I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Chancellor recently set out a bold and forward-looking autumn Budget. It reflected and responded to current circumstances, and it will build a Britain that is fit for the future. The UK economy has shown great resilience. Our GDP growth has remained solid, continuing for more than 19 quarters. Employment has risen by 3 million since 2010 and is close to a record high, while unemployment is at its lowest rate since 1975. Those employment trends are not being felt only in the south-east. Indeed, since 2010, 75% of the fall in unemployment has occurred elsewhere, and the biggest falls in the unemployment rate took place in Yorkshire and Humber, and in Wales.
The deficit has been reduced by three quarters from 9.9% of GDP in 2009-10—that figure was a shocking indictment of the last Labour Government—to 2.3% of GDP in 2016-17. In the coming years, borrowing is set to fall even further, reaching 1.1% of GDP in 2022-23, which will be the lowest level since 2001-02. However, at 86.5% of GDP, public debt is still too high and productivity growth remains subdued. This Budget therefore balanced short-term action with long-term investment, while rightly sticking to the principles of social responsibility that will continue to improve the health of our public finances, with our debt due to start falling from next year.
Given the recent terrorist attacks in this country and the fact that senior officers say that more funding is needed for community policing to help to tackle the risk of more terrorist attacks, will the Financial Secretary tell the House why there was no additional funding for policing in the Budget?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we made sufficient provision for policing prior to the Budget. We recognise the challenges that the police face, but I gently say to him that to secure our vital public services, including the police, the most important thing is that we have a responsible approach to bringing down the deficit and getting the public finances under control. Having looked at the proposals put forward by his party, I have my doubts that that would be the case were he in government.
It is sensible that all this is underpinned by the tax policies contained in the Finance Bill. The Bill is a mere 184 pages—under a third of the length of the previous Bill. Its length is partly the consequence of the Government’s move to a single annual fiscal event. In this transitional year, with less time than normal between Budgets, there is less legislation in process, which should prove some welcome respite for me, as I do not think that there are many Financial Secretaries who have presented two Finance Bills to the House within their first six months in post. The Bill’s size also reflects the Government’s serious commitment not to overburden people or to overcomplicate the tax system. It is a crucial plank in the Government’s legislative programme that will help young people to buy their first homes, improve UK productivity, and further the Government’s already excellent track record of cracking down on avoidance and evasion.
The Government support the aspiration of home ownership and are particularly committed to helping young people on to the property ladder. The Government’s package on housing that was set out at the Budget will boost housing supply and address the problem of affordability. In this critical endeavour, the tax system should not act as a barrier. First-time buyers are usually more cash-constrained than other purchasers, so to help these people—typically younger people—to get on to the property ladder, the Bill permanently scraps stamp duty for first-time buyers purchasing properties worth up to £300,000. Buyers will save nearly £1,700 on an average first-time buyer property, and those buying a house worth £300,000 to £500,000 will pay the existing 5% marginal rate of stamp duty only on the portion above £300,000. In doing so, they will make a saving of £5,000. This means that 80% of first-time buyers will not pay stamp duty at all, while 95% of all first-time buyers who pay stamp duty will benefit from the changes. Over the next five years, the relief will help more than 1 million first-time buyers to get on to the property ladder.
The joy of home ownership will be greatly diminished if, at the same time, we do not protect and preserve the environment in which we all live. Therefore, as a response to the Government’s national air quality plan that was published in July, the Bill establishes measures to improve air quality through the taxation of highly pollutant diesel cars. Diesel vehicles—even new ones—are a significant source of emissions. A test of the 50 best-selling diesel cars in 2016 found that on average they emitted over six times more nitrogen oxides in real-world driving than is permissible under current emissions standards.
The Financial Secretary is making a powerful argument. It is important to protect funding for the environment, schools, hospitals and, as Gareth Thomas pointed out, the police. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how much money was raised from the banking sector last year compared with in the last year of the Labour Government?
As my hon. Friend will know, we brought in a variety of measures in 2015 that changed the basis of taxation for banks. Over the period of the coming forecast, we will be receiving some £4.5 billion in additional income from banks by way of taxation as a consequence of those changes.
From April 2018, new diesel cars will go up one vehicle excise duty band in their first-year rate, and the existing company car tax diesel supplement will increase by one percentage point. However, drivers of petrol and ultra low emissions vehicles—cars, vans and heavy goods vehicles—will not be affected, and nor will those who have already bought a diesel car. As the Chancellor said at the Budget, white van man and white van woman can rest easy.
White van man and white van woman will rest easier if the Government successfully bring in all moneys due. Will the Minister explain why he has limited the scope of the Finance Bill in such a way that amendments cannot be tabled to ensure that we have a date by which measures such as country-by-country reporting, which is crucial to bringing in tax that is otherwise avoided, should be introduced?
I think that the right hon. Lady is referring to an amendment of the law resolution. The previous Finance Bill was introduced under exactly the same Ways and Means procedure. There is nothing in the resolutions that prohibits full, open and proper discussion and scrutiny of the Bill. It will go through all its usual stages, including two full days in Committee of the whole House, and eight sittings—if it takes that amount of time—upstairs in Committee, before coming back to the Chamber for Third Reading.
Since the financial crisis, UK productivity growth has slowed. It now stands at just 0.1%. The Government know that restoring strong productivity growth is the only sustainable way to increase wages and improve living standards in the long term. Consequently, a quarter of a trillion pounds of public and private investment has been funnelled into major infrastructure projects since 2010, including the biggest rail modernisation programme since Victorian times, the Mersey Gateway bridge and, more recently, Crossrail. Many others are detailed in the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s national infrastructure pipeline. The Government have also cut taxes to support business investment and improved access to finance through the British Business Bank. However, we can and will go further.
To boost productivity and create sustainable economic growth, the Government are making further provisions to support the UK’s dynamic, risk-taking businesses. The UK continues to be a world-leading place to start a business, with 650,000 start-ups in 2016 alone. However, some of the UK’s most innovative new businesses with the greatest potential are struggling to scale up due to lack of finance. Specifically, 10 of the UK’s largest 100 listed firms were created after 1975, compared with 19 in the United States of America. In order properly to understand these barriers to finance, the Treasury commissioned the patient capital review, led by Sir Damon Buffini. Supported by Sir Damon’s industry panel, the review concluded that knowledge-intensive companies, which are particularly research and development-intensive, often require considerable up-front capital to fund growth. It may be many years before their products can be brought to market and, despite their growth potential, such companies often face acute funding gaps.
In response to the review’s findings, the Government are acting. We are setting out a £20 billion action plan, combining investment with tax incentives. As part of the plan, the Bill will make more investment available to high-risk, innovative businesses. It does so by doubling the annual limits for how much investment knowledge-intensive companies can receive through the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts schemes to £10 million, and doubling the limit on how much investors can invest through the EIS to £2 million, providing that anything above £1 million is invested in knowledge-intensive companies. In 2016-17, 62% of investment by EIS funds was aimed at capital preservation, rather than higher-risk, higher-potential, long-term growth companies. The Bill therefore reforms the schemes, redirecting low-risk investment into growing entrepreneurial companies, while changing venture capital trust rules to encourage higher-growth investments. In all, we expect these changes to result in over £7 billion of new and redirected investment in growing companies over the next 10 years.
Additional efforts to boost productivity also focus on increasing funding for research and development. At the 2016 autumn statement, £4.7 billion was allocated to R and D, and this Budget extended the national productivity investment fund to £31 billion and increased R and D investment by a further £2.3 billion. This means that the Government will be investing an additional £7 billion in R and D over the next four years—the largest increase in four decades.
We have already announced initial plans for this investment, including £170 million to help the construction industry to build cheaper and better homes; £210 million to develop new technologies that enable the early diagnosis of chronic diseases; a commitment to supporting the development of immersive technologies and artificial intelligence; and more than £300 million to develop and attract the skills and talent necessary to deliver our scientific ambitions. These efforts are complemented by our decision to increase the rate of R and D expenditure credit from 11% to 12%, as set out in the Bill.
The Bill will ensure that the tax system is fair, balanced and sustainable. To that end, it freezes the indexation allowance that currently allows companies but not individuals to reduce their taxable gains in line with inflation. It allows Scottish police and fire services to recover future VAT payments, which would otherwise be lost following the Scottish Government’s decision to restructure those services. I should pay tribute to my Scottish colleagues on the Government side of the House who lobbied so effectively in that respect.
The Bill narrows the scope of the bank levy so that, from 2021, all banks—UK and foreign-headquartered—will be taxed only on their UK operations.
Is not the important point about the bank levy that we are trying to get a fair contribution paid by the banks, matched against the risk they pose to the whole UK economy?
My hon. Friend is entirely right, which is why we have generally moved away from a levy on the capital assets of banks as regulation has improved, and towards a tax on the profitability of banks as that profitability has recovered following the events of 2008, which happened on the watch of the last Government. This re-scope forms part of the broader package of reforms announced between 2015 and 2016 that included an 8% surcharge on bank profits over £25 million. The package will help to sustain tax revenues from the banking sector in the long term.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. A number of measures have driven the improved tax take from banks. Along with the 8% surcharge, there is the fact that we have restricted banks’ ability to carry forward losses to offset against profitability. We also exempted banks’ ability to offset charges in respect of mis-selling and payment protection insurance activities, which has also helped to improve the tax take.
The mention of banks gets me going because all the Financial Secretary’s good words sit ill with the fact that the Royal Bank of Scotland is going through a huge series of closures, particularly in my constituency. We bailed the bank out, so there is great unhappiness—indeed, anger—that it is acting in such a way all over Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, but these will be matters for the Royal Bank of Scotland. The most important aspect when one considers the Royal Bank of Scotland is clearly that it is brought back to being a fighting-fit organisation, employing as many people as possible as a business, contributing to the Exchequer, and creating value going forward.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman mentions the amount that was required to bail out the banks, given that it was the then Labour Government who caused the problem that required the bail-outs in the first place. There is a long and detailed history of exactly what happened: we had lax regulation, and the Bank of England was not in a position to regulate the institutions concerned. The hon. Gentleman might like to look up the answer to his question himself and then inform other members of the Labour party of what he discovers.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that since the bank levy was introduced, the risk of bank failure has decreased dramatically due to new capital requirements on banks, and the considerably reduced risk that British taxpayers will have to fund cross-border bail-outs, given that we have international agreements on such matters?
Yes, my hon. Friend is entirely right. We have made huge progress in making sure that the banks are fit and able to withstand whatever external shocks there might be. The Bank of England has been heavily engaged in that, as have the Government, and we are in a much more secure position—certainly than we were when we inherited the economy we saw when we first came to office in 2010.
The Minister is being very generous in allowing interventions. I was concerned by the response he gave to Jamie Stone. Given the Government’s stake in RBS, does he not feel that they should take some responsibility and use their influence to convince RBS not to go ahead with these closures? There have been over 90 since the start of the year, and this cannot continue.
I am gratified by the hon. Lady’s confidence in Ministers making commercial judgments in respect of our banks and businesses, but it is far better to allow those businesses to take sensible commercial decisions, even though those sometimes have consequences that, in an ideal world, we would not wish to see. I go back to the point I made to Jamie Stone: we need RBS to improve its strength, grow, employ more people and, ultimately, pay more tax to support our vital public services.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me a second time. May I just remind him of the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into banking, which noted the lack of competition in banking and highlighted the lack of innovation and the fact that the big five banks control 85% of the retail banking market and make excess profits? Might keeping the bank levy at its current rate not be compensation to the consumer and the taxpayer for those excess profits?
At the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s point rests the notion, which I agree with, that we expect the banks to pay their fair share and recognise that they received bail-outs some years ago, and tax policy towards the banks has been geared towards making sure that they make a fair and proportionate contribution to our tax take.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of competition in the banking sector, and I wholeheartedly agree with him on that, which is one reason why we are keen to ensure that as many banks as possible are headquartered in our jurisdiction rather than in others. That goes to the heart of the changes in the Bill to ensure that banks domiciled here are not penalised by being charged on capital assets held overseas—a situation that does not pertain to overseas banks that operate in our jurisdiction.
We have included an 8% surcharge on banks’ profits over £25 million. The package will help to sustain tax revenues from the banking sector in the long term, and it is forecast to raise an additional £4.6 billion over the current scorecard period.
The Bill continues the Government’s already vigorous efforts to crack down on tax avoidance, tax evasion and non-compliance. Since 2010, the Government have introduced over 100 avoidance and evasion measures, securing and protecting over £160 billion of additional tax revenue. This has helped reduce the UK’s tax gap to a record low of 6%, which is one of the lowest in the world.
The Financial Secretary says that it is a record low tax gap, but it does not take account of the vast treasure trove unearthed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the Paradise papers or of other vast sums of wealth, on which we have no idea how much tax is actually due. So the figure he gave is not really correct, is it?
I am afraid I have to dissent from that view. The simple fact is that the International Monetary Fund has identified the tax gap measure as one of the most robust measures of its kind in the world. At 6%, our gap is among the lowest in the world, and it is the lowest we have had in our history since we have been measuring the tax gap. If we had the same tax gap today as we had under the previous Labour Government, we would be out of pocket to the tune of £12.5 billion a year—enough to fund every policeman and policewoman in England and Wales.
On the subject of tax avoidance, the Minister will know of my support for the Government’s willingness to close the tax loophole on the sales of commercial property by overseas companies. As my hon. Friend Grahame Morris said, the Paradise papers show some of the ways in which tax is being avoided, including through holding companies in Luxembourg. When I asked the Minister about that before, he did not seem to know about the Luxembourg treaty and how it could affect this policy. What are his plans to address the problems created by Luxembourg treaty, which could see us losing out on £5.5 billion a year of the tax collected through his changes?
As the hon. Lady will know, a number of the measures coming out of the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting project, which we have been in the vanguard of—including common reporting standards and access by our tax authorities to a variety of information in real time in overseas tax jurisdictions—are essential to bearing down on exactly the issues that she mentions. There are further measures in the Bill to deal with those who place their moneys in trusts, typically those coming under our non-dom reforms. By abolishing permanent non-dom status, which Labour failed to do in its 13 years in office, we have made sure that when individuals have assets that are protected while in trusts, those moneys fall due to tax in our country as soon as they are brought out of those trusts, even if people cycle them through third parties and other approaches. That means that we are securing more than £12 billion a year more for our public services than would have been the case had the tax gap remained at its peak of nearly 8%, which it reached under Labour.
The autumn Budget continued that work with a package of measures forecast to raise £4.8 billion by 2022-23, some of which are included in the Bill. It is important to note that the provisions in the Bill form part of a broader anti-avoidance and evasion agenda dating back to 2010. Since then, the Government have worked tirelessly and carefully to introduce an ambitious raft of anti-avoidance and evasion legislation. That commitment is borne out again in this Finance Bill, which implements several measures, including provisions cracking down on online VAT evasion to make online marketplaces more responsible for the unpaid VAT of their sellers; closing loopholes in the anti-avoidance legislation on offshore trusts, as I mentioned; tackling disguised remuneration schemes used by close companies; preventing companies from claiming unfair tax relief on their intellectual property; ensuring that companies are not able to claim relief for losses on the disposal of shares that do not reflect losses incurred by the wider group; closing a loophole in the double taxation relief rules for companies; and tackling waste crime by extending landfill tax to illegal waste sites. Those measures will help to raise vital revenue and ensure that individuals and corporations all pay their fair share.
I was not particularly pleased with the answer that the Minister gave to Dame Margaret Hodge as to why the Government have not tabled an amendment of the law resolution, which would allow the Opposition to put forward more measures in relation to tax avoidance and evasion, for example. Why did they not put forward an amendment of the law resolution?
We did not have an amendment of the law resolution on the previous Finance Bill, so we are carrying on with the situation that pertained to that Bill. As I explained, what matters is that we have an opportunity fully to scrutinise in this House the various measures provided and amendments that may be tabled in relation to those measures. There is nothing preventing that. As I have outlined, the Bill will go through its various stages, allowing for very thorough scrutiny.
Together, the measures that I mentioned continue the Government’s sustained crusade against tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance—an endeavour that we will pursue with undiminished vigour right through the course of this Parliament. Let no one ever doubt, for even the briefest moment, this Government’s commitment to hard-pressed families, and to championing business and the wealth creators of the future. On the matter of taxation as set out in the Bill, let no one misunderstand us: we will continue to keep taxes competitive and fair, but we will also continue our vigorous and ceaseless drive to bear down on avoidance and evasion so that all pay their due. We will ensure that all pay a just and fair share for the support of our vital public services: for doctors, paramedics and nurses; for our police, our teachers, our fire services, and our brave armed forces who make our country so great. I commend the Bill to the House.
It is a shame that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is not in her place at the Dispatch Box. Notwithstanding the fact that the Financial Secretary is fantastic at doing his job, we should have the Chief Secretary here today. In my opinion, it is disrespectful to the House that she is not here. I think she is most probably looking for Shergar, frankly.
I wish to use my remarks to convey a message from the British public to this increasingly divided and out-of-touch Tory Government. It is a message that comes from all corners of the UK—from my home town of Bootle, from the city region of Liverpool, from Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. It is a message from Edinburgh, from Cardiff, and from Kent; from Birmingham, from Oxford, and from Nottingham: from every region. It is a message from people who live in rural communities and urban centres alike. It is a message from public sector workers, private sector workers and those on zero-hours contracts; from the young and the old, as well as all those in between, all of whom have been let down by this Government. [Interruption.] They have been let down by them—private sector workers and public sector workers believe that, and that is why they are turning to Labour. [Interruption.] Conservative Members can laugh until the cows come home, but that is the reality.
It is a crystal clear message to the Tories: enough is enough. People across the country are fed up with this Government’s inaction and economic incompetence—and incompetence is the word. With this shambolic Government, every day—every single day—feels like groundhog day. Day after day, we are told that there are fresh cuts to Departments and that our overstretched public services face even more austerity, while we receive the same empty pledges—we have heard more of them today from the Minister—that at some point in the ever-distant future, the deficit will be eliminated.
Let us have a general election and we will deliver on those promises.
