Finance (No. 2) Bill

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of William Bain William Bain Labour, Glasgow North East 4:53 pm, 1st April 2014

I hope the hon. Gentleman will use his undoubted influence to speak to the Business Secretary, whose Department has presided over a 10% drop in the real value of the minimum wage since 2010. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman wants to build on the success of the minimum wage, he ought to speak to the Secretary of State about how he is going to reverse that trend, because the small rise announced by the Low Pay Commission simply will not do the job. How on earth will there be a £7-an-hour minimum wage by next October? That was the Chancellor’s pledge at the beginning of the year, but it is hard to see it happening, given the remit involved and without this Government taking firm action on enforcing and improving the national minimum wage.

I welcome some aspects of the Bill, such as the tax concessions for participants in the Glasgow grand prix. I believe they will attract a world-class field for that athletics meeting and ensure that those athletes stay on for the Commonwealth games. That will add to the economic growth of my city, Scotland and, indeed, all of the United Kingdom.

I am sure that any hon. Member who has witnessed the scourge of the rise of fixed odds betting terminals on high streets up and down the country will support the increase in machine games duty. Anything that discourages people from spending their hard-earned wages on those machines—I am sure that every hon. Member is aware of this issue—should be welcomed. The Government should be going much further, of course, in regulating the way in which those machines operate. They take a terrible toll on some of the poorest communities in the country, including in my constituency.

Ultimately, this Finance Bill is soft on the banks and hard on ordinary working families. It fails the national economic interest in three main ways. First, it does nothing to boost growth. According to the OBR, its measures and the Budget that it will enact contribute nothing in terms of an uplift in growth and, in relation to trade and exports, there will be no contribution to growth from net trade over the next five years. The Budget also fails to raise levels of business investment, which are currently among the worst in the EU and the G20.

Secondly, this Finance Bill does not meet the challenge of our times in that it fails to tackle our growing crisis of long-term youth unemployment—up by 50% since 2010—and it takes no measures to deal with under-employment. The Institute for Public Policy Research has today identified that as a growing crisis for our country, with more than 1 million people going to work for low wages and seeking more hours, but unable to get them in this weak economy.

Thirdly, this Finance Bill entrenches the inequities of its predecessors in this Parliament by failing to repeal the hated bedroom tax, which has devastated 2,500 people in my constituency and 600,000 people across the whole country. It fails to reintroduce a 50p rate of income tax for those earning more than £150,000 a year, or to introduce a 10p starting rate of income tax, which would benefit 24 million taxpayers.

All that at a time when the Bill offers banks a further tax concession in the bank levy and when the Government are failing to get to grips with the skills revolution that is needed if we are permanently to earn our way to higher living standards. At an event in London only today, the IPPR has said that Britain’s performance on skills has been worse than that of our leading competitors since the beginning of the economic crisis. If we are to get people into better-paying jobs, fill in our hollowed-out jobs market and repair the losses of jobs in construction and manufacturing, this Government and their Labour successor next year will clearly have to do much more on skills. The lack of any incentives in the Bill to improve skills in the workplace or to improve apprenticeships is a serious omission that does not serve the national interest well.

The conclusion one has to reach on examining the entirety of the Bill—all 295 clauses and 34 schedules—is that it is long on detail, but short on real action. It does nothing to raise the incomes of people in the rest of the country, while it perpetrates a recovery simply for those at the very top of society. If the International Monetary Fund—those well-known crypto-leftists—and President Obama get the point that cutting the gap between rich and poor is vital to having a recovery for every one of us, it is a matter of regret that this Government do not seem to get it.