Income Tax (Charge)

– in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 12 March 2024.

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Votes in this debate

Debate resumed (Order, 11 March).

Question again proposed,

That income tax is charged for the tax year 2024-25.

And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1:21, 12 March 2024

It is a privilege to open the final day of debate on the Budget—a Budget with a plan to grow the economy, a plan for better public services and a plan to make work pay. Today’s debate is focused on a theme close to my heart: improving productivity. As some Members know, back in 2010, before I became a Member of Parliament, I worked for my noble Friend Lord Maude on an efficiency and reform agenda that saved the Government £14 billion a year by 2014. It captured everything from buying printer paper collectively to managing Government projects better and digitising services. That agenda not only cut costs but improved productivity.

Ahead of the pandemic, and under this Government, productivity in the private sector increased by an average of 0.7% a year between 2010 and 2019. [Interruption.] As I am sure Opposition Members will be interested to know, that contrasts starkly with the decline in public sector productivity by an average of 0.2% per annum between 1997 and 2009. Our success was entirely due to hard work behind the scenes and a relentless focus on output.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

Rather than cherry-picking statistics, will the Minister tell us what she thinks about the fact—confirmed by the House of Commons Library—that the UK has the lowest investment in the G7 and is the second worst performer in the G7, post-pandemic, in terms of economic growth?

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I will say to the hon. Gentleman that since 2010 we have grown faster than France, Germany and Italy, and we are predicted to do the same in the next five years.

It is no coincidence that between 2010 and 2019 the number of violent crimes and burglaries halved. Our reading standards in schools, which were previously behind those of France, Germany and Sweden, raced ahead. The latest technologies, such as the NHS app and virtual wards, are now used by patients across the country.

However, this is not a “once and done” situation. The effect of the pandemic on productivity was significant. Moreover, as Lord Maude has put it, the focus on productivity must

“never end. This will always be a work in progress. There never can be a steady state… The public, for whom public services exist, deserve nothing less.”

That is why this Conservative Chancellor is willing to invest once again to drive change.

The head of the National Audit Office has said that if we can improve public sector productivity, the size of the prize is tens of billions of pounds, and the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that raising public sector productivity by 5% would be the equivalent of about £20 billion extra in funding.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

While the Chief Secretary is on the subject of the OBR, may I ask her whether the OBR is correct in saying that the target public sector debt measure is forecast to increase, or whether her own personal calculations continue to suggest that debt will fall?

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will see in the OBR figures that public sector net debt overall is expected to fall, and public sector net debt excluding the Bank of England is due to fall in the fourth and fifth year of the forecast. [Interruption.] No, that is just the overall public sector net debt figure.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Defence)

May I pursue the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty? Why have the Government chosen a debt measure that excludes the Bank of England?

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

To put it simply, it is because we are more in control of that figure. The overall figure is falling, but public sector net debt excludes the impact of the Bank of England on the figures.

The rise in public sector productivity will help us to manage the size of the state in the long term, while also maintaining public service quality and delivering savings for taxpayers. That is why, 14 years on, in my role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I am delighted to be leading our public sector productivity programme.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

I am pleased that the Minister is in charge of that programme. Perhaps she can explain a little more about it. Local government currently has a deficit of about £4 billion. In the productivity plan for local government, the Government highlighted the need to reduce waste on equality, diversity and inclusion. I have found no Government figure showing how much that will save, but the TaxPayers’ Alliance says that it will save £50 million over three years, towards the £4 billion deficit. Has the Minister a figure that suggests that the saving in that part of the productivity plan will be greater?

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Yes, the savings in the productivity plan will amount to billions of pounds.

Let me say a little about the economic context. The last few years have not been easy. The pandemic, Putin’s illegal occupation of Ukraine, energy price rises, and now conflict in the middle east have taken their toll on the economy, on businesses and on families. However, because of the difficult decisions that the Government have taken, the economy is turning a corner. Inflation has more than halved, from 11% to 4%; real wages have risen for seven months in a row; and unemployment is down, from a high of 8% in 2010 to 3.9% at the end of last year. Because we have stuck to our plan, we have been able to cut the double tax on work, putting £900 back into working people’s pockets. On Sunday, the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies gave its verdict on our tax cuts for workers:

“genuinely putting a lot more money into the pockets of people”.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The right hon. Lady is referring to the 2p cut in national insurance. That cut has been wiped out by the freeze in income tax thresholds, and the average worker on £35,000 a year will still be nearly £400 a year worse off this year than last year. How do these figures match up?

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I am sure the hon. Lady will be pleased to know that the average earner will be subject to the lowest effective tax rate since 1975.

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I am going to make a bit of progress.

Sadly, the Labour party is putting this in jeopardy. Labour Members have no plan to cut taxes, and cannot name a single one that they would cut. Instead, they are trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by pretending that they have refinanced their £28 billion a year plan to decarbonise. They themselves have said that their pledge costs £28 billion a year, and they are apparently not scaling their promises down. We all know what that means: more taxes for hard-working families. What the public and the House need to know is this: which tax will they raise to pay for the plan, and, if they are in government after the general election, will they stick to our spending plans as set out in the Budget? The British public deserve to know.

During this Parliament, total departmental spending has increased by 3.2% a year in real terms, and day-to-day departmental spending will grow at an average of 1% a year in real terms beyond the current spending review period. The Government are protecting the record increase in capital spending over this Parliament, which will deliver about £600 billion of public sector investment over the next five years. As announced in the Budget, we are also committing an additional £2.5 billion for the NHS in England in 2024-25, protecting day-to-day funding levels in real terms.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Is the Minister aware that thousands of people in this country would love to work and be productive, but cannot because they are living with cancer? Cancer is not only a threat to people’s life, but it also limits their ability to earn a living. I am sure that she is aware that a third of people diagnosed with cancer wait two months for their first intervention that will help to cure them. Is there any room in the capital spending that she set out for large-scale investment in radiotherapy, as suggested by the all-party parliamentary group for radiotherapy? That would help to cure people more quickly and in a more targeted way, so that there is no collateral damage, and people can go back to work much sooner.

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I praise the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has done on this very important issue, and I know that the capital we are providing will help with issues such as the one he has highlighted.

We cannot just put more money into public services and hope for the best. I was delighted to read that Darren Jones said recently that he was in favour of reforming public services, not splurging on them. Well, here’s hoping that the Labour party breaks the habit of a lifetime. I genuinely hope that he will agree with some of the measures on productivity that we have set out today, because outcomes are determined by how things are done. By focusing on outcomes, not funding, we can deliver real value for the taxpayer. It is a trap to think that simply spending more buys us better public services. Simply spending more is also not sustainable.

Photo of Keir Mather Keir Mather Labour, Selby and Ainsty

On the subject of unfunded spending commitments, we on the Treasury Committee learned from the Office for Budget Responsibility this morning that the Government have not told it about the £46 billion ambition to scrap national insurance contributions altogether, and because the OBR has not been told, it cannot forecast the economic impact that that may have. How does that bake in long-term economic stability for the United Kingdom?

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Unlike the Labour party’s massive £28 billion unfunded tax commitment until 2030, our long-term ambition to cut national insurance and erase the double tax on work does not have a date on it. We have shown that, through careful stewardship of the economy over time, we can reduce people’s taxes without cutting spending.

Simply spending more is not sustainable. If no action is taken, public spending is forecast to grow faster than GDP from 2030; that accounts for pressures that we cannot avoid, such as demographic changes. That must be managed, using all the tools at our disposal—and not by borrowing more, or increasing taxes on the British public. Instead, we have to assess how we deliver public services, and improve them to make the UK more productive and ensure the long-term sustainability of public finances. Yes, this is about money, but it is also about delivering the best services for the public, because productivity is not a theoretical concept; it affects us all, in each area of our everyday lives.

I want better outcomes for children, and teachers being able to spend more time with pupils, rather than filling out paperwork. I want the police to spend more time on the beat, not on forms. As a Member of Parliament representing constituents in Sevenoaks and Swanley, I want nurses and doctors spending time with patients, not having to look at computer screens. Better public productivity means better value for money, better support for frontline workers to do their jobs effectively, and better results.

In last week’s Budget, the Chancellor announced that we are allocating £4.2 billion to investment in productivity. The package is broad and comprehensive, and includes £3.4 billion for the NHS—double its current budget for tech and digital transformation. The NHS says that that will unlock over £35 billion in the coming years—10 times the amount we will put in. At the next spending review, that will be the model for all our public services. The package also includes £105 million for 15 new special free schools across England, which I know will be welcomed across the House. That will create over 2,000 high-quality places for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and prevent local authorities’ use of costly independent provision.

The Budget provides £165 million to tackle the shortage of children’s home placements and to rebuild the children’s home estate. That will reduce the need for expensive and unsuitable emergency provision that does not produce the right outcomes for the children who need our help the most. There is £334 million to cut crime by improving policing technology, and £17 million for modernisation of Department for Work and Pensions services, and replacing the paper-based system for benefits. As a former Pensions Minister, I know the impact that such modernisation has had on the state pension. However, this is just the start. I am also committed to driving forward work to embed productivity at every level across the whole public sector.

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

No, I will not. I have been very generous with my time.

When I began thinking about this agenda in 2009, no one could have foreseen the technological changes of the last decade. Those changes are revolutionising the private sector, and we must embrace them in the public sector, too.

Our job is not yet done on the economy, but we are making progress with our plan to reward work and create growth—a plan that would be put in jeopardy under the Labour party. This Budget does what it says on the tin: it sticks to the plan—a plan that Britain needs, a plan that is putting money back in the pockets of British people, and a plan that is working. I commend this Budget to the House.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before I call the shadow Secretary of State, I inform the House that we have 46 speakers this afternoon. I urge Back Benchers to stick to a maximum of seven minutes to start with; we will see whether that needs to be reduced later. That would be extremely helpful.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1:36, 12 March 2024

I am starting to worry about right hon. and hon. Members of the Conservative party—not just because there are so few of them here today to defend their Budget, but because of their state of mind. I am not sure whether it is confusion, delusion or denial, but whatever it is, they need an intervention from the public.

On Conservative confusion, the Chancellor called this a tax-cutting Budget, but the independent forecasts confirm that the tax burden is due to go up each and every year over the next five years. On Conservative delusion, the Chancellor called this a Budget for a long-term plan for growth, but in the middle of this recession, the growth forecast per person was downgraded once again, after seven quarters of decline. On Conservative denial, which is the worst of the three examples, the Conservative party came out of the Budget promising to abolish national insurance contributions altogether —an irresponsible, unfunded and massive spending commitment costing £46 billion a year, all without a plan to pay for it.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

The Budget bakes in post-election cuts of between £19 billion and £20 billion, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that there is a conspiracy of silence from both the Conservatives and the Labour party. The Labour party has committed to sticking with the Tories’ spending plans. On the conspiracy of silence, will Labour keep the £20 billion of departmental cuts, or will it raise funds to offset that?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Two short answers: first, we are not sticking to the Conservatives’ spending plans and, secondly, the OBR forecasts Conservative party failure, not the success that the Labour party will bring to this country and the economy.

I know that Conservative Ministers do not like to think about their fourth Prime Minister since 2010, who only recently crashed the economy off the back of unfunded tax cuts, sending mortgage bills rocketing, but they really do not need to look back far in history to understand the risks of a £46 billion unfunded tax cut promise. They do not even need to ask their predecessors about the consequences of such risky behaviour, because the British people are still paying the price today for their economic vandalism through higher mortgage and rent costs every single month. Conservative Ministers need to look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether they have learned anything from the last 14 years in office. I have given just a few examples of confusion, delusion, denial and risk-taking with the economy, which prove that the biggest threat to the economy is the Conservative party.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

On the subject of confusion and the unfunded £46 billion commitment on national insurance contributions, my hon. Friend will note that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury would not give clarity on the date for her Government’s promise, yet the Chancellor said in an email to Conservative party members that he wanted to make progress on that promise “in the next Parliament”. Other members of the Government are saying completely different things. Is this not an example of the chaos that the Conservatives are in?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

That is yet more evidence of the Conservatives’ ill discipline. Last time, they wanted to disregard the Office for Budget Responsibility, and announced unfunded tax cuts; now the former Chancellor supports these new, unfunded tax cuts, and yet again the Government are not giving the OBR the information that it needs to make policy forecasts.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

Does the hon. Gentleman understand the difference between an ambition and a promise?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I would like the hon. Gentleman to explain that to the public. Given that the Conservative party makes promises at every single election and fails to deliver them, I think the public have the same question in mind.

Moving on to the confusion about this being a tax-cutting Budget, the Budget documents confirm that the United Kingdom has the highest tax burden in 70 years, and that burden rises each and every year for the next five years under the Conservatives, so overall, taxes are going up, not down. Figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility show that for every 10p extra in tax paid by working people, the Conservatives give only 5p back. That is why the public see the measures as a pre-election giveaway by the Conservatives—but it is no giveaway at all, given that successive Conservative Chancellors have taken double what they now promise to give back.

This is bad news, and not just for those already paying taxes. Tax thresholds are being frozen for the next five years, which will increase the tax take overall by an additional £40 billion, so 3.7 million people, including pensioners, who are not paying tax at all will do so by 2028-29 under the Conservatives. The tax burden is going up; Conservative Ministers are taking more in tax than they say they will give back; and more people will pay tax after this Budget, so I have to ask: why are Conservative Ministers calling this a tax-cutting Budget at all?

May I gently point out that the Scottish National party is just as bad? In Scotland, the SNP has increased taxes on working people, so that even the low paid pay more in tax in Scotland than they would in England, yet the SNP campaigns against the windfall tax on the big oil and gas companies. Are SNP Members really putting oil and gas company tax cuts ahead of tax cuts for working people?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I was waiting for an intervention from the SNP. Is the hon. Gentleman an SNP Member?

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

I am not in the SNP, but I do like a bit of accuracy and proof. The reality is that those earning under £28,000 are not paying more tax. The hon. Gentleman’s reference is a straight lift from an article in the Holyrood magazine. It was a very good article otherwise, but on that little bit, it was not very accurate at all.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I read the article on the BBC, which I can assure the hon. Gentleman is a pretty reliable source of information. If the SNP wants to tell teachers and nurses earning £28,000 a year that they are high earners, I encourage it to do so in the general election coming up this year.

Labour first called for a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies in January 2022. The Conservatives finally agreed to introduce the energy profits levy in May that year, though there were significant holes in the Government’s approach. Since then, Labour Members have been pressing Ministers to close them. Ahead of the general election, we have set out our plans for an energy profits levy if we win. We will increase the levy to the same rate of tax as in Norway, end the windfall tax investment allowances, and maintain the levy until the end of the next Parliament, with a statutory sunset clause, if there continue to be windfall profits. We have set out our plans now to give those operating in the North sea as much certainty as possible when making future investment decisions. To give further certainty, I can put on record today that we fully support an energy security investment mechanism, and we will therefore support Budget resolution 18 today.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech about how this has been a high-tax, high-debt Government, but at the same time they have been presiding over low living standards. Does he agree that the £17 rise in real weekly earnings under the Conservatives is in huge contrast to wages rising by £183 under Labour? While they have been presiding over low living standards without any plan to sort that out, we will have higher living standards and lower bills under Labour.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, which I think reflects the mood of the public. When Conservative Ministers stand up and say that we have never had it so good, people at home look at their payslip and their bank balance and realise that is not the case.

Let us now turn to the delusion of this Budget being a so-called long-term plan for growth. The independent evidence is clear: this will be the worst Parliament on record for living standards. It is the only Parliament where living standards have fallen instead of risen, with real pay having gone up by only £17 a week under the Conservatives, compared with £183 a week under the last Labour Government, as my hon. Friend has just pointed out. The Chancellor could not bring himself to say the R-word, but the Budget documents confirm that, despite 22 Budgets or statements from successive Conservative Chancellors over these past 14 years in which they promised they would get the economy growing, we are now in recession—a recession that for working people has been felt for some time.

We have had seven quarters of downgraded growth per person extended by a further downgrade in the Budget last week. That is the longest period of stagnation since the 1950s, with an economy that has shrunk on a per capita basis since the Prime Minister took office and overall GDP forecast to increase only because of a dependence on migrant labour. That is quite the record for a Conservative party that promised to reduce migration and get the economy growing.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The issue in rural communities such as mine is that growth is being hampered, despite there being demand, because hospitality and tourism businesses do not have a big enough workforce to support it. In the Lakes, 63% of hospitality businesses are not at capacity because they do not have the staff. Part of that is a result of silly visa rules, so will he look at those again? The other reason is the lack of affordable housing for local families. Would he allow local authorities, and give them the finance, to once again build social rented homes, so that we have enough homes to enable people to work in communities such as ours?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Member is right. What we need is a country that creates the opportunities and jobs for people who need them in the areas in which they live, whether that is about affordable housing, delivering transport infrastructure on time and on budget—something the Conservative party seems unable to do—or ensuring workers have access to skills and training so that they can take the jobs available in their local communities. The Conservatives have consistently failed on those measures, which is why they are so dependent on migrant labour to keep the economy above a recessionary level in the Budget forecasts.

Turning to the denial of the Conservative party, its £46 billion a year plan to abolish national insurance contributions altogether is an irresponsible, unfunded, massive spending commitment without a plan to pay for it. The public rightly look to their national insurance contributions as the bedrock of our welfare state, where working people and their employers all contribute towards funding our national health service and the state pension. It was originally designed as an insurance to give people the financial help they needed during illness and unemployment.

Given the Conservatives’ pledge—confirmed again across the Dispatch Box today—to abolish national insurance altogether, without a plan to pay for the £46 billion annual cost, what do they propose to cut? Will it be funding for our GPs, driving patients to pay for private health care? Will it be the right to be seen in the local hospital? Maybe they will cut support towards the cost of social care, or end incapacity benefit or jobseeker’s allowance. Maybe there would even be a reduction in the state pension itself. What is it? The public have a right to know—[Interruption.] I will happily give way to an intervention from Ministers if they can tell us how they are going to fund their £46 billion tax cut. There are no interventions.

The Conservatives must answer this question. After their previous Prime Minister and their previous Chancellor crashed the economy through a £45 billion tax cut, they are now celebrating the latest form of a £46 billion tax cut. How will it be funded? Surely not through higher taxes or higher borrowing, given that both are at record highs already.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservatives should come clean about whether their plan to abolish £46 billion of national insurance contributions will mean putting up taxes on working people, cutting spending on public services or borrowing billions, like the previous Prime Minister, and risking crashing the economy again?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

My hon. Friend is right. Ministers should answer this question and I am repeatedly giving them the opportunity to do so. What is the answer to the question? How will the Conservatives fund their £46 billion unfunded tax cut commitment? We can only assume, given that taxes are the highest they have been for 70 years and borrowing is the highest it has been for many decades, that further cuts must be coming from the Conservatives to our national health service and our state pension. The fact of the matter is that the Conservatives’ plan to abolish national insurance is not just fiscally irresponsible but morally abhorrent. In contrast, the Labour party will never promise to do anything it cannot pay for—[Interruption.] I seem to have woken them up on the Government Benches. I encourage them to continue to try to answer the questions we put to them.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case on national insurance. Does he agree that the plan to abolish national insurance raises fundamental questions about the future of the state pension? Even if income tax were increased by 8p in the pound to pay for it, the question of eligibility for the state pension and other contributory benefits would be very difficult to address.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I thank my right hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, for raising that important and, I might say, obvious question. The public will want to know the answer. Why are Conservative Ministers not telling the Office for Budget Responsibility how they plan to pay for this £46 billion unfunded tax cut? When do they plan to do so? Why can they not tell the House today how they will pay for this £46 billion unfunded tax cut? The public will have to look at what the Conservatives are offering, and at their record in office over these past 14 years, and make a judgment call.

I started my speech by highlighting my concern for Conservative Ministers, given their obvious state of confusion, delusion and denial, but my real concern is elsewhere. My concern is for working people who are paying more in tax than ever before; for pensioners who are dragged into paying tax out of their fixed income for the first time; for families who are struggling with the cost of living crisis and seeing the economy going in the wrong direction; for our national health service that is now presumably at threat from the £46 billion unfunded promise to abolish national insurance contributions with no plan for how to pay for it; and for our country which, after 14 years of Conservative failure, is exhausted, on its knees and staring into the abyss.

We are all fed up with the weak leadership that the latest Conservative Prime Minister is offering our country. We are bored to the back teeth with the Conservative party’s chaos and infighting taking priority over the country. We want to get our economy back on track and our public services back on their feet, to close the book on 14 years of Conservative failure and to get Britain its future back. I have only one ask of the Conservative party today: to set the date for the general election.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee 1:51, 12 March 2024

As this is day four of our Budget debate, much has already been said, so I will restrict my remarks to a few general comments before addressing some specific areas.

This has been a much more wide-ranging Budget than most commentators have noted, but the most positive thing that jumped out at me from all the data is the upgrading of growth forecasts. I completely recognise that economic forecasting has not been easy with all the uncertainty from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but I think our economy is stronger than most forecasters estimate and is regularly underestimated.

The upward revisions to the OBR forecast are large, too, with growth up by 0.5 percentage points in the months since the autumn statement. The recently published business surveys are also heading in the right direction, all indicating increasing confidence. Indeed, the main message I receive from businesses in Harrogate and Knaresborough is how hard it is to fill vacancies. The local unemployment rate, announced today, is 1.9%, which is a remarkably low figure, but it is matched in other parts of our country.

The growth in employment is a key reason our economy has been resilient. There are over 4 million more people on payrolls than there were in 2010, which is a significant achievement. Unemployment has been halved, and there are 1 million more businesses in the UK than in 2010.

As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in her opening remarks, the UK’s growth has outperformed that of the other major European economies—Germany, France and Italy—and is set to do so for the next five years, but our productivity has lagged badly. Indeed, the “Economic Indicators” report published by the House of Commons Library last month shows that UK productivity lags German productivity by 16%, which is a very significant gap, yet we are still outgrowing Germany. That raises the question of what the impact would be on growth if we kept what is driving our economy while addressing the productivity gap.

I am, therefore, pleased to see the Budget’s focus on productivity in both the private and public sectors, which I pursued as a Minister, particularly in the Treasury—once a Treasury Minister always a Treasury Minister—but we should define what it is. Productivity is not about working harder; it is about working smarter so that there is more output from each hour worked, not more hours worked.

The best way to drive productivity is with investment. Another encouraging stat in the Budget is that business investment has risen to 10.6% of GDP and is continuing to grow, which is very positive. It is how our future wealth will be created, and it is also a 14% increase compared with the level of investment under Labour. With GDP growth creating a bigger economy and investment taking a bigger slice, the budget involved is measured in the tens of billions. The permanent expensing announced in the autumn statement is a huge factor, and I strongly welcome the commitment to extending it to leasing. This is all about making the UK more competitive and an even better place to invest and grow a business.

One area that has not received the attention it deserves over a number of years is public sector productivity The delivery of good public services requires several components. One of them is budget, as the total amount spent matters, but it is not just the total amount spent. It is also about how well the money is spent.

There have been huge increases in public spending, so we need to ensure transparency and accountability. We also need to ensure that funds are directed to where there is the greatest return and the greatest need, and that taxpayers achieve value for their money. There is plenty to be done on that, particularly on infrastructure, where the Government are investing so heavily—that is a different speech, but I refer the House to the excellent work of the all-party parliamentary group on infrastructure, which I coincidentally chair.

It also requires the Government to make the right policy choices. For example, there is a less than 2% difference in per pupil funding between England and Wales, but English schools are rising up the international league tables for maths and science, and we are the best in the west for reading. Wales is sadly going down the league tables, and it is now ranked in the mid-30s. The financial difference is a world away from the ranking difference, and it comes down to policy choices.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

The hon. Gentleman is talking about education outcomes. I do not know whether he saw “Newsnight” last night, but a teacher in the city of Paisley in Scotland linked bad behaviour in the classroom to hunger. The teacher also spoke about the difficulty of getting good educational outcomes amid poverty. Is it not a fact that Department for Work and Pensions policies that keep families in poverty, including the two-child cap, add considerably to the problems in Wales? It is a matter of poverty, not education.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

I did not see “Newsnight” last night, as I was here until very late. I was working away, as ever. Our benefits system has not held back the educational progress being made in England so, without having seen the programme, I suspect that other factors are involved.

The productivity of our public services remains below pre-pandemic levels, which suggests that the full value of budget increases is not being realised. It was, therefore, good to hear the announcement of a public sector productivity plan in the Budget. This important initiative has the potential to be a game changer. The National Audit Office suggests that a 5% increase in productivity is equivalent to a £20 billion budget increase.

The Budget detailed investment to upgrade IT in both the justice system and the NHS. The Chancellor revealed that 13 million hours are lost by doctors and nurses to outdated IT. The sheer scale of that is phenomenal, but not in a good way.

Governments of all colours have struggled with NHS IT for years, but the world is digitising. AI will change things even further and faster, and it is right to embrace these changes and secure the benefits they will bring. It is not just about the systems but about the processes used, and there is an attitudinal element as well. We have to think about how output will be achieved. In the world of government in the UK we tend to measure, then trumpet, inputs rather than outputs. That does not happen in the private sector. Moving that thinking into the policy and delivery teams so that they think more about outputs is critical in the longer term.

The most encouraging parts of the Budget tackle investment and productivity. Progress on those will create more wealth and better health for our future, which is why I will be supporting this Budget.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have a feeling it might be helpful for me to put the clock on Members. We will start with an eight-minute time limit, after the SNP spokesperson.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business) 2:00, 12 March 2024

I can say without fear of contradiction that the UK faces three big challenges economically and socially: we have an energy security crisis, we have a climate crisis and we still have a cost of living crisis that needs to be tackled. This Budget barely changed course on any of those three measures.

Since 2010, the Conservative party has adopted 11 different economic strategies and had seven Business Secretaries, seven Chancellors of the Exchequer and five Prime Ministers, sometimes within weeks of each other. After 14 years of Conservative government, it is laughable that the present incumbents would present this as a Budget that will encourage investment and create long-term growth.