On Brexit, there is no abating the deep divisions between warring Cabinet Ministers. Within a few hours of the ink drying on the joint statement between the Prime Minister and the European Commission and the agreement to move on to trade talks, we had the Environment Secretary contradicting the Prime Minister and briefing the press that unhappy leave voters can tear up any Brexit deal that is negotiated, while on the Sunday talk shows the Brexit Secretary undermined the Prime Minister further by downgrading the agreement reached to merely a “statement of intent”. Given that there is much talk of a divorce bill, perhaps I can take the matrimonial analogy a little further. Do people make proposals of marriage or simply statements of intent? Did the Brexit Secretary propose to his wife or make a statement of intent?
The hon. Gentleman’s talk of bills reminds me that the Labour party has made a massive number of pledges and wants to go on a borrowing binge, but 22 times it has failed to explain how it will fund those pledges. It has gone from “You don’t need a number” to “You can’t put a figure on it at the moment” to “It’s not difficult.” May I ask the question for the 23rd time and invite him to tell the House how Labour would pay for its plans?
With the greatest respect, I am not the hon. Gentleman’s research assistant. I refer him to Labour’s proposals in “Funding Britain’s Future”. I know that he can read, so I suggest that he should go and have a look at that document.
The Brexiteers in the Cabinet continue to undermine any attempts to progress the talks and compromise with our European partners. We had a bizarre scenario today—everyone telling the Prime Minister how wonderful she was. Last week she was a basket case, as far as I could tell, but this week she is a wonderful woman. The Brexiteers are happy to continue to create economic uncertainty to the detriment of businesses and workers alike.
The answer to the last question is no, they do not. The Budget proved yet again that the Government are completely unable and unwilling to recognise the challenges that the country faces. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister are instead more concerned about sorting out the Democratic Unionist party and the fringes of the Tory party.
The hon. Gentleman is presuming to tell us about the opinion of the electorate, but I appeal to him to bear in mind my constituents’ opinion during the rest of his remarks. They fear the unleashing of Marxist mayhem by the shadow Chancellor. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that in 2013, the shadow Chancellor said that
“I’m straight, I’m honest with people: I’m a Marxist”?
The hon. Gentleman can ask as many questions as he likes—[Interruption.] And Chris Philp can say “Yes or no?” But the Conservative party is in a state of chaos, it is as simple as that. After seven years, the verdict on Tory austerity is clear for all to see. Economic growth stands at its lowest point since the Conservatives came to power, and it has been revised down by the Office for Budget Responsibility for every year of the forecast. The UK has the slowest growth in the G7, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned of two decades of lost earnings growth. That relates to what my hon. Friend Dan Carden said.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the predictions suggest that the economy is not in good shape. Was it not extremely sad and disappointing that we did not hear from the Financial Secretary a word of acknowledgement of the pressures that are being inflicted on public services, such as children’s services? They have been damaged not only by cuts but by Government errors. The Minister did not say a word to suggest that the Government would make reasonable adjustments, even in cases in which they have acknowledged that errors have been made. Birmingham, for example, has lost £100 million as a result of mistakes that the Government now acknowledge, and that is money that could be spent on children’s services and social care.
My hon. Friend is prescient, and I will come to the point that he makes in a minute. Let us continue with a few more statistics, because it is worth our while to look at them. The Minister referred to productivity rates, and UK productivity rates have fallen far behind those of the French, the Americans and the Germans. The OBR’s decision to revise down UK productivity rates for every year of the forecast is seismic, and it reflects years of inaction from a Government who have refused to invest in our infrastructure and skills or in the UK workforce.
The hon. Gentleman is coming out with some excellent statistics, but I hope that he will not forget to mention the jobs miracle that has occurred under this Government. Unemployment is at a 43-year low, which means more people earning money rather than being unemployed under a Labour Government.
The Chancellor did not know what the unemployment figure was the other day. Let us put it like this: no matter how many people are in work, the bottom line is that it is not right that they should have low and stagnant wages, poor terms and conditions, zero-hours contracts or insecure work. The Government should be dealing not just with the employment rate, but with terms, conditions and wages.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Government have reached the stage where they blame anyone they can. The gaffe-prone Chancellor has blamed disabled people for bringing down the productivity rate. He is so out of touch that such comments are water off a duck’s back to him.
As the Minister said, this is the third Finance Bill of the year. All three of them have failed to address the challenge that our economy faces.
The hon. Gentleman referred to low wages, but he knows that the Finance Bill contains measures to raise the national minimum wage, so we are addressing that. He seems to be reluctant to answer people’s questions, so I want to bring him back to some that he was asked a few moments ago. My hon. Friend Leo Docherty asked him a simple question about the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Charlie Elphicke asked him a clear question about the cost of Labour’s proposals. The answer is not written down anywhere, so may I ask—this is the 24th time—about the amount and cost of borrowing that would result from Labour’s tax proposals?
Leo Docherty might not like the answer that I gave to his question, but I have referred him to the documentation. If the hon. Lady is incapable of going to the internet and looking up the facts and figures, it is not for me to do that for her. The bottom line is that there is nothing in the Bill for public sector workers, who head into the new year with their wages continuing to fall and the cap sticking.
No; I am going to make some progress. Public sector wages are now at their lowest level as against private sector pay for 20 years. Nor is there anything to address the botched roll-out of universal credit, which will cause real suffering to families this Christmas. Similarly, the Bill contains no measures to redress the disproportionate effect of austerity on women, and particularly on black and minority ethnic women. Instead, the Bill proposes a stamp duty cut that will, according to OBR analysis, increase house prices; and it fails to introduce measures to encourage the building of affordable homes to address the housing crisis.
The Bill includes plans to continue with the Government’s 2015 bank levy cut. It goes further, as the Minister seemed proudly to proclaim, by exempting all foreign banks from the levy and ensuring that from 2021, all banks will only have to pay the levy based on their UK balance sheets.
Looking back in history, the Conservative-led Government introduced the bank levy in 2011, but Labour voted against it. In 2015, we introduced the 8% surcharge so that banks would pay more. Again, the Conservatives voted for that, but Labour voted against it. Why is the hon. Gentleman now rewriting history?
It is not a question of rewriting history. We do not support Bills that continue austerity year in, year out. The Government got rid of the bankers’ bonus tax, which brought in significantly more money than the bank levy. My hon. Friend Steve McCabe referred to the bank levy earlier. I happen to have some figures here, which I will share with him if the Minister does not want to answer his question. Taxpayers bought £76 billion of shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds and contributed £250 billion in guarantees, another £280 billion in insurance and a further £100 billion in annual implied subsidy, according to the Bank of England, so we are asking for the bankers to pay a little bit more, after the billions of pounds that we spent on helping to bail them out.
While we are on the subject of regulation, let me say that in August 2007 John Redwood produced a report on “Freeing Britain to Compete”, which was ratified by the Conservative party in opposition. In paragraph 6.1, he said in effect that we should not be regulating the banks so much and that the Labour Government were regulating them too much. He went on to say that the Labour Government claimed that if they did not regulate the banks so much, the banks would “steal” all “our money”. Many people believe that is right, especially when they look at the figures and the facts on the bail-out of the banks.
I know Labour Members are not necessarily very good at numbers, but for the benefit of people watching, will the hon. Gentleman say very clearly how much his proposed policies will cost, including the renationalisation of our major industries? Will he give us a figure, and where does he expect the money to come from?
I am not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman is actually listening to anything I say. I am not going to repeat what I have said. If we continue to have spurious interventions like that one, it prompts the question: what is the point? [Interruption.] It is the third or fourth such intervention.
The bottom line is simple: the bank levy will take £4.7 billion less in tax revenue, and this at a time when the crucial services on which many children and families rely are at risk of collapse.
I will not give way.
In addition to the funding crisis in the NHS, social care and the police, which my hon. Friend the shadow Policing Minister has highlighted so effectively, there is a developing and significant funding crisis in children’s services, which face a £2 billion funding gap by 2020. Last year, 72,000 children were taken into care, while the number of serious child protection cases has doubled in the past seven years, with 500 new cases initiated each day. There are stresses on other parts of children services, including, among others, child and adolescent mental health services, school transport, and education, health and care plans. All are inadequately funded, with the buck passed to professionals who are already hard pressed to manage and deliver services.
I will come back to each hon. Gentleman in a moment.
All of this is directly linked to the Government’s cuts to local authority budgets, which has meant a 40% reduction in resources for early intervention to support children and families. Central Government funding has also been cut by 55% over the past seven years, representing a cost of about £1.7 billion. The message from the Conservatives is quite clear: if you are a banker, you can expect a handout, but if you are a child at risk, do not expect a hand-up—you are on your own.
Despite the recent revelations in the Paradise papers, there are few serious avoidance measures. The UK accounts for 17% of the global market for offshore services, and the UK is at the heart of a network of offshore tax havens that aid and abet tax avoidance across the globe; yet the Government continue to ignore the Labour party’s calls for a public register of the information already provided by overseas territories or to take any meaningful action to tackle tax avoidance. Similarly, there is nothing in the Bill to address the huge resource crisis that HMRC is facing and the effect of that crisis on its ability to tackle tax avoidance and bring tax dodgers to justice.
I want to enhance exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree it was absolutely appalling that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government completely ignored the 5,000 headteachers who said their schools are desperate for more money? The Tories have ignored them.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The only people to whom the Government seem to pay attention are the DUP and right-wing Tories.
The bottom line is that, since 2010, HMRC’s staffing levels have been reduced by 17%. The Bill creates even more powers for revenue and customs officers, with even more work, but very little if any resource to go with it.
I know that my hon. Friend is a proud Liverpudlian, but on his point about children’s services, may I tell him—Londoners will agree—that over two thirds of London councils are reporting a huge increase in demand for very expensive placements? I hope he agrees that it would be good to hear from the Exchequer Secretary, when he winds up the debate, how the Government will help local authorities—particularly those in London, but also others across the country—to deal with that huge increase in the pressure on children’s services.
I say to my hon. Friend that—to use an old phrase—he should not hold his breath.
The Government need to wake up and face the cold, hard reality that the Exchequer is losing billions every year and letting multinationals, which do not pay their fair share, off the hook because HMRC simply does not have the resources.
The hon. Gentleman is very clear and honest in his plans about wanting to spend a lot more money—half a trillion pounds in manifesto commitments—but at the same time the manifesto said that Labour would reduce the national debt. How is that possible?
I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I refer him to the answer I gave earlier. He should have a look at and dig into the documents, which are very easy to find.
The bottom line is that, wherever they are in the country, businesses that play by the rules are disadvantaged, so it is unfair not just to individual taxpayers but to business taxpayers. Meanwhile, back in Westminster, the Government continue to have absolute contempt for parliamentary oversight.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in accepting interventions. From what I can understand, every time the shadow Chief Secretary is asked a question about what Labour promises and pledges will cost, he reverts to saying that people can go and look it up: they can dig into the documents and get on the internet. Equally, he is saying that the public are shifting his way. Is his message to the electorate to get on the internet and to look at his policies in order to understand them?
I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman—from a sedentary position, which he is not allowed to do—has apologised. If the Minister was making an intervention that was too long, I would stop him so doing. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman and several other Members to make fairly long interventions because I thought we were having a meaningful debate, but we will not have shouting from a sedentary position. I will allow the Minister to finish his intervention.
I had largely made my point, but if I am to have a second bite at the cherry, let me just add a final point. Is the shadow Chief Secretary’s message to the great British electorate that when it comes to costing his own party’s plans, they should get on the internet and start googling to find out what those costs are?
My message to the great British public, who have showed their support for Labour on this, is to get out and vote Labour. That is the message. The other point is that the Minister’s hon. Friends have been waving an iPad around. I suggest they get on their parliamentary iPads and do their work.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a bit ironic to be asked to take lessons in finances from a Government who have doubled the debt and doubled austerity at the same—[Interruption.]
My hon. Friend is right. Of course, as ever with the Tories, when we tell them the truth, we get shouted down, which is exactly what has just happened to her.
By refusing to base the Finance Bill on an amendment of the law resolution, the Minister has deliberately restricted the scope of amendments to this Bill, and the ability of the Opposition to scrutinise it properly and improve it. I know the Financial Secretary was president of the Oxford union and his debating skills were honed in its atmosphere, but I am sure he would never have never dreamed of putting the same restrictions on the debates he chaired as his colleagues are putting on debates in this Chamber of the mother of Parliaments. What is good enough for the Oxford union should be good enough for this place. “No gagging” is the call from the Opposition; the Government instead want a muffled and restricted debate. That is why this measly Bill contains few policy and tax changes, and will have no positive or constructive impact on the majority of ordinary people’s lives.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Mind you, anything to avoid even more embarrassment for an enfeebled Prime Minister. Our stretched public services and crumbling infrastructure desperately need investment. We need bold, imaginative and innovative answers to tackle our slowing economic growth and falling productivity and to give workers the pay rise they deserve.
As my hon. Friend Ruth George said, since 2010 the Government have added more than £720 billion to the national debt, yet they have failed at every opportunity to invest. Instead, they have borrowed record amounts just to cover day-to-day spending. Labour Members are clear: it is high time the Government borrowed to invest in infrastructure, jobs and skills that will grow our economy sustainably. That is not controversial, no matter how much Conservative Members fulminate about it. [Interruption.] Well, they can simply ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who wants to borrow £50 billion to solve the housing crisis. Where will that money come from?
If we asked any business owner, they would tell us that they borrow to grow their business and, in so doing, they reap the rewards. They do not borrow to pay the day-to-day bills, as the Government have done, year after year. They borrow to invest—an alien concept to the Government. If this clapped-out Government are unwilling to invest in our people and our nation, its talent and its entrepreneurial spirit, I assure the Minister that the next Labour Government will.
We will invest in infrastructure across every region and nation to create high-wage, high-productivity jobs and start a large-scale house building programme, backed up with controls on rent. We will tackle debt, introducing further controls on high-interest, short-term lending, and we will scrap tuition fees.
While we are at it, we will lift for the whole of the public sector the public sector pay cap that has so damaged the morale of our staff in vital services. We will fix universal credit and put the compassion that the Government have sucked out back into our social security system. We will introduce a £10-an-hour real living wage that people can live off, not get by on. In doing all that, we will ensure that people in every region and nation, in every community and age group, have a Government that listen, act and ensure well-paid jobs, roofs over their heads and an economy that works for the many, not the few.
It is a great honour to be the first Back Bencher to be called; it has never happened to be me before. It must be Christmas.
“So the last shall be first, and the first last”.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I welcome the Bill, and particularly the fact that it will be the last Finance Bill for some time—hopefully for at least a year. In my business life—I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—the shifting sands of British tax policy, with two Budgets a year, as became the norm after Gordon Brown’s chancellorship, caused an enormous amount of uncertainty for British business. It propelled a lot of short-term thinking and hampered the ability to plan for the long term. Having fewer Finance Bills is an enormous boon and benefit, particularly to the business community.
Contrary to what my fellow Scouser, Peter Dowd, maintained, the Finance Bill contains a veritable smorgasbord of large and small measures, which will touch many people’s lives. For example, the staircase tax rectification is very welcome to small businesses, particularly the removal of the retrospective claims that the judgment in the Supreme Court brought down on those that happened to have a staircase between two rooms. That is a brilliant move, for which many Conservative Members campaigned.
Smaller but equally beneficial to those affected is the exemption from tax of the armed forces accommodation allowance. That will make a difference, as will the extension of the seafarers’ earnings deduction to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. Those two measures will reward two groups of people who deserve it.
However, in my hopefully brief remarks, I want to concentrate on two matters. First, the Government’s response to the patient capital review is welcome. The Minister referred to the increase in the research and development tax credit from 11% to 12%, which is enormously welcome, especially alongside the Government’s stupendous support for British science. The Conservative Government have recognised that our future economic success will rest largely on our ability to invent and sell things to the rest of the world. The Government’s standing shoulder to shoulder with Britain’s scientists and inventors is therefore critical. I am sure that the enormous amounts of money that are being devoted to primary research in this country, with, for example, the Francis Crick Institute opening a couple of weeks ago, will pay dividends in the future. It is exactly the sort of investment that the country needs.
However, all that Government expenditure will pale into insignificance or be much less effective unless we can energise private capital to sit alongside it. The Government have therefore attempted in the Bill, through amendments to the enterprise investment scheme, the seed enterprise investment scheme and the venture capital trust regime, to promote the idea that we should all invest much more in business.
Some measures are particularly welcome, such as the increase in the lifetime allowance for investment in business, and the increase in the amount that an individual can invest in one year. Those people who are wealthy enough—there are not that many—to put £2 million a year into business should do so. It is their duty, having done well out of the British economy, to reinvest that money in risk-taking businesses to create wealth and jobs for everybody else.
I strike a slight note of caution about one or two of the Government’s measures. The notion of a knowledge-intensive company test effectively introduces an extra layer of regulation into the system that may deter people from investing more money. Although the Government rightly seek to stamp out capital preservation schemes that take advantage of tax-efficient structures, I hope that Ministers will watch carefully over the next few months to ensure that the capital going into British industry through those routes does not start to drift away.
I have given several speeches in the House making the case that the tax relief incentives are not necessarily strong enough to bridge the risk-reward divide. Through EIS, UK individuals are investing about £1.8 billion a year. That figure has been pretty constant over the past few years. Similarly, SEIS rose on its introduction but has been pretty static at a few hundred million pounds a year. Against a country with a GDP of $2.6 trillion, those numbers are frankly paltry. In the past 200 or 300 years, we have been incredibly good at starting and building large, innovative and dynamic businesses, but we have spent the past 20 or 30 years selling a lot of them, and we have not really generated any more. We have had one or two huge British successes—Vodafone, Virgin, Arm—that have come from nowhere, but we have not yet invented a Google, a Facebook or a large conglomerate. We need to do that, which requires private capital to play its part.
Does my hon. Friend think that the banks’ lack of willingness to lend to small and medium-sized businesses—there are several in my constituency that suffer from chronic lack of availability of capital from banks—is killing the nursery of burgeoning businesses that we need in this country?
