Debate resumed (Order, 28 March).
Question again proposed,
(1) That it is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation,
(b) for refunding an amount of tax,
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
I must notify the House that motion 12, which relates to tobacco products duty rates, has not been printed correctly on the Order Paper. The correct version has appeared on the Order Paper on previous days and is available today on a separate sheet. A large number of Members wish to speak in the debate and a time limit of six minutes on Back-Bench speeches has been set. I remind Members not to approach the Chair to inquire where they are on the list. The Chair will do his or her best to accommodate Members in the course of the afternoon, but it will not be assisted by people making inquiries.
In concluding the Budget debate, and recognising what you have just said, Mr Speaker, I will take interventions. However, I will try to make some progress, as many Members wish to get in and many of the points have probably already been made.
I think that it has been an excellent Budget, given the circumstances we find ourselves in. The Chancellor is to be congratulated on focusing on his priorities, which he stated clearly, for rebuilding the shattered economy that we inherited. Let me remind the House that when Labour came to power in 1997 they received a golden economic inheritance, the like of which few Governments since the war have received, which gave them money to spend. Despite that, the painful scar of youth unemployment hardly changed, some 4.5 million were stuck on out-of-work benefits, 1.4 million had never worked at all and we had the largest structural deficit of any G7 economy. Intriguingly, the worst thing is that that point was reached even before the recession had started.
After that, things just got a whole lot worse: 5 million on out-of-work benefits; working-age poverty up; youth unemployment at a record high; more children in workless households than the rest of the European Union; and the largest budget deficit in the UK’s post-war history, of more than £150 billion. That deficit is for one year, piling on top of the outstanding debt mountain, and £120 million is spent on interest payments alone—every single day. There was even talk of an International Monetary Fund bail-out, bringing alive memories of the dark years of the late 1970s—and, of course, the House knows who was in power then.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that two thirds of the deficit—£84 billion—was due to the financial crisis, and that the Budget’s overall fiscal tightening is £98 billion? Does he not agree that he is going too far, too fast, savaging whole communities, choking growth with cuts and stoking up inflation with VAT? Is that not completely wrong? That is why so many people marched against it.
That gives me an opportunity to put the shadow Chancellor right. He said in one of the Budget debates last week that the structural deficit was low as we entered the recession. We had the highest structural deficit in the whole developed world, and intriguingly he is in denial about that, so whether he talks about debt or deficits, in reality as we entered the recession, the economy had been badly run, leaving us with a record structural deficit.
Importantly, what has been Labour’s response as a result of that? Acceptance that it had lost control; perhaps even a little humility? Not a bit of it. Instead, we have seen a desperate scramble to find almost anybody else to blame for the problems, and it appears, even today, no attempt to make any amends publicly. In the Labour playbook, the previous Government were just innocent bystanders in somebody else’s evil game. Poor old Britain. Apparently, we were just minding our own business when along came some nasty industrialists and bankers who ganged up on us in some international capitalist conspiracy. It is like some ghastly, poor script. It really does read like some really poor script from an Austin Powers movie, and I am pretty sure that any minute now the shadow Chancellor is going to try to blame Dr Evil and bring him into the script as well.
Is the right hon. Gentleman suffering from some kind of amnesia? Has he forgotten that, after some 20 years of the previous Conservative Government, we had almost 3 million people unemployed? In two of my inner-city wards, I had 50% male unemployment and 75% youth unemployment. Is the right hon. Gentleman about to embark on the same mistakes that caused such massive unemployment after 20 years of the previous Tory Government?
It is always a pleasure to give way to the right hon. Lady, because if anything she is always honest with her own side. I understand that quite recently she said that her own party had been pretty much unrealistic about the situation, and I seem to recall that she even said that it should be more specific about what reductions it would make. She was a part of a governing party that left this country with the worst recession, the worst deficit and massive debts, so I do not need to explain where we were in ’97; she needs to explain why we got to where we were at the last election.
No. I am going to make some progress, because Mr Speaker has already told us that we need to let others speak.
Let me remind Labour Members that they were the ones who let the bankers rip as they pleased, leading to a 10-year spending spree that sent personal debt to the record level of £1.3 trillion. They let public spending rip, too, but Members should not take my word for it; strangely, Tony Blair—not now spoken about much on the Labour Benches—said that
“from 2005 onwards Labour was insufficiently vigorous in limiting or eliminating the potential structural deficit.”
Insufficiently vigorous? That is possibly the biggest understatement that I have ever read. The reality is that they did nothing at all about controlling the deficit, so it is small wonder that the No. 1 priority for this coalition Government was to get the finances straightened out, and my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary are doing just that.
What we are dealing with here—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I will tell Labour Members what the big “Ah!” is. It is “Ah, who were in government for the past 12 years?”, it is “Ah, who left us with the worst structural deficit?”, and it is “Ah, who left us with massive debts, rising youth unemployment and a total shambles from which we are going to have to pick up the pieces?”
One of our biggest challenges was getting to grips with the welfare system, which many Members on both sides of the House will recall. Spending on working-age welfare increased by some 50% under Labour, from £48 billion to £73 billion in real terms. People talk about the problems of increasing welfare spending in difficult times, but let me remind the House that that increase took place during a period of growth. Notwithstanding that extra spending, improvements were quite poor. The universal credit is about getting the incentives right. That is the sort of reform that we have to bring through, recognising that people have to see the financial benefits from taking up employment, and simplifying the byzantine benefits system that we inherited. Alongside it, the Work programme is about supporting people to be work-ready so that British business no longer has to look abroad when it wants to commit to bringing in employees.
We are finally getting to grips with a housing benefit system that has been allowed to run out of control. The failure to reform housing benefit has left us in the absurd situation whereby some benefit claimants can claim up to £100,000 a year to live in large houses in expensive areas. The local housing allowance formula was behind all this madness. I remind Labour Members that it was their Government who introduced the local housing allowance, which pumped fuel into that growth. The difference between the average award under the LHA and under the older schemes for private deregulated tenants that it replaced was an additional £10 per week, or about 10%. As a result, the costs of housing benefit rocketed from £14 billion in 2005-06 to £21 billion in 2010-11. Left unreformed, the housing benefit budget was projected to reach £24 billion in 2014-15. That is, frankly, unsustainable and unacceptable to hard-working British taxpayers.
Housing benefit is an issue on which Labour Members have shown themselves at their very worst. First, we got ludicrous claims about social cleansing from central London, whipping up fury and fear. [Hon. Members: “That started with you.”] No, it started with them, and I know exactly who it was. Then, on top of that, we were told that the real reason was that we are a Government bent on some kind of plan for ethnic cleansing. Labour Members are not averse to a bit of dog-whistle politics when it suits them, scaring some of the most vulnerable people in society and leading them to fear what is coming next.
The problem is that the Labour Government had over 10 years to get to grips with the welfare system, and literally nothing was done about it—it was fiddle, more fiddle, and more expense. The Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed that as a result of the changes to expenditure that we brought through, we remain on track to eradicate our structural deficit over the course of this Parliament.
It is important, too, to reflect on how the Budget for growth has gone down with people. Sir Martin Sorrell says:
“The coalition from the very beginning had said it was crucially important that Britain had a competitive tax landscape. They've gone further than I expected on corporate”
“and also on personal taxation.”
He went on to say that
“it looks as though we will make that recommendation”
to return his company’s headquarters to the United Kingdom. That is a real endorsement.
A letter in The Daily Telegraph yesterday from 39 leading venture capitalists stated:
“These changes are a shot in the arm for enterprise. Thanks to them Britain is being positioned as a world-class place to launch new businesses. Now British entrepreneurs and those relocating to Britain will find it easier to raise the funds they need to do what they do best: create and expand world-beating businesses.”
John Cridland, the CBI director general, said:
“This Budget will help businesses grow and create jobs. The chancellor has made clear the UK is open for business.”
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has seen the latest statement from the Institute of Directors, which says that 58% of company executives are now more confident about the long-term economic outlook, and that just 9% are less optimistic.
I am bowled over by that—what can I say? That was a timely intervention by my hon. Friend. I apologise for not producing that point myself. It is yet more evidence that this Budget, which was shaped by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to ensure that Britain is open for business, has opened it for business. That is what business men are saying.
I want to bring one more person to the attention of the House. This tribute is perhaps more difficult for the Opposition to cope with. It is from none other than Duncan Bannatyne—a great name. He said:
“This Budget has convinced me that George Osborne is serious about growth and enterprise.”
I remind the Opposition that he was a huge and strong supporter of the previous Government. Even when almost every other business man had deserted them, he still supported them. To use his own wise words, he has said, “I’m in!” I think that the rest of the country is too.
Getting to grips with the public finances is just the starting point, not the destination. Of course we have to balance the Budget, but this Government are about much more than that. Our ambition is to make the next decade the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in Britain’s history. That is why we have set out plans to create the most competitive tax system in the G20. That is why we are reducing the rate of corporation tax yet further from 28% to 26% in 2011-12, and crucially, all the way down to 23% from 2014-15. That will give the UK the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G7. I thought that I would hear a cheer from the Opposition for that, because they must surely want that to happen. Perhaps they do not.
That ambition is why we are making the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business. We are supporting small firms with a moratorium on domestic regulation, which will give them a real chance to plan and to get going. We are investing £100 million in science capital development. That ambition is also why we are encouraging investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy. We are setting up 21 new enterprise zones with superfast broadband, lower taxes and low levels of regulation and planning controls.
From our perspective, we can see that even as the economy grew under the previous Government, too many people in this country missed out. More than half the additional jobs that were created went to foreign nationals. It is therefore hardly surprising that youth unemployment was higher when we came into office than when Labour took power. As growth picks up again, we have to ensure that this group does not miss out once more. Some 900,000 additional jobs will be created over the course of this Parliament, and our welfare reforms are about ensuring that our people are ready and able to take them.
The previous Prime Minister spoke about British jobs for British workers, but the reality is that most of the jobs did not go to British workers. That point is not about immigration, but about supply and demand. We have to ensure that British workers are ready and able to take the jobs. That is why this Budget introduces new and hugely welcome measures to provide extra support for young people. They will be helped to find sustainable jobs in the private and voluntary sector. We will fund an additional 50,000 apprenticeship places over the lifetime of this Parliament, and importantly, 40,000 of them will be targeted at the young unemployed. That is on top of the 75,000 places announced last year.
Overall, with the new measures in the Budget, the Government will deliver at least 250,000 more apprenticeships over the next four years compared with the previous Government’s plans. Those apprenticeships will be very valuable, because they will give young people in particular, but others as well, real training, real skills and a proper job at the end of it.
Alongside that, we are aiming to assist in the process of getting apprenticeships by providing up to 100,000 work experience places over the next two years. Those placements will last a minimum of eight weeks, rather than the two weeks made available under the previous Government. We will also offer employers an extra linking month when it will provide a route into an apprenticeship. If an employer says after the eight weeks that they will put a young person into an apprenticeship, or even into work, we will be prepared to give the young person an extra month of work experience so that the employer can sort out whatever is necessary without having to let them drop out of the company.
That work experience will be a crucial head start for young people. As David Frost of the British Chambers of Commerce said in January:
“Employers will be key to getting young people into work. This programme is a way of not only providing quality work experience but also of introducing individuals to the modern world of work.”
The programme has also got the backing of Hayley Taylor, star of Channel 4’s “The Fairy Jobmother” series, whom I saw the other day—a great woman. She has said:
“It’s hard to get a job with no experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. That’s why this work experience scheme is a really good idea.”
However, this Budget is not just about securing the position of workers today; it is also about securing their position in the future, as they enter retirement. We have done a great deal for current pensioners. We have restored the earnings link and given a triple guarantee that the basic state pension will rise by the highest of the growth in average earnings, the prices increase or 2.5%.
Yes, exactly. That will provide a really generous state pension that gives a firm financial foundation. Someone retiring today on a full basic state pension will receive £15,000 more over their retirement than they would have done under the old prices link. We have also permanently increased cold weather payments from £8.50 to £25.
Notwithstanding the prospects of today’s pensioners, the prospects for the next generation are very different. I hope that Members of all parties will recognise that those who are not near to receiving their pension, and who perhaps are just starting their career, face a very difficult time indeed.
On the subject of pensioners, was the Secretary of State as disappointed as I was that the Chancellor did not have the guts to mention in his Budget statement that he was reducing the winter fuel allowance from £400 to £300? His decision not to continue with the £400 payments comes after he said they would be protected and permanent in future. Some 12 million pensioners will be upset by the Government’s policy not to continue with them at a time when bills are going up year on year.
I am interested that the hon. Gentleman raises the matter, because it was originally mentioned in the comprehensive spending review. We have stuck to the last Government’s plans on the winter fuel payment. In fact, I was intrigued by the issue so I looked up what the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), who is in his place, said when he was Chancellor. He said a lot of straightforward things, and I congratulate him on that. He said about the winter fuel payments that they
“were temporarily increased to £250, and £400 for the over-80s…I will guarantee this higher winter fuel payment for another year.”—[Official Report, 24 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 263.]
When we look at the Red Book produced at the time, we find that there was no allocation for any more winter fuel payments. We stuck to the last Government’s plans. Perhaps the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) should ask his right hon. Friend why he did not plan for more. We did exactly what we said we would do.
The real problem is that 7 million people are not saving enough for the retirement that they want, and few will be able to rely on a guaranteed income in retirement, because the numbers saving in defined benefit schemes in the private sector have more than halved in the last 20 years. In fact, less than half of the entire working-age population is currently saving in a pension at all.
Our plans automatically to enrol all workers in a pension scheme will make a real difference—we have continued the work started by the previous Government—but my hon. Friend the Minister and I do not think that auto-enrolment will work unless it pays people to save, which is why we have determined finally to get to grips with the state pension. As all hon. Members know, not only is the state pension extremely complex, leaving millions of people unsure as to what they will receive in retirement, but it completely fails to reward those who make the effort to save but who do not quite get there.
