growth forecast from the 2.6% predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility last year and the 2.3% in the last Budget to 1.7% today. Today the United Kingdom has the highest unemployment since 1984, when John Major had just taken over from Margaret Thatcher. This is not a Budget for growth into the future. It is a Budget that will take us back to the future of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
Inflation at 5.5% has a devastating impact on families in the UK, as £1 in every £20 that they earn is now lost. For example, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave up an enormous 24% of her departmental budget to the Treasury over this spending period, but inflation has now turned that into a real-terms cut of 31%. Have Treasury Ministers commissioned, or do they intend to commission, any research into the capacity of Departments to deliver on their performance indicators, given the effects of rising inflation on the departmental spending cuts that have already been incurred?
It is risible that this Budget has been delivered by a Government who style themselves the greenest ever. The establishment of the green investment bank has been delayed until 2012, and it is still unclear whether it can fully function as a bank or whether it will simply be a glorified fund. The carbon reduction commitment has already outraged the CBI and British business. Instead of rewarding energy-efficient businesses and returning £1 billion to business, as the Labour Government proposed when we introduced the scheme, the Treasury has shifted the goalposts and taken all of the money to itself. I had thought that the implementation of the scheme had been delayed until 2012-13, and that was certainly what was announced to business, but I see from measure O in table 2.2 on page 44 of the Red Book that the Government are now forecasting £715 million of revenue to the Treasury in 2011-12 from that scheme that only goes live in 2012-13. I ask Treasury Ministers to reconcile that anomaly.
The carbon floor price appears on the face of it to be a positive green measure, but in fact it betrays the lack of coherence in Government thinking on this area. The Government’s electricity market reform recognises the need to incentivise 18 GWe of new generation capacity in the UK by 2024. That is the equivalent of £200 billion of investment between now and 2020. As Ministers know, much of this generation capacity will come from gas. At a stroke, the Government have pushed away the very investors they sought to attract. They are now likely to encourage more imports and external dependency. Why should European generators generate in the UK when they can generate abroad with no such tax upon them, and then benefit from higher UK prices by use of the interconnectors? One element of the Government’s energy market reform strategy has been to increase the use of interconnectors. As a result of this step, investment will be pushed into France, Belgium and the Netherlands. There is incoherence at the heart of the Government’s thinking on this matter.
I did not support the Government in the Lobby on Monday night in the vote on military action in Libya. I pay tribute to our armed services, and to their valour and the work they do, but I cannot support the cost of the military escapade taking place in Libya, and I look to what could have been achieved if the funds being expended there were instead being expended around the rest of our country.
No, I will not.
One Tomahawk missile costs £350,000, and 140 of them were launched in the first 48 hours of the attack, which amounts to a cost of £50 million. It is estimated that the cost of prosecuting this military conflict is £6 million each day. The cost of one day of action in Libya could restore in its entirety the £2.25 million of cuts in children’s services forced on my community in Brent by this Liberal-Conservative coalition Government. One month in Libya could protect children’s services across the whole of London. Nine months in Libya could protect children’s services across the entire UK. Aneurin Bevan once said that priorities is the language of socialism. Those are my priorities and that is why I will oppose this Budget.
I would describe this Budget as healthily underwhelming. I say “healthily” because it recognises that private sector growth is crucial to our future prosperity. I say “underwhelming” because it reiterates the need to continue our fiscal consolidation, and I congratulate the Chancellor on keeping on course with that. The Budget recognises the terrible economic inheritance that this Government were given. Our first Budget was a rescue mission, whereas this Budget is about a desire to build on the foundations for economic growth. Our budget deficit was 11% of GDP—it still is, because the cuts have not yet really begun—and the largest of any major country. Our national debt grew by 150% over the 13 years of the Labour Government to £893 billion by the time they left office. If we add the costs of the banking interventions to that, we find that our national debt is more than £2.1 trillion, according to the Office for National Statistics. That means that our debt as a percentage of GDP is on a par with that of both Lebanon and Jamaica. Our interest rate costs are £120 million a day and £43 billion in total this year, and they will rise each and every year in this Parliament to £66.8 billion. Although Labour Members may be in denial, I am glad to see that the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the CBI and the Institute for Fiscal Studies are not.
