[Relevant documents: The uncorrected oral evidence taken before the Treasury Committee on 13 and 15 July 2010, HC 350 i and ii, on June 2010 Budget.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have enjoyed a lively and wide-ranging debate during the Bill’s progress. I would therefore like to start by thanking all Members who have taken part in the four days of debate on what is a short but significant Bill—despite its brevity, it makes fundamental changes to Britain for the better.
The Bill follows the emergency Budget and puts in place many of the measures that are necessary to strengthen the economy and ensure fiscal discipline. It was a crucial Budget, and this is a crucial Bill because this is the time when we finally get to grips with our deficit. The Bill re-establishes the credibility of the country to the rest of the world. It shows that where tough choices are needed, the Government have the courage to make them, and it provides for a fair and productive society.
The Budget was tough, but it was also fair. It set out a decisive and credible plan to deal with this country’s record deficit and to tackle the other problems that were left behind: a structural deficit £12 billion larger than we had been told; a deficit that was the largest in the G20 and second only to Ireland in the European Union; one in every four pounds of public spending coming from borrowing; an uncompetitive tax environment; and endless complexity and unfairness throughout the tax system. Our plan will pave the way for sustainable private sector-led growth, keep interest rates lower for longer and protect jobs. It is the right approach for the country.
Last week the OECD said in its report on the UK:
“The comprehensive budget announced by the government on 22 June was courageous and appropriate. It was an essential starting point. It signals the commitment to provide the necessary degree of fiscal consolidation over the coming years to bring public finances to a sustainable path, while still supporting the recovery.”
Despite containing only nine substantive clauses, the Bill represents a clear change from the past and a new direction of travel, and it meets the three principles of responsibility, freedom and fairness set out by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary on Second Reading.
First, the Bill shows that we are taking responsibility for the problems we inherited, and it follows a Budget more honest, more transparent and more pragmatic than those before it. We have been honest about the scale of the challenge, and we have been honest about the actions needed to take it on. If we are to bring down the deficit without cutting vital public services, raising VAT is unavoidable. We recognise that Members have concerns about that, but for the first time we have published analysis of the distributional impacts of Budget measures. It shows that fairness underpins the tough choices the Government have taken to tackle the deficit.
Will the Minister give way?
Not for the first time in this debate, I will, with great pleasure, give way to my hon. Friend.
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. He refers to the Budget as being both honest and disciplined. On VAT and the theme of fairness, which he says underpins the Budget, will he ensure that there is an opportunity transparently to review the VAT measurer in clause 3? He has rejected the concept of a sunset clause, but will this be evaluated, as proposed in the Government’s published taxation policy? If it is going to be evaluated, at what stage should it be evaluated and when will the House have an opportunity to analyse it and debate the issue?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. As he knows, with this Budget we have set out more distributional analysis than any previous Government have ever done before. On the VAT increase, I say to him that all tax matters are kept under review. He has a fine reputation for finding opportunities to raise particular points in Parliament, and I am sure that he will do so on this matter. I am sure that there will be opportunities for him, and for other hon. and right hon. Members, to raise these matters in future. For the moment we have put in place an increase in the VAT rate. We cannot make any promises to change it, and it would be dangerous for us to do so, given some of the points that we debated in Committee; a promise of a VAT cut in future is likely to result in a deferral of expenditure. However, this is an ongoing debate and I am sure that he will contribute to it fully, just as he has contributed to this debate fully over the past few days.
We believe that this Budget has been demonstrated to be a progressive Budget that deals with the deficit fairly; all sections of society contribute, but the richest pay more than the poorest. I also have to make the point to the House and to my hon. Friend that, of course, we should not look at the VAT increase in isolation, because it is part of a wider package that ensures that the most vulnerable in society are protected. It is also worth making the point that during these days in which we have debated this matter we have learned that support for the VAT increase was more widely spread than we ever realised. With exquisite timing, we learned from Lord Mandelson that the previous Chancellor wanted to raise VAT.
I give way to a member of that Treasury team.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of VAT, can he clear up one problem that I came across in the Red Book? The scorecard for the Budget says that about £8 billion will be raised in taxes by 2014-15, yet the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in the back of the Red Book says that only £3 billion in tax will actually come through the door. Why is there a £5 billion difference?
I am not quite sure where the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis is coming from. I am not aware that there is any discrepancy of the sort that he describes.
The right hon. Gentleman is eager to help me. I am sure that this will be a helpful contribution.
The matter can be cleared up very quickly. The scorecard on page 40, with which the hon. Gentleman will be enormously familiar, states that the “total tax policy decisions” will result in £8.230 billion being received in 2014-15, whereas table C12 on page 101, which shows the OBR forecast, says that only £3.1 billion in receipts will actually come in. Why is there a difference between what is on the scorecard, which is a little more than £8 billion, and what is in the OBR forecast for the money that will actually be raised, which is £3 billion?
The right hon. Gentleman appears to be raising a perfectly fair point. The OBR was heavily involved in calculating the numbers for the scorecard, so I suspect that there is a perfectly innocent explanation and I will endeavour to ensure that he receives it before this debate reaches its conclusion.
Is not the answer very straightforward? Is not the answer that the Budget depresses growth so much that tax receipts will actually be down, so even though the scorecard sets out a series of measures that should, in theory, raise the amount that it sets out, the OBR, understandably, knowing that growth is depressed, has set out that far less money will actually come through?
If that is the point that the right hon. Gentleman is getting at, I must point out what the OBR made very clear in the Red Book. That point is that it is misleading to make a straight comparison between the growth figures that were projected on the basis of market expectations of interest rates, which were lower as a consequence of the anticipated fiscal tightening that this Government promised to deliver and that we have delivered, and the forecasts that do not take that into account. That is a point that we have gone over a number of times. The OBR said that such comparisons were potentially misleading, so if that idea is what is driving the right hon. Gentleman’s queries, I must point out to him that the OBR would not accept that.
Is not one explanation the idea that the OBR came forward with growth forecasts that were reasonable and at least had a hope of being accurate rather than the hopelessly over-optimistic growth forecasts put in place by the previous Government?
My hon. Friend might well have the answer. One point that we learned from Lord Mandelson in the course of his much-loved memoirs is that the then Chancellor, who is now shadow Chancellor, apparently accused the then Prime Minister of having a “ludicrously over-optimistic” view of what the growth forecasts would be and about
“Britain’s ability to support such a large and expanding deficit.”
That might well be the explanation.
I shall let the right hon. Gentleman, who was of course a member of that Treasury team, intervene. Perhaps I should ask him whether he supported the proposal to increase VAT advocated by the then Chancellor in 2009.
I rise with the ambition of being helpful to the Minister as he will not want knowingly or unknowingly to mislead the House. He will know that the OBR forecast on page 101 is a forecast of what tax receipts will come in on the basis of the Budget set out in the Red Book. These things are entirely consistent with each other and the forecast has nothing to do with previous Budgets or previous OBR estimates. Will he confirm that for the House?
The fact is that the big risk to growth for this country would have been if we had done nothing about the deficit. If we had tried to ignore it, we would have found ourselves having our credit rating downgraded, as has happened to Greece, Portugal, Spain and now the Republic of Ireland, and we would have faced a contagion of sovereign debt. We have taken the necessary actions to ensure that growth is secure and the fact is that the OBR projections have far greater credibility than the previous Government’s—we have learned about how political they were in making their growth forecasts. Our growth forecasts have credibility. Our public finances have a credibility that they did not before. We can be proud of that.
As we have heard, the previous Treasury team believed that an increase in VAT was necessary and that was only blocked by the previous Prime Minister. One can hope that the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), has seen the error of his ways. I noticed that he did not feature in the Division Lobby opposing the VAT increase—perhaps we have persuaded him, after all, that his views on VAT were unwise. We have succeeded where the shadow Chancellor failed.
We have heard legitimate concerns about how the most vulnerable in society will be protected, but we have sought to provide such protection in the Budget. For example, we have committed to the uprating of the basic state pension through a triple guarantee of earnings prices or 2.5%, whichever is highest, from April 2011. We have taken steps to increase the child tax credit.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. On this point about uprating pensions, will he take this opportunity to admit that the shift from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index as the definition for which all benefits and now all pensions will be indexed is scored as plus £6 billion in the Red Book, which means that he is taking that amount of money from some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in the country?
We have taken measures to secure the public finances for the longer term, but we have done so by protecting the poorest in society. We have provided a triple guarantee for pensioners and we have finally restored the earnings link that our predecessors did not succeed in restoring in 13 years. In addition, we have taken steps to increase the child tax credit by £150 next year and by £60 in the following year. As a result, levels of child poverty after the Budget will remain unaffected, taking into account all the measures of the next couple of years.
I hate to drag the Minister back to VAT, but he moved on from it very swiftly after the shadow Chief Secretary’s question about the alleged black hole in the finances. Given that there is no, or very little, likelihood of a sunset clause in the Bill or a further evaluation of VAT within this Parliament, will the Minister confirm that each of the zero ratings and exemptions from VAT, as well as the reduced levels of VAT that are available, will be retained and protected? That is very important in order for him to advance his point about the protection for lower-paid people.
That is our intention. The Chancellor has made it clear that we have no intention of reconsidering the zero ratings for food or children’s clothes. There are occasional border disputes regarding goods that are zero-rated and those that are fully rated, but on the fundamental question of zero-rating we have made it absolutely clear that we do not intend to revisit those areas. We are also increasing the personal allowance on income tax.
May I drag the Minister back to his point about the VAT rise being part of a package of measures and about the poorest being protected by the Budget when it is taken in the whole rather than just looking at the VAT rise? Will he remind the House what safeguards there are for pensioners or unemployed people who do not have children? What benefits will they gain that will pay for the extra VAT that they are going to pay?
Again, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the distributional charts, particularly those that examine these matters on the basis of the expenditure decile, which academics increasingly believe provides a better examination of those who are suffering from material deprivation. That approach demonstrates that the measures are progressive, when taken as a whole, and that the wealthier sectors of society are paying more. The distributional analyses show that the single tax measure that had a regressive effect was the dumping of the 10p rate of income tax that was announced in 2007, which hurt the bottom five deciles and benefited the top five. That does not seem fair, and I am glad that we were not part of the Government who did that.
Will the Minister give way?
I will, because the hon. Gentleman has been such an assiduous attender of these debates, but I want then to make some progress.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The distributional tables in section A of the Red Book that he mentions are quite interesting, but will he remind us why they extend for only two years? Does he plan to lay any more tables before the House, soon—I do not know whether we could get them before the end of Third Reading—so that we can talk about when the real cuts to benefits and to the poorest people will kick in?
The further forward the projections go, the less reliable the information and evidence on existing measures, not to mention the fact that, of course, there will be a number of Budgets between now and then and further policy announcements will be made during that period. Therefore, those projections are unlikely to be particularly accurate or helpful to the House.
The Minister has been telling us about a number of measures that will mitigate the VAT rise, such as changes to the tax system and tax credits, but none of those things is in the Bill. He has not mentioned some of the other cuts not yet announced but promised that are not in the Budget either, not least the huge savings intended to be made in the welfare system. Would he care to give a more rounded picture and tell us what the impact on those who are at the very bottom and wholly dependent on benefits will be when those cuts kick in?
This Government have provided greater distributional analysis than any Government have done before. Clearly, in very difficult times, when it is necessary to raise substantial sums and to reduce the deficit very dramatically, we have managed to do so in a way that has spread the pain. It is not the Government’s desire from any great sense of pleasure to be taking tough measures, but that is unavoidable—we cannot ignore it or hide from it—and, yes, there will be pain, but there is no alternative.
Our long-term objective remains to increase the personal allowance to £10,000, as set out in the coalition agreement, and we have made progress in the Bill and the Budget. We are increasing the personal allowance on income tax and taking almost 1 million people—the lowest earning income tax payers—out of income tax altogether. That will also benefit 23 million people who work in Britain by up to £170 a year.
The second matter that the Bill stands for is freedom—freedom for the private sector to grow, unconstrained by uncompetitive tax rates. The Bill will take the first step towards that by cutting the corporation tax rate to 27%, and it will be cut every year until it reaches 24%—the lowest rate of any major western economy, one of the lowest rates in the G7 and the lowest rate that this country has ever known.
Hon. Members were concerned that cutting the main rate would mean that banks did not pay their fair share. Many sectors, including manufacturing, will benefit from the reduction in corporation tax, but we have made it clear that the reforms outlined in the Budget will ensure a greater contribution from the banking sector—one that far outweighs any benefit that they receive from lower corporation tax rates. The banking levy announced in the Budget is a surgical approach reflective of economic risk and intended to encourage banks to move to less risky funding profiles. Banks will pay at least £2 billion more in tax as a consequence of those proposals.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), who has contributed a great deal to the debates on the Bill, was particularly concerned that the banks will be let off for risky behaviour. That is not the case, but I hope he will accept that a targeted approach is the best way forward. Tax competitiveness is good for employers and society as a whole, and the bank levy allows us to be competitive, while ensuring appropriate tax treatment for those activities that pose the greatest risk.
