Indeed. My hon. Friend has made a very valid point. I think that we should all be interested to know what was the impact of the last Tory-Liberal Democrat increase in VAT, which was introduced in January 2011, because it should inform future policy. It seems extraordinary to me that that should be resisted.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the median salary in my constituency, Wrexham, has fallen by 7.4% in the last year. The town centre is, unfortunately, populated—like many other town centres throughout the country—by too many empty shops, and part of the reason for the emptying of those shops over the past few years has been a decrease in consumer activity. What VAT does—and this is why I am passionate about VAT—is take money out of the pockets of consumers on the high street and send it straight to the Treasury. It has a massive impact on local businesses. Those of us who run local businesses and employ people want to ensure that we have the best and fairest type of tax system to develop local economies.
That is why I want to know what was the impact of the 2011 VAT increase. I think that the Minister is a reasonable man. I cannot for the life of me understand why he does not want to have that information, or, if he has that information, why he does not want to share it with the House.
We have made a lot of progress today. The Prime Minister has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to a point at which he has ruled out a VAT increase by the Conservatives in the next Parliament—if he is ever in a position to make such a decision. That is major progress. It is certainly a change, not just from the Prime Minister’s position earlier in the current Parliament, but from the position that the Chancellor outlined in his Budget statement last Wednesday, when he set out the spending and taxation plans that he expected to be implemented.
Why did he not tell us that the Tories were going to rule out a VAT increase in the next Parliament? That is what amazes me. What has happened between last week and this week? What happened yesterday?
What has happened, in my view, is that because the Labour party, in opposition, made a commitment not to increase VAT in the next Parliament, Lynton has been on the blower. He has said. “We are under pressure, Dave. We are under pressure, Prime Minister. We have to match the commitment that the Labour party has made. You have to rule out a VAT increase in the next Parliament.” So that is why the Prime Minister made his statement at the Dispatch Box today—a statement that I welcomed.
History will judge whether that promise will be kept. We heard from my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood about the history of Conservative commitments on VAT: about what happens before elections, and about what happens after them. When I speak to my constituents over the next six weeks, I shall remind them of that record. I shall remind them of what the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats said before 2010 and what they did afterwards, and I shall remind them of what this Chancellor tried to do in 2012 with the pasty tax and the caravan tax.
The tax of choice for the Conservative party is VAT. History tells us that. If the Conservatives want to increase taxes, they increase VAT. The country will have to judge whether the commitment that the Prime Minister has given today is one that will stand the test of time.