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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:40 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 4:40 pm, 12th March 2020

We have had some excellent speeches today. I do not have time to reference them all, but I pay particular tribute to the three Members who gave maiden speeches today. We heard first from Sally-Ann Hart. I was very impressed to hear that her constituency has the biggest skate park in Europe. Then we heard from Andy Carter, a fellow neighbour along the Manchester ship canal. I share his excitement about Daresbury science park; I have been there numerous times and know the fantastic work that it is doing. Finally, we heard the maiden speech of James Grundy, who talked of his proud northern roots and stated that Leigh was a proud northern town. That is a sentiment that I certainly share. All three speeches were very passionate, and it was very clear that those Members will be passionate advocates for their communities over the coming years. I wish them the very best of times in this House.

We live in precarious times. The three crises we face, coronavirus virus, the social emergency and the climate emergency, demanded a brave Budget—a bold Budget—to tackle them head-on. It was welcome to see action to help businesses encountering cash-flow problems, zero rates for businesses that qualify for the retail discount, the loans available for those affected by the virus and the 14-day statutory sick pay rebate for small firms. Those measures will help, but there remain gaping holes in the Government’s response to the virus. Statutory sick pay is £94 a week, which is not enough for many people to live on and pay the bills. That means that people who fall ill will be forced to choose between hardship on the one hand and risking their health and those of their colleagues on the other. What of those not eligible to receive sick pay—the insecure workers created by a decade of Tory rule? For them, the choice is even starker. While extra funding for the NHS is welcome, we cannot overturn a decade of cuts and capacity shortages overnight with a quick cash injection.

On the social emergency, we live in a society in which life expectancy is actually falling for the poorest. We have rampant regional inequality, hunger in schools and public services pushed to breaking point by a policy that even the Chancellor now admits was a political choice all along—the choice of austerity. Is it not telling that this Budget was silent on social care and universal credit? Is it not telling that it backed away from the tax rises on the wealthiest floated by his predecessor, and that while the biggest firms will benefit from his spending plans, there will be little if any plans for truly redistributive spending that would benefit our society from the bottom up? The Government’s own analysis shows that the tax and benefit changes, excluding public service spending, make richer households better off and cut earnings for the poorest. As the Women’s Budget Group has stated:

“We may have more roads and fewer potholes as a result of this budget, but the prospects for investing in social care and tackling child poverty remain bleak.”

Turning to the emergency that will define our generation and those to come, the climate emergency, I would like to list those things on which this Budget was silent. On solar power, wind power and tidal power, there was nothing. On the Tory manifesto pledge to support hydrogen production—nothing. On the Tory manifesto pledge to spend £9.2 billion on energy efficiency and cut household bills—nothing. On the Tory manifesto pledge to support a gigafactory for electric vehicle batteries—nothing. On reducing emissions from agriculture—nothing. On making public transport more affordable—nothing. And on measures to support workers and communities to transition away from carbon-intensive industries—nothing.

That is quite a list, but if we look at what the Budget does contain, the picture gets even bleaker. The Chancellor boasts of the biggest ever investment in roads and motorways, but Madam Deputy Speaker, I have spoken with scores of climate strikers and let me tell you that not a single one asked for a new motorway. So how does the Chancellor expect to square that with the UK’s emissions targets? It is not likely to come through action on petrol and diesel cars, because we are stuck with a 2040 phase-out date, and it is not likely to come through support for electric vehicles, because the Chancellor announced only an additional £140 million for the plug-in car grants. Assuming that the grant stays at £3,500, that is enough for only 40,000 cars, compared with the 2.5 million that are sold every year. So what else have we got? There is a commitment to fund carbon capture and storage by loading the costs on to consumer bills—perhaps the most regressive funding mechanism available.

There is a commitment to delivering a more than 600% increase in current tree planting rates in England. That sounds impressive—until we realise that the increase is only so large because tree planting has collapsed in England under this Government. When we look at the actual commitment in detail—35,000 hectares over five years—we realise that it is five times lower than the UK-wide rate recommended by the Government’s own official advisers.

Then there is a commitment to consult on measures to support renewable heat. There is a commitment to consult on green gas. There is a commitment to publish a review—sorry, two reviews—on the cost and benefits of reaching net zero. I do not think I am alone in this House in saying that consultations and reviews are not quite what we had in mind when we declared a climate and environment emergency last year.

Public calls for a climate Budget have never been louder, but what does that mean in practice? There are three key tests. First, is the Budget adequate? Does it take its lead from science rather than political expediency, cutting emissions at the rate necessary to avoid dangerous heating? Secondly, is the Budget aspirational? Will it create hundreds of thousands of good green jobs, positioning the UK as a world leader in the green industrial revolution, bringing huge wealth to all regions and nations? Finally, is the Budget fair? Does it spread the costs of dealing with the climate emergency in a way that is progressive and just, at home and internationally?

This Budget does not meet any of these tests, so I conclude in sadness and anger that the Chancellor has blown the biggest opportunity for national renewal since the post-war era and betrayed current and future generations.