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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of the economy.
I am pleased that this House has the opportunity to discuss the economic challenges that our country faces. The statement delivered by the Chancellor last week was a statement for the world as it is, not a statement about the world as we had hoped it would be, but in it we took the tough but fair decisions needed to fix the mess that we inherited, by bringing the deficit down, maintaining our international credibility and creating a platform for jobs and growth.
We ensured that the burden was fairly shared, asking those who have the most to contribute the most, bringing the cost of our welfare system under control and further squeezing Whitehall bureaucracy. We also addressed issues to make life easier through these tough times by cutting income tax and fuel duty and putting more money back into the pockets of working families.
That is why the autumn statement has been welcomed widely by the CBI, the British Retail Consortium, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Engineering Employers Federation and many others that have the best interests of the British economy at heart. We inherited a mess, but we are clearing it up and building a stronger economy and a fairer society so that every person in Britain is able to get on in life.
As the Chancellor made clear last week, the road to recovery is longer than we had hoped, but this Government are committed to finishing the job and strengthening the British economy. Despite the mess we inherited and despite the headwinds from the eurozone and the impact of the banking crisis, we are making progress. The deficit has been cut by a quarter and, as the shadow Chancellor himself rightly observed last week, the deficit is falling in each and every year of the forecast. More than 1 million private sector jobs have been created and nearly 1 million young people have started apprenticeships, and exports of goods to major emerging markets have doubled since 2009.
Two years ago I sat on the National Insurance Contributions Bill Committee, which considered the national insurance contributions holiday. The Government then promised that some 400,000 employers would take up that scheme, but we were told by the Exchequer Secretary in a parliamentary answer today that only 20,000 have done so. If the Chief Secretary is not even good enough at forecasting the development of his own schemes, how can we trust his forecasts for the economy?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that take-up of that scheme has been much lower than we had expected. I think, therefore, that he would welcome the additional measures that we have taken in the autumn statement to support small businesses by, for example, continuing the small business rates relief holiday for another 12 months. The additional increases in capital allowances, which are particularly directed towards small and medium-sized enterprises, are precisely designed to encourage small businesses to invest.
I want to make some progress first. I know that many Members want to speak and there is already a time limit on speeches.
The forecasts are those of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, and I do not think that the Labour party’s trend of attacking it is welcome.
Will the Minister confirm that, under any measure, this Conservative-led Government will borrow more in the five years of this Parliament than Labour did in 13 years?
It is transparent from the figures presented by the Office for Budget Responsibility that borrowing is higher than it forecast in 2010. If the hon. Gentleman was being fair-minded, he would also draw the House’s attention to the analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which suggests that if we had continued with the path of spending set out by the previous Chancellor, we would be borrowing a further £200 billion —something that the country can ill afford.
The OBR has forecast that unemployment will be slightly higher next year and then fall in subsequent years. It also forecasts a rise in employment over that period. If the hon. Lady is looking for variances between reality and the OBR’s previous forecasts, it is fair to say that unemployment is now considerably lower than the OBR forecast a year ago. I hope that she welcomes that fact.
It is true that the OBR has lowered its growth forecasts and that the recovery is slower than we would have liked, but we are on the right road and the announcements that we made last week will help the country to make further progress along it. I should add that the OBR does not attribute the slower growth to the Government’s fiscal policy, but to external pressures from the eurozone and other parts of the world, and to the long-term impact of the financial crisis, especially on our banking system. If the Labour party wants to accept the OBR’s figures, it also needs to accept its analysis.
As the House knows, savings had to be found and we have decided to reduce departmental resource budgets by 1% next year and 2% the year after. We are confident that that will not impact heavily on front-line services. For example, according to the recently published “Digital Efficiency Report”, if all Departments continued to move their transactional services online and became digital by default, we could save £1.2 billion over the next two years. If all Departments moved to the property occupation benchmark of 10 square metres per person, they could save a further £300 million each year.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the following analysis? Two and a half years ago, he asked for five years to balance the books, but without a plan for jobs and growth, he needs another five years. He still does not have a plan for jobs and growth, so it will always be five years.
No, I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis.
There are still savings to be made in day-to-day administration costs. I am confident that the civil service can continue to produce more for less and provide excellent value for money to the public.
The welfare system makes up more than £200 billion of public spending and cannot be immune from the effort to deal with the deficit. As a result of the financial pressures that we are facing, we have had to take the difficult decision that we can uprate working-age benefits by only 1% in the coming three years. That figure represents a rise each year, but it will be below the rate of inflation. It is not as high as some may have expected, but it is what the country can afford. That is a tough choice, but an even-handed one, and it avoids some of the more punitive proposals that have been floated in recent months.
Most benefit claimants would love to work and are trying their best to find a job. However, we need to recognise that in-work incomes have risen at half the rate of benefits since the financial crisis. Those who are in work will be better off thanks to our income tax cuts. When we are increasing public sector pay by only 1%, it would simply not be fair to increase the benefits of those who are out of work at a higher rate than those we employ to work for us.
Even while making those cuts, we have taken steps to protect those who are most in need. That is why disability living allowance and other benefits specifically for the most disabled and their carers will continue to increase in line with inflation. It is also why the basic state pension will increase by 2.5% next April, which is higher than either earnings or prices, honouring our commitment to the triple lock. The application of the triple lock means that there will be a better rise in the basic state pension than pensioners have seen before. Pensioners will see a cash increase of £2.70 a week in the basic state pension in 2013-14.
While we are protecting those in need, it is only right that we ask the most from those who earn the most. That is why the higher rate threshold for personal income tax will also be uprated by only 1% in 2014-15 and 2015-16. It is also why the annual allowance for pensions tax relief will be reduced from £50,000 to £40,000, and the lifetime allowance from £1.5 million to £1.25 million. That will raise more than £1 billion a year by the end of the period and is something for which I, for one, have argued for quite some time. The savings from Whitehall, welfare and the wealthy, and the targeted tax rises, are helping to cut the deficit in the medium term and to boost growth now.
Our capital spending plan will see £5 billion switched from current spending to investment in infrastructure, providing a better connected UK on roads, on rails and online. We will provide £350 million for the regional growth fund, enabling it to continue its success in creating jobs throughout the country. We are rolling out rural broadband across the country and have announced
£50 million for the second wave of super-connected cities across the UK from Portsmouth to Perth, via Newport and Northern Ireland.
We have announced funding for a number of road building and maintenance projects. We will be dualling the A30 in Cornwall—an improvement that has long been campaigned for, not least by my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson, who is in his place. I congratulate him on his efforts. We will also bring the A1 up to motorway standard all the way to Newcastle. I have been made aware of the need to improve that road north of Newcastle, not least by my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith, and have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to work up plans for potential improvements north of Newcastle.
The capital projects will not only create jobs in the short term, but crucially will raise the quality of the country’s infrastructure and our growth potential in the medium term. Labour Members may be interested to know that during the previous Government’s time in office, we fell from eighth to 33rd in the global league table for the quality of infrastructure. That is not good enough and is why John Cridland of the CBI said last week that it is
“absolutely right to shift the focus from current to capital spending to boost jobs today and the UK’s competitiveness tomorrow.”
As colleagues will know, our plans will mean that as a share of the economy, the investment that the Government are putting forward in this Parliament is greater than the average over Labour’s period in office. These investments, not just in roads, but in schools, colleges and flood defences, can only serve to help our businesses in the future.
I have not had a recent conversion to capital expenditure. The hon. Gentleman will remember that in the spending review in 2010, we committed over £2 billion a year more to capital expenditure than had been set out in the previous Government’s plans. In the autumn statement last year we added £5 billion and in this year’s autumn statement we added another £5 billion for a range of projects. I hope that he will recognise that the Building Schools for the Future programme was expensive and bureaucratic. The proposals that have been brought forward by the Department for Education are a better and more cost-effective way to meet at least some of the needs in the school system in this country.
On the subject of apologies, will my right hon. Friend invite Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition to apologise for the debt millstone of the private finance initiative in the national health service, which amounts to more than £63 billion? Ed Balls is aware of that, because it was all about hiding the debt off balance sheet and ensuring that our children struggle with it. [ Interruption . ]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. We will not have shouting across the Chamber and we will not have wagging of fingers, even from a Whip. Have you finished, Mr Jackson?
My hon. Friend adds another item to the long list of items for which the people of this country deserve an apology from the Labour party. We have had no such apology yet, but we live in hope. Perhaps the shadow Chief Secretary will begin her speech with an apology for the many and various mistakes. [ Interruption. ]
Order. Let us try just once more. By Whips, I mean Government Whips as well as Opposition Whips. Government Whips are not to shout across the Chamber. Is that clear?
Not off the top of my head, but I dare say that hon. Members on the Government Benches can speak for themselves. I have, however, heard a number of objections to the structure of PFI contracts. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, the PF2 model is not designed to abolish PFI and can play an important role in developing new projects. We want to strip away some of the most egregious features such as facilities management costs—a couple of years ago the Treasury was going to be charged several thousand pounds by the PFI holder for putting up a Christmas tree. That issue was resolved but it is a small example of the excessive costs involved. In Treasury questions earlier today the Chancellor gave an example concerning the cost of changing a light bulb in a hospital in Cumbria.
I am sure that on reflection Frank Dobson would agree that reforming PFI to strip out some unnecessary features such as facilities management costs and so on, and having a simpler, clearer model in which the taxpayer can share in any gains, is a big improvement. I hope that when he has looked at what is being proposed, he will welcome it.
The Government are trying to move to a system of payment by results. Too often the model of spending under the previous Government was payment for absolutely no results—[ Interruption. ] I will make some progress, despite the shouting from the second row of the Opposition Benches.
The Government know how important businesses are to growth, and we are taking the necessary steps so that businesses can increase employment and exports and lead the country back to prosperity. That is why we have announced, among other things, an extension of the small business rate relief scheme that will benefit over 500,000 small businesses. The extension of empty property rate relief to newly built commercial property has been called for by Members across the House, and I hope it will enable commercial property development to move forward in many parts of the country that have recently been blighted.
We have announced increased funding for UK Trade and Investment to support the growth in exports, particularly in emerging markets, alongside a substantial new trade finance scheme that will significantly help medium-sized exporters looking to win new markets across the world. Most importantly, we have announced an increase in the annual investment allowance limit from £25,000 to £250,000 for a time-limited period of two years—a capital allowance relief that I hope will send a signal to medium-sized manufacturers that now is the best time to invest in new plant and machinery. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Gordon Birtwistle and the Liberal Democrat campaign for manufacturing that he has set up for arguing so cogently and strongly for that measure.
The Government have also announced a further drop in corporation tax to encourage investment in the United Kingdom. From April 2014 the rate in Britain will stand at just 21%—significantly lower than current levels in France, Germany or the USA. We want the world to know that the United Kingdom is open for business and that companies that invest and employ people in this country are very welcome. At the same time, however, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is also receiving a further £77 million in this spending review period to ensure that where taxes should be paid, they are paid—I am sure that even the shadow Chancellor welcomes that. That increase, on top of the £900 million I announced at the spending review, will mean that HMRC will bring in total additional revenues of £9 billion each year by the end of 2014-15.
Our agreement with Switzerland to recover previously unpaid UK tax is expected to bring in a further £5 billion over the next six years. We have signed a ground-breaking agreement with the United States on automatic exchange of information, setting a new standard in tax transparency. Today we are publishing the draft Finance Bill for 2013, which confirms the introduction of the UK’s first ever general anti-abuse rule in the tax system. That measure will act as a significant deterrent to all those engaged in abusive tax avoidance. It could have been introduced at any point in Labour’s 13 years in office, but it was not. That is an example of the failure to act on tax avoidance and evasion that we saw during that time. This is not just a matter of finance; it is a matter of principle. Millions of small businesses and tens of millions of people across the UK pay the proper amount of tax, day in, day out. Ensuring that people cannot avoid our tax system is a priority for the Government so that the burden can be spread fairly.
There has been a lot of recent interest in this area, particularly with regard to the tax payments of specific multinational companies. I will not comment on individual cases but I am sure that all businesses, large or small, will take note of the reaction of the British people to recent events. Everyone understands that we must all work hard to get the economy going again and that businesses will play a key role in ensuring that growth. The reaction also shows that people believe that those at the top who earn or profit the most should also contribute the most. I agree with that—yes, we want a stronger economy, but we also want a fairer society.
Measures announced by the coalition last week will help millions of people across the country who are working hard. I am proud that we will be increasing the income tax personal allowance by a further £235 next April. That will mean that 2.2 million people have been taken out of tax by this Government, leading to around 20 million people being nearly £600 a year better off from next April. That is £50 a month extra in people’s pockets as a result of the Government’s measures on income tax and is, quite simply, the biggest income tax cut for working people in a generation—from the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto to the pockets of 24 million working people.
I am also proud that the coalition Government are cancelling the fuel duty increase that was planned for next month.
No, because it was not there. That was one of a number of difficult choices that we as a Government have had to make to clean up the mess in the British economy that was left by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
The hon. Lady will know that HMRC has had to make efficiency savings along with the rest of the Government. It had to make savings when the Labour party was in office and it continues to have to do that. We have increased investment specifically in the part of HMRC focused on tackling tax avoidance and evasion—an area that saw underinvestment during Labour’s time in office. As a result, 2,000 extra specialist tax inspectors—[ Interruption. ] My hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury bring me up to date and tells me that the figure is 2,500. Those inspectors are specifically focused on tackling tax avoidance in the affluence unit and those units that focus on offshore companies and all other tax avoidance schemes, and on implementing the anti-avoidance rule.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, not least for his response to Cornwall’s call for investment in the A30 infrastructure project and his earlier kind words. Does he recall that when in opposition we had to watch the then Labour Government cutting and closing HMRC offices in a lot of regions around the country, and putting on the scrap heap a lot of skilled tax inspectors, the benefit of whose experience we sadly no longer have?
As always, my hon. Friend makes a good point. We need people with experience in compliance and enforcement, and we are expanding employment in those areas. That is the right thing to do and it should have been done a long time ago.
The previous Government set out plans to increase fuel duty above inflation last year, this year and again in 2013 and 2014. However, as a result of repeated action by this Government, pump prices will remain at least 10p per litre lower for the remainder of this Parliament than they would have been had the Labour party remained in government.
Slide 24 of the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that, including fuel duty changes and the changes to the personal allowance and tax credits, a one-earner couple with two children will be £534 worse off on average as a result of the changes in the autumn statement. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that?
The Government’s fuel duty measures will keep money in the pockets of millions of fathers on the school run or mothers driving to the office. As a highland MP, I know the burden that fuel costs can place on people in remote areas. That is why we are piloting the fuel rebate scheme for motorists on the Scottish islands and the Isles of Scilly. I am keen to push for EU approval for an extension of the scheme to other remote parts of the country that display similar characteristics. Of course, that will be a long and difficult job, but I am determined to gather evidence to support the case.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the rebate scheme has been a success. When will mainland areas of Scotland be included? There are already such schemes in continental mainland areas, so why is there a delay in its introduction in mainland Scotland? Areas such as Caithness, Sutherland and Argyll need it—and need it quick.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s endorsement of the current scheme as a success. I hope he will spread the word to his constituents and ensure that the credit goes to the appropriate place.
To win the argument at European level for an extension of the scheme, we must pass the same test and provide the same evidence to justify including such remote areas. We are working with local authorities in various parts of the country to gather evidence to support our case. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, we must take that evidence to the European Commission. If it approves our proposal, it must in turn be approved by all 27 EU member states. There are a number of hurdles and a significant process to engage in to gather evidence.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will make progress. Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.
There has been good engagement between the Treasury and the FairFuelUK campaign, which has pressed its case very strongly. I welcome its engagement.
The Government are on the road to cutting the deficit we inherited, but we are also building a fairer society. The distributional analysis that we publish shows that that continues to be the case, despite the tough choices we have made. It is worth pointing out that, under the previous Government, the Treasury never published detailed distributional analyses of its decisions, but under this Government the Treasury publishes them at every fiscal event. The analyses show that the top 20% of households continue to make the greatest contribution. In fact, the cumulative impact since the June 2010 Budget of tax, tax credit and benefit reforms shows that households in the top 10% see the greatest reduction in their income, both in cash terms and as a percentage of net income or expenditure.
People in my constituency who cannot afford a car and who earn much less than most others tell me that the inflation rate on the things they have to buy is several times greater than the headline figure, which includes goods that they would just love to be able to buy. When will the Government recognise that inflation for the poorest people in our society is much higher than it is for the rest of us, and do something real? The Government have done some things, but when will they do something that makes a difference to those people instead of cutting their food intake, which is exactly what is happening?
A range of goods is included in the consumer prices index of inflation, which the Office for National Statistics constructs—it is an independent body and is responsible for constructing those baskets of goods. Some items go up in price faster than others.
We are doing what we can and what the country can afford, but our priority must be to get this country back to a position in which we can pay our way in the world. Nothing would hurt the poorest in society more than losing control of our public finances, which I suspect would happen if the Labour party ever again gained the reins of power.
The quad discussed introducing a mansion tax, but a fair tax on homes worth more than £2 million was not agreed. However, the good news is that we have established a sensible, workable plan for raising additional revenues from the highest-value properties. If that does not happen in this Government’s term of office, it will be in the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the next election.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s support—I take support from wherever it comes these days.
The Government have taken sensible further steps to restrict pensions tax relief. The decisions the Government are taking are not easy, but as a country we must live within our means. The scale of the problems this country faces means that the period of fiscal restraint must continue for longer. That is why the Government will shortly set out spending plans for the financial year 2015-16. I will carry out a spending round in the first six months of next year to set those budgets and ensure that we continue to build a sensible long-term plan for the country’s finances. We will need to find an extra £10 billion of savings from Departments in the spending round. That will mean more difficult choices, but they are also responsible choices as the coalition continues to work to restore stability to the UK economy.
We have heard this afternoon and in Question Time that some criticise the autumn statement. The division in British politics is very clear. Government Members live in the real world. We understand that times are tough and that there is no endless supply of money, and recognise that the right and responsible action is to take the difficult decisions to ensure we can live within our means. Labour Members appear to live in a fantasy world. They still believe that they ended boom and bust, despite the events of the past five years. They still refuse to apologise for the mess they created and fail to be honest with the British people about the tough decisions that any party in government would have to take.
It will come as no surprise to hon. Members that I will not take advice from the Labour party, which wrecked our economy because it allowed the country to become too dependent on revenues from the City of London and paid too little attention to the rest of the country. Labour insulted pensioners up and down the country by increasing the basic state pension by 75p, and insulted 5 million of the lowest-paid workers by increasing their income tax bill with the abolition of the 10p rate.
I will not give way—I will finish my speech shortly.
The Labour party thought it was right that private equity managers should pay a lower rate of tax on their earnings than the person who cleaned their office, and insulted hard-working people and businesses up and down the country by failing to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion in 13 years in office.
This Government face some of the most serious decisions we have had to make in our recent history. We are recovering from a decade of debt, we inherited the largest deficit since the second world war, and we have had to face a multitude of problems abroad. However, we continue to take simple, sensible steps towards recovery. We continue to build a strong, sustainable economy and to build a fair society. I commend the autumn statement to the House.
The Opposition welcome this opportunity to debate the state of the economy, the Chancellor’s record over the past two and a half years and the measures he has introduced in the autumn statement. Last Wednesday he came to the House and admitted that he had failed—failed to get the economy moving, failed to meet his borrowing targets and failed to listen to our advice and change course.
