Financial Statement

Ways and Means – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 18th March 2015.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs 11:30 am, 18th March 2015

Before I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I remind all Members that copies of the Budget resolutions will be available in the Vote Office at the end of the Chancellor’s speech. I also remind all Members that it is the norm not to intervene on the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:33 pm, 18th March 2015

Today I report on a Britain that is growing, creating jobs and paying its way. We made difficult decisions in the teeth of opposition, and it worked: Britain is walking tall again.

Five years ago, our economy had suffered a collapse greater than that suffered by almost any other country. Today I can confirm that in the last year we have grown faster than any other major advanced economy in the world. Five years ago, millions of people could not find work. Today I can report that more people have jobs in Britain than ever before. Five years ago, living standards were set back years by the great recession. Today the latest projections show that living standards will be higher than they were when we came to office. Five years ago, the deficit was out of control. Today, as a share of national income, it is down by more than a half. Five years ago, they were bailing out the banks. Today I can tell the House that we are selling more bank shares and getting taxpayers’ money back. We set out a plan, that plan is working, and Britain is walking tall again.

So the critical choice facing the country now is this: do we return to the chaos of the past or do we say to the British people, “Let’s go on working through the plan that is delivering for you”? Today we make that critical choice: we choose the future. We choose, as the central judgment of this Budget, to use whatever additional resources we have to get the deficit and the debt falling. No unfunded spending, no irresponsible extra borrowing; for no short-term give-away can ever begin to help people as much as the long-term benefits of a recovering national economy. In the emergency Budget I presented to this House five years ago, I said we would turn Britain around, and in this last Budget of the Parliament, we will not waver from that task, because we choose the future.

Our goal is for Britain to become the most prosperous major economy in the world, with that prosperity widely shared. So we choose economic security. This Budget commits us to the difficult decisions to eliminate our deficit and get our national debt share falling. We choose jobs. This Budget does more to back business and make work pay, so we create full employment. We choose the whole nation. This Budget makes new investments in manufacturing and science and the northern powerhouse for a truly national recovery. We choose responsibility. This Budget takes further action to support savers and pensioners. We choose aspiration. This Budget backs the self-employed, the small business owner and the home buyer. We choose families. This Budget helps hard-working people keep more of the money they have earned. This is a Budget that takes Britain one more big step on the road from austerity to prosperity. We have a plan that is working, and this Budget works for you.

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Interruption.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

Order. I am struggling to hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying. I am sure that all Members in the House want to hear the Chancellor; but, more importantly, so do our constituents.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer

The British economy is fundamentally stronger than it was five years ago, and that is reflected in the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility. It seems remarkable that until this Government came to office, our national forecasts were manipulated by Chancellors, to be fiddled and fixed in pre-election Budgets. Today they are produced with independence and integrity by Robert Chote and his team, and I want to thank them for their work. The OBR confirms today that, at 2.6%, Britain grew faster than any other major advanced economy in the world last year. That is 50% faster than Germany, three times faster than the eurozone and seven times faster than France. There are some who advise us to abandon our plan and pursue the French approach. I prefer to follow the advice of the secretary-general of the OECD, which he gave to us all last month. He said:

“Britain has a long term economic plan” and

“it needs to stick with it.”

“A long-term economic plan”—now there’s someone with a way with words. We need to stick with that plan, at a time when global economic risks are rising.

The biggest development since the autumn statement has been the further sharp fall in the world oil price. This is positive news for the global economy, but the overall boost this provides has not yet offset the rising geopolitical uncertainty it causes, and the eurozone continues to stagnate. So at this Budget, the OBR has once again revised down the growth of the world economy, revised down the growth of world trade and revised down the prospects for the eurozone. It warns us that the current stand-off with Greece could be very damaging to the British economy. I agree with that assessment. A disorderly Greek exit from the euro remains the greatest threat to Europe’s economic stability. It would be a serious mistake to underestimate its impact on the UK, and we urge our Eurozone colleagues to resolve this growing crisis.

The problems in Europe remind us why Britain needs to expand our links with the faster growing parts of the world. We have made major progress in this Parliament. I can report that the trade deficit figures published last week are the best for 15 years, and we will do even more so today I am again increasing UK Trade & Investment’s resources to double the support for British exporters to China. We have also decided to become the first major western nation to become a prospective founding member of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, because we think we should be present at the creation of these new international institutions.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you would expect weaker world growth, weaker world trade and weaker European growth to lead to weaker growth here in the UK. However, the

OBR has not revised down Britain’s economic forecasts; it has revised them up. A year ago, it forecast growth in 2015 at 2.3%. In the autumn statement, that was revised up to 2.4%. Today I can confirm that GDP growth this year is forecast to be higher still, at 2.5%. It is also revised up next year, to 2.3%. That is where it remains for the following two years, before reaching 2.4% in 2019.