Too many people reach state pension age having scrimped and saved all their life to find that others, who have not saved or who have made no effort to save, get the same income as them through pension credit. The Budget is about rewarding those who do the right thing, which is why we will shortly publish a Green Paper on state pension reform, with an option for a single-tier state pension, which will provide a clear foundation for saving. We currently estimate that it will be set at around £140 a week, which is above the level of the means-tested guarantee credit, but we must send out the clear message across the welfare and the pension systems that people will be better off in work than on benefits, and better off in retirement if they save.
If the change in the pension system is to benefit the whole country and all pensioners—current and future—why have the Secretary of State’s policies targeted specifically women born between ’53 and ’54? They expected to retire, but now discover that they must work at least four years longer. That does not strike me as a policy that benefits the entire population.
The hon. Lady’s comment on working four years longer is simply incorrect, but I take what she says. The reality is that the Government are doing what we were asked to do—equalise the ages—and increasing the age to 66. I recognise the group she mentions, but they will be covered and supported in other ways anyway, so this is not a loss—
The House will be pleased that the Government want to move to a standard pension of about £140 a week, but how will that be paid for? Will it be by pooling the contributions of those who have already paid under the national insurance and state earnings-related pension schemes? If so, how many will lose out, and what sort of message would that send to people about saving?
First, we will publish the Green Paper very shortly. We are finalising it, so I do not want to get into the full detail now, but I promise the right hon. Gentleman that we will answer all such questions. Less means-testing is the key. I leave him with that thought, but I will tantalise him not much longer: there is some really good stuff coming in the Green Paper, and I am sure he will find every reason to support it, given that he has been so positive about pensions for many years.
That is to do with the process of equalising, which we are doing slightly faster. It is in the interest of the nation and individuals for us to do that. If we do not do it, there is a cost implication, which could be as high as £10 billion. I say simply to my hon. Friend that if the Opposition and others do not want to do that, they should please let us know where they think the money will come from.
We are making responsible choices for the British economy. I am particularly proud of the decision we took with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on the potential for a single-tier pension. That is in stark contrast, I think, to the mess we saw from the previous Government. What is interesting is that the Labour party has been out of power for 10 months, but listening to what Labour Members say about the current situation, one would think that it has been more like 10 years and that they had nothing to do with it. They do not know whether they are coming or going. Interestingly, half of them seem to support the Darling plan, and the other half do not. For the shadow Chancellor, it rather depends on who asks him, when they ask him, and what time of day it is.
It seemed that the Labour party would not cut, but then we heard that theoretically it would. More frightening still, it has made it clear how it would spend more of our money. Notwithstanding the plan set to start on 1 April, in the past month or so, the Opposition have made some £12 billion of unfunded spending commitments, which actually makes their spending profile even worse. They will tell us that it would all be funded by an extra tax on the banks. Oh dear! I remember that they used to attack the Liberal Democrats for making a similar claim over the extra 1p on income tax. They said, “This is the longest p in history.” Well, this is now the biggest, longest tax in history. It would have to be raised at least six times to pay for the sort of commitments they have engaged in. However, we should not be surprised to discover that fiscal mathematics is not Labour Members’ strong point.
Now we see the Leader of the Opposition joining a march for an alternative solution. I personally hope he has found it, but I do not think he did on the podium the other day. Instead, we see that he is now linked with some of the great names of history: the suffragettes, the anti-apartheid movement and Dr King in America. I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition also has a dream, but for us it is not having a dream that matters, but that soon enough he should wake up and smell the coffee. The reality is that this Government are sorting out the deficit; this Government are getting Britain back to work; this Government are dealing with the mess that Labour left; and meanwhile they are in denial.
I know that the Secretary of State learned some time ago that attack is the best form of defence, but I expected him to do a better job of defending the Budget that we heard last week. The Budget debate started with no acknowledgement that growth was coming down—and the same is true of its conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman refused to admit that this so-called Budget for growth has knocked 0.5% off the rate of growth this year and next, put unemployment up by 200,000, and is putting the benefits bill up through the roof—and he seems to think that we are the ones in denial.
A fortnight ago, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who has responsibility for work, was rolled through the television studios and asked to give his progress report on how well the Chancellor had done in his first year. He was asked to report on how good a job the Chancellor was doing of getting the country back to work. Fifteen months after the end of the recession, the House could be forgiven for expecting unemployment to be falling rather than rising. However, at the very point when unemployment should be falling, the Minister was forced to report that it was actually rising. He decided to choose his words very carefully. He said that the jobs market was “stabilising”.
Last week it was left to the Chancellor to tell us that the jobs market was doing nothing of the sort. He did not dare spell it out, but in the fine print of the Budget we learned the truth: this is not even the beginning of the end. His first year has gone so well that unemployment, which should be falling, is set to rise until the summer. In fact, it is not expected to fall below 2.5 million until way through next year. Now we face the prospect that unemployment is not going to fall below 2 million for the rest of this Parliament.
I would rather have written a bad joke in public than a bad Budget in public.
Now we know—and now the Secretary of State has been forced to admit—that unemployment is not going to fall below 2 million. He will remember, just as we remember, the last time that happened. For those with long memories, what has happened is all too familiar. The last time the Tory party was in office, it took a couple of years to get unemployment above 2 million, but after that it did not fall below 2 million for 18 years, until the Labour party was elected in 1997. Now the Government have decided that that record of the 1980s is worth a rerun, or something of a repeat, because there is one thing that has not changed: the Conservative party still believes that unemployment is a price worth paying.
Of course, and the hon. Gentleman will also recognise that, despite the fact that we are some way out of the recession, today’s figures also confirmed that in the last quarter for which records are available, the economy shrank. I am not sure that that is a record of which he can be proud.
In the circumstances, I would have thought that the House could expect to hear rather more from the Secretary of State about what the Budget would do to get people back into work. The Office for Budget Responsibility is well aware of the Secretary of State’s Work programme and the Chancellor’s tax breaks on offer for business, yet its conclusion was the cold fact that unemployment will continue to rise. Every time the Chancellor stands up at the Despatch Box to deliver a Budget, he revises down his forecast for growth and revises up his estimate for the number of unemployed people in our country. He is costing this country a fortune.
What, then, did this Budget offer for jobs? Incredibly, it said that by the first quarter of 2013, unemployment would be 200,000 higher than was forecast just last October. What a triumph! Under the circumstances, we could have expected a rather bigger push from the Secretary of State and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor to get people back to work. After all, his Minister for the unemployed, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, told the Select Committee on Work and Pensions on 14 March:
“If there was a very substantial change in the labour market, one way or the other, frankly, that is the kind of circumstance in which we might need to revisit some of the assumptions.”
Well, 200,000 more people on the dole sounds like rather a substantial change to me.
What is the Government’s response? Some £20 million for work experience. This morning I had a look at the Secretary of State’s accounts for January. It would appear that his new work placement scheme, which was so proudly trumpeted this morning, will cost less than his Department spends on stationery every year. At the very least, we would have expected more resources for the Work programme. The Prime Minister is fond of telling us that the Work programme is
“the biggest back-to-work scheme this country has seen since the 1930s.”—[Official Report, 16 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 951.]
In fact, as the BBC has shown, there are 250,000 fewer places on it than Labour had last year, when unemployment was lower. The association of bidders for the Work programme now has so much confidence in the Secretary of State’s plans that it says:
“the design of the Work Programme is fraught with risks which may impact significantly on the number of unemployed people who can benefit from it”!
That is hardly a vote of confidence. When my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) asked the Secretary of State how much extra he had received from the Treasury to get people back to work, he refused to give her a straight answer, and we all know what that means: that he asked for nothing and he got nothing. With unemployment now forecast to rise, the very least that we could expect from this Secretary of State is to stand up for his Department, fight his corner and get some extra help to get this country back to work.
The right hon. Gentleman understands that whoever had won the last election would have had to introduce some tough measures, and we are experiencing those now. Bearing in mind that all other recessions have seen unemployment rising, is he genuinely telling the House that if Labour had won the last general election, unemployment would be continuing to fall today?
The right hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way, but this is an important point. Labour was in denial before the election about introducing major measures to bring the economy under control. Labour now knows—as we have known—that important measures needed to be introduced after the election. That is what is causing the difficulties now. He is now saying, “Yes, you’d be able to bring those measures in without having any effect on employment.” That is completely wrong; he misleads the House.
Well, let us go through it, shall we? The deficit plan that we put in place would have involved £57 billion-worth of discretionary action—[Interruption.] Will the Secretary of State just pause for a moment? I know that he has read all 40 pages of chapter 6 of the Budget that was published in March last year, but let me just remind him of their contents: £57 billion-worth of discretionary action; £19 billion-worth of tax rises; and £38 billion of cuts, £18 billion of which would have fallen on capital, and £20 billion of which would have fallen on current expenditure, of which £12 billion would have fallen in Whitehall, £5 billion would have fallen on lower priority projects and £3 billion would have been achieved through a pay freeze and asking public sector workers to—
I have just gone through them. They involved £57 billion-worth of discretionary action—[Interruption.] The difference between us—[Interruption.] Well, let us take the Secretary of State’s own Department. Regarding the £18 billion savings in annually managed expenditure, we said that where there is a temporary switch from RPI to CPI for the next three years, we will support that; where there is a need to reform the disability living allowance, we will support it; and where there is a need to introduce new limits on employment and support allowance, we will support that. We do not think, however, that the Government should introduce reform simply by cutting. They should couple some of those reforms with the need to look again at the support that working families actually need.
The Secretary of State put in place a programme to make the cut before he figured out what reform was actually needed. He is under such pressure from disability groups because he is not listening to the voices of disabled people in this country telling him what kind of support they need in order to live full and fulfilling lives. That is because he is locked into a programme that is putting more people on to the dole and sending benefits bills through the roof. He is beginning to fracture the bonds of support between the Government and the people in this country who need extra help. He should not be abolishing DLA; he should be reforming it. He should also start listening to the needs of disabled people.
I am intrigued by this. The right hon. Gentleman now seems to be at odds with his shadow Chancellor, who in his opening speech in the Budget debate last week, in response to a specific question about what spending cuts he wanted in the coming year, said:
“We said…that we would go ahead with the disability living allowance gateway reforms.”—[Official Report, 24 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 1142.]
That involves £1.43 billion. Does the right hon. Gentleman support that now?
No, because we have not specified—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] We have not specified the level of cuts or savings that we think should come from DLA. The Secretary of State knows as well as I do that we believe that a gateway should be introduced for DLA—[Interruption.] He should listen to this, because it speaks to the concerns of millions of people with disabilities. He has said that he is going to cut £1.4 billion from DLA, and, in written answers to the House, he has said that 170,000 fewer people will receive that benefit in the future—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State might just want to listen to the implications of this. It is a bit late for him to be getting a briefing on his DLA reforms from his own Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller). If he is cutting DLA for 170,000 people and cutting £1.4 billion from that benefit, £8,500 will be cut from each of those 170,000 families. Will he intervene on me again and tell me whether he understands that that is the implication of his benefit cut?
I have a very simple question. The shadow Chancellor said that he supported the reform, which has a very simple line item in the Red Book. The right hon. Gentleman now says that he does not support it. This is the problem: the Opposition have no idea what they are doing. No wonder the British public are fed up with them.
We have made it quite clear that we support reform of DLA, but what we do not support is a top-down, cuts-driven agenda that will deny support to 170,000 disabled people in this country. That is the wrong approach; the Secretary of State needs to think again.
The right hon. Gentleman is most generous in giving way. I have just listened, as has the rest of the House, to a whole host of numbers that he reeled off relating to where cuts would be made, but he has not said where those cuts would be made, or what exactly would be cut. Will he enlighten the House?
Does my right hon. Friend share my astonishment that the Secretary of State can produce savings figures, yet when we put specific questions to him we are told, “This is a matter for review”?
Precisely right. Indeed, the Secretary of State presented to the House of Commons a Bill that would abolish DLA before he had even bothered to finish consulting people up and down the country about what the reform of DLA should look like.
One of the greatest failures stemming from the Secretary of State’s inability to extract further money from his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is, of course, the failure to get young people back to work. I met a delegation of young people from my constituency this morning and I asked them what they thought of the Government’s plans. Their thoughts were very simple: it just seems, they said, that the Government are stopping young people being what they could be. I could put it no better myself. Youth unemployment is now approaching 1 million. The Secretary of State likes to pretend—he did it again this afternoon—that this is somehow a problem that he inherited. [Interruption.] What he fails to remind us is that in the final nine months of our term of office, youth unemployment was falling by 67,000.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is fond of quoting figures that do not include the number of people in higher education, for example. Fine: let us look at what the figures tell us. Since the election this is what has happened: after nine months in which youth unemployment was falling, it is now going up by 60,000—and that when the economy is supposedly growing. All the good work we did is now completely undone.
The right hon. Gentleman said that if Labour had won the last election unemployment would, of course, be falling. He raised the issue of youth unemployment, so will he inform the House whether youth unemployment fell or rose during the period of the last Labour Government?
All unemployment fell. Then, once the scale of the global recession we confronted became apparent, it of course went back up again. What we never had under a Labour Administration is unemployment going up through the 3 million mark—not once but twice, as it did under the Conservatives. Every job lost is a tragedy for one family, and all the jobs lost are a tragedy for all of us—and, indeed, for the Exchequer. Lost jobs mean not only that our performance as a country cannot match our full potential, but that a bill is created that we all end up paying.
The Governor of the Bank of England has warned us of what is to come. He says that we now confront the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1930s, and that because this Government’s economic plan is creating so few jobs, there is less and less demand for workers. Now there are five people chasing every job and the growth in people’s pay packets and wages is slow. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts 2% earnings growth this year, 2.2% next year, but when prices are growing by more than 5% this year and 3.6% next year, the squeeze on family budgets is now all too obvious.
In the circumstances, one would have thought that the Government would step in to help. Not a bit of it. Next month 10 Tory raids on the family budget get into full swing: tax credits cut for families earning more than £40,000; tougher criteria on families wanting to claim family support; reducing the income disregard; freezing basic rates of working tax credit; removing the baby element of child tax credit; reducing payable costs of child care; abolition of grants for pregnant mums; £500 taken away from families with more than one child; child benefit increases ruled out for another three years; and cancelling the child savings accounts.
