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Comprehensive Spending Review

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 28 October 2010

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

It is eight days since my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out the conclusions of the Government’s spending review—this coalition’s plan to bring the country back from the brink. We had to act to tackle the deficit: it was the only option to secure our country’s future. It is the only option to build a strong platform for future growth and prosperity, and we will see it through.

In charting the course for the next four years, we have made choices. We have chosen to invest in growth, jobs and the future of the economy. We have chosen to protect the most vulnerable and extend the ladder of opportunity. We have chosen to cut the costs of central Government to free up the front line. These are our priorities—growth, fairness, reform. They are the right priorities.

I am going to get to end of this section, and I will give way then.

These are some of the most difficult decisions that any modern Government have had to make, with every number on every page representing someone’s job or a service someone relies on. They are decisions that I know will affect everyone. So today I will set out why we had to act, the principles guiding our choices, and why fairness is at the heart of this spending review.

There is an important debate to be had. The Opposition have a chance to contribute to this discussion, but the price of being taken seriously is a credible and detailed plan. They need to recognise that we cannot go on in the way that they did; they need to say which cuts they support and which they oppose, and what they would do instead. Without that, it is opposition for opposition’s sake, and the country will not take them seriously.

So today’s debate also offers a challenge for Labour Members. I will be listening carefully to what they have to say, and I hope that the British public will receive a long-overdue apology for the mess that one party caused and which two parties have come together to clean up.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way—at last. He says that in order to be taken seriously, we need a plan. In order for him to be taken seriously, he needs to be truthful with people. I do not understand how he can claim that fairness is a principle of this comprehensive spending review when women have been hit twice as hard as men.

I do not accept that analysis, and I will come to that point later. The hon. Lady should be aware that her party’s plans were for £44 billion-worth of cuts, which would have had an impact on people too. Many of the things that we have done, such as uprating the state pension in line with earnings and protecting the national health service, which her party would not have done, support women.

The right hon. Gentleman is perpetuating the myth that there is no alternative, but he just said that the previous Government had a strategy in place for paying off the deficit, so there is an alternative. An alternative was also put forward in 1945. He can take whichever direction he likes, but he cannot keep claiming that the decisions he is making are the only alternative, because others have been put forward.

No alternatives have been put forward by the hon. Gentleman’s Front Benchers; perhaps he wants to talk to them about that.

The figures assume 8% inflation over the period, but if, in the first couple of years, we have a complete pay freeze in the public sector and we buy things more cheaply, as is the plan, does not that mean that cash rises can translate into real rises in the programmes that are going up in cash terms?

The right hon. Gentleman is certainly right to say that at the end of the spending review public spending will be higher in cash terms than it is at the moment. In real terms, it will go back to the level of about 2008-09, and in terms of a share of gross domestic product to about the level of 2006-07. People need to be realistic about the scale of what is being proposed. The big gainer from the huge deficit that Labour left us with was the department of debt interest, and unfortunately it is the cost of debt interest that we have to meet.

The right hon. Gentleman has put great emphasis on the debt that he inherited and the need for the Opposition to be responsible. Given that the greater part of that debt was incurred in bailing out the banks and supporting manufacturing industry, could he be responsible and tell us what he would have cut in that position?

I am going to press on; I will give way again in a moment.

The House and the British people will never forget the financial position of this country when we came into office, with £1 borrowed for every £4 spent—the largest deficit in our peacetime history. Debt interest payments alone stood at £43 billion a year—that is £120 million a day.

I will press on, and give way in a moment.

Thanks to Labour’s profligacy, there really was no money left. The country knew it, our business leaders knew it, and, as we discovered, the Labour Chief Secretary knew it too. By May, the alarm bells were ringing—the danger was real. Whether one wants an expansive social policy, a smaller state, or more or less public spending, it must be underpinned by proper control of the public finances. If that control is lost, the policies that have been built, whatever they are, will inevitably crumble.

The Chief Secretary said that to be taken seriously one needs to have a credible and detailed plan. He then went on to say that the Government have laid out their plans in detail, so perhaps he can give us some of that detail. Which Revenue offices will shut? Where will the Department for Work and Pensions closures be? Among the 35,000 Ministry of Defence civilians, where will the jobs be lost? Will he give us the detail in the same way as when the spending plans in the 2004 and 2007 CSRs were announced?

There is a great deal of detail in the spending review document, as the hon. Gentleman knows because he has had a chance to study it, and of course Departments will set out more detail in due course. He would have a bit more credibility on the subject of controlling the public finances if his colleagues in the European Parliament had not just voted for the 6% rise in the European Union budgets.

Is the Chief Secretary aware that the 2007 CSR called for £35 billion in cuts, and that in July 2010 the National Audit Office could find only £6 billion that had been achieved? Does he agree that the failure of the last spending review makes this one much more difficult?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The NAO has indeed criticised the effectiveness of the previous Government’s so-called efficiency programme. Many of those criticisms are well founded, and we will proceed on a very different basis. To give an example, the single indicator that they set out for local authorities to report on their own efficiencies had 66 pages of guidance for them to follow, thereby creating a huge industry in local authorities just to meet the reporting requirements.

The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about detail, and there is one detail that I am interested in. There was a leak from the Ministry of Justice demonstrating that it has set aside £230 million to pay for the redundancies that it has announced in its front-line staff. Can he tell the House, because he must have this figure, how much he has set aside to pay the redundancy bills for the job cuts that he has announced?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. I think that it is the first time we have had an exchange over the Dispatch Box, and I congratulate her on her appointment. Departments will set out their work force plans in due course. They are working on those things, and there are many things that they can do to avoid excessive redundancies. [Interruption.] I am not going to go into individual departmental figures.

I am going to press on and make some progress. I will take further interventions later, but I answered the point that the shadow Chief Secretary made.

Rising interest rates choke the finances of those who borrow, and rising inflation bites on those on fixed incomes. It was the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) who once observed:

“Public finances must be sustainable over the long term. If they are not, the poor…will suffer most.”—[Official Report, 2 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 303-304.]

For once, I agree with Gordon. Those who say that there is a choice between fiscal discipline and supporting growth could not be further from the truth. The choice is between a sound platform to support growth and a lack of control that would undermine it. In reality, it is no choice at all.

I am going to press on with this section of my speech, and then I will give way in a moment.

In June’s emergency Budget, we set out the road map to recovery and took the country out of the danger zone. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility examined our plans in June and forecast the economy growing and unemployment falling in every year. It also assessed that we were on course to eliminate the structural current deficit and see debt fall by the end of this Parliament, one year ahead of our mandate. The recovery will be choppy, but we are confident that our plan will see us through.

Does the Chief Secretary accept that he is introducing a benefit system based on punishment? Does he agree that anyone out of work for more than a year will now lose 10% of their housing benefit? That is punishment. What advice would he give to my constituent in Brighton who has gone for 465 jobs over the past 10 months without success?

I do not accept that. We have to control the welfare bill, which has risen dramatically over the past few years. I will come to that later in my speech.

It is inevitable, of course, that individual Departments will have to set out the costs of redundancies, and it is right that they should do so in due course. However, will my right hon. Friend set out how much extra interest the Government would have to pay, and therefore how much more public spending would have to be cut in future, if we did not start to make such economies now?

My hon. Friend asks a very good question. Over the course of the spending review period, our plans will save £5 billion in debt interest, which the Labour party was very happy to pay.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. We know that he will know the answer to this question. He has set out a plan that will lead directly to 490,000 people losing their jobs in the public sector. We know that the Ministry of Justice has already made an allowance of £230 million to cover the cost of redundancies. He must have a figure for the rest of Whitehall put together, and he should now give it to us.

The hon. Lady is the shadow Chief Secretary, and we read in a memo directed to the Leader of the Opposition that the Opposition had a plan for £44 billion of cuts, but she has not set out a single piece of detail on that. As I said, Departments will set out their work force plans in due course.

The previous Government’s plan was not a serious plan to deal with the deficit and support growth. It was not a fair approach. It would have led to more, not fewer, cuts in the end, because of higher debt and higher interest payments—more interest on the debt, and more interest on the interest. Compared with the plans that we inherited, we will save £5 billion in debt interest payments over the course of this Parliament.

The emergency Budget set out our plan to balance the books, and now we have shown how we will find £81 billion of savings by 2014-15. Let me put that in some context. Even at the end of that period, public spending as a share of gross domestic product will be 41%.

I will give way at the end of this section of my speech.

That 41% figure is about the same level as in 2006-07, and the same level in real terms as in 2008. It is higher than in any year of Tony Blair’s Government. Perhaps that is why he supports our strategy. That is not to say that cuts will be easy—of course they will not—but it nails the myth that we are an ideological Government, hell-bent on shrinking the state out of recognition.

In 2007-08, the UK debt stood at 36.5% of GDP. In 1997, at the end of the last Tory Government, it was 42%. Does that fact not expose as meaningless spin the Government’s line on the record of the Labour Government?

I think that that is a classic statement of deficit denial. The hon. Lady has to recognise that we are spending £150 billion more than we raise in tax—the largest budget deficit in the European Union and the largest in our country’s history.

I will not.

We also have the largest budget deficit in the G20. Those are the facts that the hon. Lady should understand.

I will not give way again, I am going to press on.

The Chancellor’s statement set out the level of departmental spending for the next four years. I will not repeat every decision now, but of course I am happy to take interventions. [Hon. Members: “You’re not!”] I have taken a great deal of interventions, and I will take a few more later. Instead, I want to focus on our priorities: growth, fairness and reform.

I am very grateful to the Chief Secretary for finally seeing me up at the back here. One of the words that he mentioned was growth. How can we have growth when 1 million people are being put on the dole?

How could I miss the hon. Gentleman? I will explain the answer to his question as I make progress in my speech. He will just have to listen carefully.

Our priorities—growth, fairness and reform—guide every choice that we make. We are a pro-growth Government, focusing our capital resources on key infrastructure projects in transport and green energy.

I will not give way at the moment.

We are a Government with fairness at our core, and a reforming Government who leave no stone unturned in the search for waste, while devolving power and funding away from Whitehall. In answer to the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks), I will address our priorities in turn, and the first is growth.