The OBR reports growth revised up, and its numbers confirm that growth is broadly based, for we are replacing the disastrous economic model we inherited. Between 1997 and 2010, investment accounted for less than one fifth of Britain’s economic growth—four fifths came from debt-fuelled household consumption. Meanwhile, manufacturing halved as a share of our national economy, and the gap between the north and the south grew ever larger.

I can report that since 2010 business investment has grown four times faster than household consumption; Britain’s manufacturing output has grown more than four and a half times faster than it did in the entire decade before the crisis; and over the last year, the north grew faster than the south. We are seeing a truly national recovery.

Let me turn now to the rest of the forecasts. This morning we saw the latest job numbers. It is a massive moment. Britain has the highest rate of employment in its history—a record number of people in work and more women in work than ever before—and the claimant count rate is at its lowest since 1975. For years, Governments have talked about full employment. This Government are moving towards achieving it.

Unemployment today has fallen by another 100,000, and compared with the autumn statement, the OBR now expects unemployment this year to be even lower. It is set to fall to 5.3%, down almost a whole three percentage points from the rate we inherited from the last Government. When we set out our plan, the Leader of the Opposition predicted that a million jobs would be lost. Instead, over 1.9 million new jobs have been gained, because our long-term plan is based on the premise that if we provide economic stability, if we reform welfare and make work pay, and if we back business, then we will create jobs too. Today’s figures show that under this Government 1,000 more jobs have been created every single day. The evidence is plain to see: Britain is working again.

What about all those who say, “The jobs aren’t real jobs; they’re all part time; they’re all in London”? Nonsense. How many of the jobs are full time? Eighty per cent. How many of the jobs are in skilled occupations? Eighty per cent. Where is employment growing fastest? In the north-west of England. Where is a job being created every 10 minutes? In the midlands. Which county has created more jobs than the whole of France? The great county of Yorkshire. We are getting the whole of Britain back to work with a truly national recovery.

It is only by growing our economy, dealing with our debts and creating jobs that we can raise living standards. To the question whether people are better off at the end of this Parliament than they were five years ago, we can give the resounding answer yes. We can measure it by GDP per capita, and the answer is, yes, it is up by 5%. Or we can use the most up-to-date and comprehensive measure of living standards, which is real household disposable income per capita—in other words, how much money families have to spend after inflation and tax. This is the living standards measure used by the Office for National Statistics and by the OECD. On that measure, I can confirm that, on the latest OBR data today, living standards will be higher in 2015 than in 2010. They confirm that they are set to grow strongly every year for the rest of the decade.

The British people for years paid the heavy price of the great recession. Now the facts show that households on average will be about £900 better off in 2015 than they were in 2010—and immeasurably more secure for living in a country whose economy is not in crisis any more, but is instead growing and creating jobs.

Because we have strong growth and a strong economy, we can also afford real increases in the national minimum wage. This week we accept the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission that the national minimum wage should rise to £6.70 this autumn, on course for a minimum wage that, as the Prime Minister just said, will be over £8 by the end of the decade. And we have agreed the biggest increase ever in the apprentice rate. It is the oldest rule of economic policy: it is the lowest paid who suffer most when the economy fails and it is the lowest paid who benefit when you turn that economy around.

Household incomes also go further because we now have the lowest inflation on record. The OBR today revises down its forecast for inflation this year to just 0.2%, and revises it down for the following three years. It is driven by falling world oil and food prices, not by the kind of stagnation we have seen on the continent. But we will remain vigilant.

I am today confirming that the remit of the Monetary Policy Committee for the coming year remains the 2% symmetric CPI inflation target. I am also confirming the remit for our new Financial Policy Committee, so that this time we spot the financial risks in advance.

The fall in food prices is good for families, but it reminds us of the challenge our farmers face from volatile markets. The National Farmers Union has long argued they should be allowed to average their incomes for tax purposes over five years. I agree and in this Budget we will make that change.

We will also use this opportunity to lock in the historically low interest rates for the long term. I can tell the House that we will increase the number of long-dated gilts that we will sell. We will also redeem the last remaining undated British Government bonds in circulation. We will have paid off the debts incurred in the South Sea bubble, the first world war, the debt issued by Henry Pelham, George Goschen and William Gladstone; the debt issued by Gordon Brown will take a little longer to pay off. [Interruption.]

