I inform the House that I have not selected the amendment.
I beg to move,
That this House
regrets the long-term damage to the economy as a direct result of the mini budget, where mortgage rates for households have risen and the stability of pension funds has come under threat;
notes that despite substantial U-turns in policy since the mini budget, the Government’s funding position has deteriorated, the cost of borrowing is expected to be higher for many years and the UK’s fiscal credibility has been undermined, all while many energy producers continue to make record windfall profits;
therefore calls on the Government to take all necessary steps to stabilise the economy and make it work for ordinary working people and business through a plan for growth that puts them at its heart;
and further calls on the Government to publish the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts immediately alongside Government estimates of windfall profits for the next two years from energy producers in the UK.
We are here because of a Tory crisis made in Downing Street but paid for by ordinary working people. The Conservative mini-Budget of
The truth is that a million people are missing from the labour market and half of those have long-term health conditions. We need to do much more to get those people back to work. One reason why unemployment is low is that so many people are not even looking for work because they are waiting for NHS operations, with waiting times at an all-time high.
Today, we learn that inflation has gone above 10% again; food inflation is at more than 14%; and in the last year alone, electricity prices are up 45% and gas prices have doubled. Despite all the extraordinary and unprecedented U-turns in recent days, the damage has been done. This Conservative Government have wrecked people’s finances and snuffed out the dream of home ownership for millions. Some 1.8 million people across the UK will pay higher mortgage bills by the end of next year—on average, they will pay £580 extra every single month—because of the reckless actions of the Government. In my Yorkshire constituency, the cost will be £360 extra a month. In the constituency of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Andrew Griffith—who is about to respond to me—it will cost people £640 extra every single month in higher mortgage payments. Families cannot afford to pay those higher mortgage costs, and they certainly cannot pay them with apologies from the Prime Minister. The public will not accept that the arsonists who inflicted this damage can put out the fire. The Tories can never be trusted with our economy again.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the motion that she has tabled. It seems utterly unarguable that the crisis being wrought upon our constituents is to be laid squarely at the feet of the Government. It would appear that the Government agree, because according to briefings on Twitter, they do not intend to vote against the motion. Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that the Chancellor has not turned up to defend the record and that Conservative Members do not even seem to disagree with the motion means that we can all agree that this is the Government’s fault?
I agree that it is a shame that October’s Chancellor is not in his place today. This crisis has been co-written by every single member of the Cabinet and every single member of the Government. The Minister for the Armed Forces and Veterans was crystal clear yesterday in pointing out that all Cabinet Ministers had approved and are responsible for Government decisions, including the disastrous mini-Budget. There is no credibility or stability with this Government, just a shambles. All the time, businesses are looking at the state of the Government and deciding where and whether to invest. The Tories’ recklessness and enduring incompetence will cost jobs and investment here in Britain. The Conservatives should not be put in charge of a tombola, let alone the British economy.
I commend the hon. Lady for what she is saying. Let me back up her comments on economic growth. We need small and medium-sized enterprises to be able to survive and to get through this period. In my constituency, a business—a Japanese restaurant—opened some two months ago. It is doing really well and it employs staff, but its bills are going up from £900 to £3,000. It is clear that unless something happens soon for businesses that are productive and create jobs, they will no longer be there. Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to have a process that helps businesses?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Small businesses, such as the restaurant that he mentions in his constituency, are the backbone of all our constituencies and our economy more widely. An energy bill increase from £900 to £3,000 is not affordable for small businesses. The Government need to do more to help.
I know that the hon. Member takes economic issues very seriously. Protecting pensioners will obviously be a key priority. Does she join me in welcoming the Prime Minister’s confirmation that the triple lock will be protected, and can she set out Labour’s policy on that vital area?
On Monday, the Chancellor said that he could not rule out breaking the triple lock, and on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said something else. We do not know which one speaks for the Government, but Labour is clear that we support the triple lock. It was in our manifesto and, unlike the Conservative party, in government we would stick by what we promised.
Strong and independent economic institutions are essential for making Britain a great place to invest. That is why undermining the Bank of England, sacking the respected permanent secretary at the Treasury and gagging the Office for Budget Responsibility have all added to borrowing costs for Britain—for Government and for families.
On Monday, we saw yet again the ridiculous spectacle of a Conservative Chancellor coming to the House of Commons to announce huge changes in Government economic policy without any sort of independent forecast. Failing to publish a forecast was a significant contributor to the lack of market confidence when the Government unleashed their mini-Budget three and a half weeks ago, yet no lessons have been learned.
The Government cannot build confidence in Britain by flying blind. That is why we are asking all MPs to vote today to publish immediately the current assessments and forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility. For the sake of our economic stability, they must not remain hidden for a further two weeks. If the Chancellor refuses, the country will rightly ask, “What have they got to hide?”
My hon. Friend touched on the point that one of the new Prime Minister’s very first decisions was to sack the permanent secretary to the Treasury. Can my hon. Friend shed any light on why that decision was made? Was it, as appears very likely, because he was set to warn the new Chancellor about the consequences of the policies that he wanted to announce?
As a former Treasury Minister, my right hon. Friend knows how things are supposed to be done. We cannot ask September’s Chancellor why he sacked the respected permanent secretary, because he is no longer in his place, but a Labour Government would respect the Bank of England, respect the independent civil service and remove the gag on the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Today’s inflation numbers show the impact that higher gas and electricity bills are having on family finances. The Government’s mistake when they announced their package a month ago was putting its entire cost on Government borrowing. Under Labour’s plans, energy producers—including the oil and gas industries, which have said themselves that they have more money than they know what to do with—would have been asked to pay their fair share. Our plan did what a responsible Government should: it put forward a fully costed and fully funded package to freeze bills this autumn and winter.
The Conservatives have left tens of billions of pounds on the table and have pushed all the costs on to current and future taxpayers for years to come. Now, because of their irresponsible and reckless approach, they have gone back on their word. According to the Resolution Foundation, that could mean that a typical bill will rise to at least £4,000 from next April.
The point is that the Government are leaving billions of pounds of unneeded and unnecessary borrowing on the table. Why leave that money on the table when even the energy giants are saying that they have more money than they know what to do with? All that money has been put on borrowing and debt to be paid back by current taxpayers. Tens of billions of pounds have been left on the table by this Tory Government.
It has always been a question of who pays for support with bills. The Conservatives always put it on the never-never, but in the end it is working people who pay the price. In August, Bloomberg reported that the Government’s estimates of energy company windfall profits in the UK over the next two years could be £170 billion. The last Chancellor disputed that and so did the one before, but neither of them confirmed the actual figure. Why not?
Labour’s fiscal rules would protect the economy and protect families. We should not borrow a penny more than is absolutely necessary. That is why our motion
“calls on the Government to publish the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts immediately alongside Government estimates of windfall profits for the next two years from energy producers in the UK.”
Doing so is in the public interest. Refusal to publish will only confirm that the Government are again putting the profits of energy giants ahead of the sky-high bills for families, pensioners and businesses.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have still not learned a single thing? If they had learned anything from their mismanagement, the Prime Minister and the new Chancellor would have committed to using the profits of energy companies. That is what they should be doing: as my hon. Friend says, the companies want to be taxed to pay for the Government’s failures, rather than the Government cutting public services and hiking mortgage interest. Does she also agree that the Government need to get their priorities straight when it comes to getting rid of the cap on bankers’ bonuses?
As a member of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend understands the issues well. The chief executive of BP says that his company is like a cash machine at the moment. We should be ensuring that companies pay their fair share. The war in Ukraine and the illegal invasion of Ukraine mean windfall profits that they could never have dreamed of, but they also mean the highest bills ever for families and pensioners, so the energy companies should pay their fair share.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Professor Sinha, the author of the Institute of Health Equity’s report on fuel poverty, has said that there is no doubt that children will die this winter. In July alone, 12,000 more people phoned the Samaritans. Those are the dire consequences of these political actions, yet our energy companies are taking the profits.
My hon. Friend leads me on to the important issue of public services, which the Chancellor has been quick to put in his sights. This week, the respected Institute for Government gave its assessment of the state of public services after 12 years of Conservative Governments:
“Public services are in a fragile state…Patients are waiting half a day in A&E, weeks for GP appointments and a year or more for elective treatments. Few crimes result in charges…Pupils have lost months of learning”.
What an absolutely devastating verdict on the Government’s stewardship of our public services.
Even the Home Secretary, when she is not arguing with tofu, admits that police forces are so stretched that they cannot respond to the victims of crime. The Tories are living on another planet if they think that after a decade of imposing austerity they can come back with season 2, wildly swinging the axe over the country’s already struggling public services.
My hon. Friend is spot on and Conservative Members should be listening to her speech. We have seen 12 years of cuts to our public services and facilities, but one small glimmer of hope for people in my city was the successful levelling-up bid for a leisure centre in the outer west of Newcastle. However, the project has now been undermined because of the disastrous economic outlook and soaring inflation costs, which are partly a result of the mini-Budget. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must not backtrack on their promises? They must support such projects despite the rising inflation costs that are now undermining local government’s ability to deliver them.
Levelling up has truly been replaced by trickle down, and my hon. Friend’s constituents are paying the price.
We need strong public services focused on early intervention and prevention, reducing greater demand with better outcomes for people. We need the Government to stick to their manifesto commitments, including uprating benefits and pensions in line with inflation. It should not be working families, pensioners and the most vulnerable who pay the price for these Tory mistakes.
I will make a bit more progress.
Labour will get value for every pound of taxpayers’ money. That is why I announced last year that a Labour Government will introduce an office for value for money, tackling the endemic waste that we have seen under the Tories. Under the Conservatives, £11.8 billion of public money was handed to fraudsters and organised criminals because of a refusal to include the most basic security checks for covid support. That is before we get to the £7 billion spent on unusable personal protective equipment, the £13 billion wasted on failed defence procurements and the millions and millions flushed down the drain by this Government’s outsourced Serco test and trace system.
This week, we have read reports that the Treasury is shutting down the taxpayer protection taskforce that it belatedly set up in March to try to retrieve the money that the Government gave to the fraudsters. The taskforce should not be shut down; it should be empowered to get taxpayers’ money back.
As for the £3.5 billion handed out to friends of and donors to the Conservative party, many of whom failed to deliver on those contracts, in business if you award a contract and it does not deliver, you claw the money back. The Government must now strain every sinew to get that money back, because taxpayers demand it, and that comes before the cuts and the austerity that this Government are about to unleash.
The Government say that working people now have to put up with eye-wateringly difficult decisions, but there are so many easy decisions that the Government could make to stop families feeling the pain. Why keep in place an outdated and unjustifiable non-dom tax status loophole which means that some of the wealthiest pay no tax on their incomes while ordinary working people face the highest tax burden in 70 years in this low-growth, high-tax economy? Labour’s principle is clear: if you make Britain your home, you should pay your taxes here. Research carried out at the London School of Economics and Warwick University has shown that the UK’s non-dom system costs us £3.2 billion a year.
Look at the tax break for private equity managers, which was cooked up in the 1980s by a Conservative Government—a tax break of nearly £200,000 each for 2,000 private equity bosses every single year! It is not right that bosses pay a lower rate of tax on their bonuses than workers do on their wages. It is indefensible, so Labour will abolish it. At present, private schools enjoy charitable status which makes them exempt from both business rates and VAT at a cost of £1.7 billion every year, but here is the truth: private schools are not charities. We will end that exemption, and put that money back into our state schools.
That is what a fair tax system looks like, and that is what Britain will get with a Labour Government: fiscal responsibility, and a fair tax system that puts working people first. Labour will stabilise the economy by being responsible with public finances through our strong fiscal rules. It is on that foundation that our green prosperity plan will invest in the jobs and industries of tomorrow as we meet our climate obligations and secure our energy supply here in Britain. There are great opportunities for the industries of the future, and opportunities for Government to partner with industry and invest in, for instance, domestic renewables such as wind, hydrogen and carbon capture, and nuclear as well. Labour will create a national wealth fund so that when we build British industry, the public will have a stake and receive a return on those investments. The next Labour Government will buy, make and sell more here in Britain, with an industrial strategy that is pro-worker and pro-business. We will breathe new life into our high streets by calling time on the outdated model of business rates. That is a real plan for the future, not lurching from crisis to crisis like the Conservatives.
No. I have almost run out of time. I have been speaking for 20 minutes, and I have taken a great many interventions.
So much damage has been done to our economy by the Conservatives’ reckless mini-Budget, but the Government can prevent things from becoming even worse. Today they can show that they have listened, and publish the OBR forecasts and assessments that they are sitting on so we can know the true state of our public finances and our economy. They should publish the assessments that they already have of the windfall profits of the energy giants in the next two years, and then set out clear steps to introduce a proper windfall tax. It is a sign of how far off the road of competence and responsibility this Conservative Government are that they have not already done those basic things.
People can no longer afford the cost of Tory failure. We need a stronger and fairer economy from a Government committed to financial responsibility, and a serious plan for growth that puts working people first. The very least the Government can do is publish the numbers, and I urge all Members to support this motion to ensure that they do exactly that.
Our constituents are worried about what the current global turbulence in the economy means for their jobs, their prospects and their families. They want to know that they can afford to get by, and that once the economic storm clouds have passed—which they will—they can thrive. It is these concerns, those of our constituents, that we are thinking about, rather than—I say this in all due seriousness to Rachel Reeves, because I think she knows better—misrepresenting global trends. We are focused on protecting the most vulnerable and looking after our economy.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend noted, as I did, how little was said about the real cause of the current issues in the global markets: Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, driving energy prices up across the globe, driving inflation up across the globe, and driving interest rates up. There was no mention of that from the Opposition. Whose side are they on when it comes to these situations? It is clear to me that they are not paying attention to the real issues underlying the global markets, and they do not understand what is going on.
