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‘(1) In section 2(1) of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 (rate of VAT), for “20 per cent” substitute “17.5 per cent”.
(2) In section 21(4) of that Act (restriction on value of imported goods), for “25 per cent” substitute “28.58 per cent”.
(3) The amendment made by subsections (1) and (2) has effect in relation to any supply made on or after
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 9—Value Added Tax (Change of Rate) Order 2011—
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall make an order under the powers conferred by sections 2(2) and 21(7) of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 that in section 2(1) of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 (rate of VAT), the rate of tax charged by virtue of that section shall be decreased by 12.5 per cent.
(2) In section 21(4) (value of imported goods) of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 for “25” substitute “28.58”.
(3) This Order shall be known as The Value Added Tax (Change of Rate) Order 2011 and shall come into force on
New clause 10—VAT—
‘The Treasury shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, report to Parliament its assessment of the impact of the rate of VAT on UK economic growth.’.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. I had an hour-long speech prepared for this debate, but as it is going well past my bedtime, I will try to keep my remarks as short as possible.
I move this new clause with a sense of déjà vu, as only last July I closed a Finance Bill debate on an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Stewart Hosie that aimed to overturn the decision in the emergency Budget to raise VAT to 20% from January this year. Many of the arguments I made then remain relevant, but I will resist the temptation to aerate the same speech twice. Interestingly, that debate—
Order. Too many conversations are going on in the Chamber, and I am sure that everybody wants to hear the hon. Gentleman.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Interestingly, when the House divided on that amendment the Labour party abstained. Since then, it seems that the official Opposition’s main critique of the UK Government’s economic policy has been based on the Treasury’s VAT policy. I hope that when we divide later the Labour Front-Bench team will set aside its usual partisan approach to votes in this place and will walk through the Lobby with us. As I see the shadow Minister, Mr Hanson, grinning, I hope that that will be the case.
In the 2010 general election, Plaid Cymru campaigned against a VAT increase—unlike the Liberal Democrats, who had their tax bombshell poster, we meant it. That is why we tabled an amendment to prevent the increase last year and why we have done the same again this year. Last year, I said that there was both a social and economic reason why the increase in VAT was a bad idea, and I hope to concentrate on those reasons during my speech. We are against the ideological cuts and the rush to achieve a zero deficit within one parliamentary term with the net result of hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and unimaginable pain across our communities. We have consistently expressed our concern at the possibility of what the former Monetary Policy Committee member, David Blanchflower, called a “death spiral”, whereby cuts in expenditure become cuts in receipts.
A country’s economy is not like a family budget. Although it is good public relations, making misleading references of this sort is a very dangerous game for the UK Government to continue to play. In the case of the state there is a direct link between expenditure and income. Indeed, an overt reduction in expenditure can lead to a reduction in income and an increase in the deficit. Some would argue that we are in that situation already, even before the real cuts start to bite.
The state cannot cut its expenditure and assume that its income will remain constant. We are talking about intrinsic fine balances, which is why it always makes more sense for a state to change its expenditure levels modestly, rather than go cold turkey, as is favoured by the current Government. Four main elements drive economic growth: public sector expenditure; exports; private investment; and the key element as far as today’s debate on VAT is concerned, which is household spending.
VAT is, in essence, a tax on consumption. Economic growth in the Labour years was largely driven by consumer spending, resulting in a situation whereby personal debt levels in the UK have rocketed to an unsustainable 100% of gross value added, at £1.4 trillion.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s argument. Given that cutting VAT appears to be the only economic policy of the Labour party, is he not surprised that the party tabled its amendment so late that it was not selected and that the leader of the Labour party did not sign up to its amendment?
Debt charities such as Citizens Advice report that the amount of debt problems dealt with by the service continues to increase, as the human cost of the recession feeds into the system. There is a long-term economic case for addressing this unsustainable situation by reducing the personal debt caused by consumption in the economy. My preference, however, would be to change the banking code and make it more difficult for lenders to seduce consumers into debts that they cannot service, rather than directly to reduce the purchasing powers of individuals via the use of VAT. I note that new clause 11 has been selected for debate and it covers associated matters.
The major issue faced by the economy is a lack of demand. Personal household debt, built up during the last decade, will be a severe economic headwind facing the UK economy for the foreseeable future. The increase in VAT exacerbates the situation, as we can see today from the revised growth figures for the first three months of 2011, which show that consumer spending is falling at its fastest rate since the second quarter of 2009, a decline of 0.6%. Real household disposable income is 2.7% lower than it was last year, the biggest annual fall since 1977.
Growth in consumer spending will be key if the UK Government are to meet the economic growth forecasts they have set in order to achieve their fiscal consolidation targets. The January VAT increase will stymie the consumer-led growth on which the Government depend.
In the past, my party has argued against VAT being used as an economic stimulus, which was the aim of the previous Labour Government when they cut VAT by 2.5% in 2008-09. In our view, there were more effective ways of stimulating the economy, not least investing in capital infrastructure and putting proper money in people’s pockets and in their pay packets rather than just hoping that they would spend the small change from VAT. With the increase in standard VAT from 17.5% to 20% and the stagnating economic recovery from the recession, the circumstances have changed. This is no longer about merely keeping the tills ringing, but about keeping families in their homes.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I am in a different party from those on the shadow Front Bench and we do not normally negotiate on the clauses we table. I can only assume that my staff are more effective.
Richard Banks, the chief executive of UK Asset Resolution, said that the UK economy faced a tsunami of repossessions once interest rates rise. Increases will come sooner rather than later, partly as a result of the VAT increase. The increase in inflation has come about for a variety of international reasons, including the slow devaluation of the pound and increases in basic food and oil prices, but we have a 2.1% increase in prices across the board and I am sure that many businesses have racked up their prices by greater amounts. The increase in VAT is adding to the inflationary pressures on the economy and it therefore seems strange that the Treasury is using a fiscal measure that is playing its part in increasing inflation and will inevitably at some stage lead to a tightening of monetary policy, creating a further major headwind for the economy. It is the economic equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being more efficient than the official Opposition. However, he is proposing to reduce VAT in this financial year, which would mean an increase in the deficit and therefore an increase in the borrowing. Where would we borrow the money from and how much interest would we pay?
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, I am proposing a temporary cut and I am endeavouring to convey that the priority of the Treasury should be securing sustained economic growth. In my view, the increase in VAT is hindering that. That is my key point.
Older people and pensioners who thought that they had enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives now find themselves with very little interest but high inflationary costs in their everyday life. The Government’s attempts to save money by changing indexation from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index means that any benefits people receive are lower than the real world cost, rather than keeping up with it.
Families who are stretched by the costs of their daily living are dealing with wage freezes but finding that the cost of living is rising dramatically. Young families find it hard to save to buy a house, and others live in worry about the base rate increasing and being unable to cover their mortgage. The VAT change last year is reported to have taken £450 from each family with children across the UK.
The UK economy is not growing and people’s standards of living are being compromised. Confidence amongst individuals and families is falling—that is key when we are looking at future economic growth prospects. Economic growth forecasts are being downgraded by all around except the Government and the unanimous response to today’s revised figures is that we are in for a period of subdued growth at best. As I say, the situation now is different from that of nearly three years ago when the VAT cut was first used as a part of fiscal policy. Back then, we were preventing the situation from getting worse and the recession from deepening; now we are looking at how we can generate growth. Part of the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ reason for backing policies such as a temporary VAT cut is that there is a time frame—people can see an end and know that they must spend to take advantage of it, as advocated by my new clause 9.
I give the hon. Gentleman and his party credit for having had consistent policy on this matter, but has he had any indication about where the official Opposition stand on his amendment? There has been some indecision within the official Opposition, with policies being announced without the shadow Cabinet knowing about them.
We will have to wait and see. I just hope that my words are powerful enough to entice them to come through the Lobby with us, but I am afraid we will have to wait until a little later in the evening.
I was talking about one positive reason for a temporary VAT cut, but that would not be my main, or only, consideration. The purpose behind the cut would be to help the millions of ordinary people who would benefit from not having to pay those extra pennies and pounds every day to the Government, which they could then use to spend or save elsewhere as they saw fit. They could spend them on other goods and stimulate the economy in that way or they could keep them to pay off their debts. At the moment, many costs have been factored into the margins of businesses and many businesses have not yet raised their prices to meet this new inflation from both VAT and other spending increases. If we can keep prices down through the use of a temporary VAT cut and keep high street prices down with it, we will help families. On the other hand, if we can secure the margins for shops and companies, we will help business. I hope that Government Members will agree with that point. Either scenario would be a win-win situation for families and business. Negating a key element of inflationary pressure would also enable monetary policy to be kept loose for longer, which I would imagine is a key objective for the Treasury and the Monetary Policy Committee.
In closing last year’s debate on the effect that the VAT increase would have on the budgets of public sector organisations, the devolved Governments and charities, I asked the Government what analysis they had made of the impact that increasing VAT would have on the operating costs of those bodies, as one study had estimated that increasing VAT would cost charities alone an extra £150 million per annum. I would be grateful if the Minister addressed that specific point in winding up. We will be pushing for a division on new clause 9, as it would introduce a temporary reduction and is more likely to generate support across the House. New clause 6 would be our preferred solution in the long term, but I will not push it to a vote tonight.