First, though, let us go back to the heady first months of this coalition Government—when they were still getting on, when they were fraternising in the rose garden. In the 2010 spending review, the Chancellor decided to implement a programme of unprecedented fiscal contraction. We said it was not the right time to cut demand, given that the economy was only just recovering from the global financial crisis, and that the cuts went too far and were being implemented too fast.
Is it not true that we are actually spending more than we were two years ago and that no real cuts have been made? What would the hon. Lady like to say about that?
There is one particular area where the Government are spending more money, and that is welfare, on which they are spending £13.6 billion more during this Parliament, because more people are out of work or in part-time work and so receiving more tax credits. That is a sign of the Government’s failure, not of their success.
In the 24 months since the spending review, where have we got to? How much progress has been made? Is the Chancellor’s plan working? The verdict is in. We now know that borrowing and debt figures have been revised up for this year, for next year and for every year of this Parliament. The Government are borrowing £212 billion more than they planned. They said that five years of austerity would be difficult, but that it was necessary to support our economy, and they said that it might hurt, but that it would work. Well, it has not worked, but it has hurt, and we are no closer to clearing our deficit than we were two years ago. [ Interruption .]
Order. Where is Kwasi Kwarteng going? Excuse me. He has just intervened on a debate. Normally, one stays for a debate that one intervenes in.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not like the answer to his intervention. Fair enough—I would not be pleased to hear that my Government were spending an extra £14 billion on welfare because of their failure.
This year the economy will shrink by 0.1%. The Chancellor’s two gap years—two years of painful cuts, more borrowing and no growth—are a shocking indictment of a failed plan. He stands up and tells the nation that the British economy is healing and that he is equipping Britain to win in the global race, yet over the 24 months since the spending review the UK economy has grown by just 0.6%. In the same period, the US economy grew by 4.1% and the German economy by 3.6%. Helpfully, the International Monetary Fund’s world economic outlook data allow us to put together a league table of 184 countries based on total growth between 2010 and 2012, so we can now analyse our performance in the global race that he describes with this Government at the helm. Of those 184 countries, where do Members think Britain comes? We are 158th. It is a relegation battle. We are behind Togo and Namibia, Albania and Macedonia, but there is no need to worry—apparently we are hot on the heels of Mali, Samoa and Fiji! We are the worst performing G7 country, apart from Italy. In the global race, Britain is well and truly in the slow lane with this Chancellor at the helm.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the context she has rightly given the House is the reason the Scottish referendum on independence will be won in 2014?
I will let the good people of Scotland make their decision when the time comes, but I believe that we are stronger together—stronger united than divided.
The worst aspect of the Chancellor’s two wasted years is the long-term damage being done to our economy. Every month of inaction, every failed initiative and every growth forecast downgraded is another hammer blow to the work force, our businesses and our national infrastructure. The skills and motivation of British workers are going to waste, with one in three of our 2.5 million unemployed out of work for more than a year and 3 million of those with jobs wanting to work more hours, but unable to find the work. In reality, we are falling behind, and the Chancellor has nobody to blame—not the snow, not the royal wedding, not the eurozone.
I agree with the chief economist of UBS, George Magnus—[Interruption.] [Hon. Members: “He’s gone!”] Obviously Kwasi Kwarteng does not want to hear what the chief economist of UBS has to say. I will send him a copy of Hansard. George Magnus said that the Chancellor’s excuse
“falls under the category of ‘Sorry Miss, the dog ate my homework’”.
He also said that
“the problem I think that the Chancellor has with the eurozone is that we are just like them. We have this single-minded focus on austerity and the lack of growth is basically crippling our ability to meet our fiscal targets.”
I agree that the Chancellor and his economic plan are to blame. Two and a half years of austerity, two and a half years of this Chancellor, and what do we have to show for it? We have no growth, more borrowing and a tragic waste of time.
It is good to see the hon. Member for Spelthorne in his place again.
A year ago the IMF warned:
“If activity were to undershoot current expectations and risk a period of stagnation or contraction, countries that face historically low yields (for example…the United Kingdom) should also consider delaying some of their planned consolidation.”
At that time the IMF was predicting 1.6% growth this year; now the OBR tells us that the economy is more likely to shrink by 1.6% this year.
Would the hon. Lady like to comment on the 6.4% collapse in GDP in 2008, and at the end of her speech will she enlighten us all on what her economic policy will be?
Like other countries around the world, our GDP contracted during the global financial crisis. Germany and the United States have managed to recover that growth; we have not, because our Chancellor chose a different course—austerity—when jobs and growth are needed to get the economy moving and the deficit down. Unlike this Government, we recognise that we need to take action to stimulate jobs and growth. That is why we have said there should be a national insurance holiday for small businesses taking on new workers and a bank bonus tax to fund a programme of youth jobs, and that we should genuinely bring forward infrastructure investment and temporarily cut VAT to 17.5%. Those are the policies that would get the economy moving, get jobs back in our economy and help to bring the deficit down in a sustainable way.
The Government have placed great emphasis on the views of the Office for Budget Responsibility. My hon. Friend will be aware from reports in today’s media that Robert Chote of the OBR has suggested that the UK need not fear of losing its triple A rating. Does she see us losing our triple A rating as a ringing endorsement of this Government’s economic policies?
Let us see what the rating agencies have to say in the new year. Of course we are on negative watch, but it was not we who said the rating agencies should be the be-all and end-all. Indeed, they were giving Lehman Brothers a triple A rating until that company crashed and almost took the global economy with it. It was the Chancellor who said that a triple A rating would be the watchword of his chancellorship, so if it were to go, it would be a damning indictment of what this Government have presided over.
What was the Government’s response to all the bad economic news last Wednesday? Let us give credit where it is due. The Chancellor now agrees with us that we should not go ahead with the fuel duty increase in January; he agrees with us that introducing regional pay in our public services would be costly and impractical; he agreed with us that we should reverse the relaxation of restrictions on pension tax relief for the very rich; he agreed with us that it was a mistake to implement deep cuts to capital programmes such as Building Schools for the Future; and he agreed with us that cutting investment allowances risked damaging incentives for long-term wealth creation. We propose the creation of a British investment bank to support small businesses, and the
Chancellor has produced a pale imitation of that, but I am afraid that all these measures are too little, too late—robbing Peter to pay Paul. Smoke and mirrors will not hide the lack of a real, purposeful growth strategy.
The chief executive of British Airways summed it up yesterday when he said:
“I don’t see an agenda for growth.”
I agree, and so does the Office for Budget Responsibility. Taking into account all the Government’s measures from the autumn statement, the OBR has concluded that they will add just 0.1% to UK GDP over the next five years. The economy is shrinking this year. Growth next year—forecast at 2.9% just two years ago—is now forecast at just 1.2%. Indeed, we have seen downgrades not just this year and next, but the year after.
There is £212 billion more borrowing under this Government’s plans.
Families will continue to feel the Chancellor’s failure in their wallets and their homes. Average earnings will not outpace inflation until the second quarter of 2014. It will take even longer for families to recover the loss to their living standards that this Government’s economic failure has cost them.
The lack of growth and the increase in borrowing under this Chancellor have meant that he has had to come back and ask the country for more. And who are the Government asking to bear the brunt of the past two and a half years of failure? Luckily, Andrew Neil asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that question on BBC1 last Wednesday. He asked him whether
“those who are on ordinary incomes are suffering a lot more than most”.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury replied: “That is absolutely right.” That was the only sense he spoke all day. It is no surprise that he is increasingly described as the Conservatives’ favourite Liberal Democrat in the Cabinet. Apparently, they regard him as easier to deal with and more persuadable. The Chancellor’s favourite Liberal Democrat has finally told the country what we have known for a long time: that this Government are asking ordinary families to foot the bill for their economic mess.
The facts speak for themselves. Analysis by the House of Commons Library shows that a one-earner family on £20,000 with two children will lose £279 a year from next April. Slide 24 of the Institute for Fiscal Studies report shows that a two-income family with children will lose £534 as a result of the changes, including all the measures in the autumn statement. Slide 17 of the IFS assessment shows that middle and lower earners will lose most as a result of the autumn statement, with the poorest 40% losing more than the richest 10%. How can that be fair? And this is all to pay for the Government’s £212 billion of extra borrowing. They are hurting those who are trying to get on and do the best for themselves and their families. That cannot be fair.
Mothers across the country will be worried about the real-terms cut in maternity pay, worth £180, that the Chancellor announced last Wednesday. That comes on top of other deep cuts that will hit pregnant women on low incomes, such as the abolished Sure Start maternity allowance and the health in pregnancy grant. This is further proof that the Government are out of touch and simply do not understand the pressures families are facing, day in, day out.
What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the impact of the changes, particularly those relating to people on low incomes, on the overall growth of the economy? It strikes me that they are exactly the people we ought to be encouraging to spend right now.
My hon. Friend is right. It is a false economy to cut the incomes of the lowest paid, because they will have less money to spend in their communities. What really matters, however, is the real impact that the changes will have on their living standards and those of their children.
The Resolution Foundation has said that 60% of the cuts to benefits and tax credits will hit working households—that is, those who are trying to get on in life. Given that the welfare bill is forecast to be £13.6 billion higher in this Parliament than the Chancellor thought it would be—another target tossed aside—perhaps it is time for the Government to concentrate on getting people back to work in order to reduce the welfare bill. In February this year, the former employment Minister, now the Secretary of State for Justice, said:
“The Work Programme is doing a good job and is on track. It is helping long-term unemployed people into work.”
And only today the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that the scheme was going well, but we now know that for every 100 people who are unemployed, the programme has seen only two people back into work. If that is the Government’s idea of a programme that is on track, I would hate to see one that is not.
It is not surprising that OBR documents released last week showed that the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance was set to rise from 1.58 million this year to 1.69 million in 2014, and that the number forecast for 2016 had been revised up by 340,000. That will be a third of a million more people receiving JSA compared with the number forecast in March this year.
Let us not forget that the Prime Minister dismissed the last Labour Government’s future jobs fund, which helped 120,000 young people back into work, yet an impact analysis for the Department for Work and Pensions found that we all gained £7,750 per participant through wages, increased tax receipts and reduced benefit payments. This Government ditched a plan that worked for one that has failed, so we will not be lectured by them on welfare or on job creation.
At the same time, one group of people continue to gain from the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary’s policies. If someone earns more than £1 million a year, next year they will receive an average tax cut worth £107,000. It beggars belief that while taking from families on low incomes with one hand, the Chancellor gives to millionaires with the other—there is one rule for the very richest, another for everyone else.
The hon. Lady talks about the Government favouring the richest, but if we look at the distributional impact of tax and benefit reforms on the IFS slides to which she has referred, we can see very clearly that the richest 10% lose £260 in net income whereas everyone else is far less disadvantaged. Does she not agree that the richest are shouldering more of the burden?
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that those on average incomes being worse off by £534 year is not very much, it is up to him to justify that to the people of Dover and Deal. Page 17 of the IFS analysis shows that the poorest 10% are 1.6% worse off, the second decile are 1.7% worse off, the third 1.3%, the fourth 0.6% and the top only 0.5%. The four lowest deciles—those on the lowest and modest incomes—are being hit hardest by the changes in the autumn statement, while those at the top get off relatively unscathed. That is the reality and if he wants to put that slide in his leaflets in Dover and explain it to his constituents, I am sure that they would appreciate it.
As I have said, it is one rule for the richest and another for everyone else. The poor are expected to work harder or else they will be made poorer, but apparently the rich will work harder only if they are made richer. It is the same old out-of-touch Tories and their Liberal Democrat accomplices.
There are some who think that the Chancellor is a master of political strategy; his autumn statement was clearly delicately put together. He said that borrowing was down this year, but that is only by using money from the sale of 4G contracts, which has yet to happen. He said that his cuts were targeting the workshy, when in reality they hit working people. He said that austerity was necessary for us to compete with our global competitors when, after two years of austerity, we have fallen further behind. He lived up to his reputation as a part-time Chancellor, because it was a statement that worried more about tomorrow’s headlines than the economic reality. For all of the Chancellor’s cynical political games and for all the smoke and mirrors, the real story is being felt across the country. Living standards are being squeezed, long-term unemployment is rising, borrowing is up, growth is flatlining: it is a story of a failed Chancellor and his Lib Dem accomplice desperately trying to find a way out of the mess their economic failure has got them into.
Order. I remind hon. Members that we will start with an eight-minute time limit on speeches.
There is one form of climate change that would be welcomed on both sides of the House, and that is the creation of a climate in which enterprise can thrive and flourish. The autumn statement reconfirmed that this Government are committed to ensuring that those conditions are in place and have made positive strides in that direction.
The statement builds on the sound economic platform that has been in place for some time now. The deficit has been cut by a quarter and because of the tough action that had to be taken, the cost of borrowing is at historically low levels. What is more, 1.2 million jobs have been created in the private sector—something that was not mentioned by Rachel Reeves—and more jobs are being created in the private sector than are being lost in the public sector. That is true in the north-west, where I live, and across the whole country.
Last week’s policy announcements were well received by businesses and it is easy to see why. There was a further reduction in corporation tax from 28% to 21% in 2014 and a rise in the additional investment allowance from £25,000 to a whopping £255,000 for two years. That shows that, under this Government, Britain is definitely open for business.
The Government’s strategy for enterprise has strong foundations, much stronger than the so-called industrial strategies that have been debated for decades. Between the end of the second world war and the 1970s, Governments in this country and France tried to pick winners only to fail spectacularly. West Germany and the reunified Germany were much more resistant to that temptation. As Sir Geoffrey Owen of the London School of Economics recently wrote:
“The German economic miracle that began in the 1950s was not the result of industrial policy, but underpinned by a broader set of policies of which the promotion of competition and openness to foreign trade were probably the most important.”
He went on to advocate a “horizontal” approach in which competition is promoted, innovation is encouraged and industrial change is positively facilitated—as this Government are doing.
Hon. Members may have noticed how Sweden, which was so bedevilled by high taxes, high spending and massive inflation in the 1980s has coped well with the current global economic challenges. Rather than picking winners, the Swedish Government, who have driven forward a sector-by-sector approach, focused on deregulation, and that has spurred on their success. They have identified ways to deregulate banking, transport, power production, telecommunications, postal services and even food retailing.
Sweden’s Anders Borg is not the most conventional of Finance Ministers. While I would not advise the Chief Secretary to follow Mr Borg’s lead in sporting a ponytail and an earring, I think we can learn from Sweden’s approach. In a recent speech, Mr Borg explained:
“There was a very, very broad-based deregulation. Today, if you go to the OECD, going for growth report, they are looking at 8 different sectors, 6 out of those…have less regulatory burden than the US. So we have gone from being one of the heaviest regulated economies of Europe to one of the least regulated when it comes to product markets.”
As a result, Sweden’s economy is going from strength to strength.
In the UK, in “The Plan for Growth” published in March 2011, the Government set out actions to clear pathways in a number of important key sectors, including advanced manufacturing, digital and creative sectors and, importantly for Macclesfield and north-east Cheshire, life sciences. Both the Macclesfield and Tatton constituencies are home to AstraZeneca’s largest operations in the UK, which account for an amazing 2% of UK exports.
I am delighted that, working together with my constituency neighbour the Chancellor, Cheshire East council and AstraZeneca, we were able to secure funding from the regional growth fund to create a bioscience park at the Alderley Park site, which is a positive step for the highly skilled work force in the area and a huge priority for the local economy.
As with Sweden, deregulation is a critical step for our enterprise agenda. Sadly, under the last Government, Britain fell from fourth to 89th in the World Economic Forum’s league table for countries with the lowest burden of regulation. Their lasting legacy was not just the deficit, as it was also the burden of regulation. I am proud that, under this Government, we have been able to claw back 17 places in those rankings—but we are not complacent. The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend Michael Fallon is leading the deregulatory charge. The autumn statement has built on that momentum and taken the deregulatory agenda to a much higher level. The innovative one-in, one-out strategy is being replaced with a one-in, two-out approach from January. In the spring, the second phase of the red tape challenge will be launched. This will give businesses another chance to highlight those regulations that are holding them back from delivering more for the economy.
The Government’s continuing commitment, refreshed with the energy of a new ministerial team, will be vital in making progress in engaging Whitehall Departments in this critical task. Again, there are lessons to be learned from overseas—whether it be from New Zealand, the Netherlands or even from Bosnia. My favourite example is looking at what has been happening with the “Bulldozer” deregulation initiative in Bosnia, which was particularly progressive. After the Bosnian war, the bulldozer programme was instigated by no less than Paddy Ashdown—one of our coalition colleagues—who was serving as a high-level diplomat in Bosnia at the time. The programme identified 50 roadblocks or regulations that were holding back the economy, and changes were pushed through in 150 days. The bulldozer committee, working with local entrepreneurs and businesses prioritised the areas for reform and worked with the Government to see them through.
I think that we can learn from others who have advocated intervention on behalf of business. I am not usually favourable towards that, but I think we can take a lesson from the Bosnian bulldozer approach, breaking down barriers to business—not intervening, but breaking down barriers before breakfast, before lunch, before tea and before dinner. I am pleased that the Government are taking a clear lead in that direction.
While the present Government are actively proceeding with their strategy for enterprise, the Labour party has offered no apology for their shocking record in office, and has certainly offered no alternative. The truth is that Labour has no clear plans for the economy, which is the single biggest issue facing the current Parliament. However, we can get a sense of what life would be like under a Labour Government by observing what is going on across the channel. President Hollande’s socialist economic policy is one that the Labour party would be proud to call its own, but matters have gone from challenging to absolutely disastrous.
The Economist recently described France as a
“time-bomb at the heart of Europe.”
This Government are right to take a different course, and the autumn statement is an important step on that journey. Putting the public finances in order and implementing a strategy for enterprise by breaking down barriers for business and opening the doors to new opportunities in export markets is the right approach, and I commend it to the House.
I hope that David Rutley will forgive me if, in the time available to me, I do not follow him down the road of bulldozers or anything else. I should begin by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I am sorry that the Chancellor is not present, partly because he used to kick up a real fuss whenever I did not appear in the House or was slightly delayed. It would have been nice if he had been here: I am sure that plenty of us would have liked to press him on the question of how on earth he can claim abject failure as success, which is what he was trying to do last week.
Two years ago, it was not meant to be like this. Two years ago, the new Government said that they would be able to balance the books by the end of the current Parliament, and that debt would be falling as a proportion of national income. In 2010, they said that all the problems we faced were entirely home-grown. They compared this country mendaciously with Greece, and said that we would lose our credit rating, which they may yet regret. In other words, they set about trashing confidence and blaming the last Government for everything. That is despite the fact that the Conservatives supported every single penny of our spending until December 2008, and the Liberals were doing exactly the same until the evening of
The new Government’s position was that it was all the fault of the previous Government. How much has that changed? Last week, they began saying that this was an international crisis. They said that it had been caused by the eurozone; by the United States fiscal cliff; by inflation. However, all three of those things were around in 2010, and were known about. The problem that we have at present is that we simply do not have the growth that we were expecting, with the result that the Government have missed their debt reduction target and are experiencing serious difficulties in relation to borrowing. I shall say more about that shortly.
The Chancellor’s problem is that the growth profile that is presented in the report from the Office for Budget Responsibility, which was published last week, is remarkably similar to the profile that was published two years ago, but it is now running at least between two and four years late. If we do not achieve the growth profile that is set out in the report, both our borrowing and our debt will be higher, because the two are completely interlinked. I see no evidence for believing that the figures will be any more right this time than they were two years ago.
