The Economy

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:20 pm on 4th June 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:20 pm, 4th June 2015

We have heard those arguments. I was asking the Government whether they plan to cut the top rate of tax of earnings of £150,000 from 45p, and perhaps down to 40p, and there is silence from the Government Benches and from the Chancellor. Perhaps he will come to that later in his speech.

The Queen’s Speech was high on rhetoric but was in reality the usual combination of diversion and distraction. As ever with this Chancellor, there is more than meets the eye. All the rhetoric is just the tip of a Tory iceberg, with 90% of their real agenda hidden below the surface, still invisible from public view. That agenda will not even be partly revealed until the emergency Budget on 8 July. Until then, serious questions remain unanswered about what drives the Government, and in what direction.

The trajectory of overall cuts set out in the March Budget goes beyond what is needed to eradicate the deficit by the end of the Parliament. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Queen’s Speech still leaves us totally in the dark about more than 85% of the Chancellor’s planned £12 billion of welfare cuts. Just this morning, the IFS criticised the Government for giving a

“misleading impression of what departmental spending in many areas will look like”.

Frankly, there is growing disbelief across the country that the Chancellor can protect those in greatest need while keeping his promises to the electorate on child benefit and disability benefits. My hon. Friends will not have failed to spot during Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday how the Prime Minister, when challenged by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms on the question of disability benefits, digressed into all sorts of reminiscences about the campaign trail and how much fun it was going to various meetings. The Prime Minister promised that

“the most disabled should always be protected” and I will be looking to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to keep the Prime Minister’s promises. The Government might have secured a majority, but they did not secure a mandate for specific cuts to departments or services because those were never explained or set out before the election. Nor have we ever had an explanation of how they will pay for their multi-billion pound pledges on tax and services or, crucially, for the NHS.

The Opposition agree with yesterday’s OECD assessment that a fair approach is the right one to take—sensible savings and protection for those on middle and lower incomes. Cuts that decimate public services would be too big a price to pay, especially as they may even result in higher costs in the longer term. We also heard how 8,000 nurse training places were cut in 2010. The use of agency nurses then proliferated to fill the gap. Is it any wonder, therefore, that NHS trusts now face a deficit of about £2 billion? Part of the reason the deficit is so big is that productivity has been so poor. Britain has the second lowest productivity in the G7, and output per worker is still lower than in 2010. This should have been at the top of the Chancellor’s agenda throughout the last Parliament, but he did not even mention it in his last Budget speech. For the Tories, it seems that productivity just springs magically if the Government just get out of the way, unrelated to any fiscal or policy choices that they make.