My hon. Friend has made a very important point. I think the whole House will want to acknowledge not only the impact on our economy of covid and the measures that Members on both sides of the House supported, but Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It does us a great disservice to try to be over-partisan about the impacts of global trends that are happening in every western economy.
The Minister has a strong track record of being knowledgeable about finance in the private sector, so will he acknowledge that the mini-Budget caused huge chaos in the markets? Notwithstanding the international issues which are a backdrop to this, this Government have scored an own goal by making the position a hell of a lot worse. Surely the Minister, with his financial background, will acknowledge that.
The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee has made some fair points. We have acknowledged that mistakes have been made—the Prime Minister herself has said that—and I am happy to say it in the spirit in which the hon. Lady acknowledges that there are wider factors at work in the economy. It ill behoves the House to make those over-partisan points when our constituents are looking to us collectively for what we are able to do.
I will make a little progress and then come back to hon. Members, if I may.
The most important thing we can do now, in the national interest, is cement that financial and economic stability. That is what is vital for all those who are concerned about their jobs, those who have to pay their mortgages, and those who are saving for retirement. It is essential for businesses investing for the future, and for society as we get through the bout of rising prices.
Last month the Bank of England had to step in with a promise to buy up to £65 billion of Government debt after pension funds managing huge sums on behalf of retired people across the country came close to collapse amid an unprecedented meltdown in UK Government bond markets following the Government’s mini-Budget. Last week the Bank had to step in again. BT’s pension scheme has revealed that the value of its assets has plummeted by an estimated £11 billion in recent weeks. Will the Minister apologise for the chaos that his party has brought to the pensions sector, and what can he say to my constituents to reassure them that their pensions are actually safe?
I think we all have constituents who are rightly worried in these times of global turbulence and increasing interest rates in every part of the world. The hon. Lady will forgive me, I hope, if I do not comment on the specific operations of the Bank of England, which I think would be inappropriate—other than thanking hard-working officials for the intervention that they have made over the last couple of weeks.
I am grateful to the Minister.
Of course global factors meant that the situation was dangerous, but will the Minister acknowledge that it is precisely because of those global factors that the new Prime Minister and Chancellor had to tread very, very carefully? That is why what they did was so reckless and so damaging.
I am not sure that I can fully accept what the hon. Member says, but the Government are committed to the independence of our institutions. It is very important that people understand that. Both the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility have a valuable role to play, which is why when the Chancellor presents his forecast to the House in just eight parliamentary days’ time he will ensure that it has been fully presented to, and signed off by, the Office for Budget Responsibility.
I recognise the value of stability and predictability. Given the changes to the corporation tax rate, and given that under the previous Administration my right hon. Friend
I thank my hon. Friend, and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend
I will make a little progress and then give way. As the Chancellor said, at this point all measures remain on the table. My hon. Friend John Glen will indulge me if I do not announce that policy at the Dispatch Box today. His point is well understood, and others have made it to me, as Financial Secretary.
May I simply point out that, if the rate is retained as an 8% surcharge, banks will be paying 33%? When added to the employment costs for national insurance, they may have issues in terms of competitiveness. If that is necessary, could the Minister please make it clear to banks and the markets, so that they can plan for the future?
As I said a moment ago, we have just eight sitting days now until the statement. Part of my role is to stay in very close touch with our highly valued banking community, and to continue to drive the competitiveness of the United Kingdom as a place for the financial services sector to make the prodigious contribution to the economy that Conservative Members particularly value. As the Chancellor said, we will continue to prioritise fiscal stability, and the United Kingdom will always pay its way. We will fund our promises, and we remain committed to fiscal discipline. That means that we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that debt as a share of the economy comes down in the medium term.
I know that the Minister is relatively new to the job; I hope that he lasts longer than some of his predecessors. The Bank of England has made it clear that the mini-Budget has caused a material risk to the UK’s financial stability. As has been said, our constituents’ mortgages have gone up, and will be going up by £500, and by up to £900 in London and the south-east. Will he tell us what his Government will do to bring down those mortgages rates, many of which will be a direct consequence of the mini-Budget’s failures and fiasco?
I was in the process of telling the hon. Lady exactly what the Government will do. No one should trivialise the impact of rising global interest rates on mortgages. The last time mortgages were at this level was under her Government, and not after the backdrop of a global pandemic and a war on European soil.
No, I think I have been relatively generous in taking interventions from the Opposition. I will make some progress, because I am sure that many people would like to speak. As the House knows, we will publish the medium-term fiscal plan, which will be fully reported on by the OBR and will set out our approach to fiscal responsibility: the variable that we can control in Government to help to reduce rates of interest going forward. We remain committed to pursuing growth as the driver of prosperity for all.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s policy of creating investment zones will boost business and create jobs—for hard-working people in Southend West, I hope, and across the country? It is the essence of financial responsibility, and will put us on the path to long-term growth and long-term financial health.
My hon. Friend the new Member for Southend West makes a very important point. We are absolutely committed to investment zones. I wish her success in her campaign to attract one to Southend-on-Sea. As the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has noted, this will be a transformational programme for the whole United Kingdom, and I hope that many Opposition Members get behind it and seek to attract such zones to their own constituencies.
We are continuing to deliver support for families by cutting national insurance, and we will save an average of £330 for 28 million hard-working people. We will deliver reforms to boost housing supply and accelerate infrastructure projects across the country, enabling growth where it is needed the most.
Last week, we considered the Health and Social Care Levy (Repeal) Bill. I spoke in the debate, and said that I hoped that the repeal would not lead to the cap on social care being watered down. As I understand it, the cap may now be delayed or even not come into force at all. We should all be very concerned about that. One of the greatest achievements of the previous Prime Minister was finally introducing a tangible policy on social care. Does the Minister accept that when we repealed the levy it would have been better had we known then that it would have a material impact on social care policy?
My hon. Friend makes his point typically strongly. He, like me, will look forward to hearing the medium-term fiscal strategy shortly. Rushanara Ali asked what we will do to protect households with their interest rates and mortgages.
I will not give way at the moment. The difficult decisions that were taken by the Chancellor earlier this week will ensure that we continue to grow the economy. Those decisions will raise around £32 billion every year. Perhaps the Opposition will use the opportunity of the debate to enlighten the House, but to date they have said very little about how they would find the money to do that.
Not at the moment.
That brings me to our energy price guarantee, which is a landmark policy that will help millions of people to get through this most difficult winter. Independent and external forecasts expect it to reduce inflation by around five percentage points. It is one of the most generous schemes in the world, and was the biggest single expense in the growth plan, with an estimated cost of around £60 billion between now and the end of March.
I think the whole House and many of our constituents can support the energy price guarantee and support scheme, but in constituencies such as mine many households are off-grid. Although there is a separate scheme, there is an issue of dual use on a single site. To ensure that there is parity and equity in rolling through that scheme, will the Minister undertake to ensure that there is an ongoing review, to ensure that none of my constituents misses out on the forthcoming generous support from the Government?
If the so-called energy price guarantee will reduce inflation by 4% or 5%, what will inflation go to in April 2023 when the Government remove it?
I was citing external forecasts, rather than making forecasts of where energy prices in an unprecedented moment of global volatility will be six months hence. Maybe the hon. Member has a greater insight into that.
No. Treasury officials will lead a review regarding the appropriate measures to support households and businesses with their energy needs beyond April, but without the taxpayer picking up an inappropriate share of the burden.
No, I am going to make some progress.
I have talked about the measures that we are taking to support growth, and about the tough decisions that the Chancellor spoke about in the House on Monday. I reiterate that, as we must not sugar coat it. In common with every other major economy, we face economic challenges at this time for three reasons.
First, there is the cost of covid. Through the first two years of the pandemic, the Government borrowed more than £300 billion more than had been forecast in March 2020—about £260 billion more in 2020-21 and £70 billion more in 2021-22—to fund emergency covid support, which had support on both sides of the House.
Secondly, interest rates are rising around the world on the back of increased costs and Putin’s war in Ukraine.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was aware of that, and inflation is 11% in Germany and 17% in the Netherlands. I hope that the hon. Member for Leeds West is listening, because we are seeing this phenomenon in all major developed economies. She has a background in economics, and I hope she can devote some of her energy to sharing her wisdom and insight with colleagues.
When it comes to interest rates, the Federal Reserve has implemented three consecutive increases of three quarters of a basis point, and the European Central Bank has increased rates at its last two meetings, including its largest ever single rate hike in September. As we hear contributions from Opposition Members, I hope that we will hear a little more about the broader context and a little less about attributing the situation to this Government.
The hon. Gentleman is generous with his comments. In fairness, it is not the Government’s position that it is all the fault of the global economy, which is why the Prime Minister apologised and changed her Chancellor, and why different, difficult decisions have been made. In the spirit of having a proper debate on these matters, I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that I was not saying what he suggests. I was introducing, and will continue to introduce, the very important broader context of these economic issues.
I am going to finish as quickly as I can.
I have already said that difficult decisions will have to be made. Those decisions will never be made at the expense of the most vulnerable, and I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today reconfirmed at the Dispatch Box our commitment to protecting the triple lock, which was noticeably not forthcoming from the Opposition Front Bench.
The fact is that since the 2008 financial crisis we have all been held back by weak economic growth. For 14 years, people’s living standards—especially the living standards of the most vulnerable, whom the Opposition claim to talk about—have not been rising as quickly as they should have been. The bottom line is that by accepting the status quo, without taking any action at all, we would condemn ourselves and future generations in Britain to decline.
We face challenges, but we should address them from a place of optimism. I remind Members that the fundamentals of the UK economy remain resilient, with unemployment at its lowest level in nearly 50 years and with the UK forecast to have the fastest growth in the G7 in 2022. We have incredible strengths.
I met investors this morning, and they talked about the capital they want to put to work in the United Kingdom, in science, research and technology. We have some of the world’s best universities, and those who would underestimate and talk down our prospects should not forget that we have one wonderful thing: the British people. With credibility and conviction, we are going to deliver the roads, railways and broadband we need. We will recruit the best doctors, empower the best teachers and back the bravest soldiers. And when conditions allow, when it is consistent with sound public finances, we will continue to cut taxes to further unleash economic growth.
A few weeks ago, the Government took a bold approach to resetting our ambition for the growth rate of the economy, protecting our public services and delivering sustainably low taxes. That remains the most important challenge of our time. The question earlier this week was whether we would take action to protect the economy or whether we would not. Our response should leave nobody in any doubt that we are a Government who choose action in the national interest.
Colleagues will be aware that there is a great deal of interest in this debate, so I warn the next speakers that, after the SNP spokesperson, I will introduce a six-minute time limit. I call the SNP spokesperson, Drew Hendry.
A report out today shows that 60% of people across the nations of the UK are worried about their household financial prospects. The same report shows that nine in 10 people have delayed putting on the heating due to concern about the cost.
Members across the House will have received emails and calls from people who have never before been moved to contact their MP and who are now feeling those concerns for themselves. When those who have felt relatively comfortable start feeling the pinch, imagine what it means for those on the rungs of the ladder below. Then imagine what it means for those who were not getting by at all, who were already suffering from poverty and who had £20 a week cut from their universal credit. It is crushing them. It is destroying families. It is clearing out food banks. It is moving third-sector and support service staff to tears with the feeling of futility. And it is destroying the health of children.
The actions of this Westminster Government have left vulnerable households abandoned, betrayed and cast aside. This Government laid bare their ideology during the chaotic period of the so-called mini-Budget. Make no mistake, while they were doing that damage, they simply pulled back the curtain on their core ideology. Their error was being so obvious, so blunt, that political spin could not cover it. Their focus has always been on making the rich richer. When their key policies result in poverty but mean £40,000 extra each year for those earning £1 million a year it is a bit of a giveaway, is it not? Only those earning more than £155,000 a year were net beneficiaries of the mini-Budget.
Of course, this month’s Chancellor has had to scrap this unfunded giveaway to the most well-off, not through genuine contrition but because he was forced to do so. Limp and clearly insincere apologies do not fool anyone. The parachute Chancellor has dropped in to try to close the curtain and return to the drip, drip of chronic austerity that is the usual modus operandi. People now see through it.
With inflation above 10%, the poor are facing the hardest choices. Food inflation is higher than 10%, which means they have really tough choices. The Chancellor has taken away the two-year energy price cap. Although the cap is welcome, it still means a doubling of prices from last year. Ominously, there will be a review in six months. There is no certainty for increasingly desperate people, while rich bankers will still see their wages rocket, as the cap on their bonuses has been removed.
On the subject of banking, can the hon. Gentleman confirm that current SNP policy is that Scotland, were it to become independent, would have a currency with no lender of last resort?
Let me deal with two issues. First, no amount of deflection by Conservative Members will take away from the fact that they are punishing the poor and they have trashed the economy in recent weeks. Secondly, on the prospectus for independence, people in Scotland should have a choice: to have those questions put before them and to vote on them. It is the hon. Gentleman’s Government who are denying democracy in that case.
No, I am going to make some progress.
The Chancellor has ominously set that cap up for a review in six months, providing no certainty for increasingly desperate people, while rich bankers will still be able to see their wages rocket, as I said, with the cap on their bonuses removed. The energy crisis is even more galling for my constituents, and many more across Scotland, as they see their energy being produced from their backyards, yet folk in the colder climate of the highlands pay more per unit for electricity than people anywhere else in the UK—renewable energy suppliers are charged more to connect to the grid than those anywhere else in the UK, and the picture is particularly bleak for those who are off the gas grid.