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

Order. We want to get through this Budget. The sooner we get through it, the better, and then we can debate it.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer

Since the pound goes further these days, now is a good time to confirm the design of the new £1 coin. Based on the brilliant drawing submitted by 15-year-old David Pearce, a school pupil from Walsall, the new 12-sided pound coin will incorporate emblems from all four nations—for we are all part of one United Kingdom.

I now turn to the national debt. Lower unemployment means less welfare. Compared with the autumn statement, welfare bills are set to be an average of £3 billion a year lower. Lower inflation means lower interest charges on Government gilts: those interest charges are now expected to be almost £35 billion lower than just a few months ago.

Rising unemployment and compounding debt interest contributed to our national debt problem, but they were not the only cause. The previous Government increased debt by £192 billion bailing out the banks and sent the national debt rocketing up by a third.

We have already sold the branches of Northern Rock and raised £9 billion from Lloyds shares. Now we go further. Today I can announce that we are launching a sale of £13 billion of the mortgage assets we still hold from the bailouts of Northern Rock and of Bradford & Bingley. Lloyds bank has returned to profit and is paying a dividend, so we can continue our exit from that bailout, too. We will sell at least a further £9 billion of Lloyds shares in the coming year. The previous Government put taxpayers’ money into the banks and this Government are getting it back.

The bank sales, the lower debt interest and the lower welfare bills present us with a choice. We could treat them as a windfall, even though we know the public finances need further repair. With an election looming, some of my immediate predecessors may have been tempted to do this, but that would be deeply irresponsible. We would be spending money we did not really have and racking up borrowing that our country could not afford. We would be repeating all the mistakes of the last Government instead of fixing those mistakes.

Today, the central judgment of this Budget is this: we will use the resources from the bank sales and the lower interest payments and the lower welfare bills to pay down the national debt. We put economic security first, for higher national debt leaves our nation exposed, harms potential growth and costs taxpayers billions of pounds in debt interest. That would be throwing away billions of pounds we should be using to fund our public services and lower taxes.

Five years ago, national debt was soaring. That was why in my first Budget I set a target that we would have the national debt falling as a share of GDP by 2015-16, the last year of this Parliament. The eurozone crisis made that task here at home all the more difficult and for much of the past five years it looked like we might fall short. The Leader of the Opposition confidently predicted we would fail and the shadow Chancellor repeated that prediction last week, but I can announce to the House that the hard work and sacrifice of the British people has paid off. The original debt target I set out in my first Budget has been met. We will end this Parliament with Britain’s national debt share falling. The sun is starting to shine and we are fixing the roof.

The OBR reports today that debt as a share of GDP falls from 80.4% in 2014-15 to 80.2% in 2015-16. It keeps falling to 79.8% in 2016-17, then down to 77.8% the following year, and to 74.8% in 2018-19 before it reaches 71.6% in 2019-20.

National debt as a share of our national income has been increasing every single year since 2001. Those 13 years amount to the longest year-on-year rise in our national debt since the end of the 17th century. Today we bring that shameful record of irresponsibility to an end and make sure we pay down our national debt. There is a consequence for our fiscal plans. As the national debt share is falling a year earlier than forecast at the autumn statement, the squeeze on public spending ends a year earlier too.

In the final year of this decade, 2019-20, public spending will grow in line with the growth of the economy. We can do that while still running a healthy surplus to bear down on our debt—a state neither smaller than we need nor bigger than we can afford. For those interested in the history of these things, that will mean state spending as a share of our national income of the same size as Britain had in 2000. That is the year before spending got out of control and the national debt started its inexorable rise.

When we came to office, the deficit stood at more than 10% of our national income, one of the highest of any major advanced economy and the largest in our peacetime history. The IMF says we have achieved the largest, most sustained reduction in our structural deficit of any major economy. Today, the OBR confirms that it now stands at less than half of the deficit we inherited, but at 5% this year, it is still far too high and it must come down. With our plan, it does. The deficit falls to 4% in 2015-16, then down to 2% the following year and down again to 0.6% the year after that. The deficit is lower in every year than at the autumn statement.

In 2018-19, Britain will have a budget surplus of 0.2%, followed by a forecast surplus of 0.3% in 2019-20. We will also comfortably meet our fiscal mandate and Britain will be running a surplus for the first time in 18 years. That leads to borrowing. Every one of the borrowing numbers is lower than at the autumn statement. We inherited annual borrowing of over £150 billion from the last Government. This year borrowing is set to fall to £90.2 billion, 1 billion lower than expected at the autumn statement. It falls again in 2015-16 to £75.3 billion, then to £39.4 billion the year after that, before falling to £12.8 billion. In total that is £5 billion less borrowing than we forecast just three months ago. In 2018-19, we reach an overall surplus of £5.2 billion, a £1 billion improvement compared with December. In 2019-20 we are forecast to run a surplus of £7 billion.