The fact is that the UK has long had a productivity problem. Figures show that the UK’s productivity is around 20% lower than that of France or Germany. UK workers work some of the longest hours in Europe, and return some of the lowest levels of productivity. A number of very lazy assumptions are made, often on the centre right of politics, around what contributes to productivity or the lack of it. Who could forget the wisdom of the right hon. Members for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) in the book “Britannia Unchained”? They said that

“the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

Those lazy prejudices, with the idea that everybody should work harder and enjoy fewer protections in the workplace, seem to underpin a worldview about how we get to productivity. However, the simple truth is that the only way to make a genuine improvement in productivity is to improve the quality of physical and human capital by investing in people. The Government have a massive, pivotal role to play in that. It is not good enough for the Government just to say that they want to tackle productivity issues; they have to put in place the long-term policies to do so. Despite it being nearly an article of faith in some sections of the House that cutting tax is the way to get there, if that comes at the expense of public investment and investment in social services, we will not achieve productivity.

The Chancellor has opted to use £20 billion of potential headroom by cutting national insurance by 4p in the last few months. Yet the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the Chancellor’s Budget will leave public services facing savage cuts equivalent to £20 billion a year by 2028. As the ISF director, Paul Johnson, has warned, there is almost “a conspiracy of silence” around the billions of pounds in tax cuts that the UK Government have prioritised and the consequences of them.

We know from the shadow Chancellor, who is no longer in her place, that if Labour is to alter course on that, either taxes or borrowing will have to go up, or spending will have to be cut in different places. I take issue with the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson on that subject. I am proud that the party of which I am a member is in government in Scotland. It has ensured that taxes are lower for over half the people in Scotland than they would be if they lived anywhere else in the UK, putting money back into the pockets of hard-working people who need it most. I am proud of that. If that is where the Labour party wishes to draw the battle lines for the election, bring it on. I am very happy with the choices we are making.

If those tax cuts are to be reversed—Darren Jones was nodding away gleefully, implying that they were—then the question must go back to his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, or perhaps he can help us out—[Interruption.] He is nodding again, which is good. I look forward to some answers, and I will happily take an intervention. What parts of the enhanced social settlement in Scotland would the Labour party seek to take away? Is it people’s bus passes? Michael Marra MSP threatened to introduce tuition fees again. Would Labour reverse the Scottish child payment that is taking over 100,000 Scottish children out poverty? [Interruption.] I, too, was looking for an intervention, but I am clearly not getting one. The hon. Member for Bristol North West is chuntering, but would he like to intervene?

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I am happy to be welcomed to intervene, but the debate is about the Conservative Budget here in Westminster. If the SNP has questions to answer about its performance in Government, it should do so in Scotland.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business)

That was absolutely ridiculous—a complete waste of time. The reason I brought it up was that the hon. Gentleman brought it up; clearly his memory is very short.

Scotland needed much more money for investment in infrastructure, the public sector and public services, but the UK Government have let us down again in this Budget. Any attempt at boosting productivity—that is the subject of this debate, although I did not hear a great deal of mention of productivity from either Front Bencher—will run headlong into the effects of the austerity that has been prevalent since the financial crisis of 2008.

We know from first hand the impact that austerity has had on public services across the UK. As a result of those spending choices, investment levels in the UK remain the lowest of any country in the G7. Research by the UK in a Changing Europe group has found that investment is 10% lower than it would have been if we had remained in the EU. and that our GDP is already 5% lower. If the Government want to increase productivity and drive investment, it is clear that they to do more to recognise the vital role they have to play through their capital expenditure.

Capital expenditure is what maintains our infrastructure. It is what builds houses, replaces hospitals and schools, maintains roads and, crucially, drives and encourages private investment. It is utterly bizarre that as a consequence of their spending decisions here, the UK Government will be cutting the Scottish Government’s capital budget in real terms by 10% over the next five years.

Another key area where the Budget does nothing to shift the dial is research and development, as I have said before. The UK lags behind our European competitors when it comes to overall levels of investment in research and development, but London and the south-east are taking the lion’s share of even that reduced amount. Wales and the north of England lag behind. Scotland holds its own, but if the Government genuinely want to level up—not words we hear paired with each other terribly often these days—they need to shift the dial and start to address inequalities inherent in the way the Government carry out business as usual.

Let me turn to energy. The decision to continue the energy profits levy can only be described as a slap in the face for all the bold and brave Scottish Conservative politicians who were boasting about how they were going to personally oppose it and get rid of it. However, the Labour proposals to increase its level further risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I am a big fan of the way the Norwegians have run their oil and gas sector. Scotland and the UK would be in a much better place if we had done the same, but the UK basin is closer to the end of its life than much of the Norwegian basin. Simply saying everything will be alright on the night if we tax at the same level as Norway puts investment decisions on a precipice. I caution the Labour party to think about that carefully if or when it forms the next Government. Increasing taxes beyond their current level in that industry risks putting tens of thousands of jobs on the line.

Finally, we are all quite bored with weak leadership, but does leadership get any weaker than a party taking its one and only identifiable policy—investing £28 billion in renewable energy—and throwing it on the fire because its leader is absolutely terrified of losing political ground to the weakest and worst Conservative Government any of us have the misfortune to remember in our lifetime?

It is absolutely vital not just for the country, but particularly for the north-east of Scotland, to get the energy transition right. Labour is absolutely correct to say that it will have a pretty dismal economic inheritance from the current UK Government, but, my goodness, what a dismal legacy Labour will leave for the Government who eventually replace it if it continues on the current path. That is why Scotland needs to be away from both the Labour and Conservative Front-Bench teams and making decisions for ourselves as a fully sovereign independent country.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 2:10, 12 March 2024

It is a privilege to speak in this debate today. The points that have been made so eloquently from the Government Front Bench—and will no doubt be raised by other colleagues throughout the rest of this debate—cover in detail the contents of the Budget. I was particularly pleased for Warner Brothers, Leavesden, in my constituency, for the benefits that were provided to ensure that the film industry would thrive in this country. But I wish to concentrate today on productivity, and I will do so by keeping my speech short and by focusing on one particular area of passion for me, which is the support given for technology within the NHS.

The NHS chief executive has acknowledged that significant investment to fund new technology will unlock tens of billions of pounds of savings, but there are particular areas that we need to look at when considering that investment. I refer in particular to the role played by digital and other technology in the health arena. On several occasions, I have been proud to visit the virtual wards and the virtual hospital that the team at Watford General have been developing. That work has been truly groundbreaking. It meant that especially during covid, when this initiative started, patients were able to be looked after in their own home with their family around them rather than being on a ward. From an NHS perspective, that freed up beds and nurses’ and doctors’ time. From the patient’s perspective, they had the comfort of being in their own home while knowing that the technology was there to support them and ensure that they were being monitored and watched with the best possible devices. I have also seen amazing work at Watford General on robot-assisted surgery. As I understand it, this can both lead to quicker healing time and ensure the precision of the surgery. I had the opportunity to use one of the machines a while ago, and its level of accuracy was absolutely incredible.

However, the area on which I wish to focus is the role of artificial intelligence. I have a few asks of the Minister, but I am aware that he may not be able to respond to them, because I appreciate that they fall more within the remit of the Department of Health and Social Care. When we look at digital health, it is important to make sure that we see the benefits of what may come, as well as the benefits that are already here.

Crucially, we need to make sure that, when it comes to the use of AI in healthcare, we are mindful not only of the benefits and opportunities, but of the risks that it might bring. Increasingly, as I see it, one of the risks concerns the digital divide. I ask that, when we put this investment into technology and the NHS, we do not have a growing divide between those who have the ability to use the technology and those who do not. I also ask that, when we are developing these tools, we do not just cut off the ability to provide face-to-face support for those who want it, or stop those who want to go in and see a receptionist face to face. We should use the extra time that is available as a result of some people using technology to provide others with access to face-to-face appointments.

Furthermore, there is a great opportunity here to develop a data donor scheme. I have proposed that before, but I am not sure whether I have done so from these Benches. At the moment, when somebody sadly passes away, they may be able to save other people’s lives through organ donation. However, many of us have Apple watches or Fitbits that collect data every day, which would no doubt be invaluable to AI, or to GPs and clinicians who diagnose and treat various conditions. There is great scope within this investment to look at a data donation scheme. Imagine if each of us could anonymously donate data on our heartbeat or our health attributes when we have taken a new drug and share it with the NHS, so that it could be used as part of clinical trials and research. That could transform the way that we look at curing cancer and improving the health of the nation, but it could also help us to identify potential risks that we may not have seen before. This investment, along with the £100 million that has been invested in the Turing Institute, will provide a great opportunity to look at how we can use AI in a better way.

Another important area is how we educate the public in the use of AI and data. One thing that I am conscious of, and that I have spoken about from these Benches before —[Interruption.] Angus Brendan MacNeil has just reminded me of my productivity pledge—yes, I am trying to keep to it. We need to make sure that people know when they are using this technology, especially given the rise in chatbots and AI tools that pretend to be human when they are not. It is essential that the public know when such tools are being used. Any Government or any NHS system should have a very clear watermark, note or reminder to let people know that they are not speaking to a human being, but that they are actually using AI. That will help to demystify the use of technology, make people feel more comfortable, and ensure that we inform those who do not want to use it for good reason.

I hugely welcome this Budget. The tax cuts have been essential, and all of us on the Government Benches are keen to make sure that we reduce taxes. I am also keen on all the benefits that we have seen. But we need to make sure that we make the most of technology, see the benefits of it and help the nation to become healthier and happier for it.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 2:16, 12 March 2024

I think it is pretty accurate to say that this will be the last Budget speech that I make in this House. I have just worked out that this Chancellor is the 14th since I came into the House in 1979, and that this is the 50th Budget that I have sat through. There should be some sort of medal for that.

I am always tempted in these debates to go back to my origins as an economist at the London School of Economics. I think that was a harder and tougher place to learn economics than Pembroke College, Cambridge—at least from what I have heard from those on the Front Bench today. There is a tendency among those of us with such a background to look at the detail. I want to look not so much at the detail today, but at the two broad issues that have been totally missing in this vital Budget. Many Conservative Members were hoping for a post-Budget boost. Well, I always used to counsel my colleagues that we can never know how a Budget has gone down until the Sunday papers are out, but in this case do we need time to reflect for long? We have heard that 10% of the population believe that they will be better off after the Budget, that 20% think they will be far worse off, and most tellingly, that 58% of the public feel that the Budget will make no difference to their lives at all. So there is no Budget bounce here.

However, I do not want to talk about that; I want to talk about the two big issues that were not even mentioned. The most important things for all human beings on this planet are global warming and climate change. The Chancellor did not mention the words climate change in his whole speech. There was nothing in that Budget that would give hope to those of us who have been campaigning for years to stop the global warming that will destroy human life on this planet. Nothing in this Budget will help us to meet that terrible existential challenge.

I sometimes get teased when I point out that I was born during the blitz of London, around the same time that this place was bombed and destroyed. I did not know my father for six years, because he went off to serve in the war. Those of us who come from that generation look at our defence spending and preparedness with horror. I said yesterday that former Ministers and Back Benchers from the Conservative party—the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher—have pointed out that there is a serious cut to the defence budget smuggled into the Budget. Those comments are from the Government’s side. Those two issues were not confronted in the Budget.

People in this country are not short-termists, although they want a better life and lower taxes, and to drive greater productivity. We all remember the productivity driver, George Osborne, so I say to Government Members: do not talk to us about productivity failures. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing in the Budget about getting manufacturing going again or about linking our wonderful university researchers with small businesses to tackle climate change, develop hydrogen power and look at the ways in which clever human beings can and will ensure that this planet is safe to live on.

Whoever is in government must wake up to the fact that that ghastly man, the leader of Russia, is not going away and will persist in undermining our institutions, not just in terms of arms and by encroaching on territory across Europe, but through his pernicious ability to use social media and other means of undermining democracy in this country and worldwide. I grew up passionately influenced by the democracy of the United States. When I was a student, I emigrated to the United States, basically because that was the only way I would not get deported for working as a student. I admire and love the United States as a champion of freedom and democracy, but our greatest ally is in deep trouble. The ghastly ex-President Trump—a man who does not believe in special relationships with anyone, especially our country—looks like he might come back again. He does not believe in the relationship with NATO and in standing up to the foes of democracy in China and Russia.

We should be ashamed if we do not talk about those two issues in the Budget debates and if the Government do not make the wherewithal available, first, to confront climate change and global warming and, secondly, to secure the defence of our country.

As I say, this will be my last Budget speech. I have loved speaking in this House. Everyone knows that I love interjecting at Question Time. These are serious times, and I hope we all remember that the big issues—climate change, the future of our planet and the defence of our country—are hard to tackle because they are expensive. Some on the Labour Benches sometimes do not grapple with that fact, but we must be honest: if we want this country to be secure and have great defence, we have to pay for it. All of us in this House must learn that lesson.

Photo of Jane Hunt Jane Hunt Conservative, Loughborough 2:24, 12 March 2024

I will deal with just two aspects of productivity, as that is the theme of today’s Budget. I will first talk about the VAT threshold. Small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of our economy, both nationally and locally. They not only provide jobs that hard-working families depend on but are the key to turbocharging productivity across the UK and levelling up our regions and nations. That could not be more true than in my constituency, where SMEs are responsible for the lion’s share of business activity and employment. The past few years have been particularly challenging for SMEs, as they have had to navigate various things such as the covid-19 pandemic and the commodity shortages and inflationary pressures brought on by the war in Ukraine. I have therefore been fiercely vocal about the need to do all we can to support them.

I know the Government have been working hard to protect and support businesses as much as possible through these times, recognising the need to fulfil our responsibility to get the economy back on track. I therefore welcome a number of the announcements in the Budget—in particular, the decision to increase the VAT registration threshold to £90,000 from 1 April 2024. As the Chancellor said in his speech, I have been pressing for that as it will support businesses with the administrative and financial impact of VAT charges. It will ensure they can earn more before paying VAT and spend more time working. Hairdressing and hospitality sector businesses in Loughborough raised that point with me, and I in turn brought it to the attention of the Chancellor and Business Ministers. The increase in the threshold will mean that those businesses can earn more money before any VAT is due. That will not only mean that hard-working business owners will get the opportunity to earn more before tax but that self-employed trades will be able to complete more work before attracting VAT charges to their contracts.

As the Chancellor said in his Budget speech,

“the way to improve public services is not always more money or more people;
we also need to run them more efficiently. We need a more productive state, not a bigger state.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2024;
Vol. 746, c. 846.]

The announcement of the public sector productivity programme to reform the delivery of frontline public services and improve productivity is welcome. The Government said that alongside that programme a £230 million pilot will be established to

“roll out cutting-edge technology such as live facial recognition, automation and the use of drones as first responders.”

They also said:

“The government will establish a Centre for Police Productivity to support police forces’ use of data and deliver this technology, maximising productivity and the use of AI.”

Again, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we do not always need more money. I would be interested to hear from him whether the remit of that centre will extend to looking at ways to reduce the reaction burdens placed on police officers due to data protection requirements.

As I have said a number of times in the House, the Data Protection Act 2018 contains no provision to facilitate the free flow of personal data between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. When the police are preparing a case file for a charging decision, they have to analyse the information gathered by investigating officers in order to identify every item of personal data, decide whether it is necessary for the CPS to consider each item when making its decision, and redact every item that does not meet that test. Those obligations delay and obstruct the expeditious progress of the criminal justice system, and in some cases add to the likelihood that the victim will withdraw their support. Much of that data is never even used by the CPS if it decides not to charge or the defendant pleads guilty before trial. Nationally, about 25% of cases submitted to the CPS are not charged. The Police Federation of England and Wales has estimated that, on average, a staggering 365,000 policing hours are consumed in complying with redaction obligations. That equates to an annual cost to the taxpayer of more than £5.6 million.

The Government have previously highlighted their support for the use of technology to reduce that burden. However, that would go only so far and would still require police officers to oversee that work. The best solution would be to change the law so that the redaction of personal data by the police could occur after, rather than before, the CPS has made a charging decision. In that way, only cases that are to go forward for prosecution will have been worked on. That practical solution would prevent the waste of time by police officers, who can then spend more time on the beat—something that my constituents asked for in a recent crime survey that I undertook in Loughborough. The Government have been clear that it is necessary to reduce administrative burdens on public sector workers and boost productivity. This change, unlike rolling out new technology, would cost nothing to implement but would save a substantial amount of taxpayers’ money and get police officers back on the frontline supporting communities and tackling crime. Those are the two aspects that I wanted to look at.

Photo of Kate Hollern Kate Hollern Labour, Blackburn 2:29, 12 March 2024

I want to focus on investment, or the lack of it, in public services. Good delivery of public services depends in large part on the state of local government. The sector faces a £1.6 billion funding gap in 2024-25 and services are crumbling, yet there was no mention of specific council measures in the Budget. Given the state of local services up and down the country, I was disappointed that the Government did not announce any plans to adequately fund the services that people rely on every day. Councils continue to transform services, but given that the core spending power for 2024-25 has been cut by 23.3% in real terms since 2010, it is unsustainable to expect them to keep doing more for less in the face of unprecedented costs and demand pressures.

It is also unsustainable to put further pressure on local council tax payers, who are again being asked to pay more for less, with money being taken out of their pockets. This year saw the sixth one-year settlement in a row for councils. Keeping councils on that financial drip-feed led to the steady weakening of local services.

Social care is suffering significantly, as services experience an unprecedented increase in demand and costs. Three of the most impacted areas for rising costs are children’s social care, where budget pressures are up by 13.6% in the last year; home to school transport for children with special educational needs and disabilities, where budget requirements are up by 23.3% in 2023-24; and adult social care, where increased demand means that budgetary spend is up by £2.5 billion, or 12.8%, in 2023-24.

If such services cannot be delivered effectively locally, pressure inevitably falls on the NHS. I recently met the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust to discuss the most prescient issues after being contacted by constituents who had waited for hours on trolleys and in rooms without receiving attention. In recent months, the trust has experienced an increase in people regularly attending hospital. Worryingly, demand has exceeded capacity, resulting in patients facing exceptionally long waits and a suboptimal experience.

We had a great headline when the East Lancashire Hospital NHS Trust secured capital funding for an additional 27-bed ward at Royal Blackburn Hospital this year, but £3.9 million of revenue is required to enable it to be staffed, and there is no indication as to where that money—or, indeed, the staff—is coming from. It is yet another Tory headline when our services are actually crumbling.

Last Wednesday represented a vital opportunity for the Government to take action and put palliative and end of life care on a more sustainable footing and ensure that everyone affected by terminal illness receives the best possible care and support. As our population ages, too many people are dying in pain, in poverty and alone, and 84% of Marie Curie’s caring services staff have cared for patients who are struggling with the cost of living. We need a sustainable and long-term funding solution for palliative and end of life care. This is a core component of our health and care system that is so often neglected.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the brilliant East Lancashire Hospice in my constituency, which continues to provide exceptional care through these very difficult times. However, many people are not so lucky. Shamefully, one in four do not get the end of life care and support that they desperately need—150,000 people every year. Last year, the Government released £1.5 billion in additional funding to integrated care boards to account for inflationary pressures. Once again, that made a great headline, but there was nothing for the hospice. East Lancashire Hospice received an uplift of 0%, which equates to 10% in cuts. Once again, this has proven to be another empty headline devoid of any substance.

As we all know, the long-term financial sustainability of the NHS is dependent upon investment in wider public services, which heavily influence the determinants of an individual’s health. Investment is essential in public services that shape health outcomes from birth, such as education, transport and housing. Those services are crying out for investment, but the Government have turned a blind eye.

The Government have shown clearly and starkly where their priorities lie. This Budget confirms that the Tories have failed public services after 14 years of economic failure. The Budget prioritised short-term election promises over the future of local government, the NHS and our public services. We were promised a Budget for long-term growth, but what we actually received is a Budget that reflects long-term decline under this Conservative Government.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 2:36, 12 March 2024

Since the Chancellor delivered his Budget last week, I have given a lot of thought to the subject of productivity and how we address it. There are three key ingredients that create the most fertile environment for productivity to grow: aspiration, skills and secure housing.

Aspiration can be nurtured in many ways, but a significant part of that must be to reward work by ensuring that people keep as much of the money they earn as possible. This is a core Conservative value. In recent years, the Treasury has been right to put support for families and businesses first. The obvious examples of that are support for business through grants, and support for employees through the furlough scheme during the pandemic. Alongside that, there has been additional money for the NHS and for schools—both vital public services for any household.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe

I am sure that many of my constituents will be delighted and relieved at the cut in national insurance. It is right that individuals keep more of their hard-earned money. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must continue to look for responsible ways to ensure that those who are working hard and contributing to our economy keep as much of their wages as possible?

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I also think it is perfectly reasonable to have an ambition that we can work towards making a commitment.

Support for household energy bills has also been essential, but obviously it has put pressure on the nation’s finances. These measures hinder the Government’s ability to cut taxes, but productivity is compromised if the burden on business and our workforce is too great. It is good, then, that the Government are now able to further address the pressure on household finance further. This year’s cut in pay-as-you-earn taxes for the average worker from 32% to 28% means that households in west Cornwall, on Scilly and across the nation will benefit by keeping more of what they earn. This is a helpful tool to support the aspiration that Conservative Members want our constituents to enjoy.

The increase in the VAT threshold for small businesses is something that I have been keen to see ever since I was elected. Personally, I would like it to be increased to £120,000 as soon as possible. I see the drag of VAT on small businesses in my constituency, which are curtailing their business in order to avoid the cliff-edge threshold. The increase to £90,000 is welcome and will encourage small businesses to stay open for longer, especially in hospitality in coastal communities such as Penzance and on Scilly. Not only will the business stay open longer; owners will also be able to offer more secure employment and look to grow their business—both of which will benefit Government coffers and drive aspiration.

To support aspiration, we also need to support skills. Wherever we look, we see a shortage of the skills we need: in food and farming, renewables, house building and retrofitting, engineering and manufacturing, health and social care, tourism and hospitality, education, and many more areas. I listened carefully to the speech made by Mr Sheerman, including his comments about climate change. Addressing climate change is about changing the way we do and make things, so the Chancellor was right to announce in his Budget a further £120 million to support the expansion of low-carbon manufacturing, which will support the creation of jobs and skills that have not even been invented yet for our school leavers. Also, to further address the climate change issue, the Chancellor has committed £427 million to support investment in agriculture, productivity and innovation. That will secure a farming sector that has provided skilled and local jobs to people across Cornwall and on Scilly for generations, and will continue to do so.

For too long, British business has missed out on an untapped pool of talent, so it was good to hear the Chancellor set out measures to offer new training opportunities for out-of-work older people and confirm the continuation of the “train and progress” element of universal credit, which will also give people a fighting chance to get the skills they need and will help meet the workforce shortages I described. As I say, for far too long, we have not allowed many people to access the work they can do, and have missed out on that pool of talent.

Finally, Conservatives have for years believed in the power of home ownership to give people the opportunity to take a stake in their community, raise children in a secure home, and invest in and improve that home using local skills and local suppliers. The various measures that the Government are taking to make the housing market fairer for people who want to live and work in our communities are very welcome. Owning a home helps to drive productivity: there is nothing quite so tangible and motivating as the sense that hard work can enable someone to provide a safe and secure home for them and their loved ones.

As the Government support councils and social landlords to create the homes we need, will they take a close look at how accessible so-called affordable homes are to local constituents such as mine? For example, properties advertised in Cornwall as three-bedroom affordable homes are marketed at £335,000, and two-bedroom so-called affordable homes are marketed at £265,000. Few people in my constituency are in a position to afford that, and they are effectively abandoned into a rental market that is in great demand.

Productivity is achieved in a low-tax, high-skilled society where a home of your own is within reach. I welcome this Budget’s direction of travel, and ask for much more of the same.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Workers Party, Rochdale 2:42, 12 March 2024

As I was saying, Madam Deputy Speaker. Even in Parliament, you cannot be a maiden twice, but I hope you will permit me a moment of my eight minutes to pay tribute to my predecessor, Tony Lloyd—as he was when I first met him at the Labour party conference more than 40 years ago. He, a young, left-wing engineering union delegate; me, even younger, from the Transport and General Workers’ Union. We became fast friends then, and remained so through all the decades. We marched together against nuclear weapons and against the repeated massacres in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces. We voted in the Lobby together against the renewal of Trident submarines. Tony Lloyd was a significant figure who should never be forgotten in this House, and certainly will not be forgotten in the Greater Manchester area where he was born and where he practised his sincere political artistry over so many years.

The Labour party, of course, is not the party today that it was back then, as I will say in this speech and, I hope, in later speeches—if God spares me and you allow me to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. The only thing that unites the entire town of Rochdale is antipathy towards the Labour council in the beautiful, new, refurbished town hall. That is something we intend to change just a few weeks from now at the local elections, but notwithstanding the poor odour of the Labour party in the town, everyone respected and admired Tony Lloyd—Sir Tony Lloyd, as he was to become. I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to begin my address in this way on the seventh time I have been elected to Parliament.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury was bright and breezy, but frankly all the spices in Rochdale could not give flavour to what can only be described as an absolute nothingburger of a Budget, and the response from the so-called Opposition in this House was equally vacuous. The shadow Minister, Darren Jones, bridled when the SNP accused him of accepting the Tories’ spending limits, but he had no right to bridle, because everything that is being said by the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, accepts the economic orthodoxies of the Conservative Government.

Look where those economic orthodoxies have led us. The Minister talked breezily about children getting help where they need it, and about busy doctors and nurses in the NHS. What about us in Rochdale? We have a new infirmary that is like a ghost town. In Rochdale, you cannot give birth; no one in Gracie Fields’s hometown will ever again be able to say that they were born in Rochdale, unless unfortunately they were born in a taxi on their way to Bury or Oldham. We do not even have a postcode; our postcode is OL, a subdivision of Oldham. This town, which was once one of the most prosperous in England, is now one of the poorest, abandoned not just by the Government but by the Mayor of Greater Manchester. I have no animus against the Mayor—quite the contrary, at least until recent weeks—but he has to understand that he is the Mayor of Greater Manchester, not just Manchester. What about the towns around Manchester that get a raw deal?

