Debate resumed (Order, 20 March).
Question again proposed,
(1) It is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
It is the morning after—the cold light of day—and the full reality of this Chancellor of the Exchequer’s fourth Budget is starting to sink in. What a huge disappointment it was; what another wasted opportunity. On growth, on borrowing and on living standards, this Chancellor’s plan has completely failed.
Families, pensioners and businesses are paying the price, but what did we get yesterday? A change of direction? Action to kick-start our flatlining economy? Real help now for families on middle and low incomes? Any recognition from the Chancellor that things have not worked out as he planned? No. All we got was more of the same failing policies. Tweeting, tinkering, but no change, of course. The Chancellor confirmed that he will still go ahead in two weeks’ time with a tax cut for millionaires. We had more of the same failing policies and a long hard road to nowhere from a downgraded Chancellor who looks out of touch and increasingly out of his depth. Surely Britain deserves better than that. What do we have to look forward to this morning?
What my constituents on the islands can look forward to next month is fuel duty at 18p a litre less than it would have been if the right hon. Gentleman’s Government had still been in power. Is he not delighted that this Government have reversed his party’s policy and reduced fuel duty by 18p a litre for my island constituents?
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman fought the last election by saying that his constituents should vote Liberal Democrat to stop the Tory VAT bombshell. VAT has gone up, petrol is up as a result and his constituents will make their choice in two years’ time.
What do we have to look forward to this morning? Another painful, contorted and pathos-bathed Budget debate speech from the Business Secretary. I look across at him sitting on the Front Bench and cannot bear to read out once again all those pre-election quotes. You know the ones I mean, Mr Deputy Speaker—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] No, I just cannot bear it. They were the ones in which he warned that the Chancellor’s austerity plan, his VAT rise and his rapid spending cuts would choke off the recovery and make the deficit worse. The Business Secretary knew that this plan would fail and he now knows that he is deeply implicated in its catastrophic economic failure, yet he still does not have the courage to stand up and speak out about it. Long, contorted and fudged essays in the
New Statesman just will not do. No wonder he was completely ignored in yesterday’s Budget. It is a personal tragedy as well as a national tragedy, but we will hear from the Business Secretary shortly.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about economic failure. I have the UK annual debt figures going back a few years. When the right hon. Gentleman was in office, the UK debt was £347 billion. Before the crisis struck, it rose to £624 billion. After the crisis it ratcheted up another £200 billion. With this track record, why should the nation trust Labour with Britain’s finances ever again?
This is the Conservative Member who stated just two months ago that
“the past 2 and a half years have set Britain on the right track.”
The economy flatlined, borrowing stalled and the national debt rising year by year by year on his Chancellor’s watch. The right track? I can scarcely think what the wrong track would be.
This morning we heard the Deputy Prime Minister on “Call Clegg” attacking the Leader of the Opposition for repeating the same attacks in this year’s Budget response as he used last year. I went back to my opening speech of a year ago, the one following the Chancellor’s third Budget, the omnishambles Budget. We all remember that one, don’t we? This is what I said a year ago:
“The British economy is stagnating, unemployment is rising…the Government’s deficit reduction plans have gone wildly off track, middle and lower-income families and pensioners are facing rising…prices, rising energy bills and falling living standards—and what did the Chancellor do in his Budget yesterday? Did he admit that his economic plan has failed? Did he act to kick-start the stalled recovery?...No.”—[Hansard, 22 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 957.]
That was a year ago, and the tragedy is that 12 months on the position is even worse. In the words of the great Yogi Berra, it really is déjà vu all over again. It is a groundhog day Budget from a failing and out-of-touch Chancellor.
Twelve months on, living standards are still falling. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that real wages adjusted for inflation will be a full 2.4% lower in 2015 than in 2010—worse off under the Tories. It is groundhog day too because 12 months on, the economy is still flatlining. As recently as the autumn statement, the Chancellor was expecting growth of 1.2% this year, but the OBR has now halved that forecast to just 0.6%—not the right track; the wrong track. At the time of the spending review in autumn 2010 the Chancellor was expecting growth by now of 5.3%. So far it has been just 0.7%, and the stagnation and flatlining continue.
Perhaps the hon. Lady should also study the book. The interesting thing is that the OBR is also forecasting that unemployment will rise, not fall. More jobs, unemployment rising—maybe there are more people in the country. Does she know what the OBR forecasts net migration to be in the next few years? Tens of thousands? No. Net migration of 140,000 every year. That is what is going on.
It is groundhog day too because, as a result of the present stagnation, the Chancellor’s fiscal plans are even more wildly out of control than they were a year ago. No wonder his fiscal credibility is in tatters. The Chancellor used to claim that the national debt would start to fall in 2015 from a peak of 69.7% of GDP. He now expects it to rise in 2015, to rise in 2016, to rise in 2017 and to hit a staggering not 69.7%, but 85.6% of GDP. And the reason the national debt is rising is that, as the OBR said yesterday, the Chancellor’s deficit reduction plan has stalled. The deficit is now expected to be the same next year as it is this year and as it was last year. It is not a deficit reduction plan anymore. That is why the Chancellor is now set to borrow—[Interruption.] The Chancellor should listen to this. He is now set to borrow £245 billion more than he planned, vastly more than the borrowing he inherited from the Labour Government.
While the vast army of PAs behind the shadow Chancellor search for a bullet point on Bedford, let me say that his criticisms are not falling very strongly, in part because his hands are dipped in red—the red ink of years of borrowing and debt. Does he not think that the arguments would be stronger if he moved to one side and gave his seat to the fresh-faced young man sitting next to him, the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills?
The voters of Bedford might be disappointed to find out the truth: compared with a year ago, the Chancellor will borrow £29 billion more than he planned this year, £59 billion more next year, £73 billion more the year after and £77 billion more the year after that. Mr Deputy Speaker, if you want to know who the borrowing Chancellor is, it is him. Do you know what he managed to do yesterday in his Budget documentation? He fiddled around and managed to say that borrowing this year is lower than it was last year by £0.1 billion. We know why: as the OBR confirms, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, when one would think they would be working on a plan for jobs and growth or reform of the banking system, have been scrabbling around and hacking away at spending in this year in a desperate attempt to try to get the borrowing down.
The detail is set out on page 13 of the OBR document. It shows that, compared even with the autumn statement, tax revenues are down this year by £5 billion but that since December the Chancellor has found a further so-called underspend of £3.4 billion, which he says is not like normal underspends. What does the OBR tell us about that so-called underspend. It states:
“It is very rare for the government to under-spend the departmental plans it has set out less than a year ago by such a wide margin...Our overall forecast of under-spending has a number of elements: money that the Treasury has agreed to allow departments to move into future years;…money that departments thought they would spend this year, but which they do not now expect to spend either this year or in the future; and payments (for example to some international institutions) that were due to be made late in the current financial year, but which are being delayed into 2013-14.”
The cheque is in the post, but it will not arrive until after
“I thought the Government’s commitment to helping business was exactly what is needed for growth and jobs, and I continue to be dismayed that the Opposition remains so theatrical, playing for headlines only, which cannot help any of us.”
Falling living standards for families in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, rising child poverty and families in work seeing their tax credits cut—that is not theatre; that is the real world. As for the national insurance cut for small businesses, that is point 5 of Labour’s five-point plan for jobs and growth. That is the reality.
The OBR document is very interesting. It sets out the unusual underspend Department by Department. I do not think that we have yet heard the full truth about what has been going on in the Treasury: the pressure applied in one year to cut spending or to move it to the next year just to fiddle the borrowing figures. I think that we will discover the truth in the coming weeks. For a Government who attack businesses and make late payments to small business, they are the late payment Government.
Has the Chancellor learned nothing over the past 12 months? He used to say that he was sticking to his plan in order to secure the recovery, but then we had the double-dip recession. He used to say that he was sticking to his plan to get the deficit down, but his spending cuts and tax rises have choked off the recovery. As the OBR revealed yesterday, the deficit was basically unchanged last year and will remain unchanged this year and next. Then all he could say was that he had to stick to his plan in order to keep his treasured triple A credit rating, but he has even lost that. The only reason he will not now change course is to avoid his own political humiliation, and that is no reason to stick to a failing plan.
The Government inherited a deficit reduction plan from the previous Government, but the Chancellor is wildly off track from our plan, which he used to call irresponsible. He is borrowing pretty much a quarter of a trillion pounds more. He said that he would get the deficit down, but the deficit reduction plan has stalled.
I have urged the Chancellor to change course, as in recent months have the International Monetary Fund, The Economist, the Mayor of London, the Business Secretary and the Home Secretary. They have all cast doubt on his plan. But yesterday we got more of the same. How did he describe the Budget? He described it as a “steady-as-she-goes Budget.” Steady as she goes? What kind of ship does he think he is on: the Titanic; the Mary Celeste?
There were some welcome measures. We have consistently called for a tax break for small firms taking on extra workers. The Government are now set to introduce a similar scheme, three years after the shadow Business Secretary and I urged them to. That is a welcome step forward. The Chancellor has finally joined Twitter, five years after I did. Maybe he will find out that his plan is going to fail five years after I worked it out, although by then he will be on the Opposition side of the House.
Yesterday there was no proper plan to kick-start our economy, no bank bonus tax to fund a youth jobs guarantee, no real action to get lending going to small firms, no proper investment in affordable homes and no return of the 10p starting rate to help millions of people, paid for by a mansions tax. Despite the welcome small change of 1p off a pint of beer—buy 320 pints and get one free, which might even be too much for the Foreign Secretary—and even after the increase in the personal allowance, an important point for the Liberal Democrats, families will still be worse off next year compared with this year because of the Chancellor’s tax and benefit changes.
I think it is a little unfair to tease this Chancellor about what goes on late at night in massage parlours. Perhaps he will correct me and tell me that it was not a massage parlour. I will take an intervention if he would like to clarify it; I cannot remember that chapter in the biography.
According to House of Commons Library figures, a one-earner family—[Interruption.] The Chancellor should listen to the reality of his plans and their impact on hard-working families in our country. According to the Library, a one-earner family with two children on £20,000 a year will be £381 a year worse off in 2013 compared with 2010, even with the personal allowance, because that is outweighed by the hit to tax credits for a working family. This is without taking into account the rise in VAT. By 2015, that family on £20,000 will be £600 a year worse off.
It is not just a case of being worse off under the Tories, but worse off under the Liberal Democrats too. In 16 days’ time, as the Chancellor, with the support of the Business Secretary, rams through the granny tax, the strivers tax and the bedroom tax, he is pressing ahead with a £3 billion tax cut for the very richest people in our country. In two weeks’ time, 13,000 millionaires will get an average tax cut of £100,000 each. Millions are paying more while millionaires get a tax cut.
I will quote the Business Secretary. Asked on the “Today” programme, “Won’t that mean more borrowing?”, he replied, “But we are borrowing more.” The Government are borrowing more—it is all here in the OBR document. If they had listened to our plan two years ago, the borrowing would be coming down, and it is not.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He spoke about a deficit reduction plan. What year was he referring to? Was it 2001-02, when the deficit was £0.8 billion, or was it any one of the years leading up to the last year that Labour was in government, when it was a staggering £158 billion? Under the previous Government, the deficit increased in every single year after 2001. Will he tell me in which year his deficit was supposed to kick in?
I do not want to have to give the hon. Gentleman an economics lesson, although given that he thinks we are on the right track, perhaps he needs one. The Chancellor’s fiscal rule is to balance the current structural budget, excluding investment—[Interruption.] Don’t be so silly. [Interruption.]
The economy has flatlined and the national debt is rising year on year, and the hon. Gentleman does not want to know the truth.
Not only is the Chancellor pressing ahead with a tax cut for millionaires; it now seems that his mortgage scheme announced yesterday will help people, no matter how high their income, to buy a subsidised second home worth up to £600,000. From what I have seen so far, the Government are basically saying, “If you’ve got a spare room in a social home you’ll pay the bedroom tax, but if you want a spare home and you can afford it, we’ll help you to buy one.” Are the Government really going to allow millionaires, who will get a tax cut averaging £100,000 in two weeks’ time, to get a taxpayer guarantee if they use that money as a deposit on a house, a second home, or even a buy-to-let house? That is not just tax cuts for millionaires; it is subsidised mortgages for millionaires—or should I say a spare homes subsidy? I will take an intervention if the Chancellor wants to clear up the absolute confusion and chaos over this policy. Surely people struggling to get a mortgage—those who want to get their first home—should be the priority for help, not the small number who can potentially afford to buy a second home or a buy-to-let home. We will solve the housing crisis and help first-time buyers only if we finally build the new affordable homes that we said should be built but which he ignored in this Budget.
This is more of the same from a Chancellor who does not even understand the Budget he has announced, as we saw a year ago. I ask him again—is the taxpayer subsidy available for second homes to people with incomes over £100,000 or for buy-to-let properties? Yes or no? If he does not clear it up, the confusion and chaos will continue. Does he want clarify it? Pasties, caravans, churches, skips—and now subsidised second homes for millionaires. It is not “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”; it is “Who Wants To Help A Millionaire?” It is not “phone a friend”; it is “cut taxes for your friends.” As for “ask the audience”, he must be hoping that he does not have to ask the electorate any time soon—certainly not after the past 12 months.
What a 12 months it has been for this Chancellor! The omnishambles Budget, the double-dip recession, booed at the Paralympics, forced to upgrade on the train, downgraded by Moody’s, his fascinating biography—and now his colleagues are even speculating that he might have to be replaced by the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary, or even Mr Redwood. A year ago they feted him as the next leader of the Tory party; now, according to the Tories, they are touting him as our next man in Brussels. It used to be Calamity Clegg they were sending off to the Commission; now it is Calamity George. Well, we do know he likes a bit of “Whip crack-away, whip crack-away, whip crack-away.” [Interruption.] Are you suggesting that I do not sing it, Mr Deputy Speaker?
A few weeks ago, the Chancellor reportedly told his colleagues at a Cabinet meeting that if they did not make a decision that day they would have to do so after 2015, sitting round the shadow Cabinet table. That is going to be the one forecast that he actually gets right.
This is all very amusing, but not very serious. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in his own constituency over the past 12 months unemployment has fallen by 2.5% and youth unemployment has fallen by 12.5%? Why is he complaining about higher borrowing and at the same time advocating higher borrowing? Is it not right that the Chancellor is letting the automatic stabilisers kick in?
The problem with what the Chancellor is doing this year—cutting in-year spending—is that it is the opposite of the automatic stabilisers. He is cutting spending and the OBR says that it is having a direct impact on economic growth. I sympathise with everybody who loses their job, including Mr Gibb. In my constituency unemployment has come down, but working families are worse off because of cuts to tax credits, the bedroom tax and cuts to child care. The £700 million-a-year tax break for new child care is no compensation for the £7 billion a year cut in support for families.
I think the hon. Lady may find that that is before the millionaires’ tax cut kicks in in 14 days’ time.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton asked whether I am being serious. I am being deadly serious about the failure of this Government’s economic plan. They are failing on growth and on borrowing, and living standards are falling as families and businesses pay the price. I warned the Chancellor two and a half years ago that his plan could not work and that, given that a global hurricane was brewing, it was the wrong time to rip out the foundations of our own house. I told him that monetary policy in a situation akin to that of Japan in the 1990s or of the world in the 1930s could not do the trick to restore growth. I warned him that attempting to have the biggest tax rises and fastest spending cuts in our post-war history, and probably beyond, would backfire and choke off recovery rather than support it.
The Under-Secretary of State for Skills, Matthew Hancock is the Chancellor’s former adviser and he is now a member of the Business Secretary’s ministerial team. He wrote an article in The Times in the autumn of 2010 in which he said—this is the Chancellor’s former adviser—that faster deficit reduction would lead to stronger growth. He said, as the Chancellor has also argued, that this was an example of expansionary fiscal contraction, but fiscal contraction has not been expansionary—it choked off the recovery. If the Chancellor was relying on advisers like the hon. Gentleman, it is no wonder that he got into such trouble.
The hon. Gentleman needs to look at the figures and understand the impact on working families in his constituency. The problem with his Chancellor is that he gives with one hand and takes a lot more with the other. A one-earner family on £20,000 and with two children are worse off, even with the personal allowance, by £380 a year because of the cuts to tax credits. Working families are losing out. The Chancellor tried to divide the country into strivers versus shirkers, but we do not hear that any more because it turned out that his shirkers were the working people of this country.
I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Philip Snowden, Lord Lamont and now Chancellor Osborne—[Interruption.] It was not the Lamont name that I got wrong, was it, Mr Deputy Speaker? Philip Snowden, Lord Lamont and now this Chancellor have said, “I will stick to the plan.” Those past Chancellors ignored all the warnings from those who said that the plan would not work. They boasted, “If the medicine’s not hurting, it’s not working,” and ploughed on and on as things got worse and worse, and their careers ended in disaster as their failed policy finally consumed them.
Is that not the truth? This Chancellor is an historian who does not know his history and he does not know his economics, either. He is completely out of his depth—business, the country, his Back Benchers and Cabinet colleagues and the Business Secretary all know it and, in his heart of hearts, I think the Chancellor knows it, too. He was the wrong man for the job at this vital time. He is running out of excuses, he has run out of answers and he is running out of road.
We needed a Budget for growth, jobs and fairness, but we got more of the same. There is no plan for growth, just tax cuts for the rich while everyone else pays the price. This is more of the same failing plan from a downgraded Chancellor—not steady as she goes, but sinking like a stone.
I am delighted to speak in support of the Budget and thank the shadow Chancellor for 35 minutes of pantomime. More worryingly for me, I occasionally read in the newspapers that we agree with each other; I am not sure whether he regards that as a bigger slander than I do. I have been trying to find out what it is that I am supposed to agree with and to understand what actually is his plan B. A quick search revealed seven different variants of plan B. In fact, that is almost certainly an understatement, because the shadow Chancellor has had more positions on the economy than there are positions in the “Kama Sutra”.
Let me run through some of the variations that we have heard from the shadow Chancellor over the past couple of years. He started with the big stimulus to the economy that was going to come from the bankers’ bonus tax, which would have imposed a £2 billion tax on a tax base—a bonus pool—of £1.6 billion. He had not realised that, since his time in charge of the City, the bonus pool had shrunk from £14 billion.
The shadow Chancellor then moved on to the five-point plan, which was mostly pretty sensible. It included apprenticeships, which we are already doing on a much bigger scale. He also wanted, I think, £200 million for the regional growth fund. Well, we have given it billions, not hundreds of millions. He then moved on to the reallocation of the money from the 4G auction sale, but it had already been allocated—I have already spent quite a lot of it.
We have now moved on to trying to understand what plan B actually means today. As far as I can fit it together, it consists of several elements, including a big stimulus from a value added tax cut, stopping Government spending cuts and, somehow out of the alchemy, reducing borrowing. I have tried to work out how this plan was created and am struck by its similarity to the economic strategy being developed by Nigel Farage, although I may be doing the UK Independence party a disservice.
The shadow Chancellor and I have a serious interest in economics. Before we discuss how to deal with this crisis, we have to try to understand how it originated. I think that most serious economists, whether they are in the Keynesian tradition or not, would acknowledge that this is not a cyclical recession. It is what is now called a balance sheet recession, and in order to understand how that happened we need to understand why the balance sheet got so big in the first place and why private sector deleveraging is now happening on such a massive and damaging scale.
This is an uncomfortable set of questions for the shadow Chancellor because, among other things, he has to explain the following. Why was it that in the 50 quarters of growth without inflation, nobody noticed the massive asset bubble in residential and commercial property, which has since burst? He has to explain why households in the UK, which have become heavily over-leveraged, managed in that period to acquire the highest level of personal debt in relation to income of any country in the developed world. He has to explain why a medium-sized bank in Scotland was encouraged and actively supported by his Government in trying to become the biggest bank in the world on the basis of dodgy acquisitions and gambling in its casino operations. He also has to explain why, when his former boss commissioned an excellent study on the banking system in 2000, which explained why there was a cartel operating that was squeezing the life out of small business, his Government did absolutely nothing about it.
We have a major economic crisis caused by balance sheet deleveraging, arising out of a major financial crisis. One would have thought that those on the left would want to talk about a crisis of financial capitalism, but they do not want to talk about it at all. In fact, the shadow Chancellor has a striking resemblance to the lead character in “Fawlty Towers”. Colleagues may remember the episode in which he goes around with great indignation, wanting to have an animated conversation about Germany, but nobody wants to talk about the war. The shadow Chancellor wants to talk about the economic crisis, but not the financial collapse that he presided over.
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about an asset bubble. What is the Chancellor’s mortgage scheme, other than the hope of an asset bubble to get him out of trouble? What growth or capacity would that add to the economy? The problems of this economy will not be answered by yet another asset bubble. What are the Government trying to do? All that their scheme will do is create another asset bubble.
There are two elements to the Chancellor’s housing package. The first is the development of the FirstBuy scheme, which will provide £3.5 billion for shared ownership. That has been widely welcomed because it will increase the demand for housing and get the housing market going. The other, more ambitious scheme is a form of insurance for mortgages, which has been very successfully applied in Canada, for example, where it prevented a collapse of the market of the kind that occurred here and introduced greater stability. The Chancellor is now consulting on how that scheme should be designed, which is absolutely right.
The Secretary of State needs to be a champion of the mansion tax, which would be a very sensible thing to do at the moment. Why is he supporting this scheme, which will support the purchase of houses up to the value of £600,000?