Growth is up; unemployment is down; borrowing is down in every year of the forecast; we reach a surplus—all contributing to a national debt now falling as a share of national income. Out of the red and into the black—Britain is back paying its way in the world today.

Lower borrowing and falling debt as a share of GDP will continue only with a credible plan to control public spending and welfare. As we end the Parliament, we can measure the scale of the achievement. The administrative costs of central Government will be down by 40%. We have legislated for welfare savings of over £21 billion a year, and because savings have been driven by efficiency and reform, the quality of public services has not gone down—it has gone up. Satisfaction with the NHS is rising year on year; crime is down 20%; 1 million more children attend good or outstanding schools—but the job of repairing our public finances is not done, and here is a very important point that the country needs to understand. National debt as a share of GDP is now falling and we will only keep it falling if we commit to the fiscal path set out in this Budget. If we deviate from this path, if we go slower or borrow more, the national debt share will not keep falling—it will start rising again.

After all the hard work of the British people over the past five years to reach this point, that reversal would be a tragedy. Britain is on the right track; we must not turn back. In order to deliver that falling debt share we need to achieve the £30 billion further savings that are necessary by 2017-18. I am clear exactly how that £30 billion can be achieved: £13 billion from Government Departments; £12 billion from welfare savings; and £5 billion from tax avoidance, evasion and aggressive tax planning. We have done it in this Parliament; we can do it in the next.

The distributional analysis we publish today confirms that the decisions across this Parliament mean that the rich are making the biggest contribution to deficit reduction. That has been true at every fiscal event under this Government. I said we would all be in this together and here is the proof—[Interruption.] Compared with five years ago, inequality is down, child poverty is down, youth unemployment—[Interruption.]

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

Order. We have to get to the end to hear what the Leader of the Opposition has to say. We will not do that if Members keep trying to shout the Chancellor down.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer

They do not like to hear it, Mr Deputy Speaker, but inequality is down, child poverty is down, youth unemployment is down, pensioner poverty is at its lowest level ever. The gender pay gap has never been smaller. Payday loans are capped, and zero-hours contracts regulated. Even more than that, opportunity has increased. The number of university students from disadvantaged backgrounds is at a record high, apprenticeships have doubled and there are fewer workless households than ever before. In this Budget we are providing funding for a major expansion of mental health services for children and those suffering from maternal mental illness. Those who suffer from these illnesses have been forgotten for too long. Not any more, because we stand for opportunity for all.

We have also created a fairer tax system—further proof that we are all in this together. The share of income tax paid by the top 1% of taxpayers is projected to rise from 25% in 2010 to over 27% this year. That is higher than in any one of the 13 years of the last Labour Government. We are getting more money from the people paying the top rate of tax because we understand that if you back enterprise, you raise more revenue. The House will also want to know that the lower paid 50% of taxpayers now pay a smaller proportion of income tax than at any time under the previous Government. [Interruption.] I will not accept lessons from those who impoverished the entire country and left millions of people out of work. We are delivering a truly national recovery.

In this Budget, everything we spend will be paid for, and that requires the following decisions. We have already taken steps to curb the size of the very largest pension pots, but the gross cost of tax relief has continued to rise through this Parliament, up almost £4 billion. That is not sustainable. So from next year, we will further reduce the lifetime allowance from £1.25 million to

£1 million. This will save around £600 million a year. Fewer than 4% of pension savers currently approaching retirement will be affected. However, I want to ensure that those still building up their pension pots are protected from inflation, so from 2018 we will index the lifetime allowance.

We have had representations that we should also restrict the annual allowance for pensions and use the money to cut tuition fees. I have examined this proposal. It involves penalising moderately paid long-serving public servants, including police officers, teachers and nurses, and instead rewarding higher paid graduates. So I agree with most of the Opposition Front Bench that such a policy would be neither progressive nor fair, and we will not do that.

Nor will we take advice on tax evasion and avoidance from those who, in office, were the friends of the avoiders and the evaders. When we came to office, City bankers boasted of paying lower tax rates than their cleaners, the rich routinely avoided stamp duty and foreigners paid no capital gains tax. We have changed all that, and it was this Prime Minister who put tackling international tax evasion at the top of the agenda at the G8. We will now legislate for the new common reporting standard that we have got agreed around the world. Our new diverted profits tax is aimed at large multinationals that artificially shift their profits offshore. I can confirm that we will legislate for it next week and bring it into effect at the start of next month.