Imagine a town where you cannot be born and cannot die—they have also taken away the A&E service. My campaign, in which I garnered more votes than the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK put together, proved my point, which is that out in the country, most people wish a plague on both their houses—on both the Conservatives and Labour. “Two cheeks of the same backside” is the most popular phrase I have ever coined, because it so aptly describes not just the general political situation, but the debate on this Budget. You cannot even be banged up in Rochdale; if a person gets arrested there, there is not even a police cell there that they can be taken to. In the campaign, an old lady in a care home fell ill—took a turn. The ambulance took 45 minutes to reach her, and then did not know where it was going to take her. Her relatives, gathered around anxiously, did not know where she would go. The ambulance driver had to find out which A&E in the Greater Manchester area they could take her to. What if it took her 45 minutes to get to A&E? I have no idea what might have become of her.

We are a town that has been abandoned by the state, and is increasingly abandoned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester. Half, or 50%, of the children in two of the biggest wards in the parliamentary constituency are officially living in poverty—half! What was there in the Budget for them, despite all the Government’s chuntering, joshing and japing, which was matched by that of the Opposition? What was in the Budget for those poor children who needed help, though no help was forthcoming? Levels of child poverty in Rochdale are among the worst in the entire country.

My goodness, I have 14 seconds left; how time flies. I just want to say that having given both parties a good spanking on 29 February, I have my boots on to give them a good kicking any time I catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk 2:50, 12 March 2024

I think we have probably all learned a bit more about Rochdale, and I am sure that we all at least agree with the comments of George Galloway about his predecessor, Tony Lloyd.

When I asked my constituents what they wanted, ahead of the Budget, their answers were very clear: taxes cut, help for small businesses, action to grow the economy, and support for our NHS. This Budget delivered against their priorities, despite the challenge the economy has faced in the last few years from the pandemic and the illegal war in Ukraine.

As a Conservative, I want lower taxes, and I want people to keep more of the money they earn. Now that there is the opportunity to reduce taxes, I welcome the further cut in national insurance, which will benefit 29 million people across the country. It will mean that a nurse’s income rises by over £1,000. A typical teacher will be better off by £1,200, and a self-employed plumber by £846. Importantly, given that we have vacancies in the economy, the measures are predicted to get the equivalent of a further 220,000 people into work; that will give more people the benefits of a job, and help to grow our economy.

Although inflation continues to fall and the target of halving it has been more than met, there is rightly further support with the cost of living. In my rural constituency of North West Norfolk, driving is a necessity, not a luxury. Maintaining the 5p cut to fuel duty and freezing rates for the 14th year in a row will help drivers as they fill up. In April, the national living wage will increase by almost 10%. That comes alongside a boost to support for private rents for those on low incomes. From talking to constituents ahead of the Budget, I know how important the household support fund has been in helping people across Norfolk. I argued for its continuation, and I am delighted that the Chancellor has provided an extra £500 million of targeted support to help with essentials, including food and energy.

In earlier speeches, it has been suggested that pensioners have been forgotten by this Government. Let’s just correct that, shall we? Last year, the state pension was increased by 10.1%. In April, protected by the triple lock introduced by this Government, it will increase by 8.5%. Inflation is set to near its target of 2% in only a few months’ time. That represents a boost of £900 for pensioners. In addition, nearly 12 million fuel payments and pensioner cost of living payments are being made this winter to protect the most vulnerable. There is also pension credit. I have encouraged all my constituents and others to check whether they are eligible for it, and we have seen a big uptake as a result. Pensioners can be reassured that the Government have their back, and we will continue to provide dignity for them in retirement.

Reducing tax is also important. My hon. Friend Jane Hunt and I—and a number of other Members, it would appear—wanted an increase in the VAT threshold for small firms. The threshold is a barrier to growth, and having talked to companies in my constituency, I know that they were closing their doors to avoid going over the threshold. That issue is estimated to affect about 44,000 firms bunching just below the threshold, so increasing it to £90,000 a year will help more businesses, and it means that we have the highest threshold in Europe.

On changes to furnished holiday lets, which I am sure hon. Friends from Cornwall will come on to, it is important that we get the detail right, so that we support local people who wish to buy and rent homes, but also continue to support our leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses. Growing such businesses and the economy means investing in places, and the £20 million of additional funding for King’s Lynn is very welcome. It will support projects to boost the high street, improve transport and connectivity, and boost heritage and regeneration. That comes on top of the £50 million of regeneration funding already secured through the town deal and the levelling-up fund. That is a further commitment by this Conservative Government to creating more opportunities in Lynn and across west Norfolk.

As well as reducing taxes, we need to cut regulation. Since 2010, we have had a record of success in removing much of the thicket that was introduced by the Labour party when it used regulation as a proxy for taxation to control businesses. While we are talking about making our economy more productive, there is a need for a renewed focus on regulation to ensure that it promotes growth, competition and innovation. As a member of the Regulatory Reform Group—founded by my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who has just left his place—I was pleased to see the focus in the Budget on this agenda. Extending the growth duty to Ofcom, Ofwat and Ofgem, and greater benchmarking to hold regulators to account and improve performance, will benefit us all. Companies and wealth creators should be well aware that the Labour party has plans to go in a different direction. It will put in place many measures that will frustrate them, produce more inflexibility in our labour market, and make it harder for them to grow and take on staff.

Finally, public sector productivity may seem like a very dry topic, but getting back to pre-covid levels would save taxpayers £20 billion a year. With health taking an increasing share of our national wealth, we need to make the NHS far more efficient, and the £3.4 billion being invested in technology and other reforms will help achieve that. By embedding those gains across the wider public sector, we can control the size of the state. Simply spending more and more money—ultimately, that has to be paid for by taxes and borrowing, as the Labour party proposes—is unsustainable, and will not lead to better public services.

To conclude, this Budget delivers tax cuts for working people, helps motorists to keep costs down, boosts small businesses, supports families, and invests in the NHS and in improving public services. It is a Conservative Budget that I am proud to support.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. To ensure that I can keep the time limit relatively high, I am reducing it to seven minutes. I hope that will mean that we do not have to reduce it drastically later.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South 2:56, 12 March 2024

Seven is my favourite number, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow James Wild.

It is a fact that when we speak in the Budget debate, which is the bread and butter of our work, we may not get the hearing we want. We have to live with the sad fact that the song “Murder on the Dancefloor” will be streamed more than our speeches, or maybe just my speeches. I refer hon. Members to a line from that song:

“better not steal the moves”.

However, it seems the Chancellor did, because he abolished non-dom status—a move that had been trailed for some time by the Opposition. I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I say to the residents of Walsall that, yes, we can work within the fiscal envelope, but our choices will be different. What did the Chancellor actually do to solve the problems of the country? Nothing. He said nothing about hedge fund managers having made £53 billion in profits for investors. Why is that not harnessed for society? The water companies pour effluent into our rivers. They broke the law, and awarded themselves £10 million in bonuses and £14 million in incentive payments, but they want to charge us £156 extra to plug a financial gap. What would we do? We would end self-monitoring and force companies to monitor every single outlet, so that they cannot cover up illegal sewage dumping.

The Chancellor mentioned a new tax on vaping—we have seen vape shops proliferate on the high street—and the freezing of alcohol duty, which helps pubs, but he said nothing about the high street. Those working on the high street worked during the pandemic and beyond, and they still face abuse in work, but there is nothing for them. They are on low pay or in insecure work. He could have given them the real living wage, based on the cost of living. There was nothing for the high street that would help retailers compete with online businesses.

What about local government? Schools are struggling with dilapidated, toxic buildings or a lack of staff. The staff are paid less than they would be for working for an online company, so when they leave school, they go and work for that company. Special educational needs pupils are being failed. Councils still have to bid for money. Walsall Council cannot even respond to fly-tipping, manage trees or invest in a rat-catcher. That is a public health issue and affects people’s lives. People need to know the connection: the Government cut the grants to local authorities, and the council is forced to raise council tax just to stand still. There may be a cut in national insurance, but people will have to pay for it through increased council tax.

As a lawyer and a member of the Law Society, I know that the legal system is shaky. It is the quiet and calm place where disputes are settled. It is there to keep communities safe and it is worth £60 billion. There is a dearth of duty solicitors. Legal firms are small and medium-sized enterprises, and they are struggling to attract staff. Will the Minister work with the Law Society and support firms to increase civil legal aid so that they can give people the right advice to prevent their becoming homeless, as well as giving opportunities for legal apprentices to make their way in careers in the law?

What about the NHS? The Government are only funding additional roles. NHS Facts and Stats states that England does not have a shortage of GPs, but rather a practice funding shortage, with a 20% reduction in pounds per patient since 2016. What would Labour do? The shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has said that we would deal with waste: the £1.7 billion spent on hospital beds because patients cannot be discharged; the £3.5 is paid to recruitment agencies because the Government have failed to train enough staff; the £626 million spent by the Department of Health and Social Care on management consultants. Further, £1 billion could be saved through bulk buying equipment. We have not even started on the personal protective equipment fiasco! We would work in partnership with businesses in the private sector, just as we announced yesterday for the national wealth fund, so that for every £1 the public sector spends, £1 is raised in the private sector from the green finance initiative.

From the international situation, our constituents are numb to just getting by with the cost of living. We say to them: “We believe in you. We will give you the skills and your rights at work. We will do what is needed for public services and support you with a safety net as needed. We believe in you and support you to live safe, happy, productive and secure lives.”

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash 3:01, 12 March 2024

We have heard it said many times in this Chamber that the first duty of any Government is to protect and safeguard the lives of their citizens. That premise is almost exclusively quoted during debates relating to the defence of the realm, yet it can just as easily be applied to our discussions about investment in targeted public health measures. If a person is only as productive as their health permits, it must follow that the productivity of UK plc is determined by the state of the nation’s health. In a country where nearly 26% of the entire adult population is classed as obese, with around 6.4 million people still smoking, and more than 100 million work days in the private sector alone lost to sickness absences each year, we can no longer afford to ignore the threat that preventable diseases such as cancer and diabetes pose to the UK economy and the impact that they undoubtedly have on national productivity.

I welcome the headline measures in the Budget aimed at boosting productivity, including the changes that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made to child benefit that will see more than 170,000 families gain around £1,260 in child support. With the further 2% reduction in national insurance, the average person in work will now be better off by more than £900. I am immensely proud to be a member of a party that is serious in its ambition for the UK to become smokefree within a generation. That is clearly demonstrated by measures to increase tax on tobacco products, with the result that on average the price of a packet of cigarettes has now topped £16.

The Chancellor is also set to introduce a new duty on vaping products to discourage more adults from becoming hooked on harmful nicotine products. Together with other measures announced by the Government, that will end the scenes that we currently see outside school gates up and down our country, in which children, some as young as nine years old, are being drawn to vaping by the rainbow range of colours and flavours targeted specifically at them. Vaping products should only ever be used as an aid to stop smoking, not as a fashion accessory or as confectionery.

We could, however, have gone further in tackling preventable diseases—something that I and many other survivors of skin cancer across the House, including Amy Callaghan, have been lobbying for. Cancer Research UK estimates that almost 90% of skin cancers are preventable by using sunscreen with a factor of 30 and above. Research commissioned by Tesco showed that 57% of UK adults think that high-factor sunscreen is too expensive and they cannot afford to buy it. VAT revenue on sunscreen is in the region of £335 million, yet skin cancers are anticipated to cost the NHS alone £465 million every year. When we factor in the additional cost to business associated with days off and lost productivity, the Exchequer could realise a huge net benefit.

Businesses in my constituency have highlighted Erewash’s roads, which come under ever increasing pressure from the sheer volume of traffic trying to access the M1, as a major barrier to raising productivity. I am leading the campaign to secure and integrate an additional motorway junction between junctions 25 and 26. That would not only help to ease congestion on critical routes through Ilkeston, Stanton by Dale, Sandiacre, Risley and Long Eaton, but would greatly improve access for HGVs transporting freight to and from the New Stanton Park development. That type of major infrastructure project can be realised only with financial backing from the Treasury, so I urge the Chancellor seriously to consider that proposal when he returns to the House later in the year for his autumn statement.

I thank the Chancellor for including Erewash in the latest round of investment to level up the midlands and the north. Erewash is already incredibly lucky to play host to a number of cultural events each year, including the Ilkeston heritage and classic vehicle show, Long Eaton carnival, and the charter fair. In addition, cultural hubs such as the Duchess theatre and Erewash museum, and local landmarks such as the iconic Bennerley viaduct, are responsible for bringing thousands of visitors to Erewash, and providing a welcome boost to the local economy. Having secured that new £5 million investment, we must now use this exciting opportunity to build on and expand existing cultural facilities, invest in new projects to bring our communities together, and preserve more of our cultural heritage for future generations. Guidance issued by the Government to local authorities in relation to that investment states that they must consult their Member of Parliament about how the money can be best used. I believe that it is time for our role in the consultation process, and for those types of schemes to be put on a more permanent, statutory footing.

Finally, although a lady should never reveal her age, I must nevertheless declare an interest as someone of pensionable age. Many will remember Labour’s pension raid, which is estimated to have cost investors around £230 billion while at the same time increasing the state pension by a mere 75p. As former Chancellor George Osborne said:

“It will be up to us to rebuild a pension system that has been comprehensively, single-handedly destroyed by Gordon Brown”.

And so we have. The Chancellor’s commitment to maintain the triple lock means that the state pension will be uprated by 8.5% from April, building on the 10.1% uprating for the current year. Indeed the state pension has risen by 31% since 2019.

To conclude, this sensible, balanced Budget is sticking to the plan that targets productivity, supports those who have worked their entire lives and provides further investment in communities such as Erewash. I look forward to supporting the Budget in the Lobby.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde 3:08, 12 March 2024

I start with a confession, Madam Deputy Speaker: this speech may be familiar to anyone who heard my Budget speech last year, because it is pretty much the same one. The reason is that despite a year passing, the UK Government are no further forward—another Budget, another Red Book. I note that this year, under the heading “Agriculture” in paragraph 4.24 of the Red Book, the Government touch upon drainage boards, and investment in water and flood management. I plead with them: manage it as nature would. Trap the water in the hills. Promote capture and slow release. Encourage and support councils to plant green areas in the appropriate places. Do not think that we can concrete our way through this problem.

In my constituency of Inverclyde, with the help of Clyde Muirshiel park, local farmers and the Yearn Stane project are re-establishing peatland, which will reduce flooding, create an environment for nature to flourish, and be accessible for people to walk and cycle. This is being done by helping nature to do what it does best, and undoing the damage that was caused by draining the land for grouse shooting all those years ago. Under the heading “Green industries”—paragraph 4.51 of the Red Book—the Government are throwing some sizeable chunks of money at lowering carbon emissions, but there are two errors in this rather small section. First, it mentions nuclear as a “critical part” of the Government’s plan to decarbonise power. It is worth noting that building Sizewell C will create 6.24 million tonnes of carbon equivalent CO2; that is one hell of a price to pay for a build that is not needed.

Secondly, if we want to decarbonise our energy sector, stimulate agriculture, reduce plastic waste, reduce landfill, improve our environment and increase agricultural yield, why is there absolutely no mention whatsoever of hemp? This is where my speech starts to sound familiar, but I was told very early in my time here that there is nothing wrong with repetition. I want this Government to help an industry that employs local people, could generate huge profits, pay its taxes to the Exchequer and help to offset the environmental damage that we are doing to our precious planet. That industry would be a win-win-win scenario. What better way to grow an economy and help the local community, if not by creating jobs so that people have a disposable income to spend locally, and benefit the local community and all associated supply chains?

Hemp: the evidence has been available for centuries—indeed, it was promoted and even enforced by King Henry VIII in the 16th century. Back then, a quarter of all arable land was dedicated to growing hemp, but there are still people who walk among us who hear and fear recreational cannabis when we say “hemp”. That is born out of ignorance. The most recent example has to be when the UK Home Office took actions to stop the export of products to the UK from the Jersey-based firm, Jersey Hemp.

Jersey Hemp has worked for three years to ensure it meets every UK Government compliance standard, and the UK Government went behind its back to the Jersey authorities to stop Jersey Hemp operating. After months of legal action in the UK courts, the Home Office has finally admitted that it acted unlawfully in relation to Jersey Hemp. I am limited in what I can say, but no amount of compensation will help Jersey Hemp, which has been wiped out by the actions of the UK Government. I only mention that case because it is symptomatic of the UK Government’s lack of vision and lack of understanding when it comes to the hemp plant.

In the 16th century, hemp production was encouraged to manufacture rope and canvas for the King’s Navy, but now we can make clothing, shoes, biodegradable plastic, insulation panels, food, paper and biofuels. The Government are currently spending billions retrofitting homes through the ECO4 and ECO+ schemes, but they are using products made from petrochemicals, which release harmful VOC—volatile organic compounds— emissions into the air of the buildings. Why not allow local farmers to grow hemp and supply the local contractors with carbon-negative natural fibre alternatives at scale? What would be a better use of public money?

In fact, there are 50,000 known uses for the hemp plant. Finding markets for hemp would not be a problem; growing it is. It will sell, it will be profitable, and the Government could reap the benefit. However, because of the inflexibility of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, companies can have their bank accounts seized and assets frozen, and that fear is stopping investment. The ignorance has permeated the stock exchange and, as a result, it has been dismissive of approaches from the business sector and myself.

The Government should be leading the charge, not cowering in the corner. They should be promoting the fact that hemp absorbs 22 tonnes per hectare of atmospheric carbon during its four-month growing cycle, and produces four times the biomass of the same sized area of forest, making it a far more sustainable source material. Hemp does not need pesticides, insecticides or fertiliser to grow in the UK, and it has natural antimicrobial properties, so it passively cleans the air in buildings. Hemp has high capacity for moisture absorption, allowing for a controlled atmosphere within buildings, and hemp construction materials act as a long-term carbon sink. A £60 million investment would create a facility capable of growing 32,000 acres per year. That would sequester over 207,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum: that is the CO2 photosynthesised by the hemp in its four-month growth; it does not include the carbon sequestered into the soil, or the net effect of replacing high embodied carbon products from international supply chains and their emissions. As a bonus for farmers, hemp regenerates the soil it grows in, so it would work well in crop rotation. It increases winter wheat and spring barley yields by 16% to 18% when they follow hemp in rotation, and it cleans groundwater.

The barrier to the industry raising the funding it requires is licensing. To make it a success, the Government only have to open their mind to the reality of what hemp is and distribute licences appropriately. The industry will take care of the rest. Hemp is not a plant for the past; it is a plant that can pave the way to a cleaner, greener future, and its benefits are clear for all to see, if we are prepared to open our eyes and to hear the possibilities. If raising taxes is what it takes—if that is the trigger required—then so be it, but we should not wait too long. It is a year since I made a similar speech, and in that time other countries have been pressing ahead while we are being left behind in our nuclear bunkers.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset 3:15, 12 March 2024

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It is a pleasure to contribute to the Budget debate. Before I talk about a few specific issues, I promised a constituent—a victim of the infected blood scandal—that I would raise the question of compensation if it was not mentioned in the Budget speech. As far as I am aware, it was not, so I ask the Minister to let my constituent know in the wind-ups when compensation will be paid. I understand that the recommendations for that to happen were made 10 months ago, so my constituent and I—and, I am sure, many others—will be grateful for an answer.

I regretfully say that it comes to a pretty pass when a Conservative Government have to plunder the Opposition’s policies in a Budget. I am talking about scrapping the non-dom tax status and extending the windfall tax on oil and gas companies. The latter is especially nonsensical for a number of reasons, not least because we want to reduce our reliance on foreign imports. If I am correct, the tax amounts to about 70%. Which company is going to bid for a licence when it is simply punished for providing the country’s energy? All this when only today the Government announced that they are to build new gas power stations in order to keep the lights on. Net zero is an admirable aim, but it risks impoverishing the country; we need a pragmatic approach to the change.

While I am talking about the country’s essential requirements, let me say that there was also no more money in the Budget for our stretched and depleted armed forces. There was a whisper that defence spending might rise to 2.5% of GDP if and when that was possible, but that is simply not good enough when we live in such dangerous times. I wish we would stop plucking spending targets out of thin air. As I have said before, we should let our three services work out what we need to support and, if necessary, fight alongside NATO; cost it; and then decide what we can afford.

The Chancellor’s key rabbit was a further reduction in national insurance, which has not endeared the Budget to pensioners, who do not pay the tax—although, as my hon. Friend James Wild said, they do still have the triple lock, which is generous. Instead, pensioners risk paying more tax on income as the threshold at which the higher rate of tax is paid is frozen; freezing thresholds is, in effect, a stealth tax. According to the OBR, which the Government refer to on many occasions, that would see millions of new taxpayers as their income rises above £12,570 a year, nearly 3 million workers being dragged into the higher rate of 40%, and 600,000 taxpayers paying the additional rate of 45% as their income passes £125,140 a year. This is hardly Conservative doctrine.

When I heard the Chancellor speak of the importance of lower taxes and allowing people to keep more of their hard-earned money, I was expecting a bombshell of an announcement during his speech—for example abolishing inheritance tax; lowering income tax, which I would have personally chosen, not national insurance; lowering corporation tax to encourage growth; simplifying the tax system; less state and less regulation; reforming business rates; and curbing many of these bloated quangos, if not scrapping them all together, and returning control to elected Ministers.

With our party staring down the barrel of a gun, it was time to be bold and courageous. I totally accept that the Chancellor is dealing with unprecedented times. No doubt disease, wars, a vast debt and an increasingly unstable word all played a part in his cautious approach, but where have we made the savings? Why do we think—like the Opposition—that the state has all the answers? The key to a successful economy and growth is a thriving private sector, whose taxes pay for the public sector. The more bloated the latter, the more punitive the Government have to be on the wealth creators, the risk takers, the innovators and our very future.

The Budget has its good points, but they are tinkering at the edges. Even the small reduction in property capital gains tax and the tiny rise in the VAT registration threshold will neither ignite the property market nor boost small and medium-sized businesses. After 14 years in this place, I find it remarkable that Labour is quiet on its spending priorities. I ask why, and I fear it is because if Labour wins the election, it will simply endorse ours.

What we needed was crystal-clear blue water from the Budget. Instead, we are pursuing the socialist way and punishing those who earn more by working hard for their families, all to pay for a bigger state that is both unaffordable and runs contrary to every single Conservative value.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:21, 12 March 2024

The Chancellor’s final Budget has confirmed what the British public and my constituents in Nottingham South have long known: we are all paying a heavy price for 14 years of Tory failure. That is failure to grow our economy, failure to raise living standards and appalling failure to deliver the quality public services that people need and deserve. We have all been left living in a lost decade because of a succession of chaotic Conservative ideological projects that have harmed economic growth, scared off private investment and widened inequalities across our nation, from austerity to a no-plan Brexit and the kamikaze mini-Budget of September 2022.

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister claim that our country has turned a corner. Perhaps we have, but it turns out that around that corner was yet another Tory recession and the highest tax burden for 70 years. Households in my constituency of Nottingham South will be on average a further £870 worse off because of the Budget and other recent economic announcements from this rudderless Government. For every £10 that the Government are taking from our hard-working families in higher tax, they are giving back only £5. Forget robbing Peter to pay Paul—the Tories are giving with one hand and taking twice as much with the other, while expecting us to thank them for the privilege.

Many of my constituents were already having to make daily difficult decisions to make ends meet because of the sky-high inflation and rocketing rents and mortgage payments unleashed by the last Prime Minister’s irresponsible and economically illiterate mini-Budget. Now, because of the failure of this Prime Minister and his Chancellor to get our economy growing again, raise living standards or actually cut the tax burden, my constituents will have to try to make do with even fewer pounds in their pocket.

The Conservatives are inflicting yet further pain on my constituents, because the combination of £1 billion-worth of cuts to Nottingham City Council, the failure to fix the crisis in social care and spiralling homelessness has pushed our council over the edge. To fill that black hole made in Westminster, the council has been forced to agree devastating cuts to local services, including the arts, culture, libraries, community protection, youth services and more. This ill treatment comes as no surprise to us in Nottingham, because successive Tory Governments have failed to make the important investments needed to help our great city grow, cancelling first midland main line electrification and then phase 2 of High Speed 2, and refusing to invest in the Broadmarsh project to regenerate our city centre and create more than 6,000 much-needed jobs. We in Nottingham have been a target for Tory cuts since 2010, but I am proud that I and others stood up to the Government to force them to deliver on the extensions to Nottingham’s tram network, the upgrading of the A453 and the scheme to insulate and retrofit thousands of homes across Nottingham South.

Unlike for the Conservatives, sound public finances and economic stability are non-negotiable for the Labour party. A future Labour Government will not play fast and loose with our economy by carrying out ideological Frankenstein experiments like the Prime Minister’s £46 billion unfunded plan to abolish national insurance. Instead, we will stick to our tough fiscal rules. Our spending plans will be fully costed and fully funded, including a loophole-free windfall tax on the extraordinary profits of oil and gas multinational giants. We will root out waste, corruption and those abusing taxpayers’ money by setting up a new office for value for money, halving Government consultancy spending, and appointing a covid corruption commissioner, to ensure that all of our taxpayers’ hard-earned money is spent wisely.

A future Labour Government would end Tory short-termism and instead work with private business to encourage stability, investment and reform to build the world-leading industries of the future in Britain. We would reform our sclerotic planning system, support our working people to develop the skills they need to thrive, and make work finally pay with a genuine living wage and a new deal for working people.