My hon. Friend will be aware that even on the Government’s own estimates heating oil has gone up by 147% since January, and in constituencies such as ours it is costing more than £1,200 to fill a tank, and sometimes this is with a minimum delivery of 500 litres. Does he share my concern that in these colder, rural and more economically fragile areas of the UK not everyone has £500 to replenish their oil tank? This will not be a choice of turning their heating on or not; they simply will not have the choice, because they will not have the oil or the means to replenish the tank when they need it. This is a crisis.
My hon. Friend is completely right and he represents a constituency with many off gas grid constituents, as I do. He makes a telling point about the cost of that. What support are the UK Government giving to these people who face twice the bills that other people will? They are giving a measly £100.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. As I said in my opening remarks, the Government’s ideology is that the rich will get richer while the poor will suffer. That has been underlined over the past few weeks like at no other time in this place. The scales have fallen away—
I tried to intervene on the Minister on this broad point. Both he and his friends refer continually to growth, but I do not think I have heard any indication from him this afternoon, or elsewhere, as to how that growth will be spread beyond London and the south-east. Is that not a gaping gap in the Government’s policy? It will certainly affect the constituents of Drew Hendry, as it will my constituents and those in Wales, the north of England and Scotland.
Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a fantastic point. The growth we are seeing from this Government is the growth in poverty and in inequality. That continues to rise and the Government are very good at driving it forward.
As I was saying, those off gas grid consumers are being given £100. Scotland is energy rich and a net exporter of energy. Renewable energy is six to nine times cheaper than the gas-fired power our prices are linked to. In Scotland we have the energy, but until we have the power our people will continue to be ignored over their basic needs and their potential.
After the Chancellor’s statement, the Scottish National party, through my hon. Friend Alan Brown, tried to introduce some certainty for households terrified by the rising energy prices by tabling an amendment to the Energy Prices Bill that would have required Ministers to outline within 28 days how support after April would be provided to households. Labour failed to support that amendment. The Chancellor says that more difficult decisions will have to be made, which means cutting the funding for things that ordinary families and the most vulnerable rely on. We should note that the threat for those struggling by, many of them working people relying on universal credit, has not been lifted; there may be further reductions, on top of the fact that inflation has been three times higher than their last increase. Common decency demands that benefits must be fully uprated. Are the Government capable of that?
We should also remember that this Government still have not reversed the pernicious £20 a week cut to UC, yet the Chancellor had the cheek to say—this has been repeated today—that the Government’s priority will always be the most vulnerable. Does that include pensioners? This week, he was briefing journalists, including Robert Peston, who said this today, that the Government were abandoning the triple lock. With inflation rampant—today’s figure is 10.1%—this means further hardship for Scotland’s older people. Yet today, the Prime Minister says no. Is this another U-turn? Or is it like when she says that the energy cap will mean no family would pay more than £2,500 per year? Is it just—let me find some parliamentary language—questionable?
If the Government really mean that they care, they would reinstate the £20 a week to UC, scrap the bedroom tax, get rid of the odious rape clause and uprate benefits in line with inflation. They could choose to follow the progressive lead of the Scottish Government, who have brought in, among a wide package—[Interruption.] The Minister is laughing. The Scottish Government have brought in the Scottish child payment, which has risen now to £25 a week. That is helping to mitigate the callous cut made by his Government. They could choose to follow that progressive lead and to follow what the Scottish Government have done in doubling the December bridging payment from £130 to £260, at a time when families will need it most, in the depth of winter and at Christmas. The Government could pay for much of this by taxing the excess profits of companies that are clearly making them.
My hon. Friend was talking about the Tories not keeping their pledge to protect the most vulnerable, and he has highlighted some awful policies that are making people more vulnerable. In addition, under this Government fuel poverty has increased by more than 50% and now affects 6.7 million households. So to say that the Government are protecting the vulnerable is, unfortunately, a sick joke.
My hon. Friend has said it all there—it is clear. To hear laughter this afternoon from Government Front Benchers about measures to mitigate poverty is shameful.
The Government could have taxed some of the excess profits, and companies are daring them to do so. Sometimes, as with the boss of Shell, they are asking the Government to do this. The Government could do this but they will not, because protecting the vulnerable is not what Tories do. It gets worse, because now the Bank of England will react with further interest rate rises, pushing mortgages to unaffordable heights for some homeowners and prospective buyers. As we have heard again today, the Government want to lay all the blame on the illegal war in Ukraine and on global conditions, but everybody knows that much of this is Tory-inflicted. A big part of that is Brexit. It has hamstrung businesses by starving them of vital staff; it has pushed inflation higher through import prices; the UK’s shocking balance of trade has been exposed; and it has ushered in a raft of new tax costs for businesses across the nations of the UK. As the former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney pointed out:
“In 2016 the British economy was 90% the size of Germany’s. Now it is…70%.”
That was before the clusterbùrach of the mini-Budget. Labour, with all the backbone of a squid, joined at the tentacles with this Tory ideology, is trying to pretend that somehow it will make Brexit work. Most Labour Members do not believe that, and it flies in the face of all the logic and informed opinion.
All this chaos is a timely reminder for the people of Scotland about why they should choose a different path. I say to people back home: look at what the Government are doing to you, to your communities, to your businesses, to your families and to your children’s futures. Let us make comparisons with the UK. Other countries similar to Scotland are wealthier and more equal, and have higher productivity, lower poverty, lower child poverty and lower pensioner poverty. Democracy can and will triumph. Scotland has the right to choose a very different path from this one, to build a better future as an independent nation and as an equal partner in the European Union—one that seeks to lift people up, not keep them down, and to live by the values of a welcoming, diverse and compassionate nation.
Thank you very much for calling me so early in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. If I may strike a conciliatory tone at the outset of my remarks, I thank everybody in this House who sent me remarkable support in the course of the summer recess. There is nothing unique about my having had issues with my mental health, but what is perhaps more unique than most in the country is that I have the platform and opportunity to highlight that and to speak empathetically, and I am very grateful indeed. In making this speech, there are a number of things in my life that I am struggling with at the moment, but, bizarrely, it seems that making a speech in the House of Commons is not one of them. I am not entirely sure whether that is attuned to my state of mind, and no doubt my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will tell me afterwards.
I want to speak on this important matter because I have not said a word to my constituents about the events of the last month or so. I watched on from home when the Chancellor gave his so-called mini-Budget, which should have been delivered as a full Budget, with the proper procedures of the House duly followed. As the time passed, I grew increasingly concerned by its nature. I am quite an old-fashioned person and, in respect of this House, I like to look at the wording of the motion. I also believe in speaking one’s mind, and I can only say that today is the exact centenary of a meeting in 1922, during which Conservative Back Benchers met to decide that they would stand on their own ticket in the 1992 general election, thereby depriving David Lloyd George of the opportunity to continue as Prime Minister. As vice-chair of the 1922 Committee—the foundation of which followed the events of that afternoon and evening—I think it is quite important to speak my mind. I realise there are some in my party who lament that state of affairs, but I hope they will indulge me, as I have indulged them over time.
Many things that have been said by those on the Front Bench are very true. There is an international situation, an illegal invasion of Ukraine and a spike in the international cost of energy. The Government have many things to be proud of—not least the employment record—but there is no escaping the fact that the measures contained within the financial statement directly caused the situation to be made worse. I am quite sure that was not intentional, but I cannot easily forgive the lack of foresight by senior members of the Government. My forgiveness is not what that the Government should seek at all; it should be that of our constituents, who are in a difficult enough situation as it is. To see this as a question of international turbulence inexplicably increasing the mortgage rates and inexplicably necessitating further cuts to public expenditure—I cannot easily forgive that.
In the course of the summer, I found the trashing of the reputations of independent organisations in this country, such as the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility, to be near to malice in its nature. Treasury orthodoxy came under attack. I am a Conservative, and I suppose that orthodoxy goes hand in hand with that. That is Conservative orthodoxy. Conservative orthodoxy is sound financial management and a balanced budget—not sticking pamphlets into a test tube, shaking it up and seeing what happens. That is not the way the Conservative party should ever govern.
Apparently I can be a little difficult to handle, and my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson must have wondered what he had done in a previous life to find me in his flock as my Whip. I always commiserate with my Whip when they are appointed; indeed, I have been round the block with a number of them, and I end up getting round to them all over again. But there is a serious point to all this: I am personally ashamed of what occurred with the financial statement, because I cannot go and face my constituents, look them in the eye and say that they should support our great party. The polls would seem to bear that out.
The next debate is apparently a confidence issue. Well, I am not going to fall into that trap. I oppose fracking and thought that we had come to a considered position on it, but there we go. I will vote with the Government Whip.
The hon. Lady is very charitable in giving me a further minute for my peroration, although it seems a shame to extend it too long. The fracking debate that follows has been made a confidence vote. If I voted as I would wish, I would lose the Whip. I would no longer be a vice-chair of the 1922 Committee. I would no longer maintain my position as a Chair of one of the Select Committees of the House. Indeed, because of that, my letter lodged with my hon. Friend Sir Graham Brady would fall, and I wish to maintain that letter with him.
That is not a point of order. Each Member is accountable for their own decisions on voting, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want me to interfere with that.
I am very pleased to follow Mr Wragg, and I pay tribute to him for the frankness of the personal remarks with which he opened his speech. I must say that the whole speech contained a great deal of good sense, which I hope his hon. Friends on his Front Bench will have heard and paid attention to.
Christians on the Left organises a church service each year on the Sunday morning when the Labour party conference begins, and the preacher this year was the Archbishop of York. In the very fine address that he gave on that occasion, he said:
“Increasingly, the safety net in our nation is a foodbank, where more and more people have to go to get what our economy itself fails to provide.”
He is absolutely right: something fundamental has gone wrong in our economy. For many people, including those in employment, the economy does not work. More and more are turning to food banks to survive. Some 61,000 food parcels were distributed by the Trussell Trust’s food banks in 2010-11, whereas the number was 2.5 million in 2020-21—a fortyfold increase in a decade.
In the leadership election campaign in the summer, the Prime Minister acknowledged her party’s failure on economic growth, and she was absolutely right to do so. The new Chancellor told us on Monday that the record on growth had been very good. That is one of many things that he and the Prime Minister seem to disagree about, but on this one, I am definitely with the Prime Minister. As my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves often points out, we are a high-tax economy because we have been a low-growth economy.
Last April social security benefits were raised by 3.1%, even though inflation was nearly 10%. That was justified on the basis that the regular formula for uprating benefits uses the figure for inflation from the previous September. That formula has, on several occasions, been disapplied since 2010, but never in the interests of the poorest families in the country—only ever to their disadvantage. This year, the formula was applied, piling on yet another real-terms cut in benefits, reducing them to the lowest real-terms level for more than 30 years. The then Chancellor and the then Prime Minister implicitly recognised that unfairness and promised to use the same formula next April, delivering, we have learned today, a 10.1% rise.
The current Chancellor must now decide whether to keep that promise to the poorest families in the country during a cost of living crisis. The Minister, in his opening remarks, referred to protecting the vulnerable. I really hope that he meant that, because those families have so often had a kicking from this Government over the past 12 years. If that happens again, dependence on food banks will get yet another large boost as thousands more people have to turn to them to survive—on top of the 700,000 households who did so in 2019-20. The food banks themselves are struggling now because donors cannot afford to give as much. Mass food bank dependence is a potent symptom of the economic failure of the past 12 years.
Yesterday, representatives from Muscular Dystrophy UK came to Parliament to spell out the hardship from rising prices facing the people they support, because, for example, those people depend on machinery—ventilators—that have to be permanently switched on and powered. On Monday, the Chancellor spoke of compassionate conservatism. If that is not just a vacuous slogan, those people’s needs must be recognised in the benefit uprating decision that could be announced on Monday week.
The benefit cap was introduced 10 years ago and was supposed to reflect median earnings. It was changed once in 2016, when it was cut, and it has never been increased. This time, surely, it must be. If it is not, at a time when inflation is over 10%, thousands more people will crash into the cap next April and be forced to depend on food banks, heaping yet another economic failure on the catastrophic blunders, as the hon. Member for Hazel Grove rightly pointed out, of the past few weeks.
I think we all knew that whoever was Prime Minister or Chancellor and in government at this particular time were going to face some really tough decisions. The fall-out from the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine and a number of other domestic and global factors were going to mean that some really difficult decisions would have to be made around our economy and our fiscal policy. None the less, the one thing that we should all be able to depend on is that, no matter how difficult times are, the Government will not make those decisions even harder. Sadly, that is what has happened as a result of the rushed mini-Budget. The fall-out has been a loss of confidence—a loss of confidence in the markets and, talking to many local businesses in my constituency in the two weeks immediately after the mini-Budget, a great loss of confidence in the business community.
Growth is a hard-won thing. We do not achieve growth simply by saying as loudly and passionately as possible that we are going to get growth. Growth needs to be nurtured with the right policies that instil confidence in the business community. It is therefore incredibly welcome, and I am incredibly thankful, that the new Chancellor has stepped up and taken a grip on the situation. I am also delighted to see my very good friend in the position of Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Between the two of them, I have great confidence that they will bring the grip and the leadership to the Treasury that is necessary to create the stability we now need to address this difficult situation. As a result, many elements of the original mini-Budget have now been dropped, and we await further details in the near future of exactly how the Government will now balance the books and lay out their policy going forward.
However, we really need to know what the Prime Minister’s policies are. She made a number of very bold statements in her leadership campaign to become Prime Minister, most of which have now been dropped. It is very important that we have confidence that No.10 and No.11 are in lockstep at this challenging time and that they have the same policies, so we need the Prime Minister to confirm exactly what her policies are.
We are aware that some very difficult decisions lie ahead but, in making those decisions, it is vital that we protect the most vulnerable in our society from the damage that has been caused. Those who are least able to shoulder the burden should not be required to pay the price for it. Therefore, it was incredibly welcome that the Prime Minister gave a clear statement at the Dispatch Box that the triple lock will remain in place for pensions. Pensioners in my constituency and across the country will welcome the reassurance that that triple lock will be in place and that they will get a rise in their pension in line with prices.
