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.