I rise to speak against new clause 6 and I note that we have had no costings from its proposer, Jonathan Edwards. I would be interested to find out what he thinks the policy would cost. I can report that there was no dancing in the streets of Redcar when the VAT was reduced from 17.5% to 15%, and neither have we had riots in the streets about the rises from 15% to 17.5% and then to 20%.
There may not have been dancing in the streets, but after that reduction in VAT there was economic growth—something that has not happened as a result of the hon. Gentleman’s new-found friends’ policy, which he is now following, but which he refuted and rejected in order to get elected.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I believe that the policy that his Government followed cost £12 billion; it would be difficult to spend £12 billion and not give some stimulus to the economy. I shall come to my view on that in a moment.
There was hysteria about the VAT rate among Labour Members, but if people in the street were not shouting about it, it is worth asking why. Our predecessors in this place knew that putting VAT on everything would be a very regressive measure, so they did not do that. They recognised that the basic costs of living should be VAT-free. In fact, when it was first introduced in 1979, some reporters described it as a luxury tax. Let us just think about all the things that are VAT-free: rent, mortgages, council tax, water costs, fares on buses, trains and planes, prescriptions, dental and optical care, newspapers, magazines, books, betting, bingo, the lottery, postage, TV licences, children’s clothes and shoes and, above all, food. Although gas and electricity were originally VAT-free, they now have a fixed VAT rate of 5%.
Yes, absolutely. This Government have made no changes on any of those items, nor will the new clause lower the cost of those items. Of course, that list covers the vast bulk of the weekly bills of lower-income families and pensioners. In fact, I am sure that many pensioners do not pay any standard VAT in many a typical week.
It is hard to know where to start, given the number of areas on which the hon. Gentleman is wrong, but let me just point out one. The increase in VAT affects the cost of absolutely everything. As it is on fuel, it adds to the cost of getting food to our properties. VAT impacts on the cost of every single thing. It is an indiscriminate tax that hits the pensioner, the unemployed, and the single mother just the same is it does the millionaire in his castle.
Those items were VAT-free when the hon. Gentleman made his pledge at the general election. When he stood for election, he said that the poorest people in society were affected most by increases in VAT, and that it was therefore a regressive tax. He was right then, and that point is still right now. Why, then, is it correct and appropriate for the poorest people in our communities to pay for the deficit that was run up by the richest bankers in the country?
The hon. Gentleman has strayed off the topic of the new clause, but on my party’s policy on VAT, obviously we are between a rock and a hard place, due to the economic state of the country. We had some very difficult choices to make, and a progressive expenditure tax is the right answer.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for reminding me of that fact. One of the things that have been absent from Labour Members is alternative policies to those being pursued by the Government.
The week after VAT was reduced by 2.5%, Cristiano Ronaldo, the premiership footballer, saved £4,000 on the cost of his new Ferrari. He will also have made massive savings on many of his other purchases during that period. I doubt whether any constituent of mine saved £4,000 as a result of VAT being reduced.
VAT as applied in this country is a progressive tax on spending. The more people spend, the more they pay, so the inconvenient truth is that cuts in VAT benefit people in proportion to how wealthy they are.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that when Save the Children says that
“the discount rate and exemptions doesn’t take into account the incomes of people buying goods and services—so they are not enough to make VAT fairer”,
Save the Children has got it wrong?
I understand that charities have an issue with VAT, and I understand that Save the Children is right in its analysis. I am talking about the effect on personal spending.
The concept of a progressive spending tax is well understood across Europe. New clause 6 would take VAT in the UK back to a level where, among EU countries, only Cyprus and Luxembourg would have a lower rate. We have not heard from the Opposition parties how they plan to finance the cut in VAT.
Well, £4,000 extra VAT is obviously one way that they are contributing as a result of this Government’s policies.
Chris Leslie said in the previous debate that the important focus of the tax and benefit system is on need and alleviation of poverty. I believe that VAT increases, which impact on the wealthy more than on the poor, are a good way of doing that.
The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to VAT as a progressive tax. It is a flat tax, proportionate all the way up the income scale. Progressive taxes have increasing rates at higher incomes.
No, I do not accept that, because of the long list of items that are VAT-free. If everything had VAT applied, I would agree with the hon. Lady.
We have had no view about how the Opposition would fund the proposed cut in VAT. If they wished to borrow, which presumably is the answer, there are many options which are fairer to pensioners and the less well-off and more likely to encourage economic growth. Reducing VAT would be a flawed policy, just as it was last time, and I urge the House to reject new clause 6.
I remember the hon. Member for Redcar standing with the Deputy Prime Minister in front of a poster that said “Tory tax bombshell”. I find it amazing to hear the hon. Gentleman speak this evening as an apologist for the Conservative Government’s imposition of VAT on people in Britain.
New clause 10 calls for a review of the assessment of the impact of VAT on UK economic growth over the next three months. As Members know, last Tuesday we voted on a Labour motion, which was opposed by the Liberal Democrats, to cut VAT on a temporary basis to 17.5% while economic growth is restored. The Conservative party voted against that motion, which would have ensured that we had the VAT cut proposed today.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that tax law is made in Finance Bills. Given that we are debating such a Bill, will he explain why the official Opposition have not brought forward their own proposals, in a form that could be selected, to cut VAT on a temporary basis, or have they abandoned that policy?
The policy is clear. If the Exchequer Secretary looks at new clause 10, he will see that we want an assessment of the impact of VAT that looks at how we should deal with the question of VAT across the whole UK. Let me start by saying that we have a deficit reduction plan, as he knows, and a plan to save resources to tackle the deficit, and we have a plan to ensure that we meet the needs of this country. He will know that we have consistently supported opposition to the Government’s VAT rise since they brought it forward.
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the fact that he has imposed a VAT rise on businesses, families and hard-working people in Vale of Glamorgan and elsewhere in the UK, and he could have avoided that tax in different ways. On the same evening that the Conservative party has proposed tax relief on support for private medical insurance—[ Interruption. ] Well, I may be mistaken, but I believe that the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) are Conservative Members of Parliament. Alun Cairns has imposed a VAT rise on his constituents that is unfair, damaging business and will damage the UK economy.
The policy is exactly the same week in, week out. We have opposed the VAT increase and the hon. Gentleman has voted for it. Last week we supported a temporary cut to help the economy and he opposed it. We are calling for a review of the impact of VAT on businesses and families, and tonight he will oppose it. This is an important debate and we have an opportunity tonight to assess the impact of VAT and look at the issues that affect constituents.
The hon. Lady will know that we have tabled several amendments to the Finance Bill. Mr Speaker chose not to select new clause 16, but he did select new clause 10, which calls for a review of the impact of VAT on things that are important to my hon. Friends’ constituents and hers: family incomes, businesses and jobs. If she looks at what the leader of her party said during the general election—[ Interruption. ] Perhaps Greg Hands should listen to this, because during the general election the then Leader of the Opposition said during the Cameron Direct campaign in Exeter:
“You could try, as you say, to put it on VAT, sales tax, but again if you look at the effect of sales tax, it’s very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest.”
I agree with the Prime Minister. Does the hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham agree with his right hon. Friend?
On the point about hitting the poorest hardest, does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the poorest people, those on means-tested benefits, receive an up-rating for the cost of living, which is in fact in excess of the extra VAT, and so benefit by 1% in excess of the extra cost of VAT?
I have great respect for my right hon. Friend Mr Darling, and he is a very good friend of mine, but the issue tonight is that no Labour Government increased VAT above 17.5%. Indeed, the same Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend, in similar circumstances to those that we face now, when there is pressure on jobs, on businesses and on incomes, temporarily reduced VAT to help hard-working families to cope.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to new clause 10. All it asks for is an impact assessment of the rate of VAT on UK economic growth. Is it not the case that, since the VAT rate was increased, consumer confidence has flatlined and retail sales have fallen?
It is very interesting that my hon. Friend makes that point about the VAT increase, because following that reckless gamble, inflation, which was 3.1% in September, was 4.5% in April and May, hitting savings, pensions, incomes, jobs and people’s livelihoods. He will know that confidence is important and that consumer confidence is now at minus 31%. Overall confidence was three points lower in April than in March, and lower than at any time since spring 2009.
Confidence is a measure of sentiment and opinion, but spending power is a fact, so will the right hon. Gentleman explain how in January, February, March and April consumer expenditure went up?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Office for Budget Responsibility and every independent forecaster have already shown that growth in the economy has flatlined over the past 12 months, following the impact of the Labour Government’s measures at the end of their time in office at the beginning of 2010. Since then, growth has flatlined and unemployment is projected to increase by 200,000 over the next year.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving me a second chance to pose my question to him. The Library’s statistics show that, in the four months since VAT was increased, consumer expenditure in shops increased month after month, so how can he say that consumer confidence has declined? That is not about economic growth, which is how he answered my first question; it is about consumer confidence and spending. Will he deal with that point, please?