This Government are proud of some of the measures foisted on them by Liberal Democrat Members. I am sure that is right. Once we take this list into account, however, £1.1 billion is going to be stripped from family budgets starting from next month, with another £300 million coming from children. By the end of this Parliament, £16.5 billion will have been taken out of family pay packets.
Why are the Government not doing more to help? Because the cost of economic failure is sending the benefits bill through the roof. Last week we learnt from the detail of the Budget book just how big that bill has now become.
This afternoon the Secretary of State liked to boast about his reforms of housing benefit, but forgot to tell the House that the housing benefit bill is projected to rise by more than £1 billion in the next few years. In the small print of the Budget we saw something more: his benefits bill over the next few years is now projected to increase by £12.5 billion. That is £500 for every household in the country.
Almost as shocking is what will happen to the unemployment bill as a result of the Secretary of State’s great endeavours to get so many extra people back to work. When the Chancellor came to the House last year, he somehow forgot to tell us that as a result of his Budget higher unemployment figures would increase the dole bill by £700 million. Now we learn that it is going to go up again, by another £1.9 billion. In other words, since the Government came to office they have put the unemployment bill up by £2.6 billion. That is an indictment of their record in getting people back to work. In fact, £2.6 billion is the same amount that the Government are cutting from tax credits for people with children. The right hon. Gentleman is cutting support for our children in order to pay the bills for his economic failure.
What does this mean for the average British family? A single earner family with a child and an income of £23,000 will lose £400 a year. The Secretary of State may not care about what is happening to ordinary families, but I assure him that plenty of people are interested in the bills for his economic failure. Households with child care costs will be hit even harder. A family with average child care costs will lose nearly £500 a year, and for some it will be even worse. A single earner on the minimum wage with two children will lose more than £2,000 a year—6.5% of his or her income. Even for low earners, any gains that they make as a result of changes in income tax and child tax credits will be wiped out by the VAT rise. The Secretary of State is squeezing Britain’s families harder than ever to pay for his failure to get the country back to work. Does that not sound all too familiar?
In my constituency, the average family household earns £27,500. According to the BBC’s calculator, if the household contains two children under 16 and both parents are working, the family will be just over £700 per annum better off as a result of the Budget.
But the challenge from this Budget is that there are simply not enough winners, because the bills for sending people to the dole queue rather than back to work are now going through the roof. Surely the hon. Gentleman recognises that more than £2.5 billion in extra dole bills does not constitute a wise use of public money. If only the Chancellor would do more to get people back to work, the squeeze on working families would not be anywhere near as hard.
Finally, we must ask what the Budget means for some of the most vulnerable people in our country—the people who are in need of help from the wider community, and those who need extra support in order to live a full life in one of the world’s biggest economies. I know that, like me, the Secretary of State believes that a country as rich as Britain should have high, not low, standards of civilisation and compassion—but the Chancellor is pressing ahead with measures that will deny thousands of people their independence. The question that the House must ask is: what is the Secretary of State doing to stop it?
The right hon. Gentleman told the House yesterday that after his review of DLA had been completed the mobility component for people in care homes would still exist, but he still cannot explain why the Chancellor announced that he was taking £400 million more out of the mobility component than previously planned. The Budget confirmed that he would press ahead with his abolition of DLA. I repeat that we support the right kind of reform of DLA, but no matter how he tries to dress it up, he is taking £2.9 billion out of a well-targeted benefit, and he himself is saying that 170,000 fewer people will receive the benefit by the end of the Parliament. That is £8,500 per family. With figures like that, surely he can understand why so many people with disabilities up and down the country are so worried.
Finally, it was confirmed in the Budget that the Government are pressing ahead with their plans to limit employment and support allowance to just one year. The Secretary of State has a chance to fix that in Committee on the Bill, but the Budget confirmed an ambition to save £3.5 billion from people on ESA. However, he knows as well as I do that many people do not recover from cancer in under 12 months, and he also knows that cancer charities up and down the country are now asking him to think again.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, because I want to make an important point to the House. The Minister’s Department knows that three quarters of cancer patients still need ESA after one year. The message from the charities to the Front-Bench team was blunt. They say:
“this proposal, rather than creating an incentive to work, will lead to many cancer patients losing their ESA simply because they have not recovered quickly enough.”
Will the Minister confirm that he will withdraw this terrible measure?
Well, the Minister will know as well as I do how much he is cutting from DLA, and he knows as well as I do how many people he anticipates will receive the benefit in the future. He can do the maths as well as I can. The obligation is on him to come clean and be straight with people with disabilities. What will the reform of DLA mean for them? Will he drop this measure from his Bill?
This afternoon we have heard a pretty poor defence of a Budget that puts more people out of work, fails to deliver on ambitions for our young people, and hits families harder than ever to pay the bills of economic failure. Worse still, it begins to endanger the contract of a proud and civilised country with the people who need help most. This is not a big society; it is a society in which the bonds that tie us together are weaker and weaker. This is not a Budget that is working; it is a Budget that is hurting—and the Chancellor should think again.
Order. Please resume your seats. As Members can see, more than 40 colleagues have applied to take part in today’s debate, so there is a six-minute limit on speeches, with the usual injury time for two interventions. As happened yesterday, persistent interveners will be moved down the list. I also remind Members of Mr Speaker’s instruction to them not to approach the Chair during the debate to find out where they are on the list. Those who can finish their speeches in less than six minutes will be helping colleagues. I call Mr Peter Lilley.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on sticking to his plan to reduce the Budget deficit. Far from these cuts being too much, too deep, too soon, I believe that what he has proposed is the minimum over the longest credible period that we can reasonably expect will enable us to avoid the sort of financial crisis that has hit many neighbouring countries.
I want to address an illusion. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), whom it is normally a privilege to follow, based his speech on it, and it permeated the speech of the Leader of the Opposition at the weekend when he addressed the large rally on cuts. It is the illusion that we can have something for nothing. We live in a world of finite resources. If we spend more on one thing, we have to spend less on another. If we spend more now, we must expect to spend less—substantially less—in future, when we repay our debts with compound interest. The Opposition do not seem to realise that. I would be more than happy to engage in debate with either of them if when they advocated the restoration of spending in one area, they simultaneously spelt out the additional cut they intended to propose in another area of spending, but they never do so and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill did not do so today. As long as hon. Members refuse to spell out alternative cuts to those that they reject, rational debate in this place is simply impossible.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you are well aware that the ancient states of the Peloponnese resolved these problems by rules of debate that required those advocating increased spending on programmes that would require extra taxation or more borrowing to stand up in the public forum on a platform and argue their case with a noose around their neck. If they succeeded in persuading their fellow citizens of the need for increased spending and taxation, the noose was removed, but if they failed, the platform was removed. I understand that this healthy discipline meant that those states remained solvent for centuries on end.
That is slightly unworthy of a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, who at least would remain, if in solitary glory.
A related illusion that the Opposition purvey is the call, frequently made by the Leader of the Opposition, for the Government to prepare a plan B in case the economic road gets rocky—a plan B would, by implication, involve higher spending and borrowing. Of course it is a bit rich for the Leader of the Opposition to ask for a plan B, given that he has not yet spelt out a plan A, but the reality is that if we abandon the plan set out by the Chancellor, we will get a plan B, but it will not come from the Opposition or from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor—it will come from the savers and pension funds whose money we would need to borrow to finance that increased borrowing. If we did bottle out of what we have proposed, they would demand deeper cuts over a shorter period and they would require us to pay a higher rate of interest. The net result would not just be deeper cuts in the public sector, as we have seen the markets impose on Portugal, Greece and Ireland; those higher interest rates would kill off and abort the recovery in the private sector on which we depend to create the jobs to take up the people not employed in the public sector. So it would be a disaster for this country if we were to go down that route.
The third illusion that some Labour Members purvey—perhaps the more honest elements among them—is the belief that we could avoid public spending cuts if we were prepared to put up taxation. But who would pay those higher taxes? Ultimately, taxes are always paid by individuals and if the squeezed middle are not going to pay them—they have been precluded from bearing a higher burden of taxation by the Leader of the Opposition —either the poor or the rich must do so. I would not put it beyond a party that sought to double the burden of taxation on the lowest paid by removing the 10p tax rate to seek extra revenues from the very poor, but that would not yield much money so Labour must look to the very rich for it. I just remind Labour Members that if they read the Red Book, they will see that the top 1% of income tax payers in the coming year are expected to pay no less than a quarter of the entire revenues of income tax—last year, the top 5% paid more than half of all income tax. We are reaching the point at which any further burden of taxation on those people would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. In the words of my old friend, the sadly now deceased Lord Harris of High Cross, punitive taxes beyond a certain point do not redistribute income, they redistribute people. We have reached that point and we would go beyond it if we accepted the advice of the Opposition.
I urge my hon. Friends to support the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in what he is doing at the Department for Work and Pensions and to ignore the blandishments and illusions of the other side.
In the short time available, I shall not follow up on any points made by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), except to say that when he talks about any element of fairness in the Chancellor’s last Budget and this Budget as regards those on the top incomes, I think he will find that some of the things he talks about have more to do with measures that were announced by the previous Government than with those announced by this Government.
In many ways, the Budget is an annexe to last June’s Budget, which set the direction for this Government and the tone for this year’s Budget. I want briefly to consider how that will impact on this country as well as what is happening in other parts of the world. Although it does not quite fit the Tory story, what is happening to our economy will be very much influenced by what is happening in other parts of the world.
In some ways, it is quite remarkable that the global economy is growing at all. Three years ago, when the International Monetary Fund reported for the first time that it had stopped growing, it was possible that we were in for a serious downturn. It is now growing, but it is a two-speed recovery that is strong in Asia and far less so in the west. In Europe, we see strong growth in Germany and far less growth in southern Europe in particular. Here at home, manufacturing is doing well because the pound has depreciated, but the service and business sectors are not doing so well at all.
The recovery in this country and in Europe is fragile. We saw the economy grow more strongly than we expected in quarters two and three—the summer and autumn of last year—although again that had an awful lot more to do with measures that were implemented before rather than after the general election. We saw a sharp slow-down after that, which was largely brought about by people’s fear of what was to come. People are losing confidence—we saw the confidence survey published just after the Budget last week—and that should worry any Government. If we continue to get sluggish growth, the risk is that we will bump along the bottom and we will not get the jobs or growth on which this country depends.
Incidentally, I followed with interest what the Secretary of State said but one question that he failed to answer was that put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds): if our spending was so wrong, how come the Conservatives supported it right up until the end of 2008 and the Liberal Democrats supported it until a week after the general election, when they promptly changed their minds? The Secretary of State has revealed this afternoon that he is not quite the details man I remembered, but he might care to note that our structural deficit in 2006, according to his Government’s own measure, was 0.4%. It is simply not true to suggest that all our problems today are the result of spending. The main problem that we faced was an acute banking crisis that hit us and hit other countries in the world. That is why we are not the only country to have a very large deficit.
I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman with great interest and respect, but I want to get this absolutely straight because one of his right hon. Friends said this the other day. The OECD measurement of the UK’s structural deficit in 2007 was 3.9% of GDP, the highest in the G7. Can he confirm that?
The structural deficit was 0.4%. Throughout the past decade, we were spending money, but I must say, as a Minister in that Government, we were greeted with calls from the then Opposition not to spend less but to spend more on just about every occasion. They cannot have it both ways.
What worries me is that as we look forward, we face a number of pressures that are a threat to sustained recovery in this country. We, along with most other European countries, are following a deflationary policy and we are doing it together. This is not like Canada or Sweden 10 years ago, who reduced their deficit on the back of rapidly expanding neighbouring economies. That will have an effect. America, sooner or later, will have to deal with its very large debt problem that has been overhanging that country since the Bush years. That is not a recent phenomenon but it will have to be dealt with and it will have a knock-on effect on the rest of the world’s economies.
On inflation, for 10 years we in the west have lived off cheap goods coming from the far east. Now what is happening, as one would expect, is that those economies are growing and there are inflationary pressures. Commodity prices are increasing and wages are starting to go up, so those days are finished for us. It worries me that we are likely to face deflation as a result of Government policy with inflation as well. All that will result in lower growth, which is exactly what the Office for Budget Responsibility has said.
I think there are many measures in the Budget, such as the reduction in corporation tax, the reform of planning law—if the Government can see that through their Back Benchers and councillors—and some others that will be helpful, but the thing that drives whether companies set up, take on more people or put in more investment is whether they can sell their goods and services. For as long as companies doubt that that is the case, we are going to have this problem with lack of confidence and we simply will not get the levels of growth that we expect.
That is why the story of this Budget was in many ways what the OBR—now independent of Government, which is a good thing—had to say. For the third time in 10 months it has downrated the growth that it expects in this country over the next couple of years and that should worry us. Yes, it picks up after that, but I suspect that is a function of the model that the OBR adopts: if growth is depressed in the short term, it is automatically assumed that growth comes back. However, I cannot see any evidence of where that growth is going to come from, either in the world economy or in Europe, especially if the eurozone insists on following what I regard as punitive policies towards those peripheral countries that are getting into trouble—visiting on Greece and Ireland conditions that I do not think they will be able to meet. Sooner or later, they will have to renegotiate or default, and the eurozone countries—principally Germany, which is the main driver of what is happening in the eurozone—will have to rethink the policies they are currently adopting. Otherwise, there will be a risk not only that Europe will fail to grow but that parts of it will go back into recession. That would be an absolute tragedy for the people living there and would also be extremely bad for us.
I have mentioned the uncertainties in the United States, but here at home we still have problems with the banks and their inability to lend. I recognise all the difficulties in that regard. I endured much criticism from the parties now in government when I was in charge of these things, but interestingly they have come up against exactly the same problems that I did, which is why their attempts to make the banks lend have had exactly the same reception as mine did. Next month, we will have the Vickers report into the future of banking but there is a risk that if we spend a long time discussing these matters and there is a lot of uncertainty about what should happen with the banks, that uncertainty will lead to lending being depressed. I hope there will be a full debate on the Vickers inquiry after the Easter recess, but I hope also that the Government will move to a conclusion one way or another in reasonable time. There is still uncertainty about banking regulation, particularly in Europe, and I regard the stress tests now being put in place as wholly inadequate and repeating the same mistakes that were made last summer. It is high time that we got to grips with this problem, which has not yet been resolved.