It is vital to do a similar thing with benefits. The Government have done a lot of work over many years in reforming benefits. Universal credit pays people to be in work, and I have heard at first hand how popular it is, but it is right that those benefits keep pace with the increase in prices and that those on benefits are not the ones who pay the price of balancing the books.
One measure that has survived the cull from the mini-Budget is the cut in stamp duty. Naturally, I am someone who welcomes a cut in stamp duty. However, Cornwall is currently in the middle of a major housing crisis. Experience from the previous cut in stamp duty during the pandemic showed that it fuelled demand for second homes and investment properties. That inflated house prices in Cornwall way higher than the national increase, meaning that even more local people are unable to afford to buy a house. If the Government are to press ahead with the stamp duty cut, will they ensure that it applies only to primary residences and that those who seek to buy second homes and investment properties for holiday lets are not able to attract the proposed cut? If the cut goes ahead, all we will do is fuel second home and investment property purchases in tourist areas such as Cornwall, making our housing crisis even worse. We need the Government to help us address that so that local people can get the housing they need. I ask the Ministers on the Front Bench to take that particular point away and look at it. Yes, a stamp duty cut is welcome to help people buying a home, particularly their first home, but it should not go to those who are buying second and subsequent homes.
All in all, after a very difficult time, I am in a much better place and am confident that the new team in the Treasury has a grip on the situation and will provide the stability and leadership that we need. I look forward to hearing more details in due course of exactly what policies will be put in place.
Government Members should not think for one second that the Opposition will relent from holding them to account for this dog’s dinner, which is entirely of their own making. Like a broken record, the lame duck Prime Minister cites global economic headwinds, refusing to take any responsibility for the decisions that brought the British economy to the edge of disaster.
We have a Prime Minister in office but not in power, humiliated and bereft of ideas. Her manifesto drawn up by the libertarian right and the Institute of Economic Affairs has been cut to ribbons. The dogma espoused in “Britannia Unchained” must never again be allowed to reign supreme in Whitehall. In fact, the ideas must be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Now the Prime Minister has brought back an old foe, who underfunded our NHS for years, to implement austerity 2.0, and once again it will be communities like mine in Liverpool, Wavertree who suffer. This is a Tory crisis, and the damage has been done: an estimated 14,344 people in Liverpool will be paying higher mortgage bills next year as a result of this Government’s irresponsible actions. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor now admit that the mini-Budget caused mortgage rates to go up and borrowing costs to surge—a Tory cost we will be living with for years.
Working people have gone through enough. Now they are told that, to re-establish market stability, the responsibility is being shifted from the Government on to households, communities and working people. It all feels very 2011. Some are even saying that a previous Chancellor, the former Member for Tatton, is pulling the strings. The new Chancellor embodies a very different type of dogma from the Prime Minister’s, but it is dogma nevertheless—a school of economics that saw us enter the coronavirus pandemic with public services under-resourced and under-prepared.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just public services, but local councils such as mine in Enfield, which faces a £100 million budget gap due to spiralling inflation, that are paying the price for this Government’s mismanagement of the economy?
My hon. Friend makes a pivotal point. Local authorities have been cut to the bone. They provide valuable resources and frontline services out in our communities, but they are being decimated yet again by this Government. Our public sector workforce is demoralised after a decade of pay restraint and cuts to frontline services.
If this Government think for one moment that our people will now put up with more of the same while bankers’ bonuses remain uncapped and millionaire bosses continue to rake in profits and dividends, they are sadly mistaken. The British people have woken up to the con. No longer does the promise ring true that each succeeding generation will have it better than the last. That promise, forged in the fire of the post-war consensus, is now in ruins after decades of short-termism and the dominance of capital over labour. We are not all in this together. Not once since 2010 have we all been in this together. Despite the empty rhetoric of a strong economy and levelling up, the Conservative party has always sought to look after its own class interests at the expense of the rest of us.
Young people in my Liverpool, Wavertree constituency now face their lives being put on hold because of this Government’s incompetence. They have done the right thing: they have gone out, worked hard and saved, only to be cheated and denied the opportunity of home ownership. Working people are up against real-terms cuts to their pay and our elderly are anxious about heating their homes in the run-up to winter. There is even more uncertainty for small businesses and charities, such as the amazing Love Wavertree in my constituency, which does incredible work. It announced today that the increase in its energy bills means it must consider whether it can continue to run its community shop, a lifeline for many people in my constituency.
History will not be kind to this Government, nor to anyone who has participated over the past 12 years. The Conservative party is lost. Thankfully, change is coming. As the Leader of the Opposition said so eloquently at Prime Minister’s questions today, we are the Government in waiting; the Conservative party are the Opposition in waiting. Frankly, that cannot come quickly enough.
If we have learned one thing from the experience of the past few weeks, it is that there really is no magic money tree, and the Government really do have to pay their way. Some of us, including myself, had started to doubt that essential economic truth because of the Government’s heroic response to the covid crisis.
I had intended to say that we had supported the families and businesses of this country to the tune of £400 billion. However, I listened to the Minister at the Dispatch Box, and when we add up all the unplanned borrowing very substantially as a result of covid, the total is actually £630 billion. It is because of that enormous intervention to support families and businesses by this Government that we did not have thousands of bankruptcies and millions of people cast out of work, as was the expectation. Right hon. and hon. Members will recall a forecast that we would have 12% unemployment, but because of the economic management by this Government the impact was cushioned and the economy protected from that enormous external shock.
The Government were quite right to do that, but why were they able to? It was because of the decade of prudent economic management that repaired the enormous economic damage left by Labour in 2010—prudent decisions that Labour fought against tooth and nail. The Labour motion before us calls for a plan to make the economy work for working people, but Labour does not stand up for working people. Every Labour Government in history, without exception, have left office with more people out of work than before. Their policies, again and again, are not the policies for working people, but the policies of unemployment.
Compare that record with that of this Government. Despite suffering the biggest economic shock to the world economy in a century or perhaps longer, unemployment has not gone up, as it always does under Labour. It has gone down, most recently to 3.5%, the lowest level since I was a tiny boy in 1974. In my Broadland constituency, the rate is even lower. That economic management is forcing employers to offer higher wages for staff—exactly the kind of economic conditions that help workers, particularly the lowest paid. It also serves to increase productivity, as local employers invest to limit the number of staff needed to produce. That is what will pay for the wage increases of the future, not Labour meddling.
I recognise, as does the Prime Minister, that the mini Budget went too fast and too far, and she has rightly apologised for it, but this Government have the right economic policies for growth. As one of the few entrepreneurs in this place, having helped to create hundreds of worthwhile, well-rewarded jobs and careers, I know the truth of the business saying that time kills deals. Speeding up the ability of businesses to get projects up and running will have a huge impact on the future growth and prosperity of this country.
The Government are right to launch investment zones. These zones do not just corral investment into a particular area; by speeding up the process of business, they will also grow the size of the pie. I hope that the results will be so striking that over time they will become a beacon for wider economic policy, showing the way for the rest of the economy.
The Government are also right to accelerate productivity-enhancing infrastructure projects across Britain to help with levelling up, including the building of the western link road in my constituency, which will shorten ambulance times by 20 minutes, open up a swathe of Norfolk businesses to improved market access and relieve the residents of Weston Longville and others from terrible rat-running—all opposed by Labour, I might add. As for the local Lib Dems, literally half of them have said they want it and the other half have said they do not. That says it all about the approach of the Liberal Democrats: to say whatever they think will sound good to local constituents, with no consistency at all.
Finally, the Government are right to speed up the review of EU-inspired regulations to make them bespoke for the United Kingdom economy. That will help British businesses and British workers. This Government have an economic record to be proud of, and I would back them to the hilt over Labour any day.
This economic crisis has been manufactured in Downing Street and, as we approach Hallowe’en, the little shop of horrors on the Government Benches adds 10.1% inflation. That horrendous inflation figure brings more anxiety to my constituents in Weaver Vale and across Britain, as Members across the Chamber have documented today. This nightmare made in Downing Street is being experienced every day by ordinary people who are just trying to make ends meet during this economic crisis.
Mortgages are up, energy bills are up, the weekly shop bill is up and rents are up, while wages, benefits and pensions are down. My God—the Bank of England had to intervene with £65 billion to save our pension funds. People on the Government Benches should be ashamed of themselves for supporting this, voting for it and inflicting on us the horror show that we saw in the summer. This has all been driven by Captain Chaos herself, the Prime Minister unchained as a free marketeer ultra.
Who knew that unsuccessful trickle-down economics, unfunded tax cuts for the wealthiest and borrowing on the never, never would fail? The shadow Chancellor knew, the Bank of England knew, the Institute for Fiscal Studies knew, the Office for Budget Responsibility knew, the Financial Times knew and Mr Wragg knew, as he has eloquently set out in the Chamber today. In fact, a huge coalition of the economically sensible forewarned that the free marketeer ultras would ultimately fail and crash the economy off a cliff.
The lady who is for U-turning by the hour is now trying to deflect the blame for the chaos to the former 38-day Chancellor, while appointing the former architect—let us not forget this—of NHS austerity mark one. She is a Tory Prime Minister in name only, chained to the passenger seat while Chancellor Hunt tries to swerve away from another cliff of chaos, but the damage is done. Who knows how much longer this Prime Minister in title only will have to attempt to deal with this utter mess of her own making? Almost certainly not as long as our constituents, who will be paying for years to come for this economic chaos. We will ensure that that is not forgotten.
Some 4,800 households in Halton and 13,900 in Cheshire West and Chester will now be paying higher mortgage rates, thanks to the experimental mini-Budget that the Prime Minister and former Chancellor now admit caused interest rates to increase—a Budget that the Cabinet signed up to, although they are now in denial about that. That extra £500 a month on average will inevitably mean that homes are repossessed. The situation will be turbocharged by the new Chancellor of doom who has just decided to gift households with energy bills of up to £5,000 next April—complete and utter madness—while the oil and gas companies rake in £170 billion of excess profits. The answer is staring people in the face. It is those companies we need to tackle, and in fact the likes of Shell are expecting it and have built it into their business plans. It is crazy.
On the long road to recovery that we face, a Conservative Government cannot remain in the driving seat, even if the Prime Minister is not at the wheel. We now have the fourth Chancellor in four months, and that is not going to provide confidence and stability. In fact, we have had 12 years of this Government and 12 years of austerity. The new Chancellor of doom has no strategy for growth, and he is set to outline austerity mark two in the Hallowe’en Budget. It is time to wake up from this nightmare. Step aside, and let us have a Labour Government.
It is a pleasure to follow Mike Amesbury and his little shop of horrors, and it is a pleasure to be called to speak on this Labour motion. There is one thing missing from it, because the Labour party normally wants an impact assessment. One thing I have concluded about politics is that we always miss out one impact assessment: the impact of our measures on those who have least of all. When I say least of all, I mean those who have literally nothing—no money, no assets and above all no voice—because they have not been born yet. I am talking about the impact of the decisions we take in government today on those who are to come. In other words, I am talking about the national debt. For me, as a Conservative, it goes to the core of everything I believe in that, as with the environment, we should leave the public finances in a better condition for our grandchildren.
It is fair to say that I warned in the summer that the unfunded measures that were proposed constituted a high-risk strategy. I was dismayed when they were announced and not surprised at their impact. I was, however, delighted by the new appointment to the Treasury of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt—I had the privilege of being his Parliamentary Private Secretary when he was Health Secretary and Foreign Secretary—and of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend Edward Argar, who is an excellent appointment.
I want to reflect on the wider idea of unfunded tax cuts or spending. There are those in the Opposition who have called it libertarianism. It is certainly not conservatism, in my view. Neither is it libertarianism, because the unfunded measures were not matched by spending reductions—in other words, a smaller state—but the money was simply to be borrowed. There is an argument for saying that it is socialism, and it is certainly what we would have expected from Jeremy Corbyn. But really, when people promise stuff without saying how they would pay for it or making any difficult decisions, it is populism. This is not new. Where we are with the economy has implications for all of us, from all parts of the House. Whatever steps we now take and whatever measures we announce, we will have to say how they will be paid for. We will have to level with the British people.
I had the great privilege of being PPS to
Many, including some Conservative Members, argue that we can borrow because it creates growth. The beauty of that position is that they do not have to say who loses out. That is the hard thing in politics, and we now have to face up to the reality of our position. It will have massive implications for parties on both sides of the House. Even the SNP, in relation to the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, announced a policy to be paid for from the surplus in the national insurance fund, which, though an accounting reality, does not exist as surplus money in the Government accounts that can be committed for years to come. We have all heard such commitments.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about accounting and balancing the books. Perhaps he and his colleagues would like to come up to Scotland and take lessons from our Government, who are having to fill the black holes that his Government have created, because we actually have to balance the books in Scotland. Forget trickle-down economics; it is trickle-down tragedy that I am seeing in my constituents in Livingston being pushed under by the absolute chaos at the heart of this Tory Government.
The hon. Lady was not here when I intervened on the SNP Front-Bench spokesman, Drew Hendry. I asked if it was true that were Scotland to be independent, its policy would be to have a currency with no lender of last resort, and he did not deny it. It is the most extraordinary proposition, exceeded in its stupidity only by the old idea of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, to be enforced at the same time as unilateral nuclear disarmament—in other words, making nuclear conflict more likely while denuding ourselves of the ability to deter it.
I turn to social care, which I care about passionately. The social care workforce do one of the toughest jobs in the country, and I never take them for granted. They care for the most vulnerable, particularly those with dementia. We all know that they are facing a difficult period, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer certainly knows that.
