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Motion made, and Question proposed,
(1) It is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide —
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.—(Mr Osborne.)
Order. This corner of the Chamber by the Chair is not some kind of fairground attraction. We expect courtesy from both sides of the House whoever is speaking. I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition and, as I said before, I know that the public in this country want to hear what the Opposition have to say as well.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
It is a recovery built on sand and a Budget of failure. The Chancellor has failed on the budget deficit, failed on debt, failed on investment, failed on productivity, failed on the trade deficit, failed on the welfare cap and failed to tackle inequality in this country. Today he has announced that growth is revised down last year, this year and every year he has forecast. Business investment is revised down and Government investment is revised down. It is a very good thing that the Chancellor is blaming the last Government—he was the Chancellor in the last Government.
This Budget has unfairness at its very core, paid for by those who can least afford it. The Chancellor could not have made his priorities clearer. While half a million people with disabilities are losing over £1 billion in personal independence payments, corporation tax is being cut and billions handed out in tax cuts to the very wealthy.
The Chancellor has said that he has to be judged on his record and by the tests he set himself. Six years ago, he promised a balanced structural current budget by 2015. It is now 2016—there is still no balanced budget. In 2010, he and the Prime Minister claimed, “We’re all in it together.” The Chancellor promised this House that the richest would
“pay more than the poorest, not just in terms of cash but as a proportion of income as well.”—[Hansard, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 179.]
So let me tell him how that has turned out. The Institute for Fiscal Studies—an independent organisation—found that “the poorest have” suffered “the greatest proportionate losses.” The Prime Minister told us recently that he was delivering “a strong economy” and “a sound plan”—but strong for who? Strong to support who, and sound for who, when 80% of the public spending cuts have fallen on women in our society? This Budget could have been a chance to demonstrate a real commitment to fairness and equality; yet again, the Chancellor has failed.
Five years ago—they were great words—the Chancellor promised
“a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”—[Hansard, 22 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]
Soaring rhetoric, yet despite the resilience, ingenuity and hard work of manufacturers, the manufacturing sector is now smaller that it was eight years ago. Last year, he told the Conservative conference, “We are the builders”, but ever since then the construction industry has been stagnating. This is the record of a Conservative Chancellor who has failed to balance the books, failed to balance out the pain and failed to rebalance our economy. It is no wonder that his close friend, Mr Duncan Smith, is complaining that
“we were told for the next seven years things were looking great. Within one month of that forecast, we’re now being told that things are difficult”.
The gulf between what the Conservative Government expect from the wealthiest and what they demand from ordinary British taxpayers could not be greater. The “mate’s rates” deals for big corporations on tax deals is something they will be for ever remembered for. This is a Chancellor who has produced a Budget for hedge fund managers more than for small businesses. This is a Government—[Interruption.]
Mr Williamson—I do not know what it is but you always want to catch my attention. Let me assure you—you have got my attention, so let us make sure you do not get it again.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
This is a Government who stood by as the steel industry bled. Skills, output and thousands of very skilled jobs have been lost, and communities ruined and damaged, by the inaction of the Government. The Chancellor set himself a £1 trillion export target; it is going to be missed by a lot more than a country mile. Instead of trade fuelling growth, as he promised, it is now holding back growth. He talked of the northern powerhouse. We now discover that 97% of the senior staff in the northern powerhouse have been outsourced to London—to the south. For all his talk of the northern powerhouse, the north-east accounts for less than 1% of Government infrastructure pipeline projects in construction. For all his rhetoric, there has been systematic under-investment in the north.
Across the country, local authorities—councils—are facing massive problems, with a 79% cut in their funding. Every library that has been closed, every elderly person left without proper care, and every swimming pool with reduced opening hours or closed altogether is a direct result of the Government underfunding our local authorities and councils.
Far from presiding over good-quality employment, he is the Chancellor who has presided over under- employment and insecurity, with nearly—[Interruption.]
Order. Certain people are testing my patience, so just think what your constituents are thinking out there as well. I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition and I expect you to hear the Leader of the Opposition. If you do not want to hear him, I am sure the Tea Room awaits. Perhaps there will be a phone call for Mr Hoare if he keeps shouting.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Security comes from knowing what your income is and knowing where your job is. If you are one of those nearly 1 million people on a zero-hours contract, you do not know what your income is: you do not have that security. We have the highest levels of in-work poverty on record and the largest number of people without security. They need regular wages that can end poverty and can bring about real security in their lives. Logically, low-paid jobs do not bring in the tax revenues that the Chancellor tells us he needs to balance his books. Household borrowing is once again being relied on to drive growth. Risky unsecured lending is growing at its fastest rate for the past eight years, and that is clearly not sustainable.
The renewables industry is vital to the future of our economy and our planet—indeed, our whole existence. It has been targeted for cuts, with thousands of jobs lost in the solar panel production industry. The Prime Minister, as we discussed earlier at Prime Minister’s Question Time, promised “the greenest Government ever”—here again, an abject failure. Science spending is also down, by £1 billion compared with 2010.