On the financial services sector, there is a lot of talk about rebalancing our economy and I am in favour of that, but we need to make sure that we build up other sectors of the economy and that we do not end up inadvertently running down one sector, which happens to employ more than 1 million people in this country.
Finally, it is important to recognise that in 2008 and 2009 international co-operation managed to prevent our collapsing into the abyss. There is a limit to what can be done through international agreements but they do matter when we are dealing with currency imbalances, trade talks, energy and so on. I hope that the Government will re-engage in that regard and will recognise that the policy they are currently pursuing within the United Kingdom runs the risk of derailing the recovery, meaning a long, slow recovery that will not bring the growth and jobs we need.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I begin by paying tribute to the Budget that was delivered by the Chancellor which has been warmly welcomed in many parts of my constituency. It was particularly warmly welcomed by the people involved with the Staffordshire air ambulance, who feel that they will benefit greatly from the changes to charitable giving. As the president of the East Staffordshire Community and Voluntary Service, I have been contacted by many charitable and third sector groups that believe this is a real way for them to build for the future and offer more help and support in the community.
The Budget was also well received by businesses in my constituency. The changes to corporation tax will be a big boost to growth. Businesses were delighted to hear talk of manufacturing, which they feel has been overlooked and forgotten for so long in this country. To hear a Chancellor and a Government talk about manufacturing was a boost for businesses and they are excited about the future.
The Budget was welcomed by families in my constituency. The poorest families were pleased that many of them will now be taken out of tax completely. More importantly, it was welcomed by many in my constituency who feel that it reinforces what many of them consider the most important plank of what we as a Government are trying to achieve—that is, to make work pay. The decision within the changes to personal taxation to make it more rewarding to go out to work and to support people back into work has been welcomed not only by those who do the right thing, pay their taxes and work hard, but by many people who are desperate to get back into work and feel that this is a great opportunity which will make it more financially viable for them to do that.
However, there is one element of my constituency where the Budget was not so well received. It is fitting that the former chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group should be in the Chair when I make these points. I must declare an interest as the MP for Burton, the home of British beer—the home of Marston’s Pedigree and Carling Black Label, and Punch Taverns, the largest pub company in the country. Brewing and the future of pubs are hugely important. This is an issue on which there is usually agreement across the Chamber. The need for us to support the brewing industry and pubs is recognised in all parts of the House.
We regularly have debates, particularly in Westminster Hall, about what we can do to support pubs and the brewing industry, and there is general support across the House, even from the shadow Minister with responsibility for pubs, the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), who in a recent debate admitted to us that not only was he teetotal but that he did not use pubs very often. Even he recognises the need for us to support pubs and the brewing industry.
I recognise that the Chancellor was hamstrung when he inherited a massive deficit—£120 million a day in interest payments alone—and a decision to increase beer duty by means of the beer escalator by 7.2% this year. It was somewhat unfair of the Chancellor to say in his statement that there would be no changes to beer duty in the Budget. Whether it was his fault or not, we will see an increase in beer duty equivalent to about 10p a pint. That will impact on brewers across the country and on publicans in each and every one of our constituencies.
We all support the community pub. We all recognise that a pub is a safe environment for us to enjoy alcohol and for us to encourage young people to drink safely and responsibly. Increasing beer duty by 7.2% is a major problem, particularly because beer duty in the UK is already 7.9 times greater than in France, 12.4 times greater than in Germany and 12 times greater than in Spain. We have the second highest beer duty in Europe. I hope the Government will look again to see what they can do to support brewing and the beer industry in this country.
For instance, the Government could look at the inequality between cider and beer. Why is it that a pint of cider attracts half the duty that is charged on a pint of beer brewed in my constituency? I welcome the Government’s decision to reduce tax on beer of 2.8% strength. That is very useful, but I urge them to go to Europe, fight the case on behalf of British beer, and raise that 2.8% to 3.4% or 3.5% so that we can have some great British beer and support our pubs in the process.
This is a Budget for growth: growth in insecurity, growth in inequality and growth in unemployment, which was up by 27,000 in the west midlands last month alone. It is not a Budget for economic growth, which was down last and this year and will be down next year, as are living standards. Not only is unemployment up, but so too are borrowing, inflation, debt interest payments and higher debt interest, which is up by £17.8 billion. Yes, the Budget contains some modest measures, but despite evidence that the economy is getting into choppy waters and despite the widespread concern being expressed, the Government remain lashed to the mast, rejecting any but plan A and sailing on regardless, oblivious to the consequences of their actions.
I want to focus on the consequences for the people of Erdington and Birmingham of the Budget measures of the past nine months in relation to the public, private and voluntary sectors. In the public sector, this Friday 1 April we will see the biggest cut in local government history—£212 million. It is a Budget launched by a laughing Conservative leader and supported by a Liberal Democrat deputy leader who only 24 hours earlier had been one of those who wrote to The Times to protest about the scale and speed of the cuts being imposed on local government.
The consequences will be felt by everyone, whether they are three, 13 or 73: three-year-olds who go to one of Birmingham’s excellent children’s centres will find the centres’ budget cut by 16%; 13-year-olds who go to one of Birmingham’s 60 excellent youth service centres will see many of those centres face closure; and 3,500 73-year-olds, those who built Birmingham and Britain, face losing their care packages altogether, which for them make the difference between a decent life and a life on the margins.
Bankers’ bonuses and, as our Front-Bench team proposes, among other things, we would have a sensible programme of investment, just as we invested in the construction industry to get it going at a time of recession, providing 110,000 homes, 70,000 jobs and 3,000 apprenticeships. We would invest now in a fresh stimulus package of much-needed social housing, creating jobs, apprenticeships and hopes. That is what we would do, and that is the difference between them and us.
The police, too, are feeling the consequences. This Friday 300 of the most experienced police officers in the west midlands will be forced out under regulation A19. I was with five of them this morning. They included an inspector, the national champion of designing out crime, who on one Birmingham estate achieved a 97% reduction in crime levels; a sergeant leading an excellent team of neighbourhood policemen; and a detective constable, the specialist in robbery, who has put away those who robbed old people at cash points and those who robbed shops with a machete. They all now face having to leave the force against their will. The Government have said to them, “Thanks for your past loyalty, but here’s your notice.” Governments should cut crime, not the police.
With regard to the impact on the private sector, 1.2 million people in that sector depend on public expenditure, particularly the £38 billion spent on local government procurement. If local government budgets are cut by 28%, major job losses in the private sector are inevitable. The estimate for the midlands is that 67,000 jobs will go as a consequence of what is happening in local government.
On rebalancing the economy, the Government have abolished the most successful regional development agency in Britain—Advantage West Midlands—and put in its place local enterprise partnerships that have no money, no power, no statutory basis and no power over skills. The planning proposals are a cocktail of confusion and the regional growth fund has only a third of the funds that were available to the RDAs. Incidentally, the RGF is the most elastic fund in history, designed to cope with all sorts of applications according to the Government.
Then there is the impact on the voluntary sector, the good society. Billions will be lost to the voluntary sector, including, in Birmingham, the oldest citizens advice bureau in Britain and 13 advice centres—all facing closure. The CAB was founded in 1938 and is the quintessence of the good society. Excellent people give first-class advice with an army of volunteers, but, just when the people of Birmingham need their support and advice most, those centres are facing closure.
My constituency of Birmingham Erdington is one of the 10 poorest in Britain, but it is rich in talent, with young people who are deeply aspirational and want to get on. What now haunts the people of Erdington is the spectre of the 1980s and TINA: there is no alternative. I know families in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale, where excellent men and women in the 1980s were made redundant two, three, four, five times. Some of them never worked again, because they gave up hope. The idea that once again the spectre of mass unemployment should haunt north Birmingham is absolutely wrong.
We acted, by way of a range of measures, to help the poorest families, including the poorest families with children. It is a record of which we are proud.
There is a fundamental difference between the Government and this Opposition, not just on economic strategy but on this point: for us, unemployment will never, ever be a price worth paying.
The cornerstone of this Budget is undoubtedly the need to tackle the deficit. Spending £50 billion a year just on debt interest, which is double what we spend on transport, was clearly intolerable and could not go on. If we had not tackled the deficit, we would have found that an Irish, Greek or Portuguese economic future awaited us all, meaning more cuts, more public billions down the drain and higher interest rates, which would have hit everyone with a mortgage, everyone with an overdraft and every business dependent on bank borrowing. There is no point pretending that the cuts are not painful, but interest rates of 7%, 8% or higher would have been extremely painful, too, so I am glad that the Chancellor did not take that risk.
I am also very glad that the Chancellor is well on the way to fulfilling a Lib Dem election pledge to take more than 1 million people out of income tax, benefiting 24 million more by raising the income tax threshold. That will take nearly 2,000 of my constituents out of income tax altogether and benefit nearly half the population of the town.
There are also many welcome measures in the Budget for business and for investment. The cut in corporation tax will help small businesses in my constituency; I hope that we will benefit from some of the 40,000 new apprenticeships for young people not in education, employment or training; and it would be churlish of me not to mention the redoubling of the Swindon to Kemble line, which will be good for Cheltenham, good for business and good for the environment.
Good for the environment, too, will be the tripling of the endowment to the green investment bank to £3 billion, and the news that that bank will in due course be able to borrow on its own account. That is an important signal to green investors, and it will help us to lay the foundations of a low-carbon economy. So, too, will the commitment to a floor price for carbon, and, although £30 a tonne by 2020 is a pretty modest ambition, it gives an underlying message and confidence to those investing in green industry and green jobs.
I hope, however, that the measure will not lead to an accidental, back-door subsidy to the nuclear industry—not just to new nuclear but to the existing nuclear industry, which already costs us £1.5 billion of public money a year to clean up and close down. That is important, because any subsidy to the nuclear industry would run counter to specific pledges made in opposition by both Conservative and Liberal Democrat spokesmen, and I know because I was one of them.
I have a few other slight worries about the Budget. Not all red tape is bad, and I am concerned about the relaxation of the rules to be able to request flexible working. In my experience as an employer, I found that flexible working generally increased staff commitment and productivity. Progressive and innovative companies are trying to do more of it, not less.
My biggest worry about the Chancellor’s speech is about planning. He said that
“we will introduce a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, so that the default answer to development is yes.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 956.]
It may have been a shame that he did not have the space or time to explain that statement more fully, because, on the face of it, it is rather alarming. Not all development is sustainable, so how can the default answer possibly be yes?
I hope the Chancellor was guilty of no more than radical oversimplification, but one or two other statements in “The Plan for Growth” give cause for alarm. It states that the Government will enable
“businesses…to bring forward neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood development orders.”
There are many definitions of a neighbourhood, which was not clearly defined in the Localism Bill, but I am pretty sure that a business is not a neighbourhood.
“The Plan for Growth” states also that the Government will
“localise choice about the use of previously developed land, removing nationally imposed targets”.
I do not welcome nationally imposed targets, but it is important that localities are able to prioritise brownfield sites over greenfield, and any qualification of that ability would not be helpful.
Possibly the most alarming news of all in “The Plan for Growth” is:
“Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will be able to play a vital role in supporting local authorities plan for key sub national infrastructure… providing a powerful voice for business in the planning system”.
My constituents generally think that business has a pretty powerful voice in the planning system already, as it usually deploys battalions of barristers and consultants, but “sub national” worries me, because it has unfortunate echoes of Labour’s old regional spatial strategies.
People in the parish of Leckhampton with Warden Hill in my constituency know a bit about regional spatial strategies. They fought a battle against the south-west RSS for many years, and they are still fighting to protect the last substantial green space in the parish from disappearing almost completely. Such green spaces next to urban populations are vital for people’s health and physical welfare. They are opportunities for recreation; important for local food production; they absorb carbon dioxide and particulate pollution; and they are the most visited parts of the country and treasured by local people. Once lost, they are gone for ever, but they are exactly the spaces being targeted by developers, who in the past were supported by Labour’s myth that endless growth in urban extensions was sustainable. It simply was not.
The Localism Bill offers local communities real hope and the prospect that they will have a voice in the future of their own areas—
I was hoping and praying that this Budget would offer some employment chances for the people in my constituency. It has done nothing for employment chances in Vale of Clwyd; in fact, it has increased the chance of unemployment there.
There are 650 parliamentary constituencies in the UK, and of the top 50 for percentage of jobs in the public sector—including Edinburgh South with 67% and Swansea West at No. 50 with 41%—76% are Opposition constituencies and only 24% are Government constituencies. That speaks volumes. The policies that the Government are drawing up are policies not for Britain, but for the Tory and Liberal Democrat areas of Britain, and that is not one-nation conservatism. We are seeing on the economy the same partisanship that we saw on constitutional issues.
There are 13,000 public sector workers in my constituency.
I will deal with that shortly; the hon. Gentleman does not have to worry about that.
In my constituency, there are already six people chasing one job. If the Government implement these 10% to 25% cuts in the public sector, another 2,000 to 3,000 people will become unemployed, with 20 people chasing each job. The Government state that they want the private sector to take up the slack of jobs in the public sector. What have they done to promote that in my constituency? Nothing. One of the biggest employers in north Wales is Sharp, which has the biggest solar panel factory in the whole of western Europe. There is also Kingspan in Delyn. In my constituency, we have the Technium OpTIC centre, which has the biggest solar panel in the whole of the UK. The changes to the feed-in tariff that the Government have announced will mean that these sectors are hit, and there will be job losses, not job expansions, in my constituency. An article in today’s edition of The Guardian stated that the UK had gone from third to 13th in green technology jobs in one year. This is not a green Government.