It is growth that will deliver additional jobs in the economy across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I have said that our plan as a whole will deliver macro-economic stability, which is crucial to restore growth and increase confidence to invest. We are not standing on the sidelines waiting for growth to happen. We have prioritised spending on the areas that can deliver the best return to growth. Over the spending review period, capital spending will be slightly higher than the previous Government planned, with significant investment in transport capital across the country and more cash being spent on transport over the next four years than in the past four. We will maintain in cash terms resource spending on science, and a new green investment bank will lead the way in the economy of the future. Today we published our local growth White Paper, which includes a regional growth fund of £1.4 billion over three years and announces new local enterprise partnerships. Those actions and many others are major parts of our strategy to secure and support sustainable economic growth.

The right hon. Gentleman’s speech so far has shown that he is sticking to the outlandish predictions of growth levels that he has made, and of unemployment falling year on year as a result. Will he reassure the House and the country that if they prove wrong, he will change course, and quickly?

Outlandish predictions by politicians were the prerogative of the previous Government. We have established an independent Office for Budget Responsibility to make forecasts. We do not make the forecasts, and I am merely quoting what the OBR had to say.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the biggest risk to our economy is the record deficit of 10% of GDP, the highest in the G20? Had we not taken action, that would have posed a big risk and we would have lost more than 490,000 jobs. Opposition Members should think about the jobs that we would have lost had the Government not taken decisive action.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. If we had not tackled the deficit, the poor in this country would have suffered most.

I am grateful. The Chief Secretary has pointed to the forecasts made by the OBR. He will know that between 1994 and 2008, the private sector created 100,000 jobs a year. In that period, growth was 2.8%. The OBR projects growth of 2.4%. How, then, is it possible that 1 million jobs can be created in the forthcoming period?

In fact the OBR forecast more private sector jobs than the hon. Lady suggests. She will know that in the past two quarters several hundred thousand jobs have been created in the private sector. I will explain later in my speech the measures that we are taking to support the private sector.

Not for a moment. I am going to press on with my speech. I know that many hon. Members wish to contribute, and the Back-Bench time limit is already at six minutes, so I will make some progress, if I may.

Our second priority is fairness, and let me say what I think that means. Fairness means that across the entire deficit reduction plan, those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest share of the burden.

Fairness means that even in tough times, we focus our resources on extending the ladder of opportunity through early years provision and schools, and it means that we look carefully at whether we are doing right by those who receive welfare and the working families whose taxes pay for it. Those are our tests and we have met them in full. First, we have published distributional analyses that clearly demonstrate that those on the highest incomes will contribute more towards the consolidation. [Interruption.] That is not just in cash terms, but—

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

As I was saying, we have published distributional analyses that clearly demonstrate that those on the highest incomes will contribute more towards the consolidation, not just in cash terms but as a proportion of their income and consumption of public services.

I am grateful to the Chief Secretary for giving way. So far, he seems bereft of answers to any of the questions put to him. Does he agree with the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ analysis that the June Budget and last week’s spending review can be fair only if the Government include all the measures that I introduced in my Budget prior to the election?

I think that the phrase “no answers” applies to Opposition Front Benchers on dealing with the deficit.

The measures included in our analyses include measures for which we will introduce legislation, such as the measures on national insurance. Those measures are part of our plan and it is perfectly appropriate that they should be included.

I am going to press on and answer this point. I shall give way in a moment.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about our analyses counting measures proposed but not yet introduced by the previous Government. I have to tell him that the measures are as much a part of our plan as any others we have introduced. We took the decision to proceed with them. However, I am glad to say that some of the measures proposed by the previous Government did not make it into our final analysis. We rejected the jobs tax—[Interruption.] They do not like it! We rejected cuts to the overall NHS budget and we rejected the idea of burdening future generations with debt. They were wrong and they were stopped.

Our progressive approach also places responsibility on the banks to make their fair contribution. We will continue to press banks to do more and to bring forward reforms to improve our financial system. That is why we introduced the bank levy. The previous Government stalled on that, saying that we would need international agreement first, but we went ahead with it. As the banks need to follow the spirit and not just the letter of the law, we have engaged in a concerted effort to get the leading banks to sign up to the code of practice on taxation by the end of November. We must ensure that everyone, no matter how rich, pays the taxes they owe. That is why we have agreed a new £900 million package for HMRC. That investment will fund a clampdown, bringing in £7 billion a year by the end of the Parliament.

On banks and fairness, will the Minister confirm that families with children are being asked to contribute twice as much to deficit reduction as the banks? How is that fair?

No, I will not confirm that. We have made many spending choices to invest additional resources in families with children—a pupil premium in the schools system and an entitlement to 15 hours of free nursery care for two-year-olds in addition to the 15-hour entitlement for three and four-year-olds that we introduced.

Our clampdown on tax avoidance will bring in £7 billion a year by the end of the Parliament, because there is no place for tax cheats in our society—neither is there a place for people who cheat the benefit system. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has introduced new plans to tackle benefit fraud.

I shall get to the end of this section on welfare before giving way, so hon. Members should stop troubling themselves.

On welfare—

I shall give way at the end of the section on welfare because I know it is of interest to many hon. Members, but let me explain our position.

The welfare budget accounts for nearly £1 in every £3 spent by the Government. The cost of the welfare system has increased by 45% in the past decade. In some cases, those increases were necessary—it is right that the Government should help those who need it most—but in many cases the previous Administration’s over-complicated bureaucracy trapped people in a system in which it does not pay to work. Worse still, many were simply dumped on benefits by previous Administrations and left there. That is not fair on them or the taxpayer. No one can deny that reform is essential, but the question is how the right balance should be struck.

Our approach is to move to a universal credit system over the course of two Parliaments to do away with the complexity of the current system so that it always pays to work. We will introduce a new work programme to provide personalised support to those who need the greatest help with getting back into employment, with private and third-sector providers being paid for the additional benefit savings they secure. We will fund significant above-indexation increases for the child tax credit to ensure that the spending review has no measurable impact on child poverty over the next two years. Through the welfare reforms in the spending review, we will find £7 billion of net savings on top of those identified in the Budget. Some £2.5 billion comes from removing child benefit from households with a higher-rate taxpayer. That is the largest welfare measure in the spending review and the most progressive, but it is the one that the Opposition have most vocally opposed.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way on that point. There are press reports out on the wires that a source in Her Majesty’s Treasury is saying that the child benefit cut is “unenforceable” and will be dropped. The press report says that it is

“panic stations in the Treasury.”

Is that true?

I think it is panic stations on the Opposition Front Bench if they do not have a single answer to a single question about the action that they would take to reduce the deficit. The story that the measure is unenforceable is nonsense; it will be introduced as planned. The savings were signed off by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which considered the compliance risk involved as well. Higher-rate taxpayers are of course required to disclose all relevant information.

The Minister’s whole plan is based on two things: achieving, first, the biggest rate of export since 1974 and, secondly, a rise in business investment that has been matched only once in our history. Achieving both those things in the same year would be unprecedented, but the Government want to achieve both every year for three years on the trot. I know that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister do not live in the same world as the rest of us, but where did they dream that up—fantasy island?

I had planned to give way a few more times, but that intervention took so long that there will not be time to take any more for a while. The spending review is based on one simple principle: cleaning up the mess left behind by the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was part.

We are making other welfare reforms too. We will cap household welfare payments at the average earnings of working households and we will reform housing benefit so that support better reflects the housing choices that working families have to make. That must be right. The welfare system should provide an effective safety net, but it should not pay workless families far more than most working families earn. That is where benefit traps and dependency start. Our reforms mark an historic shift from dependency to independence. Our measures are tough but fair.

Does the Minister accept that housing benefit is also an in-work benefit? The Government have presented very little evidence that out-of-work families who receive housing benefit live in significantly better conditions than any working family.

The cap that we propose, which will be debated in due course, is nearly £21,000-worth a year of housing benefit. That is more than equivalent to what most working families have to spend on their housing costs.

Does the Minister think it fair that his, my and other constituents should pay so that some people can live in houses costing £500, £600 or more a week?

I have one simple question: will the Minister confirm that the majority of people on housing benefit are in work?

Yes; many people on housing benefit are in work. The point of our reform is to say that the fairness should be between people on out-of-work housing benefit gaining the maximum amount, which we will cap at £400 a week, so that that amount is equivalent to what people in work could receive in housing benefit.

I want to press on, so I shall not give way.

Our third principle is reform, which manifests itself in three ways. The first is bearing down on back-office costs. Each main Government Department has found at least 33% in administrative savings: we will share services, cut down on waste and abolish quangos. The second is a massive devolution of power from the centre, reflecting our commitment to freedom and responsibility. Apart from schools and public health, we will end the ring-fencing of all Government grants to local authorities from April next year. We will reduce 90 separate core revenue grants to councils to fewer than 10. Under the previous Administration, the comparable number of grants increased by more than 500%. Our new tax increment financing borrowing powers will allow councils to fund key projects, and we have today announced that we will consider options to enable local authorities to retain locally raised business rates. We are putting the local and government back into local government.

Finally, reform means recognising that the old ways of doing things simply were not working, even in times of plenty.

The House has waited in vain for a straight answer to a straight question. I know the right hon. Gentleman would like to take credit for the sun shining, and indeed for the imprint on the Turin shroud, but will he give a straight answer to the straight question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Mr Darling), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer? Is it true or untrue that the growth in the first three quarters of 2010 is a direct result of the measures taken by the previous Government to build Britain out of recession?

The last quarter of growth—Opposition Members were hoping that things would be worse than they are, which is a pretty poor foundation for any sort of economic policy—took place since the Budget. [Interruption.] Of course the previous Chancellor deserves credit for that much of his work in office—[Interruption.]

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Chief Secretary to accuse Opposition Members without any evidence whatever of wishing for lower growth to put people out of work? That is what the Government are doing, not the Opposition.

No, I will not give way.

The old ways of doing things were not working even in times of plenty, so we will revamp the failing system of social housing. The number of socially rented properties fell under the previous Government in total, with an increasing proportion of workless households finding themselves trapped in dependency. The terms of existing tenants and their rent levels remain unchanged under our proposals. Some new tenants will be offered intermediate rents nearer to market rent.

I am not going to give way because many hon. Members wish to speak.

Together with capital investment, those measures will create a more flexible and responsive model, enabling the Government to deliver up to 150,000 new affordable homes over the next four years.