Home ownership is down under this Conservative Government. A whole generation is locked out of any prospect of owning their own home. This is the Chancellor who believes that a starter home costing £450,000 is affordable. It might be for some of his friends and for some Conservative Members, but not for those people who are trying to save for a deposit because they cannot get any other kind of house.
We have heard promises of garden cities before. Two years ago, the Chancellor pledged a garden city of 15,000 homes in Ebbsfleet, and many cheered that. His Ministers have been very busy ever since then—they have made 30 Ebbsfleet announcements, and they have managed to build 368 homes in Ebbsfleet. That is 12 homes for every press release. We obviously need a vast increase in press releases in order to get any homes built in Ebbsfleet, or indeed anywhere else.
While we welcome the money that will be put forward to tackle homelessness, it is the product of under-investment, underfunding of local authorities, not building enough council housing and not regulating the private rented sector. That is what has led to this crisis. We need to tackle the issue of homelessness by saying that everybody in our society deserves a safe roof over their head.
Child poverty is forecast to rise every year in this Parliament. What a damning indictment of this Government, and what a contrast to the last Labour Government, who managed to lift almost 1 million children out of poverty.
Eighty-one per cent of the tax increases and benefit cuts are falling on women, and the 19% gender pay gap persists. Despite the Chancellor’s protestations, it is a serious indictment that women are generally paid less than men for doing broadly similar work. It will require a Labour Government to address that.
The Government’s own social mobility commissioner said that
“there is a growing sense…that Britain’s best days are behind us rather than ahead”,
as the next generation expects to be worse off than the last. The Chancellor might have said a great deal about young people, but he failed to say anything about the debt levels that so many former students have; the high rents that young people have to pay; the lower levels of wages that young people get; and the sense of injustice and insecurity that so many young people in this country face and feel every day. It will again require a Labour Government to harness the enthusiasms, talent and energy of the young people of this country.
Investing in public services is vital to people’s wellbeing—I think we are all agreed on that, or at least I hope we are—yet every time the Chancellor fails, he cuts services, cuts jobs, sells assets and further privatises. That was very clear when we looked at the effects of the floods last year. Flood defences were cut by 27%. People’s homes in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria were ruined because of his Government’s neglect of river basin management and the flood defences that are so necessary.
Obviously, we welcome any money that is now going into flood defences, but I hope that that money will also be accompanied by a reversal of the cuts in the fire service that make it so difficult for our brilliant firefighters to protect people in their homes, and a reversal of the cuts in the Environment Agency that make it so hard for those brilliant engineers to protect our towns and cities, and for those local government workers who performed so brilliantly during the crisis in December and January in those areas that were flooded.
Our education service invests in people. It is a vital motor for the future wealth of this country, so why has there been a 35% drop in the adult skills budget under this Government? People surely need the opportunity to learn, and they should not have to go into debt in order to develop skills from which we as a community entirely benefit.
On the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that turning schools into academies boosts performance. There is nothing in the Budget to deal with the real issues of teacher shortage, the school place crisis and ballooning class sizes.
The Chancellor spoke at length about the issue of ill health among young children and the way in which sugar is consumed at such grotesque levels in society. I agree with him and welcome what he said. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the work done by many Members, including my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, and by Jamie Oliver in helping to deal with the dreadful situation with children’s health. If we as a society cannot protect our children from high levels of sugar and all that goes with that, including later health crises of cancer and diabetes, we as a House will have failed the nation. I support the Chancellor’s proposals on sugar, and I hope all other Members do, too.
There is an issue, however, that faces the national health service: the deficit has widened to its highest level on record, waiting times are up and the NHS is in a critical condition. Hospital after hospital faces serious financial problems and is working out what to sell in order to balance its books. Our NHS should have the resources to concentrate on the health needs of the people; it should not have to get rid of resources in order to survive. The Public Accounts Committee reported only yesterday that NHS finances have
“deteriorated at a severe and rapid pace”.
I did not detect much in this Budget that is going to do much to resolve that crisis. The Chancellor has also cut public health budgets, mental health budgets and adult social care.
Earlier this month the Government forced through a £30 per week cut to disabled employment and support allowance claimants—[Interruption.]
Order. There are people having conversations on the Front Bench. If you need to have a conversation, I am sure there is plenty of room in the Tea Room for you.
Last week we learned that 500,000 people will lose up to £150 per week due to cuts to personal independence payments. I simply ask the Chancellor: if he can finance his Budget giveaways to different sectors, why can he not fund the need for dignity for the disabled people of this country?
The Chancellor said in the autumn statement that he had protected police budgets, but Sir Andrew Dilnot confirms that there has been a decrease in the police grant, while 18,000 police officers have lost their jobs. As my hon. Friend Dawn Butler pointed out in her question to the Prime Minister earlier, in order to cut down on dangerous crime against vulnerable individuals we need community policing and community police officers. Eighteen thousand of them losing their jobs does not help. This Government have failed on the police, the national health service, social care, housing and education.