I will certainly look closely at the bank levy consultation, but I was looking at the Hansard report of the costs to the Exchequer of the corporation tax giveaway to the banks. It is not just £400 million in the final year, 2014-15; there is also £100 million of lost revenue in 2011-12; £200 million in 2012-13; and £300 million in 2013-14. Cumulatively, over the period of the Budget, there are £1 billion in corporate tax giveaways to the banks. Surely, if there really is no alternative, the hon. Gentleman should think again about that cash-back arrangement.
The hon. Gentleman was a Member of the House in the early days of the previous Government, so he knows all about rolling up numbers. I could roll up the numbers for how much will be raised from the bank levy—I do not have the details in front of me, but we would get to about £8 billion—but I am not sure that that is a terribly helpful way of approaching things.
The corporation tax reduction is just one part of the wider package to build a private sector-led recovery. Instead of increasing the small profit rate by 1%, we will cut it to 20% in next year’s Bill, which will benefit some 850,000 companies from April 2011. We are increasing the threshold at which employers start to pay national insurance contributions and have announced a package of support for small businesses. The package will also include a reduction in the writing-down value of plant and machinery allowances to 18% and a reduction in the annual investment allowance to £25,000. That will still provide for allowances that are broadly in line with depreciation, while the annual investment allowance will still cover the annual qualifying expenditure of 95% of businesses. Furthermore, we are reducing the main rate of corporation tax this year and changing allowances in 2012. We are giving companies a timing benefit that will form part of the £13 billion extra that will be invested as a result of the changes.
The third and final area that we are addressing is fairness. Clause 2 increases the rate for capital gains tax for higher rate payers to 28%. That progressive change will substantially reduce the incentive for individuals to disguise their income as a return on capital. It will ensure that the appropriate rate of taxation is paid, which is fair in itself.
Avoidance is a significant issue for the Government and it has been a significant topic throughout the Bill’s passage. It was raised with reference to corporation tax and capital gains tax, and it is the target of clauses 8 and 9, which protect about £200 million of revenue a year. I assure the House that the Government are absolutely committed to tackling avoidance and evasion robustly.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am keen to press on.
We have inherited plans to limit tax relief on pension savings for the wealthiest. Under the approach in the Finance Act 2010, individuals on the highest incomes who were able to make very large pension contributions could have continued to get pensions tax relief worth up to £51,000 a year. We have concerns about the complexity and fairness of the previous Government’s approach. Given the state of the public finances, we cannot ignore the £4 billion or more of revenue that the policy was set to raise, and as we are committed to protecting the public finances, the alternative needs to raise no less revenue than the existing plans. We are looking at an approach whereby the annual tax relief available will be restricted to less than half that under the previous Government’s plan, which will significantly curtail the ability of the super-rich to benefit from pensions tax relief.
We have touched on annuities. We want to enable people to make more flexible use of their pension savings. We intend to end the obligation to annuitise by the age of 75 from April 2011, and last week we launched a consultation on the details of the change. Before a new system is introduced in next year’s Finance Bill, this Bill puts in place interim measures that will delay such decisions until an individual is 77. That will prevent anyone turning 75 on or after Budget day from being disadvantaged by having to make a decision before the new rules are in place.
The Bill is at the heart of the Budget changes that are necessary for this country’s tax system. Unlike our predecessors, we do not believe that, in a pit of debt, we should still be digging. We do not believe that we can just borrow to pay for front-line services. In the words of the previous Chancellor:
“If we are not credible in what we do and say, people will assume there will be more borrowing or huge tax rises to come.”
Our predecessors failed that test but we are succeeding.
In the words of the shadow Business Secretary, we cannot wish the deficit problem away. The Bill will promote enterprise. It is progressive and responsible, and I commend it to the House.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to say a few things in conclusion to our debate about the panic Budget that has been sped through this place. To all those who have observed these debates about the Budget and the Finance Bill, it is now clear that the Budget is born not of economic necessity, but of political anxiety—anxiety that, if Liberal Democrat Members are allowed to see any more evidence of the damage that the Budget is doing to confidence and growth, they will remember where they buried their Keynesian tradition, disinter it and refuse the Chancellor their support.
The great question that this Budget and Finance Bill should have answered is how do we lock in the recovery that Labour left? Winning that recovery dominated our final two years of office. Not since 1945 has the world been hit by a recession on the scale of that which hit our shores in 2008. The global economy shrank by some 1% for the first time since the war, G7 economies shrank by some 3% and world trade fell by some 12%. What started as a collapse in confidence on Wall street rapidly infected the world’s financial system and triggered a disastrous domino-like collapse in confidence among markets throughout the world. No country, not least one of the world’s great trading nations, could be isolated from its effect, and we were not.
My right hon. Friend referred to the 1940s, when the deficit was massively higher than it is now. Of course, the magnificent Labour Government of 1945-51 grew their way out of problems by keeping full employment and public spending going.
Precisely. The Minister could not understand that point from his own Budget, but I shall explain it in more depth in a moment.
On Friday this week, we will be able to test the durability of the recovery that Labour delivered. Almost two years on from the oil price hitting $147 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Office for National Statistics will publish growth figures for the second quarter of 2010, which I am sure all hon. Members await with some interest. But this much we already know. The ONS has told us that our economy has grown by 0.7% since its low point last year; that growth in the first quarter of 2010 was some £8 billion larger than it was in the final quarter of 2009; and that output is growing by about £88 million a day.
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has also already estimated that output in the second quarter of this year could hit 0.7%. If that comes to pass, it will be no mean achievement, especially when our neighbours tell us precisely how hard it is to sustain recovery. In the first quarter of this year, our last quarter in office, growth in this country reached 0.3%. In Germany, it was lower; in France, it was lower still; in the eurozone, it was lower; and Spain, Ireland and Greece are all forecast to see negative growth this year. Labour is proud to be the party of the recovery, and the question that the Bill should have answered is, how do we guarantee the recovery’s future?
We are proud to have been the party that brought together a global response to the recession. Here in London, countries from throughout the world agreed a plan, including a £1.1 trillion support package, that helped to ensure the revision of global growth from 1.9% last year up to 3.5% this year. We are very proud to be the party that stopped the British banking system collapsing in the face of its exposure to melting international credit systems, and we are very proud to be the party that put in place here at home the most comprehensive recovery plan to protect people’s jobs from the axe, homes from repossession and employers from liquidation.
The right hon. Gentleman quotes ONS statistics, but he will also be aware of how last week the ONS reported that, from peak to trough, the British economy declined by 6.7%—more than any other industrialised economy. Is he also proud of that?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will intervene again and remind us what happened in Germany and Japan. Will he tell us a little more about what happened to unemployment in other major economic nations?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to intervene again. The 6.7% decline was bigger than that of any other industrialised economy; no other economy racked up a debt, both visible and unofficial, at the rate that we did; and no other economy pumped in £200 billion of its own printed money, the results of which we still do not know. He might be proud of the results that he thinks have been achieved, but the full consequences of the Labour party’s actions over the past two or three years are not yet known and may be much worse than we know them to be today.
Let us come to that point directly. If we want to understand the difference between our parties, we need only compare the recession that we have been through in the past two years with the one presided over by the Conservative party. Unemployment in this recession is half what it was during the recession of the 1990s. Furthermore, repossessions are 40% lower and company insolvencies are running at about a third of the rate reached in the 1990s recession. We Labour Members believe that it is right to act to protect people’s jobs and homes and the firms that they work in.
Much as I like the shadow Chief Secretary and much as he is doing a sterling job in attacking this new nasty Con-Dem Government, a wee bit of revisionism is going on here. The UK did not lead the way. The fiscal stimulus packages in the United States, France, Japan and even Germany predated the United Kingdom’s. If there were a bit more reality in this, there would be a lot more credibility to the attacks that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to level at the new Government.
It would be churlish of the hon. Gentleman not to acknowledge the role that the Labour Government played in bringing the G20 to London and agreeing a £1.1 trillion package of support, as well as the measures on international banking reform. All that ensured that whereas fairly low levels of growth in world trade and world economic improvement were projected last year, we are now looking at a significantly better picture. Surely he will acknowledge that.
I supported fiscal stimulus; I still support fiscal stimulus when it is necessary. The question is not what may or may not have been spun at a G20 meeting, but why the Labour Government left the UK as one of only two G20 countries without a fiscal stimulus package in 2010. I welcome banking regulation, but given that Northern Rock began to collapse in the late summer of 2007, why will the real new banking regulation that we need still not be in place until the autumn of 2012?
I do not know what figures the hon. Gentleman is looking at, but in the March Budget the fiscal stimulus provided by automatic stabilisers was about 4.4% of GDP. The idea that a fiscal stimulus was not sustained into 2010 is fantasy.
I should like to bring my right hon. Friend back to what he was talking about—unemployment, housing, the impact on people and how the last Labour Government protected people on the ground. Is it not strange that there seems to be no acknowledgment from those on the Government Benches about how many extra people are in work and still have the homes for which they have worked so hard all their lives? There seems to be no acknowledgment from the Conservative party that that issue is worth worrying about. Perhaps that is because they were not the people who lost their jobs or were in danger of losing their homes.
Order. I press hon. Members to make shorter interventions. The shadow Chief Secretary is being generous; may that continue.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I want to pursue the argument for a moment longer. The implication of the intervention by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) is that somehow there was a cut-price way for us to have ensured the recovery, which is now under way in this country. Sometimes when I listen to Conservative Members, I cannot make out whether their preference is simply to have done nothing during the past two years or whether it is that we should have invented some kind of cut-price plan to kick-start the recovery. Sometimes I feel that there is an illusion on the Government Benches that we could have rummaged around in a Budget bargain basement and found a Ryanair, cut-price, no-frills plan that would have delivered the economic growth that this country is now experiencing.
What we are criticising is how the debt was built up prior to the economy going into freefall. Public spending in many areas doubled, yet productivity did not increase. Between 1997 and 2007, productivity went up by 2.3% in the private sector, but fell by 0.3% in the public sector. What we had was years and years of waste.
Perhaps the hon. Lady could explain why the Conservatives supported our spending plans until 2008. As for public sector productivity, she will know as well as I do that if more medical staff are put on to nurse patients, one might get a higher survival rate and better care, but such outputs do not show up in the cold light of productivity statistics.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about an illusion, and we can trade statistics back and forth, but at the election the ultimate judgment came down to the British people, who judged that Labour had failed to regenerate the economy and offer a way forward. That was the ultimate judgment, as opposed to the rose-tinted spectacles that he appears to be looking through.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the question of mandates. If one thing is clear in the debates that we have had in the months since the election, it is that there is absolutely no mandate for the VAT measure in the Finance Bill. I would be interested to hear how he is explaining that to his constituents.
I do not believe—nor have I heard any explanation of this—that some kind of recovery plan on the cheap could have delivered the economic recovery that is now under way. In life’s difficult moments, one is always open to advice, but the truth is that if we had followed the prescription of the Conservatives, we could have kissed goodbye to the recovery, not least because our banking system would have collapsed, the cash points would have stopped, the dole queues would have spiralled, repossessions would have spiked, and Britain’s small businesses would have been submerged beneath a wave of foreclosure, bankruptcy and liquidation.
In August and September 2007, when I and some others were urging the Government to make more cash and liquidity available to the banking system to prevent the collapse of Northern Rock and others, why did they ignore our warning? Why did they lecture the banks about having got it wrong, instead of supplying reasonable amounts of money to see them through, and then bankrupt them as a result?
I seem to remember that the Government’s response to the banking system was opposed by the Conservatives when it came down to the substance of a vote. When legislation was brought before this House to accelerate the way in which the banks could be sorted out, the Conservatives voted against it.
In the Budget and the Finance Bill, the Conservatives should have centred their rationale on how the recovery can be sustained. In the debates on those measures, I think we have established that there is a consensus that the deficit has to come down. The price of dodging an economic doomsday was not cheap, and the deficit was bound to rise. However, when the shocks hit back in 2008, we had the second lowest debt in the G7. Between 1997 and 2007, we cut public sector debt from 42.5% of gross domestic product to 36% of GDP. Over the 10 years before the crisis, UK borrowing averaged 1.4% of GDP compared with 1.9% for the rest of the OECD economies. As a result, even amid the current expense, our national debt will simply rise in line with every other major economy.
We have learned something from the debates on the Finance Bill and the Budget about the disposition—the economic philosophy—not only of the Conservatives but of the Liberal Democrats. They may feel that the price of recovery was not a price worth paying, but they cannot ignore what economic statistics are now saying about how the recovery is improving the position of the public finances. In March, my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor told the House that the deficit this year was £13 billion better than expected for 2010-11; in June, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that it was £8 billion better even than that. Since February, £123 billion has been knocked off projections for national debt, and that is before we sell our shares in the banks. The Government’s budget was underspent last year to the tune of £5 billion according to Treasury figures that we saw a week or two ago, and interest rates were falling in the months before the election.
When we examine the savings generated by falling unemployment, we can really see the wisdom of a strategy that hinges on growing our way out of recession. Our policy all along was to act to ensure that we kept unemployment down. Not only did that policy work well, and not only was it morally right, but it was economically wise. Our policy has delivered unemployment that is 2% lower than either in America or across the European Union. In the Budget in 2009, we had to assume that unemployment would stick at about 2.44 million. A year later, in the 2010 Budget, that forecast had fallen by 700,000 people to 1.74 million. That meant that over the four years from 2010 to 2013, there would have been a fall of £14 billion in the unemployment benefit bill, as well as an incalculable saving in human misery.