I am also today amending corporation tax rules to prevent contrived loss arrangements, and we will no longer allow businesses to take account of foreign branches when reclaiming VAT on overheads, making the system simpler and fairer. We will close loopholes to make sure that entrepreneurs relief is available only to those selling genuine stakes in businesses; we will issue more accelerated payments notices to those who hold out from paying the tax that is owed; and we will stop employment intermediaries exploiting the tax system to reduce their own costs by clamping down on the agencies and umbrella companies that abuse tax reliefs on travel and subsistence, while we will protect those who are genuinely self-employed. Taken together, all the new measures against tax avoidance and evasion will raise £3.1 billion over the forecast period.

I can also tell the House that we will conduct a review on the avoidance of inheritance tax through the use of deeds of variation. It will report by the autumn. We will seek a wide range of views, and we look forward to drawing on the particular expertise of the Leader of the Opposition—unless, that is, the Labour party has executed its own deed of variation by then. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury will tomorrow publish further details of our comprehensive plans for new criminal offences for tax evasion and new penalties for those professionals who assist them. Let the message go out: this country’s tolerance for those who will not pay their fair share of taxes has come to an end.

Because we seek a truly national recovery, today I also ask our banking sector to contribute more. Financial services are one of Britain’s most important and successful industries, employing people in every corner of the country. We take steps to promote competition, back FinTech and encourage new business such as global reinsurance, but as our banking sector becomes more profitable again, I believe it can make a bigger contribution to the repair of our public finances. I am today raising the rate of the bank levy to 0.21%. This will raise an additional £900 million a year. We will also stop banks deducting from corporation tax the compensation they make to customers for products they have been mis-sold, such as PPI. Taken together, these new banking taxes will raise £5.3 billion across the forecast. The banks got support going into the crisis; now they must support the whole country as we recover from the crisis.

In each Budget we have used the LIBOR fines paid by those who demonstrated the very worst values to support those who represent the very best of British values. Today I can announce a further £75 million of help. Last week’s service of commemoration reminded us all of the debt we owe to those brave British servicemen and women who served in Afghanistan. We will provide funds to the regimental charities of every regiment that fought in that conflict, and we will contribute funding to the permanent memorial to those who died there and in Iraq. In the 75th anniversary year of the battle of Britain, we will help to renovate the RAF museum at Hendon, the Stow Maries airfield and the Biggin Hill chapel memorial so that future generations can be reminded of the sacrifice of our airmen in all conflicts. We will provide £25 million to help our eldest veterans. That will include nuclear test veterans, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Baron on his campaign on their behalf.

Many Members on the Government Benches have also written to me asking for support for their local air ambulances. We have backed these brilliant local charities in the past, and we do so again today, with funds for new helicopters for the Essex & Herts, East Anglian, Welsh and Scottish air ambulances, and for the Lucy air ambulance that transports children requiring urgent care. I pay tribute to many hon. Friends, including my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) for their campaigns on this issue.

Our blood bike charities also do an incredible job. MPs from across the House have written to me about this campaign, and we are responding to it today by refunding the charities’ VAT. We are also setting aside £1 million to help to buy defibrillators for public places, including schools, and to support training in their use to save more lives.

Talking about people who save lives, and who sometimes sacrifice their own life to do so, we will also correct the historical injustice to the spouses of police officers, firefighters, and members of the intelligence services who lose their lives on duty. And there is additional money today to support the fight against terrorism.

The £15 million church roof fund that I set aside at the autumn statement to support church roof appeals has been heavily oversubscribed, so we are today more than trebling it. Apparently, we are not the only people who want to fix the roof when the sun is shining. Every weekend, thousands of people go out and raise sums for their local charities across Britain through sponsored events and high street collections. I am significantly extending the scheme that I introduced that allows charities to claim automatic gift aid on those donations, increasing it from the first £5,000 they raise to £8,000. That will benefit over 6,500 small charities.

We could not let the 600th anniversary of Agincourt pass without commemoration. The battle of Agincourt is, of course, celebrated by Shakespeare as a victory secured by a “band of brothers”, which is, sadly, not an option available to the Labour party. But it is, of course, when a strong leader defeated an ill-judged alliance between the champion of a united Europe and a renegade force of Scottish nationalists, so it is well worth spending £1 million to celebrate it.

Our country does not rest on its past glories. Within just 15 years we have the potential to overtake Germany and have the largest economy in Europe. Five years ago, that would have seemed hopelessly unrealistic; economic rescue was the limit of our horizons. Today, our goal is for Britain to become the most prosperous of any major economy in the world in the coming generation, with that prosperity widely shared across the country.

