Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation - Income Tax (Charge)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:33 pm on 21 March 2023.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 6:33, 21 March 2023

I am going to proceed.

Such a scheme already exists for judges, but when the shadow Health Secretary made that call, he was attacked by the Tories, who said it was financial profligacy and unaffordable—and let us remember that that was only a scheme directed at the NHS. A Conservative spokesman said:

“Now they announce an expensive pensions policy without pointing to how they would fund it”,

adding that the shadow Health Secretary should think about the impact on the public finances. And what did the Tories do then? They said, “Wes, hold my beer.” Just days later, having denounced a smaller NHS scheme as being completely unaffordable, they proposed to abolish the entire lifetime allowance for everyone. According to the Tory argument, it is completely unaffordable for doctors alone, so we are going to propose it for everyone.

However, that was not always the Tories’ view. They used to think that,

“we must demonstrate that we are all in this together. When looking for savings, I think that it is fair to look at the tax relief that we give to the top 1%.”—[Official Report, 5 December 2012;
Vol. 554, c. 878.]

Who was the ideologically suspect pinko who said that? Who was that anti-aspirational enemy of enterprise? It was, of course, George Osborne. That is how far they have moved. They used at least to claim we are were all in this together; now they do not even pretend.

Growth is the essential challenge facing the country. We need better growth to make the country more prosperous and its people better off. Right now, in the United States, growth is being driven by the Inflation Reduction Act sucking in investment in new technologies and the green transition, and creating jobs right across the country. Europe is responding with incentives of its own. What is the Government’s position? It is that this is “dangerous”, as the previous Business Secretary said. Other countries are on the pitch; they are using the power of government to crowd in private investment. That is exactly what we should be doing. This is not about the state doing it all; it is about setting a clear, long-term direction, and asking business and employees to be partners in making that work.

Those investments will happen somewhere. The question we pose is: why not in Britain? Why not in Britain when we have some of the best researchers in the world? Why not in Britain when we have a tradition of innovation and creativity that is second to none? Why not in Britain? Because we lack a Government with the ambition to make it happen. In the end, that is what was missing from this Budget.

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister want to project themselves as the adults in the room, but with the challenges that the country faces, that is not enough. It is not enough just not to be reckless and ideological; it is not enough just not to subject the country to another giant juvenile experiment with real-world consequences; it is not enough just not to degrade the idea of public office itself; it is not enough for them not to be their disastrous predecessors. The country deserves a lot more than that. It needs a Government who will break with, not continue, the last 13 years, and who will break with the whole pattern of low growth, high tax and creaking public services. That is what we need, and that is what we did not get from the Budget last week.