Small-ticket debt definitely has its place in starting businesses, but they need—the Government are trying to propel this into the economy—patient capital: money that will be invested and sit as a shareholder in the company for some years. In truth, while it is wonderful to build a company like Instagram—I think it was built in 14 months, went from zero to a valuation of more than $1 billion and then was sold—such things happen rarely. Most businesses are built over a much longer period, often over many generations. That is why, certainly in my youth, all those businesses had family names—Marks and Spencer, Reckitt Benckiser. They were family businesses that had come together over two, three, four or five generations to take on the world. We need to create an atmosphere in which people do exactly that—invest for the long term.
I hope that Ministers will monitor the scheme carefully and, if we are not getting the kind of capital flowing through that we need, can tweak it. If we see an overall reduction, as we may, as capital that was previously going into protection schemes now does not immediately transfer to risky schemes, we might need to look at this on an emergency basis.
My second, related point is on the general availability of shares and assets. The Government are doing a lot in the Bill to help the housing market and have rightly identified that home ownership has fallen relatively significantly over the last few years. They should be commended for the action that they are taking, certainly with regard to young people, but housing is not the only asset class available. The solution to the housing market will be a long-term one. We are trying to build as many houses as we possibly can—we need 250,000 to 300,000 houses a year to bridge the demand and supply problem—but that will take some time to do. It is possible, however, to get assets into the hands of people, particularly young people, much sooner than that, through employee share ownership plans.
I have said before in the House that it is my view that as well as creating a pool of dynamic private capital, we must democratise capital. That means spreading the ownership of British business as far and wide as we can. I urge the Government, as part of the patient capital review, to look at how they can improve the employee share ownership options for companies, to make it easier and even favourable through the tax system for employees to be gifted shares in their businesses. We know that employees who own part of their business are much more productive, and companies that have employees as shareholders are much more stable and tend to be much more successful in the longer term. It creates a much better environment and relationship between management and the employed. Just ask the postal worker wandering up the front path to deliver Christmas cards what the price is of their shares; I bet that they can tell you, with a big, broad grin. British Steel recently rewarded its workers for the company’s turnaround by giving away 5% or 10% of the equity in the business to them. The way forward is for everybody, young and old, to participate in the balance sheet of UK plc.
I agree that employee share ownership schemes are a good thing, and I would like to see an increase in them, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue that people have is not that they do not know about or cannot access employee ownership schemes, but that they do not have the money to save, given that 50% of households have less than £100 of savings? Is not that the biggest problem?
The hon. Lady refers to schemes that require the employees to pay for the shares. In my view, businesses should be allowed to gift shares to their employees, and that should not necessarily form part of their remuneration package. At the moment, there are a series of ways for companies to give shares to their employees, but none is particularly tax efficient or confers particular advantages to a company. I would like a company that had a certain percentage of its shares in employees’ hands to pay a lower corporation tax rate than one that failed to involve its employees in the balance sheet. That would address the general idea that the Prime Minister has talked about—that employees should be more involved in the way that businesses, especially large businesses, are run. If shareholders at the annual general meeting every year are also employees, so much to the good. Dynamising and democratising capital has to be the way forward.
My hon. Friend has made excellent points about share ownership, but I want to bring him back to property ownership. Does he agree that reducing stamp duty for first-time buyers will make it so much easier for people to get on the property ladder—it is worth more than £3,000 for the average first-time buyer in my constituency?
There is no doubt that stamp duty, as a frictional cost, causes all sorts of problems and distortions in the property market, and one may be at the lower end, particularly when dealing with an asset class that is highly geared—where taxation effectively has to be paid out of equity or deposit. That is operating throughout the property system. We are seeing a slowdown in the number of transactions, largely because of the frictional cost of exchange. That mechanism operates in any capital market. I may be out on a limb, and I am not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, trying to collect money to pay for everything else, but a general loosening of the stamp duty regime, and therefore more transactions in the property market, is more likely to mean that more people can access it at all levels.
Employee shared ownership is something that I did with my business—I draw attention to my entry on the register—but my hon. Friend is right: there are no incentives to do that, other than trying to build loyalty in the workforce. We were advised against it by our tax advisers on the grounds of complexity and cost. We went ahead with it anyway, but putting incentives in place would increase the number of companies that consider taking that important route.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. How can it be that an enlightened farmer is deterred by the tax system from spreading to his employees the wealth that his company creates? Something is fundamentally wrong if that deterrent is created.
I know that the Minister can see the truth of my argument and will want to address it in a future Finance Bill. I am sure, given his performance thus far, that his tenure in the job will be a long one—so much to the good, for us and for the economy.
I have one small note of caution about clauses 46 and 47. They would give Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs the power to enter premises and break into vehicles or vessels without a warrant. I stand to be corrected, but as I read them, they would grant more powers to the taxman than the police have to pursue crime. That makes me a little nervous.
Over the last few years, we have seen a general trend towards a new style of legislation and law on the powers of the Revenue. We have seen legislation that allows the taxman to help themselves to money in someone’s bank account without judicial oversight. We have seen the extension of retrospection, and we have seen a reversal of the burden of proof—not “You’re innocent until proven guilty”, but “We think that you need to prove that you are innocent”, in certain circumstances. While I understand that the powers are merely an extension of the old excise men’s powers to deal with smugglers in ports and airports—Daphne du Maurier fans who have read “Jamaica Inn” will know of the problems in the 18th and 19th century—I question whether such powers are appropriate today. I hope that Ministers will think carefully about whether it might be more appropriate for a warrant to be obtained to access someone’s premises, in the same way that the police do when they have suspicions.
I understand that the imperative for the Government is to deal with criminality that is often clever and smart. Sometimes such powers are contemplated because we cannot think of any other way, but unless we maintain the rule of law, especially on taxation, and unless we have a sensible, level playing field, the relationship between business, individuals and the Revenue becomes much more antagonistic. That would be an unfortunate development.
All in all, the Bill is solid and welcome. Those who are perhaps a bit more radical might like the Government to go a bit further in the next two or three years, in particular on the idea of dynamic capital and spreading share ownership, but the Minister is to be congratulated on his conduct. I look forward to Report.
First, I would like to tackle the issue of the amendment of the law motion, which I have already raised with the Financial Secretary. I am particularly concerned that the Government are doing their best to use the rules of the House to dodge proper scrutiny and transparency. It is not the normal state of play to have no amendment of the law motion after a substantive Budget. I get that it is not easy for Ministers to try to hold a minority Government together when their Members are simultaneously pointing in about 300 different directions. Even so, they should be keen to come before the House, stand up for what they believe in, and allow proper scrutiny.
I would like to take the opportunity again to highlight deficiencies in the Budget process. The “Better Budgets” report, published by the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the IFS and the Institute for Government, pointed out several ways in which scrutiny could be improved. One suggestion is for the Finance Public Bill Committee to take evidence in public. I am firmly of the opinion that such a change would improve scrutiny and increase Committee members’ understanding of a Budget’s measures. This will be my third Finance Bill Committee, so I feel that I can now speak with some expertise on the subject. I urge the Minister to consider this request once more, given that the previous two Finance Bill Committees I served on sat for only six sittings each. We have extra time in the legislative timetable before us, and two hearings on the first day, for example, would not stretch that. That has been the Government’s main objection, so I push the Minister to consider the proposal again.
Let me turn to economic impact assessments on particular tax measures. The Minister will be pleased to know that my point is not about Brexit, but the fact that the Government failed to carry out impact assessments on Brexit is not particularly surprising given that the tax measures that come forward in Budgets do not have economic impact assessments attached to them either. Whenever Ministers are asked about reviewing tax reliefs, we are told that they are regularly kept under review and that reviews consistently happen. Last year, however, I asked parliamentary questions on this matter, and the answers I received on the Government’s scrutiny of the tax reliefs that they had put in place were not very satisfactory. The Government were not particularly clear about whether the tax reliefs had achieved their aims. They were also not able to tell me how much money they had cost or gained for the Exchequer. If the Government are going to put forward tax reliefs—I agree that they should in certain circumstances, as they can be a good thing to encourage investment—they need to explain to the House whether they have worked. What is the point of having an absolutely massive tax code with a huge number of tax reliefs if we do not know whether they are incentivising people to do good things?
The hon. Gentleman has spoken to me before about the land and buildings transaction tax. I refer him to my earlier answer: 93% of people who have paid the tax in Scotland on properties over £40,000 paid either less than they would have done in England, or no tax at all.
I will not let the hon. Gentleman intervene again. He is becoming one of my more regular commentators. I appreciate his interest, but I am going to make some progress.
On scrutiny and the amendment of the law motion, the SNP and the Labour party have been clear that the Government have not gone far enough on tax avoidance, so we would like the opportunity to table amendments. I am sure the Minister does not imagine that he and his team have a monopoly on good ideas. An amendment of the law resolution would have allowed the Opposition to put forward what the Government might consider to be good ideas to reduce the amount of tax avoidance. That would be a better situation for everybody. There are 650 Members of the House, many of whom have a lot of expertise and do not sit on the Government Benches. An amendment of the law resolution would allow better amendments to come forward to make better law.
The Budget and the Bill can be criticised for what they do not include, as well as for what they do. First, there is still no acceptance of the economic impact of Brexit and there are no taxation measures to fix that. In the 12 months to June, real household disposable income shrank by 1.1%. That is the longest period of falling living standards in six years. The increase in the price of food means that families are £7.74 a week worse off, and that is before we leave the European Union, the single market and the customs union. Coupled with what the IFS says about there now being two decades of wage stagnation instead of one, and the threat of 80,000 jobs being lost in Scotland, things are looking pretty bleak. The Minister and various Members have already spoken about the public sector pay cap. That does no good for increasing incomes. I would like the Government to change their mind on the public sector pay cap and to fund changes to it.
I have already called for the Chancellor to bring forward an emergency Budget and I have no hesitation in doing so again. Given that the UK and the EU have now come up with a deal on the payment of billions of pounds by the UK to the EU, the Chancellor needs to tell us how that will be paid for. We have already had two Budgets this year, but I would have no aversion to seeing another one to take that payment into account and explain where the money will come from.
We cannot continue to have the Chancellor pulling rabbits out of hats on Budget day. I believe firmly that there must be more openness and transparency, and better scrutiny. I would welcome it if the Opposition parties could move meaningful amendments on the Floor of this House, if nothing else to show how much better we could do things. Every time that the shadow Minister took an intervention from Conservative Members, they asked how his party would pay for things. If he had the opportunity to move meaningful amendments, he would be able to set out tax measures that he and his party thought appropriate. That would avoid the accusation about the magic money tree. The Government have chosen their route so that they can avoid scrutiny, but they then criticise the Opposition for not carrying out proper scrutiny. That is not a good way to run things.
I welcome the UK Government’s change to VAT liabilities for the Scottish police and fire services. My colleagues and I have raised this matter inside and outside the House over 140 times. It is particularly convenient that the Chancellor should suddenly U-turn and fix this inconsistency for Scotland’s services at exactly the same time as he should need to do so for combined authorities, police and crime commissioners and the London fire commissioner. If he now agrees that these liabilities should not apply, surely they should not have applied in the first place. Our police and fire services would very much like the £140 million in VAT that they have paid so far to be returned. I eagerly await Scottish Tory Members, using all the power they apparently have, joining us to convince the Chancellor to pay back that £140 million. If they do not do so, they will have to explain why to police and fire services in Scotland.
I will not.
On transferable tax history, I am pleased that the UK Government have committed to changing the tax regime for late-life oil and gas assets. The Minister nods, because he has heard me go on about this on a number of occasions. I welcome the change. I ask him to work with stakeholder groups on a deal for the oil and gas sector. Given the changes to the oil price, there is still a feeling of pessimism around Aberdeen on some days. I would like the UK Government to commit to supporting the Oil and Gas Authority’s “Vision 2035” for the sector, which I think has cross-party support. This is incredibly important. It is critical to the future of the north-east of Scotland in particular, but also that of the United Kingdom as a whole, for the oil and gas sector to be supported and for our supply chain to be anchored in the UK so that it can continue to pay taxes even when North sea oil has run out. “Vision 2035” is key, and it is part of the sector deal that Oil & Gas UK and other stakeholder groups are seeking. I hope very much that the Minister will sit at the table with those groups and ensure that what they need for the future—what they need to ensure that they continue to pay tax—is realised in a sector deal.
As we have heard, the Bill makes changes to allow first-time buyers to get on to the housing ladder. I have already made clear my concerns about the changes to land and buildings taxation that are proposed, which echo concerns that have been raised by the Office for Budget Responsibility, as well as a number of experts. To improve access to the housing market, the UK Government should follow Scotland’s lead and commit themselves to more social housing.
I spent eight years as a local authority councillor. By far the biggest part of my casework was presented by people who came through the door and said that they were unable to obtain a secure tenancy in a social house in the knowledge that the landlord would not chuck them out in a year provided that they continued to pay rent. The fact that that problem still exists, in Scotland and throughout England, is due to Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy. Unlike us in Scotland, the UK Government have not made any reductions in the scheme, and council housing stock has been decimated as a result. We in Scotland are trying to right the damage that has been done. We are focusing on social housing and will continue to do so, and I urge the UK Government to do the same.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point about the right to buy. Apparently about 40% of the houses that were sold off as a result of the scheme are now in the private rented sector, and a greater cost is being incurred in the form of housing benefits, so the policy does not even make economic sense.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Having observed the real-life impact on people who came through my door, who were having to squash themselves into two-bedroom council houses with their parents, brothers, sisters and children, I am certain that we need to build up our council housing stock, and that is what we continue to do in Scotland.
The last substantive issue that I want to raise is the unfairness that faces the WASPI women. The UK Government continue to fail those women. They could have made changes in this Budget and the Bill, but they failed to do so. We will not rest until fairness is won for the WASPI women.
There are so many problems with the Bill. It does not fix the many unfairnesses that the UK have created. Wages continue not to rise, and people and families are feeling poorer as a result of continued austerity and economic mismanagement. This Government are not strong and stable, and they are not helping those who are “just about managing”.
I think it only right for me to support a comparatively brief Finance Bill in a comparatively brief speech.
The Bill translates into action the autumn Budget’s excellent provisions for promoting innovation. As a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, I was looking for ways in which the Government would seek to promote technological innovation in the Budget, and I was not disappointed. Research and development expenditure credit has been increased slightly—by 1%, to 12%—boosting corporation tax relief for companies that engage in R and D. Encouraging more private sector investment in R and D in that way is a welcome step forward.
The Bill also doubles the annual limit for individuals investing in companies through the enterprise investment scheme from £1 million to £2 million, as long as any amount above the old £1 million threshold is invested in knowledge-intensive companies. That is another great measure to promote innovation, and we can say the same for the doubling to £10 million per annum of the amount that knowledge-intensive companies can source through the enterprise investment scheme and the venture capital trust scheme.
The Government have set the ambitious target of increasing overall R and D funding to 2.4% of GDP within a decade, and they are on course for an eventual 3% figure. That is an unprecedented investment in the future of the United Kingdom, and it represents the forward thinking that we will need if we are to make the most of the technological revolutions that are to come. These provisions are vital to ensuring that the private sector, which is an essential partner, plays its role in achieving our goals.
Alongside the other commitments made in the Budget—the extra £4.7 billion in R and D funding over the next four years is very welcome, for example—there are provisions in the Bill that constitute a great step forward for innovation. The United Kingdom is no stranger to innovation in many respects, but let me select just one. In 1928 the world’s first true antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician, biologist and Nobel prize winner, who was born in Darvel, Ayrshire, in 1881. Penicillin has been described as the most important advance ever made in the history of medicine. We await with interest the next generation of innovation.
However, the Bill does more. Having served as a firefighter for 31 years, I am particularly pleased that the Government will mend the muddle of the Scottish Government, namely their poor judgment in surrendering the VAT exemptions for the Scottish fire service and Police Scotland. The Bill creates a special exemption for Scotland’s police and fire services, which lost their exemption despite the SNP in Holyrood receiving the best advice from many sources. My friend Alison Thewliss shakes her head, but the simple fact is that the SNP Government will never accept advice from the police force, the fire service, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and eminent people in Scotland, because of their arrogance and their relentless desire to pursue their centralisation agenda.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but how that local authority spends its money on funding the fire service is a matter for the authority itself.
There are innovations in respect of smoke detectors and sprinkler assessments. The Scottish fire service is going through a similar process. It is undergoing a review, with the possibility of the closure of fire stations. We are moving on with a fresh look, and I hope that fire stations will not close, but there is that risk. Having served for 31 years, I know more than most Members in the Chamber about the work that firefighters do. I hope that we can move forward, and that the pay restraints of recent years will be eased.
With the approach of the new year, I hope that we can all raise a glass, in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, to support the freezing of the duty on spirits such as whisky and gin, and that we will have a joyous and safe new year and enjoy spirits that are mainly produced in Scotland.
The Bill is good for growth, good for technology and innovation, and good for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I am delighted to lend it my support.
It was interesting to listen to Bill Grant, not least because of his reference to that great Scot and great Brit Sir Alexander Fleming. If I remember rightly, he did his pioneering work on penicillin at what is now St Mary’s hospital in London. I raise that point to gently chide the hon. Gentleman about the funding crisis in the national health service, particularly in London, which has led Lord Kerslake, following a distinguished career in public service, to resign from his position chairing a key NHS trust.
I commend my hon. Friend Peter Dowd for his speech, but I want to make two different, broad points about the productivity challenge facing our country, and to propose some additional solutions that I hope the House will consider incorporating in the Bill. I also want to make a brief point about credit unions and, finally, press for further measures in the Bill to fund more investment in public services, not least policing.
The OBR’s devastating indictment of seven years of underinvestment and austerity and the prospect of many more such years to come was the real headline of the Budget. Productivity gains across all parts of the UK would mean higher wages and higher living standards, so if the OBR is right and productivity is to remain stagnant, the personal finances of too many people in our country will remain grim for the foreseeable future. We are already more than 15% less productive than the rest of the G7, Greece is the only developed country where real pay has fallen further, and the UK has now slumped to fifth in the G7 table for productivity.
To be fair, the Government at least acknowledge that there is a problem, but their solutions largely ignore, first, how to motivate employees, who are fundamental to productivity improvement, and, secondly, the growing concentration of power in key markets in the hands of a small number of very big companies, which stifles the innovation that is fundamental to productivity improvement.