Last week, I was one of only two speakers on the Conservative Benches who spoke in the debate on the Bill to repeal the health and social care levy. I say to my right hon. Friend Edward Argar that his predecessor as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, our right hon. Friend Chris Philp, said several times that, despite the repeal, there would be not a penny less for health and social care. We now know that the social care cap may be delayed, or may even not happen—I sincerely hope that that is not the case. Had I known that last week, would I have changed the way I would have voted had a Division been called? My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood has been a Health Minister and knows the importance of social care. He needs to reflect on the commitment given last week. I can tell him right now that I would have been sorely tempted to vote against the Bill had I known then what I know now.
The whole point of the levy was to deliver a solution to social care and to help to fund the NHS through these difficult times. It was one of the great achievements of the previous Prime Minister that, after all these years of social care Green Papers and White Papers, not taking decisions, and yes, commitments to spend with no explanation of where the money will come from—perhaps a wealth tax, although that would not get the revenue—we got a policy, and one that was credibly funded. The method of funding it was arguably not perfect, but it would have delivered a cap for those who otherwise face no limit on the costs they can incur if, for example, a loved one in their senior years has dementia. I think that our policy priority must be ensuring the dignity of our most senior citizens at the toughest time of their and their dependants’ lives.
It gives me no satisfaction to make these points about the importance of sound fiscal policy, balancing the books and having regard to future generations. That has been the core of every Conservative Government I have served in, and I know it is back at the core with our new Chancellor, who I am sure will deliver market confidence. But we all need to understand that the era of making unfunded pledges is over. That will have implications for all parties, as we will all face greater accountability, but for my grandchildren—if I ever get them—it is a good thing.
I rise to speak in support of the motion. I am glad to hear that it seems to be enjoying a lot of support, and I hope to see the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast published immediately after the motion is carried.
I have always opposed Tory Governments. I have long been of the view that a bad Labour Government is better than a good Tory one. I know what the Tories are about and I never expected them to do anything other than make life more difficult for the most vulnerable. In fact, if that were not the way the Tory party operated, we would never have needed to invent the Labour party in the first place. But having opposed many Conservative Governments, never before have I seen one so inept, yet so arrogant as the current Government; so damaging, yet so casual about their impact on people’s lives.
When the revisionism comes, as it undoubtedly will in the weeks and months to come, we must remember that this situation did not fall out of a clear blue sky. There was a clear mandate, because during that leadership contest the Prime Minister was clear about what she intended to do. It was Tory MPs who put her into the final two. Now we hear them say, “We must never again let the members choose the leader”, but they chose to put Elizabeth Truss in the final two knowing full well what policies she would support. Huge revisionism is going on so that the next generation of Tory MPs will be able to say, “Oh, that was just a rogue Chancellor and a long-ago deposed Prime Minister. Forget about them—we changed after that,” but the right hon. Lady won a mandate from her party to pursue those policies.
At the time of the mini-Budget statement, some voices were expressing disquiet, but I recall the support we heard from many Tory Members. It was when I heard how happy the mini-Budget had made John Redwood that I knew how bad it would be for the British people. I remember Nick Fletcher, who was in his place a few minutes ago, claiming that the whole of Doncaster would support the mini-Budget. I have not heard him say that today. As the hawks of the right-wing press circle over the Prime Minister, let us not forget that they were the loudest cheerleaders for this mini-Budget. The day after the statement, the Daily Mail proclaimed, “At last! A true Tory Budget”. The Express was equally triumphant—“Big tax cuts to herald new era”.
I could not agree more. Kwasi Kwarteng is the first politician in history to have had to resign for doing what he said he was going to do, which was precisely what the Prime Minister said she was going to do. The mini-Budget was born of the recklessness of the previous Prime Minister having pursued so much, so confidently, with so little evidence.
Make no mistake: I will spend every day between now and a general election making sure that the people of Chesterfield know that the higher interest rates, the tax rises, the cuts to our threadbare services and even, shamefully, the prospect of disabled people on benefits and impoverished pensioners suffering further cuts to their real-terms income, are all the result of this arrogant recklessness. This did not need to happen. Yes, there are global issues, but the central banks in America and Germany did not have to bail out the pension funds. Of course we welcome the fact that the Government have undone some of the measures, although it was bizarre to hear the Chancellor say on Monday how pleased he was that Labour were supporting his plans. They were our plans a few weeks ago! Now, the Tory Government see it as a success that they are trying to put out the fire that they lit in the first place, but the damage has already been done.
The logical call for a windfall tax made by my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves continues to be rejected. What objection do the Government have to asking the energy generators to contribute some of their vast excess profits to help to fund the cost of ensuring that people can stay warm this winter and enabling businesses to keep their doors open?
It absolutely is. I suspect that, ultimately, they will. I am a great student of history and I can remember all the way back to January this year, when the Labour party called for a windfall tax. I remember the then Prime Minister standing at the Dispatch Box mocking us and saying that Labour always wants to raise taxes, and the then Chancellor saying the same thing. A few months later, reluctantly they had to announce precisely that. Boris Johnson used to stand at the Dispatch Box criticising the policy—our policy—that he later adopted. That is how bizarre this Government’s behaviour has been. Now we have to go through the same damaging charade again. It is clear that ultimately the Government will adopt Labour’s policy of a windfall tax, but in the meantime their resistance will cost our country and our people dear.
Just a week ago, the Prime Minister was boasting that she was guaranteeing people’s energy bills for the next two years, so why were Labour only going to guarantee them for six months? Then on Monday the Chancellor comes here and says, “All right—six months.” That is how this Government are running our economy. You would not run a whelk stall like that.
Government policies change at a bewildering rate, but they do not seem to understand that it is not just that the policies are wrong; it is the clear demonstration that they do not have a clue what they are doing that is unsettling the markets. In Chesterfield, 3,352 households face a hike in their mortgage payments next year. It is quite unforgiveable. My hon. Friend Paula Barker said that this is 2011 all over again, but that is not so. In 2011 we were coming off the back of 13 years of Labour investment in our public services, so there was a chance that our health services, our schools and our Sure Starts could withstand the cuts. Not now. Our public services cannot tolerate the sort of cuts that the Chancellor has warned might be coming our way.
The idea that this Government can restore confidence in our nation’s finances by having two more years to demonstrate the ineptitude that in the past 12 years has brought us to our present state would be laughable if it were not so serious. There is no mandate for the approach that they are now pursuing. If the Tories think that they can quietly euthanise the career of the latest Prime Minister and have another go, they are further removed from reality than even I believe they are.
We need a Government who are truly committed to growth, to a green recovery and to rebuilding our public services. We need a Government whose policies last beyond the ink drying on the growth document they have just printed. We need a Government whose plans are robust and whose leader is strong. We need a Government who are willing to lead in the national interest, and not just in the narrow interest of their party. That means we need a Labour Government led by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer. We need that general election now.
Today’s inflation figures underline, once again, the very real pressures that my constituents and people across the country are facing with higher bills and the cost of living, so I welcome the action that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has taken to change major elements of the growth plan and to settle the markets. It is only with economic stability and fiscal responsibility that we can create a platform for growth and help to protect our constituents from higher inflation and higher interest rates. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been candid in accepting the mistakes that were made and they have rightly apologised for them. Now we need to focus on setting out a plan that sees debt falling over the medium term while delivering growth and higher living standards.
Listening to the debate, I did not recognise much of the criticism of the previous Government’s record on growth, investment or jobs. Of course, as we have said, we want the trend growth rate to be higher, but we have also had the third highest growth rate of the G7 since 2010 and the UK continues to attract high levels of foreign direct investment, as it has throughout that period.
The Opposition’s motion makes no mention of the Government’s record on jobs—I wonder why. Perhaps it is because the latest figures show that unemployment is at its lowest level for nearly 50 years. In my North West Norfolk constituency, more than 500 people have moved from unemployment benefits into work in the past year. When I talk to employers in my constituency, I hear that the biggest challenge that they are facing is a labour shortage. Given the high number of vacancies, and the people looking for work, I endorse the great work of my local Jobcentre Plus team, who help to match people with those jobs so that they can move into the security of having a job and their own wage. Another reason that the Opposition did not refer to jobs may be that no Labour Government have left office with unemployment lower than when they came into power—my hon. Friend Jerome Mayhew mentioned that, but it bears repeating as often as possible.
The motion does refer to the profits of energy companies. Due to Putin’s illegal war, companies have been making exceptional profits and it is right that they should help to fund the energy price guarantee for my constituents and businesses, and other support for people, given the real cost of living pressures. Contrary to many of the contributions, however, including from Mr Perkins, they are doing so: over the next four years, the energy profits levy is expected to generate £26 billion of revenue—£26 billion in a windfall tax. I welcome the comments from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor earlier this week that nothing is off the table with regard to further potential steps on those excess profits, while being mindful of the need to continue to encourage investment in clean and other technologies.
As the Chancellor prepares his medium-term fiscal plan, I return to the issue that I have raised most frequently in this House since I was elected, which is familiar to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—the need for investment in a new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn. It is the most propped-up hospital in the country, with 2,500 timber and steel supports holding up the concrete cancer roof.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I, along with other hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland, have campaigned for that capital investment. Indeed, I raised it when I met the Prime Minister yesterday morning and I have pressed the case with the new Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, who understands the real safety issues involved. I look forward to the new Health and Social Care Secretary visiting soon to talk to patients and staff about the impact that is having on care. Given the pressing need and the value for money of the case, I urge the Government to confirm that QEH will be one of the new hospital schemes and part of the planned capital investment programme for the new hospital programme.
Over the past decade, Conservative Governments have demonstrated their commitment to delivering economic stability, growing our economy, boosting employment and attracting investment. As we move forward, we must maintain that focus to drive growth while protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
It is less than a month since the former Chancellor delivered his “Let’s call it a fiscal event” Budget. The so-called mini-Budget turned out to be a full-on, unmitigated, colossal disaster. To say that that horror show of incompetence spooked investors in the financial markets would be an understatement.
The Government’s unexpected and impulsive tax cut for the richest, withheld from even senior Ministers, plus promises of more reductions to come, were breathtaking in their unfairness and recklessness. Most importantly, none of those crazy plans was costed by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which was also kept in the dark, along with most of us. The Government left a huge un-costed hole in the nation’s finances—no wonder they tipped the City into total panic.
It beggars belief that the Government did not stop to consider for just one minute the consequences of their actions on the global markets and beyond. Despite the Prime Minister’s hero worship of Margaret Thatcher, she clearly paid no heed to her aphorism, “You can’t buck the markets.” It has added insult to injury that the Prime Minister and her Government have repeatedly tried to insist that the chaos they caused has been due to global factors.
In fact, clear data provided by the Bank of England’s Deputy Governor, Sir Jon Cunliffe, shows the direct relationship between the crisis and the then Chancellor’s Commons statement on
Let us be completely clear: this is a Tory crisis made in Downing Street. They created it. They own it. But it will be paid for by working people, paying higher mortgages and borrowing costs for years to come. That is the worst aspect of this mess—the very real harm it will do to real people and real lives. People’s life choices have been shredded in the blink of an eye by a kami-Kwasi Budget. An ideological fixation with failed trickle-down economics has caused the Prime Minister to wreck people’s hopes and aspirations. I have heard from young couples who are no longer able to buy their first homes, pensioners who are worried about putting the heating on, and parents who are panicking about how to make ends meet. Rents are soaring and landlords are hastily selling, which creates an even greater shortage of rented accommodation.
In my constituency of Enfield, Southgate, pollsters Survation found that in the aftermath of the mini-Budget, 60% of people are cutting back on their essential groceries and 57% are worried about not being able to pay energy bills. Approximately 11,000 people will also seek to refinance their mortgages in Enfield in 2023. They will face hundreds of pounds in increased costs thanks to the irresponsible ideology of the Prime Minister and her Government. Even now, with the new Chancellor, we are still flying blind with no OBR forecasts and being left in the dark about much of what the latest Chancellor is proposing and its impact.
Exactly a week ago at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that there would be “absolutely” no public spending reductions. Yet that seems to be another broken promise, with signs that every single public service is again at risk. Public services and local government are already on their knees. My constituents frequently tell me how they cannot get GP appointments for less than four weeks away and how their hospital appointments are regularly cancelled.
Not only have the ex-Chancellor and the Prime Minister trashed the economy, but they have managed to trash the UK’s international reputation. With no less than the President of the United States, Joe Biden, declaring that the mini-Budget was a “mistake” and its implosion was “predictable”, we know the damage has been done. The Government’s economic credibility has been ruined and lasting damage has been done to the economy and to our international reputation. The same set of people simply U-turning will not fix it.
The Prime Minister made much of the anti-growth coalition in her speech to her chaotic party conference. If the Government want to understand who the anti-growth coalition truly are, they need only look in the mirror. The effects of the rashness and cult-like following of failed economic dogma over the last seven weeks will be felt for many years to come by ordinary people across the country. Opposition Members will make sure that the public do not forget who caused this chaos and that the blame is placed squarely on the Prime Minister and the Government.
I want to bring us back to the macro side of what we are talking about here—the big picture—because I think very few hon. Members would disagree that economic growth in itself is a good thing. Economic growth is what any Government should be looking to pursue. Economic growth creates jobs, increases livelihoods and makes us a wealthier country, so having a growth plan is in itself a good thing. However, I want to highlight three challenges that I think we will face in future.
The first challenge is low pay. This country unfortunately has too many low-productive, low-paid, low-skilled jobs and too few highly skilled, highly productive, highly paid jobs. Peterborough is really symbolic of that, and I think the Government have been trying very much to address that with the levelling-up agenda, which was the focus of the previous Prime Minister. For places such as Peterborough, levelling up will involve significant investment in R&D and in retraining. That is what this Government were trying to do that.