It is interesting to note that the OBR assumes, just as the Treasury modelling used to assume, that somehow we will always return to a 2.5% trend rate of growth. That theology was being questioned when I was in the Treasury, and I think that we will have to look at it again now. The Japanese are apparently contemplating what would be the fifth recession in 15 years. I honestly do not think that those of us in the western world—and Japan is, economically, in the same position—can assume that everything will bounce back as if nothing had happened. This will have a profound implication for all the political parties in the House, as well as further afield.
However, it is in relation to borrowing that I would have taken the Chancellor to task had he been here. During his speech last week, he made great play of how transparent he was being in taking into account the money that he had managed to find as a result of quantitative easing at the Bank of England and from the Royal Mail’s pension funds. What he did not say was that he could claim that borrowing was falling this year only because he had banked the sale of the 4G auction, which will bring in a very handy £3.5 billion—and, furthermore, will have to bring it in before the end of March if it is to score properly. That is the only reason why he could claim that, because the figures show that although borrowing has a downward profile, we are in fact borrowing £212 billion more than the Chancellor intended to borrow. We are borrowing much more, therefore.
The OBR report contains a number of findings that ought to worry those on the Treasury Bench as well as the rest of us. For example, over the next few years a very handy cumulative total of £73 billion will come in from the asset purchase facility—quantitative easing by the Bank of England. That money is not being created because of increased revenues or increased economic activity, however. It is basically a financial transaction that the OBR has said is okay to put in the books in this way, as opposed to scoring things differently which would have left a large hole in the economic figures.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a typically thoughtful speech. If he were the Chancellor, would he pursue the five-point plan the shadow Chancellor has proposed, given that it would cost £20 billion? Does he think there is the capacity to do that, and does he think it would be a sensible policy to pursue?
I will address that point later. It is an important point, and I do not believe we should just sit back and hope that growth returns. The shadow Chancellor and many others both inside and outside the House also do not believe that the Government’s approach is right.
We are heavily dependent on money that is coming in from a financial transaction. In addition, the OBR has now found that by 2016-17 our revenues will be £30 billion less than it forecast in March. That is a huge gap, which will have to be filled.
What should we do? Whenever the Opposition suggest that perhaps the Government could do a little more, the Government parties—the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats—always say, “That’s all about borrowing more.” This Government are borrowing £212 billion more than they said they would not because we are spending money on projects and so forth, but because of failure—because our revenues are down. That is why we have got this gap.
When we eventually have a recovery, this country will need infrastructure. Over many years, we spent a lot of money on transport and energy. That was the sort of spending the Government say should not have been made, but we now know it was desperately needed, and we need to invest more in infrastructure, as well as get debt and borrowing down. We must invest in education, too.
On energy, the Government’s policy is completely contradictory. We are getting different signals every day of the week. On transport, I say again that it is not good enough to have no airport policy until halfway through the next Parliament, when we will not be able to do anything as another election will be coming up. That is not the right signal to send to our country, let alone the outside world.
Investing more in infrastructure projects would be one way to get confidence back. Confidence was trashed two years ago. If anyone were running a business now, would they hire more people or open a new production facility? No, they would not, because it appears that the economy will be bumping along the ground for another five years or so. I again remind Members of what has happened to Japan. People say, “We would never be like that,” but Japan has had non-existent growth for 15 years.
Some commentators—at one time Ben Bernanke, and lately notably Paul Krugman—have talked about higher inflation targets for Japan, and also for the UK and other countries that are suffering a downturn. What is the right hon. Gentleman’s opinion on that? Does he, too, support higher inflation targets as a way of stimulating recovery?
There is a lot of debate about that issue. I do not have the time to address it in detail, but I have said—including in a programme that will be broadcast tonight—that I think the Bank of England needs to examine its role, because for a long time we have said its job is purely to target inflation, yet central banks across the world are now also targeting growth, and perhaps we should consider whether we should formalise that role. Mark Carney was an excellent choice as the next Governor, and I hope he will think about that.
Talking about Governors, the current Governor, Sir Mervyn King, made an important point in New York last night when he talked about the G20, which had done so much at the height of the crisis in 2009, showing the determination that people expected in order to prevent the entire world economy from going over a precipice, and said that that spirit was now dead. He is absolutely right about that. It is important that we in this country, along with President Obama, now that he has been re-elected, look again at what we can do collectively as part of the global community to try to get the world economy not only to resolve some of the problems we face, but get growth going again.
That inevitably takes me on to Europe and the eurozone, because it is a tragedy that a legal structure and an economic structure that could do something about getting growth going again is simply failing to do so. Greece is not sorted out yet; another attempt was made a couple of weeks ago, but as far as I can see it leaves Greece with even more debt than it had. Until the Spanish banks are bailed out, they will simply hold back the whole of the eurozone, and the sooner Spain goes to get the bail-out it needs, the better it will be. Then we need to deal with the question of austerity. Austerity on its own does not work. Those who are interested may wish to know that there is an interesting article by Olli Rehn, the economic Commissioner, in today’s
, in which he just asserts that it is going to work, in the same way as this Government assert that austerity is going to work—frankly, I do not see it. We need to use our engagement in relation to the eurozone and to the European Union to try to persuade countries that unless they act together, in the same way as we did three or four years ago, although in a slightly different context, we and the eurozone countries are simply going to bump along on the bottom for years. If that is the case, the human cost is that we are condemning tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people in this country, and perhaps millions of people in the European Union, to unemployment and low standards of living. If we do that, future generations will never forgive us.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You have not been in the Chair for the whole of the afternoon, but I am pleased to see you there now.
Clearly, we have stated our positions at the beginning of this debate. The Labour Opposition have spoken eloquently about the need for growth and Government Members have commented on the mess in our public finances that we inherited in 2010. The gravity of the situation in 2010 should not be underestimated: our deficit to GDP ratio in 2010 was higher than it had ever been in peacetime conditions. That was a function of probably the worst management of public finances that this country ever had the misfortunate to live under.
I am very pleased to follow Mr Darling, who served at the tail end of that Administration as Chancellor of the Exchequer. To use a cricketing metaphor, he was very much like the night-watchman who is sent in when the team has collapsed to 70-8 and the light is pretty dim. He did well in trying to steady the ship, but we have to look at the damage that had been caused in the public finances before he took over his post and at what the Labour Administration did not only from 1997, but in particular from 2001 to 2007, during which time they ran a deficit in each consecutive year for seven or eight years before the crisis happened. No academic textbook and no economic school of thought thinks that it is a good idea to run a deficit when the economy is growing. In 2004, the economy was growing at 3%; it was going at full rate, jobs were being created and investment was taking place. What was the deficit then? It was 3%; even under the Maastricht criteria, the previous Government would have failed. No Keynesian in his right mind, and certainly not John Maynard Keynes himself, would have ever contemplated running a deficit of more than 3% when the economy was growing at 3%.
Absolutely. The former Prime Minister has said that on a number of occasions. I have been on record as saying that the first Labour Administration between 1997 and 2001 was, I freely admit, a very conservative fiscal Government. As the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West well knows, during those four years the budget was never in deficit. We ran two years of surpluses and the budget in the other years was balanced. It was only after 2001 that the disaster occurred, that the wheels spun off the car and we suffered under a profligate traditional Labour tax and spend regime. I use the phrase “tax and spend” very gingerly, because the taxation never covered the spending.
That was precisely the reason why the Government ran those deficits—to pay for their projects, to pay for greater spending. They were required to borrow money. I remember that in 2001 one of their favourite columnists, Polly Toynbee, said that Labour would have to tax more in order to spend the money. At least that was an honest position. She was suggesting that Labour should try and balance the budget at a higher level of spending. I and my colleagues might want to balance the budget at a lower rate of spending, but both Polly Toynbee and those on the Government Benches would accept is that it is a road to disaster to borrow yet more money in order to spend on grand projects or whatever utopia the Government want to build in this country. We now have the consequence of this recklessness—of Government Ministers at the time spending more and more money and running 3% deficits.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us for how many years since 2001 the UK has been able to pay its way?
I can answer the hon. Gentleman very directly. With reference to our public finances, we have been borrowing money every year—every single year. It is likely that even if we are able to eliminate the structural deficit by 2018, this country will have seen nearly 20 years of continual deficits. This is an appalling legacy that Labour has left the country. Since the end of the second world war, we have never run 20 years of continual deficits, which we will do as a consequence of Labour mismanagement and old-fashioned incompetence.
In his praise for the former Chancellor, has my hon. Friend noticed that the right hon. Gentleman said in his memoirs not only that the Labour Government overspent, but that they ran a parallel Treasury operation while he was Chancellor trying to sort it all out as a night-watchman, undermining his work while he was trying to stabilise the ship?
That is right. Many historians will be needed fully to plumb the depths of the goings-on of that Administration—the level of incompetence, the level of secrecy, the high spending, the culture of fear that prevailed in the Treasury for much of that time. It will need many people to investigate that.
It was always the function of the British Treasury, as my hon. Friend well knows, to have a very conservative approach to public finances. It was always the tradition that we in the British Treasury tried to match expenditure to income.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but I think his historical facts are a little distorted. There has been some sort of deficit in nearly every year that we have had a Conservative Government since the end of the second world war. If he looks at the period 10 years on from 1996-97, he will see that both the debt and the deficit were lower after 10 years of Labour government. What he is saying is simply not correct.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, but if he looks at the deficit and the direction of travel and what happened in the 1980s, he will see that the deficit came down, again after a period of Labour mismanagement, every single year from 1979 to 1989, and that the budget was balanced in 1989. It was only as a consequence of the recession that we went back into deficit, as a Keynesian economist would tell him.
Let us look at what has happened over the past three years. The Government came into office when the eurozone was in crisis and there was a massive run on Greek sovereign bonds. The Chancellor’s approach, quite rightly, was to make the deficit our No. 1 priority. That, in effect, calmed the markets. Opposition Members might scoff at the bond markets, but they are very powerful. It was particularly interesting to note that in the six weeks before the general election British gilts were actually rising in value and yields were falling, because the markets rightly believed that Labour would be turfed out of office. In anticipation of that happy event, and before the quantitative easing, people started buying British gilts.
The Chancellor’s approach to dealing with the deficit is exactly the right one, because it followed the insight that we have to deal with spending. All countries in the western world have to do that. That is what the fiscal cliff debate in America is about, because it understands that spending has to be on the table; the issue is the degree to which revenue should be on the table. It has a mature approach to public spending. It is only the Labour party that lives in this Shangri-La world in which we can carry on spending and borrowing money with abandon and making the crisis even worse.
I think this is the most extraordinary rewriting of economic history I have ever heard in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman has not once mentioned the banks and the financial crash. Does he not realise that the public sector deficit in 2007, just before the crash, was about 3%? It only rose—
Order. The hon. Gentleman will have no time to answer you, Mr Meacher, and I am sure that you want an answer.
I am pleased to be able to make a short contribution and, hopefully, offer a Scottish perspective on the argument. It will come as no surprise to most in the Chamber that the Scottish National party does not support the general economic policy of the coalition Government, who have now announced that austerity will continue until at least 2018, and possibly well beyond. On Sunday, the ever-cheerful Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was warning of a triple-dip recession.
Whatever Labour might be saying now, we also remember that prior to the 2010 general election the then Chancellor, Mr Darling, said that the Labour Government, if re-elected, would impose cuts that would be deeper and tougher than those imposed by the Conservative Administration led by Mrs Thatcher. With that in mind, would the economic situation we find ourselves in be any different had Labour retained power? Somehow I doubt it, despite their sound and fury today.
We take a much more different tack on how to tackle the situation. History shows us that ever-deeper austerity will not lead us out of the current mess. We need to invest for the future and ensure that there is capital investment to create work for firms and for individuals and to put money back into local economies. The First Minister of Scotland was the first to advocate such a policy when the financial crisis hit us, and the Scottish Government have pursued that policy within the bounds of their powers under the devolution settlement.
Indeed, since 2008 the Scottish Government have written to the UK Government at least eight times to call for more capital investment, and there have been four joint calls for that with the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland. In November 2008, the First Minister announced that £100 million would be brought forward to invest in tackling the housing crisis, which had been caused by years of under-investment by previous Administrations. The Scottish Government have pursued that enlightened policy despite the fact that the capital budget available to them has been cut by 33% over the last few years.
The one piece of good news in the autumn statement was the Chancellor’s partial conversion to investment, as shown by the news of new capital investment. Scotland will receive around £330 million of that to allow the Scottish Government to proceed with some of the projects that are ready to go. It is not sufficient, but it is a start and I welcomed it when it was announced. However, had the Chancellor taken those steps earlier, we might have been able to avoid the double-dip recession that the UK has suffered.
The Scottish Government have been doing everything in their power to kick-start the Scottish economy. In February, they announced a capital spending package of £380 million until 2015 focused on housing, health, digital and maintenance programmes.
The Scottish Government have been putting more and more money into capital investment. [ Interruption. ] It has not been decreasing. They have been putting money into capital investments that matter, despite the overall budget from Westminster having been cut.
The Scottish Government have been taking the action that the former Chancellor, Mr Darling, called for earlier. In June, they announced a £105 million package of investment for so-called shovel-ready projects. Conventional capital investment has been boosted by a £2.5 billion pipeline of infrastructure projects that is being delivered through the non-profit distributing model. The Scottish Government recognised long before the current Chancellor did that the model of private participation in infrastructure was fundamentally flawed, although Labour does not seem to have cottoned on to that yet. A total of £700 million has been switched from the resource to the capital budget to support capital investment. The Scottish Government are supporting a range of innovative finance initiatives such as the National Housing Trust.
It appears from what he said this afternoon that even the former Chancellor has changed his original views and now supports the increase in capital expenditure on infrastructure, although that has not prevented his Labour colleagues in Scotland from continually attacking it; such is the way of politics, I suppose. Indeed, their leader has announced a cuts commission—an initiative whose only backers appear to be their friends in the Better Together campaign, the Conservatives.
Has my hon. Friend noticed, as I have, that the main cheerleaders for Labour in Scotland’s cuts are the Tories in Wales, who welcome them on board with the same ideological baggage?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Conservatives in Scotland have also supported the cuts commission, so it appears that they are all cutters together rather than better together.
The SNP Government in Scotland have been very active in ensuring that we rebalance our economy with investment in new green initiatives. The Government down here often talk about that, but we have seen little evidence of it. Indeed, the proposals in the Energy Bill give cause for concern about the way in which this Government look at green investment and whether there is to be investment in new green energy or whether the Treasury is winning the battle and we are going down a different route.
This is important to Scotland because the renewables industries now support more than 11,000 jobs in Scotland, and that figure is growing. There have been significant investments in green energy. Gamesa choose Leith for its new UK offshore wind manufacturing plant, which will create up to 800 jobs. Burcote Wind has announced plans for a £l billion investment creating up to 600 new jobs. Global Energy Group has announced that Nigg skills academy will deliver training for up to 3,000 people over three years. Scottish Power has announced the creation of 300 skilled jobs as part of a £5 billion investment in Scotland’s grid, and it is also investing £6.5 million in grass-roots skills development.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about all this fantastic new investment which is happening in Scotland within the United Kingdom. Would that still be the case if Scotland were an independent country? What would corporation tax be in an independent country—20%, 15%, or the current level?
The hon. Gentleman cannot tell me what corporation tax will be here next year, never mind what it will be in Scotland in a few years’ time. This investment is taking place. He and his party keep saying that the referendum is causing uncertainty, but all this investment is coming in now. People are investing in Scotland despite the scaremongering from the Labour party. I ask him to consider this: the real barrier to investment in the UK is not uncertainty about a referendum in Scotland but uncertainty about the referendum on Europe that Government Members and increasingly people in his party are pushing for.
No, I have already given way enough.
There is uncertainty in politics and uncertainty on Europe, but in Scotland we are pressing ahead. Despite all the scaremongering from Better Together, investment is still going on. Most recently, Areva announced a substantial investment in wind. Beyond renewables, Diageo has made significant investments in the whisky industry. A great deal of investment is going on. They are coming to Scotland because it is a good place to do business and because it has a Government who are pushing forward and taking the steps necessary to create an environment to build up an economy that makes sure that there is work, that puts money into local firms and local economies and that puts people back in work. Those are the important things that people care about and that is what the Scottish Government are doing—that is why they are so successful—rather than following the austerity model, which seems to be the only thing that this House can talk about.
That has all been done with the limited powers of devolution and without the key economic levers of power that would allow the Scottish Government to do even more. That will change when Scotland votes for independence in 2014 and we will unlock the real opportunities to build a better Scotland, rather than be locked into the austerity agenda of the UK parties.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate, not least because I was otherwise due to serve on a Public Bill Committee. I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I will restrict my remarks to how I see the autumn statement benefiting and assisting the economy in my own region. Many businesses across the west midlands are set to benefit from the plans laid out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week. The 368,000 small businesses in the region, including many in my own black country constituency, will benefit from the business bank, which brings together existing Government finance plans and uses £1 billion to stimulate the market for long-term capital. The decision to increase the annual investment allowance limit from £25,000 to £250,000 for two years, in addition to an extra £25 million per year for UK Trade and Investment’s assistance and guidance on exports, will be of great help to an area such as mine, which is crammed with small and medium-sized engineering and manufacturing firms. In addition, the scrapping of the 3p rise in fuel duty, which means that fuel prices will be 10p lower than they would have been under the plans of the Labour party, will help ease the strain of transport costs for small and medium-sized enterprises.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has demonstrated once again that Britain is open for business. The reduction in corporation tax to 21% from April 2014 means that the UK will have the lowest corporation tax in the G7. It is worth noting that the total amount raised in corporation tax for the year 2011-12 was £43.4 billion—20% higher than it was for Labour’s last year in office. Lower corporation tax is working. It is resulting in the higher yields that the Treasury needs, while also contributing to increased private sector investment and employment.
Prior to the autumn statement, the black country chamber of commerce, which has many members in my constituency, called for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to support a pro-business environment. In response to the measures announced by my right hon. Friend, the chamber’s president, Paul Bennett, welcomed his actions to get British business growing:
“The Chancellor’s Statement was encouraging for businesses and many of our members concerns seem to have been addressed”.
Meanwhile, Mark Hastings, the director general of the Institute for Family Business, described several of the measures as “encouraging”. This qualified support reflects the attitudes of many of the business people whom I have spoken to recently in my own constituency—they recognise that this Government are on their side—and of those in the family business sector, in which I am involved as the founder and chairman of the all-party group on family business.
It is pleasing to see the Chancellor building on this Government’s support for British businesses. Last year, we saw an increase of 250,000 in the number of private businesses, which included 226,000 new small businesses, a good proportion of which were in the west midlands. It is obvious, but still worth pointing out, that every successful large employer in the private sector started off as a small start-up. Even JCB, which was started by the inspirational J.C. Bamford and which I have had the privilege of visiting in Rocester, was once a small enterprise in a small shed. I refer the House to my declaration in the register relating to the last election.
This Government are cutting red tape and making it easier for budding entrepreneurs in this country to set up their own businesses, and that is clearly being borne out by the figures. All of that is in marked contrast to the previous Labour Administration, who introduced the equivalent of six new regulations for every single working day they were in power. It is estimated by the British Chambers of Commerce that those new regulations have cost British businesses almost £77 billion since 1998.
Last week, the Chancellor announced further support for local enterprise partnerships, which the Government created. That is the right approach because it promotes local growth by ensuring that Government spending is aligned with the priorities of local business communities. We have an excellent LEP in the black country, which is ably chaired by the no-nonsense Stewart Towe of Hadley Industries. I am confident that the Government’s approach will help to create the conditions that will enable the private sector to get on with creating more jobs in the black country.