Public investment lays the foundations for future growth, as the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and the G20 all recognise. The CBI and the TUC are crying out for more infrastructure investment. It is Labour that will invest in the future—in a high-technology, high-skill, high-wage economy.
The investment commitments that the Chancellor has made today are, of course, welcome, but they are belated and nowhere near the scale this country needs. People will rightly fear that this is just another press release on the road to the non-delivery of crucial projects.
The chronic under-investment—both public and private—presided over by this Chancellor means that the productivity gap between Britain and the rest of the G7 is the widest it has been for a generation. Without productivity growth, which has been revised down further today, we cannot hope to improve living standards. The Labour party backs a strategic state that understands that businesses, public services, innovators and workers combine together to create wealth and drive sustainable growth.
The Chancellor adopted a counter-productive fiscal rule. The Treasury Committee responded by saying that it was
“not convinced that the surplus rule is credible”,
and it is right. The Chancellor is locking Britain into an even deeper cycle of low investment, low productivity and low ambition. We will be making the positive case for Britain to remain in the European Union and all the solidarity that can bring.
Over the past six years, the Chancellor has set targets on the deficit, on debt, on productivity, on manufacturing and construction, and on exports. He has failed them all and he is failing Britain.
There are huge opportunities for this country to build on the talent and efforts of everyone, but the Chancellor is more concerned about protecting vested interests. The price of failure is being borne by some of the most vulnerable in our society. The disabled are being robbed of up to £150 a week. Those are not the actions of a responsible statesperson; they are the actions of a cruel and callous Government who side with the wrong people and punish the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society.
The Chancellor was defeated when he tried to make tax credit cuts from next month by the House opposing them, and by Labour Members and Cross Benchers in the Lords. The continuation of austerity that he has confirmed today, particularly in the area of local government spending, is a political choice, not an economic necessity. It locks us into a continued cycle of economic failure and personal misery. The Labour party will not stand by while more poverty and inequality blight this country. We will oppose those damaging choices and make the case for an economy in which prosperity is shared by all.
Let us harness the optimism, the enthusiasm, the hope and the energy of young people. Let us not burden them with debts and unaffordable housing, low-wage jobs and zero-hours contracts, but instead act in an intergenerational way to give young people the opportunities and the chances they want to build a better, freer, more equal and more content Britain. The Chancellor has proved that he is utterly incapable of doing so with his Budget today.
The Leader of the Opposition has made the most difficult speech of the parliamentary year. He is responding to a Budget that he has not seen. I have not seen it either, as a matter of fact. I would be interested to know whether he feels that that was the speech of a democratic socialist; I think it was. It was certainly spoken with great sincerity, but I wonder whether—he can nod and tell me whether he agrees or disagrees—he now accepts, as John Smith and Tony Blair did, that a capitalist economy, properly regulated, is the most powerful source of prosperity and growth yet invented.
I am not going to put the right hon. Gentleman under any pressure.
The Chancellor deserves a great deal of credit for the recovery, and I have said so before; so does the Prime Minister—he has just slipped out of the Chamber—who has backed the Chancellor, I think, for the most part. The last six years have been extremely difficult at times, and it is a defining achievement for the Government that they have led the country out of the worst crisis in modern history and that they are now stabilising the public finances, which looked, and indeed were, completely out of control in 2010. We should not forget the scale of the challenge that beset the then coalition Government.
The Chancellor has talked about storm clouds gathering. I think he called it a “cocktail of risks”, coming particularly from abroad. He is certainly right about that. Emerging markets are slowing down, capital markets are faltering and the eurozone is edging back towards a serious crisis. If all that is sustained, the UK economy is going to take a hit. Of course, as the Office for Budget Responsibility has pointed out, the uncertainty in the short term about the EU referendum will not help either. We have seen all that reflected in the OBR’s forecasts, particularly on productivity. The Chancellor is right to be extremely cautious.
If I get time, I will say something briefly about the fiscal rules, and their merits or otherwise; there are some problems with the fiscal rules. I will also say whether fiscal policy should be so frequently adjusted to take account of forecasts as a consequence. I might say something, if I get time, about the way in which Budget measures are advertised so far in advance, which I am not sure is at all helpful.
First, I want to answer one central criticism of the recovery that is now under way—we did not hear so much of that from the Leader of the Opposition, although there were hints of it from time to time—and that is the assertion that the UK is in the grip of an unsustainable debt-driven, consumption-led recovery. Frankly, the statistics do not support that. Of course, one might say that the statistics are not worth much, because they have come from the Office for National Statistics and other sources, and we have discovered that they are of very little merit. Sir Charlie Bean is trying to improve statistics. They are the only figures we have got, however, and on the basis of the figures we have got, that claim, which is certainly widely made, does not hold up.