Let me give some context for those two broad points. The average UK worker has not had a real-terms pay rise since 2006. Zero-hours contracts and bogus, Uber-style self-employment are creating an economy in which work is transient and precarious. Too often there are simply not incentives for a business to invest in its staff, and if there is no guarantee of work tomorrow there is not enough incentive, or indeed time, for staff to go the extra mile for the business they are with.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about zero-hours contracts. Does he therefore welcome the work we have done in the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, chaired by his colleague Rachel Reeves, looking at the Taylor review and making sure that, where there are zero-hours contracts, they are fair and are a mechanism of choice for a worker rather than being forced on them?
I would always commend the work of a Committee chaired by my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, and if the hon. Lady agrees with my hon. Friend, I welcome that. I commend the Government for setting up the Taylor review in the first place, but we clearly need radical measures to tackle the problem that it identified.
The context to my second broad point is that in all but a handful of cases, the major players in markets—particularly markets where there are fewer businesses operating—are plcs, owned by shareholders in the UK and abroad. Too often regulators treat this business form as the default, whereas in other European countries markets have a mix of plcs, publicly owned businesses, co-operatives, mutuals and social sector firms.
How might the Government use this Finance Bill to rectify those two broad problems? First, I hope that Ministers will find the courage to recognise that if productivity is to improve, workers and staff will have to drive that change. Basic measures such as a significantly higher living wage are essential, as is creating disincentives for businesses to opt for Uber-style employment practices. At the moment, there is too often too little incentive for the employee to go the extra mile, as they are unlikely to benefit directly from the extra profits that innovation and higher productivity might deliver.
This Finance Bill could have been the moment for that to change, and indeed even at this late stage I hope it will be, so let me offer the Minister the example of France, where businesses with 50 employees or more have to set aside 5% of their profits as a reward for their staff. If those who are helping to generate profits know they are going to share in them—if they know it is not just the chief executive and the rest of the executive team who are going to benefit—their motivation and commitment to helping the business prosper might just be a little stronger.
I was interested in the comments of Kit Malthouse—who, sadly, is no longer in his place—because I share his view that businesses in which employees have a say and a stake tend to be more productive; they tend to be better at incentivising their staff and channelling workers’ ideas and talents. Indeed, a 2007 Treasury review found that employee ownership can boost productivity by as much as 2.5% over the long run. So, as the hon. Gentleman asked, why are there no further tax incentives to encourage genuine employee share ownership?
The Government should revisit the idea of compulsory employee representatives on company boards, mirroring the success of Germany and Sweden, where employees have sat on boards for decades. Given that the idea was in the Prime Minister’s personal manifesto when she ran for leader of the Conservative party and that a significant number of Conservative MPs backed that manifesto, and given that we on the Opposition Benches support employee representation on boards, I suggest that there is a majority in the House willing to vote for such a measure if only the Government could find the courage to act. Why not, at the very least, have more favourable tax treatment for firms that are employee-owned? The hon. Gentleman also touched on that point extremely well.
Ministers must also overhaul the regulation of markets and recognise that key markets have become too uncompetitive and, in a number of cases, oligopolistic. This Bill could have begun the process of changing that. Let me give two examples. Banking and energy have both had highly critical regulator investigations, noting the lack of innovation and the excess profits in crucial consumer markets. Where is the commitment to create diverse and vibrant markets in those areas, with the plc model no longer favoured over other business forms such as building societies, mutuals and co-operatives? I suspect that regulators know that there simply is not the political will on the Treasury Bench to confront the Institute of Directors’ insistence that big plc businesses know best.
The Social Market Foundation is not necessarily a think-tank that we on these Benches would reach for first when it publishes a report, but it has recently produced an interesting interim report on the lack of competition in key markets. The Innogy/SSE merger is just the latest example in the energy sector of the trend towards even more uncompetitive markets. If it goes ahead, it will lead to two big firms dominating the energy market. It should be blocked by the competition authorities, and it would be good to see Ministers encouraging that to happen. We also need a new generation of energy co-operatives, mutuals and municipal businesses encouraged to put consumers in the driving seat in the energy market, holding real economic power in that market, and keeping the profit from the generation of energy in local communities.
In many industries there are, in theory, ombudsman services, able to support consumers to seek redress from large businesses offering poor customer service. In practice, such ombudsman services often have limited powers and limited ability to enforce any redress they suggest. What is needed now is a proper champion for consumers, with the teeth to hold businesses to account. A consumer ombudsman with class-action powers and the information-gathering ability to match has always been opposed by big business groups in this country, but it is needed to help the consumer stand up to powerful big businesses when their concerns are ignored.
I draw the Committee’s attention to the case of the consumers taking action against Bovis Homes for shoddy building work, which has recently attracted some media attention; they are having to crowdfund the funding for court action. If there was a strong consumer ombudsman, those people who have moved into Bovis homes that are badly in need of further work would not be having to raise their own funds; instead, they could have turned to that ombudsman to take their case forward.
The truth is that markets need robust competition, and big plc businesses need strong challenges from other types of business. When 85% of all current accounts are held in just five big banks, of course it is no surprise that the regulator should find that there is not enough innovation in the retail banking sector. I therefore gently ask Ministers why they are committed to a long-term future for RBS as just another private sector bank. Why not turn it into a mutual, or a new building society, to challenge what would then be just four privately owned plc-style businesses?
Why are we not learning from the USA and Germany in encouraging more regional, mutually owned savings and investment banks that are focused on driving long-term investment—perhaps the patient capital that the hon. Member for North West Hampshire referred to—rather than on short-term dividends for shareholders, which are then used to justify ever-higher levels of executive pay? With sub-prime lending on the rise, and with the UK having the largest and fastest-growing consumer credit market in Europe—mostly, sadly, in high-cost options—it is difficult to understand why Ministers and regulators alike do so little to champion responsible finance operators such as community banks and credit unions.
On the point about credit unions, I welcome the limited moves in the Budget to help credit unions to expand, but I wonder why Ministers are not considering a wider package of reforms of the objectives and powers of credit unions, to allow for more innovation in services and in particular to enable them to provide a full retail banking offer, including in areas such as insurance and secured car lending. Why is there not more help for credit unions to market their low-cost credit offer to ordinary working people? If the Treasury were minded to take such action, that would bring UK credit union legislation into line with best practice in America, Canada and Australia. As the balance within the financial markets shifts farther and farther away from unsecured personal loans and cash savings, credit unions need the freedom to be able to rework their offer, and, as I understand it, legislation would be necessary to enable that to happen. I therefore encourage the Minister and his colleagues to consider that question sympathetically.
Lastly, I want to raise the issue of funding for public services. Sadly, there was no mention in the Budget of extra resources for policing. In my London borough, we have seen a reduction of 170 police officers since 2010. The recent terrorist incidents, which the whole House is familiar with, and the concerns of senior police officers that more resources need to be put into community policing—to ensure, among other things, that intelligence can be obtained about future attacks—should surely have prompted the Treasury to make additional funding available for policing.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that the armed services were not even mentioned in the Budget, either generally or in relation to the pay and salary of their staff?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point well, and I agree with him. He also made a point earlier that many Members have raised before, when he expressed disappointment at the paltry level of additional funding for schools. Similarly, we have heard about the scale of cuts to local authorities such as Harrow, which has lost some £83 million over the past four years. The council is facing huge difficulties in meeting the demand for increased children’s services, for housing people who are homeless and for meeting the growing social care challenge in our borough. Even at this late stage, I encourage Conservative Members to press Ministers for more investment in public services. Brutally, this was a grim Budget, and the Bill holds out no hope for anything better.
Order. Before we proceed, let me enlighten those Members who might not be aware that, because this is a Finance Bill, the debate may continue “until any hour”, as they will see on the Order Paper. There is no limit on today’s debate. Approximately 18 people have indicated to me that they wish to speak, and if they each take about 15 minutes, they will be able to calculate for themselves that we will be here until around midnight. Now, it might be their intention to cause that to happen, and it is not for me to say whether that is a good or a bad idea—I am always in favour of debates—but I merely point this out so that Members can behave honourably and with due consideration to other Members, and work out for themselves for just how long they ought to keep the Floor. This puts a lot of pressure on Mr Alister Jack.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will shorten my words accordingly.
I would like to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on proving that he can do a lot of good with what is, at 184 pages, a relatively—I stress the word “relatively”—short Finance Bill. While the Bill is short on sheer word count, it is certainly not short on provisions that will help to make both Scotland and the United Kingdom fairer and more prosperous places to live. For example, as my hon. Friend Bill Grant has said, the Bill gives effect to the announcement in the Budget that the UK Government will clear up the Scottish National party’s mess and create a special exemption from VAT for Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. That special exemption has had to be made because of the stubbornness and incompetence of the Scottish Government, who pressed ahead with the centralisation of Scotland’s police and fire services even though they knew that the way in which they were conducting that centralisation would cost those services their VAT exemption.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the extensive correspondence on the Scottish Government’s website that provides evidence of the Scottish Government’s efforts to persuade colleagues down the road here that the exemption was valid? If the exemption in the Budget for combined authorities in England and Wales is valid now, surely Scotland’s fire and rescue services are due their £140 million back.
This House made it clear at the time that if the Scottish Government went ahead with the centralisation, they would not be able to reclaim the VAT. It is no good the SNP having a grievance and looking back to claim that £140 million when Budgets are clearly forward-looking and we have to be responsible for the public finances. However, we have now sorted that problem out.
Order. I do not like to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, and I let him do this earlier, but if he faces away from the Chair, no one can hear him. I certainly cannot hear him. He has to speak to the Chair, and not to the Member upon whom he is intervening. But I am sorry—I interrupted him, so I will allow him to finish his intervention.
Clearly I agree. I would like my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr not to make too many more interventions, however. He is very keen on them, but we have to crack on.
That centralising dogma cost those services £140 million. Alan Brown referred to that money as having been stolen, but I can assure him that it was not stolen by anybody. It was, however, wasted by his party and his fellow nationalists in the Scottish Government, who cost the police and the fire services the option to reclaim that VAT. As I have said, the Conservatives have acted to clear up the Scottish Government’s mess. That is one of many cases in the Budget that prove that 13 Scottish Conservative MPs can deliver much more for the Scottish people in six months than 56 nationalist MPs could deliver in two whole years.
The Scots are used to the SNP putting confrontation and grievance ahead of public services, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling has just said, and we in Scotland are sick and tired of it. If the SNP would like to turn over a new leaf this evening and take a more collaborative approach, I suggest they join us in voting for the Bill. It would be the height of pettiness for the nationalists to vote against a Bill that rectifies their own mistake and ensures that Scotland’s police and fire services finally get the funding that they deserve.
On a wider note, the Bill brings into effect many of the positive measures that were announced in last month’s excellent Budget, such as the additional measures to tackle aggressive tax avoidance. When someone does not pay their fair share of tax, the rest of us have to pay instead through higher taxes, less funding for public services or higher borrowing. I am therefore pleased that this Government have such a strong record on reducing tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. The UK tax gap is now just 6%—down from 6.7% in the final year of the last Labour Government—and the measures that this Government have put in place to reduce the gap have saved £12.5 billion in the past year alone, meaning billions of pounds of extra funding for public services, billions of pounds in lower taxes, and billions of pounds in less borrowing.
The Budget is good for Scotland and specifically for Dumfries and Galloway with the Borderlands growth deal. In fact, it is a good Budget for the entire United Kingdom, with provisions that lay the groundwork for future growth and a fairer country. I will therefore be proud to vote for this Bill, which is an integral and positive step in putting the Budget into effect.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Jack, because I am going to enjoy setting out for him why I believe he is mistaken in considering this Finance Bill to be the best that we can do for this country. I hope he was here to hear the remarks of my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend Peter Dowd, who set out some strong ideas about alternative ways to manage the public finances, and the remarks of my hon. Friend Gareth Thomas, a fellow member of the Co-operative party, who set out how the Co-operative’s approach to public finances is different.
I was struck by what the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway and several other Government Members said about their pride in how light and narrow the Bill is. Look at the country’s economic challenges; it sums up the Government perfectly that they should boast about how little they have to offer to tackle those challenges. They admit that this country has a productivity challenge—a long-overdue admission—but they have so little to offer to address it. They seem pleased to tell us that they are peaking their borrowing, rather than meeting the commitments made in 2010, when we all sat here and listened to the previous Chancellor tell us that austerity was the only way forward. Well, what a myth that has turned out to be. The Government are presiding over stagnating wages, meaning that my constituents will be lucky to see a pay rise within the next 10 years. Decades of austerity mean that we are a nation up to our eyeballs in personal debt—not by accident, but through this Government’s choices. We have not even begun to talk about the black hole of Brexit that is sucking both time and money from our Exchequer.
A light Finance Bill is not something to be proud of; it is indicative of a Government who are not serving the British public. The Government try to tell us that they are doing something about the massive housing crisis, but it is clear that their stamp duty proposals will simply push up house prices and do little for our constituents who have no savings and cannot get a deposit together to even begin to consider buying a property and paying stamp duty. The Bill will do nothing about the crisis in our private rented sector that is the cause of so much personal debt. People in our communities are now putting their mortgage or their rent on their credit cards in a desperate attempt to keep a roof above their head this Christmas.
People have the spectre of universal credit hovering over them, sucking out their time and energy as they try to make ends meet, because there is just too much month at the end of their money. We have not even begun to talk about the impact of the cuts on our public sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West ably pointed out the lack of police on our streets; we will lose 3,000 in London alone due to this Budget. Teachers are having to buy resources for their pupils. People need us to manage the public finances properly, which is what this Bill would do if it was meatier contribution to Britain’s future, but it is not.
I know what Government Members will say to Opposition Members: “Where would you find the money?”. I want to answer that question, say what this Bill could have done for the British public, and set out why the Government need to move from policy-based evidence making to evidence-based policy making by using impact assessments. These assessments are not necessarily popular, as we have seen from the Brexit Secretary, but they are absolutely the way forward when it comes to understanding what could be done for this country.
Let me turn first to one of the places where we could be saving money as a society. I know that Members on both sides of the House are worried about the private finance initiative, and all of us have seen its impact on the public finances. Governments of all colours have used private finance contracts; indeed, they continue to be used through private finance 2 schemes. We know that £1 billion of the money that should be going into our NHS will be leeched out in profits by private finance companies. That money could have built hospitals several times over, and could certainly deal with the crisis in NHS recruitment and the lack of resources in healthcare. I have called on the Government to learn the lessons of the Paradise papers and introduce a moratorium on public sector contracts going to such companies until we are clear about where their tax liabilities lie. However, I am disappointed that, yet again, Ministers have missed that opportunity.
As Ministers have pointed out, we will only get one such Bill a year in future through which to tackle how these companies operate. A small number of companies are leeching so much money out of our public services through the high costs of private finance contracts, and their high rates of returns and interest rates. Government Members can look at them as hire purchase agreements for the public sector. The Bill could have been the opportunity to set a clear red line for those companies, and to tell them that, instead of continuing to rip off our schools and our hospitals, we want them to come to the table to renegotiate contracts. The Bill could have been the opportunity to set up that moratorium, or to use the banking levy as a model for a windfall tax on such companies—a tax that could claim back the excessive profits that they are clearly making from the public sector. This is money that could have properly funded our police or gone towards ensuring that we pay our public sector workers properly, but we will all end up paying for that omission from this Bill. With the PF2 contracts coming online, it is clear that the Government have not learned the lessons about the cost of public sector borrowing that would have informed the Bill.
This Bill is being considered in the context of the Government having agreed to close the tax loophole whereby overseas-based companies sold UK commercial property without having to pay capital gains tax—what we called the magic money tree—but it has sadly become apparent since the Budget that the Government have not got to grips with the loophole. They think that they are going to raise only half a billion pounds, but it is clear, given the sums involved in commercial property sales in the UK, that we could be looking at £5 billion or £6 billion.
With this Bill, the Government could have learned the lessons of the Paradise papers, particularly as regards the loophole for companies that register properties in Luxembourg, because the Luxembourg treaties will allow those companies to avoid capital gains tax. I have repeatedly raised that with Ministers, because we know that our public sector desperately needs the £5.5 billion extra a year that properly closing the tax loophole could represent, yet Ministers seem not to care. They tell me that the Government’s policy is that
“all double taxation treaties should permit gains on the direct and indirect disposal of UK immovable property to be taxed in the UK.”
However, from their consultation document, I can see that they recognise that there is a loophole within their loophole. Paragraph 4.36 admits that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs understands that there is a problem if the properties are registered in Luxembourg. The Bill could have been the opportunity to address that and to state, “When we say we are going to close a tax loophole, we close it properly.” We know that £5.5 billion could make such a difference—but it will not. That is indicative of a Government who do not seem to do their homework.
That brings me on to why impact assessments matter so much, and why so many Members from Labour and other parties have been speaking about their importance, particularly when it comes to gender. One of the Minister’s colleagues actually suggested to me that the debate about gender impact assessments was a bit like the debate around foxhunting. Perhaps he confused fair game with the fairer sex; I am not quite sure. As a colloquialism, we have been calling this the lady data campaign, because it is about what happens when we start to identify the impact of policies on particular people.
There will be some, particularly on social media, who will roll their eyes at yet another one of those feminists getting up to bang on about women and all the special treatment they want. Let me be very clear: the point about lady data is a cold, hard economic argument. Bridging the UK gender pay gap has the potential to create an extra £150 billion a year in GDP by 2025, which is a 5% to 8% increase in GDP for all our regions. This should be a no-brainer for all concerned, but to be able to do that, we need better to understand where inequality lies in our society, and where individual policies help or hinder us in tackling it.
I support any measure to try to close the gap in gender equality of income. Does the hon. Lady welcome the moves made by this Government to introduce gender pay gap reporting, and to make it a legal obligation for all companies with more than 250 employees by April 2018?
I am so glad a new Member has raised one of the legacies of having an amazing feminist MP like my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman in Government, fighting for gender pay gap reporting in the Equality Act 2010. I am glad to see Luke Graham nodding, because it is wonderful to see the feminist soul of so many Government Members coming through. I hope we can tempt them to support these measures.