Young people in my constituency were looking to the Chancellor to help them to gain employment. They had help from the previous Government—a Labour Government. In my constituency, the Rhyl city strategy put 450 young people back to work in the space of 12 months. They were given hope; they were given a wage packet; they were given a future. All that has ended. The last day of the future jobs fund is tomorrow; after that, there will be nothing like it in my constituency.
Another article today in The Guardian mentioned that seaside towns and communities have the worst deprivation in the country. This Government did nothing to help those seaside towns; in fact, they worked against them. The changes that they have made to housing benefit will mean, as Boris Johnson has said, a Kosovo-style clear-out of the inner cities, especially London. Where will those people go? They will go to houses in multiple occupation in towns such as Weston-super-Mare, Hastings, Margate, Jaywick, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Blackpool. They will be moved from areas of employment to areas of unemployment, where slum landlords will make money out of misery—helped, aided and abetted by the Conservatives, who are altering the rules and regulations on the licensing of slum landlords.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that according to figures that I received last week on Eastbourne, which is of course a splendid seaside town, the unemployment rate for February 2011 was down by 340 compared with February 2010? We welcome anyone to whom we can hope to give jobs in Eastbourne, which has a successful economy.
What will the figures be in February 2012?
I speak from the perspective of a Welsh MP in a seaside town in an area with high public sector employment. We had made progress under the Labour Government, who created an extra 7,000 jobs over a 13-year period, with 3,500 in one business park alone—St Asaph business park, built by the Tories, empty under the Tories, and full under Labour. We were able to achieve that because we engaged with Europe. We applied for objective 1 funding—something that the Tories never did in their 18 years—and we got it. In my county of Denbighshire, we have had £124 million over the past seven years to create jobs, and we have done that. We have engaged with the Welsh Assembly Government; I give some credit to Plaid Cymru in this regard. Plaid Cymru and Labour, in a proper, working coalition, have pumped £38 million into five principal seaside towns along the north Wales coast: Prestatyn, Rhyl, Towyn, Kinmel Bay and Colwyn Bay. We have engaged with the Department for Work and Pensions in running national pilots in Rhyl—the Rhyl city strategy and Fit for Work.
We have put hundreds of people back to work, not by shaking a big stick at them but by engaging with them. I am talking about drug addicts, alcoholics and ex-prisoners who are now making honey on a farm in Wales. I am talking about Rhyl football club, which is using football as a means to connect with parents and children. I am talking about Rhyl college and the Hub young people’s centre, which has 1,000 young people engaged with the back-to-work agenda. We have made progress, but all that is under threat from the Budget that we have witnessed.
We saw the Tories at work in the 1980s. We have seen what they did to coal, steel and inner-city communities. Remember the riots; remember the closure of the pits and the steelworks. That legacy is still being felt in many of those communities today. I make a prediction: if specific help is not given to areas with high public sector employment, then we will be looking at those areas as the new coal, steel and inner-city communities of this Parliament. Specific help must be given; otherwise, it will be back to the future—back to the 1980s.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important and wide-ranging debate. As many people know, I come from a small business background, and so I take an active interest in the health of our economy and companies of all sizes. I was absolutely delighted to hear last week’s statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who put growth very much at the heart of his agenda to support businesses. He has very little wriggle room—we recognise that—but the creative approach that he adopted to try to demonstrate his support for businesses, large and small, and to help companies start on the path of creating jobs again, was welcome up and down the country.
We have to contrast that with the landscape that we inherited from our Labour colleagues. I do not quite know how to put it—whether it was neighbours at war or a family in crisis—but the situation was very much that they had maxed out the credit card and ceased to open the post. Time and again, I hear a degree of denial from Labour Members saying that we do not face a real problem, but we know that we do, because when we got round to opening the post, what did we find? A message stating that all the money had gone. That is what we have to deal with.
When I talk to people in businesses around my constituency and the south-east of England, all I hear is that they understand the need for the measures that we are taking, but they want us to remind them, the public, again and again of why we are having to do this—the fact that we are paying £120 million a day in interest alone and having to borrow £400 million a day to keep the country afloat. It is against that background that we have to find a way of balancing the books. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor started that process last week. Many organisations, such as the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce, agree. They all welcomed the measures, in part, because they understand the problems.
I want to focus on three areas. First, there is the support for business. The cut in regulation is welcome as a stated aim, as is the focus on better skills for our young people so that we can have a well-trained work force. Secondly, I welcome the support for entrepreneurs, because it is they who will take a small business and grow it into a big business so that it pays its tax and employs, we hope, many thousands of people. Thirdly, there is the simplification of the tax system.
However, the people to whom I speak also express some concerns. At a recent meeting of influential businesses in south Essex, they were worried that a degree of gold-plating still goes on with regulation. We all accept that some regulation is needed, but please let us make it fair, even and easy to understand. They also express concern—I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has looked into this—about the scrapping of the default retirement age. They have used it, rightly or wrongly, to manage their work forces, and are concerned that raising it will create greater problems for them in the future and stop new openings being created in their organisations.
I also ask that we look at how we classify truly small businesses. This Budget uses the number 10, but businesses with 20 and perhaps even 50 employees are small businesses as well. They need a greater degree of support than the previous Government gave them and than we are currently proposing to give them.
Finally on the business side, we know that we need to grow our exports. We need to reach out and trade across the world. I heard the statistic recently that there are now 350 million people in India who describe themselves as middle class—people who have disposable income. We need to reach out and show them that British companies and products can address their needs and wants. However, we need to provide some security for those companies. I have a constituent who has been trading in north Africa. He is concerned about whether he will be paid for work that he has undertaken. He is a small business man. Perhaps we should consider how the Government can support businesses that are trading abroad in places where there is not total confidence and security that they will be paid. I welcome the support that we showed for science and technology, because it is companies with innovative and technology-based ideas that will drive growth in our economy.
Of course, I also welcome the help that was announced for families, such as the raising of the tax threshold, the council tax freeze and the 1p cut in fuel duty. Although that 1p on its own may not be significant, the scrapping of the 5p escalator is significant. It means that petrol will be 6p cheaper next month than it would have been under the previous Administration.
Above all, that tax cut and the other measures announced in the Budget demonstrate that this Government are willing to listen and to adapt to the changing landscape. I hope that we will continue to do that, and that we will continue to listen to our residents, individuals and companies, and work with them to create growth.
I listened to the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) with interest. The Budget has not been as well received in my constituency of Rochdale as it clearly was in Burton. I am not sure whether that is to do with the amount of beer that is consumed in Burton compared with the amount that is consumed in Rochdale. However, like him, I will concentrate my comments about the Budget on my constituency.
One of my central concerns since the coalition announced its programme of spending cuts has been that we will end up with a jobless recovery. I suspect that that is exactly where we are going. I understand that the Conservatives are motivated by their ideological belief in small government. They cut Government spending and public sector jobs because they believe that it is the right thing to do. Once upon a time, the Liberal Democrats agreed with Labour. Before the general election, they led voters to believe that they were a party of the centre left. I know that that is hard to believe now. Page 13 of their manifesto stated:
“If spending is cut too soon, it would undermine the much-needed recovery and cost jobs.”
That is what is happening today.
The Budget provided the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and his colleagues with the chance to use their influence in the coalition Government to help constituencies such as Rochdale that suffer from chronic unemployment. Rochdale’s unemployment statistics make worrying reading. Currently, 8.6% of the town’s active population is claiming jobseeker’s allowance, with almost 15 claimants per vacancy at the jobcentre. No doubt the 4,000 unemployed people in my constituency were unimpressed to hear the Chancellor increase his unemployment forecasts. Those forecasts tell them not only that it will be a long time before they will have an opportunity to gain employment, but that more people will be joining them on the dole queue—and all because the Chancellor will not change his course.
Rochdale is heavily dependent on the public sector. We face £64 million of cuts from this Government’s Budget just in local government. That will force even more people in Rochdale on to jobseeker’s allowance. The Government have long argued that they will create the conditions for the private sector to sweep in and create the jobs that are needed. Let us look at the reality in Rochdale. In many respects, the Chancellor has only increased Rochdale’s disadvantages. The enterprise zone at Manchester airport will continue the worrying trend of investment being drawn away from Rochdale to other, often more prosperous, parts of Greater Manchester. The new enterprise zone will create a disadvantage to Kingsway business park in my constituency. What is more, the Centre for Cities report shows that every job created in an enterprise zone costs more than twice as much in real terms as a job created by the future jobs fund, and more than four times as much as a new deal job. The Chancellor has made much of his tax incentives to encourage businesses to create jobs. However, the research and development tax relief for small businesses will help less than 1% of those businesses.
In conclusion, we have learned nothing new about the Conservative party. We have known all along that it would prefer to give tax cuts to bankers than invest in the future jobs fund or in manufacturing. However, the Liberal Democrats once portrayed themselves as the defenders of places such as Rochdale. They should be ashamed of what they are party to. This Budget shows that they are unable to stick up for their ideas and for the people they purport to represent. It is no wonder that this weekend, yet another Liberal Democrat councillor in Rochdale announced that she would not renew her membership of that party.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Given the restrictions on time, I will focus on the Government’s plan to achieve long-term sustainable economic growth. I welcome their commitment to make that their biggest economic priority.
I welcome the Chancellor’s clear signal that Britain is open for business, and the steps that he has taken to revitalise the country’s enterprise culture. Reducing corporation tax by a further percentage point to just 23% in 2014 is another boost to business and will help to establish the UK again as a great place to do business. Like many Government Members, I welcome the Chancellor’s move to increase tax relief on new business investments to support our entrepreneurs and wealth creators. That will help to grow businesses across the country, including those in Rochdale. Yesterday’s StartUp Britain launch will encourage more people to create their own companies.
Businesses like what they see. It was good to hear from the Institute of Directors today that 70% of businesses surveyed believe that the Budget will have a positive impact on the economy. The incentives that I have mentioned are vital in recreating the enterprise culture. Many small businesses in Macclesfield tell me that they want the Government to break down the barriers that have built up progressively and which, collectively, block businesses from expanding. I therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to reduce the burdens on business by looking at planning, tackling excessive health and safety regulations, and, importantly, simplifying the tax system.
The Chancellor’s approach to deregulation, as set out in “The Plan for Growth”, is very pragmatic. It will support industry sectors that are critical for the economic growth that we need. Those industries rightly include advanced manufacturing, digital and creative industries, and life sciences and health care.
Macclesfield is home to one of AstraZeneca’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturing sites, so I was delighted to see that David Brennan, its chief executive, had given his support to Government plans and said:
“We welcome the package of measures announced by the Government…Those on clinical research and the environment for undertaking clinical trials represent a powerful statement of intent about the government’s determination to maintain the attractiveness of the UK as a centre for R&D activity.”
That is a ringing endorsement from one of our most important pharmaceutical companies. My request to the Chancellor is that he break down the barriers to business success with the same energy and pace that he has shown in so many other areas of economic policy. It is an urgent priority.
We can learn a lot from Macclesfield’s proud entrepreneurial tradition. The local economy was built on silk, and Macclesfield became the world’s largest producer of finished silk. Since that time there has been an entrepreneurial thread running through our economic development. Silk led to dyes, and dyes brought ICI to Macclesfield after the second world war. Today we benefit from AstraZeneca’s strength in pharmaceuticals, and that entrepreneurial tradition is still alive. We have higher than average business start-up and survival rates. We are proud of that tradition, but in the current challenging economic climate, no one is taking growth for granted.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is being able to work with local businesses and community groups to make Macclesfield a stronger destination and to help boost the local economy. We have made big strides, and working with the support of Cheshire East council, we have created regular business breakfasts for Macclesfield’s businesses to have their say on the local economy. They wanted a clear action plan, so with their support we have created a Macclesfield economic forum, which will steer a course towards stronger economic growth. We are building on that momentum, and the proposals that have been put forward in this Budget will help us with that task.
It is often said that two “Eds” are better than one, but based on what we have heard from Opposition Front Benchers, it is clear that that is not always the case. [Interruption.] It took a while for some people to get that. It seems that the Opposition are suffering from a number of seemingly delusional conditions, which are getting progressively worse. It started with the credit crunch, when they had a bad case of what Lord Turnbull has called “wishful thinking”. They thought that they had put an end to boom and bust, but all too clearly, they had not.
Then came a well-documented case of deficit denial. The Opposition blame the deficit on the economic crisis, but they are unable to face the fact that they ran cyclically adjusted deficits in each of the six years to 2007-08. Sadly, in more recent days, Opposition Front Benchers have started to exhibit signs of a new condition—alternative avoidance. The symptoms are there for all to see. They say they have an alternative and tell millions of people that they have one, but they are completely incapable of articulating what it is.
The Labour party has no alternative. In stark contrast, the Government have set out a positive plan to tackle the deficit and put the UK back on the path to sustainable long-term economic growth. I commend the Budget to the House.
I begin where I ended my speech a few weeks ago on Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill—by referring to the Government’s approach to disability living allowance. It is always helpful after a Budget to have a look at the Red Book, and on that subject, as on others, I have done so. I found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer states that the Government intend to recoup about £470 million during this Parliament as a result of removing the mobility component of DLA.
This debate gives us a wonderful opportunity to clarify a subject that has been discussed again and again, but which has led, even today, to sheer confusion. For some 80,000 disabled people, the planned removal of the mobility component of DLA from people living in residential homes is causing great concern, and the issue is clouded by the obfuscation that we have heard from the Government, including from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions today.
Last week the Prime Minister claimed that the Government did not plan to remove the mobility component, even though again and again at the same Dispatch Box, the same Prime Minister had compared the people involved with patients who are in hospital for two or three weeks. Whatever the Government say—I hope we will get some clarity from them tonight—clause 83 of the Welfare Reform Bill, which is being discussed in Committee as we speak, will legislate precisely for the removal of that benefit. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) has pointed out to the House that 2,000 disabled children could lose out.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I point out to him that clause 83 of the Bill is about overlaps. He will have heard the Prime Minister make it very clear from the Dispatch Box that we do not intend to remove the mobility component of DLA from residents in care homes from 2012. We will, however, as he would expect, examine all DLA recipients as we move forward with the reform—with which, as we have heard from the Labour spokesman today, the Opposition agree.