In Peterborough we have just built ourselves a brand-new university, and it is not just any old university; it focuses on manufacturing and engineering, really creating the environment for all those highly paid jobs of the future. Thanks to the £25 million that Peterborough has received from the levelling-up fund, we are going to build ourselves a living lab next to that university, to act as a magnet for future investment and future companies, leading to those highly paid jobs of the future. It is decisions like that that will increase the health, wealth and happiness of my city.
The second challenge we face, both as a country and as an economy, is tax. Quite frankly, I do not think tax is going to come down. Hopefully, bringing tax down is an ambition, and I confidently predict that we will be able to do so in the medium term. However, we will continue to have big spending commitments in future. We have an ageing population, and they are going to rely more on public services. I think we will also find ourselves exposed to challenges such as the cost of fuel. It is absolutely right that this Government have invested, have brought out the package and are going to reduce significantly the fuel bills that my constituents face. Fuel bills that could have been £6,500, for a typical household, will now be only £2,500. That was absolutely the right thing to do.
What I agree with is the fact that, were it not for this Government’s intervention, we would have seen prices of up to £6,000 for a typical household. Surely the hon. Lady welcomes the fact that in her constituency, as in mine, because of the actions of this Government, families will save themselves a great deal of money.
This Government have a strong track record on taking people out of tax. Remember that the personal allowance was of such a level in 2010, and it is now over £12,000. That is hundreds of thousands of people taken out of tax altogether, and millions of families supported. That is a good thing. The universal credit taper, reduced from 63% to 55%, has been a lifeline for constituents and families in my constituency. It makes work pay, which should be the focus when it comes to jobs and work. We want to reward those who take on extra hours, work hard and put in the effort.
The solution to tax that is higher than we would like is economic growth, because we can only make those spending commitments in the long term if we grow the economy. It is absolutely right that we have a growth strategy and that we follow it in the way that we are.
The third challenge is about positivity. Sometimes, especially when we are away from this place or when we are in our offices, we get this temptation to glance at our phones or at Twitter, and it is all doom and gloom. There is a real worry that sometimes people can scare themselves into economic difficulties. I think we need to be more positive as a country, and more positive about the long-term prospects for the UK economy.
Only last week I took the Peterborough heroes—I call them my heroes—to a reception I organised in Westminster. Many of those who came were charity workers, or people who have worked for particular businesses, charities or causes for a number of years. However, I very deliberately did not take only those people who had volunteered for their communities, as welcome and heroic as their efforts are. I also took entrepreneurs, because entrepreneurs create jobs, pay people and grow our economy, and I think it is just as worth while saying thank you and well done to them as it is to anybody else.
As has been repeated by Opposition Members, business is not the enemy. In fact, entrepreneurs and businesses are our friends in creating economic growth. I meet so many people in Peterborough, by virtue of being its Member of Parliament, who are truly heroic for taking a risk, truly heroic for having an idea, and truly heroic for employing people and doing the right thing. They are my heroes just as much as any charity worker in my constituency.
Those are the three challenges that I put to Ministers. First, we need to solve the problem of having a low-skill, low-paid economy and turn that into a high-skill, high-paid economy. Secondly, on tax, I do not think public spending is going to decrease in the near future, and we have a challenge there, but the Government have a strong track record. Thirdly, we need to be more positive and to recognise the efforts made by businessmen and women—by entrepreneurs. The foundations of the British economy are strong and we have hard-working, talented people in this country. That should all feature in a growth plan, and that is why I support this Government.
Less than four weeks ago, we were sitting here listening to the Conservatives proudly announcing their plan for growth, which amounted to nothing more than a package of unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy. We have since witnessed the pound crash to a record low against the dollar, a run on pension funds and a crisis in the mortgage market. Now we are back here, but this time we are significantly poorer and with no plan for growth. The only growth that millions of struggling families and pensioners will experience as a result of the mini-Budget is in the increased price they will pay at the checkouts and in their monthly mortgage bills.
Now, the Conservatives are proposing cuts that will break our public services and deliver further pain to millions of people across the country. It was good to hear the Prime Minister commit to increasing pensions in line with inflation at Prime Minister’s questions earlier today, but I note that this does contradict what the other Prime Minister—the Chancellor of the Exchequer—said on Monday. I note that Jerome Mayhew, who is sadly no longer in this place, said how outrageous it is that a few Liberal Democrats in Norfolk cannot decide on a road, but I think that is pretty ironic under the circumstances.
What we need to hear now is that benefits are going to be increased in line with inflation. The news that these could also be undercut is the latest Conservative betrayal of the most vulnerable in society. These cuts were not inevitable, as the Chancellor may like us to believe; they are the result of choices made by this Conservative Government—choices that have trashed the UK’s financial credibility and added billions to the cost of Government borrowing. Meanwhile, the Government refuse to tax the eye-watering excess profits of oil and gas companies, which could bring in up to £60 billion more to the public finances.
It is not just households and international markets that have lost faith in the Conservative Government; business confidence across the UK is also falling at an alarming rate after already tough market conditions were made worse by the botched mini-Budget. Small businesses are the engine of our economy, and business owners need a Government they can trust to deliver for them and support their recovery from the pandemic. But now businesses are facing higher borrowing and refinancing costs due to market volatility, at a time when SME debt has reached a staggering £204 billion. This leaves thousands of businesses at risk of going bust.
A real plan for growth is needed to secure future prosperity. The IMF recently downgraded the UK’s growth forecast for 2023 to 0.3%, and the outlook from the OECD is even bleaker, predicting complete stagnation. A Liberal Democrat plan would focus on tackling chronic labour and skills shortages, by investing in our young people and delivering higher wages. We would also drive green investment and focus on rebuilding trade after Brexit, which is a major barrier to economic growth. According to the OBR, the UK has become a less trade-intensive economy, and trade as a share of our GDP has fallen by around 12% since 2019, which is two and a half times more than any other country in the G7.
Global economic conditions are tough, but domestic conditions have been exacerbated by Conservative chaos. This economic crisis is a self-inflicted national humiliation that has put markets in the driving seat of UK fiscal policy. The UK is the only country in the G7 that has had to reverse policy that was enacted just three and a half weeks ago, and the only country where the central bank has had to step in to stabilise the economy and secure people’s pensions.
After weeks of denial, the Prime Minister has finally accepted responsibility for the economic pain of the mini-Budget, but after years of Conservative chaos, culminating in four different Chancellors in the past four months, the Conservatives have lost all financial credibility and their time is up. The new Chancellor may like us to believe that he can wipe the slate clean by tearing up the plans of his colleagues, but the damage has already been done by the Conservatives, and millions of families and pensioners will suffer from the increased cost of living and reduced public services as a result.
Nobody has voted for this new economic strategy, and this Government no longer have the legitimacy or mandate to push it through. The public must be given the opportunity to decide what they are willing to accept. It is time for people to have their say in a general election.
Let me go back 12 years, to the start of 12 consecutive years of reckless Tory Government. Twelve years—consider that. It is an incredible, or rather a depressing, amount of time. What have they done with their time in charge? They have cut our public services, slashed our essential infrastructure and decimated our communities. They originally asked us to do that in the name of austerity, and said that we must all tighten our belts and pinch our pennies so that their rich mates could be bailed out. We paid for the mistakes of their friends in the financial sector at great cost, and now we see it all happening again. The Government’s economic plan has backfired on us all, sending the economy into freefall, and once again, they are asking people to pick up the tab.
Inflation is sky high at 10.1%, and set to rise. Energy prices are through the roof. Rents are rising across the country, and property prices are unsustainable. Wages have been kept low, and benefits have been cut. People are struggling, and they are scared. Are they right to be worried? I am worried too. There is simply no way that people can thrive in these circumstances. In my constituency of Birmingham, Hall Green, we see the worst of Tory failures. Child poverty is at a staggering high of 52.9%, and for every 100,000 children in Birmingham, 4,500 require assistance from food banks to ensure that they are fed. Almost 10% of families in Birmingham, Hall Green receive support from universal credit, while Birmingham suffers from an unemployment rate of 11.4%. Average annual take-home salaries sit at just under £21,000. Those figures fall far short of national averages, and it is clear that enough is enough.
The cause of these problems is clear: the cost of living is too high. This is a Tory-made crisis, made in Downing Street, but paid for by ordinary working people. Wages are low, and too much of our meagre pay cheques goes to pay the dividends and bonuses of big energy barons and the exorbitant rents of private landlords. Too much of our national infrastructure, such as the post and rail services, has been put into the hands of careless private owners who under-invest and push wages down—I know that all too well as a proud member of the Communication Workers Union who once worked for Royal Mail. Meanwhile, Royal Mail Group’s profits have risen to £758 million. Do they take us for fools? Do they think we will not notice that blatant rip-off of hard-working people? How is that just, how is it fair? Yet that is what workers face across the country. It is clear that this is not just an economic crisis; this is a moral crisis and a crisis of greed. The resources that we built together—the homes, the infrastructure, the profits—are being sold off for the benefit of the rich. The fruits of our collective labour are going to the select few, which the Tories are only too happy to accommodate.
Dear, oh dear—where have we heard that before? Not so long ago it was mentioned when the Prime Minister went to see His Majesty the King. The economic mismanagement that we have seen play out in front of our eyes over the past few weeks has been nothing short of astounding. The disastrous mini-Budget pushed by the Prime Minister brought the country to the brink of collapse and left her leadership in tatters. Even with the U-turns, we are left with a Government who are clueless, out of touch, and intent on running our country into the ground. However, with all the U-turns and cock-ups there is a risk that we lose sight of the fundamental problems facing millions of people across the country—problems for which this Government still have no solutions.
The new Chancellor may have bought back an ounce of credibility for this failing Government, but he does so at the expense of working people across the country. His agenda is clear: bankers get to keep their huge bonuses, while the support for people facing unprecedented energy bills is to be scaled back. No tax cuts, but the promise of yet another round of austerity that will hit the poorest the hardest. No announcement on whether universal credit will rise in line with inflation; no solution to low growth and low wages. The mini-Budget may have gone, but we are all left with the same old Tories and the dismal future they offer.
We have had more than 12 years of a failing Conservative Government, and I will outline some of those failures. There has been a drastic rise in food bank dependency, and the Government appear to think that is acceptable and should continue to exist in our society. I say no, that should not happen, and I know Labour Members agree with that. Child poverty is very prevalent. Children in my constituency are going hungry, some both in the mornings and at lunchtime because their parents do not have enough money to feed them breakfast and give them lunch. Universal credit does not go far enough, and the very least the Government could do is ensure that it increases in line with inflation. The Government have carried out cut after cut to our public services. Those cuts affect the quality of people’s lives every day, because services are no longer in existence, and charities do not have the support they need to carry out those vital services.
While the roll-out of the vaccine is to be commended—let me say again how great the NHS was in rolling out that vaccine, as it continues to do, and acknowledge our key workers—even under the previous Prime Minister the economy was mismanaged. Many self-employed people were left to fend for themselves during the pandemic, and millions, even billions of pounds were written off by the Government. The UK has recovered more slowly than any other G7 country.
For the recent Prime Minister and her Government it is even harder to know where to begin. In light of what is happening globally, the mini-Budget was supposed to help, but instead it was an act of economic self-sabotage. How on earth did the Prime Minister and her then Chancellor fail to see that large unfunded tax cuts would not work? What we saw was high inflation, the devaluing of the pound, pension funds plummeting and mortgage rates being hiked.
The consequences of the crisis were made entirely in Downing Street. In years to come, the cost will be paid by millions of working people. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have now admitted that the mini Budget caused mortgage rates to go up and borrowing costs to surge. Nearly 10,000 households in the borough of Lewisham will face higher mortgage rates in 2023, and the situation for renters is no better.
Earlier this week, I raised the case of my constituent who was forced to leave an abusive marriage. She works and has children, and she could barely afford her private rent. She was already on universal credit. To make matters worse, her rent recently increased by £300. She simply cannot afford that. Other constituents are experiencing similar things. One shares a house and has since seen their rent rise by £600. They, too, cannot afford that. Are the Government saying that it is okay for people to fall into debt and that the everyday person has to accept the situation? It is not right.
Many parents across the country are struggling to feed their children. In fact, 26% of households with children have experienced food insecurity in the past month. Instead of the Government focusing their efforts on helping struggling families, they have lifted the cap on bankers’ bonuses. How can the Conservatives say that theirs is a party of fiscal responsibility when they hold the management of the economy in scant regard?
The Government have seen four Chancellors in the last 107 days. They need to stand aside. Labour will restore financial responsibility for the country with a serious plan for growth that puts people first. The next Labour Government will establish a great British energy company, because we are committed to lowering bills, protecting the environment and creating jobs. Labour will also introduce a new deal to boost job security, promote fairer pay and tackle the gender and ethnic minority pay gaps. The price of the Tory Government is already far too high to pay.
The Prime Minister says that she is a democrat. If she is, it is vital that we have a general election now.
The mini Budget has obviously been a complete disaster and catastrophe, and that is what the motion is about. There was the unfunded tax cuts for the rich—whether the 45p rate, bankers’ bonuses or corporation tax—and letting the fossil fuel companies with their excess profits off the hook. It was unfair and unforecasted, and it led to sterling going down, mortgages going up and debt costs going up—a complete disaster. When the Chancellor stands at the Dispatch Box and says, “Okay, it was all a mistake. We will reverse it. Don’t worry, we’ll grow the economy,” that is completely ludicrous.
It is possible to grow the economy. Labour grew the economy by 40% in the 10 years to 2008 and used that to double investment in the health service and education and to lift a million children out of poverty and a million pensioners out of poverty. What have we seen in the last 12 years, since 2010? To start with, we had George Osborne’s austerity, where he said that he would sack half a million public servants. The response of the market was that consumer demand went down. We have also not seen any growth or any increases in pay, so the country and the economy had no resilience for the pandemic, wars or outside shocks.