With that inherited recovery in place, the question that the House should ask in relation to the Finance Bill is what action should be taken to speed up the recovery. How can we guarantee the recovery’s certainty and begin to marshal investment into rebuilding an economy that is better balanced? Instead of providing any answers to those questions, the Budget and the Finance Bill will slow the recovery down and put more people on the dole. They offer a strategy for rebalancing the economy composed in equal measure of a wing and a prayer.
Nothing better illustrates the gambling instincts of this Government than the fast cuts to public sector jobs and the depression of consumer demand through VAT. With the most breathtaking casualness, they are prepared to put our hardest-fought recovery at risk. With such an unlikely scenario for growth in his pocket, one would have thought that the Chancellor might just hedge his bets a little and ensure that the private sector was creating jobs at some pace before bringing forward plans to sack up to 800,000 public servants. One might have thought that he would have some regard for cities such as my home town, Birmingham. It already has high unemployment, but if the Chancellor cuts 9% of the 156,000 public sector workers there, it will potentially rise by 14,000 people. That will not help the recovery in Birmingham; it will act as a drag anchor on recovery. That story can be told in towns and cities all over the country.
On precisely that point about the different levels of private sector job creation and public sector job losses around the country, was my right hon. Friend worried to see the Oxford Economics report of last week predicting that in Wales, for example, just 4,000 jobs will be created, which represents 0.3% growth over the next five years? That will lead to significant net increases in unemployment in Wales and the report predicted that we would not see a return to the current levels of employment until 2025. The picture is similar in the west midlands and other areas across the country.
My hon. Friend highlights the second risk that I wish to move on to. With risks so great, and talked about so freely and with such casualness, one would have thought that at the very least, the Finance Bill would contain one or two more measures to encourage the growth of domestic demand instead of measures to try to tax it back into recession.
The truth is that the Bill attacks domestic demand with such viciousness that the country is now hoarding its silver at an almost unprecedented pace. Britain’s families and businesses now have so little confidence in the future of the economy that rather than make the odd investment here and there, they have tucked away something of the order of £130 billion in the bank as the household saving rate has escalated. Britain is now saving money that is not being spent either in the shops or on building new factories or production lines. The Budget has not restored confidence but is draining it fast.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Of course I will give way to the hon. Lady. She has been chuntering away so assiduously from a sedentary position, and it will be nice to hear her from the Dispatch Box.
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he thinks the savings ratio is too high and that we should encourage people to go out and spend, spend, spend even if they cannot afford it?
No. I am saying that the country’s investors now have so little confidence in the economic plan that they would rather save their money than dare to invest it in productive capacity and growth for the future.
Let us look at some of the measures that show the decline in confidence. The Bank of England says that mortgage approvals fell in June; last month, the consumer confidence index fell for the first time in a long time; and yesterday, Rightmove told us that house prices have been cut for the first time this year. The Budget and the Bill are putting Britain’s recovery in the slow lane. The greatest irony of all is that we must all pay more as a consequence.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned two aspects of aggregate demand—consumer spending and Government spending—but is he also concerned that the Government are depending partly on an increase in exports, because all the indications are that the markets in Europe and America will not be as buoyant as was assumed? Therefore, all three major areas of aggregate demand will be subject to downward pressure.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. The evidence on that is mixed. The CBI industrial production survey, which was published earlier this afternoon, shows that manufacturers reported that the second quarter of this year was good and that they have a degree of confidence in exports. However, the problem is that the OBR is projecting a £100 billion increase in exports over the next four or five years. That is the equivalent of our exports to America tripling, our exports to China going up by something like 20 times, and our exports to India going up by something like 40 times. That may well come to pass, but it is safe to say that very few people would bet on it. That is why the Opposition believe that the Government should do a little more to nurture both domestic business investment and domestic demand.
The alternatives for reducing the deficit that we have rehearsed in the past couple of weeks bear a final word this afternoon. I want to return to the explanation of the difference between the scorecard projections for tax growth and what the OBR said would come through the door, which the Exchequer Secretary struggled with earlier. The point centres on how much growth will contribute to paying down the deficit over the next four years. The Labour Government’s deficit reduction plan projected that the deficit would be reduced by something of the order of £78 billion over the next four years, and the OBR inconveniently told the Chancellor that we were on course to deliver that. That plan involved £57 billion-worth of discretionary action, which was set out in detail in chapter 6 of the March Budget—£19 billion in tax increases and £38 billion of spending cuts. However, £21 billion of the deficit was projected to be closed by the economy returning to growth, with higher tax receipts and lower benefit bills.
The June Budget appears to hit growth so hard that £9 billion of extra tax is necessary to make good the effect of lower growth. That is the price of slowing the recovery. The Liberal Democrats are awfully pleased that they got an increase in income tax thresholds, and I congratulate them on securing that concession, but the truth is that they have been sold a pup. They could have had the increase in the threshold they originally wanted if we did not have to pay for the cost of lost growth.
The Budget scorecard on page 40 of the Red Book says that by rights, the Chancellor’s decision ought to bring in an extra £8.2 billion in tax by 2014-15, but the OBR says that only £3.1 billion will actually come through the door, because growth will be depressed so much by the Budget. The Red Book goes on to say—on page 97, table C9—that something like £9 billion in extra taxes and spending cuts are necessary because of this go-slow Budget. In other words, the Government have almost halved the contribution of growth to closing the deficit. It is now quite clear to the House that although the Government may have lost their monetarists, they have certainly not lost their masochists.
The right hon. Gentleman was comparing the growth forecast of the previous Government to that of the current Government. Is not the truth that the forecasts of the previous Government were made up by Ministers whereas the forecasts we are looking at today were made up by the independent OBR? He talks about selling a pup, but was not the pup the forecasts of the previous Government?
I hope that at some point in his future illustrious career in this House the hon. Gentleman has the chance to put that argument to the chief economist of the Treasury, David Ramsden. The growth forecasts that were published in our Budget were set out by Treasury civil servants. Like me, the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the rebound in growth that was projected by the then Chancellor—now the shadow Chancellor—was very much in line with the rebound in growth that we saw after recessions in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was supported by far stronger monetary policy action. We were comfortable with the growth forecasts that we presented. The hon. Gentleman will have to reconcile himself in the months to come to the impact of slower growth and the fact that we are now having to put taxes up—something that I always thought the Conservatives opposed—because demand has been depressed to such an extent.
Only this morning in the Treasury Committee we were talking with Sir Alan Budd and some of the members of the OBR, who made it clear that their role in challenging Treasury forecasters was strong and robust. They see the role of the OBR—as confirmed by Dave Ramsden when he was interviewed—as extremely positive. In fact, Mr Ramsden said that the OBR has achieved, in transparency terms, 20 years of progress in eight weeks.
The hon. Lady is right to underline the virtues of the OBR. I, too, welcome it, which is why it is so regrettable that it moved forward its press releases and gave the appearance of supporting the Prime Minister through what was a sticky Prime Minister’s questions. I look forward to the day when Members of Parliament have the right to appoint the leadership of the OBR, just as I look forward to the day that we have the right to appoint leaders of the Office of Tax Simplification, who—we learned this afternoon—appear to have been appointed on some kind of whim.
My final point is the basic failure of fairness in the Bill. The truth is that the Government were so embarrassed—perhaps some of their members were even slightly ashamed—that the Budget was so regressive that they only dared describe its effects flattered by Labour measures and three years before the full horrors take effect. We did not hear a word from the Government about the £8 billion hit that our country’s pensioners will take in new VAT bills. Nor were we told about the £70 million of extra, irrecoverable VAT that our charities will now pay.
We gave both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats a chance to vote for an amendment to delay the VAT increase until a plan was in place to compensate pensioners and charities fully, and they voted against it. The public will draw only one conclusion—that this Government simply do not care. If I am not mistaken, the entire contribution of the big society bank that Labour created will be wiped out by the VAT increase—[Interruption.] I hear protests from the other side of the House. If they read the March Budget they will see clearly set out the measures to recycle dormant accounts into the social investment wholesale bank. The proposals appeared under that heading in many manifestos.
What a cruel con trick to perform on some of Britain’s most deserving. Yesterday, the Prime Minister told us that he wanted to put some oomph into Britain’s communities. Many of us would agree that it was a phrase worthy of the Mayor of London. This Budget tells us that the only thing going into communities from this Government will be the boot. That is why we will campaign up and down the country for a proper plan for growth and jobs, and for proper protection from this Budget for our pensioners. It is also why we will oppose this Bill in the Lobby tonight.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne). Having spoken a couple of times in the debates on this Bill as it has passed through the House, I wanted today to consider the economic evidence. We have heard an awful lot about the importance of what we need to do, and we have heard an awful lot from the Labour party complaining about every measure put forward, but it is also important to consider the economic evidence. Listening to his speech, it struck me that he thinks that nothing that the previous Labour Government did was wrong. It also strikes me that, so long as he and his party continue with that approach, nobody will listen to them when they make other points. It is clear to all of us who went through the election campaign that the previous Government did many things wrong, and a little bit of an apology, or perhaps a suggestion of individual things that went wrong, might be appreciated in this debate.
The hon. Gentleman has criticised the previous Government time and time again. However, does he think fundamentally that the strategy taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) to intervene when the wheels were coming off the wagon was the wrong thing or the right thing for us to have done—yes or no?
Order. I remind Members that we have to stick to the Bill. We are being dragged off in different directions, so please stick to the Bill. That is what we are debating.
I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to the then Chancellor, who expressed his gratitude to the then Opposition Conservative party for the support it gave him during September 2008. That is often forgotten on the Labour Benches.
On the evidence, one of the central questions to which we return time and again in this debate is whether there is a contradiction between dealing with the deficit and getting growth. It is clear that the Labour Front-Bench team think that those two things are entirely in contradiction. However, I want to consider the evidence for whether that is true. We all know that, in the long term, tackling the deficit is unavoidable—occasionally that is even acknowledged by those on the Labour Front Bench. Any child born is born with £23,000 of debt, and under the former Government’s plans, interest payments would have amounted to £70 billion a year, which could otherwise have been spent on important public spending.
There is also a question, in the shorter term, of whether fiscal responsibility can lead to growth. I was interested in this, so I went to look at some of the evidence. There is a very good literature review by Alberto Alesina, who, having described the argument that there is only either fiscal consolidation or growth, wrote that
“the accumulated evidence paints a different picture… Many even sharp reductions of budget deficits have been accompanied and immediately followed by sustained growth… These are the adjustments which have occurred on the spending side and have been large, credible and decisive.”
If the shadow Minister thinks that the Budget was large, credible and decisive, I would be happy to hear from him.
I understand the debating technique that the hon. Gentleman is adopting—trying to set up a straw man in order to knock it down—but our deficit reduction plan contained £57 billion of decisions relating to fiscal consolidation alongside £22 billion of growth. Fiscal consolidation was not posed as an alternative to growth; actually the two things were seen very much as twins.
Unfortunately, those from whom the previous Government had borrowed so much did not see a credible plan from the Labour party. That is why we have had to introduce the emergency Budget, so that we could put that credible plan in place. Since the election, there have been downgrades in the debt of many of our competitors, so it is critical that we have managed to put that triple A rating on to a sustainable basis.
I want to go through three reasons why a fiscal consolidation can lead to growth. The first, of course, concerns interest rates. The long-term interest rates at which many companies around the country borrow—they include those in my constituency, and no doubt those of all other Members—have fallen. In fact, since the election the 10-year rate has fallen from 3.88 to 3.44%, which represents more than a 10% fall in the funding costs of companies up and down the country. Of course, that was not taken into account in the two productions of the Office for Budget Responsibility analysis, which is why a direct comparison of the two is, as stated by Sir Alan Budd, misleading.
I would like to echo my hon. Friend’s comments about interest rates, but also add that low interest rates have a beneficial impact not only on our economy and businesses, but on the very individuals and families whom the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) talked so much about. The most disadvantaged in our society will benefit most from the positive outcomes of the fiscal and economic policy approach that we have taken.
My hon. Friend is getting a reputation for making extremely good interventions, and that was one of them. Fiscal consolidation also means that interest rates can be held lower for longer by the independent Bank of England, which is a second important channel through which economic growth can be supported, and not opposed, by fiscal consolidation.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument with great interest. He will have worked at the Bank of England for long enough to be able to read bond yields. Like me, he will have noticed that they were actually coming down from late 2008, down to a low point in February, not least because there was a flight to safety in the European bond markets. As people began to worry about what was going on in the eurozone, they chose to transfer to safer assets, including UK gilts. That was because there was credibility in what was the fastest and clearest deficit reduction plan of any country in the G7.
Of course, the bond market could see a Conservative—or coalition—Government coming, and that is exactly what happened. I will say this to the right hon. Gentleman: when there is a flight to safety, I would rather it was to British bonds, not to bonds overseas, which is what could easily happen if we did not have a credible policy.