I heard the Prime Minister, and I have heard the hon. Lady on numerous occasions. I even had a private meeting with her, along with Lord Rix, who co-chairs with me the all-party group on learning disability. She has not once said that there will be a change to the money that the Red Book anticipates will be saved by the removal of the benefit, or that the Government are changing their mind. If the Minister who winds up tonight’s debate says that, there will be joy among thousands of disabled people and their carers, but it has not been said yet.
What we are being told is that the Government inherited a financial crisis. I consider the views of my constituents on that and other matters, but the fact is that they are bored stiff with the blame game. They know about the deficit, but they also know about growth. They know that the Government said precious little about growth in the Budget, as has also been the case today.
Take, for, example, fuel. I argued that the VAT increase should be reversed, but the Chancellor expects drivers to be grateful for a 1p cut in fuel tax when VAT is going up by 3p in the pound. That will not allow the Government to ingratiate themselves with people who can no longer afford to fill up their tanks on the forecourt. If Government Members have some doubt about that, may I refer them to, of all newspapers, yesterday’s Sun? It indicated that one fifth of people had given up driving. If that represents growth, I do not understand the meaning of the word.
A woman in my constituency, a nurse called Sandra, does a round trip of 80 miles a day to do her job. She fears for the future and, like me, regards the energy regulations in the Budget as being too little, too late.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the measures are too little, too late. Why did his party set a 10-year target in 2000 and then miss it in 2010, only to set in 2009 a far more ambitious target for 2020 that no one expects any Government to reach?
If I had another six minutes I would be very happy to answer the hon. Gentleman, but if he does not mind, I will just make my own speech.
There is profound disappointment with the influence of regulators, particularly in the energy sector, for gas, electricity, oil and the rest. We are seeing the impact of that influence in what people are actually paying day by day, and in the job losses being experienced as a result.
As I said, my constituents are well informed, as the House would expect them to be. Mrs Agnes Baillie, from the lovely little village of Auchinloch, who is 85, knows what the change in the pensions inflation link from retail prices index to consumer prices index means, even if the Secretary of State does not—he skipped over that in his speech. She knows that from 2011 that change will apply to state second pensions, public service pensions and some private occupational pensions, that RPI is not CPI, and that both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats gave firm pledges in their election manifestos that they would not change the existing arrangements—they certainly did not say that they would change things to the disadvantage of current and future pensioners.
The Secretary of State scoffed at the mention of the banks, which is both astonishing and disagreeable. The banks’ behaviour is at the heart of the all the problems that we are dealing with, and we will not get the economy right if we do not address that; instead, we will get stagnation and lack of growth. Firms will be unable to get off the ground and young people will be unable to get on to the housing ladder if the banks are not challenged more profoundly than they have been so far.
The last words of the Chancellor’s Budget statement were:
“We have put fuel into the tank of the British economy.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]
Is that at the expense of 80,000 people, including 2,000 disabled children who live in residential care homes? If so, it tells us a lot about this coalition Government and the values that they hold.
First, further to a number of the speeches from Labour Members, including the hon. Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who I am pleased to see are still in the Chamber, I shall first suggest that the difference between the parties is less than is claimed. Secondly, I shall highlight the fact that significant waste remains, and that waste cannot be cut too fast or too deeply. Thirdly, I shall highlight the disconnect between the House’s responsibility for setting a Budget and debating it, and the information available for effective scrutiny.
Is the gap between the parties as wide as Opposition Members claim? All parties would have spent beyond their means in this Parliament. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that under the coalition, national debt will be £1.31 trillion at the end of this Parliament. Had Labour remained in office, national debt would have been £1.38 trillion. A difference of £62 billion is not insignificant, but to put that in context, it is less than we will be spending in a year on debt interest by the end of the Parliament. It is therefore not credible to say, as a number of hon. Members have done, that public services will be put at risk. After all, the Government will spend £700 billion a year, which is 40% of gross domestic product—more, in fact, than Tony Blair was spending when he left office.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify that point? Does he not recognise that one crucial difference is the configuration of spending under Tony Blair? That spending went mainly on services, but under this Government, the money will be spent on massive unemployment.
Had the hon. Gentleman bothered to be here for the whole debate he would have heard some of the points made by my colleagues, including the fact that £42 billion is being spent on debt interest this year alone.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to ask where the money is going, which brings me to my second point: waste in spending. The focus is often on top salaries in the public sector, but in Cambridgeshire there is one station manager, or a more senior officer, for every four full-time firefighters, one police sergeant for every four constables, one inspector for every three sergeants, and one chief inspector or above for every inspector. There has been huge inflation in management costs.
Opposition Members may chunter, but let us look at what many of those managers do. The Ministry of Justice asked local authority youth offending teams to collect more than 3,000 bits of data on process, and yet outcomes were still not measured, so the YOTs still cannot say which prevention schemes work. There has been an inflation of management salaries, but often the same people are paid for the same performance. The chief fire officer of Cambridge earns £190,000—£60,000 more than the chief constable—and has three deputies on £150,000, £140,000 and £130,000 each. Perhaps Opposition Members were marching on Saturday to protect such salaries, but we need to look at productivity, and at what we get in return for those salaries and that inflation in management spend.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned productivity, but I urge him to read what the independent National Audit Office says about the health service. Spending doubled, so of course waiting lists went down—we would expect that—but the NAO found that health productivity fell dramatically. The spending fell to many of the best-paid staff such as consultants, so productivity did not match funding.
On procurement waste, the NAO says that Firebuy, an arm’s length body set up by Labour, cost twice as much to set up and run as the savings that it made. On NHS procurement, the NAO found that
“NHS…trusts pay widely varying prices for the same items.”
One NHS trust bought 177 types of surgical gloves.
The huge waste in the opaque spending in local budgets needs to be addressed. For example, Cambridge fire service spends £1.77 million, an increase of £600,000, on what it defines as “other services and supplies”. It cannot explain what that spending is. Cambridgeshire police define £7 million of spending as “other”.
I would attribute it to a number of factors. Let me give an example. I have mentioned local spending in Cambridgeshire, but a national organisation, Ofcom, is an arm’s length body run by a former adviser to Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. He was paid £1.5 million over the last four years, and he reduced his head-count but managed to increase his staff budget. Last year he spent £9.8 million on 180 different consultancy providers. Ofcom even managed to spend £200,000 on newspapers and magazines, but it has only 800 employees, which works out as more than one free newspaper a day for every member of staff. Seven Ofcom staff managed to claim in expenses more than the average wage, with one racking up £5,500 on taxis. I do not know whether they took taxis to the protest on Saturday, but that is the waste that we hear about.
My local police bought six Land Rover Freelander cars for senior officers at £28,000. Bobbies on the beat are far cheaper than the management tier, and I suspect that they make more arrests. We should look to protect front-line services, not to make cuts in them when there are other significant costs.
My final point is on the disconnect in terms of the information that the House has when it sets Budgets. I do not believe that we are effectively scrutinising what happens. In 2009-10 we spent £1.5 billion on consultants and £700 million on arm’s length bodies, without any central data being collected. So we know there is waste. Gershon, Green and many others have looked at the matter, and I welcome the steps taken by the Front-Bench team in setting up the Major Projects Association, even if at the moment it only has 38 members of staff. In 13 years in office, however, the Labour party did not even define what a major project was, which is why we have such wide variations in Government.
Despite all the differences in the headline figures and some of the scaremongering we have heard, I hope that we do not lose sight of how money is spent. We cannot cut waste too fast or too deeply. It is clear that there is waste in our system, and unless we have good-quality data with which to benchmark, standardise and give visibility to the problem, our debates will end up returning to the soundbites that we have heard too frequently over recent days.
There seems to be agreement across the House that one of the main lessons of the global financial crisis is that we need to rebalance the economy. In my view, the major objective for the Budget should have been precisely that, because it is the only way to drive sustainable growth and job creation. There are two major ways to do that, and correspondingly two tests that I set the Budget. First, it should rebalance the economy away from an over-reliance on financial services, and secondly, it should reduce the regional economic disparities in our country.
On the first test, we should recognise that our country has a proud history of making things, and we remain the sixth-largest manufacturing country in the world. Manufacturing growth is currently outstripping growth in the service sector. In my constituency, which is part of the black country—once the beating heart of the industrial revolution—manufacturing still accounts for one fifth of jobs. The aerospace cluster in my constituency is thriving, although against a backdrop of a worrying overall rate of 8% unemployment. One company in that sector, Goodrich, is currently on a recruitment drive, creating 100 new jobs. At the end of his Budget speech, the Chancellor said that he wanted to give meaning to the words, “Made in Britain”, but if the Chancellor wants goods to be made in Britain, why did he slash capital allowances in his emergency Budget in June and use the £2.7 billion to deliver a cut in corporation tax, as set out on page 44 of the Red Book? This transfer will disproportionately benefit the banks at the expense of manufacturing. How is that consistent with the Chancellor’s desire to prioritise manufacturing?
The tax reliefs that the Chancellor announced last week are a flimsy sticking plaster for the much deeper wound he left in June. In the words of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Chancellor is
“giving with one hand and taking away with many others”.
The same is true of the Government’s local enterprise partnerships, which they trumpet as an innovative scheme. I want to pay tribute to those businesses in the black country that have successfully formed an LEP, but again the Government have given a false prospectus to these businesses. They tell people to apply for the regional growth fund, but it is a tiny pot of money—one third of what was available for regional development agencies—and is said to be over-subscribed by 10 to one. The Government know that it will leave many more disappointed than successful among those who have applied.
The regional growth fund comes nowhere near filling the hole left by the very successful regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). Once again, the Government give with one hand, but take away with the other. I would like to think that the enterprise zones will in reality deliver what the Government claim they will deliver, but I am worried because even the Conservative Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), warned last week that they risk distorting activity and adding no new jobs. The risk is that they will simply incentivise existing businesses to move into a low-tax zone without employing more people. Britain needs job creation, not job relocation.
On the second test, there needs to be a rebalancing of economic wealth across our nation as a whole to reduce growing regional disparities. Globalisation has brought many opportunities to the UK, but all too often the communities in the midlands and the north have borne the brunt of the risks and insecurities of globalisation, while the rewards have tended to flow to London and the south-east. Unemployment in my constituency is 8%—double what it is in the south-east—and we are losing 300 jobs at New Cross hospital and 500 jobs at Wolverhampton city council. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Chancellor is taking a reckless gamble by expecting the private sector to pick up the pieces of his massive public sector cuts. He is driven by an ideological commitment to a smaller state. The Budget crucially fails to redress the growing economic disparity between the south-east and the rest of the UK. Areas such as the west midlands need more stimuli for the private sector than other areas. For example, the decisions about the regional growth fund need to prioritise areas hit hardest by the global financial crisis.
The Budget fails both my tests: of rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing, and of redressing growing regional disparities. We want to see more goods made in Britain, but the Chancellor’s actions do not match his rhetoric, and in fact run contrary to it. With growth down, unemployment rising, youth unemployment at a record high and consumer confidence sinking, households are seeing their living standards falling as prices outstrip wage increases. The Chancellor should have had the humility to realise that his cuts are too deep and too fast, and that his massive private sector gamble simply is not working. My constituents are bearing the brunt of his reckless Budget.
We have heard a lot this afternoon about the serious deficit left to this Government, but there is another aspect of the economic legacy referred to by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds): the incredible imbalance in our economy between London and the regions in the north, Wales and the midlands. At the tail end of the previous Government, gross value added in London per head was accelerating away from the rest of the country and now is approximately double what it is elsewhere. That is an awful statistic. In no other country in the world does the capital city dominate the economy to that extent. It is not a natural situation. It does not happen in France, Germany, Holland or anywhere else, but it happens here.
I disagree with the hon. Lady. I think that the Budget has started to deal with the legacy left to the Government. One thing that the Budget has to do is tackle the problem I have outlined, and I am delighted to say that we have started to do that. The Budget has developed 21 regional development areas, one of which I hope will end up in Warrington. One policy developed before the Budget was the national insurance holiday for start-ups in the regions, and I was genuinely disappointed that Labour Members voted against it, in favour of a different proposal that, by the way, would have simply put more money into London. We have to address the imbalance, and that is what we will do. The Budget has started to do it already.
There are three other areas in which we have to make progress. We have not talked during this debate about energy policy. Energy is a regional issue. One unit of GDP growth in the regions is more reliant on energy than it is in London and the south, because in the regions we manufacture, whereas London and the south tend to be more financial-services oriented. Energy prices matter, but I am concerned that we are sleepwalking into becoming a high-energy economy. I support the announcement of a carbon floor price in the Budget. It is right to have that stability, because we have to invest in power stations, but I am concerned about the haemorrhaging of money that is costing industry a great deal. I am talking about some of the renewables investment we are having to make.
Thanet wind farm was a stunning technical achievement, but it requires a subsidy of £1 billion over its lifetime. We cannot just keep doing that. If we are going to meet our climate change commitments by moving industries from the north of England and the midlands to India and China, it will not be a great success.
The other aspect of economic policy that matters to regional rebalancing is infrastructure, which generates jobs and transfers wealth between locations. I make no apology for heavily supporting High Speed 2. The economic case and business case for it are strong, and I hope that we make progress on it quickly. KPMG has estimated that High Speed 2 on its own will bring 40,000 further jobs to the north and to Yorkshire. Those are jobs that we need very much. I understand if Members on both sides of the House—and certainly Government Members —are sceptical about aspects of that or if they question the business case. If the business case needs to be questioned, it is right that we should do so; I just note in passing that the business case for neither High Speed 1 nor Crossrail was questioned in the same way.
My final point about building regional strength involves skills. I was pleased that the Budget had more money for science—and in particular more money for Daresbury, although I will be churlish and say that I was disappointed that Harwell got more. I am also delighted that we continue to make progress on apprenticeships. However, that is not enough by itself: we have to build a technology-based economy. That will be the only way in the future. A shocking statistic is that, despite increasing the number of graduates by a factor of five over the past 25 years, we now have fewer people studying engineering at university than we did 30 years ago. That is not how we will build technology-facing companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Dell and Yahoo!, which did not exist 15 years ago and which, had they been in this country, would frankly have wiped out all our unemployment in one go.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East. The Budget has made a start to fixing the appalling legacy of the misbalanced economy that we have been left. It is a long, hard road, but we have to start somewhere.