What compounds our problems and the need for this continued fiscal consolidation is the very uncertain global outlook. The eurozone is still in trouble, as I found when I checked the bond market yields of some eurozone countries this morning. Despite the bail-outs, Greece’s yields are more than 13% and Ireland’s are more than 10%. Portugal is going through a parliamentary test today, and its yields are more than 7.85%. Our five-year bond yields are at 2.37%, despite our having the largest budget deficit of all the countries that I just mentioned. The emerging markets are also causing particular problems for our growth prospects, with things slowing down in China, India, Brazil and Russia—China has hiked rates twice in the past few months. We have relied on economic growth in that country to help our own export industry, so we need to keep an eye on the situation.
Lastly, as has been mentioned, in particular by Alison McGovern, there is concern about global inflation. Clearly inflation has been caused primarily by rises in the price of oil, metals and food, but in the UK, in particular, devaluation has had an impact. It has had a positive impact on exports, but it tends to import inflation too. What has not been mentioned today is the potential impact of quantitative easing—the policy of buying up to £200 billion of both corporate bonds and gilts. That has an impact on the money supply in this country and it is doubtless having an impact on inflation.
With RPI inflation at 5.5%—the figure was published yesterday—and our gilt rate at 2.37%, the real rate of return is negative on our bond markets and that is a very fragile situation for the markets. To put that into context, the last time that RPI inflation was at that level was in 1991. At that time, our five-year gilt rate was at 10.09%. Clearly if the markets woke up one day and decided that they were not going to accept such low negative interest rates any more, we would be in a much worse predicament. That underlines the need for continued fiscal consolidation.
On the Budget itself, I note that the Red Book shows that spending continues to increase in cash terms from £694 billion to £744 billion by the end of this Parliament and that in real terms the actual fall in public spending is 3.7%. I do not want to belittle such a decline in real terms, but it is certainly not the type of savage cut that has been mentioned by certain commentators and by Opposition Members. In fact, it is about 0.9% a year, less than the cuts made by Denis Healey when he was Chancellor.
I particularly welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that he will consider merging the operation of national insurance and income tax. National insurance was introduced by David Lloyd George 100 years ago on the contributory principle, which hardly applies to national insurance today. It makes absolute sense to consider merging its operation with that of income tax so that we can reduce administration and compliance costs and increase transparency. Many times in the past, a Chancellor has stood at the Dispatch Box on Budget day and said that he is not increasing income taxes but has gone on to increase national insurance. That transparency will be welcome and in future it might lead to greater downward pressure from the general public on personal tax levels.
That measure would also add to the simplification of our tax code, which is critical, especially when it comes to helping businesses. Our tax code has doubled in size since 1997, with a guide almost 2,000 pages long, and it is equivalent to 10 copies of Tolstoy’s novel, “War and Peace”.
Last year, I welcomed the Chancellor’s commitment that the 50p income tax rate will not be a permanent feature of the tax system and I urge him, when he reviews the tax rate, to consider it in the same way as he considered capital gains tax when it was raised from 18% to 28%. A dynamic analysis was carried out at that time and perhaps such an analysis could be done of the 50p rate to show that it does not bring in any extra tax from richer members of society. Perhaps if it is cut back down to 40%, the rich will pay more in tax.
The Chancellor made a number of excellent announcements on growth. Time limits me from mentioning them all, but I want to highlight a few, particularly the moratorium for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees. I hope that we can consider ways to deal with regulations from the EU more constructively. I note that the EU agency workers directive, if and when it comes into force, will cost businesses in Britain almost £1.5 billion a year. Although the Government have a one-in, one-out policy, if that is successful it will only keep regulation at current levels. I hope that it will become a one-in, two-out policy. I welcome the enterprise zones and the decision to speed up planning decisions and ensure that they are made within one year. I also welcome the decision to increase the enterprise investment scheme allowance from 20% to 30% as well as the increase in entrepreneurs’ relief and the cut in corporation tax.
The policies that will truly promote growth are those that the Government have started to implement in some of their key plans in other Departments. In education, we will get young people to focus once again on core subjects and, in the context of reskilling our young people, I welcome the announcement that we will increase the number of apprenticeships and build on the good work done by the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning by adding another 50,000 apprenticeship places by the end of the Parliament. So, 250,000 new apprenticeships will have been created by this Government by the end of the Parliament. I welcome the decision in the context of welfare to introduce the universal credit, which will ensure that it will always pay anyone on out-of-work benefits to be in work rather than out of work.
In conclusion, the Budget deals with our fiscal overstretch and promotes growth in tandem with other Government policies. I commend it to the House.