Those of us who have looked at bond yields will have noticed that the tightening—as it called—of British bonds actually happened in April. That happened as a consequence of the markets being sure that the Labour Government would be voted out, as everyone in the City has mentioned.
I am always delighted to talk about when the previous Labour Government lost office, so I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Let me go through a few more elements of the economic evidence. I have here an extremely good literature review, by Policy Exchange, the think-tank, which lists—
What Policy Exchange has done is review the economic literature, which is what I am looking at. Perotti, in 1999, said:
“High debt levels are associated with higher probability for fiscal policy to have”
expansionary effects. The European Commission—not something that Labour Members tend to barrack—said: “Expenditure cuts may exhibit” expansionary features,
“even in the short and medium run.”
So the economic evidence is there. The best quotation from that review is this:
“Though now quite well established in economic literature”—
referring to the argument that fiscal consolidations promote growth—
“this work is still feeding its way into the wider public consciousness.”
No doubt part of the reason for the slow move of that argument into the public consciousness is the argument put forward by Opposition Members that it is not true.
There are two other important ways in which consolidation will get to higher growth. The first, of course, concerns expectations of future tax rates. If people around the country can see that spending is out of control, they will anticipate that taxes might have to rise in future, whereas setting out a clear path for taxes makes it clear that there will not have to be sharp and immediate tax rises in future, even if that path includes some tax measures. That forward-looking element of human nature, which is so important in understanding how the economy works, matters at a personal level—for some people far more than for others, as I entirely accept—but it especially matters in the corporate world. Businesses look to the future to see how much tax they will be paying, as well as how much it will cost them to pay it because of the complexity of that tax. That is why it is so important to have both the simplification of the tax system that my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary—soon to be right hon. Friend, no doubt—set out, and the ladder down in headline corporation tax rate, which will set out a 1% reduction year on year so that our businesses know that Britain is open for business.
On that specific point of corporations looking to the future and thinking about how to plan their business, can the hon. Gentleman tell me of any industrial sector or any big British company that has responded to the austerity budget and said that they now anticipate significant growth and taking on new people? I have not seen any such report.
Order. Before the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) resumes his speech, let me say that we allow some latitude on Third Reading of the Finance Bill, but that it would be useful if Members made reference to the Bill from time to time.
The reductions in corporation tax that are outlined in this Bill have been welcomed by the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses. Indeed, a multitude of business organisations have welcomed it. Even the Engineering Employers Federation said that this was a path in the right direction. That shows the support from business organisations.
Let me make some progress; I have only a couple of minutes left.
The final argument is about productivity. Greater tax competitiveness not only helps productivity in the private sector, as consolidation can also help productivity in the public sector. We read only this morning that the police have said that they can take 12% out of their budget without affecting front-line services. I wonder what that 12% was spent on under the previous Administration.
My hon. Friend is probably right.
I am going to conclude.
So this is my argument: fiscal responsibility is not contradictory to growth; it is absolutely central to sustainable growth in our country. The Budget is unavoidable, but it also lays the platform for confidence and for support of the businesses that are going to grow us out of this hole. Everybody knows that if one is in debt, the sooner it is dealt with, the better; and the longer it is left, the worse it gets. Having looked at the economic evidence surrounding this Budget, I am absolutely delighted to say that I commend this Bill to the House.
I want to look at three areas of this Finance Bill. The first is the economic impact of the fiscal conservatism contained therein, and particularly how, in tandem with the fiscal consolidation taking place across Europe, it threatens a double-dip recession not just here but Europe-wide. Secondly, I want to look at the social and labour market consequences of the double whammy of the VAT bombshell and the deep spending cuts. Thirdly, I shall focus on the political implications of the Liberal Democrats making the wrong choices by voting in favour of this Bill this evening.
On the economic impact of the Bill, we see the pursuit of the Goldilocks economy—one in which neither too much nor too little is spent, but the spending is somehow just right. We all know that fairy tales are fine for little children, but it is a dangerous metaphor because it over-simplifies a complex economy still in a fragile state of recovery. How do we know that it is dangerous? Well, because the Office for Budget Responsibility tells us that growth will be lower and unemployment higher in future years, with 1.3 million jobs set to be lost over the next four years as a result of the measures in this Finance Bill.
I tabled a parliamentary question a week or so ago about the contact between the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Treasury on 29 and 30 June and 1 July—and in the aftermath of those sticky Prime Minister’s questions debates. So far, I have had no reply from the Economic Secretary. I would have thought that it was a fairly simple thing to look into officials’ diaries, ministerial diaries and phone records and to give the House a reply on the important question of whether pressure was put on the Office for Budget Responsibility.
The pre-eminent question raised by this Finance Bill, but left unanswered by those on the Treasury Bench, is: how does taking money out of the economy increase confidence, boost growth and secure the recovery? The answer is, quite simply, that it does not.
There seems to be an insistence that Government spending is somehow crowding out private sector investment. That is ludicrous. The United Kingdom’s output gap—the gap between what it produces and what it has the potential to produce—is somewhere between 4% and 6%, depending on whose estimate we accept. The Chancellor expects the private sector to take over demand from a shrinking public sector, but is silent on where that private demand will come from. It is clear from what has been said in the debate that there are no real answers to that question.
The Government say that 2. 5 million jobs will be created—
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will not, because we have only one hour left, and eight Members wish to speak. The Front-Bench spokesmen took their time, and I intend to take my time.
The labour economist David Blanchflower, a former member of the Monetary Policy Committee, has said that the Government’s prediction on jobs is wildly over-optimistic, given that the Labour Government created only 1.6 million jobs between 2000 and 2008, when the economy was, by consensus, booming.
The VAT increase for which the House voted will raise £12.1 billion in 2011-12, but will reduce the amount of goods and services that people can buy. It will depress demand and delay the recovery. It will increase prices permanently by 1%, thereby permanently reducing the value of future earnings and—one of the hot topics in the Bill—future pensions. It will also disadvantage the poorest, who spend the biggest proportion of their income.
Let me say something about the social impact of the Bill. It was difficult to hear the details of that as the Minister raced through his speech. We have heard from the Prime Minister that children need warmth, not wealth, and they will certainly miss out on the wealth part as a result of this Bill. Poor families in Wakefield will lose up to £1,200 as a result of changes in working families tax credit. From April 2011 the Sure Start maternity grant will be available only for the first child in a family. That means a £500 cut for low-income pregnant mothers who already have a child.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No. I am going to take my time. As I have said, I am not going to take interventions.
Nappies, prams, babygros, bottles, dummies and high chairs will all be more expensive for families in our constituencies as a result of the VAT increase, but the grants to help the poorest women in our society to afford them will be cut. When I asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how he expected families to cope, he said that he wanted them to recycle prams, but if someone has a child one year younger than another child, where is the second baby supposed to sleep? In the same cot? The parent of a second child will still need to buy a new car seat and a double buggy. It will be more difficult for low-income families to buy all those items. We are losing the baby element of child tax credit, and we are losing Labour’s proposed toddler tax credit, which would have meant another £208—
Will the hon. Lady give way to an intervention on the increase in tax credit?
I know that there is to be an increase of £150. I will come to that if the hon. Gentleman will show a little patience and allow me to make progress with my speech. He spoke for 13 minutes, and I hope to take less time than that.
As I was saying, the toddler tax credit would have provided an extra £208 a year for families with children aged one or two. Moreover, child benefit has been frozen for three years, which means a real-terms cut.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I have already said that I am not going to give way to Opposition Members. It is true that child tax credit will rise by £150 above inflation for one year—
I am dealing with the hon. Gentleman’s point. Perhaps he would acknowledge that. Families on low incomes, however, will see their costs rise as a result of the VAT increase—
I know what the hon. Gentleman wants to ask, and I am happy to answer his question without his having to spend a minute asking it.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am new to the House. Could you possibly advise me whether it is appropriate for a Member to make an entire speech having stated in advance that he or she will take no interventions whatever?
It is very much up to hon. Members whether to take any interventions or a number of interventions, but what I have heard from the hon. Lady tells me that she is going to take no interventions during her speech.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady said that she was not taking any interventions because the debate had to finish in an hour. The Order Paper, however, says the debate may continue until any hour. Can you explain to a new Member which is correct, Mr Deputy Speaker?
Funnily enough, I was waiting for that point of order to be made earlier. The Order Paper is always correct, and this debate could indeed go on until any time.
In that case, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am happy to take all interventions, even though I have spent three minutes clarifying those points.
I will happily give way.
That is the sisterhood.
I want to make a point about pushchairs, prams, car seats and cots. To my certain knowledge, from having been involved for a long time with a charity that works closely with families and their babies, there is a surplus of those items in charity shops. People refuse to purchase or even to accept them, and I was interested to learn that the hon. Lady believes that part of the definition of poverty is if someone cannot have all those items new.
I am not saying people should buy everything new, but I am certainly not telling families in my constituency that when they have a second baby they should trawl around to the local hospice shop or British Heart Foundation shop in a desperate quest to get a car seat so as to take their child home from hospital without breaking the law. The hon. Lady says that those goods are in abundant supply. One of the important things about car seats is that if we buy them second hand, we have absolutely no idea whether they have been involved in a car accident. I am certain that no Member of this House has bought a car seat for their child—for their new baby—from a charity shop. What we ask for ourselves we should also stand up for in this House, and ask for our constituents.
When listening to interventions from the Government Benches, it comes as a shocking revelation to hear the notion expressed that those who are in financial difficulties can go round the charity shops looking for cots and prams. I do not quite see how they can do that for sanitary products or teething equipment, for instance: perhaps the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) would suggest buying recycled baby bottles and so forth, too. All such products attract the higher rate of VAT at 17.5%, which will go up to 20% as a result of the Bill. Does not all this show a degree of condescension in the Conservative party’s attitude to those in the greatest need?
I think it does, and I also think it is indicative of the idea that the poor are no better than they should be, and that they should aspire to nothing better than charity shop purchases.
No, I want to finish my point. There is an important point to make about cots. No matter where people get their cot from, they should never put a baby to sleep on another child’s mattress, because they do not know what has happened to that mattress—whether it has been vomited or urinated on, for instance.
We talk about putting babies “back to sleep”, and about cutting the rate of sudden infant death—which predominantly happens in lower income households. There are issues here to do with families living in overcrowded housing and babies sharing beds with their parents, yet the hon. Lady is saying that new mums and expectant mums are supposed to go round hauling cots home in their eighth and ninth month of pregnancy and then putting them up. Frankly, she ought to think a little more about what she wishes for her constituents.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on what cots have to do with the Finance Bill, and on the relevance of the points that have just been made.
The relevance is the subject of VAT, which is addressed in the Bill, but I would reiterate the guidance given before I took the Chair, which is that people must, please, keep to the contents of the Bill and show some restraint, as many Members wish to speak.
We have had a debate on the higher-rated goods, which will be permanently more expensive following the votes that we will have this evening, but I also want to talk about the cuts to Labour’s child trust fund.
Will the hon. Lady give way on VAT?
Yes, I give way.
I agree with many of the points that the hon. Lady has made on child care issues, but I wish to put something on the record for her. I understand that on children’s car seats, which have been mentioned, the VAT rate is limited to 5%.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification.
I now want to discuss the child trust fund, which is also being cut. When I visited Greenhill school in my constituency to talk about financial education, I asked 10 and 11-year-olds how much money they had saved up in their bank accounts and the answers given by those little 10-year-olds ranged from £50 to £80; that was their life savings. But those children knew that their little brothers and sisters had got £250, and in some cases £500, from the Government through the child trust fund.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will make my point first. I bet that there is not a single Member sitting on those green Government Benches whose children’s life savings amount to £50. I shall happily give way to any hon. Member for whom that is the case.
Will the hon. Lady explain whether those children also knew that they had about £23,000 of debt each?
That is one of the figures put about by the Conservatives during the election as a way of frightening people about the level of debt. Labour Front Benchers have comprehensively set out that the best way to reduce the debt is by growth, and not by frightening people. Most people who have a mortgage understand that they have tens of thousands of pounds of debt—but the point is that when someone is paying off their mortgage they do not stop feeding their children, and they do not stop running their car. In effect, the Government are paying off the mortgage much more quickly than they need, and the consequences of the political choices that they are making will have huge impacts on every constituency.
For Members on the Government Benches, £500—the amount of the Sure Start maternity grant—may be what they spend on a good meal at the Fat Duck in Bray. We debated that before in the House in relation to one newspaper columnist, Stephen Pollard, when the matter was raised by a Conservative Member—I believe it was the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). For children on the Eastmoor estate in Wakefield, however, that £500 is a life-changing sum, and will change some of the life choices that they make.
I just point out to the hon. Lady that child poverty has risen by 300,000 since 2004, whereas under this Budget it will be frozen for two years. Does she not welcome that very positive fact?
Interestingly, when the Red Book refers to the effects on child poverty it talks about the next couple of years but does not mention 2013 and 2014. Thanks to the work being done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, we are finding that this Budget’s impact on women—in particular on poor women, low-paid women and public sector worker women, and therefore on their children—is likely to hit disproportionately hard. I leave the hon. Gentleman with that thought.