Many of the people affected by last week’s Budget were in attendance in Hyde park on Saturday. Some 500,000, I believe, were there, marching against the Government’s cuts. It was a privilege and an honour to stand shoulder to shoulder, along with many Labour colleagues, with so many people in the UK—nurses, doctors, teachers, policemen, prison officers, council workers and trade unionists, among many others, including many people representing local charities, community groups or professional organisations. It was an absolute credit to the TUC and Brendan Barber that they organised such an historic event. Those 500,000 people gave a clear message to the Con-Dems about last week’s Budget and the cuts agenda, which is going too far, too fast. The Budget again hit the less well-off, not the more affluent people in this country—not the millionaires on the Government Benches.
I want to focus on two issues. The first is the Chancellor’s announcement last week about the carbon tax—or the carbon floor price. It could have a devastating impact on Rio Tinto Alcan, which is the biggest private sector employer in my constituency; in fact, it is the largest in Northumberland, employing 600 people and probably serving more than 1,000 people indirectly in the community. Alcan has put £100 million into the local economy, which is something that we greatly need. However, last week’s introduction of the carbon floor price, in addition to the EU’s emissions trading scheme, means that nearly a third of Alcan’s running costs are due to legislation. It simply cannot sustain that. I am concerned that if we do not look at that, Alcan—a huge employer—might consider closing the plant. The Budget announcement certainly threatens the progress of what has been a tremendous employer. I would ask the Government to rethink their policy on the carbon floor price; and if possible, I would like to discuss that with the Ministers concerned.
Last week’s forecast showed that growth figures had been cut, with inflation up, borrowing up, unemployment up and youth unemployment up to record levels. Again, that is extremely concerning. They say that the devil is in the detail. I would refer to the Deputy Prime Minister, who has established a record in betraying the young people of our country. Perhaps he should have read the Red Book, as probably we all did. If he does, he will realise that the coalition Government did not announce from the Dispatch Box last week that they were reducing winter fuel payments to pensioners. It is an absolute disgrace that no one had the guts to stand at that Dispatch Box to tell the House and explain to the country that the Government were reducing winter fuel payments to people aged between 70 and 80. That is another broken pledge—another broken promise—from a broken man who is completely out of his depth.
Quite frankly, the Deputy Prime Minister is controlled like a sycophant—a political Buzz Lightyear—by the very hands of the Prime Minister himself.
The other issue is the significant changes to the Health and Safety Executive and the Lord Young review—which was implemented last week in the detail of the Budget—which will cause huge problems for workplace inspections across the country. That is a great concern, because many people are still being killed in the UK or contracting illnesses or diseases as a result of working in industry. Again, I would like that reviewed. We should be proud of our health and safety culture—Opposition Members certainly are, but I am not so sure about Government Members.
Last week’s Budget did nothing for the hard-working people of this country—some people describe them as the squeezed middle. There has been an attack on pensions, pay and conditions, rights in the workplace and health and safety. No wonder 500,000 marched so proudly against the cuts and the Budget on Saturday. The coalition Government would do well to listen to those people, rather than the inane ramblings of Batty Boris, the Mayor of London.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate, and I am pleased to see so many hon. Members who also want to participate. I have done my best to speak in other Budget debates, and I am under no illusions that this speech will be read or listened to any more than my previous contributions.
This year’s debate has a different atmosphere from previous years. In 2007 and 2008, there was a sense of denial. In 2009, there was a period of inertia as we waited for whoever was going to win the general election—either Labour or Conservative—to grasp the nettle and make the decisions that the country needed. Finally, in 2010, we saw the launch of the long overdue plan. It is only this year, 2011, that we are really experiencing that pain, which has been debated at length today and in the past four days.
The state of the economy clearly dominates our lives. It is complex: like the cockpit of a 747, there are many buttons, switches and levers. Knowing when to pull a lever and for how long affects the overall performance, the direction of travel and the comfort—or, indeed, the displeasure—of the passengers, who rely on a duty of care. There are four principal levers that we have for the economy: fiscal policy, which determines the management of our deficit and our debt; monetary policy and interest rates, which are now set independently; the regulation of the financial sector and the relationship between the Bank of England, the Treasury, and the financial and business sectors; and finally, micro-economic policies—how we approach education, how to get a competitive tax system, and so on. We need to decide how to use all those levers at this delicate time, as we try to mend the economy. We can be dedicated and vigilant pilots, but we will have our work cut out if we are handed a machine that has been battered and bruised by the previous owner. It is exactly the same with the economy.
We have had five days of debate on the provisions in the Red Book. I will not go into the details of all the issues that have been raised. At the weekend, as I was thinking about what to say in my speech today, I watched the rally that was taking place in Hyde park. I saw all the banners; it was like a summer camp for the unions, like a revival for them as they all called for more money for their own area. They wanted more money for pensioners, for health, for education and so on, but no one said where the money was going to come from or how it was going to be generated, and we have heard no such explanation from Opposition Front Benchers today.
The rally said a lot about Labour, in that the Leader of the Opposition is now firmly embedding himself with the unions. Incidentally, I think he was unwise to make comparisons with previous struggles, such as those of the suffragettes or the US civil rights movement, or with the fight against apartheid. It would also have been nice to hear a bit of mea culpa, a bit of recognition that Labour was partly to blame for what is going on.
I did not receive my invitation. Perhaps I shall find it in my office when I go back there.
The bottom line is that we inherited an economic nightmare—the worst of the messes in the G20. The gap between the richest and the poorest had grown since Labour came to office, and the size of government had bloomed. In the past decade, the civil service had grown by an additional 800,000 people. I have no idea what those people actually did, but they were in addition to those who were running the country a decade earlier. That is the bloated government that we need to try to get rid of. There was also a culture of encouraging people not to work. It was never easier than under Labour to do nothing and get paid for it. Those are the kinds of issues that we need to tackle.
The number of regulations introduced under Labour was astonishing. We are now faced with about 21,000 regulations, of which about 10,000 were created by the last Government. As I said earlier, Labour was planning huge cuts, had it won the election; it just did not say where they were going to be made. Had it won, it would have received a lot of the grief that we are receiving today, because it would have had to implement very much the same measures that we are implementing.
Looking back at the legacy that we left Labour, we can see that there was an unbroken period of growth from 1992 to 2008. We had growth up to the economic downturn in 2007. The deficit in 1997-98 was £15 billion. By 2007—before the economic downturn—it had already increased to £33 billion. We were not living within our means.
I was not in government then. The spending commitments that we backed did not take into account the state of the economy at the time. They were the plans for the future, but they did not take into account the money that had been spent.
The point that I was trying to make was that, from a deficit and a debt perspective, the previous Government wasted money during the boom years. They lived beyond their means, which placed us on the back foot when the economic downturn came. Again and again, we hear Labour say, “It isn’t our fault. It was an international issue. It was the Americans. It was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It was the sub-prime market.” Well, that was possibly the case at the start, but in 2007, 2008 and even 2009, I could have gone to Bradford & Bingley and picked up a 125% mortgage. That was simply wrong. We were still not in control of the situation well after we knew that things were going down the pan.
The Opposition’s approach is now based on several themes. They tell us that, 12 months ago, unemployment was falling, growth was rising and inflation was low and stable. However, unemployment was higher when Labour left office than when it came in. In fact, that has happened every time Labour has been in office. No emergency measures had been put in place. Unemployment goes up in every recession; that is one of the impacts. It was wrong of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) to suggest that if Labour were in power now, unemployment would continue to fall. That is completely incorrect. The Opposition also talk about growth, but it is actually continuing to rise. It rose by 1.3% last year, and the figure will be 1.7% this year. That is not what we expected, but the economy is still growing faster than the EU average. Of course, 2011 is going to be a year of pain. Urgent measures have been introduced, and the VAT rise will hit us.
I do not have time to go through all the other aspects of the situation, but I will end by saying that the Budget is all about continuing to bring spending under control. It is about gaining sustainable revenues from the banks and protecting the most vulnerable in our society. It is also about a shift from big government to small government, and about providing businesses with the tax breaks and incentives to expand, to compete in new markets and to tackle the expected rise in unemployment. History will show that we came close to the economic abyss, but that this Government took the tough decisions necessary to build a strong and stable economy.
In the debates in the run-up to the last general election, I was in the habit of saying that there would be four ways of dealing with the deficit. The first would be to make cuts. The second would be to introduce tax increases. The third was the method that dare not speak its name but which would be employed by every Government around the world: inflation, which would involve paying money back at a lower value than that at which it was borrowed. The fourth would involve growth. This Government have been pretty good on the first three, but they have been very poor on growth.
The Government are now, as ever, turning their attention to holding down the living standards of people on middle and lower incomes. There is now talk among the Tories about restricting the legal rights of people at work and of paring back the minimum wage. There is also talk of reducing job security, and they have certainly done that for practically everyone in the country. We have also heard them say today, and yesterday, that they want to slash regulation, because it is a burden on business. In fact, good regulation is vital. It protects employees, consumers, the environment, public health and the taxpayer. Some regulation is unnecessary, and some of it is out of date. Some of it is cumbersome and time consuming, and some of it is out of proportion, but we have to accept that virtually all of it has been passed by this House, so we should not go blaming other people; we have introduced it over the years.
Another argument put forward by the Government is that British business is over-regulated. The Chancellor was quoting the OECD with approbation in his Budget speech, but he obviously does not read, or approve of, everything that the OECD does. It produces a league table of employment protection. Are we, according to that league table, the most over-regulated country in the world? No, we certainly are not. The United States is the least regulated country. Canada is the second least regulated, and the United Kingdom is the third least regulated. The Chancellor also referred favourably to Germany, so I looked Germany up in the league table. It is the 19th least regulated country. The German economy is far more regulated than ours, yet it is recovering more quickly. There has always been higher investment in plant and equipment in Germany than in this country, and a lower turnover of employees.
What we really need is better regulation, and, in some cases, more and newer regulation, particularly to help agency staff. Let us look at how the Tories are always trying to create a great fuss and fear. When the great Michael Foot introduced health and safety measures, which I have to say were welcomed from the Front Bench by that decent old Tory, William Whitelaw, there were dire predictions from a lot of Back-Bench backwoods Tories that it would lead to all sorts of terrifying consequences. Well, there has been one massive improvement. When people talk about reducing the “burden” of regulation in health and safety, I point out that before the Health and Safety Executive was set up, 651 people were killed in accidents at work; the comparable figure is now 152—and it ought to be lower still.
It was obviously good for employees that there were fewer injuries and less pain and suffering, fewer people suffering from bad health and fewer people losing income because they were out of work as a result of what had happened to them. However, it was also good for employers. The employers did not lose vital staff to accidents; they did not lose the value of the training that vital staff had received before they were injured; they did not lose a great deal of production; they did not lose money; and if they obeyed the law, they were not in a position of facing court action.
The health and safety regulations were also good for taxpayers, because they reduced the demand on the national health service and meant that benefits did not have to be paid. People were not off work so they continued to pay tax and we did not lose production in the British economy. I hope that the Tory party, including the Prime Minister, will therefore stop all this scaremongering about regulation and health and safety, and take a much more careful and thoughtful approach to the problem. Conservative Members should try to make sure that when people are working in this country, they are safe from accidents and safe from illness caused by the conditions in which they work.
I am glad to have been called—a happy outcome for me.
It seems to me that Labour Members are ostrich-like inasmuch as they are not aware of what is going on or of what led us to the position we are in. There is always a context, and we appreciate that savings had to be made in Government spending. Everyone knows that. When we ask ourselves why we are in the position we are in, we get conflicting answers. As Government Members have said, Labour Members suggest that it was the fault of American bankers, of evil people in the City of London who were making too much money and of international business. I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and pensions even suggested that at some point they would blame Dr Evil. None of those reasons, however, is remotely relevant to the deficit or the fiscal situation we are in.
The simple fact is that we had a much larger deficit than any other country in the G7. These facts are known to the world. Labour Members have to accept that when they came into office in 1997, there were balanced Budgets. For four years, the then Chancellor of Exchequer essentially balanced the Budgets and it was a matter of deliberate policy in 2001 when the Labour Government turned the taps on and presided over a massive engorgement of the public sector.
It was that decision in 2001-02 that led to the position we are in now. The cause was simple: the last Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor, believed in his hubris that he had abolished boom and bust. He thought that the economy would keep on growing and that he could then use tax and other income to fund his bigger national projects and his huge public spending. What happened, of course, was that the economy stalled. The income receipts to the Exchequer stopped coming in, so we were left with this massive deficit of £160 billion—the largest in peacetime. The coalition Government came in with the principal purpose of dealing with the deficit. That has always been this Government’s purpose. It was almost a Government of national unity, with two historic parties with different views and different traditions coming together to sort out the mess that the Labour party had left behind.
It is a very simple narrative, but because of all the obfuscation and the deliberately misleading comments of Labour Members, all that has been forgotten. My constituents are all too well aware of the mess that Labour made. In fact, one man said to me, “Well, we have seen it all before; exactly the same thing happened in the 1970s. Labour comes in and makes all sorts of spending commitments, and we run out of money.” It was that simple—and exactly the same thing has happened in Labour’s last two years in power. Blaming the global crisis for what was essentially decisions taken by the Labour party in government is entirely wrong.
Does the hon. Gentleman blame Labour Members for the recession in Germany, for the recession in France, for the recession in the United States and for the recession in other parts of the world? How can he stand up and say it was all our fault? It was a global financial crisis.