The Conservative Government have broken their promises to the British people. We are all paying more and getting less because of repeated Tory failures. If this was a private contract, the Government would have been taken to court for misrepresentation under the Trade Descriptions Act long ago. Instead, the Prime Minister, who lost his last election test to his predecessor and her snake-oil economics, is steadfastly refusing to let the British public have a say on his and his party’s record of chaos and national decline. He should do the right thing and call a general election for 2 May to let the people of Nottingham South and Britain elect a Government who will put them first.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 3:26, 12 March 2024

The measures announced in the Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor promote a pragmatic and sensible approach to growing the economy, improving productivity and ensuring that more people keep more of their earnings. We still carry the economic scars and fallout of the once-in-100-years pandemic and the energy crisis caused by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Let us not forget that covid shut down major parts of our economy and the Government spent more than £400 billion protecting hundreds of thousands of businesses and millions of jobs.

I note the Chancellor’s comments in his speech last week that the UK’s post-covid recovery is among the strongest of the G7, ahead of France, Germany and Italy. Russia’s war in Ukraine has led to a serious energy crisis. I am proud that the Government chose to support households with increased energy bills, providing £40 billion of financial support. This Conservative Government were able to spend that money because they spent the previous nine years rebuilding our economy after it was ravaged by successive Labour Governments. Let us not forget that when we took office, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury told us that there was no money left.

Thankfully, we are now witnessing a steady recovery, following two major economic shocks in the last four years. Economic recoveries do not succeed overnight, but this Conservative Chancellor is doing the right thing by ensuring that our public finances are on a strong footing, and that the recovery is sustainable and aimed at growth and improving productivity. He is also doing the right thing by putting more money back into people’s pockets. Following this Budget and the autumn statement, we have seen a 4p cut in national insurance in just five months. Some 27 million working people will keep an average of £900 more of their earnings.

One tax loophole that I was pleased to see closed was the abolition of the furnished holiday lettings tax regime, eliminating the tax advantage for landlords who let short-term furnished holiday properties over those who let residential properties on a long-term basis. I have campaigned for reform of the short-term lets industry for over a decade. In the Cities of London and Westminster, 10,000 short-term let properties are stripping out the long-term rental market, leaving young people struggling to pay rising rents in the capital, as they are in regions such as the south-west.

I also welcome the Chancellor’s recognition of the importance of culture in our economy, with his unveiling of the package that will provide the creative industries with over £1 billion in additional tax relief over the next five years. That is a vital sector not only in my constituency but to the wider economy. It employs 2.4 million people across the UK and contributed to £125 billion to the UK economy in 2022 alone. The relief will make a huge difference to the creative industries.

Our public services play a vital role in the life of our nation, schools, council, police and fire service and, of course, our beloved NHS, supporting us from the cradle to the grave, but we must never forget that these are all funded by taxpayer money. Thus, it is imperative that we strive for the best value for money and focus on efficiency. I fully support the Chancellor’s public sector productivity programme. Currently, productivity remains below pandemic levels, and we must close the gap. Modernising and streamlining our public services will mean better allocations of resources, leading to better outcomes for those who use these services.

Our medical professionals are best placed to improve a patient’s experience and outcome. I saw that at first hand on a visit to Barts hospital in my constituency. Barts-based Dr Debashish Das and colleagues from across London’s cardiac units have designed a shared platform to monitor remotely more than 5,000 patients who are awaiting heart surgery. This doctor-led initiative has significantly reduced emergency surgery, improved patient outcomes and saved the NHS money. That sort of project must be encouraged, not only in the NHS but throughout the public sector.

As a former councillor, I know full well how we must improve productivity and reduce costs. In 2010, as cabinet member for children’s services, I led Westminster’s merger of children’s services with Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham. It was a landmark move and the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. It not only led to improved outcomes for our children but saved tens of millions of pounds for the taxpayer. We must see more of this type of project, and freedom and flexibility must be given to the public sector to improve productivity.

There is one measure missing from this Budget, which would benefit the economy if implemented: the reinstatement of tax-free shopping. Since the tax incentive was lifted, international visitor spending has fallen in the UK and risen in European cities such as Paris, Milan and Madrid. An Oxford Economics report predicts that reintroducing tax-free shopping could attract more than 1.6 million extra visitors to the UK, stimulating an extra £2.8 billion in tourist spending overall. I remain at a loss to understand why the Treasury does not accept the arguments to reintroduce tax-free shopping for overseas visitors, and to go further and extend it to EU citizens. Reintroducing tax-free shopping would boost the economy for the retail, hospitality, hotel, leisure and culture sectors, and also for the manufacturing of luxury goods. It is a no-brainer.

Thanks to the responsible and prudent management of the economy under this Chancellor, we are seeing green shoots of a sustainable recovery. That is fair and sensible.

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford 3:34, 12 March 2024

Is that it? That was my first thought on hearing the Budget last week. Is that it for my constituents, many of whom are struggling to make their wages, which have not risen in years, stretch to cover the ever increasing costs of their food, bills, rent, mortgages, transport and council tax? They are paying more for less. The ongoing austerity years have brought nothing but pain. UK GDP growth has been revised down, and Government debt and interest spending has reached the highest level since the 1960s. Even higher earners are on track for the biggest fall in their disposable income on record. People are working harder just to keep their heads above water. Treats that were once affordable, such as going out for meals and annual holidays, are out of the question these days for many of my constituents.

For the first time in modern history, most people will be worse off than they were before the Government were elected. Yet there was nothing in the Budget to help lift out of poverty the 3.8 million people, including 1 million children, who are now so poor they are considered destitute. Pensioners have been ignored and will be largely worse off. There was nothing in the Budget for young people who see no prospect whatsoever of having a secure and affordable home. The housing crisis is so bad it is now also a public health crisis. There was nothing in the Budget for defence spending, despite the increasing threats we face.

We have record waiting lists in the NHS. Is it any surprise that long-term illness is both the most common and fastest growing reason for people being outside the workforce? There have been some very difficult factors that have contributed to the weakness of our economy, such as the invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic, but far too many unforced errors have been made: the Liz Truss Budget catastrophe, which my constituents are still paying for; the £140 billion that Brexit is costing our economy—Brexit cost my constituents, on average, £2,000 each last year.

The last time taxes were as high was in 1948. Despite the fact that the country was recovering from the second world war, the Labour Government of the day delivered the national health service: world-beating healthcare, free at the point of use for everybody. In this Budget, there is no public services spending planned for the next five years. The 40 new hospitals promised in the manifesto, on which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were elected, are nowhere to be seen. Departmental expenditure limits have been left largely unchanged. That means my constituents will not see built under this Government the new in-patient mental health bed facility that is so desperately needed. The economy is about political choices, and Labour will always choose to look after the NHS and education.

The Tories stole Labour’s idea to abolish the non-dom tax status, but instead of investing in the NHS as Labour planned, they have used it to pay for a national insurance cut. Even that unfunded promise is

“not worth the paper it is written on”, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and it cannot be paid for without Government borrowing, stealth tax rises and/or a further squeeze on public spending.

The Budget was a damp squib, with no plan on how to get us out of the economic mess the Tories have got us into. I am pleased to see the changes to the child benefit thresholds, but why did it take the Government so long to help struggling families? Tinkering around the edges is not going to kick-start the economy or bring the growth and productivity we desperately need to improve our public services and put money back into people’s pockets.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner 3:39, 12 March 2024

One of my mother’s favourite phrases was that anything can be proved with statistics. It seems to me that Budget debates always follow that, as they are something of a statistical salad from which Members can pick out their favourite morsels to support any individual argument.

What is often more important is not to pick and choose statistics to advance an argument, but to look at trends. The reports that I think every Member receives on a regular basis from our big banks and financial institutions—NewDay, Barclays’ Insights reports, Lloyds and others—tell us a great deal about what is going on in the financial lives of the people we serve. Broadly across the country we see a clear trend that people are in a position to save more from their day-to-day incomes. Spending on consumer activity is increasing quarter on quarter, and is particularly strong among constituents on a household income of between £20,000 and £40,000 a year—those on lower incomes, but in employment. That is part of a generally improving—although not rapidly improving—trend.

It is against that backdrop that I welcome in particular the fact that the Budget focuses its support primarily on the lowest income households, including pensioners through the triple lock. It incentivises work, but not just for the benefit of people earning their own income. It recognises the benefits of having a job—for mental and physical health, and for tackling child poverty. It also encourages investment. We have heard a great deal of debate about manufacturing. The introduction of full expensing, and the commitment to retaining it, will be hugely important in raising productivity over time and will help us to address our biggest national challenge, the demographics of a reducing workforce, while helping individual businesses. On a recent visit to the Sharmans Pharmacy in my constituency, I was shown its new pharmacy dispensing robot. It increases rapidly the ability of that pharmacy to fill prescriptions for people who come in. It increases the efficiency of workers and their ability to engage with customers, and it represents a degree of confidence on its part that an investment in an expensive piece of technology will help to increase its profit margins, secure jobs and provide a better service to people who come through the door.

Against that backdrop, and although we have seen amazing progress, with on average an additional 800 jobs per day since the Government took office in 2010, we still face a very significant recruitment challenge. I hear from businesses in my constituency, day after day, that securing workers with the skills to fill the jobs that enable us to grow and increase productivity remains a challenge. I will provide the Government Front Bench with the thought that, just as with the Windrush generation, when we went out and specifically sought to recruit people from across the world to fulfil the roles we needed—it did not always end well, but on the whole it was enormously significant and positive—we might need a similar kind of deal with a friendly nation today, and to make a decision to take control of economic migration and establish links with countries from which we can source the skills we need and with whom we have an affiliation, to provide the stability our economy needs, and in particular the public sector workers we require in the NHS, dentistry and so many other areas of our national life.

To develop the theme of productivity, all across the public sector we hear interesting examples of how different public services are looking to improve productivity. From the Royal Navy, we have heard how future generations of warships will require one third of the number of sailors that the current technology demands. Across the NHS, we see examples of how new technology—I declare an interest; I am married to an NHS doctor—is improving the efficiency of both the delivery of services and the speed with which they can be provided. In that context, it is striking that, while people can be cynical about capitalism, there has been a 50% improvement in cancer survival rates over the past five decades as a result of the wealth that has been generated and invested in this technology.

I very much encourage the Government, as they look at where the productivity gain can most be found—echoing the points made by my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken and having spent a lot of my time in local government—to focus on the areas of our public sector where we have seen the most impressive gains in productivity. It is clear from, for instance, our experience of the better care fund and what has happened in relation to public health that local authorities have consistently achieved not only some of the most impressive efficiency savings in any part of the public sector, but also the greatest productivity gains. That is because they contain accountable, elected politicians like ourselves, responsible to their communities, who are willing to run things as if they were running their own businesses. One example is the investment in jet patchers enabling potholes, which are a real pest for many of our constituents, to be fixed very rapidly. The decisions on that investment were made in local government years before anyone in central Government got around to identifying the potential benefits of the technology.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Is it not therefore disappointing that while the Government have assumed 5% productivity increases in the Budget, they are also assuming that central funding from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be cut by 2.3% a year in real terms for four years? Even if a 5% increase in productivity were achieved, it would fill only half the gap caused by the cuts in local government funding that are projected in the Budget. That is no way forward, is it? Moreover, the Budget made absolutely no mention of public health or integrated care.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

The hon. Gentleman has enormous knowledge of the local government world. I think he would also acknowledge the complexity of the local government finance world and, in particular, the opportunity created by the freedoms relating to council tax increases. As we know from other debates in the House, that is not distributed across the country as evenly as we would like, but it will nevertheless enable local authorities that have built up significant financial balances specifically to manage effectively some of the economic shocks that we know are out there in the system.

Let me end with a brief defence of the value of capitalism. In this Chamber we often debate the need for greater regulation—ten-minute rule Bills, for instance, are often intended to address injustices, and that is entirely right—but if we are honest we will admit that, notwithstanding the grandeur of the Chamber and the status of Members of Parliament, the Government do not exert as much control over the day-to-day life of our economy and our national life as some of our debates imply. We need to recognise that free markets, capitalism and people’s ability to invest and seek returns have helped to deliver that doubling of cancer survival rates, as well as the incredible improvements in educational attainment. It does not always work, of course. The private finance initiative remains a significant burden, but it was a worthy attempt to do the right thing which has turned out to have some significant downsides.

We should consider the improvements in our national mental and physical health and to the rates of absolute poverty that have been driven by investment and the creation of 4 million additional jobs since 2010, which have transformed our constituents’ lives beyond almost anything else that we have done in this Chamber. It is for that reason that I have confidence in the impact that the Budget will have, and in the benefits that a Conservative Government are bringing to all our people.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West 3:48, 12 March 2024

This Budget has failed to address the acute challenges that our country is facing. After 14 years of Conservative rule we have appalling levels of poverty and inequality, and vital public services have been brought to their knees, but instead of being presented with a Budget to inspire hope that the conditions in which so many people are living could be turned around, we were treated to the sight of a blasé Chancellor with a pitiful offer.

More than 14 million people in the United Kingdom are living in poverty, including more than 2 million pensioners and 4 million children, and a million of those experienced destitution in 2022; but the Chancellor threw them crumbs in the form of a measly six-month extension of the household support fund. Does he think that after September there will, by some miracle, no longer be people who need help with the cost of food and utilities? It is an insult.

In February, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

“In years to come…people will be asking how it was that government walked by on the other side when thousands of children were suffering abject deprivation, and failed to support them in their hours of need.”

This is a damning indictment of this Government. The Chancellor’s treatment of pensioners was shameful as well. Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has said that they will be “substantial net losers” from the Budget. He explained:

“Well over 60 per cent of pensioners now pay income tax. Income tax changes will leave most of them £650 a year worse off by 2027, and over £3,000 a year worse off if they are higher rate tax payers.”

Why is the Chancellor punishing pensioners in this way?

The Chancellor had the audacity to claim that the Government have a plan for better public services, despite knowing full well that Conservative Governments over the past 14 years have inflicted brutal cuts and that more are planned for the years ahead. Torsten Bell, the chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The £19 billion of cuts to unprotected public services after the next election are three-quarters the size of those delivered in the early 2010s. The idea that such cuts can be delivered in the face of already faltering public services is a fiscal fiction.”

Yet again, the Tories are heaping the misery of austerity on the country.

Local authority funding has been decimated under the Conservatives. Figures from the House of Commons Library show that Wirral saw a 28.6% real-terms drop in settlement funding between 2015-16 and 2023-24. In Wirral West, we have lost Woodchurch swimming pool and leisure centre, as well as council-run libraries in Hoylake, Pensby, Irby and Woodchurch. In Wirral overall, we saw a 54% drop in real-terms spending on services for young people between 2012-13 and 2022-23. There have also been cuts to emergency services: we now have around 380 fewer police officers in Merseyside than we did in 2010; and we have about 270 fewer firefighters. In Wirral, there are no legal aid contracts to support people on housing or social security matters, leaving people without access to justice. Where was the funding to address the devastating impact of years of austerity? Communities in Wirral have been left high and dry by the Tories.

The underfunding of the NHS continues, despite the fact that waiting lists are at over 7.6 million, leaving people suffering in pain, with thousands stopping work as a result. I would like the Minister to explain why the Government have gone back on their commitment to expand the provision of fracture liaison services. The Royal Osteoporosis Society’s “Better Bones” campaign calls for £30 million a year for universal fracture liaison coverage. That would save the Exchequer money in the long run, keeping people healthy rather than seeing them join NHS queues and become reliant on social security.

We still see no realistic plan to address the crisis in adult social care. Last year, research by Age UK found that 1.6 million older disabled people have unmet care needs and that 36,000 fewer older disabled people are receiving care than in 2017-18. Skills for Care, the workforce development and planning body, estimates that an average of 9.9% of roles in adult social care were vacant in 2022-23—equivalent to approximately 152,000 vacancies. The Government also continue to ignore the more than 7 million adults in England who are functionally illiterate, which is a form of deprivation that goes unanswered. According to the latest report from the IFS, total spending on adult skills in 2024-25 will still be 23% below 2009-10 levels.

This is a Budget from a Government who lack any ambition to serve the majority across the country. The Conservative legacy is one of decimated public services and appalling levels of poverty and inequality. It is time for them to step aside. It is time that we have a Government who will give an immediate injection of funding to public services and ensure that no one suffers poverty.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 3:53, 12 March 2024

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is quite right to focus on improving the UK’s economic activity, where, as we have heard, we should be doing much better. We have a flexible labour market, and it is vital that we do not imperil it, but we also need a long-term strategy for investments in skills and infrastructure so that our economy can move into top gear, we can compete globally with the highest-performing economies, and we can bring prosperity to all corners of the United Kingdom.

There are measures in this Budget that are particularly welcome and which will help improve our economic performance. The 2p reduction in national insurance contributions and the increase in the child benefit threshold remove barriers to work. It is also vital that we secure investment for the businesses of tomorrow. The £1 billion for the renewable electricity auction allocation round 6, the £270 million combined Government and industry investment into research and development projects in the automotive and aerospace industries, and the £120 million for the green industries growth accelerator will all help to achieve this.

In almost every Budget, it is important to be wary of and to guard against unintended consequences, and there are two that I will briefly highlight from last Wednesday. First, I understand the rationale for extending the sunset clause on the energy profits levy, but there is real concern that this will deflect and deter investment for the industries of tomorrow: offshore wind, carbon capture, and hydrogen. These industries are vital to enhancing our energy security, bringing jobs to coastal communities and delivering our net zero targets, and I am concerned that, as the levy proposals stand, they could deter that vital investment. For my part, I shall be studying closely the provisions of the spring Finance Bill, and I would urge the Government to re-engage with industry at every opportunity.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Member’s point about offshore renewables is very important. Does he agree that we must ensure, as a nation, that we construct those floating wind turbines in the UK rather than overseas?

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

Yes. If we look at the offshore wind sector deal that was signed in 2019, we can see progress in building local supply chains, but I share the hon. Gentleman’s doubt to a degree. There is still a lot more work to do, and on the manufacturing side of things I would agree with him that that could take longer than for other aspects of those local supply chains.

Secondly, I likewise acknowledge why the decision has been made to abolish the furnished letting concession. There are areas of the country where holiday lets are badly distorting the local property market, as we heard from my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, who is no longer in her place. She made that point clearly, but there are many other areas of the country where holiday lets are not distorting the local property market. They are a vital part of those local economies, which are often in rural areas where there are limited other job-creating opportunities, and restrictions and limitations on the opportunity to diversify a business. Many such properties are also subject to planning conditions that prevent them from becoming available for full-time occupation on the open market. It is therefore important to be cognisant of the full impact of this proposal before proceeding. I see that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston is listening. We need a full impact assessment of that proposal before it advances.

To remove the stubborn productivity gap, it is vital to invest in skills and infrastructure. With such initiatives as the local skills improvement plans and lifelong learning, the Government have rightly recognised the importance of providing people of all ages with the opportunity to acquire the skills that are needed for the many new and emerging industries that are coming forward. Further education colleges and trainers currently face obstacles in recruiting staff, recovering VAT and supporting those who need to catch up on their learning following covid. It is therefore disappointing that no measures to address these challenges were announced last week.

Investment in infrastructure is vital if the east of England is to realise its full potential. It is therefore vital that funds are made available straightaway so that work on the Ely and Haughley junction rail improvement can begin without further delay. There were welcome announcements on this in the autumn statement, but there is local concern that the Government might be reverse ferreting on this issue. I hope that my concerns can be allayed.

This winter, the Norfolk and Suffolk coast has taken a battering that it has not seen for a very long time. In my constituency, in Lowestoft, Pakefield and Kessingland, this has undermined investment in the town centres, the ports and the tourism industry, including its vital leisure parks and caravan parks. Schemes have been prepared to protect these people and their property, and it is vital that they get under way as quickly as possible.

The Government are right to stick to the plan to halve inflation, to grow the economy and to reduce debt. As I have said, I believe that the Budget’s welcome initiatives will help to achieve those goals, but all around the UK, and particularly in East Anglia, we need to press ahead with strategic investment in both people and infrastructure—in flesh and blood and in concrete and steel.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton 4:01, 12 March 2024

It is important to note that, had pre-2008 levels of growth been maintained, GDP per head would be 39% higher than it is today. People are poorer, and so is the state. We are on a long road of stagnation, decline and diminished capacity. It is a disaster for our constituents.

It is easy to tell a story that this is simply symbolic of the dying days of one political party in government, and that it will all be changed by a new Government, but that new Government need a sense of direction and a sense of purpose built around national renewal in a divided and disillusioned country. New management alone will not cut it. We need a transformation that goes well beyond fiscal and monetary tweaks, and that moves into the real economy. A transformation that asks why living standards are declining when employment is at record levels.

The dignity of work has to be at the centre of our agenda. The scourge of in-work poverty bears witness to the failure of the economic model that has now been in place for almost half a century. Full employment, education and training are vital but, without an industrial strategy, it alone will not get to the heart of the matter.

National renewal requires what every Government since Margaret Thatcher’s Government have found unthinkable—an industrial strategy that engages the energy of the public sector and the private sector in partnership with the people of this country. We must think the unthinkable, look beyond finance and the City of London, and look out to the country. We must think about regional banks, vocational colleges and a form of corporate governance that can sustain a partnership between place, workers and capital. The debacle of the Post Office this year is indicative, not anomalous. The model of managerial sovereignty without accountability has well and truly failed. It has left public services, like our NHS, broken, with millions suffering on waiting lists. It has left local government bankrupt and unable to do its important job. Economy, society and Government are rudderless, in decline and diminished.

The British people are capable of inventing, designing and making their own future. We must not be afraid of change and the renewal of our economy, society and politics. That was the task of a Labour Government in 1945, 1964 and 1997. In each of those Governments, Labour won working-class communities to its cause. Those communities have endured neglect, abandonment and contempt for too long. They are not the source of decline, but the key to renewal. They have been despised and patronised, and we cannot understand the Brexit vote or the election of this Tory Government without understanding their disdain or their rejection of the political class now. Labour must put their needs—a decent wage, a decent pension, safe and secure communities—ahead of any progressive demands that often dominate the politics of the left. It is the vocation of Labour, as a party of government and as a movement, to do that. It is vital that Labour rediscovers its own vocation, as well as the virtues of vocation in the economy. The stakes are high indeed.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 4:07, 12 March 2024

It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate and to follow Dan Carden. No Budget is delivered in a vacuum. To make an assessment of the Budget, we need to consider its context and backdrop. Given some of the comments from Opposition Members, particularly the shadow Minister, I wonder whether they have been asleep for the past few years.

During the past few years, our economy has had two of the biggest shocks we will ever live through. The Government have had to step in to support jobs, businesses and households, and have spent almost half a trillion pounds to do so. It was absolutely right to provide that level of support, which amounted to around £6,000 for every person in the country, through the pandemic and the energy crisis. We were able to deliver that support only because of our careful management and rebuilding of our country’s finances when we first came into office in 2010. If we had not done that, we would not have been in a position to deliver that support. Having spent that money, it now has to be covered and we have to balance the books. That is the context in which this Budget has been delivered.

In the light of that context, the Chancellor did an incredible job delivering a Budget that was able to cut national insurance by 2p. Thousands of people in work in my constituency will welcome that because they will be up to £450 a year better off, on top of the 2% we delivered at the beginning of the year. Once again, we have been able to freeze fuel duty, which will be hugely welcomed, as will a number of other measures, particularly the extension of the household support fund for another six months, which is necessary to continue to support those most in need to recover from the impact of the last few years. Raising the VAT threshold will also be hugely welcomed by many small businesses that I represent. I simply ask the Treasury to index link it, so that it goes up every year, on a regular basis, rather than having to wait for it to be hiked up again.

There was much to be welcomed in this Budget. There was one thing in particular that I welcomed. In fact, I was deeply honoured to get a mention from the Chancellor, as he addressed the issue of the inequality in the tax system between residential landlords and short-term holiday lets. That is an issue that I have been asking to be addressed for a long time. I respect the comments of my hon. Friend Peter Aldous when he said that we just need to be careful. What we need to do is to focus on outcomes. We want more properties available to rent in tourist areas. I know that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is a former tourism Minister, understands the sector incredibly well and I trust him as much as anyone to get this measure right. We need to ensure that we are focused on delivering the outcome and not just taxing people who are not able to put their property on the rental market. I think this is an important step to addressing some of the housing issues that we face in tourist areas.

Although I got one thing that I wanted to see in the Budget, there were other things that I was hoping to see that we did not get. The tourism sector has had a huge amount of support over the past few years, and rightly so, because it is such an important part of our economy. I have the honour of representing the constituency that I am told is most reliant on the tourism and hospitality sector, and it is still facing some huge challenges. More support for the sector, whether through cutting VAT or addressing the high business rates that companies pay, would be very welcome, and I will continue to press the case for that. I was also disappointed that the opportunity was not taken to address the issue of renewable liquid heating fuels, which are being taxed unfairly for those who are off grid for mains heating supply. I will continue to make the case for that.

Productivity is an ongoing challenge in Cornwall. Our wages are typically about 30% below the national average and our productivity reflects that. There are some understandable reasons relating to our geography and demographics, but there are also some huge opportunities for us to become less reliant on seasonal jobs and businesses. There are opportunities in the space sector, lithium extraction and renewable energy. I came into politics to try to create good career opportunities for young people growing up in Cornwall. This exciting opportunity to create well-paid jobs, to raise the average wages available in Cornwall and to give those young people the careers of the future is something that we need to grasp. I urge the Government, who have already done much to support these sectors in Cornwall, to continue to ensure that we provide those job opportunities to enable young people in Cornwall to aspire to a good career in the sectors of the future. We need to close the challenging productivity gap that we face and make the most of creating the well-paid jobs of the future.

In the context in which we find ourselves, I believe that the Budget was hugely positive and delivered what the country needs. We are seeing inflation fall and growth returning to our economy. It is time to stick with the plan and continue delivering what the country needs.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Labour, Makerfield 4:14, 12 March 2024

There are things to welcome in the Budget when it comes to helping people struggling with hardship and debt, but they are more about tinkering than about providing solutions to the underlying problems. I welcome the extension to the household support fund, which is distributed by local councils and is a crucial lifeline for desperate families, but it is only for six months. That is wholly inadequate given the scale of the problem.