I suppose that is why the Federation of Master Builders only today—[ Interruption. ] Just for the record, on my uttering “Federation of Master Builders”, Conservative Members fell about with laughter, but the FMB’s members build houses and employ people in the construction industry. Only today—in a brief dated today—it stated:
“The situation for small construction firms has been made more perilous by the VAT increase at the start of the year,” and that we risk
“11,400 construction job losses and 34,000 total potential job losses” because of the VAT increase. Stephen Williams and his colleagues may recall that the OBR expects some 200,000 additional people to become unemployed this year. The lack of consumer confidence, the impact of VAT and the lack of consumer spending will be critical to those potential job losses in the community.
The Tories have a track record on this. My right hon. Friend may recall that in 1979 they raised VAT from 8% to 15%, massively deflating the economy. Unemployment rose by 2 million and a fifth of manufacturing industry disappeared, and it was all down to that policy.
No, I think we did. I have been here quite a few years now, and I recall that in 1993 the Conservative Government increased VAT on fuel and had to reduce it because of measures supported by the Labour party in opposition. The hon. Gentleman may not remember that.
Government Members seem to view the British construction industry with some levity. In a debate this morning on the crisis in the construction industry, no Liberal Democrats turned up and one Tory Back Bencher turned up 20 minutes late. The increase in VAT has had a massive impact on the construction industry, as one will hear from any representative group and anyone involved in the sector. Government Members are in complete denial about the madness of the policy that they are pursuing and the firms that they are driving into bankruptcy.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. He will know that the Conservative party’s VAT increase alone will cost the average family with children £450 this year—far more than they will gain through any increases in tax thresholds.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I should like to try to make some progress. I have been very generous in giving way so far.
Although unemployment has fallen by a couple of hundred thousand in the past few months, and that is very welcome, the OBR has said that the lack of consumer confidence, the impact of VAT increases and the long-term lack of economic growth will hit employment hard. Average UK unemployment at the moment is about 7.7%, but for those of us who represent seats in Wales, the east midlands, Scotland, the north-west, London, Yorkshire and Humberside, the west midlands and the north-east, it is well above that level. That is partly because of the impact of the VAT increase on retail sales and manufacturing in our communities. When the Government introduced the increase in January this year, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, John Walker, said:
“A recent FSB survey shows that 70% of businesses are worried about the VAT increase, with almost half of respondents going to have to increase prices as a result and 45% believing it will decrease their turnover”.
The situation with regard to jobs is very important.
My hon. Friend’s region of Yorkshire and Humberside has a 9.2% unemployment rate overall, compared with 5.7% in the south-east of England. For someone who is unemployed, the figure is 100% wherever they are. Nevertheless, there are regions of the United Kingdom where many people are chasing jobs, there is a lack of consumer confidence, traditional manufacturing and the retail industry are being hit by a lack of demand, and growth is not occurring, and the VAT increase has been damaging to all those things.
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s speech and that of Jonathan Edwards. Neither has contained details of the cost of such a reduction in VAT. Once we know that figure, we will be able to give many ways in which our economy could be stimulated with such an amount of money. We are still not sure where it is coming from. Reducing the price of Italian sports cars and round-the-world cruises is only one option.
The hon. Gentleman shows his complete ignorance of the impact that value added tax has on ordinary working people and their families. The rise in VAT is costing ordinary working people in Redcar and every other constituency an additional £450 each this year. Low-paid people will bear the brunt of that. I look forward to going back to Redcar with hon. Friends from the north-east and explaining what the hon. Gentleman is doing about those concerns.
The Labour party is keen on cutting taxes and on opposing cuts in expenditure. Consequently, it would widen the deficit, which is already at record levels. The consequence of that would be an increase in interest rates. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the retail trade and consumers would be more concerned about an increase in interest rates than a rise in VAT?
At the beginning of my speech, I said that we had a deficit reduction plan at the last election. When I was a Minister at the Home Office in the previous Government, we forwarded plans for £1.5 billion-worth of expenditure cuts. The Conservative-led Government are cutting £2.5 billion in that Department, which is why we are losing police officers and police community support officers, and why I fear that crime will go up. There was a plan. There were certainly issues that we had to tackle, and we will tackle them. The way in which the Government propose to tackle the deficit goes too far, too fast and too deep. It is being done in an unfair way that hits the poorest people hardest, and it will damage the long-term business interests of the United Kingdom.
Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that the coalition Government’s policies will deflate the economy, but that they are missing their own deficit reduction targets? They are so far from meeting them that they will have to borrow £46 billion more than it forecast, although they have not yet corrected the figure.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The Conservative-Liberal Government are missing their borrowing targets and will have to increase borrowing by £46 billion because unemployment will rise over the next year and because we have lower growth. There is lower growth, in part, because of a lack of confidence, which has happened, in part, because of the rise in value added tax. It is an unfair tax that hits the poorest people hardest.
Before I let the hon. Gentleman intervene, I ask him whether he will contradict Simon Hughes, who said:
“I hope we don’t have a VAT increase because it is the most regressive form of tax, it penalises the poor at the same rate as the rich.”
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree with his right hon. Friend.
I agree with my hon. Friend Ian Swales, who is an accountant, that on the basis of expenditure deciles, VAT is a mildly progressive tax. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, whose name appears above unselected new clause 16 which would put VAT up to 20% once things improve, why the Labour party, having opposed VAT at 20%, now believes that it should be at 20% in the long term.
Order. We are not going to get bogged down in the VAT figures. We need to talk about the new clauses in the group. We are drifting into parts where we should not be.
I remind John Hemming that new clause 10 calls for a review of the impact of value added tax on businesses and families over the next three months. Labour Members voted last week for a temporary reduction in VAT. Labour policy is to have a temporary reduction to tackle the real issues that we all face in our constituencies in relation to jobs, living standards and the future of our businesses.
I am listening to the debate with tremendous interest. There is a determined gaggle of Liberal Democrats here, arguing in the strongest possible terms that the manifesto that they have just fought an election on was totally wrong. Has my right hon. Friend ever known such a passionate rejection of a policy by Members who told us only a year earlier that we should be voting for it?
The most passionate rejection that I have seen in recent years was in Chesterfield, of my hon. Friend’s predecessor. He stood just next to where I am now before the election, when I was Police Minister, calling for more police and more expenditure. Yet now, the Liberal Democrats are saying that we should have had less expenditure.
I accept that I am going slightly wide of the issue of VAT, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I will return to it. VAT hits not just families or businesses but public services. The national health service in England will be hit by an extra £250 million a year because of the rise in VAT. A CT body scanner that cost £700,000 before the rise in VAT will now cost £17,500 more. A fully equipped ambulance that would have cost £225,000 will cost an extra £5,500. There is about £3 million a year of expenditure by each NHS trust on locum doctors, which will increase by £75,000. A Government who want to cut public spending are levying additional costs on the health service in England.
In my own region, in Wales, the actual cost of the increase in VAT to NHS budgets since
My right hon. Friend is explaining in incredible detail the danger that the VAT increase is causing. I wish to bring to his attention the effect that it is having on pensioners in my constituency, one of whom wrote to me to express his outrage. I cannot repeat what he said, because he swore in his e-mail, but he said that
“if these costs were not so damaging it could be laughable.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree?
I do agree with my hon. Friend’s concerns.
Time is pressing, so I will move on. I know that we have a lot of time, but I want to ensure that my right hon. and hon. Friends have an opportunity to speak.
There is another sector that is being hit extremely hard by the VAT increase—the third sector, the charitable sector. Government Members regularly profess to support hospices, but hospices in my constituency are having to raise more money to pay the extra costs that that lot have imposed upon them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just charities and the voluntary sector that are affected, but Welsh and other universities. In Wales alone, there will be £3.5 million extra VAT for universities to pay this year. Housing associations are affected, and the chief executives of the National Housing Federation and the Homes and Communities Agency have said that the rise will cost an additional half a million a year in VAT.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the problem for charities, which Ian Lucas mentioned, would exist whether VAT was 17.5% or 20%? The Labour party did not attend to the problem when it was in government.
We all accept that VAT is a difficult issue for charities, but it has been made more difficult by an extra 2.5% increase at a time of squeezed budgets, and when the Government are asking more of the charitable sector by cutting public sector spending generally. That issue of great concern was highlighted by my hon. Friend Ian Lucas.
Further education and sixth-form colleges will also be hit by that additional cost, but in this very Bill, the Government are taking measures to protect academies from the same sort of penalty. Does my right hon. Friend think that that is a little rich?
I do. My hon. Friend spent many a happy hour in Committee discussing those very issues.
If the Government are not interested in master builders and the voluntary sector, and if they are not interested in the impact on public sector operations such as hospitals, schools and universities, perhaps they will listen to the British Retail Consortium, which states:
“Increasing the VAT rate to 20 per cent would cost 163,000 jobs over four years and reduce consumer spending by £3.6 billion over the same period.”
I misheard my hon. Friend Chris Ruane. I thought he said Borders, but he said Thorntons, which has today lost 10,000 jobs. It may be of some interest to Stephen Williams that those jobs have been hit, as has the confidence in the retail sector, by VAT increases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham mentioned charities. Earlier this year, Sue Ryder, the charity, stated:
“Today's rise in VAT to 20% will cut the amount of social care that charities can deliver”.