Investment has contributed a third of the total growth since the depths of the recession in the middle of 2009, despite accounting for only one seventh of GDP in recent years; that is the figure for the past five years. Debt as a proportion of household income has remained well below crisis levels, and recently productivity and real wage growth, which are the hallmarks of a sustainable recovery, are also showing signs of a pick up—something that the Chancellor did not emphasise in his speech—so I do not think that that argument holds up. Even if it were true that the recovery was very uneven as a consequence, that is what I would expect. The bigger the shock—this was a very big shock, the biggest in modern economic history—the more uneven the recovery is likely to be. Growth returns only a result of a fundamental reallocation of capital after a major crisis and more efficient use of that capital in the places to which it goes.
That process, this time, has been made particularly difficult by a profound weakness of the banking system. Firms, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, appear unable to obtain the capital they need to invest and grow even now. Again, that is something that the Chancellor did not emphasise. Although it is true that the average rate of interest for new advances is not very high—around 4%—the total stock of outstanding loans to SMEs tells its own story. It is falling, and has been falling pretty steadily for several years, even though the economy is recovering. That suggests that SMEs are not able, perhaps because of some form of rationing, to get the money that they need to grow and to sustain economic activity. That is a question that we need to come back to in the context of banking reform. Above all, we need desperately to get much more banking competition into the SME market and into the retail banking market.
I said that I would query the fiscal rules, and I am going to do so, as indeed has the Treasury Committee in an earlier report. The Chancellor was able to show a good deal of flexibility when it mattered in the last Parliament. His fiscal rules provided him with a good deal of leeway to adjust policy in response to the euro crisis, which was a heck of a shock to adjust to. He recently imposed three new restrictions on himself. First, there is this new surplus rule. Then there is the ring-fencing of three quarters of public spending. Now we also have the tax lock, which prevents rises in VAT, national insurance and income tax, which collectively account for three quarters of tax revenue.
Making fiscal rules all began with the efforts of Tony Blair and the former right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath to restore credibility to Labour’s economic policy in the 1990s. Since 1997—I have taken a look at the fiscal rules and if somebody wants me to go through them all, I will, but that will only delay the House—I have worked out that we have had six, so the average life of those fiscal rules has been three and a half years. I am afraid that the record of this Government and the coalition Government is no better than that of their predecessors; actually, it is somewhat worse. There is some merit in the Government’s giving guidance to markets and the public about their intentions, particularly their long-term and strategic intentions, but the rules have been presented, as their names suggest, as something far more permanent. They are called guarantees, rules, mandates, charters or pledges. Of course, as each one has been broken, it has not done much for the quality of politics and political discourse, and it has not done anything for economic credibility. The Government’s fiscal credibility does not derive from the rules or the mandates; it comes from the fact that they have tackled the deficit and have got it down from 10% to about 3% or a bit more.
Parties on both sides of the House now have fiscal rules. The new Labour shadow Chancellor—I do not think he is new Labour himself, but he is the recently appointed shadow Chancellor—has recently come up with one of his own. Both parties are at it, but I do not think the rules of either of them are offering much.
Is not one of the problems faced by any Government the fact that the so-called independent forecasts by the OBR and the Bank of England are always wrong and that they are always changing them? Those forecasts can have more of an impact on the Budget than common-sense judgments about where the economy is going, because we are always dealing with the errors of the OBR.
That is exactly the point I was coming on to make. We have just seen that the Chancellor has been forced to adjust his short-term policy to take account of what the OBR is now saying. He has altered his plans of only four months ago, and so long as the rule remains in place, he will have to do so again after the next fiscal event. That is mainly why the Treasury Committee concluded—the Leader of the Opposition did not give the whole quote—that it was
“not convinced that the surplus rule is credible in its current form.”
There is merit in something that can give some guidance, but it must be something less than one of these cast-iron rules that turn out to be so brittle they get smashed the first time there is a problem.
There are the public expenditure rules. On public expenditure, the Government have ring-fenced about three quarters of public spending—health, schools, defence, international aid, pensions and child benefit. That is a heck of a lot. I will give an illustration of the effect of doing that. The Chancellor said that he needs to find only 50p in every £100, which I think he said will come mainly from value-for-money savings across the public spending framework. In fact, of course, three quarters of that framework is ring-fenced, so he really needs to get £2 in every £100 from the quarter from which he can raise it.
Then there is the tax rule. It says that the Government are committed, in law, not to increase VAT, income tax or national insurance contributions, which collectively amount to three quarters of Government revenue. I voted for that piece of declaratory legislation. I am not very keen on declaratory legislation, but I went through the Lobby for it. I must say, speaking personally—not on behalf of the Treasury Committee—that I would much rather have voted for legislation that prohibited Chancellors from tying their hands behind their backs in such a way, and I would like to limit hypothecation at the same time.