What is absent from the Budget and the Finance Bill is any mention of the poor. The changes to the disability living allowance gateway are to save £1 billion by 2014, but we need clarity about which groups of disabled people are going to be affected. The housing benefit move to the 30th percentile of average housing will have an impact on families across the country. Stringent changes are being made to the housing benefit rules to say that anyone who has been on jobseeker’s allowance for more than a year will automatically lose 10% of their housing benefit.
If that is done to people, there are three possible outcomes. The first is that the people involved find jobs—and good luck to them. I am sure that that is the stated aim of the Government’s policy. The second possible outcome is that those people cannot find jobs because a further 1.3 million people are on the dole as the public sector and private sector job losses kick in, so they are forced to borrow the money. However, we are talking about people with a low income or no income, so they will, in effect, be forced into the arms of loan sharks and will fall into debt. The third possible outcome is that these people will spend £10 a week less feeding their children, so their children will be pushed back into poverty. The arguments being made about child poverty will not wash with Labour Members, because both the second and the third possible outcomes will tip those families back into poverty.
The hon. Lady mentioned the child trust fund, and I think that all hon. Members would agree that establishing a culture of saving is a commendable thing. In principle, does she think it is better for children to learn to work and to save, or to learn that the way to acquire money is to be given it by the Government?
The beauty of the child trust fund is that both those things happened; this involved people who would never have thought of opening a trust fund. I count myself among them, because I had no idea what a trust fund was until I was “given it by the Government” when my son was born, but now that I understand what it is and I understand the secrets of how people save for their children in a tax-efficient way, it has enabled me to think carefully about how I plan for my children’s future. It enables families to do both those things.
Most families are using the child trust funds to put a little bit extra by. The parents who scrimp and save to put into the child trust fund will not let their children waste the money. The straw man that has been held up is that they will blow it all on their 18th birthday party, on buying fast cars and all the other things that 18-year-olds do—[Interruption.] That is certainly what has been stated by some Government Members as a reason for cutting the child trust fund; they have said, “You can’t give it to 18-year-olds because they won’t know what to do with it.” When their parents have paid into the fund they will make absolutely sure that that money, which for them is a life-changing sum, will be used wisely by their children.
I have taken one intervention from the hon. Gentleman, and I am aware that other hon. Members wish to speak.
The VAT rise in the Finance Bill will cost the NHS an extra £250 million each year, and it will be very bad for public health, too. Recent research by David Stuckler and his colleagues published in the British Medical Journal shows that social spending—housing benefit, disability living allowance and other such benefits—has more impact on tackling health inequalities than spending on the NHS. They studied 20 European countries over two decades, finding that mortality rates increased when social spending was cut. So the public health impact of cutting the housing, disability and incapacity benefit budgets will be felt by the poorest in our society in the reduction in their life expectancy.
In concluding, I wish to discuss what has happened in the past 10 weeks and the political impact that voting for this Budget will have on the Liberal Democrats. The past 10 weeks have been like a very dark episode of Doctor Who, with the Conservatives as the evil Cybermen. The Cybermen were originally a wholly organic species of humanoids that implanted more and more artificial parts into their bodies as a means of self-preservation. This led to the race becoming coldly logical and calculating, with every emotion all but deleted from their minds. They use human pawns and seek to further their number by conversion. The Liberal Democrats are the Conservatives’ hapless victims. The Cybermen have to assimilate their victims in order to drain their energy and live, but we all know that when the Cybermen have assimilated, they have only one further aim: they say to their victims, “You will be deleted.”
These are not progressive cuts. There is nothing progressive about slashing the extension of free school meals to the children of the working poor and thrusting 50,000 children back into poverty. There is nothing progressive about freezing the pay of dinner ladies, hospital cleaners and nursery workers. Why should low-paid women pay for the fiscal hysteria of markets and central banks, which presided over such colossal market failure? Why is corporation tax being cut by 1% a year for the banks when everyone in Wakefield is seeing their VAT increasing by 2.5%? Why is the annual exempt amount for capital gains tax rising each year with the retail prices index when housing benefit and occupational pensions in Wakefield will increase only by the consumer prices index?
Those are political choices. They are the wrong choices for my constituents and for those of other hon. Members. Economically, this is a deflationary Budget. It is wrong for Britain, wrong for families, wrong for pensioners and wrong for the poor. Politically, supporting this Budget will be the wrong thing for the Liberal Democrats. I urge all Liberal Democrat Members to think before they vote tonight, and before they throw away 120 years of Liberal tradition as the Tories’ new poodles. You are being assimilated. You will be deleted.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, in response to the point of order from Mr Rees-Mogg I stated that the Order Paper, as ever, was correct and that the debate could carry on for some time. However, hon. Members will also note if they look at the Order Paper that there is other business this evening. Another debate is to follow this one and it can last three hours, so I ask for some self-restraint for the duration of this debate.
I shall bear your advice in mind, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in that debate, which is fundamentally important to the vast majority of Members of Parliament. I hope that I have demonstrated such self-restraint in my contributions to the debates on the Finance Bill and will do so again this evening.
It is a pleasure, of course, to follow the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). Her concluding remarks, in which she used fictional characters to make her point, were a piece of fiction that was very entertaining, but that is probably as far as it will go.
The Finance Bill—after all, we are debating the Finance Bill and, perhaps sadly, not the Budget as a whole—has, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) made clear, nine clauses. It is rather limited. There will be a further Finance Bill in the autumn and, of course, there were other measures in the Budget—the hon. Lady referred to some of them—including the public spending restrictions of which we will learn more from 20 October onwards. Those issues will no doubt be debated in the future in the House. The debate this evening is narrowly focused and has been defined by Treasury Ministers as they have brought forward a limited number of measures from the Budget.
I wish simply to make a couple of points. Primarily, I want to focus on the issues that I have raised through probing amendments to the Bill—in particular, those to do with VAT, its impact and what alternatives there might have been to the 2.5% rise proposed in clause 3. Before I do so, it is worth while to make it clear for the benefit of the hon. Lady and other Opposition Members that I shall support the Finance Bill on Third Reading, primarily because the Budget as a whole contained a number of measures for which the Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for many years, including the increase in personal allowances, the triple lock on pensions and the introduction of a banking levy. That levy is not at the level at which I should have liked it to have been, as I have made clear in earlier debates, but none the less it is a move in the right direction. I shall be encouraging Ministers to lever it up still further. Other such measures include improvements in child tax credit, protections for lower paid public sector workers and closing tax loopholes such as that on capital gains tax, which was brought in by a Labour Government. Although I want to see that increase still further, with protections—particularly for certain groups that will still use capital gains tax as a means of avoiding paying their rightful tax—it is still a move in the right direction. In view of all those measures, and in spite of my misgivings about other aspects of the Bill, I shall support the Government on Third Reading.
As I have made clear, I had a number of misgivings. The Government are well aware that I refused to support them on the increase in VAT, as the voting record clearly shows. In the conclusion to the Budget, the Chancellor made it clear that the intention was to ensure that
“the burden is fairly shared”
and that the aim was to have
“The richest paying the most and the vulnerable protected”.—[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 180.]
I shall not rehearse all the arguments contained in the Red Book and the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ analysis of the impact of the VAT rise, but, having considered the impact on public services, on charities, on rural dwellers dependent on an old banger to get around because of the inadequacy of public transport and on poor families, I believe that the increase in VAT is regressive. That is clearly not a view held by Ministers, but it is still relevant.
Let me refer to three elements of the impact of the VAT increase on charities. First, a briefing has been supplied to me by Save the Children that states that
“we will pay more in VAT but will not be able to charge VAT on our income as other companies do. This is a real concern.”
Save the Children’s analysis of the figures presented in the Red Book points out that the deciles that are identified in the graphs include the most wealthy decile, which commences at £49,700 per annum. A lot of the very wealthy receive an income of significantly more than that. Save the Children states that
“the graph measures the impact at 2012/13 which doesn’t include the impact of the tax & benefits changes in the Emergency Budget over the whole parliament and probably fails to pick up the changes in the measurement of the uprating (RPI to CPI). The essential point is that although the highest earning households pay more, they still pay proportionately less of their household income on the tax increases than poorer households.”
In previous debates, I have said that the impact on those households with children is clearly regressive according to Save the Children.
Mencap has also provided me with a briefing on the impact that the measure is likely to have on its services for the learning disabled. Mencap provides important services and accommodation for the learning disabled and it estimates that for the 15 months from January 2011 to April 2012—that is, until the end of the next financial year—the cost to it will be £450,000, nearly half a million pounds. That figure includes non-recoverable VAT incurred by its housing subsidiary, Golden Lane Housing, which plays a significant role in Cornwall, where it provides an important service. I received the advice from one of Mencap’s trustees who lives in my constituency, Colin Rogers. His concern as a trustee is that
“as much of Mencap’s income is earned and not donated and since these earnings come from service provision which is also likely to be cut, we are potentially facing a dire financial position which can only be managed by reducing the many services which we subsidise or provide free-of-charge to people with learning disability and their carers. As a rough guide, the 12 month figure of £370,000 would each year pay for around 20 full-time community support workers”.
I hope that the Government will take the impact on charities on board.
Is not the tragedy of the increase in VAT and its effect on charities the fact that we know that it will cost £150 million across the sector, but the human cost of the recession is now feeding into the system and we have not yet reached its peak? The pressure on services is increasing all the time at a time when costs are also increasing.
In the context of the extremely difficult circumstances in the economy, the VAT rise will certainly make things doubly difficult for charities, because where they depend on donation income to make up the shortfall that has been created as a result of the VAT rise, that will be significantly more difficult. A number of charities are already reporting that charitable donations have decreased in recent times and this will make the environment significantly more difficult for them to survive in.
Let me give as a local example Penwith Housing Association. Its chief executive, Andy Moore, has provided me with a briefing regarding the impact that the rise would have on that association and its management of its stock
“due to VAT being chargeable to PHA for all our repair and maintenance expenditure and many other service costs.”
He said that as it does not charge VAT on its rented homes, it has little opportunity to recover the tax. Penwith Housing Association anticipates that the cost to it will be about £182,000 a year. That money will probably have to be found through increasing tenants’ rents, but its tenants are already on low earnings. Given that tenants’ housing benefit might be cut as well, the VAT rise will create significant pressure.
In an intervention on the Exchequer Secretary in his opening remarks, I emphasised a point that I and the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), who is not in his place, had brought forward in amendments that we had proposed—the possibility of introducing a sunset clause in relation to the VAT increase. That would have chimed with the Government’s claimed tax policy as set out in chapter 3 of the tax policy document that was published alongside the Budget. There was a strong sense that the Government had an opportunity to demonstrate that, as the Budget was an emergency Budget and the VAT rise was therefore an emergency measure, the VAT rise could be time-limited and that there might at least be an opportunity for a sunset clause. Ministers could have accepted the measure then or it could have been introduced on a more acceptable date. There could at least have been a promise of a formal evaluation of the impact of the VAT rise and an opportunity for Parliament properly to scrutinise both the impact of the rise and whether, in the context of the emergency Budget, the fiscal situation had improved by the time the review and evaluation took place. Parliament could then come to a conclusion as to whether it was satisfied with the measure.
I am very disappointed that the Exchequer Secretary has not accepted the proposals either for a sunset clause or for an evaluation of the impact of the VAT rise. I hope that Treasury Ministers will review this issue in due course.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments very carefully. Will he tell us whether he is so disappointed that he will now finally consider not going into the Lobbies to support the Budget on Third Reading?
Perhaps the hon. Lady was not listening to my opening remarks when I said that on balance, because there are many measures that I approve of, even though I am disappointed by this particular measure, I will be supporting the Government. This is, of course, a Finance Bill and not the Budget as a whole.
I was reassured, but I seek further reassurance from Treasury Ministers, regarding the promise that the Government will not revisit the current list of zero-rated and 5%-limited VATable products and services and that they certainly have no intention of reducing those lists or in any way cutting the number of VAT-exempt, zero-rated or VAT-limited products and services such as those that we have been debating.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am just bringing my remarks to a close and I know that a lot of people wish to engage in the Backbench Business Committee debate later, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me.
It has been a pleasure to take part in the debates throughout the proceedings of the Finance Bill. I put on record my disappointment regarding the VAT measure in particular and I hope that Treasury Ministers will reflect on the debate and come forward with an evaluation in the months and years ahead.
The measures in the Bill and the emergency Budget in general have been called many things. The Chancellor has described them as “tough but fair”, the Prime Minister has described them as “open” and “responsible” and the Exchequer Secretary, who is no longer in his place, has referred to the comments of the Chief Secretary on the Bill’s Second Reading. The four characteristics that the Chief Secretary chose to attribute to the Bill and the emergency Budget were “fair”, “business-friendly”, “responsible” and “unavoidable”. I shall address each of those in turn and relatively quickly as I understand that others wish to speak.
First, however, I want to consider the premise on which the Bill is being marketed to us. According to the coalition, the Bill addresses the need to reduce the deficit that was caused by profligacy of the previous Government. In Committee, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) said that “we are where we are because of the utter mess bequeathed to us by Labour in the last Government”. It seems that reference to this supposed mess has become mandatory in all interventions by Cabinet Ministers and Members on the Government side for the duration of the Bill’s passage through the House.