That has an impact.
What is the impact on fuel of the VAT rise? People with a typical family car will pay £1.35 more to fill up their tank, as will people moving goods around the country. The VAT increase has hit the retail sector and we see job losses across the board, but there is also concern from the tourism sector. Just recently, on
My right hon. Friend refers to the impact of the higher rate of VAT on the tourism sector. Of course, in Ireland, from next week for 18 months, VAT in the tourism sector will be reduced to 9%. It has already been reduced to 7% in Germany and 5.5% in France. Is that an argument for taking a more sector-targeted approach to VAT reductions? Will the assessment proposed in new clause 10 allow for consideration to be given to a more articulate way of applying VAT, rather than having general, standard reductions across the board on all products, regardless of whether they are imports or the products of home businesses?
If my hon. Friend looks at new clause 10, he will see that it calls for a general review of VAT and the impact on the economy. Out of that review could come, for example, a temporary reduction to 17.5%, as was called for by my right hon. Friend Ed Balls, or there could be changes for certain sectors. The review could look at a range of issues to assess the impact of the increase on growth, jobs and living standards.
Given the arguments that the right hon. Gentleman is making, how does he intend to vote on the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Caernarfon?
The hon. Member for Caernarfon has not moved a new clause—Jonathan Edwards moved it. However, we will not be supporting it because it does not give an end date for the potential VAT reduction. It would be a permanent reduction. We want a review of the impact of VAT on business, jobs and living standards.
I am trying to understand the Labour party’s position. If it believed in the policy announced by the shadow Chancellor a week or so ago, it would want first to reduce VAT, and then to make a decision on when to increase it. I do not understand, therefore, why it is not supporting the new clause, which takes that first step—it does what the Labour party want to do.
I will try again, slowly. The new clause calls for a permanent cut in VAT to 17.5%. It does not do what my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood wishes to do—what we voted on last Tuesday—which is to implement a temporary cut in VAT until we secure strong growth.
In a moment. The new clause does not do what we said we would do, which is implement a temporary reduction. We have tried, through new clause 10, to ensure that we have a review of all the issues I have mentioned—of tourism, business, jobs and families—so that we can come to conclusions about sectoral reductions and a temporary reduction to help employment.
May I clarify my position? I have a note from the House of Commons Library to me:
“NC9 finds an alternative way of doing the same thing as NC6 (i.e. decreasing the rate of VAT), only on an exclusively temporary basis. It does this by means of the Economic Regulator, which is a mechanism that allows for changing the rate of excise duties like VAT on a temporary basis without having to use primary legislation.”
Surely, it cannot be clearer than that.
With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, you and I, Mr Deputy Speaker, have been here 19 years and three months. I have been here long enough to understand a few matters of parliamentary procedure. The hon. Gentleman needs to go back to Tamworth and explain to his constituents why, by increasing VAT, he is adding £450 to people’s annual VAT bill; why he is hitting retail sales and retail shops in his constituency; why he is impacting on businesses in his constituency; and why the VAT increase in his constituency will put up the cost of the health service, education, housing and jobs. He needs to reflect on those issues as part of this debate.
In conclusion, we have today an opportunity to vote for new clause 10, which would give us a chance to consider the impact of VAT, to come to conclusions on the points I have made today and to ensure that we can properly assess the best way to implement our VAT reduction so that it helps create jobs, build growth and not stifle our economy. This Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government have not only broken their promises on VAT to the electorate, but put at risk growth, jobs and family living standards. Most abominably of all, however, with this rise they have hit the poorest hardest. We have consistently opposed the rise to 20%, and we want it reviewed. We ask hon. Members to vote for new clause 10 tonight, and I look forward to my right hon. and hon. Friends joining me in the Lobby at the end of the debate.
I want to outline my support for new clause 10, and for reviewing the impact of VAT within three months of passing the Bill. The increase in VAT is having a real impact on the spending power of people in my constituency, many of whom are really feeling the pinch of inflation, pay freezes, and rising energy and food bills, and for thousands of people across the north-east, this all comes at a time when many of them are facing redundancy.
The previous Labour Government’s decision to reduce VAT temporarily to 15% was judged by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies to be an effective stimulus, putting additional money into people’s pockets, and helping to support an increase in consumer confidence, a return to economic growth and a fall in unemployment, all of which are needed now. Of course we must reduce the deficit, but I do not accept that the right way to do so is on such a scale and at such an intensity that ideological deficit reduction is delivered at the expense of economic growth and job creation. Indeed, there is widespread and well founded concern that this will only make it harder to get the deficit down in the long term. Finding ways to kick-start economic growth must therefore be a priority. It is therefore vital that the impact of VAT be kept under review.
Finding a means of kick-starting growth is vital, particularly for regions such as the north-east, where I fear we currently risk a lost generation of young people if new economic and employment opportunities are not created, and created quickly. A key concern in my region remains the level of youth unemployment, with around 19% of 16 to 24-year-olds in the north-east not in education, employment or training, compared with the national rate of around 15%. Of particular concern is the fact that over the last 12 months the north-east has seen a 10% increase in the number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Only Northern Ireland, Scotland and London have also experienced such rises over the same period, and then only to a maximum of 4%. With measures such as the previous Government’s future jobs fund axed by the coalition and nothing lined up to take its place specifically to support the long-term unemployed into work, we need to consider as many steps as possible to kick-start economic growth and increase employment opportunities for young people. Keeping VAT under review is vital to ensuring that.
The coalition’s decision to increase VAT to 20% in January has hit many businesses hard, particularly as that VAT hike helped to push fuel prices up to record levels. Let me take just one example from my constituency. The owner of a small electrical services company in Gosforth has made clear to me the impact of high fuel prices on his firm, which he says have hit the small business sector hardest. From its base in Newcastle upon Tyne North, his company carries out most aspects of domestic electrical work and small commercial work, travelling across the Tyneside, Northumberland and Durham areas.
I will give way in one moment.
The owner of the company has an expanding network of clients from the private and voluntary sectors, and he would therefore like to be able to take on his first employees within the next 12 months. However, he has said that the cost of fuel and running a second van will be a significant influence on whether he decides to take on new staff, which he would like to do, thereby doing his bit to help the economy recover. That is just one example of a local company in my constituency really feeling the impact of high fuel prices, which are hugely affected by the rise in VAT, but there are others. They include the small driving school in Lemington that saw fuel costs rise by £20 a week over the last year, the self-employed businessman from Fawdon whose work requires him to travel around 10,000 miles a year, and the young man from Gosforth who set up a Facebook page on the issue and has 475,000 supporters. All those companies are affected by the rise in VAT. The Government must make a commitment to keep it under review, to ensure that all steps are taken to help businesses survive and thrive through these difficult times, and to support those that wish to expand and create new employment opportunities to be able to do so.
As a fellow north-east Member, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her speech. I believe that the previous VAT cut cost £12 billion. She makes a persuasive case for the need to stimulate the economy. Does she think that borrowing £12 billion and then cutting VAT is the best option from all the choices available?
The fact is that the current rate of 20% is hurting, and it is not working. Growth has stalled. We need to return to growth, particularly in the north-east, and I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would support such a move.
A sector that has faced particular difficulties over recent months and years is the construction industry. It is thought that one in five of the firms currently going into administration are from that sector, and research recently undertaken by the Financial Times has found that construction orders have fallen by 40% in the past 12 months. That is an alarming figure. It is really worrying, when we consider that construction makes up around 10% of the UK economy, and that some 80% of the materials used by the industry are procured from within the UK, creating an economic stimulus and jobs in other sectors.
The construction industry is one clear example of how public spending can support private sector growth and jobs. Indeed, it is estimated that every £1 spent on construction leads to an increase in gross domestic product of nearly £3 and stimulates growth elsewhere in the economy worth nearly £2. The maths is simple. It is widely accepted that coalition decisions to cancel projects such as Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, to cut the housing and regeneration budget by 70%, to end the HomeBuy Direct scheme, and to scrap regional spatial strategies, are having, and will continue to have, a seriously detrimental effect on the construction sector.
The coalition’s VAT rise is also having a considerable adverse impact on many small and medium-sized construction firms, particularly when combined with the draconian cuts that the Government are imposing on public spending. Indeed, at the time of the VAT rise the Federation of Master Builders—an organisation to be taken very seriously—expressed its concern that 11,400 jobs would be lost in the construction sector alone over the next decade as a direct result of the coalition’s decision to hike VAT to 20%. The impact of VAT must be kept under review.
Household income in the north-east is the lowest in England, and a temporary reduction in VAT would have a positive impact on the spending power of people living in my city and region, helping to support local businesses, local economic growth and local jobs. Such a reduction could not come at a more apposite time, given that my region is facing the policies of what Kevin Rowan, the regional secretary of the Northern TUC, has recently described as a “profoundly anti-Northern Government”.