I will not detain the House for very much longer, except to say that the Budget measures will need very careful examination by the Treasury Committee. There is certainly quite a bit to examine, as there usually is every year. As the son of a shopkeeper, I cannot be anything but delighted to hear what has been said about class 2 national insurance contributions and small business rate relief. Although I will take a close look at that, it sounds as though that is exactly what is required. The reduction in corporation tax to 17% should not be underestimated. I would not mind betting that we will get some more revenue from that, quite independently of the anti-avoidance measures that are being pushed through.
The sugar tax has been limited to fizzy drinks and soft drinks. Speaking personally, if we are going to have a tax based on sugar, I wonder whether we should not consider widening that base in the longer run. After all, it is not just the sugar in drinks that is held to be harmful. Whether we always want to define tax bases on health grounds is another matter, but that bridge has been crossed now that such a levy has been introduced.
There are the cuts to the capital gains tax rates, the lifetime ISAs—they look very interesting and are certainly worth examining carefully—and of course the changes to income tax thresholds. There are quite a few other things, but those are the main ones for now. There is a lot for the Treasury Committee to examine with all this. We will get at it in the coming weeks and produce a report for consideration during the passage of the Finance Bill. There are quite a number of colleagues from the Committee in the Chamber at the moment.
We will score all the tax measures against whether they make the tax system simpler or more complex. We will reduce that assessment, on the basis of technical advice from the leading authorities in the field, to a number. Simplification is a mantra: everybody says we must have a simpler tax system, and every year Tolley’s tax guide expands. We must now, much more rigorously, start to create the conditions in which we can reverse that process. One of them is to flag up just how much more complex the tax system is becoming.
We will look carefully at the distributional impact of the measures. I regret that the Chancellor decided to change the basis of the assessment that the Government agreed to produce on the distributional effects. He originally, and very helpfully, published that in 2010, but he changed it in 2015, which I regret. We will look at that issue. Continuity of method, which he agreed to in evidence to us, is absolutely crucial.
I am grateful to the Chairman of my Committee for giving way. He is talking about the distributional impact of the Budget. Does he not see it as a source of regret and deep concern that the biggest revenue raiser in this Red Book will be the cuts to personal independence payments for disabled people?
The hon. Gentleman has had a chance to look at the Red Book, but I have not. We will certainly examine the merits or otherwise of that important remark. I will make sure that he gets an opportunity to make his points when we cross-examine witnesses during our evidence sessions.
We will take a close look at the remit letters for the Bank of England. It is often taken for granted, but a very great deal of power has been transferred from the Treasury to the Bank of England on key questions. It is not just about interest rates, but about much more than that, particularly with QE in place and the financial stability aspect as well. We will examine that very carefully, and it is extremely important that we do so. With that, and of course the work we are doing on the economic and financial costs and benefits of membership of the EU prior to the referendum, there will be a very great deal for the Treasury Committee to do.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before I call the SNP Front-Bench spokesman, I should tell everybody that the time limit after his speech will be 10 minutes.
As with every Budget, there are some things to welcome. I welcome what the Chancellor said about the European Union. He will not be surprised to get help on that from SNP Members, because we also believe that we are better off in. I also welcome some of what he said about tax evasion and avoidance, and the abolition of class 2 NICs.
When it comes to the self-employed and contractors—people who, in many cases, are taking their first step in forming a new business—I would make the point that the Red Book suggests that there will be £765 million in extra tax due to travel and subsistence changes. It would have been far better to review that regime entirely rather than simply going ahead and doing that.
I welcome the oil and gas changes. The changes to the supplementary charge and petroleum revenue tax are very welcome. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of strategic direction, with no mention of exploration or production allowances, but I am sure discussions are ongoing. Likewise, I welcome the freeze on whisky duty and the freeze on fuel duty, for which we have been calling.
It is one of the small measures, but may I say that we very much welcome the additional money for school sports? I do not know what the Barnett consequentials of that will be, but it provides a useful opportunity for SNP Members to welcome the creation, in the past week, of the 150th school sport hub in Scotland, delivering the necessary additional sport for children.
I have a small point of disagreement with the Chancellor. He prayed in aid the leader of the Scottish branch of the Tory party, to cheers from many Members on his side of the House. It is probably worth noting that, last May, she led the Conservatives to their worst UK election result in 150 years.
The Chancellor rather skipped over his record in the last Parliament on debt, deficit and borrowing. We know he did not meet a single one of his targets. He told us that debt would fall as a share of GDP by 2014-15, that the current account would be in balance this year and that public sector net borrowing would be barely £20 billion. That, of course, did not happen. We warned at the time that debt would not begin to fall as a share of GDP until later, that the current account would not be back in the black until 2017-18, and that public sector net borrowing for this year would be about four times what he promised.