The Government are continuing to demonstrate that they are not afraid to take tough decisions in the face of tough economic times. A clear message is being sent out that Britain is open for business and that Britain has a pro-business Government.
Before I call the new Member for Rotherham, I remind everybody that this is a maiden speech.
My first job was in Rotherham and for the past four years I have been proud to manage Bluebell Wood children’s hospice, also in Rotherham. In that role, I have had the pleasure of supporting many local families. However, Bluebell, like all hospices, is a charity and, like everyone else, we are victims of the economic downturn. I am grateful that there is currently a national review of all palliative care funding as it seems deeply unfair that children’s hospices get no statutory support.
We are facing big challenges to protect the NHS in Rotherham. I am appalled that 750 jobs in our local hospital are under threat, under a Government who promised not to cut the NHS. The people of Rotherham can be assured that, as their MP, I will do everything possible to fight those cuts and to save the vital services on which so many people rely.
My immediate predecessor, Denis MacShane, was a distinguished Member of this House for 18 years. He achieved much good work for Rotherham by championing the steel works and trade unions, raising money for local medical charities and being vocal in his fight against racism. However, he also made a mistake, for which he has paid dear. I will build on all the good work that he has done for the people of Rotherham.
Having read the maiden speeches of previous MPs for Rotherham, I note with regret that a generation ago, in 1976, Stan Crowther’s principal concern was the growing unemployment in Rotherham and especially the plight of young jobless people. I am deeply saddened that, 36 years later, youth unemployment is still a major concern for the town. Across our nation, there are almost a million young jobless people. In Rotherham, a staggering one in five young people are out of work. We must all be worried about the danger of creating a workless generation—a generation without hope.
Rotherham people have never been afraid of hard work. Until the 1980s, tens of thousands of Rotherham men worked long hours in the town’s steelworks and coal mines. The pits have all but gone, and another round of redundancies at the steelworks was announced a few weeks ago. So what options are there for young people when they leave school? The vast majority cannot go to university any more as they cannot afford tuition fees. Last week, the Prime Minister talked about the “bank of mum and dad”. That is not an option for most young people in Rotherham. With education maintenance allowance scrapped and tuition fees trebled under this Government, and with five people applying for every job in Rotherham, what future are we offering our young people?
I recently visited Rotherham college of arts and technology: meeting the apprentices and staff was so inspiring. This has to be the way forward. I will do all I can to secure placements, training opportunities and apprenticeships for Rotherham. With Tata Steel and Rolls-Royce planning to make big investments in the area, we do have opportunities and our young people need to be ready to take them.
The people of Rotherham are proud of their town, but they cannot understand why none of the good things are ever shared. Let me redress that. Seven out of 10 top Formula 1 racing cars are constructed of Rotherham steel. Every five seconds, somewhere in the world, an aircraft takes off or lands that is reliant on gear made from Rotherham steel. In recent years, Rotherham has embraced growing industries in advanced manufacturing, finance and IT services. Rotherham Ready, which was launched in 2005, is internationally acclaimed for its approach to integrating enterprise into learning for all children aged four to 19.
This year, 18 new independent businesses opened in Rotherham town centre, as well as two national retailers. The recent £7.5 million Clifton Park restoration is a benchmark of excellence. Rotherham Show is the largest free show in the north of England and welcomed 80,000 visitors during its two days in September. Rotherham United’s stunning new home, the New York stadium, opened its doors to a sell-out crowd this year. Rotherham is the only place in the country affiliated to the Athena international programme, the main aim of which is to secure balance in leadership worldwide. As the first ever woman to be elected as MP for Rotherham, I am particularly pleased with that affiliation and I will work to support more young women to reach their full potential.
I spent the past few weeks knocking on doors and talking to well over 1,000 Rotherham residents. As a vox pop goes, I think that is a pretty good sample, so let me be their voice. Regardless of their politics, and without exception, everyone was polite and welcoming and they were passionate about Rotherham. Rotherham people work hard, but the message they asked me to give is that no matter how hard they work they are being hurt by an economy that is flatlining and a Government who are helping the wrong people. Those in the lowest-paid jobs who are trying to do the right thing are seeing their working tax credits cut, yet at the same time millionaires are handed a tax bonus. All in it together? That kind of spin does not work with the people of Rotherham. Rotherham people want work—they are strivers, not skivers—and they need just a little support so that they can put food on the table and do the best for their children. The answer is to get people back to work by real action to kick-start the failing economy, not to cut benefits that people depend on to survive.
Rotherham voters are also worried about the impact and change that new immigrants might bring to their community. I know they are neither racist nor bigoted in raising those genuine concerns, but when opportunities are few and times are tough we must understand that people get more protective of what they have. We need a different approach; we need a grown-up debate to address people’s concerns and put sensible policies in place while recognising the richness that immigrant communities bring to the UK. We need a better-funded UK Border Agency with stronger controls to combat illegal immigration, but we also need help for those who come to my surgeries and are being forced to wait too long for legitimate immigration issues to be resolved.
Many of those proud to call Rotherham home are of Kashmiri descent and their relatives came to Rotherham to work in the steel industry or mines in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their contribution helped to make Rotherham the town it is today, which is why I will stand firmly with them in support of Kashmir’s right to self-determination. I am also proud that peace and security in the middle east remains one of Labour’s most important foreign policy objectives, and as a new MP I will continue to work for the day when we see the creation of a viable Palestinian state that can live in peace alongside Israel. Sadly, during the by-election a number of candidates tried to bring race and immigration into the debate in a divisive manner. I am proud that the people of Rotherham politely sent them packing with a clear message: “We are one Rotherham.”
I believe in Labour’s one nation values of equality and fairness for all, and I thank the people of Rotherham for electing me as their representative to Parliament because they also believe in equality and fairness. During the by-election I met Barbara, an 84-year-old great grandmother, proud to be Rotherham born and bred. She is typical of all that is best in Rotherham and I want to serve people such as her.
It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Champion, who, as she said, is the first hon. Lady to represent that constituency. We all remember our maiden speeches for a long time—if we are honest, probably longer than anyone else remembers them—and we learned a great deal about Rotherham from the vivid and balanced picture that she painted of the challenges facing her constituency as well as some of the good things that have happened in recent years. Perhaps I can extrapolate that picture wider into today’s debate on the state of the economy. As we know, the economy still faces deep-seated challenges, but none the less good things are happening at the same time.
The economy fell into a very deep hole in the last couple of the years of the previous Government—it contracted by more than 6%. We must be honest that it is taking longer than any of us would have wanted to repair and recover from that deep economic damage, but, none the less, good things are happening. Some 1.2 million private sector jobs have been created since the first quarter of 2010. Unemployment has consistently fallen this year, and employment is at a new high. The rate of unemployment in the UK is marginally lower than the rate in the US—7.8% versus 7.9%—and considerably lower than the rate in the eurozone, which is 11.7%.
My hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng—my coalition colleague, who is no longer in the Chamber—spoke at length about the public finances and the state of Government borrowing. The OBR has said that borrowing will fall by £1.5 billion from fiscal years 2011-12 to 2012-13. Borrowing has fallen throughout this Parliament, and the deficit, as a proportion of our economy, has been reduced by a quarter in the first two years of the coalition Government. Reducing that deficit fully to the point at which we have balanced the nation’s books is taking longer than we would like, but the trajectory is clear.
We still have a higher rate of borrowing than most of our fellow EU member states, yet the Government can borrow at a lower rate than them. The UK Government can currently borrow on the international markets at a rate of 1.8%. Germany, practically the only nation that can borrow at a lower rate, borrows at 1.3%—France borrows at more than 2%, Spain at 5.24%, and Greece at an eye-watering 15.2%. The UK Government, despite having one of the largest deficits in the developed world, can borrow at those low rates because of international confidence that the country and our public finances are coming back on track.
However, hon. Members want more confidence at home. We want more confidence among our constituents, whether they are in Rotherham or Bristol West, that the Government are on their side and are doing what they can for them in these difficult times. Constituents want confidence that the Government are holding down the cost of living and giving them more money in their pockets.
For those reasons, I welcome the fact that the Government have again held down the cost of fuel by cancelling the 3p per litre rise in fuel prices that was due to take place on
The Government have frozen council tax and capped the increase in rail fares, but the biggest difference this Government have made is putting more money into people’s pockets by raising the income tax threshold—it will not surprise the House to hear me say that yet again. When the Government came to office, the income tax threshold was just under £6,500. As a result of the announcements in the autumn statement last week, the amount of tax-free pay that individuals can receive will increase to £9,440. That is an increase of £3,000 over the first three years of the coalition Government.
We will have taken 2.2 million people out of income tax altogether. Come next April, when our constituents look at their payslips, they will see that they have received an income tax cut of £600 since the Government came to office. That disproportionately helps people who work part-time, particularly women who work part-time, and will also help young people. Young people on the minimum wage, even at a full-time rate, will be raised out of income tax completely—they will no longer pay any income tax—while the income tax bill for an adult on the minimum wage will be halved from £1,020 when we came to office to £520 now. That makes a significant difference to people on low earnings.
Liberal Democrats also want fair taxes on the wealthy. The coalition Government have increased capital gains tax and stamp duty on expensive properties—[Hon. Members: “What about the mansion tax?”] I am coming to that. We have hauled more people into higher rate tax and clawed back pension tax relief—a person could put £250,000 into their pension under Labour, but that figure will be £40,000 under the coalition. The Liberal Democrats wanted a mansion tax, but we agreed not to proceed with it, in return for our Conservative coalition partners not pushing for punitive measures restricting benefits. That means that the loopy idea—in my opinion—of restricting housing benefit for under-25s is not Government policy.
We also need to do more, and the Government are doing more, to tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion. The Treasury has an affluence unit. We have a new treaty with Switzerland and we are tackling corporate tax avoidance—I am sure that Starbucks, Amazon and others will be shamed into doing the right thing. The Government are balancing the nation’s books, building a sustainable economy, restructuring the banks and introducing fair taxation. We have made much progress. We know the road is difficult, but now is not the time to be blown off course.
I am honoured to stand in this Chamber as the Member of Parliament for Croydon North. During the recent by-election, I spoke to thousands of people across the constituency, and one of the things that most struck me in every part of the community was the great warmth and affection for my predecessor, Malcolm Wicks, and the profound sadness that people felt at his passing just a few short weeks ago.
Malcolm was a man of great integrity, a genuinely decent human being, and a man with a sincere and lifelong commitment to social justice. He made a difference, improving support for carers, for children and for older people. In Malcolm, the people of Croydon North had a true champion and a good friend. As many in the Chamber will know, Malcolm had a great sense of fun—he did not take himself too seriously—and that much was clear to the office staff who walked into his office one afternoon to find him bouncing around the room playing air guitar with his good friend Keith Hill, the former Member of Parliament for Streatham. I know that Members on both sides of the House miss Malcolm very much.
Until my election as a Member of Parliament, I had the pleasure and privilege of leading Lambeth council. I am proud of the work I did there, alongside many talented colleagues, to turn around a once failing council. Lambeth children’s services were in the bottom 3% nationally when I was elected leader, but were rated by Ofsted as the best in the country when I left. I hope that that experience of transforming public services will be of value to the House and the people of Croydon North.
At Lambeth, I pioneered the concept of co-operative councils and co-operative public services. I believe that public services work better when they do things with people rather than to people, and that means finding new ways to give people and communities more control over what happens to them. It means giving people the power they need to make the changes they want. We can see the benefit of that in tenant-managed housing estates that become better places to live, in community-led youth services that give young people a better chance in life, and in care services for older and disabled people where the service user has the power and support to choose what they want, rather than be told what they will get.
I pay tribute to the growing number of councils and dozens of other organisations nationally that are pioneering more co-operative ways of running public services so that they are more directly responsive and accountable to the people who use them. This is the future of public services, and I hope to continue championing it here with my colleagues.
I would like to pay tribute to the constituency I represent. Croydon North is one of the most diverse and vibrant places in the country. People have come to live there from across the world. The area’s greatest strength is its diversity. Anyone who walks along the London road, which runs through the constituency, will find restaurants, businesses, faces and languages from every corner of the globe. In an age of globalised trade and communication, that diversity is a resource to be harnessed for the good of everyone. I was heartened by the fact that during the by-election those who sought to divide the community were rejected. People in Croydon North understand that we best confront the challenges we face when we stand together in solidarity.
Croydon North faces real challenges. It is a relatively poor area, and people living there feel let down because the slow decline of the area over recent years has not been addressed. Unemployment is too high, the streets are not clean enough, and people worry that police are being taken off the streets when crimes such as robbery are on the rise. There is real concern that the help and investment promised after last year’s riots have not come through. Croydon was one of the areas worst hit by the riots, and Croydon North bore the brunt of the mindless hooliganism, looting, burning and destruction that so appalled the nation in the summer of last year.
The Rozario family lost their home in a fire, but they have not received any compensation because of a lack of support from the public authorities. The Hassan family saw their business—the sole source of their livelihood
—burnt down, but they have been left struggling and in debt, instead of being helped to get back on their feet. Charlene Munro and her four-year-old son fled their home when they saw hundreds of rioters approaching; they returned the next day to find it destroyed. Instead of getting the help they needed, they feel abandoned. These are hard-working people—the backbone of their community, strivers. I want to make a plea on their behalf and on behalf of so many others like them that the promises made to Croydon North after the riots be met in full. The people who live and work there deserve nothing less.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to conclude by thanking you, Members on all sides and the staff of the House for the very warm welcome I have received here. I hope during my term of office to represent the people of Croydon North to the best of my ability. If, when I finally leave this place, I have earned even a fraction of the respect and warmth that people felt for my predecessor, Malcolm Wicks, I will have done well.
I congratulate Steve Reed on a powerful maiden speech—I cast my mind back to the nerves I felt during my first speech—which he delivered in an exceptionally articulate way. It is clear that his local government experience—championing the future of public service, along with understanding and delivering much needed improvements—will be a great asset to this House. I also congratulate Sarah Champion, whose exceptional experience in children’s services will be a vital asset to us all in Parliament.
Let me turn to a few key messages in the autumn Budget that I picked up on, having spoken to a number of my constituents. On fuel duty, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Robert Halfon, who has championed the campaign with huge support across the country and among MPs. It was absolutely essential that we froze fuel duty, because it is the most tangible tax there is. We all pay all sorts of taxes, and although people will have a rough idea how much council tax, income tax or national insurance they pay—they will not know exactly—everybody knows exactly what it costs to fill up the car. That impacts on consumer confidence, which is something we desperately need to protect in this country, so this move by the Government was welcome.
I also welcome the further move on the income tax threshold. It is a principle of ours to ensure that work pays, and what better way to incentivise people than to leave more money in their pockets? By the end of the Parliament, those on the minimum wage will be paying half what they were paying in income tax when we came to power. That stands in stark contrast to the 3.9 million workless households we saw under the former Government. Some 24.4 million people will benefit from the changes we have made to the income tax threshold by an average of £247 per person, but I would like to see a further change. Whenever any changes are made to pay-as-you-earn—whether by this Government or future Governments —they should be shown on employees’ payslips. We get excited in these debates about such changes, but more often than not they fly past the public. If we are going to get the public to take ownership of the tax system, those changes should be displayed clearly. I welcome the move to introduce an annual tax statement. I was one of the 10 MPs who supported the private Member’s Bill on that subject. Any notification of changes to PAYE on people’s payslips would make a big difference.
I am also delighted to see further measures to support business. Before I became an MP, I was a small business owner in Swindon. We now have 4.2 million self-employed people in this country, which is a record number. That shows that we are truly open for business. The cut in corporation tax takes it down to the lowest rate in the G7, and the extension of the small business rate will make a huge difference to small traders. I would also urge the Government to continue to look at the principle of the rates system, because to a certain extent the golden goose has been killed. High street businesses in particular are facing further threats from internet companies, which benefit from not having high street rate bills to pay. That is something that we must take into account.
The £250,000 annual investment allowance will also make a huge difference. I know that my hon. Friend Chris Kelly has championed that cause for a long time. The need for this measure reflects the fact that businesses are nervous. For the first time in history, businesses are holding more money in their current accounts than they are borrowing. That is partly because of the perception that they will be unable to borrow money, and they want to stay in control. I hope that the increase in the annual investment allowance will open up the coffers, and that the effects of that will filter through to the election.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that important suggestion, which I endorse. We would all welcome such measures being taken whenever possible, given the financial constraints that we inherited.
I also welcome the extra investment in UK Trade & Investment in relation to exports. The Office for Budget Responsibility has recognised the challenges involved in exporting to the eurozone. Honda, the biggest employer in my constituency, has faced challenges in exporting cars to a declining market, although the UK market has experienced an 8.6% increase. We have seen our exports to emerging markets double, however, and the investment through UKTI will make a big difference. I have attended lots of events with the Government and with banks to encourage businesses to consider exporting to those markets, and that extra help to remove barriers will make a big difference.
I want to make a plea for a greater push promoting young entrepreneurs. The Government have launched the £2,500 start-up loans. I have been working with Young Enterprise, Virgin Media Pioneers and the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs. Even the Scouts have a young entrepreneur’s badge now, and my wife and I had a very enjoyable evening helping to judge that. They even offered us free cake and cups of tea to try to influence our decision. I was the only one of the 350 students studying business at my university who went on to run their own business.
I believe that that university education taught any entrepreneurial flair and risk-taking out of us. We need to encourage more young people who have boundless energy and enthusiasm, and enough cheek to question the accepted ways, to find new niche markets.
I have been working with New college and Swindon college in my constituency to try to set up further opportunities for young people. This will involve not only the traditional young enterprise scheme set up in the main foyer in which the students sell to their friends but the opportunity to set up a pitch in the local market. They will have a wooden table and do three days’ trading. If they are not set up by 9 o’clock in the morning, they will lose that day’s trading. Those who are successful will then be offered cheaper pitches in the summer holidays, after they have finished college, and we hope that they will be the next generation of entrepreneurs. Many famous business people, including Lord Sugar, Richard Branson and the founders of Marks & Spencer and the Superdry clothing brand, started on a market stall. If we can get those young people to take that risk, we can create the next wave of jobs, and I encourage the Government to do what they can on that front.
On the banks, we all welcome the fact that we still have record low interest rates. That is due in no small part to the fact that the tough decisions we have taken have protected our triple A credit rating. That has made a huge difference to businesses that are borrowing money and to mortgage holders. However, we still need to do more to encourage access to finance from banks. Whenever I talk to banks, they tell me that they have money and that it is available to borrow. Whenever I talk to businesses, they say that there is no such money. There is clearly a perception problem.
The Government should help to provide information on the funding that is available, whether from the Government, from the banks that say they have money or from the national loans guarantee scheme. I am told time and again that everything possible is being done to communicate such information but that it is difficult to get hold of the businesses that need it. That is not the case, however, because once a year the Government send out a business rates mailer to every business. It might simply say that they do not have to pay anything because the small business rate relief has been extended, but the Government still have to write to them to tell them that. My suggestion is that we should include something in that mailer—we have already paid the postage, so the taxpayer will be no worse off—outlining what funding is available through the banks and through the Government, what opportunities there are to employ and offer opportunities for apprentices and about the business mentor scheme. Some 40,000 business mentors are there to help and I have seen them make a big difference when I met Mentorsme, an organisation that has helped a number of businesses in my constituency. Let us use the business rate mailer to spread the opportunities that are available. Those measures will make a big difference to us all.