That is a description I would agree with, in the light of the impact of some of the coalition’s policies highlighted by Mr Rowan. They include the abolition of One North East and the planned sale of its assets to finance national Government administration—something that is not happening in London. Furthermore, job creation is simply not keeping up with job losses, with up to 19 jobseekers applying for every vacancy in some areas of the region. The north has the highest unemployment rates in the UK, and it is seeing cuts in disability benefits that will have a disproportionate impact on former industrial heartlands, as well as cuts in tax credits, the abolition of area-based grants and local government cuts significantly higher than those in many councils in the south-east. It is for those reasons that I support the proposal for the Government to undertake an assessment of the impact on UK growth of the rise in the rate of VAT.
Well, here we are: the Opposition have said that they really hate the idea of having VAT at 20%, and that that is a dreadful proposal. What are they proposing instead? They are proposing a review.
Can the hon. Gentleman remind me whether he agreed with his party leader when he said, during the election campaign, that a VAT rise would hit families the hardest?
My right hon. Friend Vince Cable was quite clear when he said that the party did not rule out an increase in VAT, when he was asked that specific question—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] The then Chancellor supported an increase in VAT to 19%, and the present Opposition now support a long-term VAT rate of 20%. The reason why they will not support new clause 9 is that the change it proposes is not temporary but permanent. Labour Members cannot criticise us for accepting a long-term VAT rate of 20% if they want the same long-term rate themselves. There is an argument about whether the stimulus that would, admittedly, result from a temporary cut in VAT would be in the long-term interests of the country, but it is a complex one. However, it is clear that we need to keep the deficit under control.
We have heard criticism from the Opposition today that the Office for Budget Responsibility has indicated that we might be borrowing more money than was originally forecast. The Opposition criticise us for the fact that the OBR forecasts higher borrowing. The Opposition’s solution, however, is even higher borrowing. They identify a problem and then put forward a policy proposal to make that problem worse. It is an absurd situation.
The real problem that economies face, as we see with the situation in Greece, is that as the deficit goes up, the people lending the country money to keep it going become increasingly concerned and the interest rate goes up, so it is not just the amount of interest on the amount of deficit in each year that goes up, as the rate of interest goes up, too. That is why people end up in the state that Greece has ended up in.
The hon. Gentleman ought to have listened to the debate earlier, particularly to the very good speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who explained that for every pound that is spent in the construction sector, £3 is injected into the economy. That would lead to three times as much being put into the economy for every pound spent in the construction sector. That means we should encourage that sector, not decimate it as the Conservatives are doing as we speak.
We should remember that VAT does not apply. I declare an interest, as a VAT-registered person. People who understand how VAT works will know that people who charge VAT can reclaim it on their inputs. We have to look at the details. On the hon. Gentleman’s further point, yes, there is an economic multiplier that has an effect. As demand is increased, there is a multiplier effect. At the same time, we have to look at the long-term effect on the deficit, the debt and the interest paid. As interest rates go up, wider damage is done to the whole of society.
It is true that in an ideal world we would not have higher rates of VAT. In an ideal world everything would be nice, and there would no problems and no difficult decisions to take. We have to get a balance. It is very pleasing to see that the official Opposition now accept that VAT should be 20% in the long term.
There used to be a time when the hon. Gentleman was fond of quoting the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which called the VAT cut “an effective stimulus”. As for the construction industry, does he not recognise the figures showing a 19% increase in the number of business failures in the construction industry in the first three months of this year—since the increase was imposed?
There is no VAT on new build. The hon. Gentleman’s party believes that the VAT rate should be 20% in the long term; I thank him for agreeing with us about that.
The Government, essentially, have to bring the deficit under control to keep interest rates under control—and that is what we are doing.
I am delighted to be given this opportunity to speak, perhaps a little sooner than anticipated. I shall speak to new clause 10 and I specifically remind Members that it is about having an assessment of the impact of the VAT rate on UK economic growth. That is the area on which I shall focus; it is what we need to talk about if we want to get this country back on its feet.
We are not asking for a knee-jerk reaction. We recognise that there is a complex relationship between the various different fiscal measures that can be taken—between VAT and all the other types of fiscal measures. We also recognise the importance of a changing environment, as events elsewhere might affect our ability to export, for example, and economic events in different countries will impact on our economy in all sorts of ways.
Let us look at what has happened recently. We have massive inflation and businesses are having real difficulty. They are being badly squeezed. They are experiencing rising costs, rising costs and more rising costs, and they are having to make difficult judgments about how many of those costs they can pass on to consumers before they begin losing sales. Their difficulties have been compounded by the fact that they have had to contend with a higher VAT rate since January. They are making calculations daily. The costs of their raw materials are changing constantly. They must keep asking themselves, “What must we do in order to keep afloat?”, but the problem is, of course, that many of them are going under.
Does the hon. Lady agree that businesses—[Interruption.] I was asking the hon. Lady, not the animal in front of her. Does the hon. Lady agree that businesses can reclaim the VAT that they are charged?
I fully understand that businesses reclaim the VAT, but the consumer purchases the end product for a composite price that reflects everything that has been done to produce the thing in the first place, as well as the transport costs—that was explained by my hon. Friend Toby Perkins—and, of course, the VAT. The customer pays the VAT in the end, but the business has already been affected by the rise in costs that it is incurring, which do not include VAT. The price of raw materials, particularly fuel, has risen, and every business is being squeezed to the limit. Every penny counts, and businesses are asking themselves, “At what point can I put the price up? At what point does the purchaser not buy?”
Many of my hon. Friends have mentioned the impact on hard-pressed families, and they have indeed been hit very hard. Ian Swales recited a long list of goods that do not attract VAT. Was he suggesting that every middle-income and lower-income family should exist solely on food and children’s clothing? Has he not thought of the numerous household items—
The hon. Lady’s Front-Bench colleague, Mr Hanson, said that there would be a £450 increase per “hard-pressed family”, if I may use her phrase. That means that families would have to spend £18,000 a year on VATable items—not VAT-exempt or zero-rateable items. Can the hon. Lady give us an example of the sort of items on which those hard-pressed families would spend £18,000 a year?
When we arrived at the £450 figure, we were taking account of the total impact of all the tax changes introduced in the emergency Budget last June. However, if Members look around their bathrooms and kitchens, they will see numerous items that do not last for ever and need to be repaired. For example, adults will need to replace some items of clothing.
I find that extraordinary, and I also find it extraordinary that the Tories seem to have so little comprehension of the impact of the increase. As I have said, many household items need to be replaced.
Is not the real purpose of new clause 10 to enable us to assess whether the impact of the VAT increase is indeed returning growth to the economy, and does not the evidence so far suggest that the economy is going into reverse as a result of the Government’s measures?
My hon. Friend, like myself, is a Welsh Member of Parliament. May I draw her attention to a press release last year entitled “Welsh Lib Dem MPs want VAT rise impact to be assessed”. Roger Williams said:
“we are worried about the proposed increase in VAT. … We need to carry out this work so that we can lessen the impact of any increase in VAT.”
The hon. Gentleman said that they were
“particularly concerned about the impact on the voluntary sector” and on hard-pressed rural areas.
That is an extraordinary statement, especially as I can remember the most surreal experience of being in a studio in Cardiff and Roger Williams popping up on a screen from some distant place to defend the increase in VAT. So what is the position of the Liberal Democrats? I really do not know. One minute they say one thing about an assessment, the next minute they pop up on a screen defending to the hilt every statement in the Budget last June. I do not know what the position of Welsh Liberal Democrat Members is.
My hon. Friend is making a strong point about small businesses being unable to absorb the VAT increase. She asked about the position of the Liberal Democrats. They are on the wrong side of the argument and they are here tonight to defend the Tory rise in VAT. It is an absolute disgrace, and Welsh businesses and businesses throughout the UK will punish them at the next election.
My hon. Friend is right.
Let us move on from the small items such as mobile phone bills and the VAT on them—it might be someone’s only phone if they do not have a landline. Let us move to the other end of the scale and what are called the big ticket purchases such as replacing a car or refurbishing a kitchen. They are things that people do not have to do now, but they may choose to do; perhaps they intend to do them in the next few years. The Labour Government introduced the car scrappage scheme, which spurred on people who were thinking of replacing their car in the next couple of years to bring that purchase forward. It meant that money that was available, which some people had put by in savings, was fed into the economy and made a difference.
The whole point of an active Government who take an interest in re-igniting the economy was absolutely that—to create jobs and ensure wealth creation so that we would be in a better position to pay back quickly—
Can the hon. Lady confirm that she is now proposing a cut in VAT and car scrappage schemes and other measures to stimulate the economy? Or is she offering a choice?
I am asking about the Government’s growth strategies. I am trying to explain by giving some examples of how Governments can stimulate the economy and make a difference. They can choose to kick-start the economy or to allow it to go spiralling down and unemployment to increase. These are active choices that a Government can make. We are asking in our new clause for a proper assessment of the effect of the increase in VAT on what is happening now in the economy.
My hon. Friend has been generous in giving way. She talks about the Government’s growth strategy. It appears to me that they have neither a coherent strategy nor, apparently, growth.