In the coalition’s view, the credit crunch is but a minor detail when studying the public sector debt: the liquidity crisis that took hold of financial markets from August 2007 is just a blip; central banks having to step in to provide extra liquidity from there on is a minor detail; and the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 is insignificant. In adopting that stance, they utterly fail, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) has pointed out, to acknowledge the huge role that the international banking crisis played in relation to the state of the public finances and our economy at large.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I wish to make a bit of progress, but I might give way in a bit.
I wish to acknowledge that the Conservative side of the happy couple that is our coalition is at least consistent in its approach. The Conservatives fail to acknowledge the gravity of the financial crisis and its effect on our economy now and they failed to acknowledge the gravity of the crisis back in the autumn of 2008 when the Labour Government and others around the world took decisive action to save the financial services sector from itself and to protect the deposits of our constituents. The current Prime Minister and his Chancellor were then advocating the complete opposite—a do-nothing approach.
Let us be clear. Whatever those on the Government Benches say, no serious economist currently claims that the deficit can be disassociated from the global credit crunch I have just described. The credit crunch led the last Government to spend billions to prop up the financial services sector and to support our economy in the face of a global economic downturn that caused tax receipts to plummet and benefit payments to increase.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No I will not; I will make some progress first, and I will give way in a bit.
What we are witnessing now is a gross and distorted rewriting of history and repainting of the picture to justify the imposition of a Finance Bill and Budget that are less about economics and all about politics.
On 23 June, in an insightful piece in the Conservative house journal, The Spectator, its political editor described the Chancellor’s Budget thus:
“The mission, as Mr Osborne sees it, is to shrink the public sector and grow the private sector—the classic goal of the modern British centre-right.”
That is what the measures in the Bill and the emergency Budget are all about.
Let us address the Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s claims that the Bill is fair. He said:
“This is a Budget that protects the most vulnerable, especially children in poverty and pensioners, while ensuring that those with the broadest shoulders take the greatest share of the burden.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 203.]
Just a few weeks ago, a Liberal Democrat leaflet was pushed through thousands of letterboxes in my constituency under the headline, “Clegg delivers on promises”, proclaiming that the Government are reducing the deficit in as fair a way as possible. It made a series of claims in relation to the Bill and the emergency Budget. First, it claimed that there will be “more money for schools”. We have seen now how accurate that claim was: consider the Building Schools for the Future debacle that we have witnessed over the past few weeks.
Secondly, the leaflet claimed that
“tax credits for needy households”
yet the emergency Budget, in fact, freezes child benefit, thus producing a real-terms cut for more than 14,000 in my constituency who receive the payment. Thirdly, it claimed that the emergency Budget included
“a tax cut for low and middle income families by raising tax allowances”.
That neglects to mention that the increased allowances are completely outweighed by the panoply of regressive measures in the Budget—most notably, the unfair VAT rise that will be introduced under clause 3.
During the general election campaign, my Liberal Democrat counterpart and I spoke at an international Save the Children event in my constituency and we both talked of the need to reduce child poverty. Save the Children is running an excellent campaign in opposition to the VAT hike—a hike that the Liberal Democrats now sanction. I note that there is but one Liberal Democrat Member, I think, in the Chamber at present.
The charity said:
“A 20% VAT rate means that the poorest parents will see their VAT bill rise to at least £1,600 a year—affecting already overstretched budgets—and driving some into the arms of loan sharks”,
as my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) has just mentioned.
The fourth and final claim in the Liberal Democrat leaflet is that they stopped
“Tory plans for a huge Inheritance Tax give-away for the wealthy.”
Even if we accept that claim—I do not—the omission of that giveaway from the Bill pales in comparison with the appallingly regressive overall impact of the Budget, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others have looked into. It has calculated that the total effect of the tax rises and spending cuts will cost the average family in the top income decile £1,135 a year. It will cost the average family in the bottom income decile £1,344—£209 more in real terms. The poorest will be 20.5% worse off, and the richest will be 1.6% worse off. So when it comes to social justice, the Government have absolutely nothing to boast about.
The suggestion made in the leaflet that those who are on low incomes should rejoice at the fairness of a Budget that places a larger real-terms burden on the poorest than the richest is an utter disgrace. What is even more disgraceful is the fact that the measures in the Bill and the emergency Budget were a choice. Whatever rewriting of history the coalition indulges in, it cannot distract us from a simple fact: the coalition Government have actively chosen to do this to my community.
Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that the last Labour Government had any responsibility for the economic situation that we find ourselves in and that the uncontrolled borrowing had an impact and led to the decisions that are encompassed by the Bill?
I will turn to those exact points in the rest of my speech if the hon. Gentleman will wait.
Let me address the claim that the Bill will, as the Chief Secretary said, help
“businesses that we rely on to rebuild our broken economy”.—[Official Report, 28 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 674.]
The signs are that those businesses, along with leading economic experts, do not share his optimism. A recent survey of the service sector by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply showed that confidence in the sector has been dented by the austerity measures announced in the Budget, of which, of course, the Bill is a part. The survey registered a fall in confidence between May and June this year that was the most significant drop since records began 14 years ago. Since the First Reading of the Bill, the International Monetary Fund has updated its 2011 growth forecasts, downgrading that of the UK by 0.4% on its April figures—the largest drop in the forecast of any major economy over that period. The BDO business optimism index, which measures business confidence, saw its sharpest fall since 1995 between May and June this year, and who can blame those involved?
I should like to echo my hon. Friend’s words, especially given that the Government will reduce annual investment allowances by £75,000 under the Bill, which determines that a monetarist miracle will be export-led. Given that on emergency Budget day, the Engineering Employers Federation, which represents manufacturers, said:
“Reducing the corporation tax rate over time…might be a positive signal for large companies, but not for their suppliers”,
how will that meet export-led targets that are predicted, yet not witnessed since 1945, especially when the majority of nations’ economies are contracting?
Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend. In addition, behind closed doors, some people in the Treasury share the pessimism about the state of our economy, with a leaked Treasury document showing an expected unemployment increase of 1.3 million over the next five years owing to the coalition Government’s economic policies. As well as the colossal human cost of those job losses, that will exacerbate the deficit by significantly increasing unemployment benefit payments, as I mentioned before, and cutting income tax and national insurance receipts significantly, but let me go on to the next point, as I wish to make some progress.
According to the Chief Secretary, the Bill will help to reduce the deficit and take action to eliminate the structural deficit, which is, of course, an obsession of the Government. We have already seen that their determination to do that could lead to the biggest cuts in Government spending that we have seen for many decades, but let us linger a little on the claim that the Bill is “responsible”. I have already explained how the coalition has sought to conflate public finances before the financial crash with the measures taken to mitigate the crash’s impact on hard-working ordinary people, but it is crucial that we establish what is “responsible” and what is not. The facts tell a very different story from that told by the coalition Government.
When Labour came to power, as the shadow Chief Secretary has said, public sector net debt was 42.5% of GDP. On the eve of the financial crisis, it was 36.5%, and interest payments had fallen from 3% to 1.6% of national income. A recent report by the IFS found that,
“the UK public finances were in better shape when the financial crisis began than they were when Labour came to power.”
By contrast, Germany’s indebtedness amounted to 65% of national income in 2007. In France, the figure was 63.8%; in Italy, 103.5%; and Japan ran consistent deficits, with the result that it owed 167.6% of national income by 2007. In short, the UK Government’s borrowing at that time was not of the order suggested by the Conservative party and certainly did not by any stretch of the imagination cause the economic crisis that followed.
That crisis, of course, caused the world economy to contract for the first time since the second world war. As I said, that called for decisive fiscal expansion—for billions to be injected into failing banks and into a flagging economy. How lucky we were that the then Government intervened. I for one refuse to apologise to Government Members for the bold action that the Labour party took to keep people in work, to ensure that they could still take money out of the ATM cash machines in the wall and to prevent the recession from mushrooming into a catastrophic depression.
Let it be said loud and clear that responsibility was what the previous Government did, but irresponsibility is pinning the blame for the size of the public sector debt on the previous Government and using that as a reason to hack off chunks of the public sector through spending cuts. Will Hutton, whom the Government have just appointed to head up their commission on high pay in the public sector, hit the nail on the head when he wrote in October that it was not the Labour Government
“that got us into this mess…What got us into this mess above all was the 30-year rise of Big Finance”.
However, the same people who insist that the previous Government got us into this mess propose in the Bill a corporation tax cut that will gift millions to big finance—that is what I call irresponsible.
Let me finish by examining the claim around which much of the Budget debate has revolved: that this was an “unavoidable” Budget, thus making the Finance Bill unavoidable, too. The two parties in government have made a set of choices that, I dare to venture, predate the economic crisis by a number of years. The game plan on which the Budget was based was disclosed long ago in the 2005 Conservative manifesto, the author of which happens to be the new occupant of No. 10 Downing street. The Conservatives pledged in their manifesto to slash 250,000 public sector jobs and to abolish 168 public bodies. Back then, Howard Flight, the party’s deputy chairman, was secretly recorded saying that the cuts publicly advocated by his party were a fraction of those planned. He said that the actual plans had been recalibrated into something that would be “politically acceptable” and that his party
“had to win an election first”,
but that afterwards
“you can actually get on with what needs to be done.”
We therefore cannot say that we were not warned, although people’s surprise that the Conservatives have been joined in their venture by the Liberal Democrats is wholly understandable.
Given all the shifting political sands and hidden agendas, the game of choices necessitates an eagle eye, because what stands out from the Bill and the Government’s general economic policies is not just the unfair VAT rise and the corporation tax gift to the City, as well as the disingenuous rhetoric with which they are presented, but what is absent from the Budget and the Finance Bill. Where, for example, is the plan to make the financial services sector bear its fair share of the burden? The Wall Street Journal said that the City should
“count itself lucky with the coalition government's emergency budget”.
Of course, the Government will introduce a bank levy that is forecast to raise about £2 billion, but that is a pin-prick when one considers the vast profits made in the sector. Even the IMF has proposed that the levy should raise £6 billion a year if we are properly to curb the “reckless behaviour” of the people in the industry. That additional £4 billion a year could—
Order. The hon. Gentleman’s speech is going wider than the Finance Bill itself, so will he please direct his comments to the Bill?
I was actually reaching the end of my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker. The key point that I am trying to make is that there is an alternative: a deficit reduction strategy that is based on growth and fair tax rises, as opposed to the scorched earth policy being pursued by the two parties in government. The alternative is similar to the strategy that President Obama is pursuing in the US which, in vain, he is trying to persuade our Prime Minister to follow. The alternative is to go for a more sensible timetable for deficit reduction, because as Roger Bootle of Capital Economics said last week before the Treasury Committee,
“In straightforward economic terms, I am not sure it would make a great deal of difference if the adjustment were over a longer period.”
The alternative is to avoid the overwhelmingly avoidable measures presented in this Bill—not least the VAT rise—that ultimately hit the poorest hardest. I assert that the Bill is four things: avoidable, unfair, damaging to business and deeply irresponsible.
I shall canter through my comments because I know that time is very short. I always try to find something for which to thank the previous speaker, so I thank the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) for not mentioning Doctor Who. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) mentioned the Cybermen at quite an uncanny moment because I was wondering which planet she was on. Her speech reflected her state of denial about the level of debt that we are in and the budget deficit that the Government have inherited. It is ridiculous that a speech in this debate omits mentioning the astronomical amount that we have to pay just to service our debt.
Bizarrely for this debate, I would like to make several points about the Finance Bill. I am interested by the Treasury’s use of dynamic modelling to reach its 28% figure for capital gains tax, and would like to see what that dynamic modelling entails. If we were to use dynamic modelling for other taxes, such as income tax, I wonder what the ideal figure would be to generate the most income but hit people the least.
I had the privilege of attending a couple of lectures given by the great economist Art Laffer—he of the Laffer curve. He shows that if people are taxed at 100%, there is no receipt, because no one bothers working, that if tax is 0%, there is no revenue because none is paid, but that there are ideal points somewhere in between. I assume that the Treasury was using a similar process in its dynamic modelling, but it would be nice to see the detail.
I welcome the reforms and cut to corporation tax. We live in a global market, so we must set our corporation tax competitively. I hope that the measures will be good for all businesses because we want them to reinvest in themselves, and our approach will leave more money in small businesses for reinvestment.
I am pleased with the measures that will directly help small businesses, because I know that small businesses and the private sector will drive us out of this economic mess with wealth and job creation. Many Labour Members think that growth in the public sector stimulates the economy, but it does not. It does soften the fall of a weak economy, but the fall still comes none the less.
Measures such as waiving the first £5,000 of national insurance contributions for the first 10 employees in a small business—alas not in London, the south-east and eastern regions, although I hope that the measure will be extended—will be truly beneficial to businesses in Daventry. The 1% reduction in small companies tax represents a 2% cut in real terms because the Labour party planned to raise it by 1%. The rise in the entrepreneur’s relief threshold to £5 million should ensure that most small business owners are not penalised heavily when they come to sell their companies.