No, I am not going to give way.

There will be reform, too, in the justice system. A prison population that is rising out of control is not right, let alone affordable. The guilty must be punished, but rehabilitation must be the priority.

There are major reforms in other policy areas. Across all that we do, reform is the keystone to delivering better for less.

I thank the Government for their work in rescuing savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society in Northern Ireland; they are very grateful. The Government have built on the work of the previous one, but they have brought a solution to fruition. However, may I remind the Minister of the agreement—the settlement—that was made at the time of devolution for Northern Ireland? Will he look at that again to ensure that the challenges unique to Northern Ireland are faced with confidence?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention—my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who did a great deal of work on that issue, will have heard his compliments. I believe that we will introduce a growth paper on Northern Ireland soon, and the right hon. Gentleman’s points on that are very important. I know that questions have been asked, for example, on capital spending between June 2005 and 2018. We believe that we are on track to meet those commitments, which were made some years ago.

I am not going to give way.

The spending review will have an impact on the public sector workforce. I should like to say that the ideas, effort and commitment shown by the public sector workforce are essential to helping people to get the best from the services they provide, and we should thank them. The reforms that we are making will make the public services a more rewarding place to work—more power, more trust, more independence—but there will be an impact on employment. The best estimate remains that of the Office for Budget Responsibility, to which hon. Members have referred, which forecast in June a reduction of 490,000 employees over the next four years.

Natural turnover will play a big part, but individual employers will make their own decisions on redundancies. Each such decision will be difficult, which we recognise, so we have introduced pay restraint to protect jobs. We will monitor plans closely to try to avoid localised hotspots, and deploy our regional growth fund to support such areas.

The Chief Secretary is proposing to make many public sector workers redundant. Given that, why is it considered fair for others to have money in tax avoidance trusts based overseas? Considering the strategies he is introducing, will he give a commitment that no Minister in the Government has or will have money based in overseas trusts designed to avoid paying their fair share of British tax?

If the hon. Lady was listening to me earlier, she would know that we have announced significant additional investment for HMRC to tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion. Of course, every Minister should comply with tax law.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the localised hotspots he mentioned, where the cumulative impact of his measures will take the most drastic and tragic effect, include Wales, the north-east and other areas that either rely heavily on public sector workers as a proportion of the work force or where the benefits reforms will have a significant impact? Does he also accept that he will be judged in 12 or 36 months or five years of this Parliament on whether the north-east, Wales and elsewhere are disproportionately and tragically affected by the cumulative impact of the measures he is ramming through?

Of course I accept that people will judge the Government’s performance on the basis the hon. Gentleman suggests. I fully understand that, which is why I am spelling out the measures we are taking to ensure that those areas that are most affected are supported through the regional growth fund. His point is important and serious, but I observe only that the previous Government created the mess of the Budget deficit. We have to clean up the problems facing our economy. The worst thing possible for Wales or other parts of the country would be to leave the deficit untackled, which would lead to lower growth, higher interest rates and less employment.

I will not give way again to the hon. Gentleman; I shall press on.

Also in June, the OBR forecast total jobs in the economy over the next four years, which Opposition Members seem to have missed. It implies 1.6 million additional private sector jobs over the period. We will do all that we can to help those leaving the public sector to take advantage of those opportunities, and we must remember at all times that the gravest threat to jobs in our economy would be a failure to deal with the deficit. Deficit denial is the single biggest danger to employment in this country today.

Throughout the review, I have been clear on one thing: our decisions need to improve life chances. Fairness is not just the net sum of cash transfers. That is important, but there is more. Fairness is about opportunity and the chance for a better future, especially for the next generation. We know about the attainment gap between children from different backgrounds, which starts at an early age.

In these difficult times, perhaps no one would have noticed had we quietly turned a blind eye, but fairness demands more, so we have chosen to invest. That is why we have introduced a new pledge for 15 hours’ child care for disadvantaged two-year-olds, matching the 15-hour commitment for all three and four-year-olds that was previously introduced by this coalition Government. Cash spending on Sure Start services will be maintained, with a renewed focus on life chances. Although this has meant a greater challenge for other Departments, I am proud that the schools budget will not only match but outstrip inflation in each of the next four years. When we factor in reduced pressure from pay restraint and back-office savings, that amounts to a very significant boost to the classroom. A new £2.5 billion pupil premium will target additional resources on those with the most to gain.

We will be relentless in our focus on social mobility, and in extending the ladder of opportunity. Fairness runs through the heart of this spending review.

We all accept that those are very difficult decisions. However, the chairman of the Police Federation has suggested that 40,000 police service jobs will be lost because of cuts to the Home Office budget. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if that happens, crime will rise?

I do not accept that analysis. Of course, it will be for individual police forces in due course to make their own decisions—[Interruption]but given the potential for police forces to become more efficient, we think that there is no reason why those savings should have any impact at all on the presence of police on the front line in communities.

On the policy to give two-year-olds 15 hours of education based on free school meal eligibility, what mechanism will be used and how much will it cost to ensure that that happens, given that there is no information about two-year-olds receiving free school meals? I have asked Ministers that question twice, but I still have not had an answer.

That is a very good question. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman intended to preface his question by saying that he welcomed the commitment to additional nursery education for the poorest two-year-olds. There are many mechanisms available, for example within the Sure Start system, that can target those pupils, and the Secretary of State for Education will no doubt make announcements in due course.

I now intend to finish my speech with no further interruptions.

I am often asked about a plan B. Plan A is to deal with the deficit so that we can support growth and invest in fairness. But we all know that the recovery will be choppy, so plan B is to deal with the deficit so that we can support growth and invest in fairness. But we know that the road will be difficult, so plan C is to deal with the deficit so that we can support growth and invest in fairness. Nothing is more important to our future prosperity.

One party made this mess. Two parties are working together to clear it up. We will hold firm. Where we have faced tough choices we have asked, “What are the fair choices? What are the choices that support growth? How can we achieve more with less?” We have made the right choices for the right reasons. We have given our answers: now let us hear the Opposition’s.

Last week’s comprehensive spending review statement has taken a huge and risky gamble with the jobs and future prosperity of millions of people in this country. This wholly unnecessary risk has been taken because this Conservative-led Government is in ideological thrall to the discredited economic mantra that shrinking the state is always the right answer. They do not state it as provocatively as Mrs Thatcher once did in the 1980s, but they believe it just as firmly. The Orange Book Liberal Democrats, led by the Deputy Prime Minister with the Chief Secretary in tow, believe it too.

Of course, the deficit has to be brought down—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] We said that before the election and we set out a plan to do so. We also said it at the election and we have said it since. The difference between us is how the deficit is brought down. My right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has made it clear that we favour a different balance between spending cuts and tax rises that brings the deficit down but also protects the recovery and boosts growth. None of us should forget the backdrop to this spending review, which is families up and down the country worried about their jobs and homes. That is why the cheers and mass waving of Order Papers on the Government Benches as the Chancellor announced the largest job cuts for generations demonstrate just how out of touch they are. At that very moment at the end of his speech, the masks slipped and we saw what really motivates them. As these cuts begin to bite, the British public will not forget.

Given that between 250,000 and 500,000 people leave the public service every year voluntarily, for retirement or other reasons, will the hon. Lady now withdraw her statement that half a million people will lose their jobs under this Government? It can be done by natural wastage.

That is not my statement: it is a statement by the Office for Budget Responsibility. It is also the figure that was revealed accidentally the day before the Chancellor’s statement by the Chief Secretary when he was filmed in the back of his car with open documents. It is not my figure. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) should remember that the Ministry of Justice is already planning 14,000 redundancies, as we know from a leak, and has set aside—

No, I shall finish answering the question. The hon. Gentleman can sit down and be patient, and we will see whether I give way to him a little later.

The Ministry of Justice is already planning cuts of 14,000 in front-line staffing. It has also set aside £230 million to pay for the costs of those redundancies. I asked the Chief Secretary what the figure was for the rest of Whitehall. He will know what that figure is, because he will have signed it off. Twice I asked him for that figure, and twice he avoided the question. It does him no credit if, knowing what that figure is, he comes to this House for a debate on the comprehensive spending review but avoids the question of the costs to the public purse of the redundancies that will be directly caused by the statement made by the Chancellor last week. He knows that figure and he should stand up now and give it to the House. Silence is sometimes far more revealing than an answer.

The hon. Lady referred to the number of job losses mentioned in the comprehensive spending review. Can she tell us how many job losses were involved in her alternative plans?

The key point about our approach to the difficulties in the world economy was that we spent and invested money to keep people in work. We know that the cost of every 100,000 people on the dole is half a billion pounds. The difference between us and the Government is that we were keeping people in work whereas they are taking people out of work. We know from PricewaterhouseCoopers that half a million jobs in the private sector that are directly connected to public sector contracts will also be lost as a result of the Chancellor’s statement last week.

Is it not the case that the stimulus put into the economy by the Labour Government saved more than 200,000 jobs?

Yes, according to the OBR. We saw the undisguised glee of Members opposite as they celebrated the hardship and misery that the Chancellor proposes to inflict on so many people in our society. These are not just numbers; they are police constables, care workers, teaching assistants and dinner ladies. In the private sector, they work in small businesses which rely on public sector contracts at a time when order books are empty. All those people are being asked by this Conservative-led Government to shoulder the burden of a crisis made in the banks and the dealing rooms.

Well, the hon. Gentleman could take a look at the March Budget, which was presented to the House before the general election, and the Red Book that was published subsequently. We went into the election with far more detail about what we would do had we been re-elected than either party opposite, and at least we did not flip-flop immediately afterwards so that we could get into government.

These are not just numbers; they are the people being asked by this Conservative-led Government to shoulder the burden of a crisis that was made in the banks. It is not those who caused the crisis who will now suffer as a result of the Chancellor’s reckless gamble with jobs and growth. It is the 490,000 ordinary men and women serving in the public sector whose jobs will go, and it is the 500,000 jobs in the private sector that PricewaterhouseCoopers has calculated will also be lost as a direct result of the spending review. Redundancies on the scale now threatened are not inevitable, but are the result of the Government’s choice to cut further and faster.