That is precisely the problem. In spring 2010 we were beginning to come out of the recession, the economy was growing, inflation was low, and unemployment was coming down. Under Labour’s plan, the economy was set to grow strongly. In fact, as more people were getting back into work, borrowing ended up £21 billion lower last year than had been forecast.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the Treasury is set to borrow £46 billion more than it planned last autumn as a result of slower growth. I am sure that she agrees that, without growth the deficit will continue to rise. Surely that is why we are right in the new clause to call for an investigation of the impact of the measures on growth. Clearly, the Liberal Democrats do not understand the impact of the rise in VAT.
That is precisely the point. There is a huge contrast between an economy that was growing and doing better than the forecasts had predicted, and a situation where there has been no growth since last October. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the Office for Budget Responsibility now predicts that the Government will have to borrow £46 billion more over the coming years than was forecast last autumn after the spending review. Worse, they are failing to get Britain back to work, which is probably pushing up the benefits bill this Parliament by more than £12 billion. That not only makes the deficit worse, but makes the lives of the people involved infinitely more miserable.
Yes, he is a PPS. By contrast, nearly a dozen Liberal Democrat Members have been present. That is nearly as many Liberal MPs as positions their party has taken on VAT. I have here positions set out by not only Roger Williams, but Dan Rogerson, who called for a review, and a Liberal Democrat activist, who called for a cut in VAT on tourism in that part of the world. Just how many positions do the Liberal Democrats have on VAT?
The whole point is that our new clause calls for a proper assessment to be made to see what the actual effect of the current VAT rate is on the economy, given the lack of growth and the lack of a plan for growth. The important thing is to carry out that impact assessment and work out the best growth strategy, because nothing is coming from this Government in order to put things right.
What has been happening in the news recently? Everybody must be aware of the crisis we are facing on our high streets and in store after store. This is happening to TJ Hughes and its 57 stores, to Jane Norman’s 90 stores and 100-plus concessions, to Habitat, and to HomeForm, which covers Möben Kitchens and Dolphin Bathrooms. Some 5,300 jobs are in the balance, and now we hear about what is happening to Thorntons and Comet. Judith McKenna, chair of the CBI’s distributive trades panel, has commented:
“After a year of growth, high street sales volumes fizzled out in June….Shoppers are budgeting hard and cutting back on their discretionary spending, such as on clothes and big ticket household goods.”
She is the CBI’s chief financial officer.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning TJ Hughes in her speech, because all this will have a great impact on its home in Merseyside. Does she agree that it demonstrates a problem with the Government’s approach to VAT, which is that the inflationary expectations they have built into the economy are damaging not only the people who will lose their jobs at TJ Hughes, but high streets throughout Merseyside and up and down our country?
The point is that the message is being given clearly from all our retail people. The CBI’s retail sales index fell to its weakest level in a year. Why was that? It was because anxious shoppers are cutting back on purchases of clothing, groceries and big-ticket items, as everybody is being squeezed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the gist of what she is a saying in a general and good contribution is that the Government have managed to combine a deflationary economic policy with inflation at double the rate they forecast? Such a policy does not stand up. Is not the core of this their overall deflationary policy, of which an increase in VAT was the central part?
Absolutely. That is now having a devastating impact on the economy, on businesses and on individual families. In our new clause, we are asking for a proper impact assessment of the effect of the VAT rate on growth in the UK. Let us see whether the Government can come up with something more constructive and find a way to drive the economy forward.
I thank my parliamentary neighbour for giving way. Is she saying that the evidence is already there that the VAT rise is hurting the economy, as I believe it is, or that we need a review to see whether it is doing so?
I am saying that any fiscal measure is interdependent on other fiscal measures and the Government need to decide how their growth strategy will work and how the VAT rate will fit into that, in addition to any other fiscal measures they wish to take. I am not promoting any one particular measure, but there needs to be some form of stimulus because at the moment we are spiralling downwards and seeing increases in the debt and the deficit, in the benefits bill and in the number of people who are out of work. We would like to see increases in the number of jobs and in the number of businesses that are picking up and we would like to see the deficit come down so that we can get Britain back to work and get people back into jobs. The problem at the moment is that the policies with which we are being presented seem to do precisely the opposite, as was ably explained by my hon. Friend Mr Robinson a moment ago.
We need a proper assessment and we need proper decisions to be made on the basis of it to help our economy to grow.
I want to support new clause 10. It is very important that the assessment of VAT considers the effects of the rise on both individuals and businesses. We need to consider both categories to understand fully the impact that the rise could have on economic growth. I know from sitting through the last debate that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have no understanding and no idea of the pressures that are being placed on family budgets. This debate seems to be showing that they do not have any understanding of the stresses and strains being put on businesses in constituencies such as mine. In fact, as my hon. Friends have said, the Government seem to have very little understanding of what is happening to businesses across the north of this country.
I know from my constituency postbag and I hear from my local citizens advice bureau that more and more people are looking for advice not only because they are concerned that they might lose their jobs, which is affecting a large number of people in my constituency and the neighbouring areas, but because those who are in work are experiencing increasing rises in food, energy and petrol prices while facing a cut in wages in order to keep themselves in employment. If we add those factors together, we can see that consumers are concerned about the future, which is affecting what they purchase on the high street. That has a huge impact on all our constituencies and we have heard tonight of many examples of businesses in the retail sector that are falling daily.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a vivid example of that can be seen when one walks through the centre of the fine city of Durham? An increasing number of shops are closed with no trade taking place at all.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point and I shall come to the city of Durham in just a moment or two.
The situation that I am describing, with reducing consumer confidence and increasing stresses on business, would definitely be helped by a reduction in VAT, even if it were temporary.
May I congratulate the hon. Lady on making such a fine and powerful case in favour of the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend Jonathan Edwards? Given the case that she is making, why do we need yet another review?
As I was saying, we need a full assessment about whether a reduction in VAT would really help to turn around areas such as the one I represent. I also want to know exactly what the impact is on growth, and I will come to that in a moment or two. I want to take up the point that my hon. Friend Mr Jones made point about retail, but my argument is that almost every single sector in Durham is being affected by the rise in VAT that was brought in by the parties in government. We are a constituency that has a large public sector not because it is crowding out the private sector, which is the mantra we always hear from the Government parties, but because it is an administrative centre and so has a large number of public sector jobs. However, the public sector is being hit by public expenditure cuts as well as by the rise in VAT.
The situation that my hon. Friend describes is also typical of my constituency, where we have a very high level of people working in the public sector who are threatened with job losses from the parties in government. We also have a large number of small businesses that depend on those public sector workers for their custom. Those businesss are finding, as other Members have mentioned, that the VAT rise makes it very difficult for them to keep prices at the same level, and that has made it very difficult for them to trade effectively.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which clearly demonstrates a major problem in the economic strategy of the parties in government, which show no understanding of the links between spending in the public sector and the private sector businesses in this country. That is a very great shame and is to the detriment of business in many areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham has talked about the great impact on retail businesses in my constituency, and I am very concerned about the ability of some businesses in the city centre to keep going. I have been talking to the head of one of the construction businesses in my constituency, which has been a very vibrant business in the past, and he told me that it is not only flatlining but is very concerned about going bust. That is extraordinary because it is a major company, but jobs in the construction sector are drying up. Other hon. Members have made this important point, which shows the lack of growth strategy from the parties in government. I would like there to be some consideration about whether a reduction in VAT could help to push down inflation and could lead to a boost in job creation, particularly in areas such as mine.
Does my hon. Friend accept that part of the problem is that some of the smaller construction companies do not feel able to take on a young apprentice and help them to train, thereby giving them that initial start in business that might help them to see a future? Instead, those people cannot find work and feel that there is no hope, and that desperation is placing a huge depression over many of our communities.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As a result of the insecurity that a number of businesses face, they are more reluctant than they were to give young people—and older workers—apprenticeships.
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the construction industry, but does she agree that some of the problems in that industry were due to the previous Government’s abolition of the industrial buildings tax allowance, and indeed the agricultural buildings tax allowance, which led to a contraction in the construction industry?
The previous Government’s investment in the economy led in my constituency to a huge growth in construction jobs for those working on not only fine public-sector projects such as our new hospital and our new school, but new housing. That has just disappeared. The really serious point that I am making is that there is no growth strategy from the Government parties to ensure growth in construction jobs in my constituency—in fact, quite the opposite. We know from national figures that there is an effect on the construction sector right across the country.
Does the hon. Lady agree that there are a number of cash-flow issues that affect the entire business sector, and particularly the construction industry? There is a lack of cash flow from banks to business; from business to business, which means that debts are not paid; and of course from business to consumer, and from consumer back to business. Does she agree that the measures that are being proposed are among a cocktail of measures that need to be introduced if we are to start to address the nation’s economic crisis?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. He describes very well the downward spiral that businesses can get into unless there is a clear strategy in place to counter the deflationary measures in the economy, and we are simply not seeing that from the Government parties.
Does my hon. Friend agree, having listened to the minor carps of Liberal Members, that the essential difference between our policy and theirs seems to be on the issue of aggregate demand in the economy? All that the Government have done is reduce it by cancelling overnight Building Schools for the Future. That has halved the demand for construction in my constituency, and denied two crucial schools new buildings that they desperately need.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and reduced demand, not just from sectors but from individuals, appears to be very damaging for communities such as mine.