I remain a champion of the mansion tax and will continue to champion it with my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches. The Chancellor is going to consult on how this major reform to the housing market will be implemented. We recognise that there are many complex products in the mortgage market. For example, many parents support their children’s housing acquisitions. Those kinds of transactions have to be properly analysed before the scheme is launched.
As I said a few moments ago, there are two schemes. The first, which is the development of a scheme that is already operating, most emphatically does not apply to second homes. The major mortgage guarantee scheme is complex and the Chancellor will consult on how to draw the boundaries around eligible mortgages.
I will in a moment. Let me just deal with the question of the millionaires who benefit. I remember the 13 years that I spent on the Opposition Benches, asking about taxes. Let us remember the situation. We had a 40p top tax rate, we had an 18% capital gains tax, which was widely used for tax avoidance in the private equity industry and elsewhere, and non-dom tax reliefs were completely uncapped. When we challenged that situation, we were told repeatedly by the shadow Chancellor and others, “No, you can’t do that. You’ll frighten away all the bankers who are generating wealth in the City of London.”
Of course we need a more equitable tax system. That is why the Liberal Democrats continue to argue for a mansion tax. But we have a higher rate of income tax at the top than prevailed in any year of the Labour Government.
The Business Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and a student of these matters, and he cares a lot about how the economy works. Can he tell us, because he will have been part of the discussions, whether the new mortgage scheme applies to second homes and buy-to-let. Yes or no? He is the Business Secretary; can he answer the question?
The scheme has not yet been designed in detail. It was typical of the Labour party that it frequently launched into half-baked schemes without thinking about the detail. This is a major change and it will be planned carefully.
To be absolutely clear, in two weeks’ time millionaires are getting an income tax cut and the new scheme that was introduced yesterday could allow them to use that tax cut to get a taxpayer subsidy for a second home or a buy-to-let, but the Business Secretary cannot tell us—yes or no—whether that will be the case. Is that not an absolute shambles? Is it not set to be totally unfair? It is a spare home subsidy.
The right hon. Gentleman does not know, and I do not yet know, what the final outcome of this massive scheme will be. To be lectured with righteous indignation by the people who created a massive property bubble that destroyed this country’s economy and wiped out enormous gains in people’s living standards is the most gross hypocrisy.
My colleague is absolutely right. He reminds us of two things that the Government have done. One is the freezing of petrol duty. The other is the allowance for remote communities, which he ably represents, as does Mr MacNeil.
I am sure that we would have free petrol in a perfect world.
Let me deal with some of the points of economic substance that have been raised. The first was about job creation. It is true that in the last set of figures there was a very small increase in unemployment. However, that happened against the context of the last three months, in which 130,000 new jobs were created, vacancies rose and redundancies fell. In this Parliament, we have created 1.25 million new private sector jobs. It is difficult to understand why, if the economy is performing as badly as the shadow Chancellor claims, a large number of new private sector companies are creating jobs in that way. There are regions of the country, such as the west midlands, that in the boom periods saw a decline in private sector employment. That is now being comprehensively reversed.
The question put by my hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt is apposite: why does the Labour party think that 600,000 jobs are being predicted by the OBR in the coming year? We got the ludicrous answer that it has something to do with immigration, but immigration is about the supply of labour, not the demand. Where is the demand coming from, other than a favourable business environment that encourages small companies to establish and grow jobs?
We have listened long and hard to the Government about the number of private sector jobs that have been created—it went from 1 million, to 1.2 million, fell back to 1 million for some reason, and yesterday we heard an announcement of 1.25 million new jobs. Will the Secretary of State put in the Library a complete breakdown of those jobs that states where they are located—not just percentage-wise but numbers-wise—which sectors they are in, and the hours that people are working, so that we know exactly what is happening?
I understand that some of those details were placed in the Library yesterday, and the hon. Gentleman is free to consult them. I hope he is not trying to deny that the phenomenon is taking place.
It is not clear how many unpaid, workfare jobs are counted as being among the jobs created. Clearly, they are not jobs created if people are working for nothing. How many of the jobs are like that?
I do not understand why the Opposition should be hostile to work experience. All our evidence suggests that people who enjoy work experience go on to stable employment. It is an extraordinary state of denial when we have a successful process of job creation that the Opposition do not want to acknowledge exists.
To clear up the Business Secretary’s confusion a few moments ago—I am not sure whether he or the Chancellor have seen this document, but it might be helpful to them—the Treasury has published a document, “Help to Buy: mortgage guarantee”, which makes it clear that the scheme does not apply to buy-to-let properties. A person cannot take out a mortgage for a buy-to-let property; it must be residential. As far as we can see from the document, however, the scheme absolutely does allow second homes. It is a spare homes subsidy. I do not know whether the Business Secretary has seen the document, but perhaps he would like to comment.
For absolute clarity, I asked the Chancellor and the Business Secretary whether the scheme applied to buy-to-let properties, and whether it would allow second homes. Neither of them knew. The Business Secretary said that it had not been decided, but in fact the document has been published and states that the scheme does not apply to buy-to-let properties, but it does allow second homes. The accusation stands. Is that true? It is not in the document; are they going to amend it?
I think the shadow Chancellor is digging himself into a certain amount of trouble. He refers to a document as fact, but it is actually a consultation document. Rather more sensibly, the shadow Business Secretary yesterday applauded the new housing initiatives. We will proceed with the consultation, and if the shadow Chancellor has any technical criticisms of the tenure arrangements, he can make them in the consultation process and we will listen constructively.
With greatest respect to the Business Secretary, he mentioned what I said yesterday, but I said that not knowing that people who want second homes can take advantage of the scheme. He did not know that either.
The second criticism from the Opposition was about the level of borrowing. I was not clear whether the shadow Chancellor regards high levels of borrowing as a good or bad thing—a rather basic question. Is the
Labour party in favour or more borrowing, or less? The Institute for Fiscal Studies made a thorough comparison between what is likely to happen under the Government’s fiscal plans and what would have happened under the so-called Darling plan. It was a bit perfunctory, but it gave us a framework and concluded that in 2016-17 the level of borrowing under the Labour trajectory would have been £76 billion, but £24 billion under the coalition’s policy. That is after the revisions that have taken place.
As someone brought up in the Keynesian tradition, I think it rather creditable that the Chancellor has responded to a slow-down in the economy by allowing counter-cyclical stabilisers to apply. I am amazed that those on the Opposition Front Bench find that a source of criticism, when it is good, common-sense, practical economics.
The shadow Chancellor’s speech not only did a grave disservice to the Chancellor, but to Philip Snowden. I declare an interest as my late mother was Jennifer Snowden so I am related to the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. As a consequence I have his biography which states:
“He was raised in an atmosphere which regarded borrowing as an evil and free trade as an essential ingredient of prosperity.”
The hon. Gentleman has obviously found another version of plan B that I did not discover in my search, but I am sure he is right.
Let us consider what has caused this slow-down, which the shadow Chancellor blames on Government policy. The OBR was clear and explicit and stated that the downward revision in our forecast for 2012 is largely accounted for by a reduction in the contribution of net trade. We are operating in a difficult international context—particularly in the eurozone, which accounts for half our exports—and that largely explains the slow-down that has occurred, and the consequential impact on Government debt and borrowing.
We are giving overriding priority to developing British trade in those markets that have been neglected for many years. Over the past two years, led by the Prime Minister, I and other Ministers have gone back time and again to people in the big emerging economies to promote exports and inward investment. That is why our exports to Brazil and India have increased by more than half, and by approximately 100% to China and 130% to Russia. That diversification of our export base is fundamental to getting us out of this crisis. That is what we are doing, and we are succeeding.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments, but they appear pretty poor words for companies such as Alcan in Northumberland that is going to shut —the Budget did not come soon enough to provide tax breaks for energy-intensive industries. Furthermore, the steel industry in England and Scotland has been losing out to foreign, imported steel in bridge contracts, as my hon. Friend Nic Dakin mentioned today in business questions.
That is a serious point and I am sympathetic to it. My colleagues and I have spent a lot of time talking to the EEF, the CBI and other employers groups about the higher costs of energy and how we compensate for it. A compensation package has been through consultation and is being implemented—the cash will be disbursed soon—for the higher cost of the carbon price floor and the EU emissions trading scheme. I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern—he is absolutely right—and we are addressing it.
As my hon. Friend reminds me, it is the largest in Europe. Wilton has lost out on the carbon capture and storage programme, which would have added 20 or 30 years’ longevity to the capital on site. The north-east is pushing more than any other region in providing exports for the country, and yet the Secretary of State is not providing the financial support for the infrastructure that was provided by the Labour Government.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s comments on exports—I have seen for myself UK exports to the Nigerian market. Does he agree that getting traditionally reluctant small and medium-sized business to export is key? Does he also agree that the employment allowance will enable some of our small businesses to take on those additional employees to attack those new markets?
The hon. Gentleman is right on both counts. I was recently in Nigeria supporting that effort. If we are to have momentum, it must come through small and medium-sized companies. Frankly, the export effort in many emerging markets was neglected for most of the past decade—the relationships are not there and must be built up. He is also right that the employment allowance, which will help 400,000 micro-companies, is a big step forward and a big incentive to them to take on that extra member of staff.
In my concluding section, I shall address some of the big strategic choices made in the Budget. We can argue about temporary changes, but it is important that the country has a sense of direction. First, the industrial strategy gives sense of direction; secondly, the changes in money and banking policy are fundamental after the crisis; and thirdly, the tax agenda creates a greater level of fairness.
On the industrial strategy, I was teased earlier about the “compelling vision” for the British economy, but we clearly need a vision of the economy that goes beyond one Parliament and Government, and that stretches decades ahead. That is why we have made the commitment to long-term planning and working in partnership with business in those sectors of the economy that need such a framework. We have produced agreements with the aerospace industry, and will do so with the automotive and biological sciences industries, and with the supply chains in renewable and non-renewable energy, which were desperately hollowed out in the years when manufacturing was neglected under the previous Government. We are trying to rebuild those supply chains.
A Back-Bench colleague made the point that we have an extra 70,000 jobs in manufacturing after 1 million were lost in the decade of the Labour Government. Of course, the industrial strategy is not just about manufacturing; it is about key service sectors such as education and higher education, and professional and financial services, which are equally important in driving exports.
In the right hon. Gentleman’s three years as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, he has mastered being an apologist for the Conservative-led Government. May I politely remind him that he was elected in 2010 as a Liberal Democrat on the Liberal Democrat manifesto, in which, on page 15, he says:
“If spending is cut too soon, it would undermine the much-needed recovery”?
He was right then, but does he still believe he was right?
I recommend that the hon. Gentleman has a look at the OBR’s figures to see what has happened to Government consumption in the past three years. In 2010, it grew by 0.5%; in 2011, it grew by 2.6%; and last year, it grew by 0.6%. It is true that aspects of Government spending have been cut in a way that has been damaging. The Chancellor has acknowledged, as I have, that capital spending cuts were a mistake. That was the one bit of fiscal consolidation that the Labour Government launched, and it has had damaging consequences, which is why we are now reversing it.
That is not how things look from the perspective of the north-east. The Government destroyed regional development agencies. Of the capital spending the Government have introduced, only 0.5% has gone to the north-east. Why?
Job creation in the north-east is growing more rapidly than it is in many other parts of the country. It is precisely because the north-east has a higher share of exports in its regional gross domestic product than any other region that it is benefiting from the shift that is now taking place to manufacturing.
The Secretary of State says that the Government have made a mistake with their capital spending cuts and that they are reversing them— presumably, he refers to the extra £3 billion. However, why are he and his colleagues reversing the mistake only from 2015, when the economy needs the support now?
I answered the hon. Gentleman’s point in Business, Innovation and Skills questions. Some of the increases in capital spending have already taken place. There was a significant increase in the capital outlay on universities, which my colleague the Minister for Universities and Science is seeing through at the moment in the establishment of R and D centres. After the fiasco of further education college building under the previous Government, the current Government are, in a systematic way, restoring the infrastructure of the FE sector.
This week, AstraZeneca announced a global restructuring, in which it committed its advanced manufacturing facility to Macclesfield in Cheshire, and moved its global R and D to Cambridge, investing £300 million and 2,000 employees. The Government have moved quickly to set up a taskforce to help with the changeover of the old site to an incubator. AstraZeneca has congratulated the Government on their life sciences strategy. May I congratulate the Secretary of State and Lord Heseltine, whose birthday is today, on the leadership that the Conservative and Liberal coalition are giving on a modern industrial policy for new businesses?
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s congratulations. Life sciences are a key area. It is a difficult sector, because the business model of pharmaceutical companies is changing—they are taking much of their R and D to spin-off companies rather than having it at their headquarters. That has been painful, but my colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer intervened to help to make the process in his constituency less painful than it otherwise would have been. However, the decision of that large company to have its headquarters and R and D centre in the UK in East Anglia is a vote of confidence in Britain.
I want to make one more point on the industrial strategy. Apart from supporting successful sectors, we must reinforce those elements of the economy that drive long-term growth—meaning, basically, innovation and skills. That is why I and the Under-Secretary of State for Skills who is responsible for apprenticeships are driving enormous growth in apprenticeships, particularly in key areas such as advanced manufacturing skills. It is also why we must invest significantly in innovation. We have therefore established the chain of catapults, and we have the excellent proposal that my colleague the Chancellor made yesterday for the small business research initiative for small business innovation.
The Secretary of State is right that it was a mistake to cut investment in affordable house building. The £4 billion cut in 2010 brought about a collapse in affordable house building. Housing starts were down 11% last year, 70,000 more construction workers are on the dole, and there has been an 8% contraction in construction. If capital investment is key to getting house building and the economy moving, why did the Government not accept the proposal of my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer for investment to build 100,000 affordable homes, which would have added 1% to GDP, put 100,000 construction workers back to work, and got the economy moving?
Why did the Labour party not do that when it was in government? Why was its first proposal for stabilising the budget to cut capital spending, including on affordable housing? If the hon. Gentleman had read the Budget, he would have discovered that, in addition to the housing policies that will affect private mortgages, it included a significant increase in support for affordable housing in the social sector.
The second long-term change relates to money and banking. One of the big features of the post-crisis economies has been the way in which Governments have had to pursue fiscal consolidation—because of the inheritance they received, and ours was worse than most—alongside supportive monetary policy. I made my maiden speech in 1997 in support of the then Chancellor when he made the Bank of England operationally independent. That was an important and good reform. But we have realised over the years that the world has changed. Inflation took no account of the massive asset bubbles that grew up, and the regime was not prepared for the collapse of the financial system and the difficulties we have had rectifying it. That is why it is right that, following on from the very successful, improvised monetary policies that we have experienced, the Chancellor is now consulting on a changed regime, which will be more flexible and take account of the level of unemployment, the level of nominal GDP and other variables that are crucial to long-term growth.
There already are regulations that affect bankers’ bonuses, which we introduced long before the European Parliament and which firmly cap the amount of bonuses that can paid out in cash, as opposed to stock, which is not redeemable in the short run. That reform has already been made in order to stabilise the banking system.
I agree that the banking crisis did enormous damage. As someone who has probably spent more time thinking and writing about it than most people in the House, I acknowledge that I have underestimated the damage that was done by the collapse of the banking system, especially the crippled, semi-state owned banks—to such an extent that even if we now ordered those banks to lend more, they would be institutionally incapable of doing so. What we have realised is that there are two problems. The first is the problem that has arisen from the banking collapse itself and the de-leveraging that followed it. The other is the fact that over a decade ago the bankers stripped out their capacity for local relationship banking. Effectively, they looted their banks and denuded them of the capacity to engage in sensible business lending. Of course, that was anticipated in the Cruickshank report, which the Labour Government ignored, but it has done serious damage that makes it difficult to revive conventional business lending. We are trying a series of initiatives to do that.
On Friday, a new tranche of money will be made available for non-bank lending. Today, we had the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, which is helping to fund our supply chains. I put in the Library this morning a written ministerial reply on the business bank, which gives a time profile for how that new institution will support challenger banks and new forms of wholesale financing in the banking sector. The Chancellor’s speech yesterday included a positive initiative on equity capital and helping to relieve some of the burdens on companies going to the alternative investment market on the equity side.
The Secretary of State is right about the loss of relationship banking: we need to put that right. However, will he acknowledge that businesses can fund themselves in two ways? One is to go to the bank and the other is to raise share capital. What the Chancellor did yesterday on AIM shares and ISDX shares—getting rid of stamp duty—is incredibly useful, but does the Secretary of State agree that business owners need education in how to seek out share capital to grow their businesses? That is key.
My hon. Friend is right. There are a series of bottlenecks in raising risk capital. At the top end, the problem is accessing equity markets, and at the bottom end the problem is in raising angel finance, which is something else that we are trying to support. As it happens, the business bank will have a role not just in lending, but in developing equity markets for small-scale companies.
I was delighted that recently the Financial Secretary announced a consultation into a new independent payments regulator. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to solve the problem of the lack of bank lending to SMEs, we need a raft of new challenger banks? The best way to achieve that would be full account number portability, which would encourage new entrants into the market.
My hon. Friend is right, and the details of the Treasury’s proposals on that point are emerging quickly. For the first time in a lifetime, we are now getting serious challenger banks in the UK, such as Aldermore, Metro, Shawbrook and others, which are an important addition. I hope that the Co-op, the Nationwide and other mutuals that are trying to get into this market will also contribute.
Is not the real problem the collapse in demand in the economy, partly caused by the stripping out of the public sector, why is people are not borrowing, why banks are not lending and why companies are sitting on big assets that they are not spending?
There is a demand in the economy. When the Government come forward with proposals to stimulate demand, as they did in the housing sector, the Opposition jump up and criticise them.
I deprecate that and I am surprised that the new chief executive of Barclays, who seemed to have turned over a new leaf, has allowed that to happen on his watch. But of course it is a private bank. It is subject to regulation and the high-paid executives will be properly taxed at a higher rate than ever happened under the Labour Government.
While we achieve long-term change, develop an industrial strategy and change the monetary and credit landscape, people have to have a sense of fairness, which is why some of the basic changes, including taxation reforms, are being made. I reminded the shadow Chancellor a few minutes ago of my 13 years in opposition, pointing to the tax regime that applied under the Labour Government, with lower income tax, lower capital gains tax and more generous treatment of non-dom investors than is occurring under this Government. The Opposition complain about a millionaires’ tax break, but they should remember that in office they created a tax haven for billionaires. That is the legacy that we have had to deal with, and we are dealing with it at the top end of the income and wealth scale, as well as at the bottom with our ambitious proposals to lift low earners out of tax. In 2006, when I was shadow Chancellor, I remember explaining these proposals for the first time, and they were ridiculed by Labour as impractical, unaffordable and a fantasy land. In government, we have now delivered them, and some 2.5 million low-paid workers, many of them women, will pay no income tax when these changes are introduced. That is a major change in the direction of providing incentives and fairness, and I am proud to be associated with that and the other reforms that we are putting through in this Budget.
Order. I remind the House that we will have a seven-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
It is a pleasure to follow the Business Secretary. He is of course right that there is demand in the economy: it is demand for change. It is significant that last year we had the omnishambles Budget and this year we have had a Budget from a Chancellor imprisoned by his own rhetoric and his own record. What we needed this year was a bold Budget to break us free from the Chancellor’s record of nearly three years of a flatlining economy. We heard a lot about fuel yesterday, and slogans about driving the economy forward. In 2010, the Chancellor said that the economy would grow by more than 2% every year up to 2015, a steady drive on the road to recovery. Well, he has failed. He has not got the UK economy into gear. This debate is about growth. He has failed on growth, and the triple A rating fell off the roof rack on the way.
Budgets tend to unravel as the details are revealed, and we have seen that this afternoon. It is less than a day since the Chancellor sat down, and we have already seen cracks appearing in the second homes subsidy and the Budget as a whole, and I have no doubt that will continue in the coming days. He could have kept it simple. The fact is that for most people the standard of living is under severe pressure. Energy and other everyday household bills are rising, wages are stagnant, real wages have fallen since the Government came to power, and those on the lowest incomes and on benefits are seeing their incomes falling. That is bad for them, obviously, but it also sucks demand out of the economy and creates a crisis of confidence.
The priority of this Budget should have been a dash for growth to instil confidence in the UK economy. We have already heard the Business Secretary admit this afternoon that there was a split in the Government on this strategy; a split that still has not been resolved. The Chancellor has never admitted that he got his economic strategy wrong in the way that the Business Secretary did this afternoon. The problem is that the Chancellor is lashed to the mast of austerity. To break free would be a significant admission of his own failure, so the only cry we hear from the Chancellor is “O Canada!” He is hoping that the new Governor of the Bank of England will adopt a pro-growth strategy to dig him out of this hole with a new monetary approach, because the Chancellor cannot come to this Chamber and admit that he got it wrong.
We should dwell for a few moments on the geographical perspective to the health of the UK economy. Within the M25 ring, the London economy is the pretty successful. It is patchy in areas, but it is a major engine for our economy. Outside of the M25, the situation is particularly patchy. As a whole the economy is flatlining, but there are significant regional and sub-regional problems that the Budget did not address at all. Basically, the Government have binned their regional economic development strategy—a comprehensive approach to renewing our towns and cities and ensuring growth. Centre for Cities produced its “Cities Outlook 2013” report recently. It said:
“The 64 cities that Outlook assesses account for 53 per cent of businesses, 58 per cent of jobs and 60 per cent of UK economic output. As such, policy that can help to stimulate urban growth by making the most of cities’ distinctive strengths and weaknesses will help stimulate growth of the national economy.”