Does the hon. Lady agree that it is a basic principle that spending money we do not have does not create long-term jobs? It creates nothing but debt, which has to be paid back. That is what the Government are doing now. That is what we need to do.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree that in an advanced economy with a social security system, if there is a recession, deficits will rise. That is why the deficit rose. What he suggests, if taken to its logical extreme, means that he would not be in favour of paying unemployment benefit to those made unemployed. They tried that in the 1930s and it did not work.

What does the hon. Lady think was the reason behind our deficit being worse than that of every other country in the G20?

We entered the crisis with the second-lowest deficit in the G7. We were affected by the credit crunch because we have a very large financial services sector, which is why both sides in the House are talking about how we can rebalance our economy. We are too exposed to the kind of risks that crystallised when the credit crunch struck. [Interruption.] The Chancellor, from a sedentary position, asks whose fault that was. If we are going to be sensible and have a proper, nuanced, balanced and grown-up debate on this issue, all of us—as members of political parties that are, or have been, in government and in charge of running the country over the past few years—need to take our fair share of responsibility for how the banking sector came to dominate too much. Both sides of the House have to learn those lessons. I hope that we all will.

Does the hon. Lady agree that it has been down to this Government to introduce the bank levy of £2.5 billion, and that the Labour party, when in government, failed to do so? Why did they fail to do so?

We introduced the bonus tax, which the Conservative party opposed and which raised £3.5 billion. We have said that we need to consider how to ensure that the banks shoulder their fair share of the burden in ensuring that the deficit is reduced in a sensible way.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is depressing to see the huge ranks of men opposite talking about cuts that will affect—[Interruption.] Yet again, there are very few Conservative women. The one or two ladies opposite waving and shaking their papers at me do not help. The majority of Conservative Members, as always, are men, but the majority of people to be affected by the cuts will be women. It is women who will lose their child benefit and the tax credits that help them get into work, and it is women, largely, who work in the public sector and rely on its excellent flexible working conditions. Is it women who will find it harder to get into work, thanks to the Government’s policies?

I do not suppose it is their fault they are men. I can blame them for some things, but not that. My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point though. It is clear that 65% of those who work in public services are women, that 75% of those who work in local government are women and that there are even higher levels working in the health service and social care. Clearly, they are on the front line, and the Government have a legal duty, which it is not clear that they have fulfilled, to take reasonable account of that fact.

Has the hon. Lady met people trapped on benefits, many of whom, incidentally, are women? The failure to address the perverse incentives operating in our benefits system was utterly spineless and ignored the real misery affecting those who live trapped in our benefits system.

The hon. Lady’s intervention was extremely helpful. Of course I have. We have all done a great deal of work on social security reform, and I hope she will be the first to acknowledge some of the progress we made, particularly in helping lone parents into work. Tax credits and all the support we gave on child care were among the measures that were crucial in ensuring that we managed to increase significantly the number of lone parents in work when we were in office. I hope she will be the first to recognise our success in those areas. She should take a close look at the increasing rates of marginal tax that came about because of some of the changes, particularly for lone parents, and the savings made in tax credits, and she should also have a word with her party’s Front-Bench team about their priorities for cuts, given that they are taking away benefits that particularly help women go out to work.

In softening up the country for this age of austerity, Ministers have been anxious to establish some myths, the first of which is that the deficit was a Labour spending choice. We heard a lot of that today from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The second myth is that the cuts announced are unavoidable. We need to start with some facts. When the credit crunch struck in 2008, Britain had the second-lowest debt in the G7. We had low interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment. There is nothing reckless about that. Now, however, the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats are trying to rewrite history.


Public spending did not cause this deficit—the global financial crisis caused it. A large deficit is what we get when the largest financial crisis since the war hits. When companies’ profits are hit, tax revenues fall.

I said no.

When families have to work shorter hours, they pay less tax. We took a conscious decision to spend money to keep people in their jobs and homes, and I am proud that we did that. As a result of our action, unemployment was half what it had been in previous recessions and repossession levels were also half what they were in the Tory recession of the 1990s. Some of this help has been cut away in the CSR and, as a result, it is more likely that more people will lose their homes, as unemployment and the cuts begin to bite.

The hon. Lady is fond of saying, “Let’s have a grown-up, sensible debate”, so it would be useful if she followed her own rules. Why is she refusing to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock)?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for plucking up the courage to give way. She said that Britain went into the crisis with the second lowest deficit in the world, but she has now revised that to point out that, actually, it was the second lowest debt in the world. Does not the fact that she and her colleagues muddle up the debt and the deficit show just why we are in this mess?

Whatever happened to old-fashioned courtesy? The hon. Gentleman should ask himself why I do not want to give way to him when he is so generous and lovely to me when I do.

Money spent on infrastructure investment kept the construction sector going. As we saw from the GDP figures on Wednesday, that is still having a positive effect. The deficit was unavoidable. It was vital to support people and businesses through tough times, but let us be clear about Labour’s spending before the crisis hit. Far from being too high, it was, as the Prime Minister said—I am quoting him directly—“really quite tough”, while the Chancellor was urging us to spend more.

The second myth is that the scale of the cuts is unavoidable. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has pointed out, Government propaganda has got it precisely the wrong way round. The fact is that the deficit was unavoidable; it is the June Budget and the Chancellor’s spending review that are a political choice. They are not only avoidable, they are downright dangerous. That is why there was no mention of these supposedly unavoidable cuts in the manifestos of either of the parties now in government when they went to the country. That is why they have no mandate for the cuts policy that they have embarked on since the general election.

Since the election, we have seen the contortions of the Deputy Prime Minister, along with his accomplice in what we now have to call the “quad”, to justify his volte-face. First he told us that he took a call from the Governor of the Bank of England as he stepped into the ministerial Jag, but the Governor begged to differ. Then the Deputy Prime Minister said that Britain was about to become Greece. That is about as close to a myth as you can get, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Government have made their choice, and we on the Opposition Benches will hold them responsible for the social and economic consequences of those choices.

Has my hon. Friend noticed the tendency of those on the Government Benches, and in particular the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor, when referring to the history of the economy this year, to say that we were on the brink of bankruptcy as a country? Did she, like me, notice Lord Turnbull’s appearance before the Treasury Committee this morning, when he clearly said that this country was not on the brink of bankruptcy and that there was no risk of a sovereign debt crisis?

It is quite extraordinary that we have a Chancellor who is prepared to make such alarmist statements from the Treasury. He does it for political, not economic, reasons, and it is a disgrace that he continues to do it.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Will the hon. Lady take this opportunity to pay tribute to British business, which has created hundreds of thousands of jobs since this Government started taking the tough decisions that she flunked?

I am certainly more than happy to pay tribute to British business, but I do not connect the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question with the second.

Last week two more myths were added to the Chancellor’s own special edition of Grimm’s fairy tales. He now claims that the measures in the spending review are fair, and even that the scale of the cuts would have been greater under Labour. Let us start with fairness. Last Wednesday, the Chancellor told us that fairness was

“one of the guiding principles of this spending review”.—[Official Report, 20 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 955.]

Not for the first time, this spin lasted barely 24 hours, before the Institute for Fiscal Studies comprehensively rejected it, proving that, far from the poorest being protected, it is the poorest who will bear the brunt of the cuts. It is families with children who will pay the most. We should not be surprised at that, because the Institute for Fiscal Studies was scathing of the Treasury’s analysis of who loses what.

How is it fair that in the time that the hon. Lady has been on her feet at the Dispatch Box, we as a country have spent almost £2 million servicing the interest on the debt that has been created? That is £5 million an hour and £120 million a day. What plans do the Opposition have to bring that under control?

I have talked about the importance of getting the deficit down, but the hon. Gentleman is falling for the idea that the coalition have perpetrated that it is somehow not viable to have a bill that needs to be paid. People who have mortgages have to pay them off over time, and they have to pay interest on them. However, it is not sensible for anyone to deal with their mortgage by paying it off so early that they cannot afford to feed their kids in the meantime.

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady, although I am afraid that I will not be lovely and fluffy, or whatever it was she said she wished my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) was. Is she aware that on 18 October, 35 leading businessmen wrote a joint letter stating that delay would cost this country an extra £100 billion alone in the course of this Parliament? Are they all wrong?

I would not expect the hon. Gentleman to be fluffy—that is not a word that I would ever have associated with him—but it is still good to see him back, and I genuinely welcome his return.

It needs to be pointed out that that letter was organised by Lord Wolfson in the House of Lords, via Conservative central office. It is also interesting to note that some of the signatories of the letter have some kind of vested interest. First, quite a few are Conservatives. Secondly, BT, for example, has cut 20,000 jobs in the past year, which is not exactly helping us to replace public sector jobs with private sector jobs. Others are responsible for outsourcing and stand to make direct gains from the shrinking of the state. The hon. Gentleman can believe that guff if he wants; we do not.

The IFS has been scathing about the Treasury’s analysis on the fairness front, and on who loses what. It has noted that the Treasury analysis conveniently stops in 2012-13, thereby excluding £12 billion of the announced savings—by which I mean cuts to social security. For those who remain in any doubt, let me quote directly from the IFS:

“The tax and benefit changes are regressive rather than progressive across most of the income distribution.”

The Government’s immediate response to that report by the IFS was to try to shoot the messenger. The Deputy Prime Minister launched into an attack on the IFS that bordered on the hysterical. He described its analysis as “distorted” and “complete nonsense”. He neglected to mention the fact that before the election he had regularly lauded the IFS when the results of its analysis suited him. On 29 April, as he preened himself during the leaders’ debate, he told us that he was

“really delighted at the Institute of Fiscal Studies”

for its view of Liberal Democrat proposals. Now that he is in government, he does not seem to like the IFS for pointing out an inconvenient truth.

A flip-flop here, a U-turn there—it is all in a day’s work for the Liberal Democrats as they shoehorn themselves into their new and ill-fitting Tory ideology. It is now abundantly clear that, for the Deputy Prime Minister, the slight awkwardness of signing up to one of the most unfair decisions for generations will not get in his way, even if he occasionally has to struggle with his conscience on “Desert Island Discs”. I know that he has argued for a different, more convenient definition of fairness, but let me tell him that there are some things that are not fair, however we define them.