The reality is that if the Government do not measure something, they cannot be held to account on what they are doing about it. That is the challenge we have. Good data keeps Governments honest and on track. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that inequality in British society is about one single issue, or indeed about one single group. It is about understanding where inequality lies and where individual and collective policies will make a difference. That is why it matters. We do not live in an equal society, so particular policy measures, such as those that this Finance Bill introduces, will have a differential impact.
We might have the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Equality Act, but equal pay is stagnating in Britain. Indeed, the figures for the past couple of years suggest that the gap is widening, not narrowing—crucially, among not just older women, but younger women. Among black and ethnic minority women, the gap is 26% for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, and 24% for black African women. Women are twice as likely as men to receive the lowest pay. Only 36% of older women receive the full state pension. Therefore any finance measure that affects the tax and benefits situation in our country will have a differential impact.
Thankfully, organisations such as the Women’s Budget Group, the Fawcett Society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Runnymede Trust have done what this Government have failed to do and started to identify the impact, so that we can understand just what the consequences are. Their research does not make happy reading for anybody who recognises that equality is one of the biggest economic motors we could have, and one of the best ways we could address the productivity gap in our society. Their figures show that this Government’s Budget will mean that women lose 10 times as much as they gain, with black and ethnic minority women losing 12 times as much.
What does that mean in practice? Forty-three per cent. of people do not earn enough to reach the tax threshold as it is—66% of them are women, and 41% of them have dependent children. When the Government raise the higher rate threshold, 73% of the beneficiaries are men. When we change corporation tax, we have to recognise that we do it in an environment in which shareholders, business owners and managers are disproportionately men. Men benefit more.
This is not about being a victim. This is not about pleading for special treatment. This is about understanding what measures the Government are introducing and how they are making it harder for us to unlock the potential of 51% of our society. It is about having a better economy and a better society, because there is a link between diversity and prosperity.
I am tired of people who eye-roll at this, and of Government Members who see this as being like foxhunting. Frankly, even if they do not get the strong economic or social case for this, they are legally required to do it. The public sector equality duty was introduced in 2011, and it means that the Government have to not just manage these things but do something about them. That includes being able to track the difference they are making, yet this Government have still failed to do any equality impact assessment, let alone a cumulative one. The only equality impact assessments that are published are in the tax information and impact notes, which have a sentence or two buried away in line 324b saying that most of the Government’s policies have little impact at all, or denying any impact. There has certainly been no impact assessment on things like alcohol excise duty rates or fuel duty giveaways—two policies that, again, have a differential impact on men and women.
We have not even begun to talk about the public sector pay cap, and Members on both sides of the House recognise that, when two thirds of our public sector workforce are women, a failure to pay the public sector properly clearly pushes more women into poverty. We can argue about the underlying inequalities that might cause the environment in which these policies operate, and we can argue about the policies’ impact, but we cannot let this Government get away either with saying that they cannot do these calculations when others such as the IFS have, or with arguing that any inequality caused by policies in a Finance Bill will be offset by spending in another Bill. It simply does not make sense. If they cannot measure it, how can they decide it is being offset by something else? That is why it is time that we had this data. [Interruption.]
I understand that the Government Whip, Graham Stuart, would like me to sit down. I am sorry to disappoint him, but 51% of this population are being held back by a Government who do not even know what damage they are doing, and 100% of us deserve better. The way we do that is by holding this Government to account on the public sector equality duty, which says that the Government have a legal duty before making any decisions. It is not enough to consider the impact on equality afterwards. The duty is ongoing, and it is about not just a buried report once in a while, but consistent impact assessments. The duty also says it cannot be delegated—that Ministers cannot leave it to somebody else to figure out what damage they are doing. It also says that, when a problem has been identified, the Government have to act, and that a lack of resources—having just set out where the Government can get some resources, I do not accept there is a lack of them—is not an excuse.
These are examples of how this Budget and this Finance Bill are failing this country. We are in denial of some of the major challenges we face on productivity. This is about having the information so that we can understand how we can make better choices, and about how we have a Government who seem unconcerned that they are breaching the public sector equality duty. That is indicative of a wider problem facing the British public. They have a Government who, right now, have run out of ideas, who are lacking in leadership and who are struggling under the weight of Brexit, but we all know who is going to pay. It is the men and women in our communities who are struggling with debt—the men and women in households who are being disproportionately hit by Government policy.
Inequality is expensive for us all. All of Britain is held back when talent is held back because it is living in poverty. I hope I have shown that there is money to be found and data to be collected if there is a political will. The Brexit Secretary says that he does not have to be very clever to do his job, but I believe the British public do need competency. If they cannot get it from the Government Benches, they can certainly find it on the Labour Benches.
This is an important Bill for the long-term future of our country. It builds on hard-won progress, develops on the transition to Brexit, and sets out necessary measures to ensure that the UK economy is fit for a successful and sustainable global future. I welcome the emphasis the Chancellor gave in his Budget to the importance of improved skills, cutting-edge technology, world-class infrastructure, and the domestic fairness of a sustainable cost of living for the British people.
At a time when we are focused on the historic change that will come from Brexit, it is critical to stick to the Government’s commitment to financial and fiscal stability so that we can build a Britain and a Stoke-on-Trent fit for the future. I particularly welcome continuing efforts to make the tax system fairer and simpler. The latest raft of anti-avoidance measures ensures that legitimate reliefs are not abused.
It is important that the tax system can encourage behaviours that are beneficial to the economy, thereby supporting businesses to create more jobs and allowing our workers to prosper. For my constituency, it is essential that we continue to support our communities to flourish, and a critical part of that is ensuring families can take home more of the money they earn.
I am pleased that the Government are doing more to ensure we see not only more jobs, but better pay and improved skills. Continuing to increase the national living wage and the personal tax-free allowance will mean that my constituents will take home more in their pay packets.
The national living wage that the hon. Gentleman speaks of is not actually set at the national living wage rate. Does he agree that there needs to be a real national living wage that is available to everybody, including those under the age of 25?
If the hon. Lady looks at this, she will see that the national living wage is continuing to increase. I know what she is referring to, but we are continuing to increase the national living wage, which will mean people taking home more money in their pay packets. We are reducing taxes on people’s earnings and helping constituents right across the country.
For areas such as Stoke-on-Trent that have a strong manufacturing tradition, opportunities have arisen for a sustained revival of our industry. Goods exports have been rising faster than service exports. “Despite Brexit”, as some attempt to say, the latest purchasing managers’ index for manufacturing activity hit an encouraging 51-month high. The revival is in no small part thanks to the path of national financial stability that the Bill continues, working in tandem with our modern industrial strategy. In addition to that work within the UK, we can look forward to the Government championing new trade agreements beyond our shores, both with our close friends in the EU and with overlooked partners in the wider world, allowing manufacturers in my constituency to trade more of their fantastic products abroad.
Only last week I was delighted to welcome the Secretary of State for International Trade to my constituency to see with his own eyes the reality of, and the further potential for, Stoke-on-Trent’s manufacturing export revival. He told me that in the past year there have been 58,000 tech start-ups across the UK, which is more than in any other country, and that our uniquely attractive intellectual property regime is key to this success. I want to ensure that Stoke-on-Trent shares in this growth, that our industries feel encouraged by IP protection, and that tech jobs are increasingly accessible to my local residents. By getting our skills base right, including the skills that many businesses need to become exporters for the first time, we will enable our businesses to trade more of the fantastic goods we produce. Having a workforce that is more skilled and productive means that our people and communities can become more prosperous.
Stoke-on-Trent’s part of the deal is to keep making the best products in the world, particularly in ceramics, which is the lifeblood of Stoke-on-Trent. The Government’s role as the driver of global Britain must be to open world markets to our local manufacturing excellence while, of course, guarding against unfair dumping by rogue competitors. In short, we need to grow our skills base while ensuring a level playing field in global markets.
Despite the sheer hard work of my constituents to improve productivity locally—it is, indeed, up—gross value added in Stoke-on-Trent is comparatively low compared with that of the rest of the country. It can be tempting to say that this is all a function of trends of economic geography, yet we have shown in recent years that we can indeed increase our local rates of productivity. We clearly have a great deal of potential that is yet to be realised, and key to achieving that will be to work with an enabling Government in developing a sector deal for ceramics. We need to invest in new infrastructure to enable businesses to innovate, prosper and create the skilled jobs that people need. This means local partners coming together to diversify and advance skills, working towards our global ambition for a dedicated ceramics research park. This will turn an old quarry into a world centre of excellence: a place rooted in the authentic heritage of the potteries where innovation in science, technology and design come together to drive economic growth. As I stressed to the International Trade Secretary, in Stoke-on-Trent we make not just world-class ceramic art and decorative goods, but advanced components for the high-tech automotive, aerospace, defence, digital, renewable energy and medical industries.
Far from being an industry of the past, ceramics is at the very forefront of the digital, high-tech future that the Government have rightly chosen to champion and that the Chancellor absolutely dedicated himself to in his Budget. Just as there is an internationally important life sciences cluster just to the north of Stoke-on-Trent, so there can be an advanced design and manufacturing cluster in Stoke-on-Trent itself. The UK ceramics industry is hugely ambitious. It seeks to secure significantly increased year-on-year growth and to increase our international market share. A sector deal could double the GVA and exports of the industry within the next decade. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and Industry wrote to me recently to confirm that the Government are actively considering the proposals from the sector, and that she welcomes the sector
“being so positive about the future opportunities”.
We are indeed positive about the future opportunities, no matter how much the Labour party seeks to talk Britain down.
One area where more needs to be done is in improving the rail services in Stoke-on-Trent, as there has been a lack of attention to this over many decades. I welcome, however, the commitment made by the Secretary of State for Transport that Stoke-on-Trent will be served by HS2. Enhanced rail connectivity could transform the future prosperity of the city and help to deliver new housing and jobs growth. I also welcome action to expand the rail network’s capacity, and to open, or reopen, many new local stations. There is also clear potential for increasing the frequency of services through my constituency, and for new or rebuilt stations at Fenton, Meir and Barlaston, and for World of Wedgwood and the bet365 stadium, for Stoke City football club. All those are in my constituency. With a heritage action zone now announced for Longton in my constituency, an enhancement of rail services there could propel the town as a visitor destination. There will be similar projects across the country, and it is to the Government’s credit that they have enabled so many of them to come forward as part of the localism agenda.
The Government have worked hard to increase our international competitiveness and to rebalance the economy domestically. We are also working hard to enable smaller businesses to grow and compete with global players. Local workers on the ground in Stoke-on-Trent should be the focus for a global Britain. We are talking about those who voted overwhelmingly for not just Brexit, but an improved quality of life. Improving the skills base, alongside boosting wages through lower taxes and an increased national living wage, will enable local workers to access the opportunities of global Britain. I am glad the Government recognise that embracing our global future means delivering for my constituents. That is what Brexit must mean, and it is in this context that this Bill moves the Government’s agenda of reform forward. I will be proud to support it in the Lobby tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow Jack Brereton. This Finance Bill has short-changed my constituents, the city of Bradford and the people of the north in ways too numerous to list in the short time I have available today. But there was one instance where the north was not just short-changed but plain snubbed: it was starved of the vital investment needed to unleash the potential of its people and its businesses. In this Finance Bill, Ministers did nothing to redress the imbalance in favour of London in spending on transport, whereby it gets seven times more per head than the north. That is illogical, given the Government’s much publicised commitment to rebalancing this country’s two-speed economy.
Modern and efficient transport infrastructure is a catalyst for growth, and improved regional transport connectivity is the key to unlocking prosperity in my home city of Bradford. It is essential to the fostering of wider prosperity throughout west Yorkshire and the whole of the north of England. It is fundamental to addressing the regional differentials in the economy. With clause 33 and schedule 9, the Financial Secretary has found the money to cut the bank levy, but he cannot find the funds for trans-Pennine electrification to fulfil the Conservative manifesto promise made ahead of the 2015 general election.
Does the hon. Lady welcome the huge investment in northern powerhouse rail and the latest proposals for the route to go through the centre of Bradford?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point; unsurprisingly, I am going to mention that later in my speech.
Just yesterday, I read with great interest that the ambitious plan for full trans-Pennine electrification is to be scaled back, with the scrapping of the line connecting Manchester to Sheffield and Leeds via the HS2 network. The north is being starved of the investment it needs to prosper. The north wants, needs and deserves full and fair funding, and transport infrastructure fit for the 21st century.
In stark contrast, in his Budget the Chancellor committed the Government to multi-billion pound public investment in transport improvements across the Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge arc. I have no quibble with investment in transport infrastructure in London and the south-east—connectivity in that region is important, too—but it should not and must not be at the expense of rebalancing the country’s economy. It should not and must not be to the disadvantage of the business community in Bradford, west Yorkshire and throughout the north. Regional business in the north deserves the Government’s attention and support just as much as the London-based business community. Indeed, the Government talk about fixing the country’s productivity problem, and the key to that is addressing regional differences. The Government have missed an opportunity to tackle that in the Bill.
Clause 19 will increase the rate of the research and development expenditure credit from 11% to 12%. I am sure that business innovators in the north will welcome that, but the one constant that I hear from business is the need for better transport infrastructure. As well as R and D, physical connectivity is crucial for industry. As a region, the north’s economic output by gross value added was £304 billion in 2014, which would make it the 10th largest economy in the EU if it were a country. As a region, though, it trails substantially behind the south-east in economic output per capita. That has to change if our nation as a whole is to prosper and our productivity is to increase.
Bradford and the north of England are in desperate need of transformational investment in their creaking railway infrastructure. Spending in the area has multiple benefits, with just two examples being the easing of congestion and the reduction of air pollution. On that last point, the Minister had an opportunity to address air pollution from vehicles by investing to make public transport better. Instead, clause 44 makes changes to vehicle excise duty and clause 9 makes changes to benefits in kind for diesel cars. Both measures seek to address vehicle emissions. Few in the House, if any, would disagree that reducing air pollution is both necessary and desirable, but I fancy that more carrot and less stick would have been welcomed by my constituents.
Tackling congestion and air pollution through a modal shift, moving more journeys from private cars to public transport, is an option, but not one currently available to my constituents. The creaking rail infrastructure that my constituents have to contend with currently makes the motor car not just a more attractive option but in many cases the only option. The Minister could have shown real determination to change that, with a commitment to investment in modern and efficient public transport systems. As I have said, the much delayed, now much diluted, partial trans-Pennine electrification would be a key first step in addressing the north’s transport woes, but it would be just that: a first step. What is really needed is a game-changer, but on that the Bill is silent.
My home city of Bradford is a leading voice in northern powerhouse rail. In recent months, in a bid to maximise the value of the project to Bradford’s economy, Bradford Council launched Next Stop Bradford in partnership with the city’s business community. Next Stop Bradford is a cross-party campaign calling for an NPR stop in Bradford. Initial research suggests that a Bradford station would bring an annual boost of £53 million pounds to the local economy, and at least £1.3 billion pounds for the region as a whole. If the media reports from over the weekend are accurate and Bradford is now included on the NPR route, that is welcome news for the Bradford economy and for my constituents.
Bradford is a growing city, with one of the youngest populations in the country. It has huge potential. As I have said in the House before, Bradford is Britain’s fifth largest local authority, with a population of 530,000 residents, and it is the biggest city in the country without a through stop connecting it directly to the intercity rail network. An NPR stop in Bradford would be a huge step change in our regional connectivity. Faster services and higher capacity would draw the region closer together, and it would connect people to jobs and businesses to new opportunities across the region and the country. The currently disconnected economies of the great cities of the north would be united. The economic opportunities would be enormous, as would the boost to this country’s productivity. This is a priority for my constituents, but a priority that is not in the Finance Bill.
During the recent Budget we learned that, as a country, we face an era of economic stagnation unseen in modern times. Wages in my home city are flat, real incomes are falling and the cost of living is rising, all of which is not helped by a 3.4% hike in rail fares from January. Crucially, productivity improvements have stalled. That point is massively important in the context of my remarks today, because arguably the single most potent driver for improving productivity is sustained investment in transport infrastructure. I ask that the Minister and this Government commit to NPR with a Bradford stop, and the resulting transformation that that will deliver.
This Finance Bill concentrates on many of the wrong priorities as far as my constituents are concerned and, importantly, does not seek to redress the economic imbalance between the north and the south.
I rise to speak in support of both the content and the intent of this Finance Bill. As I said in a previous debate, a Budget is not simply a piece of accounting but a statement of intent by the Government for the coming year. As a new Member, it was an honour to lobby and to argue on behalf of my constituents and to be able to see, on
I wish to take a moment to reiterate the key areas in which the UK Government have delivered for those of us who represent Scottish constituencies: a duty freeze for the Scotch whisky industry; a tax break for the oil and gas industry through the transferable tax history scheme; and a funding commitment to a number of city deals across Scotland, including for my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire with the Tay cities deal and the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city deal.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Chancellor removed the VAT payments for the Scottish police and fire services, which are worth an estimated £35 million to £40 million a year. That in particular should not be underestimated. The Scottish police and fire services were liable to pay VAT in the first place only due to the centralisation of the services by the Scottish National party Administration in Edinburgh. Since that centralisation, the cost to Scotland and its key services has been £140 million.
Not just now. I wish to make more progress.
That decision was made in the face of warnings. It was an entirely political decision, fuelled by the SNP’s central belt bias and obsessive power-grabbing in Edinburgh. It therefore fell to the Scottish Conservative group to fight for Scotland and to the Conservative Chancellor to rectify those extremely damaging errors inflicted on Scotland by the SNP.
Having been shown who is truly “stronger for Scotland”, the SNP has made it its mission to undermine the hard-won successes for Scotland and to dismiss the efforts of the Conservative group here in Westminster and the Conservative Government, who have helped to deliver so much for Scotland. We all know why it has done so: it does not fit in with its narrative of grievance for the Conservatives not only to act in the best interests of their constituents and to have them at heart, but to deliver on those interests.
Ahead of Thursday’s Scottish Budget, we can all safely expect the SNP Administration in Edinburgh to carry on with their shameless Westminster finger-pointing, blaming Westminster for giving them the exemption on VAT; chastising Westminster for giving them the “wrong” money; and demanding even more from the Scottish people in the form of tax increases imposed by Holyrood.