I am greatly honoured and feel immensely humbled and privileged to be in this place, representing the town of my birth. The circumstances that have caused me to be here were of course most tragic and sudden and I wish to make some comment about my immediate predecessor Sir Stuart Bell, who sadly died on
Sir Stuart became MP for Middlesbrough in 1983 after beating a certain Tony Blair in the selection process and represented the Middlesbrough constituency for almost 30 years until 2012. Such a lengthy period of service is quite remarkable and he was duly knighted in 2004 for his services to Parliament, as well as being awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 2006 for his contribution to British-French relations. Seven successive general election victories is a record that speaks for itself.
Middlesbrough is still a comparatively young town, and in the early part of the 19th century was nothing more than four farmhouses with a population of some 25 souls. It was the discovery of ironstone in the Eston hills and the subsequent production of pig iron that saw Middlesbrough’s Klondike-like growth over a relatively few short years. Indeed, the first MP for Middlesbrough was Henry Bolckow. a German national until his naturalisation as a British subject in 1841. He is undoubtedly one of the founders of modern Middlesbrough.
In 1851, at the time Bolckow opened his blast furnaces on Teesside, the population was 8,000; by 1871 it had grown to 40,000. In 1853, the town received a charter of incorporation and Bolckow became its first mayor and the town’s first MP when it was granted the status of a parliamentary borough in 1868. I have been labouring under the misapprehension that I was the first locally born MP for Middlesbrough, but I discovered that Penry Williams beat me to it when he was first elected as a Liberal MP in 1910. However, I think I can lay claim to being the first Labour MP for Middlesbrough to have been born in the town.
I could not let this occasion pass without mentioning one of my most notable predecessors, namely Ellen Wilkinson, otherwise known as “Red Ellen”, who first won the Middlesbrough East seat in 1924. She was of course a leading light in the women’s suffrage movement and, having lost Middlesbrough East in 1931, went on to become the Labour MP for Jarrow, holding ministerial office as well as taking part in the famous Jarrow march. It was lovely during the course of the election to meet Bob Carter of Bellamy court in Pallister park, who is well into his 90s and was a runner for Ellen Wilkinson. He was vote-catching in that last election.
The town motto is “Erimus” which means “We shall be” and is a direct response to the motto of the Brus family who owned the site on which Middlesbrough is built. Their motto “Fuimus” means “We have been'” and the town motto was chosen to signify the town’s will to grow and become great from its foundation. It encapsulates the energy, ambition and aspiration of the people who came from all over the British isles and beyond to seek employment in the burgeoning industries of the mid and late 19th century.
Since those times people have continued to come from far and wide to work in our world-class industries of steel, bridge and shipbuilding, petro-chemicals and oil and gas, and now in our digital and renewable energy industries. By definition, glancing back over just a few generations, we in Middlesbrough can all trace our forebears to other parts of these islands and much further afield—right across the globe. In short, we all came from somewhere else.
Our magnificent Teesside university, which in very recent times was awarded the title of university of the year, continues to draw students from all over the world and contributes in no small measure to the development of new industries, especially in the area of digital technologies. That all adds to our diversity and the rich cultural mix of our town, and it is a joy for me to be at the service of all the people of Middlesbrough of whatever background, or whatever faith, or of none, in full recognition of the common values at large in our community as we work towards our shared values of social justice, understanding, peace and tolerance.
We have a real sense of community in Middlesbrough, and we have a lot to be proud of, including our wonderful James Cook University hospital and our schools, the majority of which have either been rebuilt or refurbished over the last 10 years or so. We also have MIMA—the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art—and, of course, the magnificent, trophy-winning Middlesbrough football club. Undoubtedly, however, we face very challenging economic times. Our rates of unemployment are unenviably high, which is why I will conclude my speech with a plea.
Although the entire House will undoubtedly agree with me that it is never acceptable for an individual to reject the genuine opportunity of work, it seems to be increasingly part of the accepted orthodoxy that those who suffer the indignity of unemployment do so as a result of the lifestyle choice that they make. That is a gross and offensive misrepresentation.
In a town where more than 10 people currently chase each and every job that comes along, it is a most cruel slight and insult to say, as some assert with unremitting regularity, that all such people are somehow by definition scroungers. To all those who would say such things, I make this plea: if they are fortunate enough to be in employment or to have other means and if they can heat their homes and support their families, they should tread carefully on the sensitivities of those who cannot make such boasts. Such attacks on the powerless and impoverished serve only to reaffirm their sense of alienation and desperation, which in turn fractures our society and offends against the finest of British traditions that in times of hardship, we protect, support and care for one another.
It is my belief that the overwhelming majority of the British people expect us in this House to speak up for working families that are having their budgets squeezed and for young people who are struggling to find their first job. In recent weeks, I have talked to thousands of people in Middlesbrough, so I know that people are anxious and scared for the future of their families. To make matters worse, there is a sense that some politicians are determined to set community against community and neighbour against neighbour. It is my fervent belief that we must strenuously resist the temptation of such politically expedient arguments, and as an alternative we should engender a real sense of one nation so that we can rebuild our country and restore fairness so that everyone has a stake and not just a privileged few.
I listened to the autumn statement with a lot of interest because I, a simple mere Back Bencher, was able to put forward a proposal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, suggesting that industry would blossom and grow if we included in the autumn statement something to help with capital allowances. I was delighted to see that such a measure was included in it. Industry needs confidence to grow and it needs confidence to start to invest. I believe that this major part of the autumn statement has not much been picked up around the country. Companies in Burnley, to which I spoke prior to the autumn statement, assured me that such a measure would help them to invest in brand-new plant and equipment, so I shall follow up to see if they have delivered on that.
Some plant and equipment could be made mainly in the UK, but some of it will come from abroad. The main point, however, is that the companies investing in this plant and equipment will need more people to work on the new pieces of kit. They will also become more efficient and deliver more profits—and hence provide more tax. That will obviously help the country along.
Another interesting feature of the autumn statement that was not published anywhere else was the increase from 100% to 120% in the Government Actuary’s Department rate for self-invested personal pensions. We have tied pensions to the triple lock, so that the vast majority of old age pensioners will receive an increase that is way above the inflation rate. However, this is a major step that will benefit those who have made their own arrangements through various SIPP and self-administered pension schemes. They will now be able to spend more of what they have invested in pension funds, rather than the Government’s holding it back, and that will create growth because they will start to enjoy spending money that they have saved over many years.
The main thing that we must do is invest in manufacturing. I used to be in manufacturing myself: I worked in the aerospace industry. Over the next 20 years, the airlines of the world will spend some $7 trillion on new aeroplanes and helicopters, and, as the second-biggest manufacturer in aerospace equipment, we must get involved. That will mean a growth of 5% in the industry every year, so over 20 years we will have to double our capacity to produce aerospace components. Well over 100,000 people already work directly in the industry, and the supply chain employs even more. The country must get involved, and in order to do that we must expand.
Another aspect of the autumn statement that was not picked up by any of the newspapers was the £100 million that the Chancellor has put into the aerospace supply chain. In Lancashire, the North West Aerospace Alliance has bid for a national aerospace supply chain centre to be built somewhere in the north-west. I hope that it is built in Burnley, but as long as it is built somewhere in the north-west, I shall be delighted. I am sure that you would love to see it built in Chorley, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I suspect that it will go to BAE’s new industrial park in Samlesbury.
We need a massive investment in the aerospace industry, but one of the big problems with the doubling of the industry over the next 20 years is the provision of staff with the necessary skills. Over the last 30 years, various Governments ignored apprenticeships—and the last Government were just as bad as their predecessors. I am glad that the coalition Government are investing in apprenticeships, but the wreckage of 20 or 30 years cannot be turned around in two years. Apprentices need to be given more time in which to learn the job, and I am delighted that that is happening.
The last Government wanted 50%, of students, or even more, to go to university and study subjects which, in the main, were no longer applicable. What we want is for young people either to go into apprenticeships or jobs or to go to university to study the subjects of the future rather than the past: subjects such as high-tech manufacturing, including high-tech food manufacturing.
When I visited the British Aerospace apprentice school in Warton, I met the apprentice of the year, a young lady who had been on BAE’s apprentice scheme. She had been told by her college not to be an engineer but to go to university and study something else, because she was far too clever to be an engineer. It refused even to advise her on what an engineer was.
I have been at a meeting of the all-party parliamentary apprenticeships group in the last couple of hours. About 30 apprentices were present. One of them, a woman who is now at Vauxhall, said that her school had spent all its time trying to persuade her to try to get into university rather than becoming an apprentice. It was clear from what she was saying that those at the school thought that it would be higher in the league table if people passed A-levels and went to university rather than entering what that woman said was a very fulfilling career. That seems to be the pattern in many schools today.
I am grateful for that intervention, and I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am the chairman of the all-party group on apprenticeships. Unfortunately, I have been sat here in the Chamber today waiting to speak, instead of being at that all-party group meeting, and I am sorry I missed hearing from those apprentices.
The hon. Gentleman may recall that two Airbus apprentices came to a previous meeting. Both of them had turned down the chance to go to Oxford university in order to be apprentices at Airbus. Both of them said, “We’ve come to Airbus, and it has taken us through its apprenticeship programme and paid for us to go to university.” Both of them were proud to say they had bought new cars and were happy to pick up their friends, who had gone to university and now had not got jobs, and to take them out on a Friday night.
We must encourage young people to go to university via companies such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is wrong for schools to advise young people to go to university just to ensure that their figures for pupils attending university go up. That is outrageous, and it needs to be looked at. I have argued that case for quite some time.
First, may I apologise for not having been in the Chamber for long?
I urge the hon. Gentleman to pick up on the issue of how schools deal with people who want to be apprentices. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has just undertaken a report on the subject, and that theme came up time and again. It is in all our interests to ensure that what has been described does not happen. We had too much elitism in the past, and we do not want it continuing in the future.
Once again, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is always a great moment when the right hon. Gentleman rises and speaks in this Chamber—even though he has only just turned up.
On a point of clarification, Mr Binley is not a right hon. Member. He has been in the Chamber a little longer than suggested, too.
I agree that the schools and colleges in this country must no longer downgrade apprenticeships, and must no longer say to students, “If you don’t pass, you’ll be an apprentice.” That is an outrageous statement for schools to make. It is time they woke up. I must say that it is also time that this Government’s Department for Education woke up to the fact that going to university is no longer the be-all and end-all, because there is far more to life than going to university.
I am a little upset that the Secretary of State for Education does not think a right lot about careers advice, because I believe that careers advice in schools is crucial. Young people need to be told about, and shown, what is available these days outside the school gates. The Secretary of State and his Department must realise that and advise schools that careers advice is crucial to young people’s futures. Perhaps even more importantly, it is crucial to the economy of this country, because if we do not train people for the jobs of the future, we will all go down the pan.5.3 pm
The autumn statement showed that this Government’s handling of the economy has been a profound failure. It shows what happens when a Government do not have any plan for jobs and growth. If they do not have a plan for jobs and growth, they come back after two and a half years and say, “Actually, we need another five years,” and if they still do not have a plan for jobs and growth, they will come back after another two and a half years and again say they need another five years, and so it will go on, because borrowing is up and debt is up and economic growth is down. The Government have wasted two and a half years. People simply do not buy it any more. The Business Secretary said that the Government’s credibility hinges on whether or not they eliminate the deficit. After the autumn statement it is clear that the credibility of this Government, supported by the Liberal Democrats, is in tatters.
I want to talk about the poor, because my poor constituents believe they are being punished for the failure of this Government and their reckless welfare reform. I also want to talk about the rich and how they are being let off the hook—again, that is because of the Government’s failure to make sure we collect all the tax we are owed. Why did the Government, when they first came into office, cut the number of tax inspectors by 7,000? The ambition was to cut the number of tax inspectors to an all-time low of 56,100. I remember that I wrote to the Chancellor in November 2010 saying that that would be counter-productive. When the Government are cutting the staff who prevent tax avoidance and evasion, how can my constituents believe that tackling it is a priority? Indeed, in answer to a parliamentary question, the Government admitted that every new tax inspector brings an additional £600,000 a year into the Exchequer.
The Economic Secretary shakes his head, but I am just quoting what was said in the Government’s answer to a parliamentary question. He is welcome to intervene if he wishes to correct me.
As the hon. Lady has invited me to make this point, I will do so. If someone looks at the number of people working for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in enforcement and compliance—not the other areas; there are a lot of processing jobs—they find that under the previous Government’s plans it fell by 9,000, whereas under this Government’s plans it will increase by 2,500.
The fact is that 7,000 jobs have gone under this Government’s plans, and the gap between what we collect and what we are owed is estimated to be £35 billion, which is twice the housing benefit bill. Independent research commissioned by the Public and Commercial Services Union reckoned that the real figure was more like £120 billion, which is six and a half times the housing benefit bill. Whatever the true sum, the fact is that without a sufficient number of tax inspectors we cannot ensure that the rules apply to everyone. Everyone should pay tax; it should not just be for the little people. Paying one’s taxes should not be some sort of charitable gesture, and I have little understanding as to why it was seen as appropriate for this Government to continue to cut back on tax inspectors. If we are to have rules, they need to be applied. The Exchequer Secretary says that there were many processing jobs, but presumably people in that job need to make sure that the sums add up, that everything has been claimed that should have been claimed and that everything has been paid that should have been paid. Without that essential processing we will never know whether or not tax avoidance has been taking place—this is not just about major companies; it happens throughout the system. At a time like this, we need to make sure that everyone plays by the rules. If everyone does that and if the rules apply to us all and we have a fair society, we have the very one nation that Labour Members have been talking about.
Of course, the rules also apply to those who claim benefits and of course if someone can work, they must work. That is what unites this whole House. What does not unite this House is the language used by Government
Front Benchers—the language of “scroungers”. Such language is simply offensive, as the highly eloquent maiden speech by my new hon. Friend Andy McDonald so well set out. Such language is a smokescreen that covers up a great deal of what this Government are actually doing. Although they talk about scroungers and those who stay in bed, keep the curtains closed and do not go out to work—the remarks are highly offensive—they do not address the issue, which is that many, many people who are out of work want to work, but the fact of the matter is that people cannot go from welfare into work if the work is not there.
Furthermore, many of the changes that this Government are making and announced in the autumn statement will affect those very people who work. I want to go on to address the issue of not just those who are poor and not working, but that of those who are working in my constituency and are dependent on benefits. Sometimes I feel as though I live in a different world where Government Members believe that only those who are out of work claim benefits. In fact, many people who work depend on benefits. Surely that is a conundrum. Many people meet me on the street and say, “How can the welfare benefit bill be going up if a million additional people have got work?” The truth is self-evident. Many people who are now working work part-time or are self-employed rely on housing benefit and tax credits, the very things that the Minister will be cutting as a result of the autumn statement. Let us use the terms that he uses, such as the strivers. Those very strivers are having their support system cut away by this Government. Even in the hon. Gentleman’s offensive terms, that cannot be justified.
I want to talk specifically about housing benefit because the issue affects my constituents particularly. I hear Government Members say, “Why should it be that people on average earnings receive less than people on benefits?” That has a certain ring to it and I know that the Conservatives are out of touch, but surely some of them must know someone who rents a flat and who understands that housing benefit goes not to the tenant, but to the landlord. It is because rents have gone up so much in London and the south-east that the housing benefit bill continues to rise. In the past two years, private rents in London have gone up by 25%, according to London Councils. In those circumstances, how can it be justified to attack housing benefit, to put an arbitrary cap on housing benefit, or to believe that housing benefit should be the same level in London as it is anywhere else in the country? How can that be fair?
It is not the fault of my poor constituents that their rent is high. It is the fault of my Government and of Conservative Governments who did not build enough housing. There was a time when Conservative and Labour Governments used to compete with each other as to how much affordable housing they could build. In the 1970s, four fifths of the housing budget was spent on building new homes and one fifth on housing benefit. Now it is completely turned on its head and we continue to pay the price of failure. We must build more housing and we must not simply dance on a pin, analysing what affordable housing means.
The Minister represents a party that defines affordable housing as costing 80% of market rent. He and his party should get some sort of George Orwellian prize for double-speak. Eighty per cent. of market rent in my constituency could not be afforded by ordinary people in my constituency. I went on to the Rightmove website this morning and looked at the prices of three-bedroom flats in my constituency. Does the hon. Gentleman know how much the rent for a bog-standard three-bedroom flat in my constituency would be? Four hundred pounds a week. How much is the housing benefit cap? Three hundred and forty pounds a week. There was only one flat on Rightmove that was under the amount of the cap so how can people in my constituency, who will be subjected to the housing benefit cap, afford to continue to live in Islington?
There is an argument that the poor should not be living in Islington, but I respectfully disagree. My constituency should be a mixed constituency and should have rich and poor. Generations of poor people who live in my constituency should be allowed to continue to live there. Furthermore, the housing benefit cap is one atrocious measure that this Government have introduced, but we wait for the next, which is universal credit. There will be a cap of £500 a week for a four-bedroom flat in my constituency. There were 69 that were under the £400 current housing benefit—
It is a pleasure to follow Emily Thornberry. I agree with her on one point: everyone should pay tax, but more of that later.
May I pay tribute to those who made their maiden speeches, and welcome them to this place? I remember mine all too clearly; it is a nerve-wracking moment for all of us.
In the eight minutes that I have, I do not want to look back or play the blame game with the Opposition, other than to remind the country of their profligate years, but enough said: we have to look to the future and how we get ourselves out of this mess. Let me go back over some basic principles which, it seems to me—maybe I am getting this horribly wrong—many in the House have forgotten. Baroness Thatcher, a lady for whom I have huge respect and admiration, was brought up, as the House knows, in a grocer’s store. Her economic principles, like most of her principles, were very simple and on the whole they were sound: “You spend what you earn. You borrow too much and you go broke. Eating into capital is the road to ruin.” She believed in a light-touch, low-tax Government.
We had the chance to be radical when we came to power, but regrettably, linked to the Lib Dems as we are, that was never going to be a reality. Taxes, both business and personal, remain at punitive levels. They curtail incentive, reinvestment, aspiration and jobs. Employers’ national insurance contributions are a classic example. I run a business, albeit a small one, and pay nearly 15% for each person I employ. That is madness, and it is certainly not based on Conservative or free-marketeer principles. My advice to those on the Government Front Bench is to scrap employers’ national insurance contributions if they want to see unemployment fall and businesses thrive.
The deficit is down, which I welcome, but borrowing is rising, as we have heard, and state expenditure remains unacceptably high, with savings in real terms at negligible levels. So we print more and more money—it is called quantitative easing—tons of it, in fact, and down the plug it has gone. But at some stage it will spill over into the bath and we will start to spend it. Inflation will rise and interest rates will inevitably have to rise to combat it. At that stage, we will see pain on an unprecedented level in this country.
In the meantime, we pile more and more taxes on the better-off, who already face punitive rates, while those at the bottom are taken out of tax altogether. Why? The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury said that everyone should pay their taxes fairly. If we take those on the lower end out of tax altogether, what incentive do they have to put away their rubbish or to contribute to their fire or police service?
The hon. Gentleman’s view of economics seems to miss the fact that when Governments invest, jobs are created, more money comes into the Treasury and less goes out by way of wasteful benefits. What has gone wrong in the last two and half years is that the Government have pulled the plug on investment, which now, rather belatedly, they are trying to put back in a small way. By the way, some people might not be paying income tax, but they are paying council tax towards the very services he has just mentioned.
Unfortunately, the Government have invested; the hon. Lady is absolutely right. Governments, particularly during Labour’s 13 years in office, invested to such an extent that we are now in the mess we currently find ourselves in. It is not for Governments to play economics; it is for business men and women, entrepreneurs, small businesses and retailers to generate our economy. I hear again and again from people on all sides that the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest load and that we are all in it together. We are not, and we never will be, and we fool ourselves and do a disservice to those struggling to make ends meet if we think otherwise. Let us not forget that the better-off, whether businesses or individuals, play a useful role in our economy. Except for a few notable occasions, they pay tax. They create jobs and buy goods, which generates jobs, and in many cases they take their wealth responsibly and give back in countless ways, so let us stop killing the golden goose.