The truth is, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies said, had the trend rate of growth under Labour continued up to the pandemic, average wages in Britain would have been £10,000 higher, so people would have been stronger to take on the shocks that we have all suffered. That is because of the Tories. It was not all right before the mini Budget—it was already a disaster—and now this is a complete crisis caused by the Tories.
Under Labour, in 2010, 26,000 people were using food banks. By 2021, the figure was 2.6 million—100 times the level—and now it is far worse. One in four children, and one in five households, are now in food poverty. What are the Government doing about it? Very little.
In Wales, where there is a Labour Government, we have free breakfasts in schools and free lunches for which anyone can sign up, because we recognise, as Winston Churchill did, that the health of the nation is its most important asset and keeping people fed is critical. On Monday, the Financial Times said that for every £1 invested in the NHS, we get £4 back in growth. When I put that to the Chancellor, he completely misunderstood the point and started talking about tech businesses or something. This is about having a healthy nation that can work and proper jobs in the NHS.
In 2014, in a massive study of many countries, the OECD found a direct relationship between inequality and growth: namely, where there is less inequality, there is higher growth. So if the country wants higher growth, why did we have a mini-Budget that was all about giving the super-rich more money and clobbering the poor? Why index benefits to wages instead of prices, which are rocketing? It is completely inept, completely unfair and completely immoral, and it is going on and on.
The Government talk about productivity. We know from the Office for National Statistics that we would increase productivity if we had more people working online—in particular, older people with caring responsibilities who want a more flexible work-life balance—but we have a Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy who, as I understand it, does not even have a computer and pooh-poohs the idea. He thinks, “You can’t be working if you’re at home.” It is completely inept.
We should have equal wi-fi offered to everyone by providing wi-fi clouds in towns and on all our trains. When I commute back to Swansea, we are just wasting hours because there is no proper wi-fi. That is because it is not a public service and the private provider cannot be bothered to put it in. It is completely ridiculous.
We know that austerity, which it has been promised that we will go back to, produced 300,000 excess deaths. We know that trade is down, largely because of a cocked-up Brexit. We know that Conservative MPs voted for the current Prime Minister, who endorsed the mini-Budget that has created an even worse catastrophe. We know that Tory MPs did not support the Chancellor, who is now getting us back to square one. The only reason why we have a certain stability in market confidence is because of knowledge from the polls that there is some prospect of a Labour Government in two years who will put us back on track. What we should do morally, economically and politically is give the people a choice—give them a general election now—so that we can sort out the economy and give power to a party that can and has delivered growth and which will deliver a better, stronger, fairer, greener Britain, and kick this lot out.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Geraint Davies. I speak in support of the points made by the shadow Chancellor and a number of hon. Members from across the House. I will cover three brief points in the time available: reflect on the seriousness of the crisis of the past few weeks, which is unprecedented; consider the serious effects on families and pensioners across the country; and consider the pressing and serious problems facing businesses, whether large or small.
To put the last few weeks into some sort of context, this truly is a crisis made in Downing Street and one that is absolutely dreadful for the country on so many levels. I am utterly staggered that a Prime Minister and Chancellor could have taken those steps, and I cannot understand why they made such serious mistakes.
The unfunded, reckless tax cuts, leading to significant increases in mortgage costs and other business costs, are absolutely dreadful for the whole country. My feelings after these weeks, and at certain points during the journey that we have been on—the zig-zag of U-turns and mismanagement—is one of disbelief. I am sick and tired of waking up to the “Today” programme telling me of some dramatic change in Government policy leading to awful effects on the country. I am also fed up with the evening news reporting on the latest rumours and difficulties facing the Government. I would like to see a period of stability, as I think we all would. Certainly, our businesses would, and families and pensioners would.
Moreover, this deeply saddens me, because the Government’s inept mismanagement has deeply damaged the country’s long-held reputation. It is dreadful that the then Chancellor was at the IMF in Washington at the very time when senior figures in the organisation were criticising British policy. We had the completely unprecedented experience of the US President commenting on UK economic policy and mismanagement by the Government, and the former Governor of the Bank of England criticising Government policy.
I wish to move on from all that but, in the time I have, I will draw Members’ attention to the very real effects on working people who will now be paying the cost of this very serious crisis for months and years to come. I want to explain some of the work I have been doing in my constituency, which covers Reading and Woodley, and the visits I have made to local centres to see the effects for myself and to see quite how awful it has been.
I am lucky to represent a relatively prosperous area in south-east England, but we have serious poverty which is being made dramatically worse. We have a large number of families and pensioners who are struggling and who are very concerned about mortgage and rental costs. I visited the Weller Centre in the last few days, which is a wonderful community centre in Caversham in my constituency. Amazing work is being done there to support people on so many different levels by a charity. It was worrying to see how many people are now having to rely on food banks. That has been a constant for some time, but it is getting much, much worse. In addition, to make things worse still, fewer supplies are now being donated because of the pressures on the retailers and households who have generously donated. As a result, the community fridge at the centre is not as full as it was. The boxes of fruit, vegetables, other produce and dry goods are not as full as they were and there are real impacts on people in desperate need. The centre is trying to provide cheap, hot food to pensioners—often things like baked potatoes and basic food—to help them to make ends meet. It also offers a warm bank.
All that is to be commended, but that scale of support would not be needed were it not for the Government’s mismanagement. In Reading and Woodley town centres, and in other local centres across the constituency, we can see very clearly the effects of the Government’s mismanagement. Other colleagues have mentioned them, too. There are empty shops and business units because of the effects of that mismanagement. My area is a regional hub for business and shopping in the central belt of southern England, so it is disturbing to see that level of empty property.
I strongly suspect that many small businesses—I have had businesses contact me—are having real worries about their energy bills. They are also concerned about the rising price of borrowing and other business costs. They are putting off vital investment and other vital decisions because of the Government’s mismanagement, and that has a real effect on employment and business growth across the country. It shows the scale of the Government’s mistakes.
I found some solace—it is a salutary warning to Ministers—in the fact that business leaders are increasingly looking to the Labour party for leadership and to what I hope will be an incoming Labour Government in the not-too-distant future. I thought it particularly interesting that the CEO of Tesco praised Labour’s economic plan. In fact, I think he said that only Labour had an economic plan to take us out of current difficulties.
To conclude, we have seen today that the Government have made serious mistakes that working people will be paying for, for months and years to come. There needs to be a completely new approach. We need, ultimately, a new Government to take things forward for this country.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Matt Rodda.
Last month, the Government engaged in one of the worst acts of economic self-destruction in living memory. Overnight they plunged the pound to historic lows, mortgage interest rates skyrocketed out of control and six major pension funds faced total collapse. In just five weeks, they have imploded the economy, destroyed our global reputation further and thrown countless more families into debt and destitution. One former US Treasury Secretary even described it as one of the worst macroeconomic decisions ever taken, suggesting that
“The U.K. is behaving a bit like an emerging market turning itself into a submerging market.”
Research by the New Economics Foundation found that the trickle-down Budget pushed the income of the poorest 10% a further £900 under the cost of basic living supplies, while boosting the incomes of the richest by £5,000 above cost; a move totally divorced from reality. Now, with the damage already done, they have announced an embarrassing set of U-turns. They are already signalling a return to the savage and failed policies of austerity, which will decimate our infrastructure and public services, and make working people poorer the length and breadth of Britain.
Despite all that, the Prime Minister and the former Chancellor were right about one thing: the economic policies of the past decade have utterly failed to address the biggest challenges faced in our society. Indeed, successive Tory Governments have overseen the worst growth in GDP per head since records began. According to figures by the ONS, the UK is the only G7 economy yet to recover to above its pre-pandemic levels. That is 12 years of stagnant wages that have resulted in what the TUC referred to as the worst pay crisis “since Napoleonic times,” with real incomes still well below 2010 levels at the time of the outgoing Labour Government.
UK inflation is on course to rise to its highest peak in half a century and 45 million people are about to be plunged into full poverty. Many will struggle to put food on the table and keep the lights on this winter. Low-income households will see the gap between income and the cost of living increase by 40% next April, with three in four households unable to cover rising costs. People in Ilford have borne the brunt of this economic crisis. My inbox this week was full of desperate cries for help from constituents who have no idea how they are going to make it through another grim winter, with so many forced into debt and further below the poverty line.
The Chancellor’s attempt to mend the damage done by his predecessor is nothing more than a return to the age of austerity that damaged our economy so deeply, instead of the strategic long-term investment that is so badly needed in the UK. Yet again, a Tory Chancellor has warned that “more difficult decisions” are yet to come to cope with the economic crisis that his own party has inflicted on the country. His new advisory panel is entirely made up of members of the financial sector, including former Chancellor George Osborne’s chief of staff, now a member of Blackrock, the designers of the LDI—liability driven investment—schemes that very nearly imploded the economy two weeks ago, as well as a representative from J.P. Morgan. That is hardly reflective of the needs and wants of the wider public. Where are the representatives of the rest of the economy, the TUC or the low-paid workers set to be hit the hardest?
The Chancellor has unsurprisingly already told us that cuts to vital services are seemingly inevitable. Again, it looks like working people up and down the country are going to be asked to tighten their belts even further. Why do these “tough decisions” always seem to fall on working class people, when so many at the top have never had things so good? Indeed, energy giants are set to make up to £170 billion in excess profits during this crisis, while ordinary households struggle to pay the bills, and we may well be heading towards rolling blackouts. CEOs are now collecting an average of 109 times the pay of ordinary workers, with chief execs of the UK’s 100 biggest companies seeing their pay increase by a staggering 39%, well above pre-pandemic levels. Isn’t it about time that the very richest and their oligarch allies, who got us in this mess in the first place, shoulder some of the burden?
Getting more cash in the hands of everyday people would lead to exactly the kind of high growth that the Government claim to want, with far better health and education outcomes as a result. Wages must rise, at the very least, in line with inflation across the board, and those bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis need a pandemic-style bail-out for their energy bills. The IMF has suggested that it would cost about £30 billion to compensate the poorest 40% of households for price rises this year—still a fraction of furlough costs and £10 billion less then Shell and BP made in profit last year alone.
The energy giants will continue to raise their mark-ups as long as they are allowed to do so, and they cannot be trusted to keep bills at affordable levels. It is high time that they are replaced by a single publicly owned energy company, run by workers and held to account by consumers. We need a genuinely transformative green new deal, working hand in hand with a coherent, progressive industrial strategy to rebalance the economy away from the City of London and create millions of high-skilled, well-paid, unionised jobs—forging a greener, more just society and putting Britain at the heart of the fight internationally against climate change.
I rise to speak in favour of the motion tabled by my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves. As others have outlined, interest rates are rising while inflation is now in excess of 10%. Mortgages and rents are increasing as real incomes fall. Twelve years of austerity and the cost of living crisis are making life a misery for people in my communities.
On top of that, the mini-Budget of the Chancellor’s predecessor has created long-term damage to the economy. Despite substantial U-turns in policy, energy producers and other monopolies continue to make huge windfall profits. There remains economic chaos, which the Government are struggling to control, but that chaos is because the Conservatives defend their and their allies’ incomes and their class interests. The mini-Budget that caused such chaos was a huge ideological experiment in tax handouts to the wealthy. That is why I support the motion and, in particular, believe that the economy must work for every single person in every part of the United Kingdom.
The people of my Cynon Valley constituency and the people in Wales are going through a cost of living emergency. When I surveyed people in Cynon Valley, I found that nearly 90% of them felt worse off than they did 12 months previously; more than two thirds said that they will significantly cut down on heating; almost half said that they would not put the heating on at all; and the vast majority said that the situation was having a detrimental impact on their mental health.
Behind those statistics are real people. Let me quote a couple of my constituents. One said:
“Life genuinely doesn’t feel worth living any more. I feel guilty for bringing my children into this awful mess of a world.”
Another, a disabled person, said:
“I have no idea what I’m going to do— this— winter, something has to give.”
Those are harrowing comments by constituents. That is the real-life impact of the cost of living emergency.
The Chancellor is not interested in working on behalf of my constituents and 99% of the people living in this country. He has been clear that he is going to pursue yet another ideological austerity agenda. Cutting public spending is an attack on the living standards of working-class people.
The people of Wales deserve better. We deserve fair funding and a needs-based funding formula. I commend the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, who yesterday passionately and rightly condemned Conservative cuts to the NHS in Wales. He has also made clear his backing and support for an inflation-proofed pay rise for public sector workers. Westminster—the Treasury—needs to ensure fair funding for Wales and not force my constituents further into poverty.
The cost of living crisis is undoubtedly a political choice made by successive Conservative Governments here in Westminster. It is clear that the public cannot afford for this Conservative Government to remain in office, and as others said, we are ready for an election at any time. Right now, however, we also need urgent action to better distribute the enormous wealth in this country; we are the fifth richest nation in the world. To do that, we must also change the balance of power from the few to the many. We need to see an inflation-proofed rise in income. I still think that the Tory party’s position on pensions is at best unclear or confusing. Social security is now under threat from the Chancellor, who has refused to back a rise at today’s inflation rate, and we need to see inflation-proofed increases in pay. We also need to see a shift in the burden of taxation to those who can afford it: the wealthy, the banks, the monopolies making millions and billions in profit.
The TUC congress is meeting this week. Yesterday, it agreed that it must
“organise coordinated action over pay and terms and conditions…with all TUC unions”.
I support that resolution, and yesterday I tabled an early-day motion about it.
The people in Cynon Valley, in Wales and throughout the United Kingdom cannot and will not tolerate a further period of austerity based on unacceptable economic theories. We are mobilising to defeat the Tory agenda. Trade unions, local authorities, communities and constituents up and down the country are coming together in unity to campaign and care for one another. There is a better way. In this economic chaos, the Conservatives will continue to defend their own incomes and interests. Now we will defend ours. Diolch yn fawr.