Telford is one of those 64 cities, and we need help. Unemployment in Telford is stubbornly high at 7%, and a large proportion of the unemployed are aged between 16 and 24. Median rates of gross weekly pay are lower than elsewhere in the west midlands and England. The Budget did nothing at all to help young people. I did not hear the Chancellor talk about the problems faced by young people; it certainly was not a major element of his Budget.
We are not sitting back and doing nothing in Telford. We are trying to make a difference. The Labour council is leading a major drive on apprenticeships, and Telford College of Arts and Technology is working hard to offer training and development in local companies. We are delivering new schools across the borough through the Building Schools for the Future programme—the last great legacy of the previous Labour Government—and providing new learning environments. We are regenerating estates such as Brookside, and are making a significant investment, in partnership with the private sector, in the town centre as part of the Southwater scheme.
What we need now is a Government who are as keen as our Labour council in Telford and Wrekin to make difference. We need a city deal for Telford. Twenty cities have been asked to bid in the second round of “city deal”, in addition to the major cities that have already secured it. We need the flexibility to work with Government to bring in investment. In Telford, Homes and Communities Agency land has been sitting idle since the new town corporation was wound down, and it is ready for development. We could be developing a profit-sharing deal with the Government for those land sites, working together to shift them off the Government ledger, getting investment for housing and infrastructure into our town, and profit-sharing with the Treasury. That would be good for the local community, good for the Treasury and would get the economy moving. I call on the Business Secretary to think about that. I hope he is willing to meet with representatives, along with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
We need a flexible approach to the regional strategy. The Government have totally destroyed their regional approach to economic development. They need to think again about the existence and structure of regional development agencies. I spoke to the business community in Telford after the Budget via a phone-in conference. They told me that they are extremely worried that the local enterprise partnerships are not dynamic or effective enough, and do not knit together different elements across the region.
Telford needs to be driving for growth. We have the capacity to do that, and the Government need to help us. I see nothing in yesterday’s Budget that will help us, and I hope they change course. They could have done a lot things, but a major measure would have been to cut VAT. VAT is sucking demand out of the economy, and they could have moved on that yesterday.
It is a pleasure to participate in this important debate.
Labour has had its moment to spell out what it would do. We heard a lot of noise yesterday, and we have heard a lot today. What we thought was Keynesian economics was actually Hayek’s economic policy, because Labour is saying “Let’s do absolutely nothing.” It is welcome news that in the coalition’s fourth Budget, following the biggest financial crisis in our history, the deficit has been reduced by one third, employment is at record levels and private sector jobs are finally replacing those in the public sector by a ratio of 6:1. It is a difficult climate out there.
My hon. Friend makes the point I was about to come on to. We are suffering from international gloom. Along with other major economies around the world, such as France, Germany, Japan and the United States, we are faring better, despite the problems of high oil and commodity prices and the frustratingly slow resolution of the eurozone crisis. That is thanks to the Government’s strategy of monetary and fiscal responsibility, along with supply-side reform.
In layman’s terms, monetary policies reflect the price the Government pay to borrow money and the total supply of money itself. It is thanks to our low interest rates that the cost of borrowing for individuals, banks and the Government is low. That helps to keep inflation low and provides the stability that investors need for confidence in the markets. On fiscal policy—how much money goes into the pot through taxes, and what comes out to influence economic activity—this Government are smaller than the previous Government. They have cut waste and are costing the taxpayer less, which is very positive. Indeed, the public sector borrowing requirement is down by a third from its post-war peak, only three years ago, of 11.2% of GDP.
There are many incentives in the Budget to help influence economic activity. I will mention just three main measures: the introduction of the £10,000 personal allowance, which essentially is a £700 tax cut for 24 million people; the new £2,000 employment allowance; and a cut in corporation tax to just 20%, which makes us one of the most competitive economies in the G20. They are all signs that Britain is open again for business.
There is not enough time to go through the other key aspects of the Budget that were mentioned in yesterday’s debate. The Help to Buy scheme, the new mortgage guarantee scheme, the cancellation of the 3p rise in fuel duty and the introduction of tax-free child care are all very welcome. I particularly welcome the £3 billion capital spending commitment and the £1.6 billion of sector-targeted funding, some of which I hope will come to my constituency of Bournemouth East, and to Dorset, which is developing an international reputation in aerospace industries and the digital economy. Indeed, it is nicknamed the silicon beach of south England.
The 0.7% GDP target for overseas development assistance spending is an historic achievement and sends an important message to the rest of the world about our lead role in the international community. Unsurprisingly, given the waste and mismanagement under the last Government, some are sceptical about how the money is being spent, but it is clear how ODA funds can be spent. It matters not who signs the cheques; what matters is what the project does, although traditionally the Department for International Development has signed them. On the modern battlefield, however, it is no longer just about defeating the enemy, but about giving the people who have been liberated the skills to look after themselves. Clearly, war fighting does not qualify for ODA funding—that would be wrong—but peacekeeping and nation-building tasks do.
In 1992-93, when I was sent to Bosnia in a peacekeeping role to deliver humanitarian aid, the cost of my deployment was met by the Ministry of Defence. I felt, and still feel, that the Overseas Development Administration, as DFID was then known, should have paid some of the costs of our operations in the Balkans.
My hon. and gallant Friend’s thinking is the same as the Secretary of State for International Development’s and the Prime Minister’s. Those stabilisation skill sets—post-conflict and nation-building skills—should be funded by DFID but executed by the MOD, because although the budget sits with DFID, it is clear that the MOD is doing incredible work in this post-conflict world. We could have saved £24 billion in Afghanistan and £8 billion in Iraq, had we moved from war-fighting to peacekeeping far quicker and avoided the delay that followed completion of the fighting. I urge the Chancellor to consider that matter carefully.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Secretary of State for International Development should come here to explain the under-spend, on page 70 of the Red Book, of £500 million in the DFID budget and tell us which projects, programmes, international subscriptions and other things—perhaps relating to peacekeeping—have not been paid this year, but have been stopped in order to sort out the borrowing figures?
I stand corrected. I understood that I got an extra minute for the first two interventions and that after that, if someone intervened, the clock stopped.
It is disappointing that we have not heard any answers from Labour. It has offered nothing constructive; in fact, it is in a state of denial. Its strategy seems to be to employ a little inaccuracy and a spot of amnesia, and to avoid a ton of explanation. It is now apparent that under Labour, government was too big, too costly and too inefficient. Labour allowed banks to lend money to people who could not afford it, using financial instruments they did not understand. When the history books are written, it will become apparent just how much damage the former Labour Chancellor and Prime Minister did. He will probably go down as one of the most disastrous Chancellors in history.
The former Chancellor not only doubled national debt, but killed off British competitiveness and introduced the “something for nothing” culture that this Government are now undoing. Labour squandered their 13 years in office, and it is now left to this Government not only to solve the economic mess and make Britain more competitive again, but to simplify the tax system, curb immigration, modernise the benefits system and restore respectability to our pensions system. Labour has proven the adage that occasionally applies in this Chamber: the democratic right to be heard here does not include the right to be taken seriously.
In conclusion, this is a constructive and progressive Budget that will provide a further stimulus to the economy and help hard-hit families and individuals seeking to get on. From my days as a young officer, my philosophy in life has been not to complain about the weather, but to march with determination out of the rain. That analogy holds today, as this Conservative-led Government lead Britain out of the economic storm, while Labour, which created the mess, offers no helpful solutions whatsoever, other than to repeat past mistakes such as encouraging spending of money we do not have. We will not stop reminding the public of the last Government’s mismanagement of the economy. Whatever speculation there might be about opinion polls, small parties or even possible Lib-Lab pacts, the bottom line is clear: either a Miliband or a Cameron will occupy No. 10. I know whom I would prefer to lead the country, and it is not the former adviser to one of the worst Chancellors in history.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I remind hon. Members that they get two hits with two minutes, but no extra time for interventions after that. Hon. Members should also be aware that every intervention could knock someone off the bottom of the list. If someone is desperate to intervene, therefore, they should understand if they do not get called in the end.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Ellwood. Interestingly, he used the analogy of walking out of the bad weather. The Chancellor used exactly the same analogy on Radio 4 this morning, but he blamed the economic weather for everything that was going wrong with the Government’s economic policy.
I am grateful for the opportunity to put forward my constituents’ deep concerns about the Budget. A Budget should speak to the entire country, but when the Chancellor delivered his statement yesterday, he spoke not for one nation, but for individuals, such as the millionaires who will benefit from his top-rate tax cut in just a few days. Today, I shall focus on the impact that the Budget will have on my constituents and the effects that his economic policies have had in Airdrie and Shotts.
The unemployed claimant rate in my constituency stands at 8.4%. That is not only higher than rates in the rest of Scotland and the UK, but much higher than when Labour left office. The same applies to the employment count across Scotland. Today, there are 145,000 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Scotland—the same as the population of Dundee. This dole queue of people would reach from Edinburgh to Glasgow. The claimant count in my constituency is now three times what it is in the Chancellor’s constituency. In 2007, two people were going for every vacancy, but now 12 people are chasing every job.
Long-term unemployment is also an issue in my constituency. According to the stats, the number of people who have been unemployed for more than a year is up by 52% and the number of young people who have been unemployed for 12 months has risen by 116% in the past year alone. That is not acceptable. Youth unemployment in Scotland is one third higher now than it was in May 2010, with 38,000 young people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in Scotland—more than the entire population of Airdrie. How can it be acceptable that such a large number of young people are blocked from achieving their dreams and aspirations after two years of austerity measures?
The Chancellor called this Budget the aspiration Budget, but not one word of it spoke to young people. These are not faceless statistics; I am speaking about my constituents and people I have grown up with and known my whole life. Just a few days ago, a constituent I went to school with contacted me. He wanted to tell me how much the Government’s policies were affecting him. He served his country in the Army, before returning home and working as a security guard on a construction site. Like many of those in the industry, however, he now finds himself unemployed.
Not only does my constituent have to worry about finding a job in an economy facing the increasing likelihood of a triple-dip recession, but he will now be hit by the bedroom tax. He rents a modest two-bedroom home to allow his child to visit him at the weekends, but owing to his current situation he is now dependent on housing benefit and has the choice either of not having his child stay overnight in their own bedroom or being forced to move away from the area in which, like me, he has lived his whole life. How many Government Members truly understand the problems he is facing? When they talk about tough choices, I doubt that any of them ever have to make the decisions that he has to make, choosing between seeing his child and paying the rent.
The case of my constituent is not an isolated one. The National Housing Federation has said that 2,000 people in my constituency are losing out from the bedroom tax. My local authority of North Lanarkshire council has 5,500 tenants who will be affected by it, but at the last count it had just 26 one-bedroom properties available to rent. With those figures, where are those 5,500 people supposed to go? There is nowhere for them to go; they simply face a painful benefit cut. This is an attack on our most vulnerable and on many who are struggling with bills every month and with under-employment, and it is resulting in millions of pounds being taken out of my local economy.
If the Government really want to solve the problem, one of the things they should do is build more houses. That would go a lot further to support growth than the bedroom tax or the mortgage guarantee that was announced yesterday, which is already falling apart at the seams. In Scotland, housing makes up 40% of the construction sector. Every £1 spent on housing generates £3 in the wider economy. It is a no-brainer. Every new home creates two jobs in the construction sector and four in the supply chain. When construction makes up a third of the businesses in my constituency and around one in 10 jobs, hon. Members can see why I was hoping that capital spending in Scotland would be a bit higher than was announced yesterday. The Scottish Government could also do a bit more with the money they already have. Some 40,000 construction jobs have vanished in Scotland since the Scottish National party came to power, and in December more than 14,000 construction workers were still on the dole.
There are things the Government could be doing. For example, my local council—Labour-run North Lanarkshire—is working to help to create private sector jobs through its youth investment programme, which helps small businesses by paying 50% of the cost of employing a young person for the first year. It also has programmes helping older workers to return to work. I hope that the Government might go away and look at that example—I am happy to provide more information on it—to see how simple, practical support is making a difference to help small and medium-sized businesses and create employment just where it is needed.
To conclude, yesterday’s Budget offered none of the helpful measures that I and my constituents were hoping for. We need a change of course to bring growth back into our economy. If this Chancellor will not change course, the next Labour Government will.
I welcome this Budget, in particular the cut in corporation tax to 20% from April 2015; the rise in the personal allowance to £10,000; the cancellation of the planned fuel duty rise; the new measures to counter tax avoidance, particularly the information-sharing agreements that have been reached with the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey; and the abolition of stamp duty on share transactions on small company growth markets, which will help to reverse the bias in the tax system towards debt financing and improve the tax position of equity financing. I also welcome the new remit for the Monetary Policy Committee, which means it can issue guidance about future interest rate expectations. Monetary policy is key to reviving growth, and the fact that the monthly 12-month growth rate of M4—the broad money supply—has been negative since October 2010 demonstrates the need for continued low interest rates.
Above all, I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to fiscal consolidation and restraint in public spending—policies that in my view have been remarkably successful over the last three years in reducing the budget deficit from a staggering £159 billion in 2009-10, or some 11.2% of GDP, to £121 billion in 2011-12, or some 7.9% of GDP. There have been two guiding principles to the Government’s fiscal policy—the fiscal mandate—which says that the structural deficit shall be eliminated within the five-year forecasting horizon. As table B.6 on page 105 of the Red Book makes clear, the cyclically adjusted surplus on current account—that is, the structural deficit—will move into a surplus of 0.1% of GDP by 2016-17, a year ahead of the five-year time horizon. The supplementary target—that the Government’s total accumulated debt should be starting to fall as a percentage of national income by 2015-16—will be met by 2017-18, with a fall from 85.6% of GDP in 2016 to 84.8% in 2017-18. That is two years later than the target; nevertheless, it is forecast to be achieved. The fact that the Chancellor has not tightened the fiscal position further in order to meet the target by 2015-16 is evidence that the Government’s economic policy is far more nuanced than critics suggest.
“financial crises are typically followed by slow and difficult recovery.”
Given that Britain had the biggest banking sector relative to GDP of any major country, it is inevitable that Britain’s recovery was going to be slow and difficult. The key is that it is heading in the right direction, which is also the view of most informed commentators, such as the OECD. As it said in its 2013 economic survey of the UK, which was published last month,
“The fiscal stance remains appropriate”.
It went on:
“the Government’s decision in the December 2012 Autumn Statement to continue with its existing consolidation plans and not to override the automatic stabilisers in order to meet the supplementary debt target is appropriate.”
In other words, the fact that accumulated debt will not start falling as a percentage of GDP until 2017-18 instead of 2015-16 is not only acceptable; it is also a beneficial fiscal stimulus—the automatic stabiliser. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies says in its “Green Budget”,
“since meeting the target would do little to ensure the sustainability of the UK’s public finances, the fact that it looks set to be missed should not, on its own, cause significant concern about fiscal sustainability.”
As my right hon. Friend put it in his article, the Government have been
“sufficiently pragmatic to allow the fiscal consolidation to drift from four years to seven.”
When I listen to the shadow Chancellor arguing that we should spend and borrow more to stimulate demand in the economy, I would argue that because the Government have done that, but through the automatic stabiliser, they maintain the confidence of the capital markets, whereas his approach would not. As a consequence, there are 1.25 million new private sector jobs, while unemployment has fallen over the last 12 months by 4% and youth unemployment by 13%. Indeed, in the shadow Chancellor’s own constituency, unemployment has fallen by 2.5% and youth unemployment by 12.5% over the last year.
To those who argue for stronger spending cuts to fund further tax cuts, I would argue that the fall in public sector employment of 300,000 between 2010 and 2013 represents a sizeable reduction in the state sector, with the IFS forecasting that the figure will fall by 900,000 in total by 2017-18. I would also argue that the cuts in corporation tax are precisely the supply-side tax cuts we need to stimulate the business sector, while the rise in the personal allowance is likely to be the most effective tax reduction measure to boost demand.
If there had been more time, I would have said more about exports and the damage and the threat that the eurozone crises have already caused and may continue to cause to the economy’s growth prospects; about the importance to Conservatives of continuing to maintain strong spending on the NHS, particularly with a growing elderly population and ever more developments in medical science; and more about domestic demand in the economy, which the figures show is strong. In short, I believe it is vital that the Government continue on this rocky road to recovery and do not allow themselves to be pushed off course by siren voices claiming that there are short cuts, which of course there are not.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate at this important time. The Chancellor told us yesterday that his priority was to promote an “aspiration nation” with a Budget for those who want to work hard and get on. I hope he will understand if we are sceptical about his ability to deliver, given that in each of his last three Budgets he set out his key priority and test for the Budget, and in each of those three Budgets, he has failed to deliver.
In 2010, the Chancellor’s priority was tackling the deficit. That Budget was, he said, the Budget to deal with our country’s debts. But what has happened to our country’s debts? Today, national debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is not forecast to start falling until 2017-18, and borrowing is forecast to be £245 billion more than planned at the time of the spending review, to pay for the mounting costs of this Government’s economic failure.
In 2011, the Chancellor’s priority was promoting growth. That was the Budget that the Chancellor named the “Budget for growth”. Since 2010, however, the UK economy has grown by just 0.7%, compared with the 5.3% forecast at the time. Last year, the UK endured a double-dip recession and the economy shrank by 0.3% in the final quarter. Only three other G20 countries have grown more slowly than the UK in that time, and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s growth forecast has halved from 1.2% to 0.6% since the autumn statement.
In 2012, the Chancellor placed an emphasis on rewarding those who work. I concede that he has made some progress towards that goal. For the wealthiest in today’s society, there is a huge reward for work—in fact, a £100,000 reward. Unfortunately, it is those who are struggling on low and middle incomes who are suffering, including many people in constituencies such as mine.
Barnsley is a town with a proud history and it should have a bright future, but each week, I see what the Chancellor failed to address yesterday: a lack of opportunity, a lack of growth in our economy and a lack of vision from a Government who are more interested in running the country than in changing it. According to the latest figures for my constituency, the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance is at its highest since May 2010, at 7.8%. The figure for young people claiming JSA is 13.7%.
I was simply stating a matter of fact: unemployment in my constituency is higher now than it was in May 2010. The number of young people claiming jobseeker’s allowance is now 13.7%, which is higher than it was in 2010. Those people in my constituency want to work, to provide for their families and to earn a living. They want to get on the housing ladder, to save for their old age and to contribute to our town, but the jobs are simply not available.
Yesterday, we heard the Chancellor set out his latest scheme to provide growth: a new infrastructure plan. During the course of this Parliament, we have already heard about the Government’s national infrastructure plan—in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Despite the promises, however, infrastructure spending in the public and private sectors has fallen, year on year, according to the Office for National Statistics. Frankly, my response to this latest announcement is, “We’ll believe it when we see it.”
A lack of growth has a multitude of effects, and they are being felt most acutely by our low and middle income families. Utility bills are rising, the price of food is rising and fuel costs are rising, all at the same time as wages are stagnating. A typical low income family will see their net income fall by 15% by 2020, while the wealthiest households will see their living standards grow.
Fairness has been the one consistent priority for the Chancellor in every Budget since 2010, yet fairness is the area in which he is failing to deliver the most. This Government’s favoured slogan, “We’re all in this together”, simply does not ring true as inequality deepens and the Chancellor’s policies target those who have the least to give. It cannot be right that millions of ordinary families are being forced to pay more for this Government’s economic failure, through cuts to tax credits, child benefit and maternity pay and through the bedroom tax, while at the same time, the most well off in society are set to receive an average £100,000 tax cut.
The Budget, and the Chancellor’s record, have failed to secure economic recovery, and that is certainly not fair. We have had three Budgets and three failures. On every economic test that the Chancellor has set himself, he has fallen short. On deficit reduction, on growth, on rewarding those who work and on fairness, he has failed those who need the Government the most. Despite numerous opportunities and calls to change course from the Opposition and from Members within his own party and even from members of the Cabinet, the Government continue on a reckless course that is serving only to prolong the economic crisis, and it is people in my constituency of Barnsley Central who, sadly, will pay the price of this failure.
I recognise that time is short so I will do my level best to keep my comments as brief as possible. I speak as the Member of Parliament for Burton, the home of British brewing, and as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group. It is therefore incumbent on me to put on record my thanks, and those of the brewing industry, for the Chancellor’s momentous decision yesterday to scrap the beer duty escalator and cut beer duty by 1p. We cannot underestimate the importance of the decision for brewers, for publicans and for beer drinkers across the country.
In his speech today, the shadow Chancellor dismissed the 1p cut in a bit of a flippant way, but I think that the 1,745 people who are employed in brewing and pubs in his constituency will be hugely grateful to the Chancellor, who has shown himself to be on the side of the publicans and beer drinkers of this country. The previous Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared on posters in pubs up and down the country stating that he was “barred from this pub”, because his Government had chosen to introduce the beer duty escalator, which has resulted in beer duty rising by an incredible 42% since 2008. That has contributed to the closure of many of our communities’ pubs in that period.