I grew up in a small business environment, which is a meritocratic place in which long hours and hard work sometimes pay off. Most small businesses have been looking at the public sector, with its pay, holidays and pensions, with a growing sense of disbelief and occasional anger. From talking to public sector workers, I know that most of them, especially those who directly face the public, know that the Government need to better cut their cloth. They do not like the pay freeze, but they will tolerate it because they know that it is targeted at those earning more than £21,000 a year and that most people in the private sector have had no salary increase for a long time. In fact, most understand as much as anyone else why the country is in such an economic position. They will do their bit to try to help us out of the mess that we are in.
There seems to be only one group of people in permanent denial about our position—they sit on the Labour Benches. I read yesterday that it was said of the Bourbons that they forgot nothing and learned nothing, and that could easily be said of Labour Members, given the way in which they wrought havoc on our economy and the fact that they are in such denial.
It was out of concern for Labour Members that I turned to my computer search engine to try to find them help. I typed in all the necessary symptoms and found an American website: debtdenial.com. The website asks many questions, such as
“Do you only pay the required minimum”
on your accounts to avoid interest payments? The previous Government did not even manage to do that because our debt was constantly spiralling. The website also asks:
“Do you know or have a ballpark figure about how much you owe?”
The Labour Government might have known once or twice, but not on an ongoing basis. The website asks whether people are
“Afraid to apply for a loan because you don’t want to hear that you’re ‘overextended’”—
that would definitely apply to Labour Members. It says:
“If any of these apply to you, you may be in Debt Denial.”
The website goes on to list ways in which individuals can help themselves, and I shall end with a salient piece of advice:
“if you continue living in Debt Denial, you’ll never make any progress towards paying off your debts. And paying off your debts improves your credit, giving you the freedom to do more things…you’ve”
been wanting to do. I am pleased that the coalition is moving forward with many sensible measures in the Finance Bill, and I also commend debtdenial.com to Labour Members.
The hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) was true to his word. His speech was fairly brief, but it could have been a good deal briefer, because he completely failed to understand that the Bill is simply a return to the ideological and illogical Tory mistakes of the past. It reflects a Budget that spoke throughout of the Tory obsession with public sector cuts and the mistaken belief that public sector shrinkage automatically leads to private sector growth. In fact, the Tory belief seems to be that our economy is balanced on a see-saw—that as soon as the public sector goes down the private sector goes up, and vice versa. I speak as someone who for the past five years has run a small business, and who for seven years before that worked in the private sector for one of the fastest-growing companies in the UK.
As an internet-based sports retailer from 2004 to the general election, I relied on customers from all four corners of the country and every aspect of our diverse economy. I sold to businesses and to business people, for sure, but I sold also to schools, school teachers, universities, armed forces teams and individuals, such as doctors, council workers and police officers. The VAT rise in the Bill would have taken 2.5% straight off the bottom line of my business and would inevitably have led to higher prices; it would absolutely have had to. It means not just higher prices for pensioners, the disabled and people on benefits, those who are already likely to be struggling because of cuts to their housing benefits, but a double whammy—less money and higher prices.
So far we have heard a great deal from the Con-Dem Government about the private sector’s role in the recovery, but more revealing has been what we have not heard. We have not heard how the private sector will play a role in reducing the large number of people who claim sickness-related benefits when getting back to work; how cutting manufacturing allowances to fund a corporation tax cut that will help businesses only in January 2013 at the earliest is going to help our manufacturing industries and help us to grow our way out of recession; or how the retail sector will contribute to our growth when the Government’s policies will take money out of customers’ pockets.
I know the impact that those measures could have, because if the Government take money out of the pockets of people, particularly the poor and public sector workers, they take it out of the private sector, too. They take it out of the pockets of the shop owner who would have sold a teacher a new television; they take it out of the pocket of the plumber who would have fitted a new bathroom for a social worker who, now, does not have the confidence to make that purchase; and they take it out of the pocket of the double glazing firm that was about to install a new conservatory at a doctor’s house. The idea that the private sector will flourish because of this Bill is ludicrous.
The economy is not out of the woods. The Bill stifles growth, it is bad for business and it is bad for those who rely on the public services. The Government got the answer wrong not only by failing to understand the impact on the private sector of the cuts in public sector spending, but on every level with their decisions on taxation and investment. Tory Members have admitted that this is an ideological Budget, rooted in Thatcher’s economic catastrophes. The Budget means that huge global banks will pay less tax, while the very poorest people in our society—benefit recipients and pensioners—will be worse off. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury was unable to provide me with any way in which the Bill will compensate pensioners, the unemployed or those who do not have children for the fact that, under the VAT rise, they will pay hundreds of pounds more a year.
To hear the Conservative party propose such measures is no surprise. Conservatives have always set out to protect privilege and wealth, as anyone who has ever studied history will know. It is what they have always done, and that is why the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said:
“I have always been concerned that Conservatives first look after their own and have presided over widening inequalities and not a more just society.”
That is what he has always said. Once I held out hope for the Liberal Democrats, but hearing them suddenly claim that VAT is a progressive tax, that we need dramatic cuts now and that we should not be too harsh on the bankers, it is as if the recent general election was so painful for them that they cannot bear to remember what they spent a month arguing.
The Tory cuts philosophy was the wrong decision at the wrong time, but even if we accepted that their cuts programme had to go faster and further than they had ever let on during the election, and even if we believed that Labour’s responsible deficit reduction programme for halving the deficit in four years was not enough, we would find that the decisions in the Bill still do not make sense.
The Exchequer Secretary argued that the Government had been left without a choice, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) revealed, there were alternatives. The capital gains tax rise was less than half that promised in the Liberal Democrat manifesto, and corporation tax was already at its lowest point for a long time and 5% less than it was in 1996-97. If there are tough decisions to be taken, and ordinary people and so many good businesses are struggling so badly, why choose to make life even more prosperous for those businesses that are already flourishing and, in some cases, contributing very little to growth?.
The previous Labour Government were securing growth to protect hard-pressed people against losing their homes, and when we realise that in this recession about 30,000 fewer people lost their homes than did so in past Tory recessions, we see just how easily the Tories would have cut people adrift. When we see that 500,000 fewer people lost their jobs than would have done so if we had followed Tory advice, we know that throughout this country there are people who can walk into work with their heads held high, knowing that when the crisis struck they had a Government who said, “Yes, we care.”
The measures that the Labour Government took are working. The predictions that the current shadow Chancellor made in his last Budget were, if anything, pessimistic. The borrowing requirement is down by £8 billion and there was a Government underspend of £5 billion. That is why even right-wing analysts such as Fraser Nelson of The Spectator have been forced to admit that the Office for Budget Responsibility did not demonstrate that measures in the Budget were inevitable, and, as Tory Members have admitted before, that it is an ideological Bill which reflects the warped view of life held by so many Government Members who have never had to struggle for anything in their lives—many of them millionaires the day they were born. Their first reaction to a crisis made in the City is to put social workers, school teachers, special needs assistants and carers on the dole; to tell people to put on a thicker jumper and holiday in this country; to cut the value of the money in people’s pockets and introduce an arbitrary tax that will hit the poorest hardest; and to do nothing—absolutely nothing—to create the jobs that might help the poor to work their way out of poverty.
I shall keep my remarks brief and discuss clause 1 in relation to corporation tax.
There are many pockets of deprivation in Dover and Deal, and the rise in child poverty during the previous Parliament was a serious concern, as was the widening of the gap between the richest and the least well-off. The abolition of the 10p rate hurt and upset many of my constituents, so the rise in income tax personal allowance is extremely welcome, but what we need to do, as has been much discussed today, is to increase the nation’s trend growth rate.
On that point, I particularly welcome the reduction in corporation tax to what will be 24p by the end of this Parliament. That is incredibly important, because business, particularly international business, is very mobile and can set up anywhere. WPP, for example, has gone off to Dublin, and that should concern every Member, because the Exchequer is going to lose about £240 million in corporation tax receipts every year.
If we are to compete with centres in the European time zone, it is important also that we consider how to build in a participation exemption, as the Netherlands and Luxembourg have, and as Ireland and Switzerland have in effective forms. We need to draw international business into the UK, because that is a critical path towards expanding the amount of jobs and money that we have.
I make one brief plea. Reducing the corporation tax rate to 24p by the end of the Parliament is welcome, but, if we are to make a step change, reducing it to 19p would, in my respectful submission, be transformational. It would draw in international business and, ironically, raise corporation tax revenues. That is the international evidence, and that is the short and simple case that I put to the Treasury team—to consider going further, harder and deeper in future.
I never cease to be surprised by some of the speeches from the Labour Benches. Some could have been made had the Labour party won the last election, because much of what our Government are doing would have to have been done whichever party had got in. Labour Members’ wholesale opposition to cuts and every single tax increase that has been forced on us is nothing short of astonishing. A BBC journalist to whom I was speaking over the weekend had interviewed all five contenders for the Labour leadership contest and only one had had the courage to admit that the public sector was simply too large and unaffordable. We are merely doing what has to be done.
The Labour party proposed spending cuts before the election; that is well known. It postponed the spending review until after the election, but it was planning 50% reductions in the capital budget and 20% reductions in revenue. However, it would not say where the cuts were coming from. Does it not concern Labour Members that they are so isolated? The OECD, the G20, the Governor of the Bank of England and even past Ministers from their own Government are acknowledging that this Budget is a good one in the circumstances. If they are not concerned by what those global organisations and City opinion leaders think of our Budget, will they be concerned about what the average man and woman in the street thinks of it?
The people whom I represent in Stourbridge, in the black country, have had to make cutbacks in their personal expenditure, as families and individuals, for a long time. They have had to prioritise the paying off of their own debt as individuals. The small businesses for which they work have had to pull their horns in. In the past two years, companies in my constituency have seen their order books fall by 50%. How can they manage such a reduction without resorting to the sort of cuts in their own expenditure that our Government are now courageously proposing as part of the Finance Bill?
The public know that the situation cannot go on. The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury was right to say that some of the problems were brought about by the banking crisis that precipitated the global recession. But the public also know that this country was the least prepared on entering that recession. From 2001, the former Prime Minister, as Chancellor, started upping the ante and increasing spending year on year without relief. During the years of growth, he made no provision for rainier days.
My hon. Friend may be interested to learn about what happened when we sat on the Opposition Benches on the other side of the Chamber. Our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, as Lib Dem shadow Chancellor, warned the former Chancellor of the Exchequer about the credit bubble being built up, but he was jeered and hooted at by Labour MPs, who were on this side of the Chamber at that time.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the benefit of some of the history of the House before I was a Member. Many of the opinions of the Secretary of State were indeed prescient. What my hon. Friend has added to the debate is truly shocking.
The public sector is clearly unaffordable. The restructuring has been inevitable; there has been no choice on our side as far as that is concerned. Yes, we will try to make a virtue of a necessity and seek to rebalance the public and private sectors, which this country has long needed irrespective of the conditions in which we now find ourselves.
The hon. Lady mentioned the prescience of the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable) and has commented on the size of the debt and how we got into this position. Will she also acknowledge that right up until 2008, before she came to the House, her party was arguing not for less but for more public spending in a raft of areas?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman intervened because I cannot understand why that point keeps being made by Labour Members. I fought the 2005 general election and our party’s policy was clear: we would share the proceeds of growth. We were not advocating spending at the same rate as the Labour party did when in government; yes, we were arguing for increases, but at a significantly lower rate than was happening under the Labour party. I should like to put that on the record.
I return to my theme that this Budget does a great public service in restoring the private sector as the driver of the growth that will get the country out of the mess that has been left to us to sort out. I want to commend a few of the key features of the Bill. The reduction in corporation tax to 20% for small and medium-sized businesses and the longer-term reduction for larger businesses are key. There is also the Work programme, which is about making work pay. We need to make sure that those who can work have the opportunity to do so—indeed, they must.
There are 50,000 more apprenticeship places and the national insurance holiday for new companies, which do not have to pay any national insurance whatever for the first 10 employees. Furthermore, the Government have abandoned the Labour party’s dangerous plan to levy an additional rate of employers’ national insurance and there has been a £250 million increase in the enterprise growth fund, meaning that medium-sized companies in this country have access to more credit. Those measures will restore the private sector. Painful measures that we are obliged to place on the public sector—with the full support, I believe, of the public—will be more than made up for by the recovery of the private sector, because, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s projections, employment will rise year on year. I know that Labour Members are sceptical about that, but I believe in British industry and think that our private sector, including all the small companies in my constituency, is ready for the challenge. We have at last liberated it so that it can take up the challenge. I have every confidence that through the recovery of the private sector, the country will prosper once again.
We have had an interesting debate on the Third Reading of the Finance Bill, although it has gone over a lot of old ground, with no surprising new positions taken on either side. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury claimed again that the Budget is progressive—a claim that I shall dispute soon. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who is not in his place, set up a straw man to knock down and will come to realise that literature reviews do not translate into effective speeches. The hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) paraded his conscience around the Chamber again but told us, unsurprisingly, that he would be supporting the Budget after all, even though he admitted that it was regressive. People will note his crocodile tears. In the usual way, the speeches made by the hon. Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and for Stourbridge (Margot James) supported their side of the House.