I thank my hon. Friend for the sterling work she is doing here today. We have discussed the fact that this is not about fairness, and that women and children will be hit by these measures. Does she recognise this quote from Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope? He says:

“Despite the continuing rhetoric that spending cuts will be fair, the Chancellor’s announcements today are anything but. This will hit disabled people and their families particularly hard.”

Does she believe him, or does she believe Gideon?

I think we know who to believe. There is a great deal of real worry out there about the effects of the draconian cuts in public expenditure that have been announced in the spending review.

I will tell the Deputy Prime Minister and anyone else on the Government Benches what they cannot hide about fairness. There is nothing fair about cutting 10% from housing benefit for those who are out of work for more than 12 months when there are already five people chasing every job vacancy—and that is before the Government add another million to the dole queue. There is nothing fair about expecting children to play a bigger part than the banks in getting the deficit down. There is nothing fair about failing to carry out a legally required equality assessment that would have shown that the Budget had a disproportionate impact on women, who often do the lowest paid jobs in the public sector. When it comes to the cuts under this Government, it really is women and children first. Let us have no more of these ludicrous claims of fairness from the Government.

As for the idea that the Government are cutting less than we had planned to do, there is something distasteful in a Chancellor who is prepared to skew his spending decisions, cutting an extra £7 billion from the social security budget, just to get a cheap one-liner at the end of his speech. There is nothing so cynical as a Chancellor who begins his speech by claiming that Britain has been saved from the brink of bankruptcy by his savage cuts, only to conclude it by claiming that Labour would have cut even more. He knows that he cannot have it both ways, and he knows that he has cut £30 billion more from public expenditure than we planned to do. He knows that, in doing this, he has totally failed in his pledge to protect the most essential front-line services. It is now clear that his promises are unravelling, and that there will be a major impact on our schools, our hospitals and the police.

Schools up and down the country are facing cuts in funding, thanks to a budget settlement that takes no account of rising pupil numbers; and before the Liberal Democrats start getting excited about the pupil premium, I am sorry to have to tell them that the Education Secretary has now admitted that it is simply a con. In June, the Prime Minister pledged:

“We will take money from outside the education budget to ensure that the pupil premium is well funded”.—[Official Report, 2 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 432.]

But at the weekend, the Education Secretary finally came clean and admitted:

“Some of it comes from within the Department for Education budget, yes.”

It is not new funding after all; it is just money being moved around within the Department to disguise budget cuts.

The IFS calculates that 60% of primary school pupils and 87% of secondary school pupils will see a real-terms funding cut to their schools as a result of the new funding formula. We knew that the Liberal Democrats supported recycling, but we did not realise that this was what they meant. We were also repeatedly told that health spending was to be protected, yet £1 billion has been raided from the NHS to make up for some of the shortfall caused by the huge cuts in local government spending. With this settlement, the Prime Minister’s promise of real-terms increases in health spending will not be met.

There has been no commitment to front-line policing either. The Police Federation tells us that as many as 20,000 police will be sacked. The thin blue line has become a casualty of the thick red pen. For schools, the NHS and the police, there will be no protection for front-line services.

No. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman before.

No priority is to be given to the services that we rely on, day to day. That is the choice that the Government have made. Let us have a serious debate about the differences between us, and let us have no more nonsense from the Government about the four myths on which their entire defence of the scale of their cuts is based. Let us hear no more nonsense about the deficit being the result of the decision of one party or the fault of spending on our public services, rather than the inevitable result of a global economic crisis and the greed and recklessness of the banks.

The right hon. Lady has said that she is opposed to the welfare cuts that we have proposed, opposed to the pupil premium, opposed to the savings in the Ministry of Justice and opposed to the savings in the Home Office. Can she name one single saving that she would propose to help to tackle the deficit?

I have not said that I am opposed to all the changes in the social security budget. My right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor supported some of the changes in welfare spending. Indeed, it was we who developed them: the Government are putting our changes into effect. Let us hear no more of this nonsense about the scale of the Government’s cuts being unavoidable, rather than the result of a decision that they made on the balance between taxes and public spending cuts.

If the Chief Secretary had answered my questions, I might answer his. [Hon. Members: “Incredible!”] What I find incredible is the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has the figures for redundancies and the costs of redundancies across Whitehall in his books. We know what the Ministry of Justice figure is, but he knows what the overall figure is, and he refuses to give it to the House. That is a disgrace.

Let us hear no more nonsense about how the spending cuts that the Government have announced were, as a result of some magical accounting trick, less than those that we planned when we were in government. The truth is that this country faced the gravest of economic challenges. The truth is that our party, in government, rose to meet that challenge, and averted a catastrophe for our country by making tough decisions to protect jobs and homes in our economy. The truth is that whatever party was in government, it would now be making decisions to pay down the deficit. Any party, including ours, would be having to make tough decisions.

It is also true that there is a clear choice in relation to what to cut, and the balance between cuts and measures to bring in revenue. My right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has set out the different approach that we would be taking, which would protect not only front-line services but jobs, growth and the recovery. The Government, for ideological reasons alone, have used the deficit as a fig leaf for an assault on our public services of a kind that they had previously only dreamt of. They can talk of fairness as much as they like; they can spread myths as much as they like; but we are not fooled, and, more important, the British public will not be fooled either.

The spending review document sets out the Government’s choices. Those choices were freely made. What the Government have presented is their vision of a future for our country. What we have seen is not the big society but the blueprint for a smaller, meaner and nastier society, and we reject it.

Order. Speeches are limited to six minutes, and a vast number of Members wish to speak. We need restraint on the part of all Members, and if they can cut their speeches to less than six minutes, we may get near to the end of the list.

Six minutes is not a long time in which to respond to such high-octane exchanges. I do not intend to add to the highly partisan exchanges that we have just heard, but given that the Treasury Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into the CSR—the largest that has ever been undertaken—I want to make a few observations about what is in the document. I shall see how far I can get.

I am not sure that everyone will like my first observation. Indeed, I am not sure that anyone will like it. But the truth is that beneath all the political noise there is quite a wide range of cross-party agreement about the need for sharp action to tackle the deficit. At least two thirds of the correction to the deficit, or perhaps more, would have taken place whoever had won the election. That is clear from table 1.1 of the Red Book.

My second observation is that there is also a substantial consensus about overall economic strategy in the United Kingdom. That is in complete contrast to the position in the 1980s, when there were rival economic strategies. There is a consensus not just on deficit reduction, but on the need in principle to reform welfare, the need to sort out the banking system and to bring more competitiveness to it, and the need for some industrial support for biosciences and for some energy production, for example.

The third observation is that these cuts are not unprecedentedly large, as Lord Turnbull, who gave evidence to us this morning, said. The plans to cut public expenditure in the period ahead will keep it broadly steady in real terms for five years. Spending was kept broadly steady in real terms between 1984 and 1990.

I wonder whether that is right, because I have looked at the numbers and it would be appear that, over the period of the CSR, we will see the share of national income accounted for by public spending fall by about 6%, to 41%. That is exactly the same fall as was achieved during the first, and the start of the second, Thatcher Administrations.

Yes, and public expenditure will be back broadly speaking to the level under the last Labour Government prior to the financial crisis.

My fourth observation is that the major parties were right to conclude that large cuts in public spending were going to be necessary to stabilise the public finances. One way of looking at this, which Lord Turnbull alluded to this morning, is to work out how much tax has been forgone as a result of the output lost during the recession. If one does that calculation, one sees that, broadly speaking, around £80 billion of tax has been forgone. The total GDP loss is around £200 billion, of which about 40% would have flowed into tax. That suggests that cuts in spending of about £80 billion are probably required.

My fifth observation is that the scope for cuts is probably better now than it was in the 1980s. That retrenchment took place not, as this one is going to, after the longest period of continuous growth for a very long time in British history, but after the doleful years of the 1970s, when there was no growth at all, which made spending cuts difficult. In addition, absolute levels of income are much higher now than they were then, meaning that absolute levels of pain will also be reduced if these cuts are targeted effectively.

My sixth observation is that some, but certainly not all, of these cuts are the result of careful longer-term planning. For example, quite a lot of thought seems to have gone into welfare reform and education. This has been planned for some years and it probably draws on quite a lot of work that was already done in Whitehall for whoever won the election.

However, if I look at defence, I find it difficult to believe that much long-term planning has been done. It is extraordinary. We are going to build two aircraft carriers which for a decade will not carry any aircraft. I am reminded of an episode of “Yes Minister” in which Jim Hacker discovers that a hospital does not have any patients. In fact it is worse than “Yes Minister”, because Sir Humphrey pointed out in that episode, which I looked up, that some patients were about to be brought in. However, one of the carriers is even going to be mothballed. We would not start from here. I hope that the Public Accounts Committee will look vigorously at how the UK—and I see the Chairman nodding her head—came to sign those contracts for the carriers without any exit clauses. I also hope that we get to the bottom of whether there was scope for renegotiation of the contracts, which after all were taken out between a monopoly supplier and a monopoly demander. That should have created some scope for renegotiation.

My seventh observation is that some of the ring-fencing of public expenditure—we have quite a bit of ring-fencing—will be difficult to justify in the years ahead. I refer particularly to aid. To increase the aid budget by 37% in real terms while the justice budget is cut by a quarter in real terms takes quite a bit of justifying.

My final observation is very much a personal one: that the level of public expenditure matters irrespective of the deficit, and that it is too high. Even if there were no deficit, my own view is that having public expenditure as a proportion of GDP standing at 50% is not good for this country. It reduces choice and freedom for millions of individuals and it burdens enterprise with unacceptable levels of taxation. That is perhaps why for a large proportion of Labour’s period in office they held it at about 40%, and why the Government now intend to bring it back towards that level—the level at which Labour had it in 2008.

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate, as I believe that these economic issues will be the most important issues facing this Parliament. I want to talk in particular about the effects of the spending review on London and inner-city communities—the type of community that I have lived in all my life and sought to represent over the past two decades. I also want to talk specifically about the effects of the spending review on the private sector, as they are not sufficiently debated or understood, and on the public sector, and about the particular effects on housing and housing need in London, because I think the spending review and the mix of proposals on housing benefit and cutting expenditure on public sector housing will hit London harder than any other part of the country, with consequences that I do not think the Government have calculated.