Increasing the repayment period for households on universal credit that take out budgeting advances from 12 months to 24 months is clearly helpful, especially for those struggling to make ends meet or coping with an emergency, but that still leaves millions of people on universal credit subject to unaffordable deductions from their benefits to repay other Government debts. Those deductions from an amount of money that is frankly too little to live on in the first place cause real hardship.

We have to put those small changes in the context of a cost of living crisis that is affecting millions of people. StepChange says that two in five people are currently struggling to keep up with household bills and credit commitments, and its advisers regularly speak to clients struggling to meet even the most basic needs, such as getting a healthy meal and keeping the heating on. They are also increasingly seeing people on negative budgets, which means that they do not have enough income to meet their necessary outgoings, let alone put towards paying off their debt. A new report published today by Christians Against Poverty highlights that and the fact that many people lack credit, but I am not sure the Government recognise the problem as well as those charities do. That is why people need more help with the fundamentals, such as council tax and energy bills. Where is the much-needed council tax support scheme and a social tariff for energy? Those changes would make a real difference.

We also need major changes to the kinds of debt solutions that advice agencies can offer. The announcement of the scrapping of the up-front £90 application fee and the uplift to the vehicle value to qualify for debt relief orders is a start, because debt relief orders were a real barrier to those in financial hardship who had to find £90 before they could even deal with their debts. The statement on financial vulnerability is welcome, but it is estimated that an extra 556,000 debt relief orders will be applied for—a 75% increase on 2023. The statement asserts that individuals will be put in contact with free debt advice where appropriate, so my question to the Chancellor is: where will the extra money come from to pay for the additional debt advice? The free advice sector is already overloaded. Debt advisers are working beyond their capacity and suffering burnout, and many are leaving the sector, despite their commitment to it. More and sustained funding is urgently needed.

Enough with tinkering around the edges. We need a system of simple and straightforward debt solutions, and we must ensure that people, including those on negative incomes, are always able to access the solution that best suits their needs. One part of the solution has to be to reduce creditors’ reliance on bailiffs, whose fees, which rose substantially last year in the middle of a cost of living crisis, are simply added to people’s debts, making them less and less affordable. Bailiffs are often part of the problem, not the solution. We have to encourage creditors—including public sector organisations, the Government and local authorities—to embrace a fairer and more effective system that prioritises affordable payment plans over the seizure of goods.

Of course, we need to prevent people from falling into debt in the first place, so we must look at the issues more holistically. The causes and solutions are complex. Many people affected by debt have multiple categories of debt, spanning lots of regulatory regimes. That complexity is replicated across Government and Whitehall, and laws and regulations span several Departments. For example, the regulation of “buy now, pay later” firms, which is far too delayed—I was really sorry to see that it appears to have been kicked into the long grass—is the preserve of the Treasury. Bailiff fees are an issue for the Ministry of Justice, and prepayment meters are the responsibility of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. The Department for Work and Pensions looks after deductions from universal credit, and rent arrears are dealt with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities—and that is not a complete list. Actually, all those Departments need to work together, and any policies need to have a financial inclusion impact assessment. That would stop many of the policies that are pushing people into more hardship and debt.

This may sound a little strange, but I am looking to introduce a ten-minute rule Bill to regulate e-scooters that use lithium-ion batteries, which will come under the Department for Transport. This is a financial inclusion matter, because it is often the cost of living that causes people to search for cheap bargains online that turn out to be anything but and are actually dangerous.

I will not pretend to have all the answers to the complex issues, but I do know that we have to have a joined-up approach to solving them. Far too many people in our country are struggling with what seems like hopeless debt, and they gain little from the tinkering and short termism of this Budget.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee 4:20, 12 March 2024

Tapadh leibh, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am using Gaelic like Cillian Murphy did at the Oscars—the Celtic tongue is everywhere these days. May I also welcome members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, who are watching our proceedings?

I will start with a quote:

“I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone—if possible—Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery.”

That is from the last speech of Charlie Chaplin’s film, “The Great Dictator”, filmed in 1940. Too often nowadays, 84 years later, we are seeing the misery of others among us in the UK, where food banks and child poverty are far too commonplace. George Galloway, who is no longer in his place, mentioned two wards in his area where 50% of children live in poverty. He also mentioned his predecessor, which was very worthy.

Young people in our countries cannot get houses. Their rents drain their savings for a deposit and leave them trapped. On “Newsnight” last night, a teacher in Paisley, Scotland said that there was a link between pupil behaviour in the classroom and hunger and perhaps even nutrition. How can we make society more productive when educational outcomes are blighted by DWP policy and spending choices?

The roots of this go back to 2008—perhaps not the crash but certainly the response to it and the fixation of then Chancellor George Osborne on austerity. He really did misunderstand the debt to GDP ratio. He thought only of debt, leaving the UK like a farmer saving money on seeds in spring, not investing, and then wondering why there was no harvest in the autumn. He had a short-term political slogan, which some here might remember: “long-term economic plan”. As ever, however, there was no plan. This is the autumn, there was no investment and the harvest is scarce.

The Resolution Foundation pointed out in December that the average worker in the UK is earning £10,700 less than their equivalent in a host of developed countries in Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia. This has been compounded by Brexit taking GDP down by about 5%, and talks of a trans-Pacific partnership gave nothing back because that is trade with paperwork and bureaucracy and only a 0.2% to 0.8% gain in GDP. Members talk of people keeping their hard-earned cash, but it is harder-earned cash as a result of some of the choices that have been made in the UK. Filling out forms does not productivity make.

In Iceland, the crash was over by 2013, which was 11 years ago. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Iceland and have met the Central Bank of Iceland several times. It now complains of too much growth in its economy and its head banker has his head in his hands. Things are so different in the UK. Ireland seems similar to Iceland, as do Norway and Denmark. The countries surrounding Scotland are very different. Their populations will grow by 2050, but if Scotland is still in the UK, its population will decline. My constituency will experience that decline most of all. It is unnecessary and will be as a result not of destiny but of choices. It is not about geography or demographics; it is about policy.

In “The Guardian” last week, Gary Stevenson, a former City trader, wrote that

“the budget is for ordinary people. The mega-rich look on and laugh…traders know the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.”

The blight is all over society. Sky News reported over autumn that parents were stealing infant formula milk, such was their desperation. Reports are being written and commissioned on food insecurity in what is known as a G7 country.

The basic facts about the UK’s finances are that it has borrowed every year bar 11 since 1945, and has not paid back much of that money; it has been in surplus for only 11 years, and has paid back about 1.7% of the debt attributed to it. Those are the facts, but maybe they do not tell the whole story, because the world has not ended. However, they undermine the fiscal rules that various parties and Oppositions have, which are not actually necessary and are causing the misery of others. In my view, the UK has had two pivotal moments that have led us to this point—moments of quantitative easing, or if you like, the printing of money. As the American economist J. K. Galbraith said, the process by which money is created

“is so simple that the mind is repelled.”

Those moments were, of course, after the crash and around the pandemic.

The problem is that rather than people being helped with their mortgage, as they were in Iceland—that would perhaps be called flood-up economics, the opposite of trickle-down economics because it works—in the UK, the poor have lost out hugely, and the rich have accumulated the money that was created by the Government on a whim. As Gary Stevenson said in his article in The Guardian last week:

“The next year, 2011, I placed a bet. It was a bet that the hundreds of billions of pounds of economic stimulus being poured into the UK and US economies would not reach the people who needed it. It would settle in the pockets of the richest, who would use it to buy the homes of the poor, and the economy would never recover. That year, I was Citibank’s most profitable trader in the world. They paid me $2m and asked me to do it again. It was around about then I realised the whole economic system wasn’t working.”

That is why we are where we are, and why the Budget is what it is—nothing very huge, and quite delusional, as has been said before. It also explains why councils and devolved Governments are short of money.

It is worth remarking that devolution only works one way in the UK. We get told in Scotland that we have two Governments, but devolution does not work like that. It works depending on England’s needs: when England’s one Government decide that they need to spend on something, there are consequentials for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If Wales needs money for health, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland do not receive consequentials. That is a fundamental problem with the UK. I would also say to the SNP, and to the SNP Government in Edinburgh, that there is so much they could do to change the situation. They have the power in their hands to call an unscheduled Holyrood election whenever they want, and put the matter of independence before the people. If they did so, I am confident that Scotland would choose to leave all I have described; we would be an independent country and could have a different demographic outlook, particularly for Na h-Eileanan an Iar. These matters are very important, and Holyrood should think about doing that and doing it soon.

Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Labour, Ilford South 4:27, 12 March 2024

I apologise in advance, Mr Deputy Speaker, for my rather croaky voice today. I was vocally cheering on the historic double win on the weekend: the Commons and Lords rugby team’s win over the Dáil and Seanad, and of course, England’s dramatic victory at Twickenham.

Turning to less happy matters, this Budget does absolutely nothing to remedy the economic malaise we have had over the past 14 years. Some £20 billion will have been slashed from vital public services by 2028, paired with tax cuts that overwhelmingly favour the very richest in our society—just another round of austerity from the architects of inequality. It is the worst decline in living standards since the second world war, the worst growth since the great depression, and the worst wage crisis since the battle of Waterloo. What an awful record that is. It is economic incompetence of utterly historic standards.

This malaise did not emerge suddenly and recently; it is not solely the result of the pandemic or the war in Ukraine. It is the cumulative outcome of a decade and a half of misguided economic decisions and governance by successive coalition and then Conservative Governments. When the former Prime Minister, the now Baron Cameron of Chipping Norton, announced the beginning of a new “age of austerity” back in 2009, few of us could have predicted the sheer devastation that the Conservatives were about to unleash on this country. A report from the Progressive Economy Forum reveals that between 2010 and 2019, austerity measures drained a staggering half a trillion pounds from the UK’s public spending coffers.

The impacts of those cuts have been devastating. The introduction of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 increased the number of children living in relative poverty by 600,000 in just seven years. Bizarrely, British children are now 7 cm shorter than their European counterparts, clearly because of the malnutrition, scurvy and rickets that now plague our children’s future—it is utterly unbelievable, but these are facts put out by scientists.

As we all know, food bank usage, even in many Conservative constituencies, has skyrocketed. According to the Trussell Trust, emergency food parcel usage rose from 61,000 in 2010 to 1.9 million in 2020. Rates of increase in life expectancy have nearly halved, and more than 330,000 excess deaths in Great Britain have been attributed to this great age of austerity. That austerity has proved to be not just economically devastating, but, sadly, fatal for hundreds of thousands in this country.

These policies were not just confined to the coalition Government. Between 2015 and 2019, a succession of Conservative Prime Ministers committed themselves full-throatedly to the devastating austerity politics of the last five years. The most egregious was the implementation of the two-child benefit cap in 2016-17. That particularly awful example means that 42% of children living in families with three or more children now live in absolute poverty. The two-child benefit cap has impacted on 1.5 million of our nation’s children.

Despite politicians’ promises of austerity leading to an improved economy, our public finances have clearly not improved. Since 2010, the real economy has grown by only 1.2% a year, and we have the weakest growth among G7 countries. The simple fact—and this needs to be said loud and clear—is that you cannot cut your way to growth in any modern economy. We have witnessed the worst growth in GDP per head since records began. The real average wage for most Britons has remained unchanged since 2007, which is the biggest fall in living standards since records began. Productivity, which is closely linked to levels of investment, has stagnated for the longest period in modern capitalism. Productivity is now lower than in France, Germany and the United States.

A decade of austerity left the UK exceptionally vulnerable to the pandemic. When that hit, the years of pay caps and freezes wreaked havoc on safe health and social care staffing. They hindered recruitment and saw a spike in staff turnover, and as a result both sectors were perilously understaffed even before the pandemic hit. The cuts to social security, benefit freezes and restrictive reforms shattered our agreed safety net in this country. Those soaring poverty levels fuelled higher covid risks, leaving my constituents much more vulnerable to severe health consequences.

Slashing funds gutted the provision of health and safety regulators, which left enforcement in a shambles. Amid the pandemic, inspections and notices hit rock bottom, despite rampant workplace infections. This categorically led to the death of NHS workers on the frontlines. Emerging from the pandemic, public services were left in tatters, as they are still, and they desperately need financial support, but it was not brought forward in the Budget last week. The situation was only worsened further by the former Prime Minister’s acts of economic self-destruction, which plunged the pound to historical lows, allowed mortgage interest rates to skyrocket and put six major pension funds at risk of total annihilation.

This track record of the decimation of our country has left classrooms falling apart, NHS waiting lists at near record-breaking length, household unsecured debt going up through the roof and our public institutions on their knees. This is the result of only one organisation and one group of people: it is the result of 14 years of uninterrupted Conservative and coalition economic mismanagement. The Institute for Government has warned that our public services are stuck in a “doom loop” of recurring crises, due to more than a decade of short-term policy making and harsh austerity.

This Budget was a missed opportunity for laying a different progressive pathway forward for our economy—one that empowers and properly funds public services, and puts working people and our fragile planet at the very heart of it; one that invests in people and their skills, whether that is at university or for vocational workers; and one that invests in our workplaces and our people. Until we have a Government who are prepared to do that, as well as to stand up for the ordinary people of this country, and have a serious long-term investment plan for infrastructure and a long-term investment plan for sectors in our industries, our country will stagger onwards on a treadmill of economic decline.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. Sarah Olney will be the last speaker to have seven minutes, and we will then go to six minutes. Hopefully we can keep it at six minutes, if my maths is any good—I will be in the Chair then anyway, but we will see.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:34, 12 March 2024

After years of economic chaos, unfair tax hikes and now Rishi’s recession, this desperate Budget is yet more evidence that the Conservative Government—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. The ruling was made earlier: we must not make reference to anybody’s Christian name or surname if they are current, serving Members. The hon. Lady is incredibly intelligent and I am sure she will find another way of making the point that she wishes to make.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise.

For millions of families and pensioners facing soaring mortgage and rent payments, skyrocketing energy bills and eye-watering food prices, the proposals announced by the Chancellor last week will barely touch the sides: no real help with the cost of living; no plan for economic growth; no real support for our NHS and public services; and no end to this Conservative barrage of stealth taxes. Is this really the best the Government have to offer? Thanks to this Government, the British public have endured the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s, and more and more people across the country, including in the Chancellor’s constituency, are rightly saying that enough is enough. Instead of more empty promises, what they want is a general election as soon as possible, to get this tired Government out of Downing Street and get our country back on track.

In a veiled attempt to deceive the British public, the Chancellor seems desperate to convince people that he is cutting taxes. However, over this year and next, someone on average earnings will still be £383 worse off due to the Government’s freeze on the tax-free personal allowance. On top of that, they are already enduring higher energy bills, food costs, and rent and mortgage payments, all thanks to this Conservative Government. Meanwhile, the Government have left our public services stretched to breaking point. The Liberal Democrats have been calling on the Chancellor to end this crisis, particularly in our NHS, which is on its knees.

On doorsteps across the country, people tell us time and again how they cannot get a GP appointment, an ambulance on time, or see an NHS dentist. This is clear in places such as Molesey and Thames Ditton, where people are increasingly concerned that they are unable to see a doctor, and with GPs saying they have been left in the lurch by the Government. Despite the hard work of local doctors, the situation in Surrey has become dire after the Government slashed funding for GPs in real-terms by £9.2 million. That is also putting a huge strain on local hospitals, including St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, and Kingston Hospital in my constituency, which are paying the price for this Conservative Government’s failure properly to fund our health service.

The crisis facing our hospitals is also being felt in south London, where St Helier Hospital has been left to crumble, with no sign of the investment promised by the Government. A&E and maternity services are now at risk of closure, which could see up to 50,000 residents displaced for healthcare should further funding not be given. The situation in our health service is so bad that it is now hurting our economy, with more than 2.8 million people unable to work due to a long-term health condition.

The increase in economic inactivity since the start of this Parliament is estimated to have cost the taxpayer around £3 billion this year alone, and all because this Conservative Government have failed to fund our NHS and social care properly. Instead of properly addressing the crisis, the Chancellor merely plugged a hole that he had blown in the NHS budget in the first place. That is why the Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to deliver serious investment for our NHS, recruit more GPs, fix our cancer services, bring down waiting lists, and help people get the quality care they so desperately need.

I was, however, glad that the Government made positive steps on the issue of child benefit—something of great importance to my constituents in Richmond Park. The raising of the threshold at which child benefit can be accessed is welcomed by the Liberal Democrats, as is the proposed consultation on introducing a household-based system to determine eligibility, rather than basing it on individual incomes. I pay tribute to the work of my colleague, my hon. Friend Wendy Chamberlain, who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue and introduced a Bill on that subject a couple of weeks ago. I encourage the Government to go further to review how the high-income child benefit charge works, to ensure that hard-working families do not continue to incur excessive fines through no fault of their own.

I was also glad that the Chancellor listened to the concerns of the theatre industry, particularly those of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, regarding theatre tax relief. Current higher rates of theatre tax relief have played a pivotal role in enabling UK theatre to be world-leading and innovative, which will enable bigger, bolder programming that helps nurture talent pipelines and reach more audiences. I now urge the Government to keep working with our creative industries, both in theatre and in other sectors, to help enable them to grow and continue to display the outstanding talent that we have in the UK.

Liberal Democrats welcome some measures in the Budget, but it simply does not go far enough. The Chancellor could have stood up last week, proposed a fair deal for the British people and taken steps to get our economy growing again. Instead, he gave us more of the same: another underwhelming set of announcements from this Conservative Government, who are out of touch, out of ideas and nearly out of time. He could have cancelled this unfair stealth tax and raised the tax-free personal allowance; he could have reversed tax cuts for the big banks and put in place a proper windfall tax on fossil fuel giants to help fund our public services; and he could have presented a serious strategy to stimulate economic growth by reforming business rates and developing an industrial strategy, as was done by the Liberal Democrats in government. Instead, he chose to appease his Back Benchers in a desperate attempt to save his party and maybe even his own seat.

It is clear that the British public will not be fooled by the Chancellor’s deception. Right across the country, voters are sick and tired of this Conservative Government, and are ready to vote for change at the next general election.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South 4:40, 12 March 2024

I was a teenager when the Conservative party came to power. As that Government took office, they told us that they had to cut funding for public services, blaming “benefit cheats” and “welfare scroungers”, but they reassured us: “We’re all in it together”, they said. Of course, that is not how it turned out, as those paying attention at the time knew it would not. Fourteen years of Tory Governments and austerity have decimated our communities. Public services have been cut to the bone. Schools and hospitals are crumbling—often literally. Youth centres, women’s shelters and libraries have closed in their thousands. Local councils have lost billions in Government cuts, and dozens are now on the brink of bankruptcy.

Workers’ wages are lower than they were in 2008, and living standards are set to face the worst decline since the second world war; nurses are using food banks; teachers and doctors are leaving the profession they love in droves; the social security system has been gutted, and the number of children living in poverty is up 600,000 since the Tories came to power; and, while rents have rocketed, the number of people sleeping on the streets has increased by 120%.

Austerity was a political choice and we were never “all in it together”. Since 2010, the wealth of the richest has rocketed. In the last decade, UK billionaires have seen their wealth go up threefold. Fossil fuel giants have never had it so good. While the super-rich amass ever greater fortunes, people in my constituency are struggling. More than one in three children growing up in Coventry South are in poverty, with more than 3,000 affected by the cruel two-child benefit limit. The Central England Law Centre, which is based in my constituency, and Unite the Union warn that they are seeing increasing levels of conditionality being placed on people, including parents with young children and people with health problems. Over £1 billion has been cut from Coventry Council’s budget, with cuts filtering down and impacting services.

In particular, I want to highlight the impact on Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre—the only specialist sexual violence support service in Coventry—which has provided an invaluable service to Coventrians for more than 40 years. This year, strained budgets have meant that the council plans to end funding for the service, forcing the centre to close its waiting list, leaving survivors of sexual violence—overwhelmingly women—unable to access the support they need. That is just one example of the consequences of Tory cuts to local government. With this Budget, those cuts are set to get worse, because once the Government’s commitments to other areas are factored in, it entails yet more austerity. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said, this Budget means cuts worth £20 billion a year by 2028—again cutting local government, justice and Home Office budgets.

It is no surprise who benefits the most from the giveaways in this Budget: the national insurance change benefits the richest households 12 times more than it benefits the poorest, while cutting capital gains tax will help those with huge property portfolios but will do absolutely nothing for the parents in my constituency choosing between heating and eating.

Morally, politically and electorally, this should be the Government’s last Budget. The inheritance for the next Government will indeed be dire, but we should learn from the past and rise to the challenge. In 1945, when Labour came to power from the rubble of war, we built the NHS, we built the welfare state, and we built millions of council homes. We redistributed wealth and power and transformed our country for the better. That should be the lesson for the future: making the super-rich pay their fair share, investing in our communities and building the green infrastructure for the future. We have done it before. We must do it again.

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Labour, Stockport 4:44, 12 March 2024

I will start by talking about housing, because it is the issue that I receive the largest amount of correspondence on. In 2019, the Conservative Government committed to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. We are now well into 2024 and the Government do not look anywhere near reaching the target, nor does the Budget contain measures to improve progress in that regard. In Stockport borough, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors voted against participation in the Greater Manchester spatial framework in 2020, depriving Stockport council of funds and co-ordinated support to build more houses. Now, a Liberal Democrat-controlled council is building far fewer homes than are needed, and progress towards a local plan for housing has been painfully slow.

In January this year, the waiting list for social housing in Stockport borough was 5,995 households. Sadly, as of this week, the figure stands at a staggering 6,400 households. In Stockport, 2,300 households filed applications for homelessness assistance in 2022-23: a 22% rise on the previous year. In November last year, 137 households were in temporary accommodation, with 29 families in hotels. The council’s forecasted spend on temporary housing is due to top £500,000 this financial year.

I am also concerned by the increase in buy-to-rent developments in Stockport, which are where a wealthy institutional investor will buy the entire property—often an apartment block—with the properties only available to rent rather than to buy. I have tabled a number of written parliamentary questions on the matter due to the impact that such developments have on increasing average rental rates in the area and the negative impact they sometimes have on our community fabric. I will continue to press on that, because I do not think that the Government have a grip on the housing situation. As I said, I continue to receive large amounts of correspondence from constituents struggling with housing issues on a daily basis. The harsh reality is that the Conservative Government have failed the people of Stockport and those across England when it comes to comes to housing.

I also want to talk about cuts to local schools in my constituency. Data released recently by the National Education Union showed that the Government’s funding decisions have resulted in 70% of maintained schools in England facing real-terms cuts since 2010. That includes 66% of maintained primary schools and 88% of maintained secondary schools. In my constituency, 84% of schools have less funding in real terms than they did in 2010 due to Government cuts. That equates to a loss in per-pupil funding of £392 and a total change in school spending power of £3.2 million for all the children in my constituency. The worst affected primary in my constituency, Bridge Hall Primary School, has suffered a loss in real-terms per pupil funding of £1,752 and a loss in overall spending power of almost £340,000. The worst impacted secondary school, Stockport Academy, has seen a loss in real-terms per pupil funding of £1,528 and a change in its overall spending power of almost £1.5 million. After 14 years of cuts, an extra £12.2 billion is needed to restore school spending power to 2010 levels, repair crumbling school buildings and tackle the SEND crisis that our children are facing.

I also want to mention the rise in prescription charges and the impact that has, often on low-income people and deprived communities. The prescription charge exemption list is outdated and unfair and does not reflect the reality of many people living with long-term medical conditions. The Prescription Charges Coalition is calling on the UK Government to review that outdated exemption list, with support from the Health and Social Care Committee to achieve that change. While the extension of the household support fund is welcome, 80% of those surveyed by Parkinson’s UK in 2023 did not even know it existed. What steps are the Government taking to inform those who need it most and to ensure that people with such conditions have that support?

Finally, may I mention the good work of the Campaign for Real Ale in supporting local pubs? I have a fantastic range of pubs, hospitality businesses and brewing institutions in my constituency, but sadly we have lost 25% of the pubs in my constituency since 2010. As I am sure you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, our pubs make up a big part of our community fabric, and when a pub closes the implications are much wider than just the range of establishments available. The Government have sadly failed to deliver the long-term change needed to the business rates system that unfairly penalises bricks-and-mortar businesses such as pubs.

I have tabled a number of written and oral questions on this issue since my election in 2019, but sadly I do not see any change in Government policy. We have an award-winning distillery in my constituency: Stockport Gin. I recommend you try it, Mr Deputy Speaker; it will soon be stocked in the Strangers Bar. Robinsons of Stockport, an iconic brewery business going back to the 1940s, and others have been campaigning for reform to the business rates system. I hope that the Government will pay attention, because losing valuable institutions like our long-standing pubs is a loss to the community and the nation. I will end it there. Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 4:50, 12 March 2024

The communities of West Ham needed hope from this Budget, but it has delivered absolutely nothing but continued despair. The Government cannot grapple with the dire state of the economy, public services or housing, nor can they understand the depth of poverty that our people are living in. This Government are not capable of acknowledging the real need for change. Perhaps if they understood just a little, they might ask who is responsible, and they would have to reflect on their last 14 years.

Let me talk about West Ham and the change desperately needed there. Newham has the highest rate of homelessness in the country. According to Government statistics, one in every 20 Newham families are trapped in overcrowded, mouldy, insecure temporary housing. Nationally, homelessness in temporary accommodation is up 10% in a single year. People sleeping rough on our streets—the absolute worst of homelessness—is up 27% in just one year.

What about the kids whose lives are blighted by temporary accommodation? They lose their home every six months and have to move school. They have nowhere to do their homework and have to travel miles on buses because they want to keep the one stable thing in their life: their school place. That is up by 12% in a single year. In Newham alone, 8,596 children are without a safe and secure home. Temporary accommodation costs are rocketing for Newham Council and are set to increase by a whopping £17.5 million in the coming year because the council has the growing pressure of accommodating 30 to 40 new homeless families every single month. Long-term council assets are having to be sold to pay temporary accommodation bills. That is utterly unsustainable.