I commend the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who put before the House the real cost increases for women—especially those with young children—under the Finance Bill. That seemed to prompt much hilarity among Government Members, which I thought revealed more about their attitudes than about her concerns. She also mentioned the housing benefit and disability benefit changes outlined in the Red Book, and many millions of vulnerable people will be worried about those as the spending review approaches.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) made an extremely good speech and put some facts about recent economic history on the record and my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) pointed out the fallacy of private sector see-saws suddenly moving in to take over the spaces that the public sector has vacated. Such things are such an important part of the ideology of the Government. The hon. Member for Stourbridge at least did the decent thing by recognising that there had been a global recession, but she said that we were not prepared for it, although she knows that net Government debt before the credit crunch was the second lowest in the G7.
The Finance Bill puts into place a Budget strategy that is a huge gamble with the future prosperity of Britain. The Chancellor began by telling us that it was an emergency—that it was the “unavoidable Budget”. He has tried throughout this process to persuade the country of two things: first, that Labour somehow created the deficit all on its own; and secondly, that the only solution is to cut it further and faster than our plan to halve it over the lifetime of this Parliament would have done.
Neither of those assertions is true, and here is why. Extraordinarily, Ministers and Government Members, from the Chancellor on down, have failed to let the words “credit crunch” so much as pass their lips during the entire proceedings on the Bill. The attempt to rewrite recent economic history is one that George Orwell’s Big Brother would have recognised and admired. The fact is that the banking crisis, which started in the American sub-prime mortgage market, caused the biggest global contraction that we have experienced in the real economy since the Wall street crash in 1929 turned into the great depression and led directly to the outbreak of the second world war. Since they will never say it, let me reiterate that this crisis was not caused by the irresponsible public spending of Governments but by the greed and criminal recklessness of the banking and financial sector. Any analysis of current conditions that ignores that basic and obvious fact, even if only for the purpose of generating convenient political propaganda, risks a dangerous miscalculation of the appropriate remedy.
I will not give way because the hon. Gentleman has not been here for the entire debate; if he had been, I would have done.
We see in this Finance Bill that the Tory-led Government have made precisely that error with their deliberate, ideologically driven choice to go for a much more aggressive and reckless slash-and-burn strategy for public spending than the objective economic conditions, or even the bond markets themselves, required. The decision to opt for a balanced budget in four years is driven not by the objective economic conditions but by an ideologically driven political belief in a small state, a belief which is now apparently shared by the Liberal Democrats. Similarly, the decision to cut the deficit by imposing a 77% to 23% ratio of public spending cuts to tax rises is a choice driven not by the objective economic conditions but by the same belief in a small state apparently shared by the Liberal Democrats. It is a ratio of pain never before achieved in the UK, and it was not shared with the voters before the election. No mandate for this was established in the general election. Ministers have admitted that the cuts will be painful, but they have failed to acknowledge the scale of the pain that they have chosen to inflict. The apparent relish with which they choose to announce huge and ongoing cuts does them no credit whatsoever, and it will be seared into the memories of the millions of victims of their sadistic fiscal policy for years to come.
The propaganda techniques are chilling. Carefully chosen, extreme examples of excess in public expenditure are leaked by the Government to sympathetic tabloids to be highlighted in screaming headlines and make the case for more cuts. Government websites coarsen the debate still further by parading a stream of ignorant vitriol whipped up by sensationalist reporting, so it is suggested that workhouses are to be reopened, benefit claimants sterilised, and immigrants deported. If this is the nice face of the Tory party, then God help us, and shame on the Liberal Democrats for going along with it. The apocalyptic and absurd scares that they have issued about the UK economy resembling that of Greece—we heard it again today—have been not only fundamentally wrong but deeply irresponsible, and they have risked precipitating the very loss of confidence they purport to avoid.
This Finance Bill signals the biggest and most sustained public spending cuts in UK peacetime history, coupled with increases in taxes such as VAT that will directly take demand out of the economy just when recovery is fragile and still needs nurturing. That is why it is such a gamble. Labour Members are not the only ones who are deeply worried about the choices that have been made in the Bill. Following the Chancellor’s “austerity Budget”, the International Monetary Fund has just cut its growth forecast for the UK for both this year and the next. The OECD has criticised the decision to abolish the future fobs fund and other employment support packages as short-sighted and warned that the scale of job cuts in the public sector will slow down the recovery.
As a direct result of the June Budget and this Finance Bill, the now notoriously named Office for Budget Responsibility has had to revise upwards its estimates of job losses in the public sector. At the same time, it has revised downwards its growth forecasts and hoped that no one would notice that it excluded 550,000 people who work in state-owned enterprises from being in public sector employment, even though the Office for National Statistics classifies them as such: thus public sector job losses are likely to be even higher. The OBR’s prediction that the anticipated “recovery” will generate 2 million extra jobs in the private sector in just five years has caused widespread incredulity, because that target has never been achieved in the modern era. It has certainly never been achieved at a time when huge public spending cuts are likely to dampen employment prospects in the private sector and austerity measures are being imposed simultaneously in almost every developed economy in the world.
Exactly the same predictions were made about unemployment falling because of the 1979 Budget—in fact, it went up to 3 million.
People should learn from their economic history; I only wish that this Government would.
The OBR’s heroic assumptions about export growth and business investment also strain credibility, but Sir Alan Budd will not be around for much longer to defend his forecasts, whatever happens in the real world. One thing is clear: we cannot all export ourselves out of trouble at the same time. Because world trade has been so badly impacted by the global credit crunch, the UK has experienced a 25% devaluation of its currency without any noticeable upturn in export performance. Prime ministerial trips to China accompanied by huge cuts in Government support for new industrial activity in the UK do not seem to be the right response to this challenge.
The Finance Bill contains no strategy for growth, yet growth is the best way of dealing with any deficit. In place of a growth strategy, we see a pious, dogmatic belief—often restated today—that the private sector will miraculously spring to life and fill every space vacated by the Government. This is in the teeth of massive private sector deleveraging, damaged confidence and an ongoing lack of affordable bank lending. The huge hike in VAT will damage demand at a crucial moment. This is an example of blind economic faith—it is not a serious growth strategy. The Bill contains no hint of an alternative if this blind economic faith turns out to be misplaced. There is no fallback position if the economic gamble that the Chancellor has outlined starts to go wrong. How high will unemployment have to rise before the Chancellor looks again? Why, once more, is unemployment a price worth paying?
Finally, I want to look at who is paying for the measures contained in the Finance Bill. The Chancellor has repeatedly asserted, “We’re all in this together”, but we have to judge him by his actions rather than fine words, and his assertion of social solidarity turns out to be a cruel joke. The Finance Bill and Budget measures are regressive, not progressive. They hit the poorest hardest. The VAT hike is the regressive centrepiece of a regressive budget. The stealth move from retail prices indexation to consumer prices indexation for all benefits and all pensions takes £6 billion in savings from the poorest and most vulnerable and gives at least £50 billion, and possibly £100 billion, to employer pension schemes, at the risk of employee representatives. The losses mount year on year, for ever into the future.
Analysis has shown that the Budget takes a massive 21.7% of income from the bottom 10% of the income distribution and a mere 3.6% from the top 10%. My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has shown that of the £8 billion net revenue raised by the measures before us, £6 billion will be raised from women and children, with only £2 billion being raised from men. Like Flashman in a tight spot, the Chancellor has chosen to put women and children first. He has put them first in the firing line, bearing the brunt of his tax rises and spending cuts.
This Finance Bill takes a huge gamble with our still fragile economic recovery. It gambles that a vicious bout of self-inflicted austerity will not tip us back into a recession or a long period of low growth, and that we will be able to export our way into growth at a time when a globally synchronised austerity signals otherwise. It is regressive, threatens social cohesion and hits the poorest hardest, and we cannot support it.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I will not.
We have just heard from the shadow Minister that the Opposition are still in denial, and I shall come to that later. Before we conclude what has been a lengthy debate over the past few weeks, I wish to echo the earlier comments of my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary. Hon. Members throughout the House have played an essential role in scrutinising the Bill, and I thank them all for doing so.
Today we heard from the shadow Chief Secretary—the man who admitted that there was no money left—and from my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who successfully demolished the Opposition’s case for failing to take any action to sort out the deficit. We heard from a number of Opposition Members, including the hon. Members for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). I listened to what they had to say with great interest, and in many cases they violently agreed that we are in a serious situation that needs to be sorted out. What we failed to get from any of them, however, was any kind of alternative. That thread has run through not just today’s debate but the debates over the past few weeks.
We heard an important contribution from the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who throughout our debates has talked about his concerns about some aspects of the Bill. However, he has recognised that we have to take serious steps to sort out the fiscal deficit. We also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and for Stourbridge (Margot James), who all want a Government who face up to the challenge, as do their constituents.
The Bill provides for many of the key measures in the emergency Budget, which was needed to address the fiscal crisis that we face in our country and get Britain growing. Although it was tough, it needed to be, and was, fair. When we came into government, we had to set up the Office for Budget Responsibility to get, finally, an independent review of the books. That review showed that the books were perhaps even worse than the former Chief Secretary had said.
No, I will not.
The OBR said that the deficit was £12 billion larger than had previously been suggested, so our priority was to tackle that deficit. Although reductions in public sector spending will be necessary to ensure that it is at a level affordable to the public, taxes clearly have to play their part as well. As we have heard, even from the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), growth in employment must be led by the private sector. Reducing incentives to employers, as the previous Government would have done by introducing the jobs tax and raising small companies’ corporation tax rates, would have reduced incentives and led to our economy languishing for longer and longer, and debt building up.
Is the Minister aware, though, that the Financial Times published research last month showing that 1.2 million jobs in the private sector rely on the public spending that she is going to cut?
That is typical of the contributions that we have had from Opposition Members all the way through our debates. The hon. Gentleman’s party went into the election having passed its Fiscal Responsibility Act 2010, which set out 20% cuts. That means one of three things. Either Labour Members had no intention of ever reducing or tackling the deficit, in which case the Act was gross duplicity; or they went into the election standing on a platform of cuts with no idea whatever of how to deliver them, in which case it was gross incompetence; or they knew what they wanted to do but still, in spite of all the hours of debate, fail to admit to any of the measures that they were planning to take, in which case it is gross concealment. We need take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman.
No, I will not. There was a time when the Labour party had something relevant to say on the economy; that time has now passed.
What we need to do is to ensure that companies in this country and across the world know that Britain is open for business. That is why the centrepiece of the Budget was providing a springboard for a private sector-led recovery to take place by reducing the rate of corporation tax year on year over the next four years; reducing the small profits rate of corporation tax, benefiting 850,000 companies; and of course taking difficult decisions on capital gains tax changes that will mean increases for higher rate tax payers while protecting entrepreneurship. The Budget was welcomed by business across the board, and it is important to bear that in mind when Opposition Members say that they do not believe that it will ultimately boost jobs.
Although we wanted to help business succeed, we also recognised the importance of protecting those most in need, and the Budget did just that. From April 2011, we are increasing the personal allowance, removing almost 1 million people from income tax. On pensions, we are taking the power to repeal the pensions tax regime introduced in the Finance Act 2010, which will allow us to bring in a fairer arrangement that will not allow the very rich to benefit from basic rate tax relief. We are re-establishing the earnings link for the state pension with a triple guarantee, making changes to the benefit system that will protect the most vulnerable people in our society, increasing child tax credits and introducing a set of measures that, despite a tough Budget, will leave child poverty unchanged.
We know that we need to take that action, because the Labour party has absolutely no alternative. We have debated the Budget long enough now for Labour Members to have brought forward an alternative if they had one, but they clearly do not. We have been honest and open about the problems that our country faces.
That is what the voters expect, and what they—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”] Oh, I will give way.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, but will she accept this one point? Throughout the debate her party has argued that the state is too big. Everyone accepts that the Budget will cut the size of the state so that in six years, it will be smaller as a proportion of GDP than it was in 1997. Does that not suggest that it is an ideological move, and on that basis does she not accept that if the Tories had been elected in 1997, they would have come in cutting?
What is too big is the deficit. That is what we need to sort out. As I have said, the hon. Gentleman’s party itself recognised the need to cut public expenditure, which has to be at an affordable level.
While we have sought to engage the public in the debate about how we can recover from the economic crisis, rebalance our economy and rehabilitate ourselves from debt-driven policies, all that we have heard from the Opposition is what they do not like, and nothing about what they would do instead. They have said no to everything and yes to nothing, and they have kept quiet when asked how they would solve the problems that they have caused. It was one party that got us into this mess, and now two parties will have to get us out of it.
We have heard a lot of analogies today, but to my mind the Opposition are in denial: they are like a debt junkie. Like most junkies and addicts, they always want to solve the problem tomorrow. They want a reduction in the deficit tomorrow, growth in the private sector tomorrow, and fairness for those most in need tomorrow. We were never going to see any action from the Labour party, and over the course of this Budget debate we have heard shrill voices of despair from the Opposition Benches.
We have taken decisions that are right for this country—tackling our debt, kick-starting the private sector and taking action to take those on the lowest incomes out of income tax. Those choices are the right ones to start our country back on a credible path to sustainable recovery. We are encouraging enterprise and protecting those most in need, yet tackling the colossal debt left to us and to this country. This coalition Government are making decisions where Opposition Members did not have the courage, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Bill read the Third time and passed.