London is the global capital of the world and we want it to grow stronger still. Today, we confirm: new investment in transport; regeneration from Brent Cross to Croydon; new powers for the Mayor over skills and planning; and new funding for the London Land Commission to help address the acute housing shortages in the capital, for we do not pull the rest of the country up by pulling London down. Instead we will build on London’s success by building the northern powerhouse. Working across party lines, and in partnership with the councils of the north, we are this week publishing a comprehensive transport strategy for the north. We are funding the Health North initiative from the great teaching hospitals and universities there. We are promoting industries, from chemicals in the north-east to tech in the north-west. And I can today confirm agreement with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority for a new city deal.

Our agreement with Greater Manchester on an elected mayor is the most exciting development in civic leadership for a generation, with the devolution of power over skills, transport and now health budgets. I can announce today that we have reached provisional agreement to allow Greater Manchester to keep 100% of the additional growth in local business rates as we build up the northern powerhouse. For where cities grow their economies through local initiatives, let me be clear: we will support and reward them. We are also going to offer the same 100% business rate deal to Cambridge and the surrounding councils, and my door is open to other areas that want to proceed as well, for our ambition for a truly national recovery is not limited to building a northern powerhouse. We back in full the long-term economic plans we have for every region.

The midlands is an engine of manufacturing growth, so we are today giving the go-ahead to the £60 million investment in the new energy research accelerator that has been sought and confirming that the new national energy catapult will be in Birmingham. And we are going to back our brilliant automotive industry by investing £100 million to stay ahead in the race to driverless technology. To encourage a new generation of low-emission vehicles, we will increase their company car tax more slowly than previously planned, while increasing other rates by 3% in 2019-20.

We are also connecting up the south-west, with over £7 billion of transport investment, better roads, support for air links, and, I can confirm today, a new rail franchise which will bring new inter-city express trains and greatly improved rail services to the south-west. We are confirming the introduction of the first 20 housing zones that will keep Britain building, along with the extension of eight enterprise zones across Britain, with new zones in Plymouth and Blackpool, too. I congratulate my hon. Friends from those areas on their campaigns.

We are giving more power to Wales. We are working on a Cardiff city deal and we are opening negotiations on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. The Severn crossings are a vital link for Wales. I can tell the House we will reduce the toll rates from 2018, and abolish the higher band for small vans and buses. It is a boost for the drivers of white vans—let me reassure the deputy leader of the Labour party that it will apply to pink vans, too.

The legislation devolving corporation tax to Northern Ireland passed the House of Lords yesterday and we now urge all parties to commit to the Stormont House agreement, of which it was part. In Scotland, we will continue working on the historic devolution agreement, implementing the Glasgow city deal and opening negotiations on new city deals for Aberdeen and, of course, for Inverness.

Although the falling oil price is good news for families across the country, it brings with it challenges for hundreds of thousands whose jobs depend on the North sea. Thanks to the field allowances we have introduced, we saw a record £15 billion of capital investment last year in the North sea. But it is clear to me that the fall in the oil price poses a pressing danger to the future of our North sea industry, unless we take bold and immediate action. I take that action today.

First, I am introducing, from the start of next month, a single, simple and generous tax allowance to stimulate investment at all stages of the industry. Secondly, the Government will invest in new seismic surveys in underexplored areas of the UK continental shelf. Thirdly, from next year, the petroleum revenue tax will be cut from 50% to 35% to support continued production in older fields. Fourthly, I am, with immediate effect, cutting the supplementary charge from 30% to 20%, and backdating it to the beginning of January. It amounts to £1.3 billion of support for that vital industry in the North sea. The OBR assesses that it will boost expected North sea oil production by 15% by the end of the decade. It goes without saying that an independent Scotland would never have been able to afford such a package of support. But it is one of the great strengths of our 300-year-old Union that just as we pool our resources, so we share our challenges and find solutions together—for we are one United Kingdom.

We back oil and gas, and we also back our heavy industry, such as steel and paper mills. I have listened to the engineering employers, and I will bring forward to this autumn part of our compensation for energy-intensive plants. But since we aim to be the most prosperous major economy in the coming generation, then we must support the latest insurgent industries too. So we take steps to put Britain at the forefront of the online sharing economy. Our creative industries are already a huge contributor to the British economy, and we back them again today: we make our TV and film tax credits more generous, we expand our support for the video games industry and we launch our new tax credit for orchestras. Britain is a cultural centre of the world, and with these tax changes I am determined we will stay in front. In the week after Cheltenham, we support the British racing industry by introducing a new horse race betting right. Local newspapers are a vital part of community life, but they have had a very tough time in recent years. Today, we announce a consultation on how we can provide them, too, with tax support.