The simple fact is that we must cut state expenditure. The EU is a classic case. Some £51 million a day goes to that unaccountable, Soviet-style bureaucracy, the same EU that mislays €5.2 billion every year, according to the European Court of Auditors. Yet they want more, and we give it to them. We boast about giving 0.7% of our GDP in overseas aid. Do not get me wrong: I am all for charity, but charity should start in this country, particularly now that so many of our constituents are struggling. Let me give an analogy, the farming analogy, as I call it. If a third-world country needs to learn how to farm, we do not send it millions of pounds that go into the pockets of some genocidal maniac; we send a farmer and we teach them how to look after themselves. How many apprentices, nurses, doctors, hospitals and schools could be looked after if we had all the money that is going abroad?
Let us not forget the defence of our country and our armed services, which are being slashed to an unforgivable level. We have a bloated welfare bill; it has been discussed in this place again and again. Then there is the NHS, where all sides bury their heads in the sand. That bill will go on rising and rising to unaffordable levels. There may be—I am sure there is—another way, but no, we do not do that; we ring-fence it instead.
We need a country where the entrepreneur—the business man and woman—can fly free of red tape, punitive tax rates and burdensome regulations from the EU. In South Dorset, I have a young Marine who has set up a company called Ovik Solutions. He makes armoured vehicles based on old Land Rover chassis. Riot-proof and bomb-proof, they are currently serving in Northern Ireland—120 of them. One can see the white vehicles—they are his. The company is going from strength, from employing two people to 15. Ovik will provide British jobs, based on British engineering and ingenuity, in Britain. How ironic that its inspiration, Jaguar Land Rover, is now owned by India and production is moving to China.
What lessons have our Government learned? Here we are, on our knees, and what do we do? We appoint Vince Cable as the Business Secretary. This man is no friend of business; he is a friend of those who say “Tax, and tax, and tax, and tax.” We do not need a man of that ilk in charge of our business.
Another crazy move, brought in by the Opposition when in government, involves our brewing industry. I am of course talking about the beer duty escalator—it is absolutely mad; jobs are going in their scores every year—and it is possible for no other reason than that people like to drink beer. This is a home-grown industry that we are singularly doing an awful lot to destroy.
What must we do? We must deregulate, we must lower taxes, and we must cut state expenditure. Yes, there will be pain—of course there will—but I am convinced that in the longer term, if the private sector is allowed to flourish, as it has done, much to this Government’s credit, with the creation of 1 million new jobs, then we, and it, will create the wealth and the jobs that we need.
May I say what a pleasure it is to follow the maiden speeches by our new colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Croydon North (Steve Reed), and for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald)? I think that I speak for everyone on the Opposition Benches when I say that they were superb contributions and that the arrival of six new Labour MPs, in all, has given us a tantalising glimpse of what life will be like in 2015 when Labour again has a parliamentary majority.
There is no doubt that the economy is the defining issue of this Parliament and that the deficit reduction plan is the defining measure by which this Government will be judged. In that context, last week’s autumn statement showed us that it is shocking how far they have fallen short, on the basis of their own yardstick, in terms of the progress they have made so far. In the emergency budget after the election, the Chancellor told us that he would need, first, four and then five years to sort the deficit out. He said that we could not afford to do it any slower and ease the pain, as Labour wanted. He said that it would be painful but it would be worth it. Last week, two and half years in, with hundreds of thousands of people made unemployed and the stripping out of the Army, the police, council services and everything else, he told us: “I need another five years.” He told us that we have almost nothing to show for the pain our constituents have endured so far.
Whether people are supporters of the Chancellor or not, the fact is that every time he comes to the House to report on his progress, he has to tell us that the economy has not grown as he had hoped since the last time he was here; that he is planning, more often than not, to borrow more than the last time he was here; that spending on public services will be cut more than the last time he was here; and that future growth will be less than he expected the last time he was here. Crucially, we now know that without the Treasury’s accounting tricks, borrowing would be higher this year than last year. This is a Chancellor who has failed, but it is our constituents who have to pay the price of that failure.
Austerity has wreaked havoc in areas such as Wigan precisely because the public and private sectors are so interdependent. The huge cuts to the public sector have had an appalling impact on the private sector as well. Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that the Chancellor has refused to acknowledge that and refused to change course, as we have urged him to do? Having listened to Richard Drax, it seems to me not only that the Government refuse to acknowledge that, but that they simply do not understand it.
I completely agree. It is self-evident. The economy has grown by just 0.6% in the past two years and this year it has shrunk by 0.1%, with talk of the UK yo-yoing back into recession for the third time as the recovery continues to falter.
Without any significant growth, the Chancellor will fail to meet his own targets. Borrowing is only lower this year because the Chancellor has included on the balance sheet the £3.5 billion from the auction of 4G. That would make sense if the 4G mobile spectrum had indeed been sold for that amount, but the auction has not taken place yet. That means that the Chancellor has balanced the books with money that he simply does not have. If I asked my bank manager to accept that I had paid off a chunk of my mortgage as long as she factored in the sale of my car, but that I had not actually sold it yet, she would laugh at me. We should be no more convinced by the Chancellor’s actions.
Without the addition of the estimated windfall from the 4G auction, borrowing this year would actually be £2 billion higher than last year. Despite the promises that the austerity measures would stabilise the economy, this year the Government will borrow more—£212 billion more—than they had planned. Coalition MPs frequently warn us of the dangers of borrowing too much, but they never seem keen to take their own medicine. The Government’s deficit reduction plan is not working and it is simply mismanagement to pretend otherwise.
Deficit reduction is not the only promise that the Chancellor has broken. As well as telling us that austerity would be the solution, he famously promised that we are all in this together. We are not all in this together. The Government have given a £3 billion handout to the richest people in the country, yet a family with two children where one parent earns a relatively modest income of, for example, £20,000 are the ones who lose out.
Furthermore, the Government’s claim that the 50p tax rate meant that millionaires fled the country does not stand up to scrutiny. A simple look at the figures shows that the overall number of taxpayers remained almost unchanged between 2009-10 and 2010-11. Following the introduction of the 50p rate, there may have been a deterioration in declared incomes above £1 million, but that was without doubt the result of the wealthy forestalling their income from one tax period to another. The Government should have kept the rate for the next tax year to ascertain exactly what it brought it in, because, goodness knows, we needed the money.
It is the same unequal story right across the country: it is Labour-run councils, particularly those in the north of the country, that bear the brunt of the cuts. On average, Labour-run authorities have seen their budget cut by £107 per person, which is three times higher than the figure for Conservative town halls. Councils will not receive detailed information for their 2014-15 budgets until later this month, but nationally they know that they will face cuts of £445 million in that financial year. Councils such as Tameside face an anxious wait to see whether that reduction will be applied equally or whether councils such as ours will again have to suffer disproportionately.
The situation in adult social care in particular is of great concern to me. I meet people in my surgeries who are in severe need of help, but simply not enough money is provided for social care in this country to meet that need. I have met people with caring responsibilities for adults and children who have told me of their sheer desperation at the prospect of their respite care being taken away. We need to do something urgently to properly support those people.
On unemployment, in my constituency 10 jobseekers are now chasing every advertised vacancy. A good portion of them are over 50 years old and starting to wonder if they will ever work again. Long-term unemployment is rising across the country and nearly 1 million young people are out of work. That is the principal cause of the Government’s borrowing problems and the OBR forecasts that the claimant count will continue to go up.
The Work programme was the Government’s attempt to get people off welfare and into work, but a successful welfare-to-work programme is not possible if there is no work available. According to the Government’s own statistics, just two out of 100 participants were still in work after six months, which means that the chance of getting a job was higher if people did not take part in the scheme. Members should contrast that with the success of the future jobs fund, run by the previous Government and spearheaded by the former Member of Parliament for Stalybridge and Hyde, James Purnell. Unlike the job-hunting support offered through the Work programme, the future jobs fund provided six months’ real work for every participant. It also had long-lasting results: in Tameside, half of those who took part went on to secure permanent employment. Of course, if we are to cut the deficit, we need to get people back into work—that is vital—but the turnaround is not just about the nation’s finances; it is also about an individual’s pride. I therefore urge the Government to look again at the success of the future jobs fund as they try to move forward from the failure of the Work programme.
For those who want to work, but have been failed by the lack of jobs and the impotence of the Work programme, there was even worse news last week. The Chancellor announced that they will be made poorer in real terms because their benefits will not be increased in line with inflation. That will cause hardship not just for the unemployed, but for a great many people in work. We heard today in Treasury questions that the majority of the people who will be affected are in work.
If that had been done as part of the Chancellor asking us to tighten our belts, it would be one thing, but the autumn statement in its totality represents a net giveaway for the next three financial years. It was not the Chancellor asking for more from the British people. The Chancellor can afford a tax cut for millionaires and a cut in corporation tax, but he asks people who get out of bed and go to work on low wages to pay for it. That is a disgrace.
The autumn statement is proof that the economic policies of the Conservative Government are simply not working. We cannot cut the deficit effectively unless the economy is growing, and the Government are not doing enough to foster economic growth. Today, while we talk about taxes, growth, double dips and triple dips, let us not fall into the trap of thinking that this is a debate purely about numbers; this debate is and should be firmly rooted in the increasing struggles of the people we all represent: the growing number of people who are accessing food banks, those who are choosing between eating and heating, and those who live with the fear that their homes may soon be repossessed. Those people are the economic reality of our country and we owe it to them to run our economy better than we are doing at present.
As one of the ancients, I must say that I was heartened by the maiden speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Croydon North (Steve Reed) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who brought a great deal of cogency and compassion to the debate. I look forward to their participating yet more.
I have been struck, yet again, by the extent to which the thinking of Conservative Members is utterly dominated by the myth of the Thatcher legacy: that she transformed the British economy and that it was saved from ruin through competition, deregulation and privatisation. One can expect Tories to think that, but a lot of commentators in the newspapers and on television and radio clearly take the same view. It is entirely erroneous. The annual economic growth under Mrs Thatcher was exactly the same as that under the Governments of Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson who preceded her.
But Mrs Thatcher had no excuse. The windfall takings from privatisation and North sea oil amounted to £155 billion. Practically every other country in the world that had such a windfall established a sovereign wealth fund to be invested over a long period. Instead, these Tories who claim to be careful with money blew the lot.
No, I shall not give way for the time being because I cannot make up my mind whether the hon. Gentleman is here or not.
Gordon Birtwistle ought to remember that Mrs Thatcher abolished apprenticeships. She did not invest in research, improving engineering, infrastructure or retooling British industry. Her real legacy was to introduce the almost total dominance of banking and finance into our economy. What a decade and a decade and a decade we got out of that!
The bankers’ bonus has become one of the greatest scandals of all time. The British Bankers Association, the trade group of these respectable bankers, actually ran the LIBOR rate rigging so that people could make money. The payment protection insurance scams were intended to make money—they were not a charitable effort. Barclays was involved in the LIBOR scandal, in the PPI scandal and in sanctions busting, and it managed to lose £7 billion in the crash. Its auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, apparently did not notice any of that. It should have noticed, because the bank was not involved in those things as a charity; it was getting a percentage of every transaction and one would have thought its auditors might have spotted that.
The magnificent HSBC was involved in the LIBOR and PPI scandals, and we now know it was involved in sanctions busting in Iran, Burma and North Korea. It has been involved in the financing of gunrunners and in money laundering from drug barons in Mexico. To facilitate the Mexican drug barons it opened not six, 60, 600 or 6,000 but 60,000 secret accounts for Mexicans in the Cayman Islands, and it received a percentage from each. HSBC was not in it as a charity; it was in it to get money.
Presumably, some of the bankers were paid bonuses for the profits they made from sanctions busting, gunrunning and money laundering, yet HSBC, the former masters of the universe, lost £27 billion in the crash and its auditors, KPMG, did not get a sniff of it—not a thing. That is a disgrace and is damaging our economy and the reputation of British businesses trying to get work abroad. People say, “Have you got one of these dodgy auditors? Have you got a dodgy banker on your team? It’s not very helpful if you have.” That is a real problem.
To make up for the mess that the bankers caused—and continue to cause—ordinary people in this country are expected to skimp and save. My hon. Friend Emily Thornberry shares the problem I have in my constituency of housing benefit. She will, therefore, be familiar with stories such as that of the woman who came to my advice service on Friday and lives in a council flat that was sold under the right to buy. She is expected to pay £485 rent to the private landlord who now owns that flat, but has been told that her benefit will come down by £160 a week, meaning she can no longer live there. Perhaps more importantly—even to decent, what used to be one-nation Tories—her nine-year-old daughter who is doing well at primary school will not be able to live in that flat any more, and neither will her 19-year-old son who is doing an apprenticeship. They will be driven out under what I first described—I know the Deputy Prime Minister does not like this description—as a policy of social cleansing.
The chair of the Tory party—when he isn’t Mr Green—says that people should not be able to live in places they cannot afford, but what about the people in my constituency who sweep the streets, keep the hospitals clean, work as nurses, drive buses and make the city work and a civilised place? They are exactly the people who are being driven out by the benefit changes, and I hope to God my party will vote against them.
I commend the Treasury for coming to its senses and cancelling the proposed increase in fuel duty. It seems there is at least some acknowledgement of the need to encourage growth in the economy rather than cut a path to perpetual stagnation. The move will put money back in people’s pockets, encourage local businesses and hopefully spur growth in the local economy, particularly in rural areas. Social Democratic and Labour party Members called for that measure, like many of our colleagues from other parties who take their seats in the House of Commons.
However, that was a brief moment of hope in an otherwise dismal autumn statement. Statistics show that this is the slowest recovery from a financial crisis in history. The OBR downgraded growth to minus 0.1%. Since the statement, the City of London has cast doubt on the Chancellor’s assertions that the economy will return to growth next year, stating that falling revenues from North sea oil and poor manufacturing figures could push the UK into an unprecedented triple-dip recession.
In the light of that, the only commitment the Chancellor will have no problem meeting is his promise to extend austerity until 2017-18. The only reason the borrowing figures look slightly healthier than expected is the sleight-of-hand, last-minute inclusion of the 4G spectrum auction windfall. On that topic, will the Chancellor or the appropriate Minister confirm, as I was told in response to a written question recently, why Northern Ireland will not receive Barnett consequential funding as a result of that sale?
Against such a backdrop, it is hard to see how anyone could argue that the Chancellor’s economic strategy is bringing the economy back to a position of strength. Quite simply, austerity is not working, including for people in Northern Ireland.
At the beginning of the hon. Lady’s speech, she mentioned the cancellation of the 3p increase—it is a good thing the Chancellor did not go ahead with that because it would have had a detrimental effect on the domestic user. Does she agree that one way to help the Northern Ireland economy would be for the Government to get to grips with smuggled fuel from the Irish Republic, which loses them tens of millions of pounds?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Like him, I believe that fuel laundering and smuggling is a major problem. It needs to be addressed by the Treasury, and by the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners in the south of Ireland.
We have record youth unemployment in Northern Ireland, and local businesses face a climate of extremely low consumer confidence and no prospect of growth. We had the highest rate of youth unemployment in the last quarter for which figures are available—some 18%. More recently, we heard the terrible news of the closure of Patton, a major construction firm, with the loss of more than 150 jobs.
The Government have spoken repeatedly of rebalancing the economy, but talk of their flagship policy—the devolution of corporation tax—was notable only by its absence from the Chancellor’s statement last week. It is critical that the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are granted more economic levers that we can use to rebuild our economy. The Government’s decision has been a long time coming, but it is crucial for our medium and long-term planning that they make it as soon as possible.
The Chancellor listened to our concerns about the adverse impact of the carbon floor price and the exemption will deliver a degree of much-needed support to local business. However, such news does not remove the reality of the broader economic picture. As the Northern Ireland Finance Minister has indicated, the result will likely be more cuts being implemented by the Northern Ireland Executive, particularly with regard to welfare payments.
I commend the hon. Lady for her speech. Does she agree that banks need to be more sympathetic in lending to small and medium-sized businesses if they are to prosper, because of the challenges they face?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree that the banking regime in Northern Ireland is stringent at the moment. We have a unique situation in Northern Ireland. Some of the banking institutions are owned by the south of Ireland, but some have direct links to the Royal Bank of Scotland and Danske Bank. So there is that sort of mix as well. Suffice it to say that small and medium-sized enterprises are facing difficult economic challenges, and to have banks unwilling to lend or provide the necessary credit at this difficult time is not helping economic growth. That needs to be explored by the Treasury and, in the case of Northern Ireland, in some instances, directly with the Department of Finance in Dublin.
Does the hon. Lady think that one way of boosting the economy would be to encourage the construction industry, which, as all Members know, has had particular problems? Does she think that the banks should be more sympathetic to the construction industry in particular?
I agree that the construction industry, along with agriculture and tourism, is a vital economic lever in Northern Ireland, but, owing to the economic challenges of the recession, many people employed in the construction industry have found themselves without work and many businesses have gone to the wall. They did not meet with a sympathetic reception from the banking institutions, but they need assistance because they are necessary to pump-prime our local economy.
The Chancellor’s welfare plans will remove more than £4 billion from the welfare budget by uprating benefits by just 1% a year until 2015. With a legacy of physical and social neglect from the troubles, this will remove the necessary level of support from many of our people and a substantial sum of money from the local economy. Instead of addressing their own shortcomings, the Government are vilifying the poor and those on welfare as a smokescreen for their own appalling economic record. That will place those most needy and vulnerable in the current economic climate in an even more precarious situation and will hurt not just the unemployed, but those who rely on in-work benefits. It is nothing more than a real-terms cut for those most in need by the same Chancellor who handed out a tax cut for the wealthiest in society at the last Budget. It would seem that some of us are more “all in this together” than others.
The autumn statement might have been politically more surefooted than the Chancellor’s last Budget, but I fail to see what it will do to address the core problems facing the economy. It might reassure some Tory voters here, but I do not think that my constituents or the people of Northern Ireland will find much to cheer about. I fear that we will be having this same debate, with similarly poor economic figures, come the next Budget.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Croydon North (Steve Reed) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who gave three excellent speeches and demonstrated the great capabilities and talent coming into the parliamentary Labour party and which we hope to see more of in 2015.
The economy has been weakened by poor decisions by the Chancellor leading to declining growth, so borrowing is higher, which means that the public debt is worse. While public spending totals are similar to those in the March Budget, tax revenue forecasts are far more pessimistic. The Office for Budget Responsibility suggests that by 2015-16 tax receipts will be £662 billion instead of £692 billion. That is a 4% overestimation, as corporation tax, income tax and VAT at 20% have not brought in and will not bring in the tax take expected. That £30 billion shortfall translates into a £30 billion rise in public sector net borrowing.
In every year except 2012-13 borrowing is higher, and the gap grows over time. This year’s figures are flattered by the £3.5 billion sale of the spectrum for 4G, which is yet to occur, and by the £5 billion tax deal with Switzerland. Let us look at the Chancellor’s much lauded
“largest tax evasion settlement in UK history”.
It is anticipated by the Chancellor to bring in more than £5 billion over the next six years, although the OBR described that clearly as “highly uncertain” because of the lack of information about the value of the assets held by UK citizens in Switzerland. Indeed, the Treasury has stated:
“The final stage of the ratification process is expected to be concluded shortly, but there remains a possibility that the Swiss government will have to hold a referendum on the agreement… This is therefore a significant fiscal risk to the forecast.”