I am therefore delighted to support a coalition Government who have done more for brewers and pubs than any other Government for a generation. I went to the House of Commons Library yesterday and spoke to the Treasury expert. I asked him when a Chancellor had last cut the duty on beer. He replied, “Mr Griffiths, this might take some time, as it was so long ago. I shall have to go away and research it.” He came back with the answer: Derick Heathcoat-Amory was the last Chancellor to cut the duty on beer, in 1959. Someone who was just old enough to enjoy a pint of great British beer at that reduced price in 1959 would now be 72 years old.
It is important to applaud the campaign that has led to these changes. As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group, I want to thank colleagues from all across the House who have supported it. Members on both sides have worked incredibly hard on behalf of their brewers, publicans and beer lovers. We all recognise the importance of the community pub and the role it plays in the heart of our constituencies. This measure provides us with a real opportunity to support those pubs.
I join many others in paying tribute to the great work my hon. Friend has taken forward. I received one tweet yesterday from the Wharf in Macclesfield saying this was
“a good Budget for pubs, the brewing trade and all industry”.
Has my hon. Friend received similar plaudits from people across the country?
I thank my hon. Friend for the support he has given to pubs and breweries as part of this campaign. I agree: I have been overwhelmed by the number of publicans, brewers and members of the Campaign for Real Ale and beer lovers who have welcomed this announcement. He quotes one brewer and I will quote another—Belinda Sutton from Elgood & Sons in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire who said:
“The result could be the saving of our brewery, as this was just what we needed to…stimulate trade in our pubs and hopefully increase production.”
That is so important: every brewery and every pub in our constituency are important employers, so it is fantastic that we can give them this boost. I am absolutely sure that when this cut is introduced on Sunday, beer drinkers across the country will be raising a glass to the Chancellor and toasting his health.
I am hugely sorry that the Economic Secretary is not in his place on the Front Bench, as we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Within days of him becoming a Minister—I think it was his first ministerial duty—he spoke in a Backbench Business Committee debate to which many Members contributed. He said then that he was listening. He is a listening Minister who has listened on behalf of pubs and brewers across the land.
I would also like to pay tribute to CAMRA and its thousands of supporters who took part in this campaign and who participated in the mass lobby organised by Emily Ryan and Jonathan Mail to explain to Members of Parliament just how important their community pubs and great British beer are to them. I commend, too, the work of the Beer and Pub Association, which works tirelessly to build a bright future for pubs and breweries across the country.
I end my comments there. Let me just say that this is a great Budget for brewers, a great Budget for beer and a great Budget for beer drinkers in Britain.
I want to raise an issue that is close to my heart—the Scotch whisky industry—not just because it is an excellent tipple when taken responsibly and because I am chair of the all-party group on Scotch whisky, but, more importantly, because that industry provides hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in this country.
The Chancellor suggested yesterday that he was cutting beer duty to help boost pubs, yet as 40% of pub sales come from spirits and wine, his duty increases on Scotch whisky and other drinks mean that when it comes to pubs, he has given with one hand and taken back with the other.
No, I do not have time.
Like the Chancellor, I wish to see British businesses succeed to help to secure British jobs. The Chancellor talked about the opportunity for UK business that a successful free trade agreement would bring. He talked about backing businesses that are a global success. For the Government and the European Commission, improved market access and reduced discrimination are priorities for the Indian free trade agreement talks. In a spectacular lack of joined-up government, in one speech the Chancellor has attacked Scotch whisky—the one industry that is currently investing for international growth to India and elsewhere—by increasing discrimination against it here at home.
What sort of signal does that send to overseas markets? British ambassadors around the world who are trying to help Scotch gain fairer trading conditions will be shaking their heads at the example set by our own Chancellor here in this country. This industry accounts for 25% of UK food and drink exports, generating some £134 a second for the UK balance of trade, yet the Chancellor’s only action is to penalise it in its home market. The UK is the third largest market for Scotch whisky in the world, and some companies depend on the UK market for success.
Order. Mr Griffiths, you have already spoken. The Member does not want to give way and we do not need a running commentary from the Back Benches.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been heckled by better.
Perhaps the Chancellor will explain to pensioners enjoying a dram why they should have to pay 48% more duty for the alcohol they enjoy than their neighbours who prefer a beer. Only three countries in the EU penalise Scotch whisky more than the UK does. It is time to halt the duty escalator for all and to start backing, not penalising, our successful industries.
Let me deal briefly with pensions. Like many of my colleagues here, I have a large number of pensioners in my constituency, and I am concerned that this Budget will do nothing to reduce pensioner poverty, currently standing at 1.7 million people nationally. There are no proposals to help pensioners who are struggling with rising living costs.
Moving on to growth, in a written answer I received on
In December 2010, the Chancellor was equally confident, telling CNBC:
“Britain is on the mend. We got pretty steady and sustainable economic growth forecasts, pretty sustainable increases in employment, a steady decline in the deficit.”
Well, how wrong could this Government be? Real wages are set to fall by 2.4% over this Parliament. The OBR has also halved the growth forecast for this year and downgraded it for next year, too. I ask the Chancellor to see some sense and stop relying on the private sector to provide the boost to the economy that is needed. Millions will be squeezed by another year of capping public sector pay, while the private sector has simply not managed to perform as well as was needed at a time when growth has stalled.
A sensible Budget would have seen an intervention to legislate for a living wage, rather than giving the tax break to millionaires that is coming up in a few days’ time. That would not only be fair on working people, but could help inject the economy with consumer spending power. The most ironic part of this plan is that the Chancellor has not even succeeded in reducing the deficit—the golden goal that we have been suffering these tax cuts in order to achieve. Borrowing is now forecast to be £245 billion more than was planned at the time of the spending review. We will not have balanced books, but we will have low-income families paying the price, while millionaires continue to count their money.
I concur with the views of the TUC, which welcomes the British business bank but is calling for more resources to support businesses on a larger scale and for the bank to be able to raise funds in the capital markets as comparable banks do.
I and, I am sure, my constituents, do not see this as an aspirational Budget, but as a desperation Budget.
I will indeed lift our spirits. Given the co-operation of my hon. Friend, I will also say a little about life sciences. Let me begin, however, by joining other Government Members in welcoming a Budget which has delivered a positive response that recognises the needs of hard-working people, and which, as others have pointed out, has clearly demonstrated that the doors of British business are firmly open.
It is sometimes wondered whether “To intervene, or not to intervene” is the question when it comes to industrial policy. I believe that in normal free, competitive markets intervention should be minimal, but that, given the burden of regulation that was imposed on the
British economy for 13 years by the Labour Government, the question needs to change from whether there should be intervention to how that intervention can take place effectively. For me, the answer to that question is simple: we need to flatten the barriers to growth, which is exactly what Government Members are determined to do.
We need only consider the recent experience of our northern neighbours to see how that can be achieved. Sweden has enjoyed tremendous success since the mid-1990s with an ethos of deregulation across the economy. Estonia had 2,000 enterprises in 1992; by the end of 1994, the figure had ballooned to 70,000. By 2003, an economic basket case with inflation of 1,000% in 1992 had spawned the invention of Skype. There are clear lessons to be learnt from those northern neighbours, the most fundamental being that if industrial policy is to work, there needs to be a broadly “horizontal” approach. That does not mean being laid back, but it does mean having a more laissez-faire confidence in the ability of businesses to identify and satisfy customer demand—as they are best placed to do—and providing the right foundation for enterprise to flourish across the board, rather than backing policies in the sense of picking winners. That is the course the Government have charted, and I am delighted they are sticking to it.
We have an industrial policy with a foundation that encourages enterprise across the board and, in key sectors, focuses on the removal of the roadblocks that prevent growth, rather than the line-by-line, multi-targeting Brownite plan for daily tactical interventions that we have seen in so many parts of the public sector. We want that foundation to consist of low taxes, a high skills base and deregulated, competitive markets, and those are being put in place.
The Government are making good progress. Before the Budget, we were on track to have the lowest corporation tax in the G7; now, as a result of the Budget, we are on track to have the lowest corporation tax in the G20—20%—by 2015. The new £2,000 employment allowance will help to spur growth and build on the Government’s successful record of creating jobs in the private sector: the private sector, not the public sector. In an enterprising constituency such as Macclesfield, where an unusually high proportion of the population are self-employed, reforms like those can tip the balance for sole traders, encouraging them to incorporate themselves in businesses that can grow, and for the self-employed, encouraging them to become regular employers.
Those are positive steps, and the Red Book goes further. It provides an important update on the progress the Government are making with their industrial policy, and demonstrates that they are breaking down barriers in certain sectors of industry and in certain local areas. I welcome the creation of the single local growth fund, which will be devolved to local level through local growth deals.
Some industrial sectors will always have greater prospects for growth than others. The Government’s industrial strategy, announced last autumn, identified 11 broad sectors that the Government want to support, including advanced manufacturing, creative industries and life sciences. That approach is bearing fruit in the case of life sciences. The Government’s “One Year On” review shows that deregulation is helping to reduce the time taken to set up clinical trials from 600 days to a 70-day benchmark. Those are important steps which need to be mirrored in many other sectors.
This week we were given challenging news in AstraZeneca’s restructuring strategy statement. The good news is that, according to its plans, the Macclesfield manufacturing site will be secure, retaining 1,800 jobs which will be safeguarded for years to come. However, AstraZeneca also announced changes in the research and development plant at Alderley Park. The fact that 700 jobs have been safeguarded there is important, but the R and D facilities will move to Cambridge, which has created uncertainty for the employees. I am working with AstraZeneca to ensure that there are plans to provide them with proper careers advice and the support that they need.
The next priority—a vital priority for Alderley Park, for the sub-region, for the north-west and for the UK economy—is to ensure that the site has a vibrant future. The way in which to do that, and the way in which we are committed to doing it, is to provide a bio-science park where other businesses can go to work. We are working with the Government, and I am delighted to say that we have set up a taskforce. Evidence from other sites where the experience has been similar suggests that there will be spin-out operations.
We need to harness that energy, and ensure that we secure money from the regional growth fund on an emergency basis so that we can support this vital part of the UK’s life sciences sector. I am committed to doing that and to working with the Government, and I will knock on every door to make sure we receive the support that is required.
This Budget has been a huge success for British business, and I am sure that it will lead to further successes if we break down barriers, not just in life sciences but in many other sectors.
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this important Budget debate. I shall make a relatively short speech, because I know that many other Members wish to speak. I make no apology for focusing on my constituency, and on the people who elected me to be their representative in Parliament.
I do not think there is a single issue in my area that people care about more than jobs, and I entirely agree with them. My constituents know that without work, there can be no community and no prosperity. Much concern has rightly been expressed about the fact that growth in our economy now stands at less than a seventh of the amount that the Chancellor anticipated in his 2010 spending review: 0.7%, rather than the 5.3% that was forecast at that time. However, I believe that we are right to be even more concerned about the fact that yesterday the Chancellor, rather alarmingly, had to admit that the growth forecast for this year had been cut in half, to just 0.6%. The forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility that borrowing will hit £114 billion this year, instead of the already immense £108 billion that was previously forecast, should fill us all with concern, as should the fact that yesterday’s UK unemployment figures were up by 7,000 to 2.52 million.
It troubles me, in human terms, that according to the very latest unemployment figures, one person in every 20 in the economically active population aged between 16 and 64—1,770 people—in my constituency is unemployed. I believe that that figure would be even higher were it not for the serious efforts of the Welsh Government’s Jobs Growth Wales fund, which has provided 4,000 jobs for young people throughout Wales.
“The worst evil of unemployment is in its creating in the unemployed a sense that they have fallen out of the common life. However much their physical needs may be supplied the gravest part of the trouble remains; They are not wanted!”
Those are the words of someone who lived through the great depression of the 1930s, and who realised that without the politics of one nation, our country could never have stood against fascism. They are, I believe wise and prophetic words for us today. That is why I believe that discussions about unemployment affect us all, and why unemployment can never be seen as a price worth paying. It is why I am deeply disappointed that the Chancellor did not take the step yesterday that my party would have taken by guaranteeing a job for every young person out of work for a year or more and for every adult unemployed for more than two years—funded by a fair tax on bank bonuses and changes to pensions tax relief for the very richest. That would be a far better investment than the subsidy on second homes. For Labour Members, it is the flesh and blood of one nation politics and would have been the best and fairest option.
Real action on national insurance to help small businesses take on more staff would have been the fairest option too. Any Government Members awake at this point may say, “Did you not hear what the Chancellor said yesterday?” Of course I did, and I like the idea of the national insurance cuts for employers so much that I am delighted to be a member of the party that proposed them. It is just that, in the interests of fairness, growth and getting our economy going again, I have to ask: if it matters so much to him, why will he not do it now? Why does he think that excellent local small businesses such as the Community café in Rhosymedre should not be supported this year, yet millionaires will get their tax cut from next month? Why will he not commit to a British investment bank? Andrew Griffiths spoke eloquently about the Campaign for Real Ale and real ale pubs. Unlike him, I have last year’s CAMRA pub of the year in my constituency. One of its biggest problems in setting up was that bank managers persistently refused it loans. It is exactly the sort of programme that our British investment bank would support. The Government’s thinking on this one just does not make sense.
I am sure that we could carry on this conversation ad infinitum. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could tell me how he can justify all the cuts in revenue spending that are coming to the Welsh Government, but we will carry that one on some other day. I am sure that he could also tell me about the excellent impact there will be on his local economy when the holiday homes subsidy is in place, but, again, we will carry that on later.
I believe that investment, growth and employment are not just terms in economic textbooks; they are at the heart of what makes communities and countries work. I am talking about communities in my constituency and, more widely, across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. If our Government and our Chancellor cannot understand that, it is high time for them to be replaced by a genuinely one nation Government who do understand.
One is tempted to start with the unemployment figure in one’s constituency—it is down by 25% since April 2010—but I wish to speak about housing. It is appropriate to raise that issue today because our reforms are as much about the supply of housing as about the demand for it and about the importance of that sector and of the construction sector as a whole.
The Localism Act 2011 turned us into a nation of planners. Neighbourhood plans are steaming ahead, and the reform of the planning system has ended one of the biggest blocks to development and taken away a large amount of red tape. I understand that the proportion of planning applications approved is at a 10-year high. As for local plans, 70% of councils now have something on paper. However, there is still much more to do to turn this nation of planners into a nation of builders. I was interested to read paragraph 1.115 in the Red Book, which said that yet more reforms to the planning system were proposed. We are to have reduced planning guidance, which will come forward in line with Lord Taylor’s recommendations, and
“pro-growth planning policies and delivery arrangements” for local areas as part of local growth deals.
The importance of the supply side can be seen in a number of areas. The first such area is affordable housing, which is an important element for this Government and always has been. We have recently issued a prospectus to support affordable homes delivered through the guarantee programme, so I was pleased that an additional £225 million had been put into the Budget to support a further 15,000 affordable homes, which will be built by 2015.
No, I am not giving way. Those 15,000 homes will be new build homes. As for the build-to-rent sector, the Budget provides £1 billion to support the development of more homes—that is an awful lot of homes to be built. We also need certainty on social rents, which is left to the spending round in the Budget book. On the right to buy, a great Conservative measure, we are increasing the London cap to £100,000 and reducing the qualifying period to three years. Overall, this Budget introduces billions of pounds of financial support to tackle both the long-term housing market problems—the problems with the sector—and the problems faced by people wanting to get on to the housing ladder.
The Chancellor mentioned two schemes in that latter regard, the first of which is the “help to buy: equity loan” scheme. It applies to new builds only, and someone will need a minimum 5% deposit to qualify. The scheme will expand the existing FirstBuy scheme and is available to everyone; the Government will lend up to 20% of the value of the property through an equity loan. That provides extremely important assistance to first-time buyers and to those wanting to acquire a new build as part of their development. The second scheme is the mortgage guarantee scheme, under the same arrangement, where the intention is clearly not to provide a subsidy for second homes—the intention is to have a consultation to ensure that it precisely does not give subsidies to second homes.
All these measures illustrate the main point: the Government have understood that the link between the supply of mortgages and the supply of houses is an intimate one, and that these things cannot be tackled separately. They need to be looked at in the round and together.
We hope that by tackling the problem of access to mortgages we will help to stimulate the economy. That is certainly what the Federation of Small Businesses has suggested. It has said:
“The Help to Buy scheme is a bold move from the Chancellor to boost the industry and to get people onto the housing ladder.”
“In addition the measure to build 15,000 new homes will give the sector a welcome boost.”
The Home Builders Federation has said:
“Building the homes the country desperately needs can be a key driver of economic activity. Government must be praised for its attempts to stimulate activity”.
I agree absolutely with that. A very bold attempt is being made to stimulate activity, both on the development of housing and on access to that housing.
This Budget comes at an unprecedented moment in our economic history, when families and businesses are looking to the Government for a change of direction and bold action to kick-start our flatlining economy. It is a time for urgency, as after three years of this Chancellor the economy is still 3% smaller than it was five years ago. However, all we got was more of the same. Unemployment in Feltham and Heston has risen by nearly l0% in the past six months; the number of young people out of work is at its highest level since March last year. During the Budget debate last year, I spoke of how there were six people chasing every job in Feltham and Heston. A year later, I am deeply concerned and saddened that I am saying the same thing again. There has been no change from this Government. This is the third successive year of less than 1% growth and the Budget is a gamble, not a plan.
Some measures are welcome. Local businesses will welcome the fuel duty freeze as well as measures to help them take on extra workers, for which Labour has been calling for some time. This is a jam tomorrow Budget, however, not one that takes action now. As John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce commented yesterday, many of the Chancellor’s measures might come too late. Britain needs urgency, scale and delivery today. In the last quarter, net lending to businesses fell by £4.5 billion, and in the past two years, under this Chancellor, it has fallen by £28.1 billion. The reality behind those figures is that thousands of entrepreneurs and small businesses—our country’s wealth creators—are unable to access the finance they need to grow and to take on new employees. The Budget shows no signs of changing that. As the female entrepreneur Laura Tenison said on “Newsnight” last night, “I am trying to create jobs, but the Government isn’t helping.”
One nation Labour is the party for small business and enterprise. We had a regional development agenda and a legacy of which we could be proud which was dismantled by this Government and replaced with confusion. The Chancellor said yesterday that the Budget confronts our problems head on. The problem is that his judgment is the problem. A Treasury team of five men and no women has produced a Budget that did not even mention women and business. Research shows that if we had the same levels of female entrepreneurship as the US, £42 billion would be added to the economy. With more than 1 million women out of work across the UK, the Budget missed an opportunity to support female entrepreneurship. I should not have held my breath. The Government’s previous three Budgets have shown policies that have hit women the hardest. Women are paying three times as much to bring the deficit down—decisions that were made by a Cabinet with three times more men than women.
Hundreds of families in Hounslow have recently called on the Government to help mums, not millionaires. The Chancellor has ignored those calls and will go ahead with a £180 tax on new mums on the same day as millionaires will get a £100,000 tax cut. The House of Commons Library has also shown that low-paid new mums are set to lose £1,300 by the end of the first year of a child’s life, through the cuts to pregnancy support and tax credits and real-term cuts to maternity pay.
The record on housing is no better. Affordable home statistics in London have fallen off a cliff. Figures published by the Greater London authority show that 425 affordable homes were started in the first six months of the current financial year, compared with 4,659 in the previous year and more than 18,000 in 2010-11.
Does my hon. Friend agree—this is the point that I would have made to John Howell, by the way—that it is a misnomer to call such homes affordable when the rents will be up to 80% of market rent? The subsidy on each of the 15,000 houses that were referred to will be £15,000, which is why the rents have to be so high. The houses will not be affordable and, what is more, they will put up the housing benefit bill.
My hon. Friend makes her point extremely well. The £225 million proposed in the Budget to support “affordable” homes building is a fraction of the £4 billion that Labour would have invested.
The Government proposed change but this is more of the same. The policies of this Government have failed on jobs, on growth, on the deficit and in the lives of ordinary people. The Budget will do nothing for the 13,000 on the waiting list for a home in my constituency.
I am sorry, but I will not.
The Budget will do nothing for the 74-year-old woman waiting a week for a blood transfusion because of staffing cuts in the local hospital. The Budget will do nothing for the family I met recently who live in one room: two teenage brothers sharing a bed; a mother and father who put mattresses down on the floor; the father who goes to work at 4 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon; the mother goes to work at 11 am and comes back at 11 pm. They are not shirkers, they are hard workers and they will not be helped by the Budget.
The legacy of the past three years in my constituency is rising unemployment, Sure Start centres under threat, longer waiting times in local hospitals and police numbers being cut. Families are suffering for the decisions that the Government have made and are wondering where they will live as the bedroom tax kicks in and makes their homes unaffordable. It is not too late for the Chancellor to change his mind, change course and get a plan for jobs and growth that will deliver for Britain’s families and businesses.
I congratulate the Chancellor and his Treasury team on the work they have done on the historic and disgraceful debt legacy that this generation, this Parliament and this Government are having to deal with. The lack of any apology from Labour in the nearly three years in which I have had the honour to be a Member of this place is deeply shaming—[Interruption.] For the record, the Opposition’s barracking of my point serves simply to highlight their lack of ability to deal with the truth, difficult though it may be.
We are still trying to deal with a legacy of debt that we and future generations inherited from the Labour party—a legacy that hangs over the economy and this country. The Budget has been warmly and widely welcomed by all serious commentators: the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the Bank of England, the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce. I urge the Chancellor to stay the course and not to be lured by the siren voices of Opposition Front Benchers calling for more borrowing, or of those calling for borrowing-funded tax cuts.