Future economic success depends on future scientific success, so we will add to the financial support I announced at the autumn statement for postgraduates, with new support for PhDs and research-based masters degrees. We are also committing almost £140 million to world-class research across the UK into the infrastructure and cities of the future, and I can announce today that our national research institutes get new budget freedoms. We will also invest in what is known as the “internet of things”. This is the next stage of the information revolution, connecting up everything from urban transport to medical devices to household appliances, so should—to use a completely ridiculous example—someone have two kitchens, they will be able to control both fridges from the same mobile phone.

All these industries depend on fast broadband. We have transformed the digital infrastructure of Britain over the last five years. Over 80% of the population have access to superfast broadband and there are 6 million customers of 4G that our auction made possible. Today, we set out a comprehensive strategy so that we stay ahead. We will use up to £600 million to clear new spectrum bands for further auction, so that we improve mobile phone networks. We will test the latest satellite technology, so that we reach the remotest communities. We will provide funding for wi-fi in our public libraries, and expand broadband vouchers to many more cities, so that no one is excluded. And we are committing today to a new national ambition to bring ultrafast broadband of at least 100 megabits per second to nearly all the homes in the country, so that Britain is out in front.

We cannot create jobs without successful businesses. As well as the right infrastructure, businesses also need low, competitive taxes. In two weeks’ time, we will cut corporation tax to 20%, one of the lowest rates of any major economy in the world. There are those here who are committed to putting the rate of corporation tax up. They should know that that would be the first increase in this tax rate since 1973, and a job-destroying and retrograde step for this country to take.

Rather than increasing the jobs tax as some propose, we will go on cutting it. This April, we will abolish national insurance for employing under-21s. Next April, we will abolish it for employing a young apprentice. I can confirm today that 1 million small businesses have now claimed our new employment allowance.

From this April, we are also extending our small business rate relief and our help for the high street. In my view, the current system of business rates has not kept pace with the needs of a modern economy and changes to our town centres, and it needs far- reaching reform. Businesses large and small have asked for a major review of this tax, and this week that is what we have agreed to do.

The boost I provided to the annual investment allowance finishes at the end of the year. A better time to address that is in the autumn statement. However, I am clear from my conversations with business groups that a reduction to £25,000 would not be remotely acceptable and so it will be set at a much more generous rate. Today, I am announcing changes to the enterprise investment schemes and the venture capital trusts to ensure that they are compliant with the latest state aid rules and increasing support to high-growth companies.

Businesses, like people, want their taxes to be low. They also want them to be simple to pay. We set up the Office of Tax Simplification at the start of this Parliament, and I want to thank Michael Jack and John Whiting for their fantastic work in this regard. To support 5 million people who are self-employed and to make their tax affairs simpler, we will, in the next Parliament, abolish entirely class 2 national insurance contributions for the self-employed.

Today, we can bring simpler taxes to many more people. Some 12 million people and small businesses are forced to complete a self-assessment tax return every year. It is complex, costly and time-consuming. So, today I am announcing that we will abolish the annual tax return all together. Millions of individuals will have the information the Revenue needs automatically uploaded into new digital tax accounts. A minority with the most complex tax affairs will be able to manage their account online. Businesses will feel like they are paying a simple, single business tax, and again, for most, the information needed will be automatically received. This revolutionary simplification of tax collection will start next year, because we believe that people should be working for themselves, and not for the tax man. Tax really does not have to be taxing, and this measure spells the death of the annual tax return.

We want to help families with simpler and lower taxes, so let me turn now to duties. I have no changes to make to the duties on tobacco and gaming that have already been announced. Last year, thanks to the persistent campaigning of my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), I cut beer duty for the second year in a row, and the industry estimates that that helped to create 16,000 jobs. Today I am cutting beer duty for the third year in a row—taking another penny off a pint. I am also cutting cider duty by 2% to support our producers in the west country and elsewhere. To back one of the UK’s biggest exports, the duty on Scotch whisky and other spirits will be cut by 2% as well. Wine duty will be frozen. That will mean more pubs saved, jobs created, families supported, and a penny off a pint for the third year in a row.

I also want to help families with the cost of filling up a car. It is a cost that bears heavily on small businesses, too. The previous Government’s plans for a fuel duty escalator meant that taxes would rise above inflation every year. But I want to make sure that the falling oil price is passed on at the pumps, so I am today cancelling the fuel duty increase scheduled for September. Petrol is frozen again. It is the longest duty freeze in more than 20 years. It saves a family around £10 every time they fill up their car. That is £10 off a tank with the Tories.