The Treasury added:
“The estimated revenue raised by this measure is also highly uncertain as there is little hard information about the value of UK individuals’ financial assets in Switzerland, and how these individuals will respond to the policy.”
Apart from those settlements, by 2015-16 three years of higher borrowing will push up public sector net debt by £67 billion, or 4%. The Chancellor’s own rules state that public debt as a share of national income must fall by 2015-16. To pass that test, the growth in public debt must be lower than growth in cash or nominal GDP.
In March, the OBR massaged its nominal GDP growth forecast up to 5.7% in 2015-16 alone, in order just to exceed the 5.3% rise forecast in public sector net debt. Now the OBR has slashed its GDP growth forecast for that year to 4.6%. No matter how much the Chancellor likes to fudge and fiddle the figures, he cannot massage down the 5.9% hike in debt forecast by the OBR for 2015-16. The chances of his meeting the terms of his own debt rule have taken only two and a half years to be completely destroyed by the growth-strangling policies he now wishes desperately to reverse, as we saw with the U-turn on capital allowances. The Chancellor says he has missed his debt rule by a fraction and that he will retain the 2015-16 debt target, even though it will now be impossible to hit.
The public finances are now difficult to compare with those under previous Budgets because the statistics are affected by large transfers of cash or classification changes. In fact, the Chancellor’s raid on surplus funds sitting in the Bank of England originates from his quantitative easing programme. The OBR says the surpluses are temporary, so although the Chancellor’s cash grab flatters headline public borrowing figures by some £12.3 billion in 2013-14, future Governments will have to repay the Bank of England an estimated £6 billion to £7 billion in 2021-22 for this Chancellor’s record purchasing of our own bonds. Without that cash grab, the Chancellor would have broken not just his fiscal rule—which he clearly has—but his debt target for 2016-17 and his deficit promises.
Here we are, going into 2013, and all the Chancellor can say is that we need another five years to deal with the deficit problem. That is exactly the same statement he made in June 2010—a stagnant sentence for a stagnated economy, stifled by a part-time Chancellor. This is an autumn statement following autumn statements and Budgets for the last two and a half years, all of which have failed to meet any of the stated aims of the Chancellor’s original objective. Two and a half years later, we are still five years away from the total eradication of the deficit. This Government will have accrued more debt in five years than in the entire 13 years of Labour’s rule. Under this Chancellor’s watch, in 2015 the UK will unfortunately hold the worst public sector net deficit in the west, according to OBR and IMF figures.
Was the autumn statement a growth strategy? No. Is this a deficit and debt-reducing strategy? No. Is this a strategy for borrowing? Yes it is, and on the backs of the low and middle-income workers—borrowing for failure, not for investment.
I am sorry, I will not.
Can the Chancellor guarantee that we will borrow at a low interest rate because we will still have a triple A rating? No. The very cornerstone on which this coalition is premised has been utterly flawed. As a result, a recovering economy in May 2010 has been so damaged that we have witnessed a double-dip recession, with the strong likelihood that it will become a triple-dip recession—something that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills had to admit only this Sunday was a distinct possibility. In essence, the Chancellor is on the brink of exchanging the triple A credit rating he inherited from Labour—and which he prized most of all—for a potential triple dip of his own making.
No, I am not going to give way; I have not even started. I am just observing what has happened.
I congratulate my three new hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Croydon North (Steve Reed) on what I thought were quite remarkable speeches—confident, informed, quite amusing in places and committed. When I first came to this House—a long time ago—new Members took their listeners on a tour of their constituencies, touching on the buildings, the people and the history, but saying nothing about politics. That was not the protocol. I am glad that that rule has gone. We heard passionate speeches today that were all about politics, including the national health service, child care services and the defence of the unemployed. I think that all three of my new hon. Friends will make a big contribution to this House.
I do not want to touch on the economy, but may I just say that if what the right hon. Gentleman has just described was indeed the case, is it not rather sad that that protocol was not observed?
I obviously made a mistake in giving way to the hon. Gentleman.
As the Chancellor acknowledged, he had two main objectives in his autumn statement/mini-Budget. One was to generate the growth that has certainly eluded him for the past two and a half years; the other was to rebalance the economy and lay the foundations for genuine, sustainable, long-term growth. He failed miserably on both counts. On the first test, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the Federation of European Employers, the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses have all been telling him that he simply must inject growth into the economy and stop endlessly hacking away at public expenditure. Just how desperately such actions are needed is shown by the fact that the Chancellor’s own forecast in his 2010 Budget that cumulative public sector net borrowing over the next four years would be £322 billion has now been increased to a staggering £539 billion. That is an increase of £217 billion. The key point is that that increase is almost wholly attributable to the failure of the economy to grow. That is the significant point behind this debate.
I am glad to see that some courtesies are still observed in the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that this country and this Government have a problem with current spending levels, or does he believe that we can carry on increasing spending indefinitely?
Of course I believe that there is a problem with the level of debt and the level of the public sector deficit; everyone accepts that. The issue is how it should be dealt with. I believe that the way this Government are dealing with it is profoundly self-defeating.
The Chancellor has failed in the sense that, according to the OBR, despite an output gap that remains incredibly high at 3.7%, the net effect of all his measures in the autumn statement will be to raise the general growth rate by a footling 0.1%. That is an extraordinary judgment on the Chancellor.
The Chancellor also failed his second test, which was to shift the economy on to a more sustainable long-term footing, moving away from his over-dependence on finance—a move we all agree with—and towards a much stronger industrial and manufacturing base. Eighteen months ago, he announced with great fanfare the march of the makers. That never happened, however. He has now promised a £40 billion guarantee for private infrastructure investment, but the problem is not one of too little credit; it is one of too little demand for credit. The latest figures show construction plummeting ominously, largely because of its great dependence on the public sector, which the Chancellor is shrinking. Moreover, UK manufacturing will this year suffer the biggest deficit in traded goods in its entire history—a deficit of roughly £110 billion, or 7.5% of gross domestic product. That is utterly unsustainable, and if that trend is not reversed, it will inevitably lead to an almighty crash in British living standards before long.
I will not give way again, as I do not have much time left.
Why is the Chancellor not meeting his own tests? It is because he is obsessed with a neo-liberal ideology that forbids any public sector lead role in the economy. In fact, the Chancellor is crucifying Britain today on a cross of dogma. What should a sensible steward of the British economy do now? He should do two things: reinstate the capital spending programmes cancelled in the great drive towards deficit reduction, with special priority given to house building, energy and transport renewal and green technology; and set up a national investment bank with its own portfolio of investment projects, focused on key infrastructure and cutting-edge technology.
How will that be paid for? There are three options. Instead of any further £50 billion tranche of quantitative easing being used to consolidate bank balance sheets, as has happened every time up till now, the Chancellor should divert at least a portion of it towards generating 1 million or more jobs by investing it directly in industrial and manufacturing projects. Or he could levy a capital gains tax charge—I know that this would not be welcome on the Government Benches—on the colossal gains made by a minuscule proportion of the mega-rich, which The Sunday Times, a Murdoch paper, believes to have been in the order of £155 billion in the past three years. Or he could justify—yes, I think he could—a temporary increase in borrowing, of, say, £150 million to raise £30 billion at an interest rate of 0.5% on the reasonable grounds that with such a weak economy but cyclically adjusted net borrowing forecast at only 3% this year, he has given himself enough leeway to delay tightening. Those are the three options, and not to do any of them is a culpable negligence for which he will not be forgiven.
On the Chancellor’s second objective of rebalancing the economy, several measures need to be taken urgently. First, British manufacturing clearly needs a larger flow of qualified skilled workers. The academic underpinning of the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—should be steadily increased; a viable and effective post-14 vocational route, with a much stronger work component, should be established in schools; and employers should be made to take responsibility for on-site training. Secondly, the bane of short-termist bank lending to British manufacturing must be tackled by giving incentives to develop a long-term ongoing relationship between banks and their customers, as is done very successfully in the German Mittelstand. Thirdly, the supply chains, which are crucial to any successful manufacturing economy but which have been broken up by privatisation and foreign sell-offs over the past 30 years, urgently need to be restored to achieve a secure base for SMEs. Fourthly, the sacrifice of key industrial sectors and companies to uninhibited acquisition in the international markets—Pilkington, P&O, Corus, BT, O2, Smith Electronics, Cadbury and BA; it is a very long list and a laissez-faire policy that no other major country in the west would ever allow—should be reversed if Britain’s economy and its survival are to be secured.
All those things need to be done, because the alternative under present policy is semi-permanent continuation of a condition of semi-slump.
I am old enough to remember the 1970s and when the economic history of that period is written, I think it will be rather simple: in 1979 a Conservative Government inherited bankrupt public finances and put them straight with an enterprise economy. A Conservative Government sorted out the mess of the European currency-inspired recession of the early 1990s and gave the future Labour Government a golden legacy in 1997. After two years of sound public finances following the previous Conservative Administration’s public spending commitments, the previous Labour Government embarked on an unprecedented spending spree—a boom disguised under various labels, such as cool Britannia—that left this generation with an historic debt legacy for which we, our children and our grandchildren will be paying the bills for many years to come.
I am grateful for that intervention. If the previous Labour Government paid down the debt, why have we inherited this historic debt legacy—a legacy, it is worth reminding the House, that sees us paying debt interest payments that are set to rise to £76 billion a year, which is more than the amount spent on more than three Departments? This is a historic legacy, for which the Labour party should be ashamed.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, principally about the structural deficit. The public are not daft: they know the difference between a Government who spend more each year than they receive and one who wilfully disregard the underlying causes of the deficit, which were and still remain for us to tackle—the problem of an ageing society for the NHS, the public sector pensions bill and the out-of-control welfare state. I shall say something shortly about the Government’s important reforms in that regard.
I welcome this autumn statement, which begins the process of tackling once again the toxic debt legacy left to us by the Labour party. I welcome the fact that a Conservative Chancellor in a coalition Government has been able to deliver substantial savings—£33 billion in the welfare budget, £60 billion savings in interest repayments and £70 billion savings on the cost of government in Whitehall—allowing us to create the incentives for work, taking a million of the lowest-paid employees out of tax altogether, raising the tax threshold and abolishing Labour’s planned fuel duty rise, with the net result that over the last two years we have seen the creation of more than 1.2 million net new jobs in the private sector.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think it rather odd that the Government are unprepared to give any estimate of how many of those “new private sector jobs” are ones that have been outsourced by the public sector? Has it not been estimated that even in the field of further education, the total approaches 200,000?
I am grateful for that intervention because it gives me the chance to make the fundamental point that Labour Members seem constantly unable to grasp—that every penny they spend from this Dispatch Box is money that has to be taken off this country’s citizens in tax, and that they will receive it only if it is earned by the private sector. It is the private sector that ultimately earns the money that the public sector spends. This Government’s rebalancing programme to restore our public finances will allow us once again to spend on the public sector sustainably with moneys earned by the private sector. That is one of the most crucial and important reforms made by this Government, and I welcome it.
Yes, the Office for Budget Responsibility has made clear what the Chancellor has consistently said—that this will be a long a fragile recovery and that it has been made worse by the crisis in the sclerotic eurozone, with the debts of the 2008 recession now being clearer than they were at the time. That has become clear not least because we now have the OBR—another of this Government’s important reforms—putting some transparency and honesty at the heart of Government statistics. That is not always comfortable, but it is an important—
No, I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman.
Of course we are in the process of a long and slow recovery, but the evidence—in terms of new jobs, the data on private sector growth, and the business community’s strong support for this statement and the measures previously announced by the Government—suggests that the policy of rebalancing the economy is right and working. We must have an economy that is led by the private sector. We need to do more to support industry and the knowledge economy, which this Government are doing, and we need to do more to support regional growth outside Greater London and the south-eastern area.
It is an irony of the last Labour Government that, despite preaching the language of regional economics, what it came down to was a vast tax transfer through the regional development agency structure. In my own field, more than £15 billion was spent on business support, but according to the Richard report, only 0.5% of that was received by businesses on the ground floor, as it were. The last Government embarked on a major boom in regional spending, but it was not sustainable. One of the sadnesses of this crisis is that many of the people who were offered jobs during that boom in the public sector are paying the price now. That is not their fault; it is the fault of those who were running the economy at the time, and I for one am waiting for them to say sorry.
The net growth figures are low at present, but that disguises a very important and profoundly positive change. We have rightly taken money out of the public sector in order to rebalance the economy and bring our public finances under control. The fact that the net growth figures are positive is a sign of the profound growth that is beginning to happen in the private sector, and which bodes well for our public finances in the long term.
I welcome the Government’s plan A-plus, which is intended to restore our public finances and get the deficit under control, and I welcome the fact that the annual deficit is now down by 25%, although there is more to be done. The plan is also intended to free up money to be invested in infrastructure. More than £20 billion has been committed to infrastructure projects that are long overdue, and last week £600 million of extra investment in science and the knowledge economy was announced. I shall say more about that in a moment. The truth is that we need a plan A-plus plus plus, but we do not need the plan B espoused by the Opposition. That B stands for borrowing, it stands for the bankruptcy of our public finances, and it stands for Balls.
My hon. Friend said earlier that he remembered the 1970s. I wonder whether he remembers the late 1960s, when Viv Nicholson, the pools winner, said that she would “Spend, spend, spend.” She eventually went bankrupt. Does my hon. Friend agree that even she would be embarrassed by the Opposition’s approach to spending and debt?
My hon. Friend has made an excellent point. One must choose one’s advisers carefully. When taking advice from rock stars, one should listen to the music, but not spend accordingly. “Spend, spend, spend” is exactly what the last Government did, and we are all paying the price now.
I entered the House after a 15-year career starting companies in the life sciences sector—which involves some of the most exciting parts of the country’s economy: medicine, agriculture and the clean technologies—in Cambridge, Norwich, Scotland and some of the northern cities, and in London. I believe that that sector represents a hugely exciting opportunity for the country as we rebalance our trade away from the sclerotic eurozone and towards the faster-growing emerging nations of the world—some of the BRIC economies, and the “next 11” that were identified by Jim O’Neill in his seminal paper.
Those economies are growing at a rate of 7% or 8% a year, which, compounded over 10 years, amounts to 100% growth. They are the vibrant markets of tomorrow, and we have an opportunity to support them with our knowledge economy and our life sciences. Today that means helping them to develop the basics of public health care, such as nutrition, food security and medicine, but tomorrow they will quickly grow and develop much more sophisticated needs and markets.
The life sciences sector is crucial to our economic recovery and to a sustainable model of economic growth, and I strongly welcome the support for it that has come from the Chancellor and his team. Last week a further £600 million was announced for our science base, which is already paying dividends—in the last year alone, more than £1 billion has been invested in early-stage life science ventures funds in this country—and
GlaxoSmithKline has announced a £500 million investment in an advanced manufacturing facility. The strategy is working, and I encourage the Government to stick to it.
I am the Member of Parliament for Mid Norfolk, a rural area which, in recent decades, has been viewed as something of a rural backwater, and has received all too little investment. In our region, the dualling of the A11, the investment in the Cambridge-to-Norwich rail link between the two life science clusters and the £90 announced recently for support for our research and innovation centres have all been extremely welcome, and are already having positive effects locally. I was in Cambridge on Monday with the Prime Minister, launching the new cancer genomics centre.
There is a spirit of optimism afoot in our region. That speaks for the success of this strategy, which I welcome and commend to the House.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, during which we have heard three excellent maiden speeches. All of them were very impressive, so it is clear that we oldies will have to pull our socks up. As I listened to the speeches, I abandoned my long-standing hope of reaching the shadow Cabinet, because the competition will clearly be too strong.
However, much of the debate, including the last speech from the Government Benches, has been disappointing, as it has been too much about who got us into this mess and not enough about how we can get out of it. We are undoubtedly in a mess: we have a fiscal deficit; we have a massive debt burden; we are in the grip of deflation; demand is very low; we have just had a double-dip recession and we are heading for a triple-dip; unemployment is far too high; GDP is 4% down on 2008, because, unlike most countries, we have not made that up that shortfall; the balance of payments gap is now gaping, standing at 7.5% of GDP; and our manufacturing has shrunk too much to pay our way in the world. By any definition, that is a mess.
The question is: how will we get out of this mess? The Government’s policy shows no sign of getting us out of it. It was described at the start as an expansionary fiscal contraction, which is an oxymoron—more “moron” than “oxy”. Their aims have been impossible to achieve because every increase in unemployment means a reduction in tax revenues and an increase in spending to support misery, and the Government are therefore not cutting debt. The Chancellor says, “We’re cutting debt to keep our triple-A rating.” Such a rating goes to a healthy economy with prospects, which our economy is not, and next year we will lose our triple-A rating. Interestingly, the Government are now saying that that does not matter. We will lose that rating because of the disastrous state of our economy.
The only answer is to have growth. It is a simple way of paying off the debt. The only way to pay off the debt is to get growth into the economy, and the only way to get growth into the economy is to stimulate the economy. A few years ago, President Obama put in a $780 billion stimulus through his national recovery Act. We must have such a stimulus, too—although Labour has been very cautious on that—and it can only be paid for by borrowing. There needs to be more borrowing.
The arguments against borrowing are pathetic. Borrowing has become the fig leaf of the Tory party; it covers any failure, and the failures have been fairly substantial. The Government are obsessed; they have a piggy-banking fear of borrowing. We cannot, however, pay off debt and deflate the economy at the same time.
Where else are we to get this stimulus if not from Government borrowing? Individuals and families are burdened with debt, as are companies. They are not spending; they are trying to pay off debt. Spending and stimulus will come only if the Government borrow more, therefore. There is no problem with that. Interest rates are at record lows, and our credit is good at present, so we can borrow, and we should borrow to spend.
We should borrow to build housing. We should have a big housing drive, and most of it should be public housing for rent. That is what we need, because people cannot afford to buy. We should subsidise jobs if necessary, too. We must borrow, spend and stimulate. That is the only way out.
We need more quantitative easing, which I hope will bring the pound down. The pound is now up 8%. When the Governor of the Bank of England starts saying in his speeches that the pound is too high, it must be horrendously overvalued because no Governor of the Bank of England has said that before. The value of the pound needs to fall, to boost exporting industry.
The Government have been very clever at apportioning blame for the situation the country is in. First, they blamed Labour, although our borrowing was essentially to save the banks, and I am sure the current Government would not have wanted us not to save the banks, would they? If they did not want that, Government Members should say so now. The Government then blamed scroungers lying in bed as the strivers go off to work—that is a very touching picture. They then blamed the size of the benefit bill, which we now gather must be cut still further—although not until 2015, after the election, it should be noted. Now they are blaming the eurozone. It certainly has problems but it must be pointed out that the deflation here and the deflation in the eurozone are both being done for ideological reasons. The ideological reason in Europe is that people do not want to give up on the euro. They cannot afford it to break up, so they have to keep trying to make the unworkable work. That is depressing the European economy, because it is producing deflation in all the Mediterranean economies. That deflation in those weaker economies—the uncompetitive economies—in turn produces a fall in demand for German goods; they cannot afford the BMWs and the Mercs any longer, so Germany becomes depressed. We perhaps feel a touch of schadenfreude about that, but it spreads depression right round Europe.
Our depression is caused by the Chancellor’s ideology and his horror of borrowing. We know how to get out of this recession but for ideological reasons no Government are doing what they should do to get of it. The same is true in the United States, where President Obama is being held back from giving any stimulus and cutting taxes for the mass of the population by the Republican desire to cut taxes only for the wealthy. That has produced the fiscal cliff on which the American economy is now hanging.