I want to talk about tourism in my constituency. Tourism was mentioned earlier; we know that VAT rises have really had an impact on the tourism industry, and cities such as mine are suffering because of that. People do not have as much disposable income as they did, so they are not spending as much on leisure, and that has an impact on tourism.
It took the Minister with responsibility for tourism a year to visit the north-east; he finally turned up in the north-east last week. Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am not just about the effect of VAT on tourism in Durham, but about the fact that the Minister had no answers whatever when it came to the issue of replacing One North East’s marketing campaign to promote tourism? He basically said to local businesses that they had to get on with it themselves.
I am not sure that I am surprised that that was the answer from the Minister with responsibility for tourism. I shall come on to the regional development agency in a moment or two.
For the past 10 minutes, the hon. Lady has been making a very good speech. She has said that virtually every sector in her constituency is under pressure. She was worried that businesses might not even be able to keep going. She spoke about a construction company that is under huge pressure. She described the inflationary impact of the VAT rise. She spoke about the downward spiral for businesses, and the impact of the VAT rise on tourism. Would she please explain, then, why she will not vote tonight for a temporary decrease? Has Labour changed its position? Does the shadow Chancellor not know what he is doing? Is he having a fight with his party’s leader, or is this just the normal Labour shambles?
I had better make progress as others want to speak. I have been quite generous in giving way.
In conclusion, I shall deal with the issue of growth and why it is so necessary for us to monitor the impact of the rise in VAT on the economy, on families and on the whole country. I make a plea for the Government to look particularly at how that is impacting on growth in the north. It was reckless of the Government to get rid of a regional development agency in the north-east that had a very good plan in place for promoting growth and identifying sectors of the economy that would benefit from public sector investment that would lever in private sector investment. We have no growth strategy in place from the Government, and that is having a huge impact. I would like that to be examined alongside the impact of the VAT increase.
This is not the first time that I have been involved in passionate debate at 12.50 am, but under normal circumstances it has taken place in a rather less rarefied environment than we are currently enjoying. I shall speak to new clause 10 and the need to assess the impact of VAT on a range of things. We should remember that the Bill follows the Budget for growth, as it was described at the time. One has to ask whether that has been investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority, because since the Budget for growth we have seen growth continuing to flatline.
We saw three months of negative growth at the back end of 2010, which was blamed on the wrong kind of snow. In early 2011, we were expecting a huge boom, with all the people who had been unable to get out to the shops in December rushing out in January and getting the economy moving, but of course it did not happen. The Chancellor’s Budget for growth was a damp squib.
At every level the Chancellor has demonstrated that he just does not get it. He does not get the challenges facing working people or the challenges facing business. He does not understand the cause of the banking crisis and the collapse of the banking model. He does not understand the need for growth and how the Government can stimulate it. Most importantly, he does not understand that the public and the private sector need to co-exist and depend on each other in a constructive economy.
There is no taxation that does not have knock-on effects. The knock-on effects of VAT are phenomenal. The Institute of Economic Affairs described the VAT increase as “bad economics”. If people do not choose to listen to the Institute of Economic Affairs, perhaps they want to listen instead to the economic genius who was advising Norman Lamont when we were led into black Monday. In January this year, the Prime Minister said about VAT:
“If you look at the effect as compared with people’s income then, yes, it is regressive.”
That was at least consistent—it was exactly what he had said in opposition. But what about the Deputy Prime Minister? We all remember him. Back in the old days, when he was still pretending to be a progressive, we remember him with his giant Tory tax bombshell. We have been told tonight that those signs did not mean that he was against a VAT rise, or that the Liberal Democrats would not introduce such a tax bombshell; he was simply warning us that it was coming and that we should beware. A lot of Liberal Democrat leaflets were delivered in Chesterfield, and I thought at the time that they were describing the impact of the VAT increase as a bad thing, but today those of us who have never visited Planet Clegg have been put straight. The impact of VAT on the cost of living is significant, and increasing the cost of living has a dramatic impact on people’s capacity to spend money and support the economic growth that we need.
One of the effects of the VAT increase is its contribution to inflation, which is currently running at twice the rate of earnings growth. The Bank of England has suggested that inflation will hit 5% later this year because of increases in utility prices, which are a result of the VAT increase. Many of my constituents are feeling particularly hit by that. Is that also the case in Chesterfield?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an important point. The impact is being felt on the cost of everything, even items on which VAT is not charged, because businesses and members of the public are having to spend more on others items. There is the impact on fuel and heating costs and the downward pressure on wages, as we see the failure to achieve economic growth and the public sector being told that it will have no wage increases for two years and that pension contributions will increase. All those impacts are contributing to people spending more on VAT and having less money.
New clause 10 proposes an assessment of the impact of VAT on the economy, and of course we can now make a direct comparison with a fairly recent period when the previous Labour Government introduced a temporary cut in VAT and got the economy growing again. Is it not the case that we need to make that assessment so that we can see where this Government are getting it so badly wrong?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need a much more strategic approach to this? We have the ludicrous situation that our taxation policies affect even our international relations. For example, we have lent £7 billion to our nearest and dearest—by which I mean expensive—neighbour, the Irish Republic, which allows it to reduce its internal taxation and reduce to a matter of pennies its aviation tax, yet our taxation continues to increase, which ruins business opportunities in our country. We need a more strategic approach so that if we lend money overseas we can ensure that it does not undermine taxation policy in this country.
That is an interesting point. We had the ludicrous situation of the Chancellor claiming that our country was on the verge of bankruptcy, but at the same time giving money to a country that was genuinely in a very difficult position. His credibility is really damaged when, for political gain, he says things that he knows are not true, and which every serious economist knows are not true. No one seriously believes that he would have lent money to the Irish if he thought that this country was on the verge of bankruptcy. What we saw in Ireland was what would have happened if we had followed the dangerous policies that the Conservative party proposed in 2008, which were to start cutting when the recession was at its worst. It is precisely for that reason that there is now so little economic confidence.
Having tried on three occasions to intervene on speeches by Conservative Members, and on each occasion been told no, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for accepting this intervention.
On VAT, Conservative Members bleat that it is not possible to secure any rebate on VAT because the Europeans will not let us, but does my hon. Friend recall that the French managed to do so for their own restaurateurs? What is it about Conservative Members’ being so gutless and spineless that they will not argue our case in Europe in order to do something that would actually improve life for people in this country—especially as they brought in the VAT increase in the first place?
If I had had any idea that my hon. Friend so desperately wanted to intervene I would have given way earlier, but I am pleased to have been able to make her dream come true. The strong point that she makes, and on which Members should reflect, is precisely why my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson suggests that we assess the impact of the VAT increase.
I am not trying to get into a class war thing, but one reason why the Chancellor has got things so wrong and why so many of his policies seem so out of kilter is that he has no concept of what people can actually buy with a half-decent salary. That is one reason why, at the drop of a hat, he introduced the changes to child benefit. As someone who was loaded the day he was born, he has no idea of the difference between a salary of £50,000 a year, £20,000 a year or £12,000 a year; he just knows that they are a lot less than he has, and that people on £50,000 seem to earn more than the average so they are probably okay.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. No one is suggesting that because someone is wealthy they do not have a right to go into politics, just as we would never keep someone out of politics because they were poor—[ Interruption. ] Well, we would never do so! The central point, however, is that when the policies that the Government pursue seem so directly to hit the most deprived people, to attack pensioners and, particularly, to attack women as they have on so many different occasions, people will understandably look at the background of the people making those decisions. When people hear them in opposition say that they recognise that VAT is a regressive tax, but see them go into government and try to claim something different, they will understandably question their credibility.
VAT hits the poor, the workless and pensioners. Are those really the people the Chancellor wants in his sights?
Absolutely. The VAT cut, like so many other Government policies, is hitting women hardest.
I do not know, Mr Speaker, whether you ever have the opportunity to visit the Conservativehome website, but if anyone does so today they will see an article entitled “The Conservatives are losing female supporters. Why?” We have had many debates that could have given them the answer, but basically every single economic policy that they have introduced has had an adverse effect on women. Women are more likely to be public sector workers; women have been badly hit by the pension changes; women are more likely to be impacted by the VAT increase; and women often manage the family budget and have noticed acutely the increase in and squeeze on the amount that they have to spend. The Conservatives are trying to analyse why women are deserting them, and we can lead them to the answer without the need for them to do much research at all.
The challenges that business face are significant. Before coming to this place, I was running my own business. Confidence is low. When customers are worried about whether they will be able to afford to pay their mortgage, they will not be spending money on anything that they do not need. The banks are not lending, public sector organisations are not buying from the private sector because they have less money, and IT suppliers are finding that they are not getting the business they relied on from the public sector. At the same time, public sector employees are not contributing to the private sector by buying all the things they would be buying if they had confidence in the security of their jobs. The cuts to the public sector are having a dramatic effect on the private sector.
We have had a Budget for growth that has led to no growth. We now need an assessment of the impact of the VAT increase so that we can understand fully the reasons we are not getting growth in the economy. We need to make decisions based on getting people back to work, getting money in people’s pockets, and seeing the economy grow back in the way that every single one of us wants it to.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Toby Perkins and to echo many of his remarks.