I want to speak about a question that has been puzzling me for some time. How can the Government be so keen to show that they are tough on the national debt yet so blind to the growing crisis of personal debt that their policies are stoking? Families across Britain today will have listened to the Chancellor and wondered if he really understands the financial pressures they face—if he really has, as he said, done all he can to help them—because of the perfect storm of challenges hitting millions of homes across the country. Thanks to the VAT rise that he introduced, average families will pay an extra £300 to £450 a year in VAT and pensioners will pay an extra £275. Also, the benefits that help many families, such as tax credits and child benefit, are no longer there for them. That is a key concern for many of my constituents who have large families and who just tip into the higher tax bracket because of the London weighting on their wages.
Thanks to the Chancellor’s cuts, our economic recovery is stalling, which is why 8% of our working-age population is now unemployed. That is the highest level since 1994 and is set to rise further. Those people are in a job market in which 10 people are chasing every job and the situation is worse in London, with nearly 13 people chasing every job in my constituency. As a result of the cuts in the public sector, 130,000 people lost their job last year and another 170,000 families have members who are on redundancy notices. Buried in today’s papers are predictions that another 130,000 people will be made unemployed next year. Even those who are managing to stay in work are getting less because of the public sector pay freeze. The consumer prices index and the retail prices index are rising, reflecting the growing cost of living as clothes, food, energy and travel all cost more.
We are already seeing the impact of those problems. According to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, London has the highest demand in the country for debt advice. Nationally, half of its clients gave unemployment or reduced income as the reason for their debt problems. In 2008-09 there were twice as many crisis loan applications as in 2006-07 and half of those applicants made two or more applications. Barnardo’s has reported a rise of 20% in the number of applications for its emergency loans for families and the UK now has one of the highest levels of personal debt of any country in the world.
There are 60 million credit cards in circulation in our country, for 14% of which customers can afford to make only the minimum payment. We should be extremely alarmed by what some people are using their credit cards to pay for. Shelter has highlighted the fact that one in 12 households in London is using credit cards to pay for mortgage or rent. Across Britain, the figure is one in 20 families. In the face of the changes the Government are making to our economy, families across Britain are struggling to make ends meet. That is vital to our economic recovery because, as we all know, credit is key to that recovery. Recently released figures show how consumer confidence is falling. People are not buying and spending in the way that our economy needs them to if it is to recover, but we should care about that and about personal debt not only because of the figures and the economic conditions but because millions of families now live with the fear of debt.
Half of all British households are worried about their debts and how they are going to pay them. Some 44% of households find that there is too much month at the end of their money and try as they might they cannot make what they earn cover what they need to spend. The problem is only going to get worse. In a recent survey, 43% of people said that they expected their personal financial situation to deteriorate over the next six months. This is not about buying new TVs or fancy holidays—it is about families struggling to feed their kids, pay their bus fares or keep their car going so they can get to work. It is about people having to cut corners or shift money from one credit card to another, chasing deals. It is about people worrying about paying their mortgage, affording school uniforms, arguing about debt and suffering sleepless nights. It is about people wasting time applying for jobs when so many jobs no longer exist.
I judge today’s Budget by what it will do to address those problems and to help families across Britain to make ends meet, not least because 20% of those who say they are struggling blame the recent tax rises for that. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said today, the Budget is giving with one hand and taking away lots with the other. The crippling impact of the rise in VAT will more than cancel out any change in the income tax threshold. Rather than offering corporation tax cuts to big business, we need to do more to get jobs and growth back into our economy. We need to put the needs of those families first but instead the Government are privatising personal debt.
At a time when people need help accessing credit to keep a roof over their head, the Government are taking away their options for help, with potentially disastrous consequences. They are taking away the social fund and capping the number of crisis loans for living expenses to just three a year, at a time when even more families are struggling.
I welcome the support that the Government have given for credit unions, but it will take a generation for them to become regarded as a serious, mainstream way for families across the country to access credit. As we all know from our surgeries and our conversations on the street, in these difficult economic circumstances, our banks are refusing to lend to businesses and individuals. The truth is that, with no real help in the Budget, there is very little option for many in our communities apart from the high-cost credit market, one of the few areas of our economy that is growing under this Government. Legal loan sharks are profiting from the perfect storm of rising living costs and falling wage packets for families across the country. Those people need our help now, not in the future.
Already, a quarter of payday loan customers cannot borrow from anyone else. They are sitting targets for such companies, whose business models rely on locking people into borrowing at an extortionate yet legal rate, so that what seems like a short-term solution to financial problems quickly becomes a long-term debt. We know that there has been a fourfold increase in payday lending since the recession began, and that due to a lack of regulation in the market in the UK, The Money Shop, Wonga, Provident, BrightHouse and other companies are expanding across the country at an alarming rate. Indeed, they have already pointed to the Government