I will develop my argument a little further, if I may, as time is limited.
We need a credible programme for deficit reduction, a fair burden of taxation and a long-term vision for the British economy, and that is what the Budget delivered. Simon Walker of the Institute of Directors said yesterday:
“We applaud this Budget. The Chancellor has stuck to his guns and held his nerve—which is exactly what we wanted to see. Deficit reduction is not an optional policy, it is an absolute necessity, and he is right to reject the siren calls to abandon it.”
Plan A is right for three central reasons. First, it tackles the appalling structural debt legacy that we were bequeathed by the Opposition. Secondly, it does so in a way that is fair in allocating the burden of taxation that must be paid. Thirdly, it is bold in setting out the platform at the base of an industrial policy for a sustainable economic recovery in which future generations—particularly the current young generation, who will have to deal with the debt crisis—can have confidence.
Let me remind the House, particularly Opposition Front Benchers, of the nature of the debt legacy we inherited. We started with the worst debt to GDP ratio of any country in the western world, worse than that of Greece and other economies that have been put into special measures by the IMF. The annual deficit when we started was running at 11% of GDP and is now 7%—that, for the benefit of Opposition Front Benchers, is a reduction.
In the situation we inherited, the interest on our debts was set to rise, if we had not acted, to £76 billion a year. We were spending £1 on interest for every £4 the Government were spending on public services. The national debt was just short of £1 trillion—roughly £15,000 for every man, woman and child in this country. As 1 trillion is a big number and people are baffled by big numbers, let me try to break it down. If it took 11 days to pay off £1 million, how long would it take to pay off £1 billion? Thirty-two years—[Interruption.] Opposition Members might think that it is funny, but I can assure them I do not, my constituents do not and the young people who will have to claw their way out of the crisis do not. If it takes 11 days to pay off £1 million and 32 years to pay off £1 billion, it takes 32,000 years to pay off £1 trillion at the same rate.
The truth is that we inherited not just an annual deficit but a structural deficit. For the benefit of Opposition Members who are not aware of the difference, the structural deficit is that bit of the Budget which, even when the economy is growing, continues to haemorrhage money. The biggest drivers of our structural deficit are pensions, benefits and the NHS. The IFS pre-Budget briefing yesterday, which was made available to all parties, makes it clear that the structural deficit continues to put a black hole at the heart of our public finances. The IFS forecasts that between 2011 and 2018 we will be spending an extra £5 billion on pensions, £20 billion on benefits and £15 billion on the NHS. That is after the sensible and pragmatic reforms we have introduced. It is a legacy the Opposition should be ashamed of.
Plan A sets out three key ways of dealing with that—tackling the deficit, a fair burden of tax and a sustainable long-term platform for growth. We have cut the deficit by 30%, from 11% of GDP to 7%, although the shadow Chancellor seemed unable this morning to accept that that is indeed a reduction. The IFS has made it clear that under the Labour party’s plan B we would incur £201 billion more debt by 2016-17. Who on earth could think that borrowing another £200 billion, given that legacy, is the answer?
On the second part of plan A, the fairness of the burden of taxation, the Opposition have been scaremongering about it and need to understand it. First, the Chancellor has decided, rightly, to pay off 80% of the debt through public spending reductions and 20% through taxation. The burden of taxation is powerfully shifted towards those with the broadest shoulders. I remind the House that 1% of taxpayers in this country pay 25% of all tax, and 50% of our income tax is paid by the top 20%. We have taken 2 million people out of tax altogether. The £130 billion funding to help new homeowners is the largest package of support—far larger than anything the Opposition were asking for. The £6 billion relief on fuel duty is a massive support for hard-working families, and coming from a rural constituency I particularly welcome its effect on the rural economy. The beer duty measure, too, is a substantial one for rural communities where pubs are at the very heart of rural life; substantial help is also being provided with child care.
This is a Budget to help the working poor. Taken alongside the universal credit and the welfare reforms, it will have a substantial impact on those who are striving to get on. In the remaining seconds, I want to pay tribute to the Government’s work in laying the foundations for a sustainable economic recovery. We cannot borrow our way out of this crisis. We will have to trade our way out.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I believe that this country has every reason to be optimistic about our ability to trade our way out of the present crisis. Around the world the emerging nations are growing at a phenomenal rate—7% to 8% for the BRIC nations and the 11+ nations following them. They have extraordinary needs, and in the next 30 years they will go through a revolution in medicine, food, energy, professional services, IT and leisure that we took nearly 200 years to go through. In all the areas where we have a strong and mature offering, these countries will drive phenomenal demand in the years ahead.
I applaud the work the Government have done to lay the foundations in science and research funding, skills and the industrial strategy, on which we heard from colleagues earlier. In my own sector—life sciences, food, medicine and energy, three of the largest markets in the world—today, Astra Zeneca has made a major commitment to this country, investing £300 million in Cambridge and making us its global head of research and development. With this vision, people can be confident that we are tackling the debt crisis in a way that is fair and that will allow their children to be optimistic for a better future.
People in my constituency must have hoped that the Budget could provide some light at the end of the tunnel created by austerity and cuts, but they will have been disappointed. Thousands of them are being hit this year by the coalition Government’s fiscal and welfare reform measures, to be implemented after
Manchester and Salford are cities hardest hit by the bedroom tax. More than 2,600 families in my constituency will be hit by that policy, and many will have to pay between £500 and £900 extra to continue to rent their homes. If they cannot pay, they are expected to move, but the catch is that there are very few smaller properties available for those trying to move. City West housing trust told me that some 460 families have asked to downsize. However, it expects to have re-housed only 43 families by April, and 260 more in 2013-14. The trust believes that some 80 households might find a mutual exchange. So, the total number of households that can be helped to move is less than 400, leaving more than 2,000 to find between £500 and £900 extra in rent. It is estimated that the bedroom tax will cost our local economy £1.9 million in my constituency and almost twice that in Salford, because tenants will have so much less to spend.
This year, pensioners in my constituency lost more than £80 because the personal allowance was frozen, and people who turn 65 this year will lose much more—£320—owing to the change in age-related allowances. Parents in my constituency have lost out on child benefit. Constituents who lost this previously universal benefit felt deep resentment at that. A survey carried out by the Child Poverty Action Group found that child benefit is overwhelmingly spent on clothes, books, education and food—so that is a further loss to our local economy. George Freeman spoke about serious commentators. The Child Poverty Action Group did not welcome yesterday’s Budget, for obvious reasons.
Unemployment rose yesterday in my constituency— 3,477 people are now unemployed, an increase on the previous month’s figure. As a result of the Government’s failure on growth and jobs, borrowing is set to be billions higher. To pay for this failure, the Chancellor is taking billions from working-age benefits and tax credits by uprating them, as we know, by only 1% over the next three years, a real-terms cut.
One thing that has not been discussed much is that, on top of that 1% cut, the Government appear to want to cap the type of expenditure that has always been demand-led. That will presumably require further cuts to benefits; otherwise, it will not happen.
It is frightening both in extent and in scale. In Worsley and Eccles South, 7,500 people are in work and receiving tax credits. They are the ones who will lose out over the next three years. Most of the savings the Government are making are not from out-of-work benefits, as we have discussed in previous debates, but from tax credits, maternity allowance, maternity pay, sick pay and housing benefit, all of which are claimed by working people—the strivers whom David Cameron promised to stand up for and who are now being hit by Government cuts.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor said earlier, the 1% benefits uprating, along with all the other changes that keep being trumpeted, such as the tax allowances, will mean that a one-earner family on £20,000 with two children will lose £380 a year. A family on that level of income is also likely to be hit further by the bedroom tax and the cut to council tax benefit. Indeed, 20,000 households in Salford will be affected by the 10% cut to council tax benefits that the Government are leaving it to the city council to implement.
On new announcements, it is disappointing for families with children that the Government are pledging to help with child care costs in a scheme due to start in autumn 2015. Families on middle and low incomes have already lost up to £1,500 through earlier Government cuts to child care support. They need help now, not in two and a half year’s time.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is yet another example of delaying giving people the resources and support they need, which in turn will delay the recovery and people’s ability to go back to work?
I very much agree, particularly in the case of child care support. Families with a couple of children will now have to wait two and a half years before they can get help with child care, which is very expensive. That delay is bad enough, but, worse still, the proposed child care scheme will give a tax break to families earning up to £300,000 a year but offer no help to families on tax credits, whose incomes are already squeezed. Once again, the coalition Government are giving more help to higher earners and less to those on low and modest incomes, the people with the greatest need of child care support.
The Government propose to set the cap for social care at £72,000. Although we welcome the fact that a cap is finally being set, having waited more than a year for the announcement, we must remember that the Dilnot commission recommended a cap of £35,000. Setting the cap at that level would have offered the best protection to people on lower and middle incomes. It is very disappointing, to say the least, that the Government have ignored the advice of the experts whom they put together in the commission, and set the cap at a much higher level while also—this point tends to be ignored—making people pay accommodation costs of £12,000 a year, the very top end of what Dilnot recommended. People who need care when they are elderly, frail or ill will continue to face the shock of large care bills. Examples I have seen of the cap being set at such a high level show that the reality is that often, people will have to pay for their care for four or five years before getting any state help. Many fewer people will be helped by the Government’s proposals.
The final hit on my constituency, which I was disturbed to hear about, is the damage that will be caused to the value of homes as a result of exploration for shale gas. The Government have already caused confusion and uncertainty through their drastic overhaul of the planning system, yet the Red Book states:
“As the shale gas industry develops the Government will ensure an effective planning system is in place”.
That does not inspire confidence, because exploration for shale gas is going ahead in my constituency and, worryingly, it appears we do not have an effective planning system in place to deal with that. Drilling and fracking operations have been known to bring down house prices in an area by as much as 20%. People of course do not want to live in areas where fracking is planned, particularly after the disturbing events that took place when exploration first went ahead in other parts of the north-west. Exploration for shale gas could have a long-lasting adverse impact on the quality of life of people in my constituency. I am strongly opposed to it.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you know the geography of my constituency, so you will know that it is ringed by motorways; I am sure they are very useful in getting you home in the evening. A final aspect of the damage that the Budget will do to my constituency is that it goes ahead with an ill-advised widening of the M60 motorway, which will bring absolute chaos to 800 households in my constituency. When the motorway was built through my constituency, it was called the Stretford bypass. Now, the plan is to widen it by using the hard shoulders. “Hard shoulder running” will bring the M60—and you, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you are motoring—right next to the homes, windows and gardens of my constituents. Those 800 homes will be blighted by that ill-advised scheme, which I will continue to oppose to the best of my ability.
The Budget is a huge disappointment and will be seen as such in my constituency, because it is a massive missed opportunity and is damaging in so many different ways.
It is a pleasure to follow Barbara Keeley, but I think that her speech was representative of those we have heard from Labour Members today: there was no effort to explain the context; not a single acknowledgement of the problems the Labour party left this Government; no mention of the fact that there is a crisis in the eurozone; no mention of the fact that the IMF has indicated that UK levels of growth will be higher than those of Germany and France; and no mention of the fact that we are facing an international energy crisis—there was no mention of reality. That is the truth about what we have heard from the Labour party. Labour Members seem to be living in their own fantasy world in which money grows on trees or can be created from nowhere. The truth, as my constituents, the people of Wales and the people of Britain know, is that money does not grow on trees; we have to pay our way in the world.
The worst thing I heard today from Labour Members is their complaint that there is no demand in the economy, apparently because of the welfare cuts being implemented by the Government. Those cuts are being implemented to deal with the mess the previous Administration left behind. There is no acknowledgement that the so-called growth period under the previous Government was basically built on unsustainable Government and personal debt. There is a lack of demand in the British economy because the British public have realised that they have to live within their means, and this Government realise that they must deal with the mess left behind by the previous Administration and that we must live within our means—[Interruption.] Mr Wright might laugh, but the people of this country are not laughing at the mess the previous Administration left behind. That is the context of this Budget and, in that context, I think that the Government have made a substantial and significant move in the right direction.
We need confidence that businesses will create jobs. Labour Members continually talk about Governments creating jobs. Governments do not create long-term sustainable employment. The private sector does that; businesses do that, working with Government. This Government are making sure that people can invest in the United Kingdom with confidence and know that if they make a profit in this country they will do so with the right to a more competitive tax advantage than in any other part of the world. The competitive levels of the UK economy in comparison with the situation under the previous Government show that we are definitely moving in the right direction in creating the circumstances for business investment.
Indeed, and I welcome every single one of those jobs.
The worst thing about the argument that we are having is that every time Labour Members appear in the media in Wales, they complain, “Yes, jobs have been created, but they’re not our type of jobs—they’re not proper jobs.” They insult people who are going out to work and trying to earn a living in supermarkets and hotels by claiming that they are not taking the right type of jobs. People in my constituency know that a job is an opportunity to help themselves. This Government are making sure that people in low-paid jobs are keeping the money they earn because their tax rates are going down. Labour Members bribed people with their own money; this Government are allowing people to keep their money in order to look after themselves, encouraging self-sufficiency and responsibility rather than the expectation that the state will look after them. We are moving in a direction that I am proud of, because we will have a country in which people are confident that if they invest, they will be able to keep more of their money without being taxed and in which people will be able to earn money without being penalised for doing so.
In my constituency and in many other parts of Wales, we are very dependent on the small business community, which was never understood by Labour Members; indeed, they do not understand it now. I will give an example of how bad Labour is at understanding business. Labour’s Minister for Finance in Wales says that she does not believe in capitalism and prefers Marxism. If she were a trade unionist or a Labour activist, I would understand that, but she is the Minister responsible for economic development in Wales and does not believe in capitalism. She should give up her job and get somebody better to do it who will ensure that Wales can benefit from the policies of this Government.
Every single one of the small businesses in my constituency will benefit from a reduction in employer’s national insurance contributions. Labour increased national insurance contributions for people employing staff; we are reducing them significantly. Some 35,000 businesses in Wales will benefit, 20,000 of which will pay no employer’s national insurance contributions. My hon. Friend Andrew Griffiths talked about small breweries and the fact that the beer duty escalator has been stopped, which is a good thing for the industry. In my constituency I have four small breweries that will benefit not only from the changes to the beer duty escalator, which was brought in by Labour, but from the reduction in employer’s national insurance contributions, allowing them to invest and to develop more opportunities for work in the area.
There is a 13% differential between the rate at which Labour would be taxing petrol and what this Government are doing. In a rural constituency such as mine, that is crucial—13p per litre makes a huge difference. Labour Members might not understand this because they do not understand rural areas, but in my part of the world there is an understanding that the changes to fuel duty and excise duties are crucial for a rural area that depends on self-employment and the small businesses that do understand the needs of the community and the need to invest in order to improve.
We await clarity on that issue. However, I am absolutely terrified about the fact that the administration of that measure will be partly devolved to Wales, where the situation is astonishing. The NewBuy scheme was introduced by this Government in April 2012, but it has yet to be introduced in Wales. The Welsh Labour Government will introduce it in June 2013. In other words, 15 months after the money was made available, the Labour Government in Cardiff are still not helping people in my constituency who want support to buy new houses.
I am concerned that the Labour Government in Cardiff are not delivering. Their decisions on every single policy are made for political reasons to undermine the work of this coalition Government, and nowhere more is that the case than with how the Welsh Government refuse to co-operate with the Work programme. Many programmes in Wales are funded by money from the European social fund and they provide support to those who need it to get back into employment, but the Welsh Labour Government refuse to allow those individuals to access the Work programme and the ESF business support programmes at the same time. The Labour party’s commitment to employment growth in Wales is zero, while its commitment to wrecking the work of this coalition Government is 100% and total. The people of Wales realise the betrayal of their communities by the Labour party.
The fact of the matter is that, on every single issue, this Budget is making an effort, in very difficult circumstances, to help those people who want to help themselves. As a Member who represents an area that is very dependent on self-employment, I welcome the key decision to introduce the flat pension rate. For far too long, the option of self-employment was penalised by the pensions system. The move to a flat system whereby people will benefit by about £144 a week from a guaranteed state pension is crucial. The decision to become self-employed is a difficult one to make, especially so in Wales, where it is also difficult to then provide for a pension, because the position of the public sector is so different. I warmly welcome the fact that this Government are tackling the need for a fairer pension system. Every single person in my constituency—employed or self-employed—will realise that if they put money aside for their own pension, they will be supported by a Government who are committed to supporting people to do the right thing.
Finally, one of my concerns about the current economic situation relates to financing for small businesses. This is not a criticism of the Government. Time and again I meet representatives from banks who claim that they have money available but that there is a lack of demand for funding. We have heard the same complaints from the Labour party. The key thing is that MPs can do a lot of work on this matter. During the Easter recess I will hold two surgeries to tell businesses how to get themselves fit for the lending available. Circumstances have changed. The time when money was thrown at businesses has gone, but businesses that go to the banks with appropriate business plans and ideas for development and growth should and could access money at much cheaper rates than the Welsh Assembly-funded Finance Wales scheme. MPs can stand up in this Chamber and complain as much as they want, but the key thing is that we—I know that my Government colleagues do this—work with businesses to help them access that funding, rather than complain all the time in the way that the Labour party does.
It is worth remembering that in his June 2010 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stood at the Dispatch Box and announced that the growth rate for 2013 would be 2.9%. In his autumn statement, just a few months ago in December 2012, he stood at the same Dispatch Box and announced that the rate would be 1.2%. Yesterday, humiliatingly for the Chancellor, he had to announce to the country that the Office for Budget Responsibility’s own statistics show that the projected growth rate for this year is a miserly 0.6%. It does not get any better, because the 2010 Budget’s projected growth for 2014 was 2.5%, which was downgraded by the autumn statement to 2%, and yesterday the Chancellor said that it would be 1.8%, which is, frankly, optimistic. It is worth remembering that in 2010, actual growth was 1.8%. This is a real humiliation for the Chancellor, because he has had to admit that for the last three years, his growth strategy has been a no growth strategy, because there has not been any growth in our economy.
Of course, the Business Secretary admitted to that last year, when he wrote to the Prime Minister and said that his Government lacked a “compelling vision” for growth. He was absolutely right. I was pleased to hear him finally acknowledge from the Dispatch Box today that the Chancellor and the coalition Government got it wrong in 2010 when they cut the investment that this country so desperately needed. I do not recall any apology from the Business Secretary or the Chancellor before today. I might have missed it because I am not an avid reader of the Evening Standard, but I do not think that it was pre-briefed that they have got it wrong for the past three years. It is three years too late for many of our constituents. The Government snuffed out the recovery that was beginning in 2010.
I will refer briefly to some of the local initiatives and challenges in my Denton and Reddish constituency. In the short time I have left, I will then recognise the positive ideas in Lord Heseltine’s “No Stone Unturned” strategy. To be fair to Lord Heseltine, unlike most Members on the Government Benches, he understands what is needed to drive up growth in the English regions. A number of his initiatives should be taken on board.
I very much doubt it; we can but hope. There are some good ideas that build on the many regional initiatives that the last Labour Government left in place in May 2010. The strategy almost reinvents the wheel, but I do not care who reinvents the wheel; the fact is that the wheel should never have been smashed up in the first place.
My Denton and Reddish constituency has been badly affected by unemployment. The figures that were released yesterday showed an increase in those claiming jobseeker’s allowance over the past 12 months. There are now 2,642 unemployed claimants in my constituency, which is 6% of the economically active population. The longer-term picture is far worse. Those claiming jobseeker’s allowance over the past 12 months has now gone up 32%. The figure has gone up 44% for young people and, staggeringly, for people over 25 claiming jobseeker’s allowance, the figure has gone up 70% in the past year.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She may have read the Manchester Evening News research, which showed that Tameside, which is part of my constituency, is the worst place in the north-west of England for young people to access job opportunities. There are real issues here that need to be resolved by Government.
Some good local initiatives are being pushed through by my two local authorities. One is Tameside, a Labour local authority, and the other is Stockport, a Liberal Democrat authority. They are doing their best in very tight circumstances, not least because every man, woman and child in Tameside is losing the equivalent of £163 in central Government grant to the local authority and Stockport is losing £94 per head of population.
We are seeing initiatives such as the introduction of town teams in Denton—I am proud that my office is represented on the Denton town team—and a pooled apprenticeship scheme in Tameside, which enables firms to reduce the risk of taking on apprentices. That initiative has been ably led by the leader of Tameside council, Councillor Kieran Quinn, who set out an ambition to have every young person in work or training by 2020. Tameside council has done a deal with New Charter Housing, the local registered social landlord, to ensure that one affordable house is built per week for the next three years. Stockport has the Stockport Boost initiative, its town centre is a Portas pilot, and there are huge opportunities along the M60 corridor with its close proximity to the airport city enterprise zone and the Grand Central redevelopment. That initiative is being pushed forward by the Greater Manchester combined authority and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities—a Labour-led, city region initiative.
Lord Heseltine talks about combined authorities and giving more responsibility to local enterprise partnerships, and that is where Greater Manchester takes a lead. He also mentions local leadership, which is a thorny issue. I personally support the idea of a Greater Manchester-wide mayor, and although I realise that others in the city region are not convinced, I at least welcome the debate started by Lord Heseltine in his report.
My final point—which I have already touched on—is about housing, which continues to be a big problem in my constituency. The new homes bonus announced by the Government in 2010 was supposed to unleash growth and help build at least 400,000 additional homes, but it has failed to deliver.