Those are all significant broad-brush statements, but I wish to go into some detail about what the measures in the Budget mean for our constituencies in Scotland. For those who are not familiar with the hugely beneficial impact of the Barnett formula in Scotland, let me explain that Scotland benefits to the tune of £1,750 per head by remaining a part of the United Kingdom. It is also worth reminding Members that, in practice, that represents a higher rate of spending per head than England and Wales. Before we get into a dispute about figures, let me tell the House that those statistics are from the SNP’s own Government expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures. In addition, we very much welcome the £600 million more that will be spent on rail, which is an increase on the last spending period.
I could not agree more, and I will go further into those dividends shortly.
The Government have delivered an additional £2 billion to Scotland in the Budget, which should be a reason to rejoice. However, they are being criticised by SNP Members. [Interruption.] The House can hear them trying to talk me down now, which is not a surprise, because no matter how high the price or how good the deal, the SNP is not satisfied. It reminds me of the Roald Dahl story, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. We have the political manifestation of Veruca Salt sat just across from us; SNP Members go from room to room, shouting what they want and demanding more and more, yet they are never satisfied. Conservative Members have heard the interests of our constituents and we have delivered for them.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the Government are actually creating far more families like Charlie Bucket’s, with old people huddling together in bed because they cannot afford to live?
I could not disagree more. More money is going directly to frontline services, and we are lowering taxes for the working families who are most in need, so the hon. Lady will see that Charlie and Grandpa are on the Government side tonight, not the SNP side.
As we look ahead to the Scottish Budget on Thursday, colleagues in this House and in Holyrood will be waiting with bated breath to learn precisely how the SNP plans to pass the additional money to local authorities for the roll-out of broadband and other key areas of investment that it has thus far undermined. To see how contradictory some of the SNP’s behaviour is, it is worth looking at how the party misuses the powers it has, refusing to pass some of the increases in the block grant to education and health funding—matters that are explicitly devolved. As we heard in the Budget, the block grant has increased to more than £31.1 billion, which is a real-terms increase over the spending review period and up from £27 billion in 2011-12. What does that mean for our constituents? Well, we have a breakdown of how devolved spending is carried out in public services, thanks to Jim Gallagher. Under the SNP, NHS Scotland is underfunded and understaffed. Health spending in Scotland has increased more slowly than in England over the past 10 years, growing by 34% compared with 50%. Per head, that translates to spending growth of 39% in England but only 28% in Scotland.
SNP Members may complain about Tory austerity, but their argument does not stack up. Her Majesty’s Treasury figures show that total health spending increased by 9% in England between 2011-12 and 2015-16, but only by 3.4% in Scotland over the same period. After 20 years of devolution and 10 years of an SNP Administration, people living in Scotland still have the lowest life expectancy in the United Kingdom. That is a damning indictment of the financial choices the SNP has taken in Holyrood with funding from this place. I could go on, but I am conscious of time.
Well, education is another area that I could touch on. Reading scores and mathematics and science results are down in Scotland since 2006. England and Northern Ireland now outperform Scotland in every category.
I will not, because I am conscious of time.
Under the SNP, more money goes in but fewer services are delivered. With a record like that, it is disappointing for Conservative Members that SNP Members stand in this Chamber and criticise what this Budget has delivered for Scotland. There is £2 billion extra for Scotland.
Yes, there is, and there is a real-terms increase, as the hon. Lady knows. There has been a whisky duty freeze, and police and fire service VAT has been returned to Scotland. Those are good things. I hope that colleagues in all parties in Holyrood can use this funding productively and work constructively so that the two levels of Scottish government can work together and deliver for their constituents.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
As my hon. Friend Peter Dowd said, this Finance Bill is testament to an out-of-touch Government with no idea of the reality of people’s lives and no plan to improve them. In the time that I have, I want to make particular reference to the lack of any apparent willingness on the Government’s part to invest in the west to east Crossrail for the north that we in the so-called northern powerhouse so desperately need and want.
In the Budget, the Chancellor made no mention of investment to improve the trans-Pennine rail route other than an announcement about improved wi-fi. As the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said, at least we will be able to text and tweet our families and friends to let them know that we will be late. It is not just northern voices saying this: Derek Robbins, senior lecturer in transport and tourism at Bournemouth University, said:
“I would…describe the lack of progress towards a modernised and reliable transPennine rail route as more than disappointing, given that it is an essential investment for future economic growth in the north.”
Labour is planning to borrow to invest, unlike this Government who borrow to cover day-to-day spending. Investment that gives higher returns than the cost of financing the extra debt makes sense. The £10 billion cost of Crossrail for the north would unlock £85 billion of additional economic growth. However, I do not believe that this Government have the imagination or the will to make the northern powerhouse anything more than just a slogan. When I asked the Secretary of State for Transport what conversations he had had with the northern powerhouse Minister about Crossrail for the north, his response was to talk about the electrification of the line from Manchester to Liverpool. That lack of response led me to believe that the answer to my question was probably none. Maybe the Secretary of State has the same problem I have encountered when trying to set up meetings with the aforementioned Minister for the northern powerhouse. I am still waiting for a response to a request for a meeting that was sent in October.
Yesterday, we witnessed a historic moment for Manchester’s rail network, with the opening of the Ordsall Chord—an £85 million scheme linking the main central Manchester stations of Victoria, Oxford Road and Piccadilly. However, our enthusiasm for this achievement was tempered somewhat by our concern over Government investment in rail in the north. For Manchester to really benefit from the Ordsall Chord, we need investment in Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations. For High Speed 2 to bring any benefit to the people of Greater Manchester, we need expansion of Piccadilly station, and that expansion must also take in and plan for HS3—Crossrail for the north. Yet the Government have indicated that Piccadilly might get only a digital upgrade, rather than the extra platforms that are needed. This decision has been met with despair from rail action groups, which have pointed out the very real need for physical capacity for more trains to go through the station, and that digital signalling is just not enough.
As I said immediately following the Budget statement, that statement was notable more for what it did not say than for what it did say. There was nothing for our police and fire services, nothing for social care, nothing for children’s services and no adequate equality impact assessment. For the last seven years, we have had nothing from this Government but missed opportunities and missed targets. The five-year austerity plan did not work; now it is the 15-year austerity plan. The Government keep missing their targets, but they keep returning to them—just with a longer timeline every single time.
This Government’s obsession with deficit reduction is at the expense of investment for our future, and it is people in the north who are losing out the most. In terms of transport spending, London has received over five times more public spending in the last five years than the north-west—hardly a country that works for everyone.
It is a pleasure to follow Liz McInnes,although I could not help but notice that her speech was almost entirely about spending, with almost nothing about raising money for that spending. The Finance Bill is about raising revenue.
If the £10 billion was spent on Crossrail for the north, it would bring revenues of £85 billion. I have talked about spending and raising money.
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s point, but I still think that she very much spoke about spending and not about the content of this Finance Bill.
Our job in this House is to make difficult decisions not just on what we spend money on but on how we raise that money—who we tax and what we tax, when we are reluctant to tax people and would much rather they had the money in their pockets to spend themselves. Our aim is to make things better for our constituents, young or old and those in between. It is not our job to make promises that cannot be kept, to write cheques that we cannot cash, and just to say things that sound nice, like massive amounts of spending, but might turn out to have nasty consequences like high unemployment. Labour Members may tell us differently, but spending that we cannot afford is not the moral high ground—it is the moral low ground.
This Finance Bill builds on the tough decisions of the Governments led by Conservative Prime Ministers over the past seven years who have reduced the deficit by 75%, while as of next year debt will fall as a share of GDP. Let us not throw that all away, as Labour Members would, with uncosted proposals and unquantified borrowing. As we heard earlier, they could not answer our questions on how much their borrowing would cost.
I think it was at least 25 times that Labour Members were asked, and still no answer other than “See if you can look it up for yourself.” Why it could not be said at the Dispatch Box, I do not know, but I fear that they are inevitably planning to pile up debt for future generations.
I welcome three things in particular. First, there is the Government’s commitment to help people on low wages. The continued increase in the personal allowance is taking people out of tax and enabling them to keep more of what they earn to spend as they need to. Alongside that, the minimum wage is rising, but at a rate that is manageable for businesses so that they do not have to lay people off in order to pay it. Policies in the Budget to increase the supply of houses should bring down rents, which, we acknowledge, have been going up far too fast. In this Bill, there is a stamp duty cut for first-time buyers to bring buying a home within reach of more families—a particular challenge for my constituency in the south-east. As Shepherd Neame brewery is the largest employer in my constituency, I should mention the very welcome freeze on beer duty, which will be good for it and good for beer drinkers across the country.
Secondly, I welcome the actions on tax avoidance and evasion to make sure that we collect more, if not all, of the tax owed. That builds on the Government’s track record in this area, as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury pointed out. Particularly in the context of my constituency, I welcome plans to cut down on online VAT evasion, with the advantages that gives to online businesses in paying VAT, because I want us to achieve a more level playing field between online businesses and those with premises such as our high street shops. Regarding the policy on landfill tax, in my area we have an ongoing problem with rogue land fillers who start off in line with the law and seem to end up not in line with it.
Thirdly, I welcome the incredibly important commitment to addressing our productivity challenge. This has been acknowledged by this Government many times—it is not suddenly news. In fact, the measures in the Budget and the Finance Bill are the product of a huge amount of work looking at how we can improve productivity—a long-running problem in this country. It is vital that we raise productivity because that means that people get more money for every hour that they work. That is the key to improving living standards and funding the public services that we want, particularly with NHS costs going up as people need and want more care. There are many factors underlying our productivity challenge. Skills are a challenge for us. There is an issue with companies investing in workers, and workers investing in themselves. It is, to some extent, a cultural challenge. One venture capital investor told me that the key difference that he notices between British and American start-ups is that it is common to see in the business plan of American start-ups investment in training for themselves as the founders of the business. He rarely sees that in British start-up companies. That is, to some extent, a cultural challenge; we do not see investing in ourselves and our skills as part of life.
We know that we lag behind other countries in the use of technology and investment in automation. One specific example is our robot density. In Japan, there are 305 robots per 10,000 employees. In Germany the figure is 301 and in the Netherlands it is 120, but in the UK it is just 71. That is just one example of where we lag behind in investment in technology and automation. We have to drive up investment in those areas, as the Finance Bill does. Such investment cannot just come from Government spending more; we have to stimulate private investment in those areas, as my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse said eloquently. We have to mobilise private capital through incentives such as the EIS, which really works. I welcome the increases in that area, which will help to ensure that more businesses start and grow in this country, to provide the jobs and the higher wages that our constituents want.
There are no easy answers; what matters is getting the right answers. We need to help people on the lowest wages to keep more of what they earn, get a fair contribution from high earners and global businesses, build a more productive economy and invest in skills and technology. We want people to have higher wages in the jobs of the future so that they can live as they aspire to.
I am pleased to be able to speak in this important debate, and to follow Helen Whately. I am speaking in support of Labour’s reasoned amendment, setting out our opposition to the Finance Bill. That includes our opposition to the £4.7 billion reduction in the banking levy while children’s services are cut, the lack of adequate equality impact assessments, the lack of provision for lifting the public sector pay cap, and the lack of provision for addressing the funding crisis in social care and our NHS. I also oppose what I see as a lack of concrete action to tackle tax avoidance and evasion properly.
There are a number of areas that I will not be able to cover, but I did not want to make a contribution without mentioning the Women Against State Pension Inequality. We in the Opposition want justice for the WASPI women. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Guy Opperman, is no longer in his place, because there will be an opportunity for the Government to do something about the matter on Thursday, after the Backbench Business Committee debate.
I am concerned that the Budget does not do enough for disabled people. I am concerned about stagnant pay and the failure to provide resources to lift the pay cap. I am concerned about the failure to provide resources for local government and the funding of our police and fire services. On housing, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said that Labour were not proposing any concrete, tangible solutions. I have been around for a few years, and I can look back at what works. Legitimate concerns have been expressed about the stamp duty proposals, which are feared to be the wrong solution. My understanding is that 40% of council houses that were sold under the right to buy are now in private ownership and, on average, rents in the private sector are twice those for council houses in the social housing sector. That costs this nation £10 billion—not as a one-off, but each and every year.
Surely a sensible person would say that in those circumstances, we should be building many more social houses. The Government’s target is, I believe, about 200,000 or 250,000 houses a year—[Interruption.] It is 300,000; I am grateful for that sedentary intervention. The last time we got anywhere near that was in 1973. As I am sure Members will recall, that is the year that Sunderland won the FA cup. Ian Porterfield scored the goal, and Jimmy Montgomery made a marvellous double save from Trevor Cherry and Peter Lorimer. In 1973, 100,000 council houses were built. That is the scale and magnitude of the challenge we face, and the Government should take that into account.
Like several of my hon. Friends, I want to concentrate, in the short time I have, on making the case for more investment in integrated transport networks, particularly in the north-east—we have heard about the north-west; I want to put the case for the north-east. The Budget is the time when the Government make political choices, and they should be held to account. I acknowledge that the Government have announced an investment in the Metro on Tyneside, which is certainly important, but the Metro is 40 years old, and the investment is to replace the rolling stock.
I represent the constituency of Easington, and I would love to see the Metro extended to the hinterland of Tyne and Wear, providing opportunities for expansion to towns such as Seaham and Peterlee in my constituency. That would naturally promote economic growth in the north, help to join up communities, and allow access to jobs in places such as Sunderland, Gateshead and Newcastle.
I know Ministers like to have an evidence base, and I draw their attention to an excellent Library publication, “Transport Spending by Region”, published just last month. It gives transport spending totals overall, with the margin of discrepancy, with population factored in, between investment in the north-east and London. Overall, there is 10 times more investment in London and four times more in the south-east than in the north-east, while for railways there is 20 times more investment in London and five times more in the south-east. They say there is a big investment in the Metro system, but we have to recognise that, in the five years from 2011 to 2016, there has been a massive lack of investment. We have had terrible under-investment during that period.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about the disparity in investment, but he might be interested to know that the moneys from central Government are very similar across the country. What lies behind those figures is the ability of London to leverage in private sector and local authority investment, because those local authorities also get a much better deal.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I am sure that what he says is true. I have had conversations about the nature of the very large-scale transport infrastructure investments that are, in effect, self-funding, and I think we should apply those principles. I was a great fan of the documentaries about opening up the west with the railways, in which Michael Portillo argued that investment was not put into the existing cities on the east coast, but into the west, to open it up and bring in jobs and investment. There is an enormous case for doing that.
I want to speak briefly about the A19, which is vital to the economic health and wellbeing of my constituency. However, it is a dangerous road, and at this time of year it is a nightmare for people travelling on it. I want the Government to future-proof our regional transport infrastructure. There are multiple housing developments in my constituency, which will create tens of thousands of more vehicles and journeys in my area. We want to encourage new businesses to locate on the A19 corridor, but the road is already too dangerous and not fit for purpose.
If Ministers do not believe me—I do not have a Library paper to support this—I urge them to google the A19, and they will find a whole list of terrible headlines. One, about an “11-CAR pileup on the A19”, is from the Daily Mail. They may be more inclined to believe that newspaper than the Sunderland Echo, which has reported this afternoon that the A19 has reopened after a six-vehicle crash near Seaham in my constituency brought traffic to a standstill. They will find a whole list of accidents and crashes.
The Government need to future-proof our transport infrastructure, and the Budget is an opportunity to do that. There is the possibility of investment north of Nissan, linked to the automotive hub, and in my constituency, preparatory work has begun on a 55-acre industrial park, the Jade Park development, adjacent to the A19. I welcome the fact that that will bring new, bespoke manufacturing jobs and a variety of others, but the failure of the A19 will make it more difficult to attract future businesses. If we are to accommodate new developments, I urge the Government use the Budget to take action.
The A19 is one of the principal economic drivers in my constituency. It is vital for manufacturing, export-focused businesses such as Caterpillar, NSK and, until it closes the week before Christmas, Walkers crisps. The lack of investment, maintenance and upgrading of that vital economic highway is holding back business in my constituency. I have raised the issue several times: I have tabled questions and even an early-day motion, but we need the Government to recognise the problem. They need foresight; they need to realise the value of investment, try to future-proof our economy, and support our regional development.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on my business background, and I am also vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking. I want to focus on the latter in the short time that the Whips have allocated to me this evening.
Productivity was an important element in the Budget, and it is the key to improving living standards. However, as the Budget also states, competition is the key to driving productivity. The Budget addresses that in many different areas, particularly through access to finance. It deals with those who cannot currently access finance.
However, there are two sectors of the business community: those who cannot and those who will not access finance. The £20 billion investment in patient capital, the doubling of EIS relief—I have benefited and suffered from my investments in EIS; I declare an interest there, too—and challenger banks are all positive moves in the right direction when it comes to opening up finance to small and medium-sized enterprises.
There are also difficulties in terms of people who will not borrow. Some people do not want to borrow because they want to run a certain type of business, perhaps a lifestyle business. In the UK, we are good at start-ups. We are at the top of the league table in Europe for the number of start-up businesses. However, we are well down the league table—13th out of 18—in scale-ups. There is a problem in moving from start-up to scale-up, and some people will not borrow because they are worried about experiences—sometimes their own—of borrowing from banks.
We have seen an example of that in the Royal Bank of Scotland and Global Restructuring Group scandal, in which viable businesses were totally inappropriately taken away. Not all businesses that went through that scheme were viable, but around 16% were, according to Promontory, which undertook the independent report into the GRG scandal, yet the businesses were taken away. This is about not just financial, but human cost. Somebody’s life’s work in starting and building a business has been totally inappropriately taken away from them. The human cost is huge; sometimes it is the ultimate cost.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is terrible that more than half of small businesses fail in the first five years, largely due to lack of capital investment, as he says? Does he agree that it is time for more radical ideas, as Kit Malthouse said, and that Labour’s proposal for a business investment bank would help those companies?
Businesses fail for many reasons. Business is an extremely risky undertaking—I have been in business most of my life—which is why we should pay tribute to all people who take the step forward to create wealth and jobs. I accept that we need to find more different and innovative ways to get finance to business start-ups and scale-ups.