I appreciate that it is late, and I will keep my remarks brief, but it would be remiss of me not to speak up on behalf of my constituents to express the genuine concerns about the impact on businesses and families of the Government’s fiscal policies, including, in particular, their policy on VAT.
The impact on families, especially the poorest families, of the Government’s fiscal measures is a cause of considerable concern. The other day, the Institute for Fiscal Studies told us that inflation is having a 60% greater impact on poorer families than on better-off households. The poorest fifth of families now face an inflation rate of 4.3%, compared with the richest fifth, for whom it is only 2.7%, and the higher rate is hitting pensioners especially harshly. I suspect that we all know this from standing on the doorsteps in our constituencies and listening to families talk about the pressures they are facing in managing the rising cost of living and the difficulties they are experiencing in making ends meet. Families across the piece are beginning to feel the squeeze that is resulting from the Government’s policies, and there is no doubt that the VAT increase is a significant element in that.
I am sorry that Ian Swales is not in the Chamber, because there are one or two important points about VAT that we need to ensure that Conservative Members understand. First, VAT is a regressive tax because it hits the lowest income deciles disproportionately harshly. That is because it is a flat-rate tax that it is taken away from the poorest families at the same rate as from the better-off. All the sleight of hand that looks at expenditure deciles misses the point that families with lower disposable incomes are seeing more of their income eaten up on non-discretionary spend, where costs are rising.
My hon. Friend Nia Griffith rightly pointed out that we are talking about spend not on luxuries but on household basics. We recognise that food and children’s clothes are exempt from VAT, but let us remember all the other household basics that families will still have to go out and buy: soap powder, washing-up liquid, shampoo, shoe repairs. These are not items of frivolous luxury but everyday expenditures that families have to meet. In addition, as families rightly seek to enter or stay in the labour market, there are the costs for adults of buying clothes and equipment for work. VAT is a regressive tax that harshly hits ordinary families on tight budgets, and that is an important first consideration for Conservative Members to bear in mind.
Secondly, as many of my hon. Friends have said, we need to think about the impact that the VAT rise is having on the economy as a whole. That is the thrust of new clause 10. Here again, there is a basic lesson in economics that my hon. Friends have been trying to get across. Some Government Members have said that businesses can reclaim VAT. That neglects the fact that VAT, wherever it is applied in the product chain, ends up being charged somewhere. It ends up being charged when the consumer goes out and buys the goods. It does not somehow disappear in the course of VAT recovery, but is charged ultimately to the customer, who is now faced with spending more on essential items and having less to spend on additional items. That is having a damaging effect on business, manufacturing, retail and jobs. That is the point that I and my hon. Friends have been trying to get across.
It is a pity that the hon. Member for Redcar has only just arrived as I finish this helpful, if rather basic lesson in elementary economics. You will not want me to repeat it all at this time of night, Mr Speaker, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman can read the Official Report tomorrow to gain the benefit of what I and my hon. Friends have been trying to get across.
As I said, I want to make a few remarks about the impact that this policy is having in my constituency. I have talked about the impact that it is having on families in my constituency. Hon. Members have alluded to the impact that it has had on HomeForm, which is a substantial business based in Old Trafford in my constituency. It has been forced into financial difficulties, and I am very concerned about that. I am also concerned about an exceptionally important and large retail centre in my constituency, the Trafford centre, with which hon. Members may be familiar. I am concerned about jobs at the Trafford centre, particularly because of the nature of those jobs. They are exactly the kind of jobs that low-income families and those who can manage only a few hours of work are reliant on: part-time jobs, shift jobs and low-skilled jobs. Those are the jobs that are being put at risk and those are the jobs that do something—not very much, but something—to keep families on modest incomes afloat.
I am concerned that there is an impact on families, an impact on industry, an impact on retail and an impact on jobs. As my colleagues have said, that translates into a fall in consumer confidence and a fall in retail growth. We are concerned therefore about the damaging effect on the economy overall.
As the House is aware, we are asking simply for an assessment of the economic impact of the Government’s VAT rise. I think that that is a reasonable thing to ask for, particularly given the Chancellor’s apparent greater open-mindedness towards the economic impact of the 50% income tax rate introduced by the last Labour Government for those with incomes of more than £150,000. It was interesting to hear him say explicitly in his Budget statement in March this year that he regards that as “a temporary measure” and that he is concerned about what its broader impact may be. We are asking simply that VAT—a tax that affects all families, all households, all businesses and our economy as a whole—be subject to the same degree of scrutiny and review. I am at a loss to understand why a responsible Government would not want to take on board new clause 10 and support us in the Lobby this evening.
We have had an interesting debate. I must admit that I am surprised that on the subject of VAT cuts I am responding principally to Jonathan Edwards and that it is he who tabled the new clause calling for a VAT cut. After all, it was only on
We could speculate as to why that is the case. Perhaps the Labour party has reconsidered its policy. After all, by the time of Treasury questions on
Of course, there was new clause 16, which was not selected. Was the delay in tabling it because of indecisiveness? Do the Opposition want to put forward that policy or not? Perhaps there was a delay in the process as it was cleared through the shadow Cabinet—we know how the shadow Chancellor likes to do that. Perhaps it was waiting for consent from Tessa Jowell. Or perhaps it was incompetence. It is, after all, difficult in opposition. There are no officials to help, and there are deadlines to meet. Somehow, however, the formidable Westminster machine that is Plaid Cymru managed to get its new clause in on time. When the shadow Chancellor was appointed, we heard much about how he was a ruthless street-fighter, how he was endlessly harrying the Government, how he would set the agenda and how he would imaginatively exploit parliamentary opportunities to the full. Six months on, he cannot even get his key new clause tabled in time. This is the man who wants to run the economy.
On the subject of VAT policy, what have we heard from the official Opposition? First we learned that the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West was in favour of raising VAT to 19%, then the official Opposition abstained on the increase to 20%. Then they had a policy of cutting VAT on road fuel, which turned out to be illegal, so whereas we got on with cutting taxes on road fuel, the Opposition would have engaged in endless negotiations on a derogation. Then, last week, we heard the policy of cutting VAT on a temporary basis, even if the Opposition are not entirely sure about it. This week we learn that they are not going to vote in favour of that policy. What the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr said is correct—his new clause would be a temporary policy, yet the official Opposition are not going to support it. In other words, in 12 months we have had three shadow Chancellors and five different policies on VAT.
I can be clear about our position. I know that hon. Members have heard this before, but I will say it again. This Government inherited an exceptional fiscal challenge—the largest deficit in post-war history, and the state borrowing £1 in every £4 that it spent. We have undertaken a programme of fiscal consolidation, and the VAT increase is a necessary part of that plan. Current economic conditions and events in Europe reinforce the view that fiscal consolidation is the right course of action for the UK, and the evidence shows that the plan is working. The economy is growing and will grow further. We have the advantage of interest rates on a par with Germany’s, even though we are borrowing more than Greece and Portugal.
How can the Exchequer Secretary say that the economy is working and growing? It flatlined for six months, and according to his own Office for Budget Responsibility, the prognosis is that we will borrow £46 billion more over the period of the deficit reduction plan, and that unemployment will rise by 200,000 over the same period. How can he pretend that the plan is working?
The fact is, the economy grew in the first quarter of this year, after the VAT increase, unemployment fell this year at the fastest rate since 2000, and borrowing is falling. The plan is working. I am afraid that Opposition attempts to talk the economy down are not working. In difficult international conditions, the economy is growing.
Raising the rate of VAT was a difficult decision to take, but it was the right decision, and the responsible thing to do. The Opposition proposal is reckless: an unfunded VAT cut to the tune of £12 billion a year, and £51 billion over the Parliament. How do the Opposition propose to fill that gap? Would they revert to their tax on jobs? Do they think that that would stimulate growth?
Deficit reduction, in which the VAT increase plays an important role, is a prerequisite for sustained economic growth. At the June Budget and in the spending review, the Chancellor set out a credible plan to reduce the deficit. According the OBR, the plan is consistent with medium-term growth, achieving the mandate in 2014-15, a year earlier than required. The International Monetary Fund continues to back the Government’s consolidation plans, and to advise against changing course. It considered whether it is time to adjust macro-economic policy, and its conclusion is that the answer is no.
Events in Europe and around the world in the past few weeks have shown how important it is for countries with large deficits, such as the UK, to have a credible plan to deal with their debts. The Government have a credible plan. The British economy is recovering, output is growing and new private sector jobs are being created. We have set out why we have made those changes and explained what is required. We are putting our economy on a path of sustainable growth. I urge hon. Members not to press the new clauses to a Division, and to support the Government’s plans for this country.
We have had a very interesting debate, although I find myself somewhat confused by the voting intentions of hon. Members. We will see in a few moments.
I shall not press new clause 6 to a Division, because it proposes a permanent reduction in VAT. New clause 9, however, proposes a temporary reduction, no matter what Labour Front Benchers say, and I will press that to a Division. Those who do not join us in the Lobby for the Division on new clause 9 will not be able to say with any credibility that they oppose the January VAT increase.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.