It is not sufficiently understood that more than 1 million jobs in the private sector are directly dependent on public sector contracts with private sector organisations. That is the case in construction, for example, but there are also many jobs in social care and looking after young children that are basically delivered by private sector organisations. Also, when we make these cuts and people lose their jobs, demand will be taken out of the economy, so many retail and service companies in London will suffer. These cuts will have a ripple effect in the private sector in London. The Government and their supporters in the Lib Dem party may be laughing now, but they will be laughing on the other side of their faces when the effects on the private sector become clear.

The coalition Government talk about the public sector as if it is all about men in bowler hats who can easily be switched into meaningful jobs in sectors such as banking. In Hackney and the inner city generally the majority of public sector jobs are women’s jobs, however, and the majority of those women are heads of households, and far from doing peripheral or frippery jobs, they work in the heart of communities as teaching assistants or care assistants or in the voluntary sector, which will suffer because of the cuts in local government spending. These jobs are at the heart of communities. How hypocritical it is of the coalition Government to talk about the big society and then attack ordinary women working in the heart of their communities across a range of important occupations.

I have listened to what coalition Ministers have had to say, but having lived in and represented Hackney for more than 20 years, I can tell them that there are no private sector jobs for women in Hackney who will be made unemployed to step into. That is because of the structure of employment in Hackney and the inner city. Yes, we can count up the number of vacancies and the number of people who might be made unemployed, but there is a mismatch between the types of people that this coalition are going to fling into unemployment and the actual opportunities available to them, such as they are, in the City and the private sector in London generally.

We have to judge these matters on the basis not of political banter, to and fro and Punch and Judy, but of the effect on real people’s—real women’s—lives. The consequences for communities such as Hackney in the next financial year will be very serious indeed. The people in those communities will not have been impressed to see Ministers on the Treasury Bench laughing and congratulating themselves when the statement was read out. What were they congratulating themselves on—thousands of people losing their jobs and thousands more losing their homes?

That brings me on to housing. Members will be aware that since the 19th century one of the core activities of local government in London has been building housing—affordable, quality housing for rent. If hon. Members are not aware of that, I can take them to estates built in Hackney more than a century ago. Of course politicians then, even Tory politicians, recognised that decent housing was at the core of social stability and public health concerns. But what are we getting from this coalition? We are getting cuts in public sector housing expenditure, which, as I said, affect the traditional role of local government; cuts in people’s housing benefit after a year; and, above all, a cap in housing benefit.

I put it to the Government that the majority of people claiming housing benefit are not shiftless people, but working people and those looking after disabled people. These are not people who are simply unemployed. It has been argued that we have to cut housing benefit because, horror of horror, poor people are living alongside rich people in desirable areas of the city.

My hon. Friend is reflecting on the inequities of the changes to housing benefit. Does she agree that the Government’s focus on the cap is a red herring, because it is relevant to very few housing benefit recipients, and that the really important thing is the 10% cut that will hit housing benefit recipients in the second year?

I quite agree, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I have a sentence or so more to say about the cap. We have been told by the Prime Minister of the horror of poor people living alongside rich people in boroughs such as Islington and Westminster. Let me tell the Government that I can take them to the heart of the Prime Minister’s Notting Hill and show them poor but entirely respectable West Indian couples living alongside merchant bankers who have bought their houses for millions of pounds. London has always been a city where rich and poor live side by side; it has never had the perfumed stockades of the upper east side of New York or the kind of social segregation seen in American cities. This type of cleansing of poor people from what are deemed to be areas that are too good for them to live in is quite unconscionable. As my hon. Friends have said, this is not just about the cap on housing benefit, although that will also have a serious effect on ordinary people in London and may well see the end of some Lib Dem MPs now sitting on the Benches opposite us; it is also about the cuts in housing benefit after a year.

What I say to the House is that we can sit here this afternoon scoring points and doing the Punch and Judy stuff, but real people in our constituencies, whose circumstances are not understood by those on the Treasury Bench, will suffer as a result of this ill-thought-out, ill-paced and wholly ideological spending review. The credit crunch and the deficit have been the occasion of this spending review, not the reason for it.

At the end of the period, in 2014-15, the Government plan to spend £92 billion a year more, on current spending, on services than Labour did in its last year—that is a large 15% increase in the amount of cash. We need to ask ourselves why it is that every year public spending increases, yet the Government are proposing some extremely difficult or, in some cases, undesirable choices to be made in subsequent years to try to live within that rather big figure. I suggest to the Government that there are three areas that they could work on, and that their doing so would be in all our interests in this House, because if they could manage them better, they might not need to make so many of those difficult choices in the later years and would still be able to live within their totals and get the deficit down.

The first reason why there is a squeeze on some programmes that many Members do not want to see squeezed is the big rise in money allocated to pay for inflation; the plans assume quite a lot of public sector inflation over the five years. If the Government can do better at buying in goods and services—they are a very big purchaser and they say they are going to do so—they might reduce the average price of bought-in things. Instead of having positive inflation, they would have negative inflation on that part of the programme. If they can do a good deal with their employees, reassure them and get them to accept the kind of measures on pay that are being suggested—I believe that they are talking about a two-year pay freeze, for example—that will take a lot of extra inflation out of the system, because the biggest single item in these budgets is of course pay. Again, the more that we in the public sector can share the pain by moderate means, such as accepting pay restraint, the less we will have to take the difficult choices in later years that are built into the programme.

The next thing is staff numbers. A lot has been made so far in what passes for a debate in this House about having 490,000 fewer jobs in the public sector by the end of the period. These are not 490,000 redundancies. Given the large rate of resignations and retirements in the public sector to which the Chancellor has referred, I hope that most can be taken care of by eliminating posts after people have resigned or left.

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Of course, in a very small-minded way, what he says is right. If those jobs are cut, where does he think that young people will get the new jobs that they need?

In the private sector, which is already generating tens of thousands of jobs every month. That is what we need to do. I am not saying that there should be a complete staff freeze. For example, if 480,000 a year are leaving, which was the Chancellor’s figure in the Budget, 250,000 people could be hired while still achieving half the reduction in the first year. I think that the Chancellor might have been a bit optimistic, but he referred to an 8% rate. If the percentage was half as great, the reduction could still be made in the first two years. There could be reductions of 250,000 without a single redundancy.

I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends not to pursue the redundancy route wherever possible. It is expensive, unpleasant and disruptive. I do not want to see lots of people retiring early from the administrative services on big pensions, and I do not want to see redundancy payments made with people coming back into the public sector at a later date, leaving us to wonder why all the cost and disruption has been incurred.

The next big area that puts pressure on the increased money is debt interest. I entirely agree with the Government, and with Opposition Members who knew this when they were in government, that we have to bring the deficit down before it kills the whole budget. If we allow the deficit to keep on rising, as the Opposition originally proposed, debt interest will take more and more of the increased spending and we will have to make unpleasant cuts to the things that matter. How can we reduce that debt interest burden more quickly? If we can get more cash into the public sector, starting today—we do not need to wait to start the programme next year, as is implied in the figures—we will reduce the increase in the debt day by day. If we sell more assets, we will not have to raise so much money in the debt markets, which will keep the debt down.

It is very good news that the Government’s programme has restored a lot of confidence in the markets, so that the rate at which they now have to borrow is now lower. That will obviously make a contribution to getting the debt interest rate programme down.

I have to say to the Government that I do not think that we can afford to give £80 billion to foreign countries over the CSR period. If we add the overseas aid programme to the European Union programme, the total is £80 billion over the period. I do not want to take any money away from the poorest countries or from humanitarian aid. Those are good things and I fully support the Government’s intention to carry on with them, but I do not think that there is any need to subsidise China, India or Russia—nuclear weapons powers with, in the case of China, $2.5 trillion in the bank. It is a bit odd to give China a grant when we then have to borrow the money from China to pay the grant to China. That cannot make any sense.

I believe that the Government are now going to remove the aid to the richer and more successful countries. Cannot we pocket that for a couple of years and then become more generous when we have the deficit under control? May we please get the European amounts down? They are the most unforgivable ones; poor people in Britain are paying tax to offer grants to rich countries in Europe, and that is not acceptable in the current conditions.

The more that these pressures—the grants abroad, debt interest, costs, inflation and staff numbers—can be abated, the more we will have money available to do better things with the growing programmes. It is good news that nine of the Departments have level or rising cash throughout the period, but it is bad news that one or two other Departments will find that the shoe pinches a lot. That is why I think that we need to make more rapid progress in controlling costs and staff numbers, particularly in administration, and in dealing with the debt interest programmes, so that we have a bit more free to ease those areas that will be very tight in future years.

I do not for one moment believe the figures from 2013 to 2015 anyway, because I think that they will be subject to subsequent revision because of the pressure of events. As inflation changes, we will need to revise them. As the state of the economy changes, we will need to revise them one way or the other. Let us hope it will outperform and we will have a bit more scope.

As an election draws near, politicians tend to want to spend more, so we should discount the 2013-15 figures and concentrate on what is happening now. Will the Government please bring forward as many of the reductions as possible to this year, and not wait until next year? The more we save now, the less we borrow and the more the pressure is reduced on subsequent years’ programmes.

I shall focus specifically on child benefit, and start by sincerely congratulating the coalition Government. In 1945 the coalition Government, which involved Liberals, Conservatives and Labour, introduced family allowances—a coalition Government who got something right. It was in the mid to late 1970s that child tax allowances were amalgamated with the family allowance scheme to form child benefit.

Unfortunately, there is now a need to restate the case for family support and for child benefit. I want to explain why it is such an important scheme to maintain as a universal scheme. First, there is the societal interest in bringing up our children. No one spoke more clearly about that than Eleanor Rathbone when in 1940 she said that

“children are not simply a private luxury. They are an asset to the community, and the community can no longer afford to leave the provision for their welfare solely to the accident of individual income.”

That was Eleanor Rathbone, the heroine of family support, back in 1940.

A second reason for child benefit is what we might call horizontal equity. The welfare state is not simply about poverty. In terms of child benefit, it is about the fact that whatever people’s income level, if they have children, they are taking on financial responsibilities over and above those who are childless or the single. Horizontal equity is important, as we are finding out now.

Thirdly, there is the sheer cost of bringing up a child. No longer is a child someone who becomes independent at 14, 15 or 16, when they leave school and get a job. Once upon a time children might have been an economic asset on the land. Today our children, with higher and further education, are dependent on their families for longer and longer.