Business banking is unregulated. If a bank acts inappropriately, it is usually far too wealthy for an individual or business to sue. To rectify that problem, we need an independent redress scheme for businesses. I have a constituent who was mis-sold an interest rate hedging product that resulted in him paying £18,000 a month in interest payments from a relatively small business. It was put into receivership. The bank eventually compensated him for the mis-selling of the product, but did not compensate him for the business he lost. That cannot be right. The Government propose expanding the financial ombudsman scheme to deal with the problem, but that will not be enough.
We need an extension of the tribunal system, similar to the employment tribunals, so that small businesses can seek redress without going to the huge cost of suing a bank in the courts. Financial services tribunals already exist, but for the wholesale markets. We need to expand that system to bring in SMEs, so that judges preside over cases, instead of us having a cosy internal system involving ex-bankers who now work in a different part of the sector. Such a system would be low cost and funded by the banks. It would increase confidence in the banking system and, crucially, result in banks lending more money, because people would have confidence in the system. I hope the Minister will look at the financial services tribunals. I am meeting the Economic Secretary in January to discuss this in more detail, but I believe it is one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw when it comes to improving productivity. I welcome the many measures in the Budget and will support the Bill this evening.
The Chancellor’s Budget speech set out the serious state of our economy, including on the key issue of productivity, as Members on both sides have agreed. Our productivity is now 29% lower than Germany’s. It grew by only 0.2% in 2016 and not at all in 2017. It is serious when the OBR is saying that there are few signs of recovery and that the recent weakness will prove more enduring. Surely this is the time when the Government need a big plan to improve our productivity.
We already have the lowest GDP growth of any OECD country except for Portugal and Greece. Household incomes have fallen 6% compared with inflation, and we are now predicted to have another decade of falling incomes. It is no wonder that household debt is rising and 8.3 million people are now in problem debt. Added to the lack of productivity, we now have the lowest Government investment of any OECD country except for Portugal and Greece. That leads to increased Government borrowing for which we see nothing in return. Last year £52 billion more was borrowed, and it is £60 billion more this year. The OBR’s prediction of lower productivity growth will add another £26 billion to borrowing. That is the cost of the Government’s policy of austerity that is hurting but not working.
Our national debt is now nearly £2 trillion, which is nearly 90% of GDP and higher than that in both Germany and France, although it was lower in 2010. In spite of biting austerity, we see lower growth, lower productivity and lower Government investment. It is no wonder our productivity is so low when we now have the longest commuting times in Europe and the most expensive privatised public transport. Some 3.7 million workers spend more than two hours a day travelling to work. The average travel time of almost an hour is the highest in Europe. That adds to our people’s misery and our lack of productivity, but still we see no investment for a Crossrail of the north. East midlands rail electrification has been cut. Even the small improvement of dualling the track on sidings in my constituency to speed up journey times between Manchester and Sheffield—fully funded by Network Rail—has been stuck with the Department for Transport for four years. We await a decision on half a kilometre of track to make small improvements to our productivity, and our freight and transport times.
The Bill does nothing to help public services that are crying out for proper support. It does nothing for our public servants who are suffering under an unfair pay cap. It does nothing for the people suffering £1,000 of cuts to tax credits since 2010, with another £4.6 billion due to be cut under universal credit, or the 1 million more children due to be in poverty by 2020. The Bill does nothing to reverse those trends, nothing to support public services and nothing for hard-working people. Yes, we have seen 3 million extra jobs, but we have also seen zero-hours contracts, short-hours contracts and 3.7 million working people in poverty. That does not help our economy.
The Bill is a wasted opportunity. It continues to reduce corporation tax—it is now down to 19%, which is less than the rate of income tax—and creates a false impetus for creative accounting. The reduction in corporation tax for the largest companies does not go to the workers, despite what the Government promised when they kept cutting it. From my time negotiating with the shopworkers’ union, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, I know that the reductions in company accounts for corporation tax are far greater than the amount that goes in extra pay for workers. Instead of the handouts to large companies with over £1.5 million a year of profit that we have seen over the past seven years, Members on both sides of the House agree that it is smaller companies that need investment. I refer to Labour’s proposals for a business investment bank to borrow to invest in the companies that drive our productivity and growth. Instead, only four in 10 small companies survive for five years. They have been hit by the rise in VAT and business rates, cuts to regional development funds, and the lack of investment in our infrastructure.
The Government introduced austerity in 2010 and immediately strangled Britain’s economy, which was starting to grow again. Since then, they have borrowed nearly £1 trillion more, cutting and cutting. As my hon. Friend Peter Dowd said, a nation’s economy is like a business: it needs investment to grow. Any respectable businessperson will tell you, “You can’t cut your way out of a recession.” The Government would do well to learn that lesson.
We needed a big plan for Britain. The Bill is like shuffling the deckchairs while our economy continues to sink. Those of us on the Opposition Benches have plenty of ideas, but it is typical of this Government’s attitude that they will not allow the Bill to be amended, they will not let the whole House vote on those ideas and they will not let Britain’s economy grow.
I rise to welcome the Bill. It continues the Government’s prudent financial management that has delivered growth, reduced the deficit, and reduced unemployment to its lowest level not just in my lifetime, but since before I was born. This prudent management has allowed us to invest in our public services such as the national health service. There is perhaps no public service so dear to the heart of the British people than the NHS. As a consultant paediatrician, I have worked in the NHS for the past 15 to 20 years. I have seen the very important work done by its staff on a daily basis.
The Government’s investment of £2.8 billion to 2019-20, and another £10 billion in capital investment to upgrade buildings and facilities, is extremely welcome, but that money is not just about numbers. It will save lives, improve people’s care and help us to achieve many of the targets that have been set, such as reducing stillbirths and equilibrating mental and physical healthcare. It will allow us to buy the most up-to-date diagnostic equipment, such as 3T scanners for magnetic resonance imaging, and the very newest and best medical drugs. It will ensure that the locally designed plans of sustainability and transformation partnerships have the investment that they need.
We all know that in winter the NHS is under more pressure than it is during the summer, especially given the change in the demographic of our country as people become relatively older. I therefore welcome the £350 million in the Budget that will give an extra boost to the health service—not next year, but now—by giving doctors, nurses and allied health professionals access to the resources that they need to save lives this winter. It is important to ensure that the money is well spent, and I have every confidence that our Secretary of State will ensure that it is. It needs to be spent in areas where it will directly improve patient care.
My hon. Friend is making good comments about investment in the NHS. Will she join me in welcoming additional funds to support mental health services in schools, which will benefit young people by helping them to secure the best start in life and to deal with the challenges in their lives?
I certainly will. As a children’s doctor, I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people who are admitted to hospital because they have taken an overdose or self-harmed. When I was a very junior doctor, a senior house officer, a young person would be admitted on a Friday—it was usually on a Friday—who had been in such severe mental distress that he or she had taken an overdose or self-harmed in some other way. Now it is normal to see children—sometimes several—admitted to the ward every day with similar symptoms. This investment cannot come soon enough to ensure that every one of those young people is given the best possible care. As my hon. Friend said, we must ensure that it is translated into care that makes people feel better.
We must bear in mind that care is not just provided by frontline staff. People often say that we need to get rid of managers and administration, but we should not forget that secretarial support for clinicians is particularly important. None of us wants letters to be sent by secretaries weeks after they were dictated, which is something that I have experienced during my clinical career.
We need to measure outcomes. It is important for us to know how many patients we have treated, how effective their treatments were, and how long people are waiting so that we know how best to direct the funds that we have to the areas that will make the greatest difference to our constituents. We also need to avoid spending large amounts on recording and measuring so that we can spend it on treating and diagnosing.
With the advent of GP at Hand, digital taxation and online access to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, more and more of our life has entered the online world, so I welcome the Government’s investment in technology of £500 million to ensure that our economy is fit for the future. They have invested in artificial intelligence and 5G, for instance.
Given my hon. Friend’s experience of the NHS, I should be interested to hear how that £500 million investment in future technologies could benefit the health service in the future.
I shall give an example from my constituency. United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust is considering setting up a body to look at how best to deliver rural care, examining ideas such as using Skype to have consultations with people who might otherwise have to travel a long distance. There are also the possibilities of using telemedicine to monitor patients’ blood pressure, for example, while they are in the community. In such ways, we can ensure that we deliver the best possible care using very modern technology.
Does my hon. Friend agree that all these opportunities to reduce the cost of providing health services in rural areas mean we also need to invest in superfast broadband and digital networks to make sure that people can actually receive this kind of new innovative care?
My hon. Friend brings me to my next point. These investments are welcome, but we also need to invest for those people who are currently receiving poor service. Church Lane in Kirkby-la-Thorpe in my constituency has among the lowest broadband speeds in the entire country. In some parts of this country, downloading a film takes longer than flying from London to Sydney. There are children in that area who are unable to do their homework, while shopping is impossible and dealing with tax online is difficult. The Government have invested strongly in this, and now over 90% of people have access to superfast broadband, but I urge them to take any steps they possibly can as soon as possible to ensure that those few remaining homes that cannot yet do so can receive superfast broadband and are connected to this vital utility which, as my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake said, will be vital for the provision of healthcare.
People in rural communities face long travelling distances when they go from their home to school or work. That is why I welcome the Chancellor’s freezing of the fuel duty for the eighth consecutive year. This is the longest such freeze for 40 years.
My hon. Friend is making many excellent points. Does she agree that there is a link between the point she has just made about broadband and what she is saying about long travelling distances? The quicker the broadband speed, the shorter the distance anyone will have to go to work, because instead of having to go to an office, they might just have to go from their kitchen to their living room.
It is indeed true that slow broadband speeds can be a challenge for people running businesses in rural areas.
The freezing of fuel duty means that the average car driver in the UK is £850 better off since 2010, which is not an insignificant amount, while the average van driver is £2,100 better off. Therefore, through this measure, the Government are supporting hard-working families and small businesses, particularly in rural areas.
The economy of our kingdom largely turns on the wheels of white van man. The initiative the hon. Lady speaks in support of is critical to ensuring that our economy moves forward. I would welcome further reductions in that tax.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
Finally, I welcome the £668,000 the Government have given through LIBOR grant to the International Bomber Command Centre in my constituency. Bomber Command No. 166 Squadron suffered the highest losses of any allied forces unit during world war two, with an attrition rate of 44%. The centre will open next year, the year of RAF100, which is a good time for it to open in terms of remembrance. It will serve as a point for the recognition and remembrance of the sacrifice of people from 62 nations around the globe, 57,861 of whom lost their lives saving the future for us and our children and grandchildren.
The International Bomber Command Centre will record for the future the memories of those who served in Bomber Command. They include people such as 92-year-old William Leslie Anderson, my constituent and relative through marriage. He served as a flight engineer in No. 166 Squadron. A flight engineer works not only on the planes on the ground to ensure that they are fit for take-off, but with the pilot throughout the flight and then again preparing the aeroplane once it is back on the ground. People such as Mr Anderson worked hard to secure our future, and it is important that we think about the future of those who will go ahead. That is why I reject completely the Labour party’s plans to spend, spend, spend. It is our children, our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children who would pay the debt interest on such ever-increasing spending plans.
We have asked Labour Members so many times today—perhaps 25 or 26 times—how much their plans would cost, but still we have had no answer—[Interruption.] I appreciate that we have had an answer. We have been told that we can look it up on the internet, but I would like to know which page and document to look at, please, because I have not been able to find it.
It certainly does sound horrific. Spending money might sound lovely now, but we would be spending the money of our children, and it is they who would suffer for it.
We were asked earlier to look things up on the internet, so I looked up something about universal credit. It turns out that £2 billion has been set aside for universal credit but, according to the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the £1.5 billion set aside by the Chancellor in the Budget represents only £1 in £10 that needs to be put in, therefore creating a £13.5 billion black hole. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is unacceptable?
I do, and that is why I will be supporting the Finance Bill today. It is good for my constituents and it will ensure that we have an economy that is fit for the future.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in support of this critically important Finance Bill. I listened with a great deal of interest to Peter Dowd, as I do at every opportunity. I am sure that we will have many more such opportunities in our careers. He came up with a long list of things that he was dissatisfied with in the Government’s approach to this country’s finances. Unfortunately, he missed out certain things that he really ought to have mentioned, and I would like to take this opportunity to list the things in the Bill that he ought to have praised and welcomed.
The first is the jobs miracle. Unemployment is at a 43-year low. Unlike my hon. Friend Dr Johnson, I had actually been born 43 years ago, but I definitely do not remember the figures. Everyone up and down the country—including my constituents in Redditch—is currently benefiting from record high levels of employment, enabling them to work and bring home money for their families. They have a pay packet at the end of the week, and they have secure long-term jobs and the prospect of fulfilling their potential in life. I welcome that, and it is a shame that the hon. Member for Bootle does not.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, which we discussed in another debate recently. I made it clear at the time that an apprenticeship is not right for every woman, but it may be right for some. This Government have set their face against ageism. If someone wants to work and they are 60, 61, 62, 65 or even 70, they can still contribute. Some Members on the Government Benches are older, and they are still contributing and doing an excellent job. We should stand against discrimination, because ageism and sexism together are a toxic combination. Indeed, if my constituents see fit to re-elect me, I hope to be in the House when I am 65, 66, 67 and maybe even 70 or 75.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way one more time. I went to see my local WASPI group on Saturday morning, and I ask her to go and speak to WASPI women in her constituency to see whether they think it is sexist or discriminatory to promote apprenticeships to them. I can assure her that they are not happy at the suggestion.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I assure him that I have spoken to WASPI women in my constituency, and I have spoken to many other women of that age or older who have welcomed my comments.
The next thing that the hon. Member for Bootle omitted from his long list is that 31 million people have seen a tax cut during this Government’s time in office, meaning that people take home more of what they earn—more hard-earned money in their pocket at the end of the week.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has reminded me of that excellent point. He is absolutely right. This Government understand how jobs are created. That is a serious point, because jobs are created when businesses grow and risk their hard-earned savings—[Interruption.] Dawn Butler is talking to me from a sedentary position. Does she want to intervene?
Besides my being offended by the use of the term “miracle”, which does not describe anything that the hon. Lady has described, I want to say that many businesses are not investing due to Brexit. Are zero-hours contracts included in her “miracle”?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, in which she makes two broad points. This Bill is not about Brexit, so she will forgive me if I leave it to my esteemed colleagues to discuss that, but we recognise that it will have an impact. Does she realise that it is what the country voted for? My constituents voted for Brexit, and the Prime Minister and the Government are getting on and delivering it. The Government actually have a plan for Brexit, but the Opposition Front Benchers seem to have changed their plans several times in the past day—maybe even in the past hour—and I do not think that their constituents really understand what their plan is.
I will now move on to discuss zero-hours contracts.
If the figures that I have read are correct, only 2.8% of people in employment in the UK are on zero-hours contracts, which is a very small percentage. The opportunity to take up flexible working of that nature is important to some people.
I thank my hon. Friend for his characteristically direct and pertinent intervention. In my previous career I was a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the industry expert on the world of work. The CIPD has carried out many studies on zero-hours contracts, and it recognises that the vast majority of people on such contracts have taken them by choice.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Matthew Taylor has clearly stated that banning zero-hours contracts is completely the wrong thing to do. The Conservative party wants everybody to have good work in a decent job with secure working conditions, which is why we commissioned Matthew Taylor to carry out his report. As my hon. Friend, a fellow member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, says, this is an incredibly important issue. The Taylor report is a detailed piece of work that looks at the rights of employees, the self-employed and workers to make sure that everybody’s rights are protected, because no business should be afraid of treating people well and giving people a decent job. That is what this Government are doing.
My hon. Friend is being extraordinarily generous with her time. Like her, I enjoyed the speech of Peter Dowd, although I did not agree with all of it. He says that there is nothing in the Bill for low-paid workers. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to remind him that there is a tax cut for 31 million workers, from which low-paid workers will benefit.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He reminds us that, in fact, there are a lot of measures in the Bill that will help low-paid workers in our country. He mentions the tax cut and how people are being taken out of tax, but what he did not say is that the increase in the personal allowance next year will mean that, in 2018-19, a typical taxpayer will pay at least £1,075 less tax than in 2010-11.
I explain to Labour Members that taking someone out of tax is the same as giving them a pay rise, because they get to keep more of their money. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bootle is laughing—perhaps he would like to intervene.
I remind my hon. Friend that Scotland is the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. Scottish National party Members will keep me right, but they are minded to alter the tax band and take more money from the pockets of those who are working hard. Does she agree that that is not the best way forward for the economy of Scotland?
My hon. Friend is completely right. He reminds us of why we see so many Conservative Members representing Scotland, and I am proud to sit with them. Even though I have a Scottish surname, I am not from Scotland, but I love that part of our country. I am delighted that the Scottish people have Conservative representatives fighting for low tax.
I like the logic of the hon. Lady’s analogy about giving people a tax cut and giving them a pay rise. Does she therefore agree with me that, by her logic, giving the bankers a cut in their levy is the biggest pay rise in this Budget?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman made his intervention, because I would like to set the record straight. The Labour party talks a lot about banks. Shall we remind ourselves that it was the Labour party and Ed Balls—its former shadow Chancellor—who created the light-touch regime that led to the crashing of our entire economy? Millions of people were thrown out of their jobs; they lost their jobs and were in poverty because of the decisions of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I was not in the House at that time, but I am certain one of my Front-Bench colleagues will pick up on that point in the wind-up. What I do know is that we are imposing more measures on the banks. We are bringing in more measures in this Finance Bill, which is collecting more money from the banks. We are clamping down on that regime—that lax regulation—that led to the banking crash, which put thousands of people out of their jobs, crashed the economy and led to a lot of the problems that we see today in our country. I find it astonishing that Labour Members talk so much about the banks and what they would do. They say that they are the party for the many and not for the few, but it is actually the Conservative party that has done more for the many, getting them into work, getting jobs for people and creating an environment in which businesses can flourish.