This Government refuse to face reality. The council services that my constituents rely on day to day, from street cleaning to libraries and public safety, are being degraded because this Government think it is right for the cost of spiralling homelessness to fall on my local residents. It ain’t just a local problem. It is caused by decades of Government failure to invest in social homes and to tackle poverty. Our councils are forced to sell off social homes and then are massively constrained on what they can do with the meagre receipts that they get back.

How did the Budget respond to this worsening crisis? It did so by ending the scheme that enabled councils to do the right thing and use more receipts from the sale of social homes to build replacements. At a stroke, this Government have cut £200 million from the funding for new social homes in this country, at a time when those homes are needed more desperately than ever. The horrifying scale of the housing crisis has grown ever larger, but the Budget shows, yet again, that the Government simply do not care. They are more interested in salting the earth after 14 years of destruction than they are in any kind of solution.

I have focused on homelessness today, but, as we know, the problems our communities face are far wider, and are being neglected or ignored by this Budget. Across the board, my constituents are paying higher taxes and getting worse and worse public services in return. Almost half of patients needing treatment locally are waiting more than 18 weeks, and 6% are waiting more than a year.

The Government have not even managed to repair the damage caused by the wrecking ball that was the former Prime Minister: mortgages are still through the roof; prices in the shops are still rising; and people simply cannot afford to pay their bills. The OBR expects this to be the only Parliament on record in which living standards fall over the full five years. That should be truly shocking, but our collective expectations of the Government have fallen so low that it is normal. We desperately need real change for Newham and for our country. The Budget does nothing to offer that change. Our one solitary hope is that it will prove a bitterly fitting end to 14 years of Tory failure, division and decline.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Shadow Minister (Youth Justice) 4:56, 12 March 2024

This Budget has been delivered as we mark nearly 14 years of Conservative economic failure. The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ headline is:

“This will be the biggest tax-raising parliament on record”.

So many individuals and families across our country are suffering as a result. They are suffering from continually rising food prices, and increases in the cost of general household bills, insurance, general services, private rents and mortgage payments. People are also having to wait longer for public service appointments.

The OBR has stated this will be the worst Parliament on record for living standards, and that is shameful. Furthermore, the UK’s productivity levels are concerning. A lack of productivity can make it harder to grow the economy and that has severe consequences. End Child Poverty has estimated that more than 8,000 children are experiencing poverty in Lewisham East, and that is coupled with a homelessness and housing crisis. According to Shelter, more than 7,000 people across Lewisham are homeless and nearly 4,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. A child’s background and upbringing have a strong influence on their future achievements, but now many who live in the private rented sector are having their health impacted by the poor condition of their homes. To see that, we need only look at the tragic case of Awaab Ishak, who died aged two from a respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould at his home. A Citizens Advice report last year found that 1.6 million children live in privately rented homes with damp, mould or excessive cold.

Families are also finding it harder to provide for themselves. Families should not have to use food banks; that should not be part of our society, but it is on the increase. Although we have amazing organisations locally and others such as the Trussell Trust, we see that the demand is increasing—we see that at the Lewisham food bank, but it should not be the case.

In addition, the Government are starving local authorities of resources, making it harder for them to help people, despite their trying their best. Since 2010, the Government have taken millions of pounds out of Lewisham Council’s budget, and I know that it is not just my local authority’s budget that is experiencing that. Many local authorities have found themselves on their knees and have had to be bailed out by the Government. I am glad that my local Labour party does a monthly food collection to help young people to access warm and nutritious food, but that alone will not solve the cost of living crisis and it will not end the recession. That is why I am pleased that Labour, if elected, will provide free breakfast clubs in every primary school. That will help to drive up attendance and standards so that young people can work towards their goals and ambitions. Additionally, Labour has a long-term plan to grow our economy and improve productivity to deliver more jobs, more investment and more money in people’s pockets. It will not be an easy or quick task.

The Budget was the Chancellor’s last attempt to show that the Conservatives can be trusted with the economy, but nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing the Budget shows is that we need a general election.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw 5:00, 12 March 2024

This Tory Government want to cut the benefits bill to fund tax cuts. They are going to target those who are economically inactive, which includes a large percentage of disabled people, causing them extreme fear and distress. Studies at Lancaster University show that when disabled people are forced into work, they generally gravitate towards the gig economy for flexibility. They are then poorly paid and unable to qualify even for derisory statutory sick pay. That forces them back into inadequate but better paid sickness benefits. Job coaches with minimal training are not the best people to assess work capability. They may be well meaning or they may be incentivised to get people into work, whether it is suitable or not. That is a fear I hear over and over again from disabled people and organisations.

The spring Budget is totally tone deaf and signals yet more Westminster austerity for public services that are already on the brink. Our public services simply cannot endure austerity 2.0. It is deeply concerning that the Tories and Labour seem indistinguishable from one another: Labour is using the same economic tropes that the Conservatives used back in 2010 to justify their damaging austerity programme. Experts also say that the tougher sanctions regime that was introduced has backfired, with more people receiving sickness and disability benefits as a result.

The OBR’s economic outlook report states that under current plans there will be a reduction in money spent per person on frontline services that disabled people are utterly reliant upon. Nothing the Chancellor announced last week can mitigate the damage caused by Westminster austerity, the infamous Tory mini-budget and Brexit, which has caused irreparable damage to the UK’s economy that both the Government and Labour refuse to acknowledge. A coalition of disabled people’s organisations, the Disability Poverty Campaign Group, announced that it was deeply concerned, and even angered, by the spring Budget—anger is an understandable emotion emanating from the disabled community, as they have been consistently failed. Their relentless calls for additional targeted support since the beginning of the cost of living crisis have been ignored. They are also having doubts about what will happen under a change of Government.

Carers were left similarly disappointed. Helen Walker, the CEO of Carers UK, said:

“A staggering 600 people a day are giving up work to care, many as a result of the lack of social care. The lack of long-term sustainable funding for social care is heaping ever more pressure onto families. It’s simply unacceptable. As well as being financially disastrous for families, employers end up shouldering extra cost”.

All the while, levels of poverty have increased, and financial hardship and debt have risen to record levels. The six-month grace period for the household support fund is not enough. It must be made permanent and therefore give Barnett consequentials to the devolved Governments across the UK. In last year’s spring Budget, the Government reiterated their promise for an energy social tariff. Aye, well, we are still waiting.

The implementation of a social energy tariff would lift tens of thousands of financially and physically vulnerable people out of poverty, giving some relief to the many disabled people who need energy-intensive equipment to manage their conditions. National Energy Action has shown the way towards its affordability, while the Data Communications Company has pointed out that much of the existing smart meter infrastructure could be used alongside DWP data to target the tariff at those most in need. It beggars belief that the Budget has ignored that, and I hope that my private Member’s Bill, the Social Energy Tariff Bill, will keep it at the forefront of the Government’s mind. I am not giving up on this fight.

How can the Government expect to boost growth and productivity when living standards drop and millions of householders across the country cannot heat their homes or feed themselves? The Chancellor had an opportunity to support households, businesses and the vital public sector, but he did not take it. He failed entirely to help the most vulnerable, and to encourage growth and therefore prosperity for those who need it most. In Scotland we treat people with disabilities with dignity, fairness and respect, which are totally lacking under the DWP regime. Westminster is not working for Scotland under the Tories, and it will not work for Scotland under a Tory-like Labour Government either. Scotland’s values are not reflected in Westminster, and 50% of its population agree with me that it is time for independence.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 5:06, 12 March 2024

Let me associate myself with what my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for West Ham (Ms Brown) said about the scale of the hardships being faced by so many residents of the London boroughs that all three of us represent.

In his Budget speech, the Chancellor said that the Government would

“continue to explore how savers could be allowed to take their pension pots with them when they change job.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2024;
Vol. 746, c. 843.]

I am pleased that the Economic Secretary is present, because I was relieved that the Chancellor did not commit himself to pursuing that particular course at this stage. The proposal is driven by the laudable aim of consolidating pension schemes to gather resources to invest in the economy, which is an important part of tackling the productivity challenge of which we have spoken today. However, many of the responses to the Government’s consultation on it opposed the particular model on which the Chancellor had consulted—the “lifetime pension pot” model—because it would substantially increase costs and complexity for employers, whose support in pension provision has been important to the progress that has been made. At the very least, adopting this model would have the damaging effect of ending the cross-party consensus on pensions policy that has been so important to the progress of auto-enrolment over the last 20 years.

A major trade body, the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, said that there was “no evidence” that the lifetime provider model would help savers, but that it had

“the potential to significantly undermine the successes of AE”.

It warned of a

“sharp increase in marketing and product costs which will ultimately be borne by savers.”

It also suggested alternative ways in which to tackle lost and small pots, and to deliver the consolidation that is, undoubtedly, very important. The Association of British Insurers said that the model would “re-engineer auto-enrolment ”, and warned that

“We must not lose sight of the great success of automatic enrolment, while acknowledging that there are key reforms already underway…that need to be completed.”

The TUC described the proposal as a “gimmick” and a “dangerous distraction ”, likely to

“lead to higher charges and lower retirement incomes for most workers, with the lowest paid the greatest at risk of getting ripped off.”

Lane Clark & Peacock, where the former Pensions Minister Steve Webb now works, said that the model was “fundamentally flawed”. I was therefore relieved that the Chancellor was not rushing ahead with the proposal.

I wish we had seen more progress elsewhere. The Work and Pensions Committee has reported a widespread consensus in favour of the 2017 auto-enrolment review recommendations. The legislation received Royal Assent last September, but we now need a consultation on how it will be implemented and when. If the Minister is able to tell us when that is likely to happen, it would be of great interest. We also highlighted the

“consensus that many people need to increase their pension contributions if they are to have an adequate income in retirement.”

We said:

“The middle of a cost of living crisis is not the time to ask people to pay more into their pension. However, if they are to do so in the future”— as they need to—

“work to prepare the ground needs to start now to build consensus” on the need for the change that must come. It would be good to hear from the Government about when they will get on and move auto-enrolment to the next stage.

I, like other Members who have spoken in the debate, welcome the Chancellor’s extension to the household support fund. It has been crucial in supporting families through the cost of living crisis and in enabling local councils to reach those who most need help, but as we heard from Marion Fellows, there is a strong case not just for extending the fund for six months but making it permanent.

Local welfare assistance replaced the old social fund in 2014. Money was transferred to local authority budgets, but it has increasingly been squeezed out in subsequent cuts. If the household support fund does end in September, a significant number of councils will end local welfare assistance altogether in their areas. The Government support local provision, but they need to fund it as well, and one important advantage of the household support fund is that a large number of councils have been able to support families with no recourse to public funds when other help is not available to them at all. I very much hope that the campaign to make the household support fund permanent will be accepted by the Government.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 5:11, 12 March 2024

Over the last 14 years, the Conservatives have clearly failed to act for the common good. Budgets are about choices, and they have consistently made the wrong ones.

We have the highest tax-raising Parliament since world war two. The Resolution Foundation says that the tax increases since 2019 will cost £3,900 per household, and that incomes will be lower at the next general election than in 2019. The year 2022-23 saw the biggest drop in year-on-year living standards since the Office for National Statistics began its work in the 1950s. Taxes are going up, not down, despite the protestations of the Tories. I have heard no apology for the fact that only a third of the Tories’ tax cuts in this Budget are funded by identified tax cuts elsewhere, with the majority coming from borrowing. We have heard nothing from the Conservative party about that fact. If the Minister wants to dispute it, perhaps he will take it up with the Resolution Foundation.

The Tories also made the wrong choice with their announcement that it is their desire to prioritise cutting national insurance and abolishing it completely. Given the state of our public services, that leaves them having to find £40 billion, which, in the absence of knowing how it will be funded, the Institute for Fiscal Studies described as a prospect not worth the paper it was written on. We still have the Conservatives’ irresponsible recklessness: the “Tory efficiency” in public services that they talk about is for the birds. How will we find those sorts of cuts to our crumbling public services? It is a return to the austerity that we had between 2010 and 2015, which brought our services to their current state. The Resolution Foundation says:

“The idea that such cuts can be delivered in the face of already faltering public services is a fiscal fiction.”

How did we get to this state? Nothing in our public services is better today than it was in 2010. We are a better country than the one the Tories have brought us to being.

Another choice that the Tories are making is to put up council tax. My council tax has gone up over 50% since 2010, and the fees and charges that are being imposed on local people are stealth taxes forced on them by the Government because they have starved local authorities of resources.

Budgets are about choices, including in education. Every school in my constituency has lower per-pupil funding than it had in 2010. My borough has had £33 million lower funding overall since 2010, which is £867 per pupil. These are the amounts needed to restore funding to 2010 levels. Why are the headteachers and governors I speak to in my constituency worrying about costs when we hear from the Government that they have never had it so good? It is about choice, and the Government have consistently made the wrong choices.

Before I finish, I want to make reference to the contaminated blood scandal. Justice for those infected and affected has been delayed unacceptably by the Government. Sir Brian Langstaff made it quite clear how compensation could be paid, and he published the details in April last year. We are nearly a year on, and we are no closer to those people being paid compensation. In fact, the Government are putting steps in place to delay compensation to beyond the general election. The only way these people will get justice is if there is a Labour Government, and the sooner the Prime Minister calls that election, the better for them and the better for the country. We need a Government who will make decisions in the common good and ensure that everyone benefits from the growth that we need in our economy. We are certainly not going to get it from the Conservatives.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health) 5:16, 12 March 2024

I want to use my remarks today to focus on the west midlands, my home. We are the birthplace of the first industrial revolution and the co-operative movement. We are the home of Britain’s second city, Cadbury’s chocolate and J. R. R. Tolkien. We are the inventors of the pacemaker, the balti and the world’s leading brain cancer drug. It is where, in the ’50s, my family and thousands like them travelled halfway across the world to make our home. We are a diverse, young and dynamic region. The west midlands has immense potential, but for the past 14 years we have been let down.

The headline of the Budget last week was that this would be the first Parliament in modern history where living standards have fallen. That is the grim culmination of 14 years of economic mismanagement under this Government, with taxes rising, living standards falling, growth stalling and empty promises. The Prime Minister may write off his recession as a technicality, but working people in the west midlands know better. They feel worse off because they are worse off. As the OBR revealed last week, GDP per person is set to shrink this year, having shrunk last year too.

This is also the longest period of no growth since records began in the 1950s. According to the Centre for Cities, since 2010 the average person in the west midlands is £4,320 poorer than if the economy had grown at the same rate as it did under Labour. In Stoke-on-Trent, that means that the average person is £7,360 worse off under the Tories, and in Coventry the average person is nearly £9,000 worse off. That is this Government’s legacy, and giving people £5 back with one hand after taking £10 with the other is not going to fool anyone.

At the heart of the problems facing our broken economy is Britain’s productivity crisis. Increasing productivity is critical for our success as a nation, for growth and for living standards, but our productivity levels are now lower than at any time since the industrial revolution. Our shadow Chancellor knows that productivity is a key driver of higher wages, and that is partly why we have made growth and productivity the first mission of the next Labour Government. Under Labour, London and the south-east will not be the only engines of growth. We will spread good jobs and productivity growth to every part of the country to make everyone better off. Yet there was no proper plan for growth in the Budget last week. The forecasts reveal that the growth we might expect in the next five years depends largely on the Chancellor having revised up net migration by 350,000.

As the Productivity Institute has shown, low investment, regional inequality and a lack of long-term, joined-up government are key drivers of the Tory low productivity and low growth doom loop. But where was the plan to address that in the Budget last week? Where is the long-term mission to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7, with good jobs and productivity growth in all parts of the country? Where is the industrial strategy to guide the partnership between Government and business to transform challenge into opportunity? And where is the joined-up skills strategy to bring together businesses, training providers and unions to meet the jobs market of tomorrow?

The chaos of the past few years has damaged business confidence and investment. Short-termism has been a hallmark of this Government, who have lurched from crisis to crisis. We know that businesses cannot operate like that, which is why Labour has set out a long-term industrial strategy.

The west midlands should be at the cutting edge of these frontiers. I recently visited the precision health technologies accelerator at Birmingham’s life sciences campus, bringing together the University of Birmingham, business and the NHS to create more than 10,000 jobs for our region. There is a revolution taking place in medical science, technology and data, and it has the potential to transform our healthcare. We should be at its forefront but, under this Government, Britain’s life sciences sector declined from second to ninth in the global life sciences league table for inward foreign direct capital investment in 2022—that is a £900 million drop. The UK’s share of global pharmaceutical research and development halved between 2012 and 2020.

At a stroke, the Prime Minister’s decision to attack Britain’s net zero targets trashed Britain’s reputation as a place to invest in developing the clean energy of tomorrow. The outcry from industry shows how self-defeating this was.

Far from scaling back our ambition, Labour will increase it. We will deliver a cheaper zero-carbon electricity system by 2030 through our green prosperity plan. We will bring much-needed investment into the west midlands, worth hundreds of millions of pounds, through our battery power fund. There will be a gigafactory in the west midlands and investment in green hydrogen manufacturing to make the clean power of the future. We will reform our planning system and create jobs for construction workers, so that we can upgrade our region’s old, draughty housing stock. And there will be more than a thousand local power projects through our local power plan.

The reality is that people in the west midlands need change. Change from a Government who have left them thousands of pounds worse off, who have brought public services to their knees and who have left the economy in tatters. We are in a make or break decade for our economy, and the choice at the next election will be clear: five more years of the same failed approach or a decade of national renewal with Labour—good jobs in every part of the country, a world-leading green investment agenda and a life sciences sector that will create the jobs and technologies of tomorrow. Only Labour will give the west midlands its future back.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 5:22, 12 March 2024

It has been my privilege to represent Dulwich and West Norwood for almost nine years. Prior to my election to this place in 2015, I had served since 2010 as a local ward councillor in the constituency, having been elected on the same day that the coalition Government came to power.

For my entire time as an elected representative so far, I have seen Conservative-led Governments making my constituents poorer, and undermining and diminishing the services on which they rely. As a newly elected councillor in 2010, I remember how shocked we were to receive the local government budget settlement that stripped millions from the council’s budget. We worked through it creatively and prioritised the services that mattered most to our residents. We protected libraries, ensured the streets remained clean and continued delivering services for vulnerable children and adults.

We had no idea just how much more was to come. Both the local authorities that serve my constituents have lost more than 60% of their central Government funding. Those losses are in no way adequately replaced by the increases in council tax—a regressive tax that takes proportionately more from residents on lower incomes—that the Government forced our councils to make.

The single biggest practical issue affecting my constituents is housing. I have far too many constituents living in temporary or overcrowded accommodation, unable to access the genuinely affordable homes they need, or in accommodation that has damp and mould, with profound implications for their health.

This Government’s political decisions have deepened the housing crisis year on year for more than a decade. The coalition Government’s decision to slash two thirds from the budget for building new social homes stymied the development of exactly those homes that make the biggest impact on the housing crisis. Their decision to impose unfunded restrictions on social rents has taken £1 billion from the budget of Southwark Council alone over 30 years, funding that would have been spent on repairs, maintenance and delivering new council homes.

The decision to change the definition of an affordable home—making a mockery of the term “affordable”, because 80% of market rent in London is nowhere near affordable for residents on average incomes, still less so for those on the lowest incomes—meant that far too many of the homes that have been built in London on this Government’s watch have made no impact at all on those who are suffering the worst effects of the housing crisis. The Government’s failure to ban section 21 evictions, even though they had promised to do so, leaves thousands of my constituents at the mercy of their private landlords and without any security at all. The Conservatives’ political decisions on housing are unconscionable. They are also contributing to the pressures on other areas of our public services.

The Government want to talk about productivity, so let me set out the impact of the housing crisis on productivity. GPs working in my constituency tell me about the mental and physical health impacts of the housing crisis. Hospital doctors tell me about the impact of poor housing on discharges. Youth workers tell me about the impact on the ability of young people to do their homework or to relax at home, and how that drives them out of their home to places where they are less safe. Social workers speak about the intolerable pressures on families created by the housing situation, and how hard that makes it for some parents to care for their children safely. Across the country, people are looking at their own lives, at the state of their town centres and neighbourhoods, and at their ability to access the services they need. It is as plain as day that after 14 years of Conservative-led government, nothing is better than it was in 2010.

I turned to the Budget in search of any sign that the Government understand just how bad things are—the terrible state of things on their watch—but there was just one brief announcement on housing: £20 million for community-led housing. There is nothing wrong with community-led housing, but that public investment amounts to less than £140,000 for every housing authority in England, or less than £16 for every household on the housing waiting list. It is not a plan to solve the most pervasive and pernicious crisis in housing since the second world war. It does not touch the sides. It simply reveals how out of touch the Conservatives are with the day-to-day reality of life for millions of people across our country.

My constituents have had enough of their lives getting worse under the Conservatives. They have had enough of a Government who do not understand their lives and have no ambition for our communities. It is time for them to step aside and make way for a Labour Government who can begin the work of rebuilding the appalling damage that has been done.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 5:27, 12 March 2024

The speeches delivered from the Government Benches today have been a metaphor for this Government: they are out of ideas, out of time and out of touch. That says it all. Anyone listening to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury would have thought that everything in the country was rosy and we were in some sort of sunlit uplands. The experiences of my constituents in Cardiff South and Penarth are anything but rosy. Individual constituents who come to my surgeries are struggling to make ends meet because of sharp increases in their mortgages or rent, stagnant or declining wages, and the high price of food, fuel and the everyday goods and services they need.

Those struggles are the reason we see such amazing community responses. I spent last Friday at Splott Community Volunteers in my constituency, who provide warm hubs and a series of other advice and support services. Demand for those services is through the roof because of the experiences people are having in the economy and in society. I also visited the Salvation Army last Friday, which is doing fantastic work on housing and homelessness in my constituency. Why are people finding themselves homeless or in a housing crisis? Because of the shambolic record of 14 years of this Conservative Government.

I recently met businesses of all shapes and sizes in Grangetown, including the small and medium-sized enterprises that are the lifeblood of our economy. They told me that they want to see certainty, leadership and a solid environment for investment, but they have had exactly the opposite over the past 14 years. We have seen chaos and a revolving door of Ministers. Businesses have not had the confidence to make the investments they want to make to generate jobs and opportunities in our communities. They are coping with high inflation, which means their cost base has gone up substantially, so their ability to grow and generate more jobs and opportunities is limited.

What have we seen? We have seen debt up, taxes up, interest rates up and inflation up, yet we have seen the economy stagnating and now in recession. That is on top of the austerity and cuts in our public services and, indeed, to Wales, leaving us unable to invest what we want in our NHS, our education and our police, which has had a huge impact on the ability of the police to deal with antisocial behaviour and crime. Thanks to the Welsh Government, we have seen investment in police community support officers, in new schools and in new health facilities, but think of how much more we could do if we had a Labour Government in Westminster working with a Labour Government in Wales and our Labour councils making a difference.

The Chancellor’s latest Budget simply lifted the lid on 14 years of Tory economic failure. When we lifted that lid, there was no rabbit, there was no hope. Many of us were left asking, “Is that it? Is that all they have to offer?” Again, the Conservative Benches are a reflection of that today. Instead, we saw more unfunded tax cuts —we all know where that got us last time. We have heard today of the £46 billion-worth of unfunded national insurance cuts, and also of the total chaos in the Government’s messaging about when those would come in—another stark reflection of where we are. Yet again, working people are left to pay the price of an underperforming Britain, with a high-tax, low-growth economy. Let us consider just how different things could be.

I am very clear about what Cardiff South and Penarth needs from what my constituents tell me. We need investment in our green transition. Places such as Sully and Dinas Powys have already seen the impact of flooding and climate change. A response is needed to that not only locally, but nationally and internationally. That is exactly why I am proud of the Labour plan to invest in our green transition, in green steel, in renewables, in nuclear, and of course in the high technology and green solutions that are being generated by our fantastic higher education sector. I am very proud of our university in Cardiff, which is doing fantastic work on this and putting some of those green ideas into action for our country.

I want to see support for our creative industries. We have seen huge investment by the BBC and other film and TV production firms locally, such as Netflix, but in other areas we are seeing that market contracting, which is having a big knock-on effect on smaller creatives and those who are commissioned to work on those bigger productions, so we need to invest in our creative economy.

Thirdly, we need to see crucial infrastructure investment. I have argued time and again for investment in the south Wales main line. We are seeing a really bad performance on the Great Western Railway. We all want to see St Mellons Parkway station built on the edge of Cardiff—my hon. Friend and neighbour Ruth Jones, is nodding in agreement—but we will need to invest in those relief lines and that critical infrastructure to make sure that we can deliver growth through our infrastructure investments.

We need to see a proper reflection of Cardiff’s status as a capital city in the funding for our police. I raised this issue recently with the Minister of State for Crime, Policing and Fire. It is good to know that he is now talking with our police and crime commissioner and chief constables about this issue. We need to see that investment to reflect the challenges that we face as a capital city.

Crucially, we need to see certainty for businesses to be able to invest. We have seen some great success stories recently: Rolls-Royce coming into invest and our legal and financial services sector in Cardiff doing very well, but we also need an industrial strategy, tax certainty and a climate of leadership and ambition for this country, which we simply have not seen from the Government or in this Budget.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 5:33, 12 March 2024

I wish to start my contribution with something of a personal anecdote. Just over nine years ago, in January 2015, an almighty storm struck the north of Scotland. At that time—before I joined you, Mr Deputy Speaker, in this place—I was living with my wife and my elderly mother, who, at 91, was in the last year of her life. She was bedridden, and had to be cared for, and I was her carer. In that storm, at 3 am, the electricity went out. That brought it home very forcefully to me what a predicament I was in. How did I boil the water for her hot water bottle? How did I heat the food to feed her? By the grace of God, I had an oil-fired stove, which meant that we could get by. If I had not had any form of heating, I would have been in deep trouble, as we did not get power for another two days.