Our judgment is that much of the Chancellor’s failure came about because he strangled the lifeblood from the recovery by cutting too much too quickly, with little or no regard to the consequences—an error he set in stone with the fiscal charter, with its requirement to run a permanent surplus almost irrespective of economic conditions or the effect that cutting more than necessary would have on the prospects for the economy. We have had a very quick look, and we listened to what the Chancellor said, and the current account will not now be back in the black until 2018-19. The targets keep getting pushed back—more broken promises. Borrowing will still be higher in four years’ time than he promised it would be this year. That is the scale of the failure on the key economic metrics. Even in this Parliament, when he has continually been warned about repeating the mistakes of the past, he has done the same today—in many ways with a vengeance.
Capital expenditure is a mixed bag, and I will come on to that. I do not expect the Chancellor to listen to me, but he should listen to the IMF and the OECD. The IMF said that he had done enough to stabilise the
Government’s finances—that is questionable—for them to embark on extra investment spending should GDP growth slow. He should take that advice. Only in February, the OECD told him it was revising down its GDP forecast for this year and recommended a commitment to raising public investment, which would boost demand while remaining on a fiscally sustainable path. We would have expected him to listen. We are glad that there is a very modest rise in capital expenditure over the forecast period, but it is actually marked down this year compared with the forecast we got in the autumn statement last winter. That is not consistent with what needs to be done, or with the advice received from others.
It is not all about broken promises on debt, deficit and borrowing. We now have a Chancellor who has done this many times—he has set about replicating the errors he made with his borrowing figures in his trade and export figures for this Parliament. He said previously that he expected to be able to deliver an almost certainly unachievable doubling of exports by 2020, but the OBR told him last year, at the time of the autumn statement, that he would fall short by £350 billion. We looked at the autumn statement, and the impact of net trade on GDP growth will be negative from 2016 through to 2020, and there will be a deficit in the balance of trade current account for the entire period. I am disappointed, because action can be taken. The impact of net trade on GDP growth is no better or worse in every single year of the new forecast period, and the balance of payments current account is actually worse in every single year, even compared with last autumn’s forecast. In the past week or so, we had confirmation of a £92 billion trade deficit and a £125 billion deficit in the trade in goods.
To be fair, those failings are not all the fault of the Chancellor. Some have been embedded in the UK economy for decades, whether on exports, support for innovation and manufacturing, or boosting productivity. They are all inextricably linked. In many ways Labour is the biggest culprit, having lost more than 1 million manufacturing jobs during their time in office—and that was before the recession. But it is the current Government’s failure to address those problems that is really troubling. We would have expected concerted action today on innovation, manufacturing, productivity and work with academia—all the things we are falling behind on internationally, which has led to decline. Manufacturing was 30% of the economy in the 1970s, and today it is 10%; it provided more than 20% of all jobs in the 1980s, and today it is 8%; and it went from more than a quarter of all business investment in the 1990s to barely 15% today.
The Chancellor will argue that some of the tax cuts will allow businesses to keep and invest more of their own money, and I hope that is true, but if he were serious, we should have seen an increase in the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Instead, we have seen the Department’s budget being marked down every single year. We would have seen an announcement on support for innovation, because we know that since 2010 the science budget has been frozen in cash terms, with a real-terms drop of 10%. By 2012, publicly funded science fell to less than 0.5% of GDP, and we can see nothing today that will take us off the bottom of the G8 heap.
In that case, because it is the right hon. Gentleman, I will happily take the intervention.
I am very grateful. Is not the British problem not that we lack great universities, great ideas, great innovation, a large number of patents and a lot of start-ups, but a problem of getting smaller businesses to grow sufficiently and become big businesses that can export to France and Germany? How would the hon. Gentleman tackle that problem?
That is indeed one of the substantial issues, which is why our Government in Scotland have delivered the small business pledge. In return for assistance from Scottish Government agencies, the pledge requires them to seek out and take export opportunities, and to innovate. We have delivered a £78 million fund for innovation to encourage 1,000 new inventions and to allow 1,200 businesses to liaise and work directly with academia. There are many practical ways to solve the problem that the right hon. Gentleman rightly identifies.
We will have to check the fine print about businesses that want to export, but in the Blue Book in the autumn, UKTI’s budget, after a slight rise for 2016-17, was cut by more than £20 million a year. Between 2018-19 and 2019-20, it will be flatlining in cash terms and falling again in real terms. We need to begin to tackle properly the underlying issue of poor productivity. From our perspective, that means delivering inclusive growth—essentially, a fairer and more equal society. We have seen the numbers, and we understand that it is not enough simply to grow the economy to fund public services. We must squeeze inequality out of the system to get the growth we need in the first place.
The Tories have never believed in that, and Labour failed on it for 13 years, and we have seen some of the mistakes repeated today. In the previous Parliament, discretionary consolidation—the balance of cuts and tax rises—went from a ratio of 4:1 to 9:1. What did we see today? Billions taken from people with disabilities, through changes to the personal independence payment, to fund an above-inflation increase in the 40p threshold. The 40p threshold did need to be addressed—I have said it for years—but to have an above-inflation rise while taking billions from the most disabled people in the country is disgraceful and economically wrong. The UK lost 9% of GDP growth due to rising inequality in the two decades from 1990, and the Chancellor is making the same mistakes again.