People have had a go at estimating the costs of a child. The most recent estimate that I have seen is from the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society, which said that the costs of a child could be as high as £200,000. We can add on to that other indirect costs when the mother, staying at home, loses her place on the career ladder, loses salary, loses income and loses pension rights. Our children are very expensive, as many of us who are parents know. It may be that for these economic reasons, the birth rate in societies such as the UK is below replacement level. These are significant issues.

The fourth reason is extremely important. The family allowance—now child benefit—was essentially an income for mothers. That is what Eleanor Rathbone was arguing for. Despite modern times, and despite the rise of the dual worker family and the rise of women’s rights, my guess would be that it is still mothers in most of our families who are responsible for juggling family budgets at different income levels. It is mums who make the judgment about whether the clothes and the shoes can be afforded, how to fund the school trips and the treats for children—[Interruption.] That obviously struck a chord with someone. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) could also laugh at any jokes I make, that would be helpful.

The income for mothers is particularly important for mothers who, often pejoratively, are referred to as the stay-at-home mums—those who make the judgment that for the first few years, they want to look after their own children. Choice is so important. I think that in future we will see more parents wanting to spend time with their children, especially when they are young. That is why the family allowance and the child benefit have been so important, and that is why, following the modern coalition Government’s announcement, we have seen so much concern from those mothers in so-called higher income families about the loss of their income. That is very important.

A fifth reason is that child benefit, alongside other benefits, is part of the universalist spine that is so crucial to a modern welfare state. Alongside free education, a free national health service, pensions and national insurance benefits, child benefit is universalism, and I believe that universalism is a major force for cohesion in our society. It is a “We’re all in this together” social policy, which we start to erode with perilous implications. Child benefit is simple, easily understood and easily administered.

Will my right hon. Friend also acknowledge that one of the good things about child benefit is that its take-up is so high? Take-up is one of the problems that we have with many benefits that are paid out.

I agree, of course, because child benefit is easily understood, simple and a universal benefit. I am very happy to agree with my parliamentary neighbour.

Child benefit is now being undermined, which is why it is so important to restate the basics in favour of family benefits. We are seeing something that will attack the very principle of women’s entitlement. It will essentially punish mothers if their husbands earn above the higher tax threshold; the mums will suffer because of the father’s income. As an aside, let us not assume that in the 21st century income is shared by all families; there are still families where the father keeps more than he gives to the mother and the children. That is not just about poverty, either; it happens at other income levels, too.

The measure is also a snub to those mothers who, as I said earlier, choose to stay at home to look after their own children. We need more choices—about whether people go to work and use child care or stay at home to look after their own children. What message are we sending out to those mothers who want to care for their children in that way?

The measure also introduces, as we know, the unfairness between the dual-earner family on £80,000, who keep the child benefit, and the family with one earner above the threshold, who lose it. The measure is a recipe for complexity, and it will disincentivise those who are just below the tax threshold to earn more money in the future.

This is a measure that needs to be rethought. It undermines family support, and it undermines our children. So much for the party of the family.

I begin by reminding the House of the background against which we debate this comprehensive spending review. We were borrowing £1 for every £4 that we spent, and that simply could not go on, whatever Government of whatever combination of parties had taken office after the general election in May.

There were more than 20 public meetings in Bristol West during the election, and at every single one I made it clear to my potential constituents that, if my party took part in a coalition after the election, as seemed likely from the polls at the time, we would have to make difficult decisions and would not shirk from doing so.

Did the hon. Gentleman make it clear at those same meetings what he was going to do on tuition fees after the election? Did he make it clear that the pledge that he was signing was not the worth the paper it was written on?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. Yes, I certainly did address many student audiences during the election in Bristol West, and I made it quite clear that in an ideal world, and in ideal financial circumstances, the Liberal Democrats would have wished to abolish tuition fees from the outset. Financial circumstances did not allow us to do so, however, and that is why we had a phased plan. I spoke at the launch of the National Union of Students pledge on working with the Government for a fairer system of student finance, and I am still working with the Government and the NUS to produce such a fair system. If the Government come forward with a fair system, I will support them; if they do not, I will not.

We know that Labour planned to make billions of pounds’ worth of cuts whatever happened after the election; it has been confirmed in many memoirs. But Labour Members have since been in deficit denial. They have been in denial about the need to tackle the deficit itself, and, as today’s debate has shown, they have not been able to give us a single Government measure that they would support, or to put forward an alternative themselves. The coalition Government are taking the necessary steps to restore order and stability to our public finances. That will restore confidence among British businesses and confidence among countries abroad that Britain is serious about tackling its desperate situation. Confidence and low interest rates are the bedrock for ensuring that our businesses can grow.

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is not a difference in views on the need to deal with the deficit per se but that the issue is rather the speed and the depth with which we do that? Labour Members think that we need to go for a different time scale of deficit reduction as compared with his party—or at least his party post-May of this year. Will he at least acknowledge that there is a view on deficit reduction among Labour Members, but that it may not be the same as his party’s?

The hon. Gentleman is a thoughtful man who now sits on the Treasury Committee. Perhaps he thinks that this is a serious issue that needs to be tackled, but many of his hon. Friends seem to be in deficit denial. We have not heard thus far in the debate—although there are many hours to go—a single idea from the Opposition on how they would tackle the deficit, whether it is over four years or five years, which is a point of debate.

I am running out of time, so I will not be able to.

The Chief Secretary announced that the comprehensive spending review was designed to achieve three things. The first of those was growth, and today’s statement by the Business Secretary certainly builds on that. I welcome the £1.4 billion for the regional growth fund and the local enterprise partnerships that have been set up to replace the regional development agencies. In Bristol, the South West Regional Development Agency will not be missed, and I look forward to working with our local enterprise partnership for Bristol and the west of England. I welcome the fact that the science budget has been protected in cash terms, and the fact that £250 million extra is being put into apprenticeships—something that I spoke about repeatedly in the last Parliament, when I led for my party on these issues.

I also welcome the moves towards a low-carbon economy to ensure that we have stable and sustainable growth in future, with the green investment bank and the first investment in carbon capture and storage, which the previous Government pulled out of.

I welcome, too, the transport schemes that have been announced so far this week, but I look forward to confirmation next week, when we have the announcements on rail, that the electrification of the great western main line from Paddington to Bristol and to south Wales should go ahead in order to support growth and stability in Swindon, Bristol, the west of England and south Wales.

The second theme of the CSR is reform to the welfare system, which is absolutely essential. The need for that was recognised by the last Labour Government, but now Lord Freud is a Minister in the coalition Government and Lord Hutton is advising the coalition Government on how to achieve what the previous Government recognised but failed to tackle. It is a key principle that work should always pay: it should be clear to everybody that if one is in work one should be better off. However, the welfare system is a social contract between all of us, and, in addition, taxpayers must think it is fair for them to pay for it.

In the light of what the hon. Gentleman just told the House, does he support the cuts in housing benefit?

The cuts in housing benefit are an example of difficult decisions that have been made. However, I have to say to the hon. Lady—we represent similar constituencies, mine in Bristol and hers in central London—that £400 a week in housing benefit is not a miserly amount for someone to fund their accommodation.

Not again. I do not think that the coalition Government will be making people homeless on the scale that the hyperbole coming from the Opposition Benches suggests.

The third theme of the CSR is the need for fairness. In the last Parliament, I spoke many times about the importance of achieving social mobility. We know from the studies of those born in 1958 and those born in 1970 that social mobility has stagnated. There are many complicated reasons for that, not all of which can be laid at the door of the previous Government. I am sure that their intentions were good in many circumstances, but sadly after 13 years social mobility was still stuck and Britain was still the second least socially mobile country in the world after the United States. That is why I particularly welcome the fairness premium of £7.2 billion over the comprehensive spending review period that was confirmed in the review, and the £2.5 billion pupil premium, which is from additional funding from outside schools’ budgets and is being introduced to help the poorest children from around our country. I grew up being entitled to free school meals and know what it is like to make the journey from poverty to a career through work and effort. Many children need support from their schoolteachers and mentoring from other people to bring about that transformation. I am a liberal interventionist and make no apology for that. It is important that that support continues through to further and higher education, so I welcome the £150 million higher education scholarship as a basis of support for young people who access higher education for the first time.

This Government inherited a desperate situation. We have the worst deficit of all the major economies in the world, at 11% of our national income. It is not entirely the fault of the banks. The structural deficit was high before the bank bail-out and continued to increase after it, and the Labour Government spent recklessly in their last days. The current Government are acting to reduce the deficit, introduce reform, encourage growth and, most importantly, encourage fairness in our society and achieve it through social mobility.

I was particularly keen to speak in today’s debate because, the day after the Chancellor delivered his statement in the Chamber, his draconian cuts greeted with cheering and waving from the Government Benches, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister headed off to a primary school in my constituency. I am not quite sure why they were there, and it seemed as though they did not know why either, but of course the kids at Welbeck primary greeted them with great delight. Prince Charles came up to the Meadows recently, so people are getting used to visitors from London.

Could the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister possibly have been at the school in my hon. Friend’s constituency getting some arithmetic lessons?

If only. I thank my hon. Friend.

What did I hear in the media coverage of the visit? I heard about the Prime Minister’s amazement that he had found a lad who liked broccoli. I did not hear the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister telling the kids about the huge gamble that the Government are taking with their future. They are performing a huge economic experiment. They have a theory that if we cut public spending, lose 490,000 public sector jobs and, as PricewaterhouseCoopers tells us, lose another 500,000 private sector jobs that depend on the public sector, the rest of the private sector will somehow fill the gap. They do not seem to hear the warnings of economists who disagree. Listening to Ministers last week, one would have thought that the PricewaterhouseCoopers figures had about the same credence as Mystic Meg. The Government do not want to hear about the effect of their cuts, because they want to make them.

Has my hon. Friend found any evidence that the coalition Government have thought out how confidence will be created to stimulate the public sector, given that millions of people across the country are worrying that their household might be one of the million that will be hit by a job cut, and fearing that cuts to housing benefit will mean that they are left with very few pennies to spare after their mortgage payments or rent?

I thank my hon. Friend for that interjection. In fact, the latest figures for both consumer and business confidence are going through the floor.