Let us just look at the facts—let us just look at the businesses that have started up under this Government. These are businesses backed by entrepreneurs—wealth creators—who are creating jobs for people to feed their families. We asked the hon. Member for Bootle many times to explain how he was going to pay for his policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said that we had asked 26 times—it might be 27, 28 or 29, I am not sure—but he cannot do this. That is why people in Redditch, and people up and down the country, are terrified of the idea of a Government led by—
Does my hon. Friend think Labour Members are not answering this question about how much their spending plans would cost because they do not know or because they do not want the public to know what the answer is?
My hon. Friend is completely right and I fear that it may be a combination of the two issues. We know that Labour Members have been questioned on this point many times by journalists and usually their answer is, “Well, that’s not for us to say.” I do not know why it is not for them to say. Do Members not think the ordinary voter has a right to know what Labour would cut to pay for its policies? We have just heard from the hon. Member for Bootle that he is going to scrap tuition fees and renationalise all the industries, and yet he still says that all he is doing is—
I referred earlier to “Freeing Britain to Compete”, and I have the reference here on my iPad. It said that we claimed
“that this regulation is all necessary. They seem to believe that without it banks could steal our money, bakers would put nails in our bread…and builders would construct houses that fell down when the wind blew.”
Does the hon. Lady agree that they might not have blown down but they burned down because of deregulation?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I fear that the combination of the Labour Front-Bench team would be a lot, lot worse for our banks and for our country. Let us just look at the record, because he has mentioned that a few times. Under this Government banks are paying 58% more tax than under Labour. In 2016-17, the banking sector paid £27.3 billion in corporation tax, which represents an increase of £2.9 billion. That is going to pay for an awful of hospitals and schools, for the police service, and for roads and sanitation in our constituencies. It is certainly going to pay for a lot more of those things in Redditch.
I remind the hon. Member for Bootle that the average amount paid by the banks every year under the Conservative party is 13% higher than it was under Labour. HMRC data shows that the average annual amount of tax paid by the banking sector between 2010-11 and 2016-17 was £23.2 billion.
In conclusion, this Government and Conservative Members represent the true party for the many working people up and down this country.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean, whose impassioned speech took in so many detailed points with respect to the Opposition Front-Bench team. It was a forensic dissection of their economic policy from which they will struggle to recover for months and years.
This is a Budget and Finance Bill that the people of Witney and West Oxfordshire will warmly welcome. It is strategic and finely focused on the challenges that the country faces. Moreover, it operates within a constrained and careful financial climate. The Government understand the requirement for sensible fiscal policy. They understand that it is not possible simply to promise endless spending without any idea of how it will be paid for. They do not think it is simply a matter of appealing to certain groups by promising them whatever it is suggested might be wished for at the time. The Government take a sensible, practical attitude—one of financial probity and, one might even say, prudence, a concept that was once respected and beloved by the Labour party. For all those reasons, I welcome the Bill, which forensically and strategically identifies the challenges the country faces and puts in place methods and means by which to combat them.
I start my brief remarks by looking at the positives achieved by the Government and their predecessors since 2010. It is worth repeating this because it is an extraordinary record, and I hope very much that the Minister will repeat some of it, if he thinks these achievements are worthy of repeating. We have an extraordinary financial and economic record. The Government have achieved an economy that has grown by 15.8% since 2010. The deficit has been cut by two thirds and debt is scheduled to start to fall next year.
Does my hon. Friend, like me, welcome the fact that at the same time as the economy has been growing the tax system has been made more progressive so that the top 1% now pay 27% of the entire tax revenue—
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point that we have not heard often enough. We should absolutely keep making the point that although we hear talk of a progressive tax system from the Opposition, we see action from the Government. The 1% of highest earners now pay 28% of tax. That proportion is higher than it ever was under Labour. That is a record to be proud of. It is real progressive, practical politics from the Conservative Government.
My hon. Friend quite rightly talks about the progressive nature of the tax regime that has been very carefully fostered by this Conservative Government. Is he aware that, for the Scottish Budget this Thursday, the Liberal Democrats in Scotland are proposing to increase income tax on people who earn £18,000 a year? Can he tell me what he thinks about the progressive nature of such a suggestion from the Liberal Democrats in Scotland?
That is a horrifying suggestion. I am not surprised that that is the attitude of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, because it is one that we see in many parts of this House—from those who do not understand that when we raise taxation on the lowest paid, it means that those people have less money in their pockets, which reduces their ability to make the decisions that they need to make with regard to themselves, their family and their life chances. When we take money away from people, we remove their freedom of action, their freedom of manoeuvre and the investment choices that they may make for their children. It is a totally unprogressive attitude.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the change by this Government in the manner, timing and way in which VAT is paid by small companies up and down the country has been significant and progressive, and has been welcomed by hundreds and thousands of businessmen and women?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very, very good point. As chairman of the all-party group for small and micro business, that is something that is very close to my heart and the hearts of those for whom I endeavour to speak in Parliament. That matter has been a concern. I know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned on it, as have I and many others. The simplification of the VAT regime and the ability to pay online will streamline the tax process for small businesses. I am grateful to the Government for the action that they have taken in ensuring that that burden is not too onerous.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a Government who are cracking down on and taking serious, practical and effective measures against tax evasion. What we hear from the Opposition are measures that will drive businesses and investment abroad. They will not invest in the businesses that we need to help grow the economy and grow jobs. What we see from the Government is effective management of the economy, and what we see from the Opposition is, as my hon. Friend quite rightly said, fantasy. The irony is that their measures will destroy jobs, destroy the economy, destroy productivity and destroy the tax revenues on which our public services depend. The policies from the Opposition will mean less, not more, for the public services.
As my hon. Friend is explaining so clearly, when we lower taxes on small businesses, we raise more money—in fact £20 billion more, which is a significant investment.
I will not give way, as I wish to make some progress in the short time that I have available to me.
I have highlighted the positive attributes and achievements of this Government. There is a range of Budget measures that I am particularly pleased to see, including: the establishment of the National Productivity Investment Fund; the increase in the national living wage; and the rise in the personal allowance, all of which are progressive policies designed to help the lowest paid. I am particularly pleased to see the new house building measures. Homes are what we need to ensure that people in this country have somewhere to live, somewhere that is of high quality, and somewhere that they can afford. I am pleased to see the stamp duty measures, and measures in relation to skills and research and development.
Recently, I was lucky enough to visit Johnstone Safety Products in my constituency in Minster Lovell. It is based in an old mill in the heart of the Cotswolds country, a beautiful, bucolic area. When a visitor arrives at this old mill, what they will see is a thriving factory. When they go around, they see robots churning out up to 40% of the safety products for above neck height. When we see how the world’s market depends on that business in my Witney constituency, we realise quite how important it is to rely on research and development and the robots, which are bringing manufacturing jobs back to this country. They are not taking jobs away from this country because those jobs would not exist without that technology. In the heart of rural West Oxfordshire is a thriving economy based on manufacturing. That is just one of the great many things that the Budget has brought to my constituency and, indeed, to the whole country.
I welcome the air quality measures in the Budget. If I may, I will concentrate on Oxfordshire for just one or two moments more. I very much welcome the £150 million of infrastructure money—£30 million of capital funding a year for five years—that has been promised, and the £60 million for affordable homes. We have heard from my hon. Friend Dr Johnson that LIBOR funding is going to her constituency. West Oxfordshire has also been the beneficiary of LIBOR funding. I am glad, Mr Speaker, that you have resumed the Chair because you will remember me recently mentioning ZANE: Zimbabwe a National Emergency, and Tom Benyon. Well, that charity has received £1.3 million in LIBOR funding, which is going towards 583 Commonwealth servicemen looked after by ZANE. In addition, RAF Brize Norton has been given £250,000 for renovations.
There are so many things in the Budget, and I could go on; I wish I could. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] I am delighted that the entire House is so keen to hear me continue to speak, but I will now draw my remarks to a conclusion.
I rise to make a few remarks in support of the Bill, which addresses fundamental issues on which the Government are doing the right things. The public finances are not in a state where we can take them for granted. Although much progress has been made on the deficit, there is still much to be done and there is certainly no room for complacency.
I turn briefly to the subject that I mentioned in an intervention a little earlier: the need to keep taxes low. By doing so, we allow people to spend more of their hard-earned money as they wish. That is something that the Scottish Government should learn as they put the final touches to their Budget on Thursday. If they raise taxes, they hurt people’s ability to make decisions for themselves, and we all know that people are capable of making decisions for themselves. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce as recently as last Thursday told the First Minister to her face that the last thing that Scotland’s businesses and economy need is a reputation for being the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom. She will ignore the voice of Scotland’s businesses at her peril and at the peril of Scotland’s economic future.
I have to leave later this evening to get back to my constituency so that I can have a tooth removed tomorrow morning. I am expecting that to be immensely painful, and in the last few moments I might have had a foretaste of what I will experience tomorrow.
The debate has made clearer than ever the tunnel vision of this Government, who are carrying on regardless, ignoring call after call to change economic course. Just as with the Budget, this Bill is not fit for purpose and not fit for the future. It falls woefully short of preparing the country for the challenges it faces: from the chaotic no-deal Brexit that this Government still will not rule out to the longest squeeze on wages since Napoleonic times; from record rates of child poverty to our slowdown in productivity, which is unique among comparator countries; and from what was, in the first half of this year, the third slowest GDP growth in the whole OECD to the huge regional disparities in investment that were set out with crystal clarity by my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for Easington (Grahame Morris) and for High Peak (Ruth George).
Mr Speaker, thank you very much for selecting our amendment, which I am formally moving because the official Opposition cannot accept the Bill as it stands. First, it does not provide measures to comprehensively lift the public sector pay cap. We will have to wait until next summer to ascertain even whether the conditional rises suggested by the Government will be put into place. Nor does it take action to boost the incomes of low and middle earners. As was powerfully argued by my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), such incomes have stagnated in recent years.
The change in the Bill to stamp duty will, according to the OBR, only increase house prices in the absence of action to decisively increase supply—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but that is the assessment of the OBR. I have read its assessment: the measure will fail to deal with our housing crisis in the absence of measures to increase supply—the kind of measures described so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington. In that regard, I would add to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West, in that there is no action to promote alternative business forms. There is no action in the Bill to deal with the inequitable situation where some housing co-ops are facing higher rates of stamp duty than private housing providers.
The Bill also fails to reverse the Government’s 2015 cut to the bank levy, as so many of my hon. Friends have said. The Government are denying themselves £4.7 billion of tax revenues from banks over five years. As many have mentioned, the Bill also further reduces the scope of the bank levy. As we all know, that follows the Government’s decision to deny themselves yet more revenue by reducing the rates of corporation tax and income tax for the very best-off. Contrary to the Minister’s claims, the bank levy and the surcharge receipts are projected to fall under the Government’s plans from £4.6 billion in 2016 to £3.2 billion in 2022-23. Even I can calculate that that is a 30% fall from both those measures combined, so less money is coming from the banking sector, not more.
As my hon. Friend Peter Dowd set out, these tax cuts occur while experts are warning that children’s services are strained to breaking point after seven years of budget cuts. For example, we have seen the halving of funding for early intervention, despite the number of child protection plans doubling.
We have heard concerning details about local pressures on services, particularly from my hon. Friend Steve McCabe. That hardly amounts to the Government following the principles of social responsibility, which the Financial Secretary said animated the Government.
This is at a time when the meagre measures in the Bill show, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow eloquently argued, that the Government have not learned the lessons of the Paradise papers. She mentioned a number of examples and I will throw in one of my own. In the previous Finance Bill, the Government restricted the tax deductibility of interest payments to intra-group companies, albeit taking the most permissive option offered by the OECD rather than tightening up significantly. That measure at least followed the OECD’s call for profit shifting to be counteracted. In clause 21 of this Bill, in contrast, we see not an attempt to counteract profit shifting, but instead just a new approach to assessing its value—incoherence!
That is compounded by the Government’s determination to push ahead with the restructuring of HMRC, which is leading to the loss of so many experienced staff at the very time when we desperately need them to protect Government revenues and to run our customs procedures. Staff numbers at HMRC and the Valuation Office Agency have plummeted by 17% between 2010 and the present day, and we heard just last week that the VOA will be cut even further. Its headcount will go down by a quarter at the same time as there are 200,000 outstanding appeals and valuations will be occurring more frequently.
In contrast to the Government’s giveaways to profitable corporations and the best-off taxpayers, the brunt of their cuts have, of course, fallen on those least able to afford them. Sadly, despite requests from a variety of people on both sides of the House for an equality impact assessment of the Finance Bill, which have been amplified by the Treasury and the Women and Equalities Committees, we still do not have one. Just last week, when the Chancellor was asked in the Treasury Committee about the existence of an equality impact assessment by my hon. Friend Alison McGovern, he had to ask a civil servant—and I use his phrase—“Do we have it?” The answer that came back, after some circumlocution, I took as, “No.” That response was frankly astonishing. It comes at the same time as a recent report by the Runnymede Trust and the Women’s Budget Group shows that as a result of tax and benefit changes and lost services since 2010, by 2020 it is the poorest families who will lose the most, with an average drop in living standards of about 17%. Lone parents, nine out of 10 of them lone mothers, and black and Asian households within the lowest income quintile will experience an average drop in their living standards of about a fifth.
Sadly, it seems as though the Government are unaware of these failings, since they have not introduced this Bill under an amendment of the law resolution. This flawed decision, as Kirsty Blackman indicated, limits Members’ ability to table amendments and thereby improve the Bill. As with the increased use of secondary legislation under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the previous Finance Bill, we are again seeing reduced scrutiny and less ability for the House to debate very significant matters that our constituents rightly expect us to be able to influence in their names. This approach to a Finance Bill was perhaps acceptable just after a general election, as with the previous Finance Bill, but it is not acceptable as a matter of course, as was underlined by my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge.
In 2016, the Government agreed to exempt solar panels from an increase in domestic VAT after pressure within Parliament, yet there is no scope within the current arrangements for us to take similar action this year to counteract the Bill’s many failings. While I am on the topic of green measures, although the Minister and other Conservative Members made much of the Bill’s commitment to levy landfill tax on illegal waste dumps, I fear that without appropriate staff in the Environment Agency, we will not see where those dumps are, as many of us have discovered from our constituency casework. This is yet another measure seen just on paper and not in practice.
Despite all this—despite these failures—we are determined as an official Opposition to take every opportunity within the constrained environment we face to try to amend this Bill. It is what our constituents deserve and it is what parliamentary scrutiny deserves. I only wish we could do so in the manner that is merited through a proper debate and with the ability to table proper amendments.
Order. Before I call the Minister, I think that the hon. Lady was moving the amendment, was she not? [Interruption.] It would have been helpful for her specifically to say “and I so move.” [Interruption.] In that case, it was not audible, and it is not her fault that there was too much noise, but I am grateful for the confirmation that the amendment has been moved.
Amendment proposed: To leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Finance (No. 2) Bill because it contains no measures to address the fact that the UK has the slowest economic growth in the G7 while the IFS warns of two decades of lost earnings growth, it fails to reverse the Government’s 2015 Bank Levy cut resulting in £4.7bn less in tax revenue from banks over five years and contains measures to further limit the scope of the Bank Levy resulting in a further fall in revenue, whilst at the same time crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on are at risk due to seven years of budget cuts, it proposes a stamp duty cut that, according to the analysis of the OBR, will increase house prices, instead of helping to address the housing crisis through measures to build more affordable homes, it proposes policies without the benefit of an adequate Equalities Impact Assessment, it arises from a Budget which made no provision for lifting the public sector pay cap or addressing the funding crisis in social care and the NHS, it includes no measures properly to tackle tax avoidance and evasion and it is not based on an amendment of the law resolution, thus restricting the scope of amendments and reducing the House’s ability to properly scrutinise and improve the Bill.”—(Anneliese Dodds.)
Question proposed, That the amendment be made.
We have had a very comprehensive debate, as is fitting for a Finance Bill. I thank all Members who have contributed.
Some Members mentioned the public sector pay cap. They might not have noticed that it was lifted on
Many Members have spoken at some length about transport schemes. They will be delighted to know that, excluding in the exceptional years following the financial crisis, public investment as a proportion of GDP will have reached its highest level in decades during this spending period. This includes a 50% increase in transport investment that is funding the biggest road programme in a generation. That will be welcomed by those who are interested in the A19, such as Grahame Morris and my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake. We are also seeing the biggest rail transformation in modern times, which will please many Members.
We heard some comments about tax evasion. It might be worth reminding the House that this Government have taken more action to clamp down on tax evasion than any other Government. The 100 measures we have introduced since 2010 have raised more than £160 billion. The Government’s pledge is that we will continue to act in that way. If Members want the clamping down on tax evasion to continue, they should support the Bill, because it includes measures to take that forward.
One key area that my constituents have raised with me is housing. They have highlighted the fact that in my constituency, the ratio of the average house price to the average salary has reached 14:1. Across England and Wales, the ratio has reached 8:1, which means that it has doubled in just two decades. I had a meeting this morning with the new Conservative Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, who highlighted that in his area the ratio is more than 20:1.
The autumn Budget set out our plan to deliver the pledge we have made to the next generation, namely that the dream of home ownership will become a reality in this country once again. A comprehensive set of reforms will not just boost housing supply, but help those who are looking to buy now with the up-front costs that can often get in the way. The stamp duty measure in the Bill will make sure that the tax system does not act as a barrier to first-time buyers who are seeking to get on to the housing ladder.
Let me finish by saying that the Bill is central to the Government’s vision for a brighter future for Britain. It will help to deliver that vision by helping more people to purchase their own home, promoting further economic growth, and delivering a fair, balanced and sustainable tax system. Those are significant steps towards making us fit for the future. We are building on our progress and past successes. The economy is 15.8% bigger than it was in 2010. Unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975 and income inequality is at its lowest level since 1986. We have cut the deficit by more than two thirds and, based on our plans, the OBR expects debt to fall from next year. People have talked about unemployment, which has fallen significantly. Employment has increased by more than 3 million since 2010. Opposition Front Benchers often talk about employment in London, and perhaps they should be aware that employment in London has grown by nearly 900,000 during this period. This Bill builds on successes, and I commend it to the House. [Interruption.] I have run out of time, I am afraid. [Interruption.]
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