Some of the business measures that the Chancellor announced are to be welcomed. It was good that the Chancellor mentioned apprenticeships, but what he did not mention, of course, is that many firms—he should know this by now—already pay a 1.5% levy on payroll to the ECITB for training. The apprenticeship levy was simply an additional tax on jobs. I had hoped the Chancellor would reflect on the comments made following its introduction last year.
Likewise, the Chancellor told us last year that he was counting on a windfall of about £31 billion from the sale of banking, financial and commercial assets, but the OBR told us last year that it would be £24 billion, and there has been little change since then. Clearly, the Lloyds stock will still be privatised, and the Red Book refers, I think, to other sales, but there was absolutely nothing about an anticipated windfall, so it will be interesting to see whether he intends to sell off the family silver in a way that has gone unannounced today.
The Scottish Government’s ability to re-energise the Scottish economy cannot be hamstrung and hampered by decisions taken here. Before today’s statement, we expected that our discretionary budget this Parliament, taking into account the cuts already imposed, would be about £3.9 billion, or 12.5%, lower in real terms than it was in 2010. No matter what has been said, we expected capital spending to be £600 million lower in real terms than in 2010-11, and, based on the autumn statement, we expected that the departmental expenditure limits—DEL—budget would be increased by about 0.7% in cash terms, or a 1% real-terms reduction. We wait with interest to see what the number crunchers tell us the implications of the Budget will be.
This is all about political choices. We said at the election—and we hold to it—that a very modest, 0.5% real-terms increase in expenditure could have released money not just for investment but to make sure that those on benefits did not fall any further behind. That would have been a sensible, humane and productive thing to do, but the Chancellor and the Government have gone against that one more time. He might be able to sell it to some of his Back Benchers, but he has been unable to sell it in Scotland. I fear that that will continue to be the case.
It is a pleasure to be called so early in the debate. As I am trying to respond to a Budget without having as long to read it as I would normally expect, I now know how the Leader of the Opposition feels.
I welcome the many measures in the Budget that help hard-working people in Amber Valley. The further rise in the personal allowance is a welcome measure for which I have been campaigning for several years. We want someone living on the minimum wage—or the living wage, as it will be—to pay no income tax on their wages. The rise in the 40% tax band is also welcome and will help people who should never have been caught by that band—I think especially of one-earner families. I think we should aspire to increase the band still further.
I am happy about the slightly unexpected freeze in fuel duty. Many of us have been slowing preparing our constituents for a rise. I have been telling mine that perhaps the freezes are coming to an end, that it will have to increase and that this might be the year, so I welcome the freeze being continued, as fuel duty is a significant cost. The freeze will help families and small businesses to meet what is a significant bill.
I also welcome the measures targeted at the east midlands: the aerospace grants worth £15 million for the east midlands, including £7 million for Rolls-Royce in Derby; the changes to Midlands Connect to place it on a statutory footing; the funding for the M1 improvements so we get a smart motorway right through the east midlands up to Yorkshire; and an investment fund for the midlands of up to £250 million to help small businesses grow. Those welcome measures show that the Government recognise the importance of the midlands and the east midlands to the UK economy. The east midlands had the highest productivity growth throughout the last Parliament.
I also welcome the changes to business rates, especially for small businesses, which will help the high street in my constituency. Business rates are a significant cost for small businesses, and the long-term certainty of a permanent lower rate, rather than the annual uncertainty—“Will this be the last time we benefit from an exemption?”—will really help.
One thing that was not announced in the Budget, of course, was a devolution deal for the east midlands, the north midlands—or whatever we have been calling it in recent weeks. The deals announced today are a model for how the east midlands can go forward. I want to see a powerful voice in the east midlands to ensure we get our fair share of spending investment, to make the case for the east midlands as a great place to invest and to show that we can compete with the west midlands and south Yorkshire. To those disappointed that the deal has not been announced, I say that we should rethink our proposals. It would make for a far better bid, if Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire could join together and come up with a three-county proposal, much like the East Anglian one. It would be more coherent economically, have a better chance of getting buy-in from people across the east midlands and be more likely to succeed, because the area would be based around the airport and the new HS2 station and would have the M1 running through the middle, and it would fit the great synergies between three big cities and the surrounding areas. I urge those in local government trying to negotiate a deal to rethink what they are asking for and to go for a three-county proposal.
Is my hon. Friend’s concern the lack of collaboration—or the weakness of collaboration—between the constituent areas or the lack of ambition? As we have seen in Birmingham and elsewhere, bold decisions are welcomed by Ministers.
The leaders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire have shown ambition in trying to find a deal that works outside the core cities, but there are always challenges, in areas where people do not all look to one city, in working out whether closer working or more competition is the right way forward. I think there is also a lack of trust in Derbyshire and a feeling that a Greater Nottingham bid would centralise too much in Nottinghamshire. A bid that covers three cities and three counties would look less focused on the biggest city and take a more strategic and sensible approach that could help the whole region to compete with neighbouring regions. To be fair, however, there has been a lot of ambition already to bring the counties together. We just need to find a situation that works. That we had to change the name from D2N2 to East Midlands and then to North Midlands suggests we have not got the geography right.