I share this anecdote with the Chamber because it brought it home to me absolutely how fundamental the ability to keep ourselves warm is to life. I believe the British people have a deep sense of fairness, which we should be very proud of. It led to the national health service, free at the point of delivery, which was probably the greatest thing that Clement Attlee ever did. More than a century earlier, it led to the penny post, which meant that whether a letter or parcel was posted in Kinlochbervie in north-west Sutherland or in London, the cost was the same; it was about fairness.

I have said many times in this Chamber that the coldest village in the United Kingdom is Altnaharra, right in the middle of Sutherland. In 1995, the temperature dropped—unbelievably—to minus 27.2°C. Think how cold that is, and that was coupled with the fact that a lot of the houses are old and not well insulated, incomes are smaller and we pay an awful lot more than many other parts of the UK for our electricity. I believe we must address that fundamental unfairness.

During covid, we knew that keeping warm made recovery as speedy as possible. Good health is about having warmth. We can maximise the productivity of our population by ensuring they are healthy and kept warm. I will not lecture Conservative Front Benchers about that, because Altnaharra has been the coldest village for a very long time indeed. It was the coldest village under Conservative and Labour Governments and—dare I say it?—under Asquith’s and Lloyd George’s Liberal Governments, so the problem has been around for a very long time. My problem is that my constituents are losing out. I hear far too many stories of elderly people, like my mum, who have to make the invidious decision at this time of year, or in January, February or December, about whether to put the heating on, and that strikes me as a fundamental injustice.

Unlike Mr Sheerman, whose contribution I greatly enjoyed—like many in the Chamber, I will miss him, and I wish him a happy retirement—I intend to return to this place if I humanly can, depending on what the SNP decides to do; we will see about that. If I do return to this place, I give you warning, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I am not prepared to drop this issue. I will use whatever persuasive ability I have to get some assistance for those people.

Some say that people who live near wind farms should get a discount. I do not think that would work, because what about the people who do not live near wind farms? The problem is that once a wind farm is built, the energy comes almost for free—the wind is free—and that is what is so galling to my constituents. Anywhere they drive in Caithness and Sutherland, they see massive great wind farms, and yet they pay over the odds for the electricity, which comes from the wind farms, goes somewhere else and comes back with a big bill attached.

That is the end of my contribution. I give notice that I shall return to this issue at every possible opportunity if I am fortunate enough to return to this place.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 5:38, 12 March 2024

At last week’s Budget, the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box like a smiling, villainous fairy tale character holding out a shiny apple glistening with national insurance cuts, while all the while knowing that inside it was a deadly poison: the fact that we will all pay 10p more tax for every 5p we get back. The Chancellor is supposedly giving back, but people across the UK are suffering from the highest tax burden in 70 years, with the stealthy drip-feed of the poison of freezing tax thresholds.

The freezing of the basic threshold has brought 3.7 million more people into paying tax, and more taxpayers are squeezed by now having to pay the higher rate of tax, as more of their income is in that bracket, often because of a pay rise that has not even kept pace with inflation, so there is a double whammy of more tax and less purchasing power. The freezing of the tax thresholds affects many pensioners too. They do not need much of a workplace pension topping up their state pension before they are in that tax threshold country again. Of course, freezing the tax threshold hits those on the lowest income in particular.

And all this while we have had rampant inflation. Although inflation may now be calming down, prices are still rising, with higher food bills and higher energy bills—the Government’s failure to roll out renewables more quickly has made that all the worse—and higher mortgages and rents.

This Government have also devolved economic woes, including through cuts to council tax budgets in England. The Welsh Government settlement is some £3 billion less than if it had grown with GDP since 2010, meaning that they have to pass on cuts to Welsh councils. Across the UK, people are being asked to pay higher council tax for fewer services. We have had the biggest fall in living standards in our history. People in Llanelli and across the UK are worse off under this Conservative Government.

This Conservative Government have been squeezing household incomes for 14 years. Back in 2011, the Tories increased VAT to 20%, putting up household bills. They have cut and cut and cut the benefits paid to the least well-off in society—many of whom are, of course, in work—leaving many without enough to live on. Back in 2011, the Government started using the retail prices index instead of the consumer prices index to calculate benefits, which worked out as a cut. Then, there were cuts to health and pregnancy grants, Sure Start maternity grants and the baby element of child tax credits, leaving the parents of newborn babies with less money to fend for them. Then, in 2013 we had the bedroom tax, which was a cut in housing benefit that had originally been calculated as what people needed simply to cover the cost of rent. By 2022, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that in eight out of 10 benefit changes between 2013 and 2022, unemployment benefit had lost value, either through freezes or increases that were worth less than inflation. Then along came rampant inflation. People are even poorer, and even more are now having to turn to food banks.

In all of that, we lost the child trust fund. Anyone turning 18 used to be able to claim money that had been put by for them by the state and their family. In 2011, however, the Tories cut it, meaning that 18-year-olds do not have that to look forward to. England lost the educational maintenance allowance as well, but in Wales we managed to keep it for the very poorest pupils.

We desperately need growth in the economy. This has been a complete Tory failure. At 22 Budgets, Tory Chancellors have promised growth, but they have failed. There have been seven consecutive quarters of falling GDP per capita and now officially we are in a recession. With cuts back in 2011, the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition choked off growth with swingeing austerity, and the incompetence continued with that disastrous mini-Budget in autumn 2022, leaving people facing years and years of increased mortgage payments. There has also been the failure to give business and industry the confidence they need to invest, including in renewables and to reform the energy market.

People in Llanelli and up and down the country are desperate for change and desperate for hope of a better life. That is why we need a Labour Government, who will slash energy bills for households and industry, invest in the new green technologies of the future, and invest £3 billion to ensure that we develop primary green steelmaking here in the UK. And the sooner, the better.

Photo of Keir Mather Keir Mather Labour, Selby and Ainsty 5:43, 12 March 2024

This is my first opportunity to respond to a Budget in this House and, like so many other milestones I reach in this place, I feel like I am doing so while living through a form of parliamentary purgatory. We are trapped with a Government who forbid the public to remove them, who starve parliamentarians of meaningful legislation to scrutinise, and who have now put a Budget before us that is as impotent as it is self-aggrandising—hollow and inadequate, with no agenda and no real plan for growth.

Indeed, the only growth we have seen is in the list of this Government’s broken promises: improving living standards, broken; inflation returning to target, broken; increasing productivity, broken; growth, broken; levelling up the north, broken. Increasingly our country is broken, too, the victim of 14 years of Conservative negligence, of which this Budget is merely the latest sorry chapter.

What is most galling is the staggering dishonesty of the Budget’s central claim that working people will be better off as a result of its measures. It introduces a £9 billion tax cut based on implausible austerity, sandwiched between a £27 billion tax rise the year before and a £19 billion tax rise in the two years to come. For every 5p that this Budget gives back to families in Selby and Ainsty, the Government take away 10p as part of a tax burden that has risen to its highest level for 70 years. Selby families will be £870 worse off as they suffer through the Prime Minister’s recession, while inflation forces them to pay more for their weekly shop, using real wages that are below what they were in 2008.

This Budget is little more than an insult to the public’s intelligence—a prime instance of the Government’s offensively low expectation that working people will not realise the extent of their inadequacy to meet the challenges those people face. Central to the Budget’s failings is the absence of a real plan for growth. I am not sure how the Government still have not grasped this point after 14 years, but there can be no hope of sustained economic growth in this country without well-resourced public services. How can businesses grow if we do not modernise and expand our transport infrastructure? How can British workers be productive if they have to leave the workforce to care for parents or children? How can we level up our country with local government stripped to the bone? How can we have vibrant high streets when crime continues to blight our town centres? Well-funded public services are the bedrock of economic growth, yet this Chancellor intends to reduce real per capita spending for unprotected Departments by 13% between 2024-25 and 2028-29. That is £19 billion-worth of cuts, or a repeat of 71% of the austerity that we saw from the first austerity Parliament.

The Chancellor was in charge of our NHS during a portion of that Parliament, when the justification for hollowing out our welfare state was fixing the roof while the sun was shining. Minister, the sun is not shining now—in fact, it has not been shining for some time. Our public services are in desperate need of support, but this Government are too happy to continue putting critical services on the chopping block to aid their dogma to realise the danger they are causing. It is the same old Conservatives, putting party before country and ideology before reality, and making the British public suffer the consequences. That is the tragedy of this Budget: the missed opportunity to do what is right and achieve the growth we need. I am glad that the Chancellor finally woke up to the necessity of scrapping the non-dom status, but under Labour’s plans, that money would have gone into our NHS, creating more dental appointments and more capacity. Politics is about priorities, and the Chancellor has clearly decided that election giveaways based on fiscal fiction are the order of the day.

With all that being said—the Minister may like to hear this—there is one area of the Budget about which I am pleased: the announcement of the £105 million earmarked for the opening of new special educational needs and disabilities schools for children. That announcement is an opportunity to reiterate my plea for the Government to do everything possible to ensure the speedy delivery of the Selby district’s SEND school, which has had Department for Education funding allocated since 2019, but for which building work has not even begun. Hopefully, that will go some way towards ending the scourge of young people in my constituency with additional needs having to travel in taxis for hours a day, to villages and towns as far away as Scarborough and Harrogate, just to get the learning and education they deserve.

Overall, we are left with a situation where our country has stalled, and a Budget that fails to grasp the economic opportunities of our time while doing nothing to heal the deep structural damage that lies beneath our broken economy. It is high time that the Conservative party lets the British public give their verdict on these 14 years of wasted potential, and I have no doubt that their decision will be for change.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley 5:48, 12 March 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Cuts for Wales, cuts to services, cuts to pay and cuts to living standards, and absolutely no mention in the Budget of the most pervasive threat and greatest existential crisis facing every one of us—the climate crisis—all to fund giveaways to a few of the Government’s friends at the top. There was absolutely nothing in this Budget for Cymru—for Wales. The Welsh Government, backed by the Senedd, called last week for greater fiscal flexibilities. They sought investment in coal tip safety and the allocation of the billions of pounds owed to us in consequentials from HS2, but the Chancellor chose to ignore those requests.

I listened with some amazement to David Simmonds, who was lauding the merits of the free market and capitalism. That could not be any further from the truth for my community, Cynon Valley, and for others across the south Wales valleys, whose history is one of extraction. This year marks the 40th commemoration of the miners’ strike, which sounded the death knell for the industry, with the decimation of communities across south Wales and other coalfield communities. That is the legacy of neoliberalism and the capitalist state in the UK.

The Budget brought cuts to services, with Departments losing £20 billion in the coming years, which almost matches the cuts of the 2010 coalition. That means fewer youth clubs, fewer bus services and fewer bin collections, while local authorities are on their knees. Such cuts can only damage the fabric of society and risk further alienation of the public from politics. There were also more cuts to pay. This is the Tory low-pay agenda. The public have seen well-paid Ministers restricting strike action to deal with the myth of wage-led inflation, and the Government continue to make late submissions to the public sector pay review bodies, despite people being are unable to keep up with the cost of energy bills or food shops. This is shameful.

Who gains from the tax cuts? We saw £10 billion spent on cutting national insurance, when nearly half of the benefit of doing so goes to the richest fifth, but only 3% go to the poorest fifth. This is the Tory agenda to reward a few at the top while public services are disappearing and people’s incomes are stagnating, including in Cynon Valley, where we have seen an exponential growth of food banks and food bank usage. In recent months, there has been a huge surge of people coming to my office asking for fuel vouchers because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Only last month, alongside trade union councils in south Wales, I arranged a hunger march—a hunger march—to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the first hunger march in the UK from the Rhondda up to London. It is an indictment that we now have more food banks than McDonald’s restaurants. Shame on this Government that that has become normalised.

This Government’s approach is testing not only the social fabric, but the future of our planet, and the British people will not accept the continued destruction of public services and people’s pay. The next Government have no alternative but to find the funds to increase public sector pay, fund public services and invest in the future of our public sector. That includes ending the unequal and unfair low levels of taxation on wealth, which is surely now inevitable. We need a wealth tax now more than ever. The Chancellor should have confirmed a commitment to public sector pay restoration to its real level in 2010, starting with an above-inflation rise this year. He should have committed to lifting the minimum wage to £15 an hour at the next opportunity, and we will keep demanding that.

As I have said, our social fabric is under threat. We need an economy that puts people and the planet first, before profits and for the benefit of all. We must be arguing not for growth for growth’s sake, but for growth for prosperity for all. That is enshrined in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which we are fortunate enough to have in Wales. I would encourage the Government to look at that Act, and ideally to adopt it here in England and across the UK. This means enabling and supporting local communities not only to generate wealth, but to invest it in their own communities. That community wealth-building initiative is called cymunedoli. It is only by redistributing wealth that we will be able to tackle inequality, to transform society and to secure a just future—not only for current generations, but for future generations.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:54, 12 March 2024

It is with pleasure that I speak on the final day of the Budget debate this afternoon. With this being the last spring statement before the general election, last week’s Budget was a golden opportunity for the Chancellor to finally set out his plans to grow Britain’s economy. We did not see a rabbit out of the hat, although it looks as if the Chancellor has managed to make his Back Benchers disappear. Instead, this Budget revealed what we have known for far too long—that this exhausted, fading Tory Government are completely out of ideas. Millions of people across the country will have listened to the Chancellor, and collectively said, “Is that it?” The Government have limped on through another Budget week—clearly not everyone has survived—and a former Tory Cabinet Minister said that it has had “no traction at all”, because the Prime Minister is simply too weak to call a general election.

The unavoidable fact is that after 14 years of Tory Government our economy has flatlined into recession. Living standards have fallen off a cliff, and our public services are crumbling. The Budget has lifted the lid on 14 years of Tory economic failure, and nothing that they do between now and the election, whenever it comes, will change that. The Chancellor may have taken 2p off national insurance as a last-ditch effort to shore up votes, but Opposition Members have not forgotten that there have been 25—yes, 25!—Tory tax rises since the last election. This is the highest tax burden on the British public for 70 years.

For all the attempted fanfare about last week’s Budget—again, we see the enthusiasm on the Conservative Benches—for every £10 extra that working people will pay in tax under the Tories, they will get just £5 back as a result of combined national insurance cuts. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition said last week, the Government are openly giving with one hand but taking even more with the other. They are taking the British public for fools. On average, households will still be £870 worse off under this Government, yet the Chancellor merrily told the House last week that his “plan is working”. I know that my constituents in Wakefield, along with millions of people across the country, are just not buying it.

Five Prime Ministers, seven Chancellors, and 11 failed “plans for growth” have been trotted out by this Government. And what do they have to show for it? An economy in recession, smaller than when their latest Prime Minister took office. The national credit card is maxed out, with debt tripling to almost £2.6 trillion since 2010. Average post-tax earnings at the start of this year are £1,870 lower than at the start of 2021, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Real pay is up by just £17 a week since the Tories took office, with an unprecedented decline in living standards, and a cumulative £19 billion rise in mortgage costs for UK homeowners thanks to the Tory mortgage timebomb. As if that was not enough, now the Tories are eagerly promising £46 billion of unfunded tax cuts, which would leave a gaping black hole in the nation’s finances with working people paying the price.

There was little in last week’s Budget that will make any real difference to the lives of hard-working constituents in Wakefield. Some wards within my constituency rank among the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods in the country, and a shocking 32% of children in Wakefield live in poverty. Every one of those households suffering in my constituency and across the UK are a badge of shame for those on the Government Benches. Last week’s lacklustre Budget also does nothing to address the fact that the basic functions of the state are collapsing under the Tories’ watch. Not a single NHS dentist in Wakefield is taking on new patients. One in seven people in England are on a waiting list for NHS treatment, and thousands of children are studying in crumbling classrooms.

It is plain as day that the Tories have given up on governing, so it is little wonder that they finally caved to pressure from Labour after years of resistance, and have finally acted to close the non-dom tax loophole. That is a crushing, humiliating U-turn even for the Tories, and a damning indictment of a Government totally bereft of ideas. My constituents simply cannot afford another Tory Budget of decay and decline. We desperately need a general election, and a Labour Government who will get the economy growing again, make work pay with a new deal for working people, and back British business with a new industrial strategy in a national wealth fund. It is time for real change, and Labour is ready to serve. Call a general election.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 5:59, 12 March 2024

May I say to Simon Lightwood that there is no point in Labour Members banging on about unfunded Tory tax cuts, when Labour is not going to do anything different and says it will not reverse them?

Productivity is an almost abstract word that is bandied about all the time, but the one point of consensus is that the UK’s productivity rates lag behind those of comparable countries. We keep hearing pronouncements about the need to improve productivity, but nothing changes. The last Prime Minister—the one of just 45 days—believed that tax cuts, especially for the richest, somehow boost the economy and productivity. Despite that ideology, the Government never show how the rich getting richer boosts outcomes or increases manufacturing productivity, or how tax cuts for the richest transform the productivity of those paid the least, who are doing the real work. Productivity certainly is not boosted by trying to force the long-term sick or those with disabilities into jobs they are not suited for.

The reality is that increased productivity stems from good planning and strategic investment. The Chancellor’s decision to make full expensing permanent at the autumn statement might drive forward investment but, even so, there are still questions to be asked about how the UK went into recession. Indeed, despite what the Government always tell us about global factors that affect all other countries, such as the war in Ukraine or global inflation rates, the reality is that within the G7, the UK is only outperforming Germany in GDP growth compared with pre-pandemic levels. Over a four-year period, the UK’s GDP growth—at just 1%—is a third of the eurozone, and miles behind US growth at 8.2%.

Of course, it is no coincidence that the US has its Inflation Reduction Act or that the eurozone is covered by the EU’s green deal industrial plan. It is no coincidence either that the UK has the lowest levels of investment in the G7—further proof that the Government should be providing schemes and investment to counter the EU and US measures. Instead we heard from UK Ministers at the time the blasé attitude that these other countries were simply playing catch-up with the UK. It was blinkered British exceptionalism at its worst. Indeed, the Government still do not recognise that they have fallen further behind; not only that, but they failed to listen to renewable energy developers about the strike rate for offshore wind being too low in the last contracts for difference auction, which has lost investment in renewable energy and thrown the 2030 deployment targets into doubt.

Until the failure of auction round 5 for offshore wind, the contracts for difference process was at least a success for deployment of renewable energy. However, it still represented missed opportunities for UK-based supply chain development, for investment to be targeted at UK manufacturing and for increased UK productivity. Instead, the UK Government made it a race to the bottom in terms of price, so we saw billions of pounds of investment offshored in that process. The Government hid behind EU directives but now, post Brexit, the procurement strategy still does not sufficiently incentivise local content.

On Brexit, being outside the single market and the customs union—completing additional paperwork and products undergoing additional checks—clearly affects productivity. The OBR has confirmed that the UK is still on track to see a 4% hit to GDP and a 15% reduction in EU trade as a result of Brexit. Goldman Sachs estimates that Brexit has cost the UK 5% in GDP against comparable countries, so it is undeniable that Brexit is a large contributing factor to the UK’s performance within the G7—another issue completely avoided by Labour in today’s debate.

Greater investment is required in infrastructure, but the Budget did not allocate additional capital moneys. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s capital budget is suffering a cut of close to 20% in real terms this year; yet somehow the Scottish Tories demand ever more construction—ever more deployment from the Scottish Government—while standing by as Westminster slashes our budget. That said, the Scottish Tories now see at first hand the Westminster respect agenda, as their wishes were overridden by the extension of the windfall tax. That is a further £1.5 billion of revenue from Scotland that is not being used for reinvestment. It is not propping up Scotland’s capital budget; it has been used for a tax cut. That is shameful—and yet, we are supposed to doff our cap and be grateful for £300 million of additional Barnett consequentials.

We know, though, that cuts to the Scottish Government are coming down the line, given the £19 billion of departmental cuts associated with the autumn statement and now baked into this Budget. Of course, as was pointed out earlier, Labour is effectively sticking to the Tories’ spending rules, so Labour will introduce austerity 2.0 if it comes into power. It is no wonder that the IFS says there is a “conspiracy of silence” from both Labour and the Tories on the scale of cuts coming down the line.

One cut that has been delivered is to the higher rate of capital gains for property sales. There has been enough analysis to show that charging capital gains tax at the equivalent rate of income tax would realise an additional £10 billion to £15 billion for the Treasury, yet somehow we are meant to believe that lowering the upper rate will magically bring in more money. It defies logic.

Labour likes to talk about Norway and the taxes it raises from the North sea. I like to talk about Norway, too, and the fact that it has a $1.5 trillion sovereign wealth fund, which is the biggest in the world. We look at Norway as what we might have been. It is not a change of Government that we need at Westminster—

Photo of Sarah Edwards Sarah Edwards Labour, Tamworth 6:05, 12 March 2024

Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to tell you a story about modern Britain, my constituents and how their experiences of a Conservative Government have left them alone. People I know in Tamworth are struggling; they tell me that on a daily basis. This is an issue when we have a Government who are gaslighting the public into thinking that they are better off under the Conservatives, yet the tax burden is the highest for 70 years, wages are lower and public services around them are literally crumbling in a Parliament that will be defined as the worst on record for living standards.

Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that, come the election, tax revenues will be 3.9% of national income—about £100 million; higher than at the time of the last election. This remains a Parliament of record tax rises. The Treasury’s own figures make it clear that the cut to national insurance will be paid for by years of austerity affecting Government Departments and our already overstretched public services. When the Conservatives’ infamous mini-Budget caused massive damage, crashing the economy and sending mortgage rates soaring and families’ budgets plummeting, they left constituents fearful for the future. Despite working full time, many hard-working people find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

It was a shock recently to attend an event where Conservative-run Tamworth Borough Council claimed there were no homeless people in Tamworth, following the annual snapshot survey taken on one day in autumn 2023. Government data between July and September 2023 showed that the council had assessed that 43 households were homeless and 38 were threatened with homelessness —81 households. According to figures collected by the Tamworth food bank over the last 12 months, 207 users stated they were of no fixed address, and 56 of them were children.

Local charities know that there are people who are homeless in Tamworth. Some are sleeping in their cars, some in local churches, and others are sofa surfing with no fixed abode. For many, the Government’s poor stewardship of our economy has pushed the dream of getting on the housing ladder even further away. I speak daily with parents who still have an adult child living at home because even with good wages and a deposit saved there are no affordable homes in their communities. Of the houses that are being built in Tamworth, many are on the floodplains and therefore at risk when it comes to flooding incidents. The track record is getting worse and worse. The Government have slashed the Environment Agency’s resources by two thirds since 2010 while one in six homes is now at risk of flooding and climate change is on the march.

Where next can I turn in this twisted tale of Conservative failure? To the high streets, where shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs have suffered and where people can no longer sustain the businesses that communities so value. In Tamworth, our high street has received some levelling-up funding. However, the £3 million shortfall following the astronomical rise in inflation is not covered by the Government, yet the time constraint for spending the money remains. This “use it or lose it” attitude has left destruction in its wake. As part of the project, the Peel café—one of our heritage buildings—was knocked down, contrary to requirements to consult on changes to the plans. Our communities are being cut out of conversations around regeneration. Without them, we fail to plan for our future.

Labour offers a review of current business rates that do not support businesses, in an economy that has fallen off the tracks. Speaking of which, my constituency is a graveyard to HS2—£92 billion has been squandered on a badly managed, badly scrutinised HS2 project that could have unlocked financial benefits and higher network capacity across the nation. The Government claim that network speeds will not be impacted, but HS2 trains on Victorian tracks will run slower, meaning fewer trains per hour and decreased network capacity for Tamworth and the nation. The irony is that if the Government had done absolutely nothing and spent no money at all on rail infrastructure, we would be in a better position than we are today.

Let me turn to the tragedy of our public services, which are at breaking point and decimated after years of austerity. After 14 years of the Tory Government, more than 90% of crimes are going unsolved, meaning that the criminals are less than half as likely to be caught now than when Labour was in government. Tamworth no longer has a police station at which to report crime. One in seven people in England is on an NHS waiting list. More than ever before, people have put their lives on hold while they wait in pain and discomfort for months, even years. Such a tale I have had to tell of an utterly let down country, often left to pick up the pieces. Ordinary working people, families and pensioners see little to celebrate. We need a Labour Government. We need Labour’s plan. This Budget is nonsense.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 6:11, 12 March 2024

With four days to spend debating one single fiscal event, it would be easy to enter into Westminster village debates. Instead, ahead of the Budget I spent several days knocking on doors in villages in my Devon constituency to hear what rural residents wanted the Chancellor to announce. The feedback I got was plain: they cared not about jibes from the Dispatch Box but about saving our public services and infrastructure, including our roads, which are crumbling before our very eyes—a metaphor for public services in general. It is little wonder that people ask me, “If this Government cannot even stop the roads from falling apart, how on earth can they claim that things are getting better?” It is little wonder that the erosion of our roads has been mirrored by the electoral erosion of the Conservative party. Many of the people I spoke to in Devon regard this Government as having little left in the tank. It is little wonder that conspiracy theories are on the rise: people in the west country could be forgiven for thinking that potholes are a deliberate, affordable alternative to 20 mph signs and speed bumps.

This Budget was such a disappointment. There are more holes in it than in the A373 between Honiton and Cullompton. It contained little in the way of support for frontline NHS and care services. It is ironic that when national insurance was introduced by a Liberal Government in 1911, its purpose was partly as a safety net to catch people experiencing ill health. The Liberal Government who introduced it required contributions from employers and the state, as well as the individual.

The Chancellor’s flagship measure—the national insurance cut—failed to deliver any help for pensioners or those on fixed incomes in the way that a rise in the income tax threshold could have done. Instead of long-term investment, the Government chose a series of quick patch-up jobs that brush over the latest crisis, rather than taking the time to fill in their holes properly. The Government need to understand that funnelling every last available penny they could scrape together into a national insurance cut will not turn things around.

The average pothole-related breakdown will set drivers back around £440. That is the same amount that someone might have got back from this national insurance cut. One trip down a poorly maintained road and all those savings are gone in a bang, as the driver shreds a tyre on the edge of a crater. I am reminded of driving through the streets of former Yugoslavia in an Army Land Rover 20 years ago, where avoiding a collision in Kosovo required a Land Rover Defender; increasingly, it is also a requirement in Culmstock, Colyton and Combe Raleigh.