So there is no prospect anywhere—no certainty—of expansion, and if there is no possibility of growth and expansion, people and companies are not going to invest. All the pious hopes that George Freeman has just given us about a resurgence of companies are in vain, because companies will not invest as there is no prospect of profit and no prospect of success. That is the trap we are all in, and we are there because of piggy-banking ideology, ignorance about real economics and simple bad economics in practice, which is killing growth and blighting the lives of our young people.
What do the Government have to offer at the end of this debate? It is pathetic to see that Government Members have not even bothered to turn up to defend the Government; Labour Members have had to do all the attacking and the speaking, because Government Members have had to be dragged in. All the Government have to offer is more debt, more misery, more cuts—£10 billion to £15 billion of them—and more fracking. This Government are one of the best fracking Governments in the world, holding out great hopes that it will provide a new regenerative miracle. That is all they can offer. What they cannot offer is hope, prospects, improvement, growth.
Regrettably, the economy is on course for a lost decade under this most paradoxical of Chancellors: reckless on one hand, but complacent on the other; a historian, but with precious little grasp of learning its most obvious lessons; and a tactician, but now pursuing the basest strategy of all in politics—attempting to divide and rule by separating those on middle incomes from low-wage Britain, and the poorly paid from the unemployed. His Conservative predecessors, people such as Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Iain Macleod, would surely recoil in horror if they could they see what this Chancellor is doing to the reputation of the party that once proudly stood for the principle of one nation, but does no longer.
There is no social group that this Chancellor will not exploit for perceived political gain, but he stands exposed in this debate: he has no idea of how to regenerate the missing growth in the UK economy; he has no clue on how to undo the damage he is doing to ordinary families’ living standards and slumping real wages; and he has no concept that his policies on welfare represent no more than a throwback to the worst excesses of harsh Victorian Toryism.
I thank my hon. Friend for that. What I do remember is that when the right hon. Gentleman was shadow Chancellor he backed every single penny of the public spending plans of the Labour Government until the financial crisis hit. Indeed, he had the sauce to call them “eye-wateringly tight” on occasion in this House.
What we see is a Chancellor with a plan aimed at winning marginal seats at the next general election at any cost, but bringing in the cruellest sequence of benefit cuts since those of the national Government in 1931 and aiming his harshest measures at the most vulnerable in our society.
Our economy is suffering from the slowest journey out of recession since the 1870s. As a result of the extreme austerity measures that the Chancellor has introduced, it will now take nearly seven years to repair the lost output from this recession, compared with just four years during the great depression in the 1930s. We were told two and a half years ago that a policy of expansionary fiscal contraction would restore confidence, but instead nearly 4% of output has gone, the Chancellor’s supplementary target on debt falling as a share of GDP by the end of this Parliament has gone, and many economists, including at Citigroup, expect the loss of Britain’s triple A credit rating within the next 18 months, the retention of which the Chancellor made his principal criterion of credibility.
No wonder that on The New Yorker website last week, the Chancellor’s policies were dismissed as an example of what the US should avoid—a commitment to the deflationary economics of the 1930s, with the Reaganite trickle-down economics of the 1980s and the even harsher Benthamite economics of the 1830s. Instead of uniting this country in a crusade against long-term and youth unemployment and what Beveridge called the social evil of idleness, this Chancellor wants to divide society by demonising the unemployed in a way that no Government have done since the time of the Poor Law in 1834.
Despite the Bank of England running the loosest monetary policy in several generations and owning three tenths of our national debt through the use of its asset purchase facility, the OBR predicts that joblessness will rise by as much as 340,000 over its forecast period. So we can see that the US economy, having adopted a different policy from the austerity of this Government, yet described by the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman in The New York Times yesterday as
“still, by most measures, deeply depressed”, has grown nearly three times as fast as the UK, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, will have a deficit next year of 4%, compared with a deficit of 6.1% in this country, and UK debt will be nearly 18% higher in 2015-16 as a share of GDP than that forecast by the OBR in 2010 on the EUROSTAT measure.
Make no mistake, this Chancellor’s policies on taxation, benefits and spending are cutting the incomes of the poorest tenth of households by 2.7%, at a time when the OECD forecasts that we will see barely half the rise in economic demand that will be seen in America next year, and barely a third of that the year after, despite the looming fiscal cliff. Despite the stream of measures unveiled in the autumn statement, the OBR’s verdict on their usefulness was as unerring as it was deadly for the Chancellor’s reputation—just a 0.1% rise in GDP over the next two years, at the same time as the OBR downgraded growth by 1.7% over the same period.
Increasingly, we see that this Chancellor’s legacy will be to turn the long-term prospects of the UK economy into those of a low-wage, low-skill, low-investment and low-productivity economy. On wages, this Government cannot answer positively the question posed by millions of ordinary people across the country: am I better off now than I was four years ago? The Government cannot answer positively the question: am I better off now than I was eight years ago? The reality is that with the median wage across the UK having fallen by a shocking 7.9% in real terms in this Chancellor’s first two years in office, and by 7.4% in Scotland, people are worse off now than they were 10 years ago. The Resolution Foundation, in evaluating the effects of the autumn statement, predicted that real wages in 2017 will be no higher than they were in 1999. This Government have made the wrong choices on who to help at a time of poor consumer confidence and weak demand. When they could have helped households with the cost of child care, which is rising in Scotland by 6% a year, boosted female employment and cut inequality, they decided to hurt the poorest 40% of the public harder, as a share of their income, than they will hurt the richest 10%. Lone parents who are in work and on tax credits, of whom there are 115,000 in Scotland, will be worse off by an average of £300 a year by 2015, according to the Resolution Foundation. Three quarters of the cuts in tax credits will hurt precisely the strivers the Chancellor purports to back.
The Chancellor’s legacy on investment is equally dire. Business investment is now lower than the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast a year ago, with manufacturing investment having dropped by 6.7% in the last quarter compared with a year ago. Despite funding for lending, there is precious little evidence that demand for lending in the economy is rising. Net lending by the banks to small and medium-sized businesses fell by a further £2.4 billion in the three months to August this year, according to the Bank of England.
The Government could have changed course in the autumn statement and acted to stem the £20 billion rise in the benefits bill during this Parliament by getting more of the 1,320 long-term jobless in my constituency back to work by cutting VAT and adopting more active labour market policies than their failing Work programme. They could have bolstered construction and housing by building as many as 100,000 homes across the UK by allocating the 4G proceeds to productive use rather than simply trying to cook the books with them. They could have done that, but they did not. They have let the country down, and that is the legacy not only of the Chancellor, but, sadly, of the entire Government.
I start by thanking my hon. Friends who made their maiden speeches. We heard some excellent contributions, which gives the Opposition hope that when we return to government we will have some extremely good people representing their constituencies. In particular, my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, who made a very dignified speech, brings a wealth of experience from her background in the children’s hospice movement and will be a great asset to Parliament. My hon. Friend Steve Reed, who has direct experience of local government, and indeed of a co-operative council, will also bring us experience. We heard a passionate speech on the plight of the unemployed from my hon. Friend Andy McDonald, who talked about his home town and the people he represents. I was particularly interested in his speech because he mentioned two things that are close to my heart: football and art. It sounds as though I ought to visit Middlesbrough in the not-too-distant future.
I should also mention the speeches made by other right hon. and hon. Members, particularly my right hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) and for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher), my hon. Friends the Members for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) and Ms Ritchie. They all demonstrated why there are problems with what the Chancellor did in the autumn statement, and every one of them took the opportunity to make suggestions, to pick up on the problems and to represent their constituents.
When the Chancellor came to the House last Wednesday to deliver his autumn statement, he was clearly determined to have no repeat of the omnishambles Budget that unravelled last time around. He was determined this time to avoid pasties, churches and caravans. There was a bit of hilarity and laughter on the Government Benches while he delivered his statement, but I must say to the Minister and to Government Members that many millions of people across the UK do not feel much like celebrating or laughing because of the bad news the autumn statement brought them.
Kwasi Kwarteng, who is now back in his place, having been removed to the naughty step for a period of time, talked about the gravity of the situation. I am not sure that he really understands the gravity of the situation facing families in my constituency who are struggling on part-time hours and who have seen their working tax credits cut. Nor do I think that Government Members really understand the problems faced by the woman with chronic health problems whom I met recently, who is panicking that she is going to be forced to move house because of the bedroom tax, or the plight of young people desperate to get a start in a real job.
In the middle of what one journalist described last week as “jiggery-pokery” and the hon. Member for South Down spoke of earlier as “sleight of hand”, the harsh reality is that the economy is set to shrink and growth forecasts are downgraded yet again. Over the past two years, the economy has grown by just 0.6% compared with the 4.6% that the Government promised. Nearly 1 million young people are out of work. Prices are forecast to carry on rising faster than wages for at least another year, until 2014. Debt figures are revised upwards this year and for future years. The Government are set to borrow £212 billion more than they planned. The Chancellor has failed on his own fiscal rule and the Prime Minister’s pledge to balance the books by 2015. So much for the Chancellor claiming to be healing the economy.
Last Wednesday the Chancellor made a big song and dance about how borrowing is forecast to fall. As we have heard repeatedly since then—indeed, several hon. Members commented on it today—the only reason he has been able to claim this is that the Government have added the 4G mobile spectrum auction to this year’s figures even though Government delays mean that the auction has not happened yet. Without the receipts pencilled in from the 4G sale, borrowing would be forecast to be £2 billion higher this year than last year. Government Front Benchers may try to brush off those figures, but Labour Members are not going to let the Chancellor get away so easily, because they are the real figures that expose the reality behind his failed economic plan. As we have heard in speech after speech, the fact is—I hope that Ministers are listening to this—that the Government’s policies have failed to bring growth back to the economy.
The Chancellor claimed that he would cut the welfare bill, yet it is forecast to be some £13.6 billion higher in this Parliament than he boasted two and a half years ago. Again, rather than face up to reality and change course, he has decided to carry on regardless and instead make hard-working families shoulder the cost of his failure. Speaker after speaker has highlighted how the impact falls on precisely the people the Government say they want to support. Most working-age benefits, including child tax credit and maternity pay, will rise by only 1% for the next three years—a real-terms cut. Child benefit is to go up by only 1% for two years from 2014—another real-terms cut.
We do need to reform and modernise our welfare system. People who can work should work if the jobs are available for them; there should be no ifs or buts about that. However, that is not what the Chancellor is about. He is trying to characterise this as the workers versus the workshy and trying to get the public to believe that it is about the strivers versus the shirkers. That might make for some soundbites but it does not do anything to help the decent people who are out of work through no fault of their own, who are desperate to get a job, who want to pay their way, and who will do everything they possibly can to do so.
As we have heard, six out of 10 households who will be hit by these real-terms cuts to tax credits and benefits are actually in work. The House of Commons Library has shown that the decisions in the autumn statement, together with all the other changes to tax and benefits that take effect in April, mean that a one-earner family on £20,000 a year with two children will lose £279 a year. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury did not seem to recognise those figures when my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves spoke earlier, but perhaps the Exchequer Secretary will have something more to say about them.
Not only is this hitting hard-working people and families who are striving to do the right thing, but research from the Library shows that 81% of the revenue from the key additional direct tax, tax credit and benefit changes in the autumn statement will come from women—£867 million of over £1 billion raised. The Chancellor has added a mummy tax to his granny tax. Women are being hit three times harder than men by a Cabinet with three times more men than women—perhaps no surprise there.
We heard a number of excellent contributions this afternoon. Opposition Members spoke about the true cost of the Government’s failed economic policies and the reality behind the measures announced in the autumn statement. The Prime Minister may have once promised that we are all in this together, but given that hard-working, striving families and workers were singled out on the same day that the Government gave a £3 billion handout to the richest people in the country, it is clear that his promise has been broken.
Constituents across the length and breadth of the UK may well have given the Chancellor the benefit of the doubt, but many of them are now coming to realise that he is more interested in tax breaks for millionaires than in getting people into real jobs. I suspect that the 6,000-odd people in each Tory constituency who will be affected by that will wake up to the reality and that many of them will not repeat their vote for the Conservative party or, indeed, vote for the Liberal Democrats come the next election.
While the Chancellor is playing games and making the worst-paid workers pay for the costs of his failure, Labour will continue to fight to make sure that the voices of those whom he is hitting hard are heard. Opposition Members are proud to represent the voices of those people—the workers and the strivers. We will keep pushing the Chancellor to change course, to cut VAT temporarily, to bring in a bank bonus tax to fund a job guarantee for young people, genuinely to bring forward infrastructure investment, properly to reform the banking system, to introduce a national insurance contributions holiday scheme for small businesses, and to come up with a real strategy for growth, not just a strategy to cover the cost of failure.
To repeat the words of my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor earlier today—I say this to my right hon. Friend Frank Dobson and others who raised this point—we will look at the Government’s proposed legislation, but if they intend to go ahead with such an unfair hit on middle and lower-income working families while giving a £3 billion top-rate tax cut, we will oppose it.
This has been a passionate and thoughtful debate. I begin by congratulating the three hon. Members who made their maiden speeches this afternoon—all three were of the highest standards. Sarah Champion spoke with great pride and passion for her constituency. Steve Reed brought his local government expertise to the debate, and his understanding of the area he represents was most impressive. He also spoke movingly about his predecessor, Malcolm Wicks. Andy McDonald, who is the first Middlesbrough-born Labour MP, spoke with great pride about his constituency. I imagine that being the MP for one’s home town must bring a particular pleasure to delivering a maiden speech and representing one’s constituency. He also spoke warmly of his predecessor, Sir Stuart Bell. I congratulate them all and wish them well in the House of Commons. I am sure they will make many further eloquent and passionate speeches from the Opposition Benches over the years ahead.
I also thank a number of my hon. Friends for their contributions. My hon. Friend David Rutley spoke about how it is necessary to get growth in the economy and discussed ways of achieving that. My hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng made a strong and persuasive critique of the previous Government’s record and, indeed, of the level of borrowing under them.
My hon. Friend Chris Kelly set out some of the benefits for businesses in the autumn statement, highlighting in particular the corporation tax cuts and the annual investment allowance, which will benefit many west midlands businesses. My hon. Friend Stephen Williams made the point that it is right to reduce the deficit, even though it is taking longer than we had envisaged.
My hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson welcomed the cancellation of the fuel duty rise, which was due in January, and set out the case for greater tax transparency. He was absolutely right to raise that and this Government are taking steps to ensure that people understand the tax they pay.
My hon. Friend Gordon Birtwistle spoke about apprenticeships, of which there are 1 million more as a consequence of the Government’s actions. He talked about help for businesses in the north-west, including in the aerospace industry. He also spoke about the annual investment allowance.
My hon. Friend Richard Drax made a strong and passionate speech calling for lower taxes. My hon. Friend George Freeman set out the steps that the Government are taking to turn around the economy, and drew a parallel with the steps taken by Margaret Thatcher’s Government in the 1970s and 1980s.
I will not go through the list of all the right hon. and hon. Members who contributed to the debate, but I thank them all. In particular, I acknowledge the speech by the former Chancellor, Mr Darling. As ever, he brought great expertise to these matters. I did not agree with everything he said, but I thought that his was a far better response to the autumn statement than some that we have heard from Opposition Members, not least the shadow Chancellor.
The right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West said that we live in difficult times. When there is clearly major disagreement between the parties in government and the Opposition about the correct response to the difficulties, we should all acknowledge that growth is lower than we would like it to be and lower than the independent Office for Budget Responsibility anticipated, but we should also acknowledge that there are encouraging factors in the economy. We should all welcome the fact that private sector employment has grown significantly in recent months. The fact that the deficit is falling in every year of this Parliament is to be welcomed. It would be regrettable if the Labour party sought to undermine the Office for Budget Responsibility in making its independent assessment of the public finances.
These are clearly difficult times, not just for the UK economy, but elsewhere. Growth in the UK economy next year has been revised down from where we had hoped it would be, but it is still likely to be greater than the growth in Germany, France and the eurozone. The key question is why growth is lower. The analysis of the Office for Budget Responsibility is very clear: it is because of the uncertainties created by the crisis in the eurozone, because commodity prices are rising more than we would have liked and because the damage done to the economy by the crash of 2007-08 was greater than had been realised.
The answer from the Labour party, essentially, is that we could solve all those problems simply by borrowing more. Very few Labour Members say that explicitly, although Austin Mitchell was happy to say that that is the right approach. The Labour party says that borrowing is higher than we would like, which it is, but its solution is to borrow more. That makes no sense at all.
It is also not the case that the high level of borrowing that we inherited—a record amount outside wartime—was purely to do with bailing out the banking sector. The shadow Chancellor may not accept this, but the International Monetary Fund tells us that the structural deficit before the crash was 5.2% of GDP—a hugely dangerous level. Any Government who ignored that and failed to address it would be taking the most enormous risk with the country. It is vital that we have fiscal credibility. We could not have gone on as we were. Had we not taken action and gone further than was set out in the plans of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West, we would have faced great difficulties. We could not dismiss the risk of the UK being sucked into a sovereign debt crisis, and it would have been complacent of us if we had done so.
The Government have acted to bring the deficit down, but at every step we have been opposed by the Labour party. Most of us did not come into politics to raise VAT, but it was necessary to do that and we also had to take steps to reduce departmental spending—again, that was opposed by the Labour party. We had to reform the welfare system and find £18 billion of cuts, including the introduction of a welfare cap, and we had to make changes to the child benefit system that hit the top 10% or 15% of households. The Labour party opposed all that and, as far as we can see, will not touch a penny of the welfare budget. That is not a great surprise given its record in office. In real terms, the welfare bill increased by 40% in 13 years. Before Labour Members say that that was a response to the crash in 2007-08, half of that increase—20%—occurred before the crash. In the good times the welfare bill was rising out of control.
What does my hon. Friend think about the fact that spending between 1997 and 2007 doubled in nominal terms—it went up more than 50% in real terms—and that the welfare bill more than doubled in that time?
My point is that we could not continue in that way. The difficulty with the Labour party’s record is that it believes most problems can be solved by throwing money at them. We have run out of money and cannot afford to do that. That is why we are taking difficult decisions and the welfare uprating will be 1%—we now know that the Labour party will oppose that. We must get welfare spending under control. That measure will save £2 billion, and if one looks at other measures introduced in the autumn statement, one sees that working households—including those in the lowest decile—will gain in 2013.
I will press on because we are running out of time. If all measures to be introduced next April are taken into account, all working families gain, including those in the lowest decile. It is the right thing to do. We have raised the personal allowance yet further and cancelled Labour’s increase in fuel duty next January. Each time the average car is filled up, the motorist will pay £5 less fuel duty than they would have done had we implemented the Labour party’s plans.
As the Prime Minister and Chancellor have said, we face a global race and must make ourselves more competitive. That means moving from current spending to capital spending, which is why we will be spending £9 billion more on capital in this Parliament than the Labour party would have done. Do Labour Members support that switch from current spending to capital spending? That is why we can afford—and why it is necessary—to reduce corporation tax from 28% to 21%. The Labour party allowed our tax position to become uncompetitive.
There is competition for investment. Businesses can choose where they locate and invest. To ensure they choose this country, we need improved infrastructure and to control public spending. We must reform welfare and public services and we need competitive taxes. The Government are prepared to take difficult decisions but the Labour party consistently ducks those decisions and opposes every spending cut and reform. It opposes getting to grips with welfare spending and panders to every group, and the country will recognise that at the next election.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of the economy.