I come to a couple of areas on which major changes have been announced. The first is the pensions system. The Chancellor announced some welcome changes in the Budget. I like the idea of the help to save scheme—we appear to have help for everything now—to give people on low incomes a 50% bonus if they can save a certain amount for two years or longer, and I like the idea of the lifetime ISA and making pension saving a bit more flexible so that people can save when they can and then, if they need to—if they want to buy a house or need to do some repairs, or if they fall out of work and want to live on their savings—draw down the money and put it back later. That sort of system is more flexible, is better suited to how people live and can help people to manage the ebbs and flows in their financial situation.
We need to stand back and ask, “What are we trying to do in using taxpayers’ money to help people save?” We are in the slightly strange situation of compelling people—generally those on low incomes—to enrol on to a pension scheme, hoping they do not opt out and then giving them roughly a 25% bonus from the Exchequer on what goes into that scheme. We have now produced another savings vehicle—help to save—whereby we give them a 50% bonus if they save a certain amount for a certain period. For some people on low incomes, it might be better to be enrolled on to the latter—they would have a more flexible savings pot with a bigger taxpayer-funded bonus—than a pension scheme that locks the money away for a long time, which has high charges and which they cannot use flexibly when they need to.
We ought to consider giving employers the choice of auto-enrolling people on to the lifetime ISA, which might be a more flexible and attractive solution for people on low wages—the ones generally in auto-enrolment—who we are trying to help to save and have the right savings at the right time in their lives. We are going in the right direction, but we need to make sure that what we are strongly encouraging—not compelling—people to do makes sense now that there are different vehicles on the market.
The pensions dashboard, which is hidden away in the Red Book, will be of great use in getting the industry to produce one place where people can go to see what they have in their pensions and savings. It will mean they can see what they can have in their retirement and what more they need. I welcome the move to make that happen. It has long been talked about, and we have to assume it can be done, given how IT is used these days. I look forward to seeing it happen.
I want to make a few remarks about the corporation tax changes. There are some welcome measures here to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion, and I hope they can all be made to work as effectively as they can. We can do more to give the public confidence that our large businesses are complying with tax requirements. My sense is that most of them do, and it is only a small proportion that go in for the aggressive avoidance that we cannot accept. I urge the Government to look at the idea of making large companies publish their corporation tax returns when they file their statutory accounts, so that we can actually see in some high-level way how much tax each company says it owes and how they have got from what is in their accounts to the cash tax bill.
Given the amount of disclosures of their actual accounts we require from companies, this would not put much sensitive information in the public domain. The principle of taxpayer confidentiality applies to individuals but should not apply to large companies, which might disclose their income in any case. I believe this would bring greater confidence and it would show, I hope, that most of those companies are not doing anything that is not acceptable.
I welcome the changes to try to expand how withholding tax works on royalties. Our rules in that area have been somewhat outdated and they do not apply to all forms of royalty. Extending them to certain other payments and trying to ensure that we actually collect the tax has to make sense. We should be careful to draw this wide enough to ensure that we catch things such as know-how payments or payments for access to recipes or whatever else companies will try to say their payments are. If it is not a payment for a tangible service or product, it probably ought to fall in the royalty regime and the withholding tax ought to apply.
I am not entirely sure how we will get this through our tax treaty network or the EU interest in royalties directive without having to give zero rates to nearly everyone we pay royalties to. I guess the measures announced for how we deal with situations where royalties have flowed through a regime that we would accept into one about which we have concerns, particularly about how to ensure we collect the tax in those situations need to be worked through.
I welcome, too, the proposals to simplify loss release for companies that are having to spread them across a group of companies. Five years ago, I tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill to try to argue that the Government should look at a group tax return so that large groups would file one tax return for all their companies, rather than having to file many dozens. I thought that would help to tackle tax avoidance by taking away the scope for funding arrangements between those companies that do not have any economic effect. If we are to simplify how companies use losses, it would be easier to let them file one tax return to show their group profit, and have one loss offset, rather than try to find a way for a group to calculate these things in a strange way further confusing HMRC. I think HMRC will benefit from knowing exactly how much profit a group is declaring in one return, so that it can then be compared with real turnover.
The announced interest restrictions are a sensible idea. We have moved past a situation in which we can justify allowing large companies to borrow in the UK, claim tax relief for profits not earned here without paying tax and dividends that come back. We have to be careful to do this right. We have attracted a lot of head offices here by the generous exemption we chose to give. We do not want to lose them all, but we also do not want to make infrastructure spending far more expensive than it needs to be. That can justify high levels of interest; there is generally no income in the early days. I hope we can find an exemption to get right and for the private equity industry as well.