It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I was also going to say that it was a pleasure to be in the company of so many Members who had participated in Finance Bill Committees during this Parliament, but one by one they have disappeared from the Chamber—even Charlie Elphicke, who has been one of the most assiduous Committee members—which is a shame as I was looking forward to hearing the usually very robust views they express, when we are upstairs in Committee at least. Presumably they have something else on their mind today.
The period we are in, which spans one VAT increase to possibly another, is a very interesting one. One of the things that the Government are trying to say—interestingly, some of the other parties are trying to say the same—is that there is no difference between the policies of the Government and the Opposition and that we would all have to make the same decisions. However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has clearly stated that there is a huge difference between the forward plans of the Government and those of the Opposition. Our policies involve a different attitude towards spending cuts and tax increases in order to reduce the deficit over a period. That is what we said back in 2010; we were clear that we would be following a different pathway. We were not deficit deniers, as was sometimes suggested, but we were clear that we had a different view on how this could best be handled and that there would therefore be fairness in our measures. That remains the case because, prior to the Budget, the IFS said that, given our forward plans and taxation proposals, in contrast to the £55 billion of spending cuts the Conservatives would have to find, the Labour Opposition would be looking to make only £4 billion of spending cuts. More recently the IFS has said that in order to carry out our plans we would not need to make any further spending cuts in the forthcoming Government. So that is a very big difference in our policies. From that point of view, we are in a position to say not just that we would not increase VAT, but that we have a different and much fairer road to go down.
It is right for us to ask what the Government—whether the coalition or the Conservative party; it is not always clear—would be doing. Not only have they said that they need to find those spending cuts to carry out their deficit reduction proposals, but they have also suggested further tax reductions through the continued raising of the tax threshold. At no time since that announcement was made by the Prime Minister at the Conservative party conference has there been any clarity as to where that money would be coming from. So not only are they clearly tied to making substantial departmental spending cuts, but they have not shown us how they are going to close this financial gap. That is why people are saying, “We think it’s going to be VAT.” It is hard to tell where else it might come from. Of course, if it is coming from somewhere else, we would expect that to be said. So the Prime Minister stands up and says, “Oh no, we won’t be increasing VAT,” but the other half of that statement has not been made. We do not know how he is going to square this circle.