I am pleased to conclude the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I welcome the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury to his position. His colleague the Exchequer Secretary is an old-timer: she has been in post for six weeks. No doubt she is sitting at the Treasury talking about the old times back in September.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. We have heard many powerful speeches about the impact of inflation and rising energy costs, the pressures on business, the UK’s international reputation and the impact of rising mortgage rates. If you will forgive me, however, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to single out the speech of Mr Wragg, who not only spoke about his own health issues, but added his voice to those of Conservative Members calling for the Prime Minister to go.
This country has been through very significant economic damage in recent weeks: a run on the pound, a spike in gilt yields that has increased the cost of Government borrowing, emergency interventions from the Bank of England to prop up the country’s pension system, and a spike in mortgage rates that will add to the household costs of millions of people to years to come. All of it has been self-inflicted—not an act of God, not the result of global conditions, but the result of using the country for an ideological experiment. To deal with the argument that the Financial Secretary made at the beginning of the debate—essentially, that this is all global—I will quote from a letter from the Bank of England to the Treasury Committee. If any Conservative Member wants to intervene to say that any of it is wrong, they can be my guest.
Immediately after the mini-Budget, there were two days with the biggest daily rises in gilt yields in 20 years. Over four days, the rise was twice as large as the biggest rise since 2000. The Bank of England says that
“the scale and speed of repricing…far exceeded historical moves”.
Following the mini-Budget, gilts moved more in one day than in 23 of the past 27 years. No such moves happened in gilts in dollars, euros or other major currencies. There were global factors before the mini-Budget, but as my hon. Friend Mr Perkins said, the global context was a reason not to act in such a rash manner, not a reason to behave with all the restraint of a couple of trigger-happy pyromaniacs.
This crisis was not born of global conditions, but made in Downing Street. It has destroyed the Conservative party’s claims to be the party of economic competence and of sound money. The real-life impact of what the Government have done has been to place a Tory risk premium on the country’s borrowing costs and a Tory premium on people’s mortgage rates.
We have never argued that there was no need for borrowing. The point we made was that much more of this could be funded by a windfall tax. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is some sort of revelation, I can only ask him where he has been living for the last few months.
“vested interests dressed up as think tanks”,
it was an announcement worthy of the gold medal for lack of self-awareness, for never has there been a Government more symbolic of the failure of think-tanks on influential thinking than the one that she leads.
The Prime Minister and her ideological soulmate got the keys to the Treasury Ferrari, took it for a joyride and then crashed it into a ditch. Now, belatedly, by commissioning the OBR report and singing the praises of an independent Bank of England after spending all the summer undermining it, they have signed themselves up for the speed awareness course; but it is too late, because people will continue to pay the price of what they have done.
We have now had two fiscal events with no report from the OBR. This was not just about what was done, but about how it was done. The whole country is paying a price for the Conservative party’s contempt for the institutions that safeguard our economic credibility. And where does it all leave the Prime Minister? The mini-Budget was not a surprise to her; it was not imposed on her; she was 100% its co-author. It embodied her beliefs, her world view, the central core of the campaign on which she fought and won the leadership contest. Now everything she believes in has had to be burned in front of her to try to keep this zombie Government carrying on. This is not a case of “too far, too fast”, as she has claimed, or of a minor policy U-turn. It is a repudiation of everything that she stands for. It is a total and utter reversal.
The one surviving policy that the Prime Minister keeps praying in aid, the energy price guarantee, is the one policy that she campaigned against throughout her leadership campaign, saying that she was opposed to handouts. The question now is, what is her premiership for? Is it for the policies that she really believes in—those in the mini-Budget, now rejected and lying in ashes—or is it for the revenge of the orthodoxy that she so disdains? Each dose of the medicine she takes entails embracing that which she has so publicly rejected. Her argument, in effect, is “Please keep me here so that I can be what I am not.”
My hon. Friend is right. In fact, the only discussion on the Conservative Benches is about how to do precisely that.
Five days later, the new Chancellor—October’s Chancellor—told us that the cuts had to be eye-watering. Conservative Members know that this is an impossible basis for leadership, and that it leaves the Prime Minister in an untenable position. They are remembering the words of the song that was played at their party conference as she came on to the stage:
“You've done me wrong, your time is up…there's no way back…you’re movin' on out”.
Three cheers for M People: not just a great band, but one with the political foresight of Nostradamus.
Now the new Chancellor has been sent down from the mountain, come among us, as he says, to restore confidence and stability—but who destroyed confidence in the UK? Who created the instability? Who fashioned the Tory risk premium? I am too polite to call it what they are calling it in the City, which is “the moron premium”. It was the new Chancellor’s own Government.
Let us be clear: no one was talking about spending cuts before the mini-Budget of
I have noticed one thing about the new Chancellor, though: he is not pretending that it is year zero. He is owning the record—all 12 years of it—and he now wants to implement a version of what was done after 2010. We have gone from an economic policy of having to borrow from communities such as mine in Wolverhampton South East to fund a tax cut for people earning over £150,000 to a policy of those communities having to pay for the chaos caused by the first policy.
We can see what the plan is. Having crashed the economy and brought a new dimension of pity, bemusement and risk to the term “global Britain”, the Government now want the acid test to be support for their public expenditure cuts. They have already made people pay once for their mismanagement through higher mortgage rates. Now they want to make people pay twice through cuts to public services. It is the ultimate in governmental arrogance. They get to mess up the country through a giant ideological experiment and then ask everyone else to pay the price. That is not a political virility test; it is a candid admission of failure.
The roots of that failure lie not just in one or two policy errors but in something deeper. They lie in the triumph of ideology over evidence. They lie in the view that all that is needed is blind faith—the test that someone is a true believer—and the view that anyone who questions or points out inconvenient truths is a doom-monger, part of the blob, and not a proper patriot. That destructive ideology has done great harm to our politics. It has reduced the Conservative party to its current abject state, and has served as the rationale for attacking one institution after another.
Politics begins with wanting to change the world, but what have this Conservative Government been reduced to? Attacking tofu. What other forms of food will now be lined up in the culture war that is all that is left for them? The disaster of the past few months should result not just in a few policy U-turns, but in turning away from the politics that drove those decisions and has done such harm to the country. This country has great strengths: world-leading services, great high-value manufacturing, creative industries with global reach, some of the best universities in the world, and a fantastic workforce. It deserves much better than this Conservative Government.
I think I last stood at this Dispatch Box about three months ago, so it is a privilege to close this debate on behalf of the Government. I welcome the kind words from the shadow Chief Secretary, Mr McFadden. I suspect, knowing him as I do, that he will be tough in his challenges, with, as we have seen, a suitably dry delivery and sense of humour, but I have huge respect for him, as he knows. I have yet to be treated to his singing voice—sadly, we were not just then—but on a future occasion he might be tempted.
I thank all hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions. The debate has understandably invited the expression of strong views on the part of all Members who have spoken. That is because economic stability is not just about abstract numbers and graphs. As the shadow Chief Secretary knows, I am nothing if not a pragmatist. This is about our constituents, our families, our friends and our neighbours, and it matters. As the Chancellor set out to the House on Monday:
“Behind the decisions we take and the issues on which we vote are jobs that families depend on, mortgages that have to be paid, savings for pensioners, and businesses investing for the future.”—[Official Report,
Sometimes those decisions are difficult or, indeed, very difficult, as the Chancellor acknowledged. We know we need to do more to give certainty to the markets about our fiscal plans, and we have. I am clear, as is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and, indeed, the Prime Minister, that we need to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable, and we will.
We also know that the long-term economic wellbeing of this country relies on our achieving sustainable growth. In the coming weeks and months, responsibly and sustainably, we will continue that urgent mission. Indeed, the reason the United Kingdom has always succeeded is that, at big and difficult moments, we have taken tough decisions in the long-term interest of the country. When conditions allow, when it is consistent with sound public finances, we will seek to cut taxes to support further economic growth.
I remind the House that, since 2010, the United Kingdom has seen the third highest real GDP growth rate in the G7, increasing by more than Germany, France, Japan and Italy. The UK is forecast to be the fastest growing economy in the G7 in 2022. We have a strong labour market with the lowest unemployment rate in almost 50 years, which gives genuine grounds for optimism about our long-term prospects for growth.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his place. He has used the word “pragmatism.” The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury was on the money with regard to the folly of applying ideology when the circumstances do not allow it. Will my right hon. Friend, from the Dispatch Box, give both the country and the House confidence that good, old-fashioned Tory pragmatism and common sense—people can call it Treasury orthodoxy if they wish—are back at the helm?
I have just set out where we are and what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have said about the approach we are adopting. It is my firm belief, and the Chancellor’s firm belief, that we wish to be a tax-cutting Government, but that must be done from a basis of sustainability. When taxes are cut sustainably, we see behaviours change that help to generate investment and growth, which is what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor seek.
I will make some progress on the contributions made by hon. and right hon. Members. I will address the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution, and he may then want to come back to me.
The concerns expressed by the SNP spokesman, Drew Hendry, about economic turmoil are a little rich, given that his party seeks to impose the chaos, turmoil and economic cost of another referendum on Scotland, being unable to accept the democratic decision of the Scottish people in the last referendum.
On the most vulnerable, I highlight to the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, other hon. and right hon. Members the £37 billion of support that has been made available across the United Kingdom to support people with the cost of living. The SNP’s prospectus, set out a few days ago, on what independence would mean is a recipe for chaos and turmoil for the people of Scotland.
I am extremely pleased to see my hon. Friend Mr Wragg in his place. I pay tribute to his courage in speaking out so openly about his own challenges and, in so doing, doing a huge service to many people up and down this country. He is a man of great integrity and great courage, and I pay tribute to him. Although I do not always agree with him, this Chamber is always wise to listen to him. He represents his constituents passionately and well in this place. He touched on a number of things, but he specifically mentioned institutions—as did the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury—including the Bank of England and the OBR. My hon. Friend knows me well and he knows that I have huge respect for both those bodies. Before I knew I would be occupying this place and that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East would be my shadow, he and I were on television and I paid tribute to him for his role in a previous Labour Government for setting up the independence of the Bank of England, which I believe is important and needs to be respected.
Sir Stephen Timms is a distinguished former Chief Secretary to the Treasury and he highlighted a number of things, particularly the benefits question and the uprating of benefits, as did Sarah Olney. They will know that there is an annual process by which that is done. That process requires the statistics that were made available for the first time today—the September statistics. It is extremely important that that process is followed and I do not intend from the Dispatch Box to pre-empt a process that should be followed properly.
I listened carefully, as I always do, to the comments made by my hon. Friend Steve Double. He raised a particular point about stamp duty land tax thresholds and second homes. The increase in the SDLT threshold implemented on
Paula Barker raised a number of points, including one about the NHS and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s role in it. This Government have invested record amounts in our NHS; I was the Minister who took through, in early 2020, the legislation that increased by £33.9 billion the funding for the NHS. My party has a strong track record of funding our NHS.
My hon. Friend Jerome Mayhew was right to highlight, as others have, the broader context in the global economy with which we are faced: the legacy of covid; and the challenges in Ukraine. During covid we did the right thing, supported by those on both sides of this House, to protect lives and livelihoods, but we should not pretend that that did not come at a significant cost.
I am very conscious that I have only about two minutes left and I would like to address the points made by a few other colleagues, including some on the right hon. Gentleman’s side of the House.
Mike Amesbury knows that I am fond of him—I do not know whether that will harm my career or his—but I just highlight to him the challenges that have driven the headline inflation rates we are seeing, which are higher in the eurozone than here at the moment. These are not Government-driven; they are energy costs and supply-chain challenges. If he looks at the analysis by the Office for National Statistics of the figures, he will see that those rates are particularly driven by food costs and food supply chains. We also have to look more broadly at the geopolitical context.
My hon. Friend James Cartlidge genuinely understands business and knows what it takes, and he highlighted the need to support the most vulnerable. That is something that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made clear will be at the forefront of his announcements. My hon. Friend also touched on the social care levy and the social care cap, and I know that he has views on it. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard that, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend will have to wait until
Significant contributions have been made by Members from both sides of this House. These are challenging times and the Government will take the difficult decisions necessary to ensure there is trust in our national finances. We will also remain completely committed to our mission to go for growth rooted in economic stability and confidence, but let us not forget that our economic foundations remain strong.
We are a Government with a record of action: we acted to support families and businesses on energy costs, we have acted to bring stability, and we will act to grow the economy. As the Chancellor said to the House on Monday, despite all the adversity and challenges we face, there is enormous potential in this country. Our job, now and always, is to fulfil that potential.
The House having divided: Ayes 223, Noes 0.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House regrets the long-term damage to the economy as a direct result of the mini budget, where mortgage rates for households have risen and the stability of pension funds has come under threat; notes that despite substantial U-turns in policy since the mini budget, the Government’s funding position has deteriorated, the cost of borrowing is expected to be higher for many years and the UK’s fiscal credibility has been undermined, all while many energy producers continue to make record windfall profits; therefore calls on the Government to take all necessary steps to stabilise the economy and make it work for ordinary working people and business through a plan for growth that puts them at its heart; and further calls on the Government to publish the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts immediately alongside Government estimates of windfall profits for the next two years from energy producers in the UK.
“calls on the Government to publish the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts immediately alongside Government estimates of windfall profits for the next two years from energy producers in the UK.”
Both those pieces of information are very important. The House has just called on the Government to publish them immediately. I seek your help in making sure that that happens.
I thank the right hon. Member for his point of order. Those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what he has to say. He is absolutely right that the Government must respond within a certain period of time to say how they will act now that that motion has been passed.