I will not as I do not have time. Housing starts fell by 11% last year to below 100,000—fewer than half the number required to meet housing need. The Government’s £10 billion guarantee scheme has yet to deliver a single penny of support for house building. There were a number of small things to be welcomed in the Budget, but there were no answers on growth or for communities such as Denton and Reddish. After three years of failure, it is time for a different approach.
Following the speech by Andrew Gwynne I feel I should point out that the Government do welcome Lord Heseltine’s report, which is why they have adopted the vast majority of his recommendations. I was also pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman mention the success of town teams and the Portas pilots, although he failed to mention that those initiatives were introduced by this Government.
I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, as a piece of context for this debate, that you will be familiar with the novel by Chris Mullin, a former Member of this House, called “A Very British Coup”—many Members will have read it; I think it was almost a manifesto for certain Opposition Members at one point. It tells the story of a left-wing Labour Government who run out of money and go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund, but they cannot accept the terms that the IMF offers, so instead they go cap in hand to the Russians.
That scenario has, thankfully, been avoided here, but it is the meat and drink of a member of the eurozone and a European country, albeit a small country: Cyprus. It has lost control of its debts and spending and is in the awful position—as countries are when they get to this point—where the cuts it is being asked to make at this late stage are much worse than those it might have made earlier, at the right time. Countries find that they cannot go on borrowing for ever because one day the people lending the money will not lend it any more, or only at a rate so punitive that it cannot be accepted. That warning is live. It is affecting a member of the eurozone and may soon affect other countries. The Labour party ignore that peril, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer is steering this country away from it.
Throughout this debate Opposition Members, just as the shadow Chancellor and Leader of the Opposition did yesterday, have pointed out how much the country is borrowing and said that we are borrowing more than was forecast—a perfectly legitimate point. They are, however, much more reluctant to be drawn on whether they would borrow even more. The shadow Chancellor seems to be very happy when he is touring the news studios and sitting on the sofas to be a bit more frank and open about this, but he was asked about it twice in the debate and refused to answer both times. Last week, he was asked by Gavin Esler on “Newsnight” whether his plans would mean that the Labour party would borrow more, and his answer was, “Of course it would.” He is right. His plans do not come out of thin air. He must borrow the money to put in place the stimulus he wants. The reason he is not forthcoming is that he knows that that is not what the country wants. He knows that people are genuinely concerned about the high level of debt we have and about the costs we will put on future generations if we do not get on top of it now. He knows that people are looking at countries such as Cyprus and thinking, “That could happen here if we do not get a grip of our debts.”
The hon. Gentleman does not hear what I hear from the shadow Chancellor. I heard him say, first, that we want a cut to VAT to stimulate the economy—the economy has been badly affected by the VAT increase—and, secondly, that we would use the proceeds from the 4G spectrum auction to build 100,000 houses, which would also stimulate the economy and the construction sector. My right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor does answer those questions; the hon. Gentleman should listen to him.
I hear the shadow Chancellor tell us how he will spend the same money a number of times. A VAT holiday could not be paid for, and would be only a temporary measure—the rate would go back up again. It would be an artificial stimulus, and the country cannot afford any more of those. Why will Labour Members not have the courage of their convictions and say, “Yes, of course borrowing would go up. That is the truth of the matter.” That is what the shadow Chancellor said on “Newsnight”. When they challenge the Chancellor, it is like a sumo wrestler giving unsolicited advice on dieting. Their prescription is worse. They want to borrow more than we have borrowed. People need to understand that. I do not understand why Labour Members will not be up front about it.
What can we do to get our economy going? Labour Members do not like to talk about the growth in jobs, because the recovery of the private sector economy and its response to the measures put in place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his series of Budgets is an inconvenient fact.
I was recently at the London launch of the campaign to market the east Kent regional growth fund. Doug Richard, the entrepreneur and former dragon on “Dragons’ Den”, was there to support the event. He is a great supporter of start-up businesses, particularly in the tech and digital sectors. He said that now is a great time not only to start a business—that is why we have a record number of private sector businesses in this country—but to go to the market to look for finance to set up a business. He highlighted, as have many entrepreneurs—particularly in the tech, creative and digital sectors, which are so important to the future growth of our economy—that initiatives such as the seed enterprise investment scheme, which the Chancellor mentioned in his Budget, provide great incentives to bring private sector money into start-up business, and to encourage individual investors to support the growth in those businesses.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about those schemes, but the main funnel for credit provision to small businesses is the funding for lending scheme. That scheme is not working as effectively as we would want. Is he disappointed that there were no initiatives in the Budget to improve funding for lending to address the small business problem?
We should look at the series of schemes and initiatives that have been put in place and accept that it sometimes takes time from the moment of their creation for the money to come through. Funding is now coming through for the regional growth fund for east Kent. A high-end engineering business in my constituency, HV Wooding, which supplies parts for the CERN hadron collider and grand prix engines, has received a grant of more than £1 million from the regional growth fund, which could create up to 50 sustainable, high-skilled engineering jobs at its factory in Hythe. Those are exactly the type of businesses we want to support. Money is also coming through the seed enterprise investment scheme to support creative businesses, and digital businesses in particular.
People can see the benefits that those schemes are creating in the economy. That is one reason why we see job creation in the economy and new business start-ups performing strongly. The measures put in place in the past four Budgets are starting to bear fruit, which we should appreciate and accept.
The help to buy scheme, launched by the Chancellor yesterday, is a bold and imaginative measure that could help to stimulate the housing market and construction sector. I have been in many debates in the past year in which people have said that the problem with the construction industry and the housing market is that builders are reluctant to commit to starting projects because they do not think that they will be able to sell the properties. The scheme put in place by the Chancellor will give them the confidence to start building, and will give people the confidence to start buying. That can have a dramatic impact on our housing sector.
As in the measure to support small and start-up businesses, the Chancellor is working with the grain of the aspirations of the British people to give them the opportunity to start a business or buy their own home, with the backing of the Government to do so. Barbara Keeley said that the cap on the cost of residential care—the implementation of the Dilnot measures—was still quite high, but at least it is there now, and we are saying for the first time that people who work and save all their lives, who set up a business or buy their own home, will not have all that taken away late in life. There will be a cap on their contributions so that they do not pay through the nose for something that other people get for free. That is part of supporting the aspirations of the British people, and I welcome the Budget.
This is a Government whose central argument rests on the spurious claim that the economic crisis was national and all Labour’s fault up until 2010, and magically internationalised only after they came to power. With every passing day, the extent of that basic deception and the false conclusions drawn from it are exposed. We were told the pain would be worth it because the Chancellor would have the debt and the deficit under control by 2015. Now it will be 2017-18 and, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the current debt overshoot is likely to be £8 billion higher than predicted just three months ago.
This was the tomorrow budget for a tomorrow that never comes—almost anything of any value is put off until 2015 or beyond. With a Chancellor whose forecasts have proved worthless so far, just what kind of certainty does that provide? The Government’s claim is that the deficit is down by a third but the OBR’s figures show that it is down by less than a quarter, and there is no prospect of further cuts in the deficit in the next two years.
The answer can be to borrow some money for investment, but not to squander it on rising unemployment and wasteful expenditure, which is what the Chancellor is doing. All the pain will simply be to stand still. The OBR has also pointed out that the public debt in 2015, rather than being the £37 billion the Chancellor originally promised, will actually be a staggering £108.4 billion. Just when are this lot going to learn that they have lost all right to lecture anybody about debt?
I welcome the cut in the duty on beer, although the VAT rise added 5p to a pint of beer, and the likely benefit of the measure will be offset by the loss of jobs and sales in the whisky industry, so it is not quite the achievement that some people might think. I am also pleased that the Chancellor has offered some certainty by scrapping, rather than postponing for the umpteenth time, the planned rise in petrol. The £3 billion lift in capital spending is welcome, but we need it now, not in 2015. His own fiscal rules allow him to borrow to invest: why does he not do so?
We can all welcome the cut in national insurance for small employers as probably the one genuinely growth-stimulating measure in the Budget. Perhaps that is not surprising, as it was our idea.
The Chancellor has once again promised a cut in corporation tax in 2015. Just like the now-forgotten triple A rating, stimulating inward investment by cuts to corporation tax is a Government mantra. It is not working, however. Foreign direct investment inflows to the UK fell between 2010 and 2011, and are now about a third of what they were before the crash. Meanwhile our total investment rate is 15% of GDP—the lowest in the G7—and our current account deficit is now at its highest since the 1980s. We are stifling opportunities for investment.
Legitimate foreign students are worth approximately £8 billion a year to the British economy, and that is being lost in pursuit of the Home Secretary’s immigration target. Simultaneously, she is letting in 30,000 people a year on temporary student visas that require no entry qualifications, no evidence of income and no guarantee of qualification. As usual, it is the wrong target at the wrong time. Similarly, the lack of Chinese tourists means that the very people we need to attract and to encourage to trade with us are now four times more likely to take their spending to France.
As usual, this was a Budget of missed opportunities. Where is the plan for a properly capitalised British investment bank of the kind operated by every other
G7 country? There is nothing in the Budget about a target to decarbonise by 2030, but that is exactly the message that would provide certainty for the renewables supply chain and create jobs. Only one in 10 wind farm components are directly sourced in the UK. Why is it that the Chancellor is unable to see what everybody else can see?
The Chancellor called this a budget for an aspiration nation; it sounds more like alienation to me. He is presiding over what Professor Arnold Blumberg calls a zombie economy where rising inflation and no growth eats away at savings, strangles enterprise and innovation, and deprives small businesses of the capital and opportunities they need to grow. We have yet to see who the real beneficiaries of the abolition of stamp duty on share trading will be, but we know who it will not be. This is an alienation budget because the vast majority of our people are into their third year of pay cuts and falling livings standards, and the only ones doing okay are the millionaires in line for a tax cut. There is alienation as it emerges that the mortgage assistance scheme is actually a second home subsidy at the very time when the bedroom tax threatens to throw others out on to the street.
I invite the Chancellor to try listening to real people, like I do. Of those I surveyed in Selly Oak, 50% said that creating jobs and the conditions for jobs should be his top priority, 39% were worried about the rise in domestic gas and electricity prices, and 29% cannot make ends meet and will be forced into debt by his policies. The people of Selly Oak are a good barometer and they know what needs to be done. When will this Chancellor start to listen to real people and do the things that the country desperately needs?
It is a pleasure to follow Steve McCabe, who grudgingly accepted that there are good things in the Budget as well as things to condemn. A Budget is a snapshot in time that builds on previous Budgets. Good things have come out of previous Budgets and there are great things in this Budget.
One performance measure of an economy is the level of unemployment. In my constituency, in April 2005, the level of unemployment was 1,402. By the time the Labour Government left office in April 2010, it was 1,901. That is an increase of 36%, but then we all know that Labour Governments always leave office with higher unemployment than when they arrive. Now, however, unemployment is down to 1,632—a fall of 14% in three years—showing that despite the recession and the difficulties, the Government have got it right on encouraging and promoting employment.
Next month, 4,035 of my constituents will be taken out of tax completely by the Government’s increases in the personal allowance. More importantly, 40,101 working people in my constituency will get a tax reduction, which means they will have more money in their bank accounts to spend as they choose. One of the great measures is the new employment allowance, from which 145,000 businesses across London will gain. They will be able to employ people without having to pay national insurance contributions. Furthermore, 75,000 of those businesses will pay nothing at all for the people they recruit, which has got to be great news. Combined with the abolition of the fuel and beer duty escalators, that means that the Government have got it right on taxation.
I want to dedicate most of my speech to the treatment of Equitable Life policyholders. For 13 years, when Labour ran the country, it refused to do anything about the 1 million people who suffered as a result of this scandal. I am proud to belong to a party and a Government who have taken steps to assist the victims. In 2010, the coalition Government honoured our election pledges to compensate the victims of that fiasco. The claimants asserted that £5.2 billion-worth of compensation would be needed, if full compensation was to be paid. Clearly, given the economic position, we could not afford that, so £1.5 billion was set aside to ensure that the victims received due recompense.
The victims split into three groups. The first group comprised the 37,000 with-profit annuity policyholders, who have received full compensation for the losses that resulted from the scandal for which the then Government, the regulator and Equitable Life were responsible. The nearly 900,000 people who took out pension plans have also been compensated, but at a much lower level, because they had the alternative of transferring their pension plans elsewhere. Unfortunately, however, owing to how the scheme was implemented, the people who were most vulnerable and most desperately in need of assistance—those whose money was trapped in their pension plans because they took them out before
I shall come to that when I conclude my remarks.
Some 10,000 of the most vulnerable people received no compensation at all. The all-party group on justice for Equitable Life policyholders put forward clear evidence that they suffered as much as the people being compensated. We pointed out that they could not have known before
Let me turn to the intervention by Mr Love. The campaign continues. The policyholders have not received the full compensation that they are due or the compensation that has been promised—it is still being paid. My clarion call to my colleagues on the Front Bench is this. Let us ensure that they receive the money—particularly the trapped annuitants —as fast as possible, because since we started the campaign in 2010, 1,000 of the trapped annuitants have sadly died, and they are dying each day. We want to see people compensated and receiving their money as fast as possible, so that they can enjoy their retirement in a reasonable way. I say thank you to my colleagues on the Front Bench, but with this word of warning: we will carry on campaigning and ensuring that the compensation is paid as it should be.
Finally, I want to refer to housing. Currently, banks and financial institutions are demanding a 25% deposit before they will allow people to get a loan for a mortgage. In my constituency, prices start at £300,000 for a two-bedroom flat. A detached house can be up to £1 million or more. A reasonable three-bedroom property is of the order of £500,000. Imagine trying to find £125,000 as a deposit to buy a family home. It is almost impossible and beyond the reach of ordinary working people. I therefore welcome what the Government are doing to support them. We want to get the housing market moving, with new properties being built and existing properties passed on, so that the starter homes can be used by new people.
I am delighted to follow Bob Blackman. I acknowledge the effective advocacy that he has provided for Equitable Life annuitants. I commend him and the Chancellor and his ministerial colleagues for addressing that outstanding injustice. The issue now is to deliver not just the solution that has been designed, but the outcome that people deserve.
There are some things in the Budget that it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge from a Northern Ireland perspective. Our exclusion from the carbon price floor is hugely important, given that Northern Ireland is part of a single electricity market in Ireland. The effect of the price floor would have been to skew investment in our generating capacity in a way that would have penalised business and consumers. I am therefore glad that Ministers woke up to the problems that many of us have been raising in the Chamber for so long, ever since the measure was announced.
We already know that there is some confusion about aspects of the Budget, such as help to buy, the mortgage support scheme. The shadow Chancellor has rightly raised some issues and questions about the scheme, but let us be clear: whether or not it will support people with buy-to-let mortgages, there is to be no income cap whatever on the people qualifying for it. At a time when people here are all about the “aspiration nation”, there are a lot of people out there who just feel exasperation that a scheme such as this should come along with no income cap. Meanwhile, they have suffered the loss of child benefit, on which there is an income cap, starting at £50,000, with payments ending completely at £60,000. Those people are exasperated too when they hear, “Oh yes, child care benefits are coming”—in two and a half years’ time. Government Members used to criticise the former Chancellor and Prime Minister when he produced Budgets and made announcements about things that would be introduced in two or three years’ time but sold them as though they were happening at the time. They rightly criticised him for that, yet they are cheering on their own Chancellor for doing exactly the same thing, while people are suffering the loss of support for caring for their children.
The Chancellor talked a lot yesterday about investing in new energy sources, but we needed to hear about investing in energy efficiency. He talked about new house building schemes to help the construction sector, but the sector is screaming out for support for repairs, maintenance and retrofitting to support energy efficiency in our existing housing stock. Many people want to stay where they are and to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, and they should be supported in that, not least through proper, targeted VAT relief and reductions.
Similar VAT reductions should be targeted at the tourism sector. That is happening in quite a number of EU member states. It is allowed, it is effective and it traps the multipliers here at home. I do not agree with the proposals for a blanket reduction in VAT for a particular period, as it could suck in all sorts of imports and send other money out of the country. We should target VAT reductions where they will produce real benefit in home sectors, and such targeting on the construction and tourism sectors would help.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s point about targeting help, particularly on building maintenance and repair and on tourism. Does he agree that one benefit of such targeting is that it would take effect very quickly and would be likely to help small business and small traders? Many of the housing measures announced yesterday were welcome, but they will mainly benefit the bigger builders. The VAT cuts that my hon. Friend is suggesting would provide a quick way of boosting the economy and helping many of the people who need help now.
I fully accept my hon. Friend’s point. The multipliers would get into gear far faster under that sort of measure than under some of the other measures that have been proposed, welcome though they are in their own context.
Certain aspects of the Budget served notice of more pain to come. The Chancellor spoke yesterday about changes that he will be making through annually managed expenditure. That sounds like a dry, technical change, but it will have a significant impact in relation to the controls that are being placed on welfare spending. We have already had the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which changed many of the rules, structures and qualifying criteria for benefits. It was designed in such a way as to allow for wide regulatory powers to place further changes and squeezes on benefits without the need for further primary legislation.
It is clear that, by moving to change the rules relating to annually managed expenditure, the Chancellor is trying to put in place more fixed envelopes for welfare spending. That will have particular implications for the way in which social security spend is managed in Northern Ireland, because the money comes to Northern Ireland not as part of the departmental expenditure limit—the DEL—but as annually managed expenditure. If that is now to be subject to some fixed-envelope procedure and capped in advance, it will put serious stress on the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly is in the bizarre position of having to pass karaoke legislation that has to be exactly the same as that passed here, but it is notionally responsible for the administrative discretion on delivery. That will be a fundamental challenge for us in Northern Ireland, and we all need to wake up to that fact.
We need to be as alert to that challenge as the Executive have been on the case for corporation tax. I can see where the Chancellor is going with that, but his rate of travel in regard to corporation tax UK-wide means that, by the time any concession is delivered to Northern Ireland, the marginal benefits it will give us will be a lot less.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about business. Will he welcome the introduction of the employment allowance, and the benefit that it will bring to small businesses in Northern Ireland?
Yes, I welcome that. Labour has advocated it as well; it is a good, sensible measure that I know many firms will take up.
Similarly, I welcome the increase in the personal allowance, although it will perhaps not benefit as many people in my constituency as in the constituencies of some Government Members who have mentioned the measure. That is because my constituency has very high unemployment and high rates of economic inactivity. The problem in my constituency is the lack of work, not the lack of a work ethic. I will support any measures in the Budget or anywhere else that will ensure that more people can find work, embrace and express their aspirations and ambitions and make a contribution to their community and society.
The Chancellor is introducing fiscal apps and things in regional and city economies here in Britain that I would like to see our Executive and Assembly emulate at home in Northern Ireland. I would like to see the devolution discretion used a lot more to give us more creative capacity. When I see some of the measures in the Budget, I recognise that there is some constructive engagement to get the economy going again, but we need to get our share of it.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mark Durkan, who represents a very different part of the United Kingdom than the one I represent. It is always informative to listen to his contributions, and I always learn something from them.
There are some very good points in the Budget for the people of Bedford and Kempston. The cuts in national insurance rates—Labour’s job tax—are a welcome change, meaning that that the people of Bedford are more likely to have a job. When they travel to work in their cars, they can look at the petrol pump and see that fuel duty has been frozen. When they arrive at work, they will know that at the end of the day, thanks to the increase in the personal allowance, they will keep more of the money they have earned. When they get home in the evening and go out to the pub with their mates, they can raise a pint to the Chancellor and say, “Thank you very much for scrapping that other iniquity of our tax system left by the last Labour Government—the beer duty escalator.” Those are all very welcome measures. On fuel duty, it is particularly important for everyone to realise that when they fill up their tank and look up at the price per litre, 13p of that is Labour’s price on fuel, which applies every time we fill up our cars.
Let me draw your attention, Mr Deputy Speaker, and that of Members to page 12 of the Red Book, which features an interesting chart—I see Members avidly reaching for it—showing the growth of debt in this country from the mid-1990s until 2010. It shows that the last Labour Government left this country as the most indebted nation on earth. They grew our debt—this does not include Government debt, which has to be added on top—from two times to five times the size of the economy. That is a massive debt that must be paid for by our children and grandchildren. I wonder whether the Economic Secretary would consider adding the Government debt to this chart and requiring to be displayed on a poster in every single school, so that our children know what they are going to have to pay back due to the policies pursued by the last Labour Government. Their policies were an abject failure of economic management.
In the private sector, when companies have poorly performing management, we fire them and bring in other people. In the Labour party, they promote them.
The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor were promoted, yet their fingers are all over this increase in debt. I must say that Mr Wright has it right. Those two are acting as bed blockers for more talented people on the Opposition Front Bench. Let us hope there will be a change in that regard some day.
Let me say more broadly, if I may—I sometimes get a little controversial—that the debates I have heard in this place since becoming a Member of Parliament have reinforced my view that the political class has let down the people of this country, regardless of political party. The debt is not just the fault of the last Labour Government but of the country as a whole, which had got itself into terrible levels of debt.
There are two ways of looking at the problem. The Government are borrowing £1 billion every three days, the interest on which amounts to £15 million. So, every three days, £15 million has to be taken out of the budget for our schools and our hospitals. That is a very considerable burden that places pressure on the Government, and I say to the Economic Secretary that I am not sure the Government have done enough to bring public expenditure under control. We have to go further. We need to look at the Heseltine review of the way the Government spend their money—not as an end-point, but as a starting-point for a much more radical reform of how we provide our cherished public services, so that we can deliver on the promise of providing more for less money.