We believe that work should pay and that families should keep more of the money they earn. When we came to office, the personal tax-free allowance stood at just £6,500.

We set ourselves the goal—even in difficult times—of raising that allowance to £10,000 by the end of the Parliament, and we have more than delivered on that promise. In two weeks’ time, the allowance will reach

£10,600. That is a huge boost to the incomes of working people, and one of the reasons why we have a record number of people in work. Today I can announce that we will go further. The personal tax-free allowance will rise to £10,800 next year, and then to £11,000 the year after. That is £11,000 that people can earn before paying any income tax at all. It means that the typical working taxpayer will be more than £900 a year better off. It is a tax cut for 27 million people, and means that we have taken almost 4 million of the lowest paid out of income tax all together.

As we pass on the full gains of this policy, I can make this announcement today: for the first time in seven years, the threshold at which people pay the higher tax rate will rise not just with inflation, but above inflation. It will rise from £42,385 this year to £43,300 by 2017-18. That means that an £11,000 personal allowance and an above- inflation increase in the higher rate have been delivered by a coalition Government and a Conservative Chancellor. That is a down payment on our commitment to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000—it is an economic plan working for you.

In this Budget, the rate of the new transferable tax allowance for married couples will rise to £1,100, too. That is the allowance that is coming in just two weeks’ time to help more than 4 million couples. That is help that Labour would take away, but that we on this side are proud to provide.

This Budget takes another step to move Britain from a country built on debt to a country built on savings and investment. Last year I unlocked pensions with freedom for millions of savers, but there is more to do to create a savings culture. Today I announce four major new steps in our savings revolution. They are based on the principles that cutting taxes increases the return on savings, and that people should have freedom to choose how they use those savings. First, we will give 5 million pensioners access to their annuity. For many, an annuity is the right product, but for some it makes sense to access their annuity now, so we are changing the law to make that possible. From next year, the punitive tax charge of at least 55% will be abolished. Tax will be applied only at the marginal rate, and we will consult to ensure that pensioners get the right guidance and advice. That means freedom for 5 million people with an annuity.

Secondly, we will introduce a radically more flexible individual savings account. In two weeks’ time, the changes that I have already made mean that people will be able to put £15,240 into an ISA. But if they take that money out, they lose their tax-free entitlement, and so they cannot put it back in. That restricts what people can do with their own savings, but I believe that people should be trusted with their own hard-earned money. With the fully flexible ISA, people will have complete freedom to take money out, and put it back in later in the year, without losing any of their tax-free entitlement. It will be available from this autumn, and we will also expand the range of investments that are eligible.

Thirdly, we will take two of our most successful policies and combine them to create a brand new help to buy ISA. We do it to tackle two of the biggest challenges facing first-time buyers: the low interest rates when they build up their savings, and the high deposits required by the banks. The help to buy ISA for first-time buyers works like this: for every £200 they save for their deposit, the Government will top it up with £50 more. It is as simple as that. We will work hand in hand to help you buy your first home. This is a Budget that works for you. A 10% deposit on the average first home costs £15,000, so if you put in up to £12,000, we will put in up to £3,000 more. A 25% top-up is equivalent to saving for a deposit from your pre-tax income; it is effectively a tax cut for first-time buyers. We will work with industry so that it is ready for this autumn, and we will make sure that you can start saving for it right now.

So, there is access for pensioners to their annuities, a new flexible ISA, the backing of home ownership with a first-time buyer bonus—and one other reform. Today I introduce a new personal savings allowances that will take 95% of taxpayers out of savings tax altogether. From April next year, the first £1,000 of the interest you earn on all your savings will be completely tax-free. To ensure that higher rate taxpayers enjoy the same benefits but no more, their allowance will be set at £500. People have already paid tax once on their money when they earned it; they should not have to pay tax a second time when they save it. With our new personal savings allowance, 17 million people will see the tax on their savings not just cut, but abolished altogether; an entire system of tax collection can be scrapped; at a stroke we create tax-free banking for almost the entire population; and we build the economy on savings, not on debt.

Five years ago I had to present to this House an emergency Budget. Today I present the Budget of an economy that is stronger in every way than the one we inherited—the Budget of an economy taking another big step from austerity to prosperity. We cut the deficit, and confidence is returning. We limited spending, made work pay and backed business, and growth is returning. We gave people control over their savings and helped people own their own homes, and optimism is returning. We have provided clear and decisive economic leadership, and from the depths Britain is returning. The share of national income taken up by debt: falling. The deficit: down. Growth: up. Jobs: up. Living standards: on the rise. Britain: on the rise. This is the Budget for Britain, the come-back country.