If small businesses are the engines of our local economy, investment in our road network is the lubricant in rural areas such as Devon. The roads are the ribbons that connect our towns and villages. In recent years, many have become impassable. Almost every single week, my postbag is flooded with correspondence about potholes. I fear that if I were to plot them on a map, those reported across mid and east Devon would hardly leave any road left. They are certainly one of the things that people are most annoyed about. That is why the £6.6 million announced for Devon’s roads is nothing more than a smokescreen. It goes nowhere near what is genuinely required to fix the underlying problem.

It is not just me saying that. The Conservative leader of Devon County Council, John Hart, who is ultimately responsible for the maintenance of our roads in Devon, says the funding is a “drop in the ocean”. He went on to say that while the council was given an extra £9.5 million for roads last year, £7 million of that repair money was immediately eaten up by inflation. Last April, the council was forced to announce that it only had the capacity to maintain priority roads, allowing other vital roads to endure a “managed decline”. This is a shameful state of affairs. It says something when getting on a horse and riding over the rolling hills of Devon may be the best way of traversing our county for the first time in over 100 years. Figures from the Department for Transport lay the issue bare—these statistics just cannot be argued with. Just 18.6 miles of roads in Devon had improvement work done in the year to March 2023, down from 273.6 miles five years ago, all under the Conservatives’ watch.

The Budget was a missed opportunity. The Government know that they have lost the race and are now simply limping to the finish line. The people of Devon deserve so much better. They demand better. They know that, in the rural areas of the west country, the only way to get it is to vote Liberal Democrat.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 6:16, 12 March 2024

I know that the residents of Putney, Southfields, Roehampton and Wandsworth town will be watching this debate, because they tell me all the time as I go out and about in the constituency that they watch the Parliament channel. I also know that they will be very, very disappointed by the Budget. They will have seen nothing for our declining high streets, nothing for youth centres, and nothing to tackle the cost of living crisis that means that there are higher bills but less money for my constituents week after week after week.

The theme of this debate is productivity, which is fundamental for our competitiveness, wage growth, ability to attract investment and overall future economic wellbeing —in fact, our wellbeing as a whole. Without growth, we cannot have the hope for the future, the hope for our young people and the boost for our economy that we need. I will focus on one area of under-investment which has meant a chronic lack of productivity across the UK, an area of investment that is essential to tackle the climate crisis, boost our economy and give young people hope: green skills.

I was disappointed to hear in the Budget that there were no new policies to help boost the roll-out of low-carbon technologies such as electric vehicles or heat pumps. There is a clear need for better alignment between net zero investments and the skills and employment system. That is the problem that leads to our poor productivity at the moment. Solar Energy UK called the Budget “virtually nude” of anything to bolster that sector. We cannot begin to move in the right direction on green productivity without having the processes in place to embed green skills within our economic infrastructure, but we need a whole industry and skills approach. There is a massive shortage of heat pump engineers. We currently have 3,000, but we will need 27,000 by 2028. Offshore wind industry engineer numbers need to triple to just over 104,000 to meet our current targets, let alone our future ones.

Political choices have led to that under-investment and under-skilling. The Institute for Public Policy Research found that the UK employs fewer people in renewable energy as a proportion of the working age population than most other European countries. It does not have to be that way. In my constituency, South Thames College offers courses in green skills and solar panel fitting. It is taking proactive steps, responding to the wide range of green jobs arising across the economy. By helping students to move into apprenticeships or jobs, South Thames College shows that it is ahead of the curve in adopting a joined-up approach. Also in my constituency is Treadlighter, a solar energy company in Southfields. It is booming, but it cannot keep up with demand because it needs more skilled trainees and staff to fit panels.

Matching skills with green businesses is essential, but Government inaction is currently holding back productivity. A whole new approach is needed throughout the economy to secure a seamless transition between training, education, manufacturing, supply and services, but we do not see any of that in the Budget. We see no new boost, and nothing about the new revolution in green skills that would be so exciting for our economy and would give us hope. The Government’s green jobs delivery group has been meeting for a year and plans to publish its green jobs plan soon, but the Budget has given nothing to the green energy industry, so I have no high hopes for that plan.

We in the Labour party know how important to our success investing for the future will be, which is why we have committed ourselves to spending £23.5 billion during our first Parliament in government in order to deliver green power by 2030. Green British Energy, a publicly owned energy company, will invest in green energy projects including offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture, tidal and nuclear. If we can match that with the green skills revolution, we really will have the productivity that we need to change the amount of money in the pockets of people across my constituency.

The No. 1 mission of the next Labour Government is to get our economy growing so that Britain will be better off, and we will do it through stability, investment and reform. That means bringing stability back so that we can protect family finances with tough fiscal rules and a long-term plan for our economy, it means investing in British business so we can unlock tens of millions of pounds of private sector investment for our towns and cities, and it means reforming planning so we can boost growth and get Britain building again. The Conservatives are missing in action. They have run out of ideas, they have run out of ambition and hope, and they have run out of all the ways in which growth can be boosted. It is time for a new approach: it is time for a Labour Government.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

To make the last Back-Bench speech of this Budget debate, I call the ever patient Ruth Jones.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:22, 12 March 2024

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I knew my patience would be rewarded in the end.

I am pleased to be able to say a few words on behalf of the people of Newport West. I am just sorry that those words will be about such a bad Budget—a missed opportunity, and a let-down for my constituents. I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on his powerful and compassionate response to the Budget on Wednesday. I also congratulate all my right hon. and hon. Friends who have spoken in recent days, especially the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who, earlier this afternoon, called out so powerfully and forensically the lack of a Government plan.

Week in and week out, real people come to my office, write to me, email me and call my team to describe their struggles to heat their homes, feed their families and pay their mortgages. Since my election to this place in 2019, my brilliant team have dealt with people in desperate need throughout my constituency. With each fiscal event from this tired Tory Government, my constituents have been moved from getting by to struggling, or, even worse, from struggling to absolute poverty. Since I was elected, absolute child poverty in Newport West—the percentage of children living in households with incomes below 60% of the median income—has remained at about 15%. That is shocking, and nothing has changed. The UK rate is also 15%, so this is a British problem, and nothing in the Budget will make things better for working people.

The people who have all the power to help are sitting right over there on the Government Benches. The Chancellor, who seems to be feeling the pressure in his constituency, could have delivered a Budget that invested in this country. He could have taken meaningful action to mitigate the cost of living crisis, and he could have genuinely helped people. I know, we all know and, worst of all, the Conservatives know that they could have done far more to help ordinary people, but they made the political choice not to. One of my constituents who had had problems with obtaining the warm home discount wrote to me recently that

“people have to beg for help, and they get fed up with the long drawn out process. Many are not getting the help that is promised by the government.”

That is the real-life experience of people in my area, and I urge Ministers to wake up and take action.

This Budget confirms that the UK has the highest tax burden in 70 years, which will rise in every year of the forecast period. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s figures show that for every 10p extra that working people will pay in tax under the Tories’ plan, they will get back only 5p as a result of the combined national insurance cuts. That includes the OBR’s revised estimate for the impact of tax threshold freezes, which will raise £41.1 billion over the forecast period, creating 3.7 million new taxpayers by 2028-29.

Given everything that was not in the Budget, we should all be very afraid. We should think about the £46 billion-worth of unfunded tax cuts that have been promised by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. This reckless attempt to save their own jobs, with no regard for anyone else’s, exposes the clear risk of having five more years under the Conservatives. They will gamble with the public finances, and working people will be forced to pay the price yet again. This Tory Government clearly have not learned anything since the former Prime Minister crashed the economy and sent mortgages spiralling, leaving a real impact on working-class and middle-income people.

I am proud to stand for my party, because we know that with my right hon. Friend Rachel Reeves in charge of the Treasury, Labour will never play fast and loose with the nation’s finances. I have heard nothing from the Government that improves the lives of ordinary people in Newport West. If they cannot or, worse, will not take the action needed to get our country back on track, they should make way for a fresh start from Labour.

This was a bad Budget, with nothing for Newport West. After 14 long years, it is time for change, time for a fresh start, and time for us to change course and get our country back on track. Let the public decide. Call the general election now—it is time for change.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury) 6:26, 12 March 2024

This Budget was the last gasp of a dying, desperate Government. It did nothing to address 14 years of Conservative economic failure and, as always with this Government, it is working people who pay the price.

Many Opposition Members have made powerful contributions to today’s debate, and I apologise for not being able to mention every single one. However, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman, who said it was his last ever Budget speech today.

The British people are struggling with the highest tax burden in 70 years, and they still face further tax rises over the next five years—a point that was powerfully made by my hon. Friends the Members for Tamworth (Sarah Edwards) and for Newport West (Ruth Jones). Food prices are still 25% higher than they were two years ago. Rents are up by 10%, and a typical family will pay an extra £240 a month when remortgaging this year. Nothing the Chancellor said in last week’s Budget changes that. As much as he tries, he cannot hide from his Government’s record: 14 years of low investment, stagnant wages and poor productivity, the country in recession, wrecked public finances and an economy crippled by debt. The Chancellor tried to wash away the realities last week, but families in our constituencies cannot do the same. People feel worse off under the Conservatives because they are worse off.

As my hon. Friend Dan Carden focused on, the Office for Budget Responsibility—not us—has now confirmed that this will be the worst Parliament on record for living standards. Let me repeat that, because it is worth repeating: this will be the worst Parliament on record for living standards. It is the only Parliament on record in which living standards have fallen. Real pay has gone up by just £17 a week over almost a decade and a half of this Conservative Government. When the Labour party was last in power, wages rose by £183 a week over 13 years. After 14 years of Conservative rule, people have less money in their pockets.

As my hon. Friend Mohammad Yasin touched on, the latest ONS figures show seven consecutive quarters of falling GDP per capita from the start of 2022. This is the longest period of economic stagnation in this country since the 1950s, and now, under this Prime Minister and this Chancellor, the country has fallen into recession. Government debt has almost tripled under the Conservatives from £1 trillion to just under £2.6 trillion.

Did last week’s Budget give the British people or British businesses any hope that the Government could turn things around? Absolutely not. Household disposable income is set to fall by £200 per person over the course of this Parliament. Real GDP per capita is expected to be lower at the end of this year than it was at the start of this Parliament, and borrowing has been revised up in the next five years of the forecast period. The Institute of Directors described the Chancellor’s efforts as an “unremarkable Budget for business”, and the British Retail Consortium has said that it

“will do nothing to turbo charge investment and growth in communities”.

This was a failed Budget from a failing Government.

Photo of Sarah Edwards Sarah Edwards Labour, Tamworth

Does my hon. Friend agree that this Conservative Budget has confirmed that the next Government will receive the worst economic inheritance since the second world war? Does she agree that the Tories should listen to our constituents, call a general election now and stop taking a wrecking ball to the economy on their way out the door? [Interruption.]

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Those on the Conservative Benches do not want to hear it, but if they have so much confidence in their record, why do they not do as she asks, call a general election and put a test to the public?

Unable to defend his own Government’s records and unable to offer any plan to get the country out of the economic mess that his party created, this Chancellor has resorted to undeliverable promises. When we thought things could not get any worse, the Chancellor bizarrely ended his Budget last week with a £46 billion unfunded tax plan to abolish national insurance. This would leave a gaping hole in the public finances, put family finances at risk and create huge uncertainty for our pensioners. This is even bigger than the unfunded tax cuts announced in the Conservatives’ mini-Budget that added hundreds of pounds to people’s mortgages, as my hon. Friend Ms Brown powerfully pointed out. I will be listening intently to the Minister’s response today, and I hope that he will set out how his Government would fill that gaping hole in the public finances to avoid rerunning the disastrous experiment that crashed the economy just 18 months ago.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absurd that throughout today’s event the Government have been unable to confirm how they will pay for their unfunded £46 billion plan to abolish national insurance contributions? Where is the money coming from?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I asked earlier about what the Institute for Fiscal Studies has called a conspiracy of silence from both Labour and the Conservatives. Is Labour sticking with the baked-in £20 billion of future departmental cuts that are in the Budget, and if not, how is Labour going to pay for that?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Order. I fully appreciate the orchestration, but it would be quite a good idea if one intervention was responded to before the next one was made.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will answer both interventions by saying that I know those on the Conservative Benches do not want to hear it, but if you make a pledge without the plan, you have to clarify where the money is coming from—[Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. It is causing havoc in people’s finances.

Then again, nothing would surprise me from this clown show of a Government. Less than a week after committing to a British ISA, the Chancellor has apparently U-turned and ditched the plan until after the election, because he has apparently just noticed that he has no idea how he is going to pay for it. Another U-turn, another uncosted announcement, another promise without a plan from this clueless Conservative Government.

Turning to the other tax cuts in the Budget, Labour has consistently said that we want to reduce the tax burden on working people. That is why, when the current Prime Minister wanted to increase national insurance two years ago, we opposed it. Let us be under no illusions: we support the measures announced last week to bring national insurance down by an additional 2%, but that does not change the fact that this Government have raised the tax burden to record levels and taxes are continuing to rise. Under the Chancellor’s plan, households will be £870 worse off on average. His decision to freeze tax thresholds will create 3.7 million taxpayers by 2028-29.

As my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood pointed out, OBR figures show that, as a result of last week’s announcements, for every 10p extra that working people pay in tax under the Conservatives, they will get only 5p back. And the Government expect the British public to thank them for it! However the Chancellor tries to spin it, his Budget means that Britain will go into the next general election with taxes at their highest level since 1949.

Although we will always call out the Conservatives for pickpocketing the British taxpayer, we welcome their recent pickpocketing of Labour policies. Labour has long argued that people who make Britain their home should pay their taxes here. Bizarrely, however, the Prime Minister said that scrapping the non-dom status would somehow cost Britain money. Even more bizarrely, the Chancellor previously tried to argue that the non-dom status supports jobs and that reforming it would cause long-term damage to growth.

I hope the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will explain what caused this road to Damascus moment. Is he personally responsible for finally getting his party to listen to us about the importance of closing the non-dom loophole, which the OBR estimates will raise £3 billion a year? As my right hon. Friend Valerie Vaz and my hon. Friend Simon Lightwood said, Labour first called for the loophole to be closed two years ago, meaning that the Government have cost the country £6 billion that could have been spent on precious public services.

I do not deny that the Conservative party has come a long way since their opposition to our windfall tax on oil and gas producers but, even after yesterday’s announcement of a one-year extension, the Chancellor is leaving loopholes that mean the energy giants will still pay billions less in tax. Surely the Government have learned by now that they would save themselves a lot of time, and the country a lot of money, if they adopted Labour’s policies in full.

This exhausted and directionless Conservative Government are out of ideas and out of time. All they had to offer last week were unfunded promises and an ever growing tax burden on working people. In contrast, our offer to the country will be carefully costed and fully funded, and it will always put working people first. The Conservatives have failed on growth, failed on living standards and delivered only stagnation and chaos.

Labour’s economic plan will build on the pillars of stability, investment and reform: stability brought about by iron discipline and guarded by strong fiscal rules and robust economic institutions. [Interruption.] Conservative Members love chuntering, but they would hear our plan if they listened properly. Investment—we will work with the private sector so that we can lead the industries of the future and make work pay. Reform—starting with our planning system, we will take on vested interests to get Britain building again.

Britain deserves better, Britain deserves change and the British people deserve an election.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 6:38, 12 March 2024

It is a pleasure to close these three days of debate on the Government’s spring Budget. Before I get on to more contentious points, I will start on some common ground.

We all know that the last few years have been tough for our country. We all know that this Government have spent more than £400 billion on protecting lives and livelihoods after covid. We all know that Putin’s war in Ukraine sent energy prices to unprecedented highs, and that this has had a huge impact on our economy.

Since 2023 this Government have principally worked to three economic priorities: halving inflation, growing the economy and reducing the national debt. We have made good progress on each of those priorities. [Interruption.] Opposition Members should wait for it. Inflation has more than halved, going from 11% to 4%. Our economy is expected to grow faster than many of our major European neighbours and partners over the medium term. The IMF predicts that over the coming four years we will be the third quickest growing economy in the G7. The OBR has confirmed that national debt is on track to fall in line with our fiscal rules.

Members across the House may say, “A lot done; a lot more to do”, but this prudent and responsible Budget takes us one step closer to tackling the inflation that has harmed the economy, to dealing with the low growth and poor productivity that has hampered us, and towards a brighter future. We have already had much success. That is why we are able to afford to cut national insurance for 29 million people. We will responsibly go further than that, as long as the country can afford it.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

Asked last week about the Government’s commitment to abolish national insurance contributions, the Minister said

“we’d like to continue along that track”— more of a cul-de-sac, in my humble opinion—but today the Minister has been silent on that plan for a huge £46 billion unfunded tax commitment. Will the Minister tell us if it is still the Prime Minister’s plan to resurrect the Trussonomics mini-Budget package of last year?

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

It is not our plan to resurrect anything from the mini-Budget. We have our plan and we set it out in our Budget.

As the son of a doctor and a pharmacist, as many of us are on the Government Benches, I am mindful that any good doctor will say that in order for the medicine to work, one has to complete the course and stick to the plan. This Budget sticks to the plan we set out in 2023 and has three key objectives: to reward work, to grow the economy and to improve productivity. Before I get on to those points, I will address some of the remarks made by hon. Members during the debate.

Yvonne Fovargue made a point about some of the most vulnerable in our country and their access to credit. I commend her long-standing support for her constituents, including the most vulnerable. We are extending the household support fund, as she will know, and we are making it easier to access the debt relief order. Sir Stephen Timms welcomed the decision to extend the household support fund. In response to his question about making the fund permanent, that is a decision for the next fiscal event, whenever that will be.

I say to Members of all parties who are concerned for the most vulnerable that this is a Budget and a Government for them. Since 2010, the real income—the take-home pay—of those working full time on the national living wage is 35% greater than it was in 2010. On rewarding work, thanks to the actions that this Government have already taken, falling inflation means that wages in real terms are on the up, even while unemployment is low. In response to the question raised by Dan Carden, real household incomes overall have increased by 8% since 2010. But we all know that we can go further. The simplest and most effective way to do so is by reducing people’s taxes and getting rid of the double taxation on work, which means reducing national insurance.

I was listening carefully to the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who is a man I rather like. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I rather admire him. We came to the House at the same time. We are practically the same age—he is about five months younger than me, but let us not go into that. But I was very surprised to hear him say—he can intervene on me if this is not correct—that it was “morally abhorrent” to cut national insurance.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I always welcome the chance to return to the Dispatch Box. Just to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I said that it was morally abhorrent to abolish national insurance contributions at a cut of £46 billion a year with no plan to pay for it. The Minister has the opportunity once again to tell us how he is going to fund the £46 billion.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

This is great fun, Mr Deputy Speaker. I say to the shadow Chief Secretary that we have been very clear about this. We have cut national insurance by a third in the last two fiscal events. It is our long-term ambition to do so and to eliminate this double taxation on work. If Labour Members do not believe that we should eliminate this double taxation, they should say so.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

No, I will not give way. I wish to make some progress.

My hon. Friends the Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas), for Broxtowe (Darren Henry), and for North West Norfolk (James Wild) saw the wisdom and the importance of cutting national insurance by a third and what that means for ordinary people. From April this year, we will have taken a third off, which means £900 a year for the average worker. Some Opposition Members sniffed at that. They do not think that that is very much money. We know that, for millions of people across the country, that will make a huge difference to their lives, and we are very proud to support it.

Over and above the national insurance cuts, this Budget sets out a plan that rewards hard-working families. A lifetime of work should support the job of a lifetime: being a parent. For too long, hard-working parents have been unfairly penalised by our tax system—I am very glad that Sarah Olney from the Liberal Democrats recognised that and supported our plans. That is why we are raising the child benefit threshold to £60,000 and increasing the level at which the support is completely withdrawn to £80,000. This is not done out of some ideological fancy. We are doing it because it will encourage growth in the labour market and generate an increase in work hours equivalent to around 10,000 people entering the workforce full time. So this one act on childcare that the Chancellor has put forward will save nearly half a million families an average of around £1,300 per annum in addition to the national insurance cuts.

We also want to support those who make a career out of childcare, which is why, building on our announcement at the last Budget to extend 30 hours of free childcare a week to all children aged nine months and older of working parents, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that the Government will guarantee the hourly rate to ensure that private childcare providers can step up to deliver this offer.

Secondly, as many Members across the House have noted, this is a Budget for long-term growth. Growth means more opportunity. Growth means greater prosperity for families and firms. And, yes, growth means higher funding for our public services.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

The Minister knows full well that the autumn statement had £20 billion of future cuts to public services and this Budget bakes it in. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has called it a conspiracy of silence from both Labour and the Conservatives. He talks about long-term growth and an increase in public services, but will he come clean about that £20 billion cut and what the Government will do about it?

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. If he looks in the Red Book, he will see that the forecast for the next spending review period is that real-terms spending on public services—the whole House should hear this, because I have heard lots of discussion from Opposition Members about cuts and slashing—will go up every year by 1% in addition to inflation. We are building on a stable foundation for that growth. Against the backdrop of economic uncertainty, business investment—one of the chronic difficulties for our economy for generations—grew last year, and will be about 11% of our GDP this year.

At the Budget, we outlined next steps on the autumn statement’s £4.5 billion funding package for strategic manufacturing, which many Members mentioned, particularly Preet Kaur Gill. That delivers the next stage of expansion for our high-growth industries.

To complement that, we are committed to ensuring the UK has the most attractive investment tax regime of any G7 or large European country. We have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7. At the autumn statement, to complement that support for business and for growth, we announced that we would introduce permanent full expensing, which allows companies to claim, in the first year, 100% capital allowances on qualifying investments. At this Budget, the Chancellor confirmed that draft legislation on extending full expensing further to assets for leasing will be published shortly. I am very glad that my hon. Friend Andrew Jones and Richard Thomson supported that investment.

The theme of today’s debate—improving productivity—was barely mentioned by Opposition Members. I echo what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend Laura Trott, said in her opening speech: when it comes to our public services, what the public care about is whether their services improve. That means focusing on outcomes, not just inputs. Opposition Members are very, very fond of talking about inputs and how there are apparently there are all these cuts—this slashing and burning of public services—but they are not very fond of talking about our productivity plan and how we are investing to improve outcomes. I will tell you a secret, Mr Deputy Speaker: the reason they are not fond of it is that they know it would upset their union paymasters. That is why they do not want to talk about it. They do not believe in better public services, which would mean better value for money for the taxpayer, because they do not believe in better value for money. They do not believe in better support for frontline workers to actually do their jobs properly because they just want more money for their union paymasters. They do not believe in better results. They talk the talk but refuse to walk the walk, because they do not understand what it is to take any tough decisions.

I agree with something that Sam Tarry said. He said that we cannot cut our way to prosperity, and I agree. That is why we are investing in our productivity plan and investing comprehensively in the NHS, as my hon. Friend Dean Russell set out compassionately and powerfully.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I will make some progress, and then I will give way.

From upgrading computer systems to using artificial intelligence to automate tasks, we will upgrade the NHS’s technology for the 21st century. That is only part of our programme of reform to bring the whole of Government into the digital era and generate productivity improvements, including through structural investment—and what a win it would be. The National Audit Office and the Office for Budget Responsibility, bodies that Opposition Members are always terribly keen to quote—[Interruption.] They should listen to what they have said about productivity and outcomes. The OBR says:

“Raising public sector productivity by 5 per cent”, which will bring us back to where we were before the pandemic,

“would be the equivalent of around £20 billion extra in funding”.

That is why we are doing it. That is why the work that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is doing is so important.

Before I conclude, I think we can all agree, including Opposition Back Benchers, that it is impossible to know where the Labour party stands on anything these days. We used to know where it stood. The sad thing about the one concrete plan that it did have is that there was a document listing all the projects under the £28 billion and going through every constituency. That was the only plan they had, but they have dropped it. They should talk to Edward Miliband as to whether he is happy about that.

Labour Members are confused and I feel sorry for them. [Interruption.] Tulip Siddiq is chuntering from a sedentary position, but I am coming to her next, don’t worry. Labour is so confused that, by the way she was going on, one would think that she was a disciple of Peter Thorneycroft and Nigel Lawson. She was so keen on low taxes and sound money that I almost wanted to invite her to join us on the Government Benches. But then I remembered something: in one of her first acts as a Labour MP, she decided to mount the barricades and nominate Jeremy Corbyn for leadership of the Labour party. I wonder whether she has told the Leader of the Opposition that that is where her heart lies.

Look, I do not want to be mean spirited—it does not suit me very well. It might surprise you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to learn that I actually rather admire the right hon. Member for Islington North. He believes in things and has ideas, unlike the shadow Treasury team, who do not even have the semblance of a coherent plan or any beliefs at all, as it turns out.

We know that this will not bother the shadow Chancellor. Where is she, by the way? She is probably too busy on her smoked salmon offensive in the City of London, pretending to love bankers, to have time to think of any new ideas.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

She is cutting and pasting. I cannot see her, but if she needs ideas and is happy to come in, there is always the option—and she has done it before—to cut and paste from someone else. I do not want to mislead the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, but the shadow Chancellor does have one aspect to her economic plan—forgive me for forgetting about it—and, as the deputy leader of the Labour party knows, it is called the workers’ plan. True to form, the shadow Chancellor has cut and pasted this plan from the trade unions to such a degree that it might as well be called the unions’ plan. It gives sweeping licence to unions over our whole economy, which will kill jobs, hurt our productivity and undo the good work of this Budget and this Chancellor.

This Budget is a plan for the future, a plan for jobs, a plan for growth, a plan for productivity, a plan on the side of working people, and I commend it to the House.

Question put.

Division number 88 Ways and Means: Income Tax (Charge)

Aye: 320 MPs

No: 42 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


The House divided: Ayes 318, Noes 43.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That income tax is charged for the tax year 2024-25.

And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the motions made in the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Standing Order No. 51(3)).