In my remaining time, let me mention the help to buy mortgage guarantee scheme. I have read the scheme outline and there are some interesting charts in it, but an important chart is missing—for the loan-to-value ratio over time.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention, but I am not sure that I can share his joy. The impetus behind this Treasury document is the notion that enhancing loan-to-value ratios of 95% is somehow a good policy, and I need some more reassurance about that.
Let us compare the average house bought in 1997 at the average loan-to-value ratio of 80% with the average house bought in 2007—after all that price inflation—at a 95% loan-to-value ratio. Over the 20 or 25 years of their mortgage, the people who bought the average house in 2007 will have to spend £234,000 more than those who bought the average house in 1997. Increasing loan-to-value ratios depresses people’s ability to spend money on other things, because they are spending more on their mortgages. I want some more reassurance from the Treasury that this scheme will not have unintended consequences for their ability to spend money appropriately in relation to their incomes.
Is not another possible unintended consequence of the measure the setting off of regionally based house price spirals, exacerbating some of the regional differences that other measures in the Budget are intended to address?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but I do not see that that would be a problem in this instance. In fact, the scheme might counteract the problem. However, it is clear that the issue needs to be sorted out as what is currently an outline becomes a fully developed scheme.
Let me end by making a fundamental point. Every politician in the House must recognise that our debt burden presents us all with a challenge to do more with less. The answer is not to continue kicking the can down the road. We must face up to our responsibilities, and we owe it to the generations to come to do that quickly, while interest rates are low, rather than waiting to see what—as was pointed out by my hon. Friend Damian Collins—may happen if they suddenly start to spike, and we find ourselves in a much more difficult position in trying to bring Government spending back under control.
I am extremely grateful not only to have been called to speak, but to follow Richard Fuller, because I intend to use his speech as a launchpad for my own. I have a great deal of sympathy with much of what he said. In particular, I agree with him that the rising level of private sector debt in the economy is worrying—much more worrying than the rising level of public sector debt during the earlier period to which he referred.
However, the most important question for the House to answer is this. Given that members of all parties know there is a massive problem in our economy—the mountain of debt that is at this moment being added to our existing national debt—why do Ministers refuse to face up to it?
Where would we have been, had the OBR’s initial assessment been correct? By this point in the present Parliament, our economy would have grown by 5% or 6%, there would have been a solid and recognisable recovery, and further scope for a reduction in public spending as the deficit went down. Instead, we have seen growth of between 0% and 1%, and we know that, in this first quarter of 2013, we are a margin of error away from a triple-dip recession—let alone the double-dip recession that has already happened. There is clearly a lack of confidence, not just consumer confidence but confidence among businesses and elsewhere, preventing investment and the securing of the growth we need.
The result of all this—the result of the halving of growth in the most recent Budget assessment, and of the Chancellor’s having not only to downgrade his own assessments of growth but to upgrade the amount he will have to borrow every time he comes to the Dispatch Box—is quite simple. We are adding an incredible amount of debt to the economy, and the Government are giving no clear indication of what they are going to do. The pain experienced by my constituents, and by many of our constituents throughout the country, can be tempered only by a sense that we are getting somewhere in sorting out the problem that has been created.
However, the sad assessment is that we have wasted three years in getting there. The debt has continued to rise. When Government Members say, “We are paying down Britain’s debts”, either they are being ignorant of the facts or something more sinister is going on. No debt has been paid down by this Government. In their five years, this Government will have borrowed more than was borrowed during the 13 years of the previous Labour Government, and that was true even before yesterday’s horror-show figures. We know that at the end of this Parliament the deficit will still be in the tens of billions of pounds; I believe the figure will be £70 billion in the final year of this Parliament. We know that last year, this year and next year the deficit remains, in essence, unchanged, at about £120 billion.
Many of us choose not to talk about this next issue. Many Government Members would say privately that they are deeply concerned about the Government’s economic strategy, but they will not talk about it in this Chamber. The shocking thing is the effect that is having on the general public’s perception of what is going on in the real economy. All the polling shows us that only about one in 10 people understands that the debt is going up, rather than going down or remaining the same. The public believe, by and large, that these cuts are productive. They confuse—possibly because the Government themselves have confused—the debt and the deficit, but, believe it or not, this Government will borrow more in their period in office than the previous Labour Government did in 13 years. We need to call them out on that as clearly as we can.
For a plan to work, it needs to be credible. What do I mean by that? First, a proper plan is needed. This Government said that they had one—Labour had one going into the last election. Secondly, the belief is needed that the Government will see it through. This Government say they will see it through, even though they are clearly not keeping to the plan. We believe that the best way to make a credible case for seeing it through would be an Act of Parliament stating that the deficit will be halved in four years. The third test of a credible plan is: does it work? I ask in the simplest way
I can: on what measure is the Chancellor’s economic plan working? The answer is none whatsoever, and that presents real challenges to our constituents and to our country.
Given the time constraints, this will, obviously, be a bit of a whistle-stop tour. However, I will set out some of my Budget highlights and, with each one, something on my wish list to try to be constructive for the Government. First, I very much welcome the £10,000 personal allowance. As we know, that is a tax cut for 24 million people and 2.7 million people will be completely taken out of paying income tax. This is genuinely a reward for people doing the right thing.
Some excellent work by the TaxPayers Alliance has highlighted a chronic lack of understanding of the impact of changes to taxation in people’s own payslips. In this week’s The Spectator, I set out a request that when changes to pay-as-you-earn made by any future Government, of any colour, kick in, they should be explained on the employee’s payslip. In that way, we can get greater engagement. I know through my work on the all-party group on financial education for young people that because we now have so many direct debits and standing orders, people are disfranchised from their own bank accounts. Therefore, setting out the information I suggest will help.
I welcome the various measures to support business, such as the 20p rate of corporation tax and the £2,000 employment allowance. It will make a huge difference in the south-west, as 85,000 employers will gain and 40,000 will be taken out of paying national insurance altogether. Some 1.25 million private sector jobs have been created and a quarter of a million new businesses have started since we came to power. My constituency has seen the fastest increase in the number of start-up businesses in the south-west. It is also crucial that we continue to support businesses looking to export to emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China, so that we are not so exposed to the turbulence in the European Union.
I also want more to be done to help promote young entrepreneurs. We all support that principle, but young people face a challenge, as I find when I talk to business students. I was the only one of the 350 who studied business on my university course who ended up running their own business and employing people. When I ask business students whether they would like to run a business, all the hands go up and they are extremely enthusiastic; they have been enthused by “The Apprentice” and “Dragons’ Den”. When I then ask how many will do it, all the hands go back down, because they simply do not know how. When people choose to go to university or take on an apprenticeship—the number of which has increased massively—a clear, defined career path is laid out for them. If they tick the box, get the grades and pass the application process, that is what they will do. We need to do a lot more in that regard.
A couple of weeks ago, I set up a scheme with Swindon college to support a local charity, the Prospect hospice. Those who took part were each given £10 to raise money by trading in the Blunsdon market, a tough trading environment, and between them they raised more than £711. One team was so successful that the market has asked them to come back in the summer holidays to give it a go. Our town centre is looking to use the high street money provided through the Mary Portas scheme to set up pop-up shops, and has also made an offer to that team of very successful girls. Those who are interested might like to hear that they ran a 1950s tea shop-style café, dressed in 1950s clothes and played 1950s music; they understood customer service. My request is that we do more to set out clear career paths in business.
I welcome the good news on fuel duty. People have mentioned the 13p price difference—it is 59p if we use gallons, and sounds even more impressive. Whenever I use cutting-edge social media such as Facebook to conduct a “Fantasy Chancellor” poll and ask about the one thing people would do, fuel duty is always the most popular issue. I ask for no return to the 12 hikes in 13 years we saw under the previous Government. They regarded motorists as an easy hit, but the cost has a tangible effect on people.
The excellent news on beer duty is a credit to my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland). I am a proud member of the save the pub group and the all-party group on beer. I had a text from the wonderful Arkell’s brewery in my constituency, which very much welcomed the move. It is important to the sector.
I thank my hon. Friend for his sterling support for the campaign to scrap the beer duty escalator. Earlier, he mentioned the work of the TaxPayers Alliance. Will he join me in congratulating the TPA on its “Mash Beer Tax” campaign, and The Sun newspaper on its fabulous campaign to scrap the beer duty escalator?
Absolutely. I also commend the constructive and proactive way they lobbied politicians on both sides of the House, so that they realised what a benefit such a move would be to the local economy, as well as for those who enjoy the odd pint in their local pub. It is cause for rejoicing.
I have two further requests. A considerable number of pubs are starting to provide food as a mainstream part of their offer. More needs to be done to encourage hospitality and catering students to consider becoming landlords, as a lot of breweries are struggling to find younger landlords. Secondly, I urge the Minister to consider the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton and to commission him to look more widely than the beer duty: to consider why we are losing pubs and what more we can do in that regard, just as we commissioned Mary Portas to carry out the high street review.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the increase in the personal allowance can be crucial for businesses such as public houses, which are often run by a husband and wife working in partnership? Our changes mean that such partnerships can make a profit of £20,000 without paying a penny in tax.
Absolutely. The industry can react quickly and provide flexible employment opportunities, and it is a major contributor to local economies across the country.
The help to buy scheme will provide £3.5 billion to help those wanting to get on to or move up the property ladder. I know that more details need to be considered, but we should think not only of the people who will benefit directly but of the huge numbers of people in the house building industry. Over the past 20 years, Swindon has been pretty much the fastest growing town, and a huge number of local residents are connected to that industry. They will welcome any measure to help restore confidence in the housing market.
We come up with these fantastic schemes, and I was challenged on local radio last night about whether this scheme would catch on. As entertaining as we all think we are, our wonderful debates in the Chamber often pass the public by. As the scheme comes into force in 2014, it would be nice to promote it in the annual council tax bill. The councils have already paid for the postage, so let us put a little information flyer in with the bill so that people can see what opportunities there are and whether they apply to them.
Finally, I want to talk about business rates, on which I would have liked a little more to have been done. Our high streets are struggling and business rates are becoming a bigger burden, with landlords lowering rents and so on. I was fortunate enough to become a member of the Public Accounts Committee, but one of my biggest disappointments is that that happened 24 hours after Starbucks and Amazon had their hearing. Amazon kindly came to meet me yesterday and it is fair to say that we rowed. Its actions over tax and transferring money to Luxembourg are disgraceful. The company is not operating on an even playing field. We have to investigate some form of internet consumer tax for such organisations, but with every single penny ring-fenced to subsidise the business rates of the traditional high street. If the high street struggles any more, Amazon will also struggle because the high street is the shop window. I have spoken to a number of independent retailers who provide the customer service—and consumers then simply pick up the phone and order from Amazon. Let us create a fair playing field for all retailers.
I will try to be as quick as I can because I know that others want to make a contribution to this debate.
I will not get into the knockabout. If we are all honest with one another, every Government who come in after a period out of office inherit problems that they have to tackle. I am not running away from the fact that because of what the previous Government did to support banks, this Government were landed with a bigger problem than any of us would have wanted.
The debate this afternoon has been interesting. Justin Tomlinson, my hon. Friend Gavin Shuker and Guto Bebb all mentioned one word, which is vital to everything we do within the economy, and that word is confidence. Without confidence, we are going nowhere, and growth runs hand-in-hand with confidence.
I took the opportunity last night to speak to about a dozen people in my constituency. I had given them a commitment. Some were small business owners and they pointed out that some of the commitments that the
Government gave yesterday were about what lies in the future, not about how they were going to get from where we are in 2013 to 2015. My constituency is in an area that depends very much on small and medium-sized enterprises for running the local economy, and there is little confidence out there in my locality.
On the concept of the private sector providing jobs, only this week I have heard announcements of the loss of 36 jobs in two private sector companies, one in the food industry and one in engineering. It is a different picture in different parts of the country.
Youth unemployment rose to 9.8% in my constituency yesterday—1,080 young people. For the fourth month running, unemployment overall rose and stands at more than 3,500. I want to say something about those young unemployed people. The issue is about more than just a job. One of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches—I will not mention names—shared some information with me. He had asked some questions about mental health problems and the astonishing figure came back to show that 32.9% of 16 to 25-year-olds have a mental health problem. That may be just depression or stress, but the figure is 32.9%. When we look at those figures region-wide and overlay them on to the youth unemployment figures, the result is frightening. The figures merge together. It is more than people just being out of work. Long-term ill health can begin to set in.
I say to the Government and the Treasury team dealing with the Budget that we do not want a re-run of what we experienced in this country in the 1980s and early 1990s, when we ended up with long-term second and third generation unemployed, a situation that my party tried to tackle. It is not good for individuals, families or communities and, above all else, it is not good for the country.
The Budget contained measures for small and medium-sized enterprises, which I would love to have seen happening sooner. I have concerns about what is being proposed in respect of house building. Is the confidence there for private sector house building? I would much prefer to see more money invested in public sector housing.
Finally, I shall mention something that is dear to the hearts of my constituents in a rural area—road fuel prices. Although he is not here, I want to mention Mr Reid. He does himself no credit, nor does anyone else, by saying that had a Labour Government been in office, road fuel would have cost 13p or 18p a litre extra. The price at the pumps today is a false price, with crude oil priced at $93. When we had the same price at the pumps previously, crude oil was $140 per barrel. So we have a false price. The weak pound is ratcheting the price up, and with a weak pound and no increase in exports, there is a problem lying in the undergrowth. That problem could well be inflation, and I would like to hear the Minister say something about that when he winds up.
It is good to follow Mr Brown, and I agree with him that it is all about confidence. I believe that the Budget will help to produce confidence in this country, especially in my constituency, where many people are not on the highest wages. Taking people out of tax right up to nearly £10,000 is absolutely the right way to go. The previous Government spent far too much time on a complex tax system, but it is much better to take people out of tax altogether so that they know that they can earn up to a certain amount—nearly £10,000 in this case—before having to pay any tax.
It is also right to reduce national insurance contributions, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, because they will generate the most jobs. The reduction makes it less expensive to employ people, and that is what the Budget is about. Our economy must be, and will be, more competitive, because we are in a very competitive world and we need to compete. I think that the Budget will bring that about.
I echo what many Members, particularly my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, have said about Equitable Life and all the people who will now be compensated for policies prior to 1992, which have not previously been compensated. Many of those people are elderly and frail, so I urge the Government to get the money to them as quickly as possible. They were hard-working people who put money away for their retirement and basically were robbed in one way or another. I really thank the Chancellor and the Government for agreeing to those payments, but they need to be made quickly.
On infrastructure, there is a wonderful road, the A30 and the A303, running east from Honiton, and it needs to be dualled—there no doubt about it. We want to dual that road until we get into Wiltshire, where we might encounter problems with a few stones. I will not say which stones, but I think that Members probably know what they are—Stonehenge. There are all sorts of problems around there, but let us not worry about that. Let us move from Honiton up through Devon and Somerset and into Wiltshire, and let us get that road built. We need a second arterial route into the west country, because tourism is so important to us, and it is linked to agriculture and many of our other industries.
That brings me to fuel and fuel duty. My constituency is only 10 miles wide, but it is 42 miles long and covers over 400 square miles. It starts up in Exmoor and meets the sea at Seaton. My constituents live mainly in villages and hamlets. If they wait for a bus, it might never come. If it does come, it probably is not going to where they want to go. I am being slightly facetious, but the point is that bus services in many rural areas do not stack up economically, however much subsidy we throw at them, so fuel and cars are not a luxury; they are an essential. Therefore, every time we raise fuel duty, we tax people’s means of getting to work. That is why I congratulate the Chancellor on freezing fuel duty. It is now 13p less than it was when Labour was in power. I am also delighted about the 1p reduction in beer duty, although I remind the Chancellor that the west country and Devon are, of course, full of cider producers, so I ask him please not to forget them.
I think that the support for home buyers, particularly first-time buyers, is a wonderful idea, because many people in my constituency are on low wages, but house prices are upwards of £220,000, so they really need help with deposits. If this Conservative-led Government are about anything, they must be about getting more people to own their own homes and look after themselves, and this support is one way of helping them to do that. I am absolutely delighted to see it happening. We inherited a huge amount of debt and we are doing our very best to reduce it. I look forward to the Budget having a very positive effect in my constituency and across the country.
We are told that a number of announcements in the Budget will encourage investment in infrastructure and growth. I hope that these policies do have that effect, because that would be welcome. They are being announced again because the policies announced in the other Budgets since the election have, as yet, signally failed to bring about such growth. There is plenty of evidence about how slowly they are benefiting infra- structure and investment. The recent National Audit Office report on the national infrastructure plan pointed out that although developers notified the Government of 99 infrastructure projects under the plan, by December 2012 only three had been determined, six were expecting a decision within three months, and the remaining 90 were not even at a decision stage.
An example of announcements about infrastructure taking a long time to have an effect is the Caledonian sleeper service from London to Scotland, on which I have been involved in campaigning. It was announced in 2011 and announced again in 2012. The money for it will probably start flowing through into carriages and stations from late 2014 onwards, until perhaps 2017 or 2018. It is obviously a very good investment, but it will not have an effect on boosting the economy in 2013. It did not have that effect in 2012 or 2011, and it will not do so until 2015 onwards. What can be said of that project is certainly true of many of the other investment projects that the Government have been trying to encourage and bring about.
The Government know that they have to do more to get results in terms of boosting the economy. That is why at least some in the Government appear to want to set off a new housing boom before 2015. Of course, we all want to see the encouragement of affordable, or relatively affordable, housing for first-time buyers and people who cannot get on to the housing ladder, and we certainly want to see the desperately needed boost for the construction industry that would come from such measures. However, it is a different thing to promote a scheme that would apparently help anyone of any income to buy a house costing up to £600,000 in any part of the country. That would inevitably run a high risk of setting off an unsustainable house price boom, which, as we have learned from previous experience, is precisely the kind of thing that many parts of the country do not need. It also creates a great danger of exacerbating some of the regional economic differences that the measures in the Budget are supposedly trying to address.
When the Secretary of State was asked about this measure, he told us, in his usual emollient way, that the details are being discussed and that more consideration is going on. Most of us in the Chamber could already hear the gears crunching as the Government prepared another U-turn, or, alternatively, the Secretary of State personally distanced himself from Government policy. This policy is being spun in the media, no doubt by someone in the Treasury. It is not so much about helping people who need housing as trying to get a housing boom in 2015, and it is the wrong approach. The Government say that they are going to introduce a policy that would help people on whatever income, in whatever part of the country, to buy houses costing up to £600,000. That would particularly benefit people with high earnings in areas that already get a great deal of benefit from economic activity.
I hope that the Minister will soon clarify the scope of this policy. We all want support for first-time buyers and people who need housing, but we certainly do not want an unrestrained re-stimulation of the unsustainable housing booms that we have seen in the past.
The good constituents of Hexham will welcome action on fuel duty, support for the victims of Equitable Life, action on increased infrastructure, tax-free child care, decreases in corporation tax, support for business and the raising of the personal allowance up to £10,000 by 2014, which will take millions more low-paid people out of tax altogether.
The action on fuel duty is the most important thing to the people of Hexham and Northumberland. There is a stark contrast between a Labour Government who raised fuel duty 10 times in 13 years and this Government who have managed, even in these difficult times, either to keep it flat or to reduce it. I listened to the speech by Mr Brown, with whom I have debated fuel duty on many occasions, and it was as if I lived on a different planet, certainly not the one on which the previous Prime Minister increased fuel taxes. The reality is that the hon. Gentleman and I have the same sorts of constituents and this Government are looking after them with regard to what is the most important issue to them, namely fuel. The previous Government kept raising fuel prices. They were woeful.
All I will say, as I have told the hon. Gentleman before, is that the previous Government—this is a fact—froze or abandoned potential increases on 13 occasions over nine years.
There may have been plenty of times when the previous Government chose not to raise prices, but they did increase them on 10 occasions, and those with long memories in Northumberland and in Scotland remember that. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may chunter, but that is the bottom line.
The full acceptance of the Heseltine report was particularly welcomed in the north-east. It was specifically called for by the north-east chamber of commerce and has been welcomed by business. Exports from the north-east are up, jobs have improved dramatically since May 2010, and the number of apprentices has doubled. There has been a dramatic improvement. The Corus plant was shut by the previous Government—it was the titanic industrial issue in the build up to the 2010 election—but reopened by this coalition Government.
This Budget comes at a time of self-examination in the north-east. The January declaration and Lord Adonis’s review of the north-east, which I am contributing to and support wholeheartedly, are making a real difference to understanding how the region can improve itself. That is an example of proper self-examination from a detached standpoint.
Bank lending is another important issue. I welcome the Business Secretary’s statement on developments on the business bank and the fact that the Opposition have finally begun to realise that local community banking is a good idea. Sadly, when I invited the shadow Minister, Mr Wright, to support my campaign for local community banks in a debate on manufacturing on
I welcome the fact that the Labour party has finally come on board and accepted that local community banking is a good thing. It has taken a while and I hope that Labour Members will back up what they are saying in public with votes in support of greater competition for local people. It is vital that our campaign for local community banks continues. The work done by the Financial Services Authority is to its credit. It has made it much easier to set up a community bank.