Never mind the extra 1 million who will be out of work, the extra £700 million that we will have to spend on jobseeker’s allowance or the loss of tax revenues; the Government’s attitude is, “Cut deep and keep your fingers crossed.” But did the Prime Minister say that when he was in Nottingham? Did he tell those children about his gamble? Of course not, just like he did not tell them that their families, many of whom are in the poorest 10%, would be hit harder than anyone else. He did not mention that for all the talk of fairness, families with children will have to pay more than twice as much as the banks towards reducing the deficit. He did not mention that although his friend the Chancellor talked about continuing the decent homes programme, the funds have actually been cut.

I am sure that the hon. Lady and all hon. Members present agree that future jobs are vital. Will she therefore join me in welcoming last quarter’s figures, which show the greatest increase in new jobs for more than 20 years?

I am absolutely delighted that new jobs are being created. My concern is that when the cuts start to feed through that will no longer be the case.

Although some of the children whom the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were talking to will have had improvements to their homes—new windows and doors to make them secure, or new boilers or better insulation to make them warm—their classmates will not all get the same opportunity. The Prime Minister did not tell them what will be happening to some of the schools that they will go to when they leave Welbeck primary, or to the schools that their brothers and sisters might go to. The projects to rebuild Trinity and Fernwood secondary schools in my constituency have been scrapped altogether. As for the projects to rebuild Nethergate, Farnborough and Bluecoat, a few months ago, the Secretary of State for Education said that they were unaffected, but they are now being told that there is a cut of 40% in the funding available. I am sure that if the Prime Minister had asked the kids at Welbeck they could have told him that “unaffected” means not affected. Sadly, that is another broken promise and it is not fair.

Finally, let us nail the myth that this is all Labour’s fault. When he spoke in the Chamber last week, the Chancellor did not mention the word “recession” once. We have just come through the biggest economic crisis in generations—a global recession. If he does not understand why the deficit is high how can he possibly understand how to fix it? The deficit went up because we had a huge fall in output and tax receipts plummeted. Spending went up so that we could protect people’s homes and jobs, protect businesses and prevent the recession from becoming a depression. Labour took the right decisions and the Conservatives would have made the wrong choice every time. They are gambling with people’s jobs and homes and they have no plan for growth.

If the previous Government took the right decisions, why were we the first of the G7 countries into recession, the longest in it and the last out?

We suffered most during the recession because we had a high reliance on financial services. It was because our tax receipts were hit so badly that we needed to take action to protect people’s jobs and homes. The Conservatives would have done nothing and they have no plan for growth. I am afraid that the next time the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister come to Nottingham, they might not get such a warm welcome.

The reading comes from “Proverbs”, chapter 31, verses 8 and 9:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;

oppose any that go to law against them;

speak out and pronounce just sentence

and give judgement for the wretched and the poor.”

I am grateful to Lexden Methodist church in my constituency for its notices for the week of Sunday 24 October and the thought for the week—political concerns. I mention that because of the deafening silence from the Church in the broader sense on issues of social concern, housing benefit and the housing crisis. There are enough bishops at the other end who could speak out on such issues, but I am still waiting for the Church—archbishops, bishops and cardinals, the whole lot—to speak. I am grateful to Lexden Methodist church for allowing me to put that on the record and I welcome the concept of fairness.

I am not one who says that all private is good and all public bad, or vice versa. It is important to keep a mixture of the two.

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I think he is being slightly unfair to the clergy. My local vicar has written asking me to join a campaign to get the Chancellor to pay his fair share of taxes following last week’s “Dispatches” programme.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point, but I was talking about the major, national Church leaders. There are excellent clergy at local level. Indeed, St Margaret’s church in my constituency, which is in a relatively prosperous part of one of the world’s richest countries, has started a food parcel system for hard-up families. The fact that the Church at community level is doing such things speaks volumes, but our national Church leaders are not. I look forward to the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking up.

Archbishop Sentamu said only the other day:

“I am not an economist, and I am not a politician, but to cut investment to vital public services, and to withdraw investment from communities, is madness.”

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that Archbishop Sentamu is sticking up for people in this country? Does he agree with those sentiments?

I applaud the Archbishop of York for that sentiment and those words—and indeed many others. He and I have something in common: we have both done a freefall sky dive with the Red Devils.

Earlier this morning I met the vicar of Dibley. Actually, that is not quite true. I actually met the Rev. Paul Nicholson, who is chair of Zacchaeus 2000 Trust. Before he took that position, he was the priest in the village of Turville, where “The Vicar of Dibley” was filmed. He is very concerned, as indeed I hope we all are. He points out that contrary to the Daily Mail examples, accommodation for people on benefits is expensive because there is a shortage of affordable housing, owing to the absence of any coherent housing policy for the past 30 years.

The market has failed to provide affordable housing. Property speculators and landowners have grown wealthy, but the poorest tenants face the misery of eviction through no fault of their own. Eviction for rent arrears triggers homelessness, and councils must somehow address that. However, those of us who have a local government background will know that when eviction is brought about by rent arrears, the legal term “intentional homelessness” creeps in, which is a serious problem. Those who were present at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday will know that I asked him about it, and I have spoken on the matter in Westminster Hall debates.

I am grateful to Family Action, a charity that was founded in 1869 and that is now sponsored by Barclaycard. Its analysis of the welfare reforms, which is entitled “Pushed Towards Poverty: 21 welfare cuts for low-income working families”, adds to the anxiety of recent times, which can only get worse. Family Action supports vulnerable and disadvantaged families throughout England, including families in which parents experience mental health problems, learning difficulties, addiction or domestic violence. Critically, it works with families within their homes to improve the parenting, ensure that the children’s development milestones are met, and to help them to access work, training and volunteering. The impact of the changes in general—not just housing benefit cuts—could make it harder for many families to lift themselves out of poverty through work and, in some cases, families such as the ones with whom Family Action works risk finding that employment is no longer sustainable.

In debates such as this, it is worth quoting local examples. The one big benefit of the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme is that a secondary school in my constituency that the Labour Government would have closed will not now be closed. However, alongside that, we need funding for Colchester academy, which opened last month. It was Sir Charles Lucas Arts college. The pupils have a new uniform and the school a new name, but they are still using the same dilapidated building. I therefore look to the coalition Government to deliver a new building.

Finally, I shall draw the House’s attention to the possible unintended consequences and knock-on effects of halting capital schemes. The Sure Start capital grant project at Kendall school in Colchester has already had £102,000 invested, but if the grant is not now forthcoming, all that money will have been wasted. That takes into account only the financial aspects, not the provision of places for pre-school children and so on. A local building company was all set to start work, planning permission has been granted and a chain reaction of education provision is on the verge of commencing for the benefit of the school and the local community, but it needs the Sure Start money.

I also wrote to the Secretary of State for Education on 23 September. I headed the letter “The Big Society—common-sense and avoiding an own goal”. It relates to St John’s church in Colchester where the erection of a new church hall is again dependent on the Sure Start money. If that project does not go ahead, £115,000- worth of preparatory work will be wasted and donations, bequests and fundraising work will all have been to no avail. I urge the Government to look at what is going on. These are capital investments that would generate jobs and provide benefits for the local community.

The headlines in the debate on the comprehensive spending review have concentrated mainly on justified concerns about cuts to family support, welfare and housing. However, in my contribution I wish to focus on some of the main questions about transport.

Transport is vital to most of what happens in this country. It is vital to economic development, to enabling people to get to work and to quality of life. It enables people to lead full lives and guards against social exclusion. I welcome the headlines in the settlement on transport, including the focus on some specific investments which is very welcome, but I wish to draw the House’s attention to some major issues that need much fuller investigation.

The first is that of fairness in investment and regeneration—with the accompanying jobs—across the country. At the moment, transport investment in London per head is three times higher than in other regions. It is unclear whether the proposals in the settlement will change that or simply exacerbate the difference. I welcome the announcement that Crossrail will go ahead. I know how important that is in London—and it has national implications—but there is an ominous silence about the go-ahead in a proper timescale for electrification of the Liverpool-Manchester-Preston-Blackpool line. I noted the strange answer from the Secretary of State for Transport this morning, which avoided the issue completely. We have had no clarity about electrification on the Great Western line or whether the northern hub will go ahead in the way envisaged. All those projects are important for economic regeneration and have implications for the release and provision of rolling stock across the north. We need much clearer and quicker answers to those questions.

Great concern has also been expressed about the dramatic fare increases in the settlement. The increase in train fares could see the fare from Manchester to London increase from just over £65 to £88—

I am sorry, but I have very little time and other hon. Members wish to speak.

Bus fares often do not get sufficient attention, but many lower-income people depend on buses to get to work and local amenities. But there will be a severe cut in bus services’ operators grant, which could mean higher bus fares and fewer bus services. The cut in that grant combined with cuts in revenue support to local authorities could mean that less money is available to enable buses to be provided where services are needed for social reasons rather than to make increased profits for the bus operating companies. We have had very little clarity about what that means.

Another important matter that has not been mentioned by Government Transport Ministers concerns the implications of a settlement on the critical issue of road safety. One of the unrecognised success stories of recent years has been the big reduction in the number of fatalities and serious injuries on our roads. Every single death and serious injury is a tragedy for the individuals and their families, but it is significant that, in the past year alone, there has been a 12% reduction in the number of people killed on our roads. The reason for that reduction is that local and central Government have combined in a number of measures to make our roads safer.

It is extremely disturbing, therefore, that we now have a cut in—an elimination of, in some cases—the specific grants to local authorities that enable them to go ahead with road safety schemes, together with a change in national direction and the abolition, I understand, and the complete axing of the previous Government’s effective public education campaign on road safety. That combination of Government and local action was very important in reducing the number of road casualties. Has any thought been given to how the cuts in this spending will affect the number of deaths on our roads? That is critical.

I am also extremely concerned about the difficulties facing strategic road schemes under the new arrangements. Such schemes matter because they bring jobs and economic benefits to local areas, but the projects currently decided on through the regional allocations now have nowhere to go and, from the Transport Secretary’s written statement today, it seems clear that he too has no answers. Local economic partnerships are no substitute for proper regional thinking that cuts across local authorities and provides vital economic lifelines—by giving access to ports, for example.