I agree with my hon. Friend about bank lending. Does he agree that getting greater competition locally is essential so that businesses can get better rates of interest and better deals with banks?
That is entirely the case. As we all know, 75% of bank lending in this country comes from the big banks and few smaller community banks are supported. The decline in local lending is definitely affecting SMEs.
There were four challenges to the creation of new local banks. First, there was a lack of legislation to facilitate such changes. We passed that legislation in the Financial Services Act 2012. The second challenge was the length and complexity of the authorisation process. That has been reduced through our work with the FSA, so it is now much easier to set up a smaller bank, whether it is a bank established by an industrialist to back a local community or an infrastructure bank like Cambridge & Counties bank or Hampshire Trust.
Thirdly, the level of capital that new banks were required to hold used to be very high. They were effectively judged exactly as Barclays would be judged. That has also changed. The FSA has made it very clear, as I have demonstrated in this House by reading out letters to me from the FSA, that it requires lower amounts of capital on an ongoing basis from smaller entrants to the market. Finally, the scale and complexity of the infrastructure was proving to be a burden. That is also being addressed.
The future must surely be local community banks, run by somebody from the local community, investing in that local community. A gradual disaster took place under successive Governments over the past 25 to 30 years, whereby local community banks were divorced from the ability to make decisions locally. Community banks could make a decent amount of profit and return it, when a certain percentage is reached, to the community.
I am delighted to say that on
It is a pleasure to follow Guy Opperman, who was hyperactive and animated in his contribution. On balance, I feel that he protesteth too much about most things on this particular occasion.
The Chancellor can certainly talk the talk. The question the country is asking is whether he can walk the walk. In his Mais lecture on
“against which you will be able to judge whether a Conservative Government is delivering on this new economic model.”
He also said:
“I have set out the benchmarks against which we can be held accountable”; that
“we will maintain Britain’s AAA credit rating”; and:
“We have to deal with our debts”.
We can mark the Chancellor against his own benchmarks. He has lost the UK’s triple A credit rating because he has failed to deliver growth and to reduce the deficit. The lack of growth has resulted in more, not less, borrowing. It is up £254 billion. Today’s Financial Times has a graph that demonstrates that the deficit is getting wider and that debt is going up. The headline says, “Things are worse and Plan A is off course.” It is now forecast that national debt as a percentage of GDP will not start falling until 2017-18.
In a sense, the Chancellor has supervised his own deficit expansion programme. Nice work by the Chancellor! But it was all too predictable. At least one learned commentator gave a warning in 2010—the Business Secretary who spoke from the Dispatch Box earlier. He said:
“Slashing spending now could push the economy back into recession and inflict further structural damage on the UK that will make it harder to sustain our credit rating.”
He said of the then shadow Chancellor:
“He…fails to appreciate that what the markets are looking for is a credible plan to reduce the deficit, not a willingness to slash regardless of economic conditions. In the current climate, it is essential that decisions about the speed and timing of tackling the deficit are based on the state of the economy, not political dogma.”
There we have it: decisions made from millionaires’ row and in yesterday’s Budget are affecting ordinary, hard-working people in my Scunthorpe constituency, and they are not making a difference for the better.
People are suffering from the removal of the education maintenance allowance, tuition fees, the rise in VAT, short-term working, tax credits being taken away, rising energy bills, fuel bills still going up despite the welcome move in the Budget, and the bedroom tax; and they are £381 a year worse off than they were in 2010. This
Budget prefers a bedroom tax to a mansion tax, and it prefers giving a second home subsidy to those who can take advantage of it to building homes for those who need them. This is a Budget for millionaires, not hard-working people. It is a Budget of desperation and exasperation rather than aspiration, and another omnishambles.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. There has been lot of confusion over the last few hours about the Government’s new mortgage guarantee scheme, and while we have the opportunity I would like to ask those on the Treasury Bench to clarify whether second home owners are eligible for the scheme. Can the scheme, which can be used for new builds and other types of housing, be used in that way?
That is not a point of order for the Chair. As the hon. Lady knows, we still have another half hour of this debate and two full days on the financial statement. No doubt I will be in the Chair at times during those two days, and I know that her point will be raised, and that the Government will respond, probably in a way similar to the responses we have heard during this debate. I am absolutely certain that it will be part of the debate.
Last Thursday when I was going home on the train I read in the Evening Standard an article pointing out that our debates on this Budget, the previous Budget and the ones before that are not just a reprise of each other, but a reprise of the 1930s. The argument that the way to cure the country’s economic problems is to cut, cut, cut, took place in the 1930s and was proved wrong, yet here we are again. If MPs from that time were in the Chamber today as ghosts, they would think that they were still alive and taking part in the debate.
That has not all happened by accident, and the Government are following an ideological path. They told us that the public sector is a drag on the economy and that if we did not cut it back the private sector would never spring into growth. In fact, the public sector is a huge customer of the private sector, both institutionally, from the construction works it undertakes right down to the stationery it buys, and individually, because a public sector worker is a private sector consumer. Individual workers contribute to their local economies by buying and furnishing their homes, buying new bikes and cars and spending on all sorts of other consumer durables. Cutting all that directly affects the private sector, which is exactly what we have seen for the past three years.
Is it not an absolute truth that in 2010 all the economic indicators, including consumer confidence, were heading in the right direction, yet almost immediately at the point that the Government turned off the taps and brought in their austerity Budget, consumer confidence plummeted?
As a result of the stimulus provided by the previous Government, all those measurements were turning in the right direction at that time—[Interruption.] Perhaps the Minister who is laughing ought to look, as I did last weekend, at the OBR report on the June 2010 pre-Budget report. He might not be laughing quite so hard then. The Government fail to analyse the problem correctly, so it is not surprising that they do not arrive at the right decision.
On jobs, it is not surprising that the Chancellor did not want to dwell on unemployment and this week’s increase. All we hear about is the increased number in employment. For once, I will not dwell on the statistics—others have done so, and I mentioned them in an intervention, but I want to highlight what the jobs situation means in the real world.
Last Saturday, I was out knocking on doors in my constituency. Within half an hour, I had met two people who were good examples of what the jobs situation means for them. One man had a 15-hour a week job in a local supermarket. No doubt these flexible short-term jobs are quite useful for the employer in meeting peak demand, and, of course, a person working 15 hours for the minimum wage will be below the national insurance threshold, which is another advantage for the employer. He had asked for more hours because he will be hit by the bedroom tax, but he was told that extra hours were not available.
Even if the hours were available, whom would they be taken from? My constituent might be given more hours, but unless there is a need for extra hours to be done in that job, another employee will get fewer hours, or another person would not get a job. Counting low-hour part-time jobs—we should remember that some so-called full-time jobs involve low hours—and saying, “Aren’t they wonderful?” is to forget that we are talking about real people. What effect does that have on them? The man is working and wants to work. More work in future would be good for his well-being, but he remains in poverty, like so many others.
My hon. Friend makes some excellent points. Does she agree that, although people want those jobs, taking them often means they are denied the chance of further training and other opportunities? They would rather stick in the jobs they have than take the risk of going for those opportunities.
I know from work by single parent organisations that that is a problem for single parents who want to re-skill so that they can get jobs that will help them to bring up their children.
In the situation I have described, the individual stays poor, and the economy stagnates. That is the reality of the so-called jobs miracle. It is time the Government got real about what is happening.
On the housing measures, if the Government want to help the housing crisis and stimulate the economy, the best way would be through direct investment, which could be done very quickly. There are lots of sites with planning permission that could be used to build affordable homes. To say that 15,000 additional so-called affordable homes will be built as a result of the Budget is so far away from helping the problem that I do not know where to begin. As I said in an intervention, those are not really affordable homes—homes at 80% of market value are not affordable to most people. If they become affordable for people on low incomes, the housing benefit bill will be ratcheted up, when the Government have told us for so long that they are trying to reduce it. One part of the Government is ensuring that many of my constituents suffer a substantial cut in their income from the bedroom tax to cut the housing benefit bill, but another part is busily putting the housing benefit bill up. The policy does not make sense. Last year, we were told that 100,000 people will benefit from the help to buy scheme. The reality is that only 1,5000 have benefited. It is not enough to talk about all those plans and say how wonderful they will be when none of them results in anything.
Frankly, an athlete who became slower after their trainer told them they had only to diet to get faster would sack the trainer. That is what we need to do.
I thank all hon. Members who have contributed today. By my reckoning, we have heard valuable and insightful speeches from 30 hon. Members—although, with the exception of the Business Secretary, no Liberal Democrats. All those hon. Members brought to the debate their feelings about, and analysis of, the impact that the measures in the Budget will have on families and businesses in their constituencies and across the country. We have heard about massage parlours, whip cracks and the Kama Sutra—but I shall move on.
At the start of the debate, we heard a tour de force from the shadow Chancellor, who exposed the complete confusion about the new help to buy scheme, suggesting that we now have a second omnishambles Budget. We are expecting a U-turn very shortly. It seems that the scheme will not help hard-pressed families get a foot on the property ladder: it is actually a bung, a spare-home subsidy for millionaires. That is not what the housing market needs, and it is certainly not what the economy needs.
We have heard that public sector net borrowing has been, with acute financial management, revised down next year by £0.1 billion. I thought that would have entailed the Treasury going round Whitehall telling Departments not to order photocopying paper this month, but it is a lot more serious than that. As my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne said, we are seeing £2.2 billion moving away from the NHS. Valuable, important and often life-saving operations may not happen as a direct result of the Government’s attempts at financial management. That is an absolute disgrace.
I am afraid that I do not have time.
I would support a comprehensive, intelligent and active industrial strategy, based on rigorous analysis and for our competitive advantage. I commend the Government on Monday’s announcement on the aerospace strategy, which is welcome, but there was precious little in the Chancellor’s statement yesterday to back up such an approach.
I was particularly concerned to read in table 2.4 of the Red Book that both resource and capital departmental expenditure limits—DEL—for the green investment bank will be cut to zero in 2014-15. Given that the CBI and others have rightly identified the low carbon sector as a potential growth area in which the UK can be a leading global player if we have the right long-term vision and targeted investment to provide certainty, the figures in the Red Book do not fill me with confidence and I would be grateful if the Minister could outline the Government’s longer term plans and investment for the green investment bank.
Similarly, I was disappointed that no mention was given in the Budget to science. The Chancellor made a big play of the need for Britain to compete in the global race. I agree with him. If we are to avoid slipping behind in the international competitiveness race, we must prioritise science and technological innovation, because if we do not, our future industrial capacity will be undermined. Will the Minister outline why science was not mentioned in the Budget?
Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson, mentioned business rates and retail, and they were right to do so, because the Budget certainly did not. David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said:
“The decision to go ahead regardless and increase business rates will squeeze embattled retailers further and will not deliver the respite the retail sector needs to recover.
Retailers are now left facing a 2.6% hike to their business rates bill, a move which will add £175 million to their overheads. Amongst a backdrop of flatlining sales and continued austerity, this is not a welcome move by the Government.”
Can I ask the Minister why the Government did not help the embattled retail sector?
In today’s debate, many hon. Members, starting with the shadow Chancellor, reminded the House what the Chancellor had promised in the run-up to the general election and in his first Budget. He set himself several key targets and tests by which his economic record, competency, judgment and capability should be judged. First, the Conservative party’s manifesto stated that the first objective would be to
“safeguard Britain’s credit rating with a credible plan to eliminate the bulk of the structural deficit over a Parliament.”
In early 2010, he backed that up by saying that
“our first Benchmark for Britain is to...cut the deficit more quickly to safeguard Britain’s credit rating.”
We all know how successful the Chancellor’s performance has been on that score. Curiously enough, there is no mention of the credit rating in the Red Book; nor was it mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech yesterday. Funnily enough, I did not hear many Government Back Benchers mention how important the credit rating is either, although my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) certainly did mention it.
At the start of this Parliament, the Chancellor said that the current structural deficit would be eliminated by the end of 2014-15. Yesterday’s Red Book, however, shows that the Chancellor’s target to balance the books by the end of this Parliament will be missed by three whole years. Public sector net borrowing at the end of this Parliament is now forecast to be approximately £96 billion—five times larger than the Chancellor expected it to be in 2010. Every year, he comes to this House and has to admit that borrowing is rising, and that the time scale to cut the deficit is growing ever longer.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that deficit reduction has stalled. Net borrowing is higher in each year as a result of weaker economic outlook. My hon. Friend Dan Jarvis reminded us that the Government are forecast to borrow £245 billion more than they originally planned, and my hon. Friend Gavin Shuker said that borrowing in the five years of this Government is higher than it was in the 13 years of the previous Labour Government. The dramatic deterioration in sentiment, even since Christmas, is striking. According to Red Book figures, the Government now expect to borrow £55.7 billion more in the next five years than they thought they would have to even three months ago.
The Chancellor assured us that, as a result of his policies, net debt would be falling as a proportion of national income by 2015. That was one of his fiscal targets. Judge me, he said, by my ability to get debt as a share of GDP down. However, the Red Book reveals the true failure of the Chancellor’s approach: net debt as a proportion of national income is not falling but rising in every single year of the rest of this Parliament and beyond, from 75.9% of national income this year, to 79.2% in 2013-14, to 82.6% in 2014-15, to 85.1% in 2015 and peaking at 85.6% in 2016-17. As the OBR states:
“As borrowing now falls more gradually, debt rises more quickly as a share of GDP.”
We are now paying more in debt interest—£51 billion a year, which is more than we spend on the defence of this country—than the £44 billion when this Government came to office. The TaxPayers Alliance, which I do not think is a friend of the Labour party, said today:
“By 2017-18, even on the OBR’s optimistic forecasts, the Coalition Government will have more than doubled the official national debt it inherited.”
The Chancellor is refusing, in the face of all the evidence, to change direction in economic policy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central said. On every single test of economic policy that the Chancellor has set himself and asked to be judged on, he has failed, and because of those failures families in Britain are struggling. Life is worse now and living standards are lower for ordinary families than they were three years ago, and they will be worse in 2015. The Chancellor is pursuing this course for reasons of political vanity and ideological arrogance, rather than from economic necessity. His incompetence and lack of judgment have meant that he has boxed himself in. There is nowhere for him to go with any dignity and he refuses, for reasons of pride rather than economics, to change course. As Andrew Smith, chief economist at KPMG in the UK said in response to the Budget yesterday:
“It is now clear that ambitious deficit reduction is stunting growth. Hemmed in by what is left of ‘Plan A’, today’s measures amount to little more than rearranging the deckchairs…hopes that exports and private business investment will come to the rescue depend crucially on strengthening overseas markets—something over which neither the Chancellor nor the Bank of England have any control.”
The Chancellor is fast running out of excuses. He has blamed the lack of growth in the economy on the snow, on the rain and on the sun. I am sure that the recent eruption of Mount Etna must also somehow be having a drag on the British economy. He has blamed lack of growth on the diamond jubilee, the Olympics, the number of bank holidays and, as far as I am aware, on the fact that Girls Aloud have reformed and split up, and the Rovers Return has burned down. The excuses have got to stop. The Chancellor needs to look in the mirror.
Despite the difficult European situation, the flatlining economy is down to the Chancellor. A deficit reduction programme without a strategy for growth is no deficit reduction programme at all. Growth forecasts have halved, living standards are falling for millions of people, borrowing is soaring and control of the public finances have been kicked well into the next Parliament. Richard Fuller, for whom I have a lot of respect, has said that we should not kick the can down the road, but with this Budget that is precisely what the Chancellor is doing. He and the Government need to acknowledge their failings and change course, or, better still, make way for a team that will help fulfil the British promise, not hinder it.
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to this debate. We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, from 30 Back Benchers—if I counted correctly—and from one comedian, also known as the shadow Chancellor. His speech was full of jokes and invective, but there was not a single idea about how to deal with the problems in the economy—the very problems that he and his friends helped to create. He might be taking heart from the Italian election, in which a comedian did rather well. He might think the same will work with the British people, but it will not.
It is worth taking a step back and reminding ourselves of the context. The Government inherited the largest deficit in peacetime history. The Government were borrowing one in every £4 they were spending. We have now cut the deficit by a third, but the shadow Chancellor’s plans would take that off track. It is worth recalling his own record on borrowing. As my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) and for Bedford (Richard Fuller) reminded us, the previous Government were running a deficit from 2001 onwards—long before the financial crisis. The IMF said that at the height of the debt-fuelled boom, we were running a structural deficit of 5% of GDP. Only Greece and Ireland were in a worse position.
The shadow Chancellor still does not accept that he spent too much and borrowed too much. He cannot even admit that under Labour’s plans, according to the IFS, the debt would be £200 billion higher. He really believes that we can borrow less by borrowing more. This country will never forget that, true to form, Labour brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy by the end of its term. After 13 years, we were left with the largest deficit since the second world war, the deepest recession of any industrialised country and the largest banking bail-out this country had ever seen—a bail-out that was the direct result of the previous Government’s reckless decisions on financial regulation. I was hoping to hear an apology from Opposition Members for all the disaster they created, but there was not a single one.
Does the Minister not think it is time to stop living in the past? Will he give an answer to the point of order I raised about the new help to buy scheme? Can it be used for second mortgages? The information about it states that a borrower could be remortgaging an existing property with a new lending institution. It is a very confusing scheme.
I shall come to the help to buy scheme in a moment. I was hoping the hon. Lady would offer an apology, but no such luck.
As my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary stated, yesterday’s Budget had economic growth at its heart. The economy is still feeling the impact of Labour’s disastrous policies, but we continue to find practical ways to turn the economy around and to restore growth. Through the private sector, we have created 1.25 million new jobs since we came into power—more new jobs in three years than were created under the last 10 years of Labour. Under this Government, private sector employment has been growing more quickly in the north-east, the north-west and Yorkshire than across the country as a whole. There are more people in employment today than at any other time in our history. We did not hear a single Opposition Member mention that fact.
We might think that Labour Members would have welcomed that development, but they did not. Instead, we heard cheap political talk. They asked about employment, which of course we all want to fall, but they avoided the facts.
On their behalf, I have looked at the change in youth unemployment in the constituencies represented by virtually every Opposition Member who spoke today and mentioned unemployment. Let us look at the facts. This is what happened to youth unemployment during the last term of the Labour Government in those constituencies. In Paisley and Renfrewshire North it was up 150%; in Clwyd South up 103%; in Feltham and Heston up 77%; in Worsley and Eccles South up 124%; in Luton South up 45%; in Birmingham, Selly Oak up 96%; in Edinburgh North and Leith up 60%; in Scunthorpe up 135%; in Edinburgh East up 87%; and in Denton and Reddish up a record 148%. In each of those constituencies, youth unemployment rocketed during the last term of the Labour Government and in every one of them it is down under this Government.
Let me turn to the employment allowance, which a number of hon. Members mentioned. We are proud to be introducing the £2,000 employer national insurance contributions allowance, which will benefit 1.5 million companies throughout the country and take almost a third—450,000 of the smallest businesses—out of NICs altogether. Cutting this payroll tax will be a boost for employment, but our tax changes do not stop there. We are overseeing a system of competitive tax rates that will be strictly enforced—a system that encourages companies to invest and employ here. That is why we are reducing the main corporation tax rate by April 2015 by an additional 1% to 20%, making it the lowest in the G7 and the joint lowest in the G20.
Let me turn briefly to Lord Heseltine and his report, “No Stone Unturned”. As hon. Members are aware, this week the Government published their full response to the report. I am sure that hon. Members have seen the impact Lord Heseltine made on the docklands and in Merseyside. We all know that he is a man with a vision for cities. I am sure that Members will join me in wishing Lord Heseltine, who turns 80 today, a very happy birthday. To help to celebrate, the Government have accepted, in full or in part, 81 of the 89 recommendations he made in his excellent report.
While I have time, I want to turn to aspiration. We know that businesses, buildings and companies start with the vision of individuals. Yesterday’s Budget was for an aspiration nation. It is a Budget that will support people who want to work hard and get on, by preventing higher costs of child care and disincentives to work, creating a simpler system for retirement and giving people a real opportunity to buy their homes, through the help to buy scheme, the extension of the right to buy scheme and our further investment in affordable homes.
Lastly, I want to turn to the cost of living. This Budget also recognises the pressures on the cost of living, as my hon. Friends the Members for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Henley (John Howell), for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Hexham (Guy Opperman) all outlined. We have cancelled September’s planned fuel duty rise. Fuel duty will no longer be 10p a litre lower than the previous Government had intended; it will be 13p a litre lower from April this year. We have also cancelled Labour’s hated beer duty escalator and gone one step further by taking a penny off beer duty. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and for North Swindon for raising the issue and campaigning on it so hard.
We have also achieved our commitment to take the personal allowance to £10,000 by April 2014, a year ahead of schedule, which will be a further tax cut for 24 million people up and down the country. Together, these tax allowance changes have taken 2.7 million people out of taxation altogether. Someone working full time on the minimum wage would see their tax bill more than halve because of the measures this Government have taken. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the
Chancellor yesterday, every individual who was benefiting from the 10p tax rate under the previous Government is now on a zero per cent tax rate.
Yesterday’s Budget put faith in hard-working people. It was a Budget that told businesses that they are welcome to set up here and encouraged to employ people here. It was a Budget that told individuals up and down the country that if they want to work hard, they will be rewarded in our aspiration nation. I commend these Budget resolutions to the House.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Greg Hands.)
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.