Let me point out to the hon. Lady that in Germany the deficit to GDP ratio was 3.3%; our deficit to GDP ratio was 12.8%. That differential had nothing to do with the global crisis; it had everything to do with spending commitments made on the Treasury Bench when the hon. Lady’s party were in government. It is a deliberate obfuscation to try to blame the sub-prime crisis in America and all the rest of it for decisions taken by her party in government. It is like a magician’s trick: one always tries not to let the audience focus on what is actually being done. That is what magicians do, and it is exactly the sort of tactics that Labour is employing. As I say, it is trying to obfuscate and shift the blame for decisions that it made.
I think it is a scandal and an insult to the intelligence of Members generally that Labour Members are still in denial about the mess they created and the errors they made, which were based on hubristic assumptions about the economy growing for ever and ever. We all remember the former Prime Minister himself saying that there was an end to boom and bust. What does that mean? Anyone who says “an end to boom and bust” genuinely believes that there will be no downturn and so makes spending assumptions on the basis that money from income receipts will keep coming in. That is absolutely crazy.
I ask the question for the third time in this debate, as I have yet to receive an answer from Conservative Members. Why on earth did the Conservative party back our spending plans right up to the start of the global financial crisis? This is revisionism by the hon. Gentleman’s side; it is his side that is being ostrich-like, not ours.
With respect to the hon. Lady, that is entirely irrelevant. Her party was in office; her party had the ultimate responsibility for the government of this country—not only in 2007, but for the 13 years before the last election. It is a strange paradox that when Labour Members got into power in 1997, they did the right thing. They balanced the books; for four years, we were not running deficits, as they stuck to our spending plans. The Chancellor was prudent; “prudence” was his favourite word. Then, all of that was deliberately swept away, and they went on a mad spending spree, which directly caused the deficit and the savings that have to made now.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the honest answer to the question put thrice by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) is that if we were guilty of anything, it was to fall for the same lie that the British public fell for—to believe that new Labour had become the party of economic competence and that in government it could be trusted with the public finances?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I think there was an element of delusion in the country inasmuch as people believed that Labour could be trusted with the economy. That was clearly not the case. Older voters I speak to in my party association and more widely in Spelthorne remember the appalling legacy of the 1970s, when exactly the same thing happened. None of this is new; we have seen it all before. Exactly the same thing has happened 30 years later: Labour came into power, made all sorts of spending commitments with the best intentions, but found that we had run out of money. It was that simple. On that note, I urge the House to vote in favour of the Budget motions.
Labour Members have already expressed the deep anxiety that is felt in not just Labour households but many households in the country about what the future holds for them. At the end of my short contribution, I shall return to a refrain that the Chancellor used at quite an early stage in his introduction of measures intended to rebalance the economy. We all know that we are experiencing immensely difficult times, but the Chancellor told us that we were all in it together. The question to which I intend to return is this: are we sharing those sacrifices fairly or not? However, I also intend to describe the challenges that the economic situation has posed both to the country and to the political parties.
Let me deal first with the question of national debt. Given that we hope to win the next election, I want to consider the position that we will inherit if we are entrusted with power by the voters on that occasion. Comment has already been made about the size of the national debt when the Government came to office. It was £760 billion then. We are told that we are now experiencing an extreme programme of cuts the like of which we have never seen before, and that at the end of this Parliament the national debt will stand at £1,400 billion. In other words, it will have doubled.
Our views cannot entirely be explained away by the fact that we disagree with the Government’s policy of allowing unemployment to rise and the effects that that will have on Exchequer costs and revenues. Already, a third of the money that we borrow each year is to service our debt. The level of our long-term interest rates is therefore crucial and fundamental to our survival. It is difficult to see how we can come out at the other side as a great industrial and trading country if we lose our current rating and costs rise.
I have three more points to make, one to my own side and two to the Government. This is the first. Before the last election, we had a clearer view of our cuts programme. At this stage of a Parliament it is easy to blame the other side and to oppose all cuts, but the next election may be closely contested. We will have to account for our behaviour in this Parliament, and my plea to my party’s Front Benchers is that we regain the clarity that existed before the last general election about where we would cut, where we would not cut, and where we would fight cuts.
My second point concerns inflation. Although what we have is not wage-induced inflation but inflation that is imported, the Bank of England has been directed to reduce inflation to below 2%. The Government’s current strategy for growth is based on a tough fiscal stance and a loose monetary policy. My worry is that in abiding by that inflation target, we might encourage the Bank of England to drive up interest rates in a vain attempt to control inflation. We know that that policy will not work, but it might satisfy those who feel that we should make more of an effort to reach the 2% target. It is impossible for Governments, once they have set themselves such targets, ever to abandon them, but this Government need to take such action if they are to safeguard future growth.
My last point is the one about our all being in it together. I have never known a Parliament in which the changes came so fast and were plainly so important, and I have no clear view on who is getting off lightly and who is not. A few weeks ago, in a letter to the Prime Minister, I wrote that I would be very surprised if I were the only person in the country who wanted all of us to be in this together but wondered whether we were. I suggested that he set up, in public, a committee whose remit was to examine that very question: are we all in it together?
If we are concerned about families, we should bear in mind that families, both rich and poor, have taken a significant beating from the Government. Obviously, however, my concern is not only with them but with the poor in general. I do not believe that any Minister on the Treasury Bench could stand up and tell us honestly that we are all in this together, and I consider that appalling. I think that the Government ought to take measures enabling us all to be better informed about the question on the occasion of our next major debate.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who made some very measured comments.
I am delighted to be able to contribute to the debate, and to welcome a number of measures that will be good for Manchester and good for the people of Manchester. I must confess that I approached the Budget with a certain amount of trepidation because of the difficult decisions that the coalition Government had already made in order to deal with the mess with which the previous Government left us. However, I was also well aware of all the work done in the Treasury and between Departments to produce a Budget that would stimulate growth and help to kick-start the economy.
The question is whether the Budget has delivered for Manchester. Before it had even been announced, Manchester Labour councillors tabled a motion which is to be dealt with in the council tomorrow, stating that the council
“notes the damaging impact of George Osborne’s budget on the people of Manchester.”
It was pretty clear that, regardless of what the Chancellor announced, Labour would try to spin it as terrible for Manchester, just as it has tried to absolve itself of any blame for the financial mess in which the country finds itself and the unnecessary and vindictive political cuts that it has proposed in Manchester.
Of course, we would expect the Liberal Democrat opposition in Manchester to take a more positive view of the measures in the Budget. We would, perhaps, expect Simon Ashley, the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on the council, to say something like
“This is good news for… Manchester.
It’s a double win because not only does it give incentives for new businesses to develop at Airport City, it also generates income we can use to encourage development across the whole of Greater Manchester.”
However, he did not say that, although he has warmly welcomed the good news of the enterprise zone for Manchester. That comment was, in fact, made by Richard Leese, the Labour leader of Manchester city council, who, interestingly, is one of the signatories to the Labour motion that condemned the Budget even before the Chancellor had come to the Dispatch Box to deliver his speech. Yes, even the Labour leader of the council has been forced to admit that the Budget has delivered good news for Manchester.
Under the last Labour Government, private sector job growth in Manchester lagged massively behind that in the rest of England between 2003 and 2008, at less than half the average percentage. That is set to change under the coalition Government. Manchester airport was a beneficiary as one of the first enterprise zones, and up to 13,000 new jobs will be created in the city—more than five times as many as there are unemployed people in my constituency. At the same time, the Chancellor has given the go-ahead for the Ordsall Curve rail project, which will increase rail capacity and improve journey times and encourage investment, growth and job creation in Manchester. During 13 years in government Labour failed to deliver that vital infrastructure project, but it has been delivered in fewer than 11 months by the coalition Government, which is proof of the Government's commitment to investing in our rail infrastructure. Moreover, an extra £873,000 will come to Manchester to help to repair our damaged roads. That will go a long way towards dealing with the thousands of potholes in our streets.
All those measures will help to get people in Manchester into work and protect existing jobs, and the additional 40,000 apprenticeships that have been announced will help more Manchester residents to gain the skills and experience that are needed to grow the economy further.
What about those surviving on pensions? One of the lasting memories of the previous Labour Government was the derisory 75p rise in the state pension. For all their talk, the last Labour Government failed to deliver for pensioners. When the coalition Government were formed, there was a real commitment to give a better deal to pensioners. Pensions have been re-linked to earnings—which was unaffordable, according to Labour—and the triple-lock guarantee will ensure that there is never a repeat of the disgraceful 75p rise. Instead, as a result of this Budget, pensioners will receive an extra £4.50 a week, taking the pension above £100. That is in addition to the decision to make permanent the increase in the excess cold weather payment to £25 for every week of excess cold in the winter. My only objection is that the Chancellor has decided to follow Labour’s plans and not to make permanent the temporary increase in the winter fuel allowance. In my view, that is a mistake and should be looked at again.
Finally, the Budget has also delivered on the coalition promise to take some of the lowest-paid out of paying tax altogether. The increase in the personal allowance by £1,000, and the announcement of a further increase next year, will scrap income tax for more than 1 million of the lowest-paid people. That puts the coalition on track to deliver a key Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment: to increase the personal allowance to £10,000. That has been welcomed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies as “progressive” and by The Times leader column for increasing “the incentives to work.” These changes mark a stark contrast to the Labour Budget that abolished the 10p tax rate, increasing the tax burden for some of the lowest paid.
Overall, the Budget is good news for Manchester—
Last week, the Chancellor delivered a Budget and promised a plan for growth. There is no doubt that we in the north-east need growth, and it must be growth that creates jobs. The fact that the Office for Budget Responsibility’s growth forecasts have had to be revised downward yet again is therefore deeply worrying for people across the north-east. In my constituency, there are currently 8.8 jobseekers per advertised vacancy, and in some parts of the north-east—mainly on Teesside—there are more than 19 jobseekers for each job available. Those figures are alarming, but we should compare them with the figures for the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which are, respectively, 1.9 and 1.6 jobseekers per vacancy. That makes it clear that we are simply not all in this together. Moreover, these are the figures for the period of time before many of the Government’s spending cuts have started to bite; about 50,000 jobs in both the public and private sectors are expected to be lost across the north-east.
The Government believe that the private sector will move in to fill the gap, but I believe that is misguided. The abolition of One North East has left a gaping hole in the capacity of the north-east economy to drive growth, and there is genuine and widespread concern that many of the opportunities for growth in the region could be lost due to the lack of properly funded and co-ordinated structural support. I hope I am proved wrong for the sake of our region, but this Budget and the downgraded growth forecasts do not fill any of us with much hope.
The Chancellor announced in his speech last week the creation of 21 new urban enterprise zones, and he stated that one of them would be located on “Tyneside”. Although I have grave doubts about the overall policy, I acknowledge that we need swift action, clarity and leadership in implementing it if it is to deliver the positive impact the Government intend. Yet how do the Government intend to ensure that the policy does not simply lead to jobs and businesses moving from one part of Tyneside to another? How will they guarantee that it genuinely creates new jobs? Serious thought will need to be given to how these zones will contribute to a genuine rebalancing of the economy, when so many zones have been announced across the country, including in London. That view appears to be shared by the North East chamber of commerce, which last week expressed its concerns that
“the plan for 21 across the country smacks of spreading a policy too thin.”
Ever since I was elected to the House, I have been campaigning for apprenticeships. The benefits are clear and widely accepted. Apprenticeships provide a structured career path for young and older people alike, while also helping to develop the skills that UK plc needs if our economy is to move back into growth and compete effectively on the global stage. Expanding the number of apprenticeships is vital for employers and employees, and for the country as a whole. I therefore believe the Government should be doing everything in their power to increase the number of places available.
That is why I introduced my Apprenticeships and Skills (Public Procurement Contracts) Bill, which seeks to increase the number of apprenticeship places by making that a requirement of public procurement. I have had a number of discussions about my proposals with the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, and I thank him for his positive response. He recently confirmed to my local paper that he is
“a strong advocate of the use of public procurement to support our objectives”,
and I have no doubt that his support and persistent enthusiasm have been very influential in securing the further 50,000 apprenticeship places that have been announced for the next four years. I am concerned, however, that the Minister has a real challenge ahead to ensure that all of his colleagues are singing from the same hymn sheet on this issue, particularly as Construction News recently quoted the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General as stating that the Government would not be backing his idea because the use of public procurement to stimulate the creation of more apprentices was simply not appropriate.
Governments cannot create apprenticeships; businesses do that. Government must provide support for businesses by helping with training costs, incentives and encouragement, but without growth in our economy, real, new apprenticeship opportunities will not be delivered.
The Secretary of State outlined earlier a chicken and egg situation: young people are unable to get work experience and therefore unable to get a job, and as they are unable to get a job they are unable to get work experience. The same applies to apprenticeships. Businesses are required in order to create apprenticeships, but they will not have the confidence to provide those opportunities if we do not have growth. Therefore, although I welcome the positive moves in this Budget in relation to apprenticeships, providing funding for places is not enough. Government must take the lead, and be seen to take the lead, by using all available levers to increase both the number of apprenticeship places available, and the number of apprenticeships completed. I truly believe that one of those levers has to be the use of public procurement, for Government to lead the way for businesses.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), and her comments about the importance of apprenticeships are right, of course. I want in particular, however, to congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). In the past he chaired the Select Committee on Social Security, and I was proud to serve on it with him. He gave the best speech of the debate—with the exception, of course, of the contribution from the Secretary of State; I will be in trouble if I do not say that. The right hon. Gentleman was realistic about the position we are in. I do not want to say a great deal about the structural deficit; we all know it is there, and how much it is. We all know the political imperative behind the Labour party campaign against the cuts. We also all understand that it is in the interests of the Government to play up that campaign because it makes them look stronger and more determined. It is therefore in the interests of both parties to talk about this topic in that way.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted a point that I want to emphasise too: we have yet to turn the tide against the culture of spending and the fix of borrowing. We are going to borrow £485 billion over five years. That is more than our total public debt in 1997. The annual interest repayment on the UK debt for last year alone was £42 billion. I know the public cannot visualise what £42 billion is, but if we consider that we are spending more on simply repaying the interest on our debt than the entire amount we spend on educating our children, that should bring home the scale of the crisis facing us.
I am not a very party political person, so I am not very good at apportioning blame. We all know the last Government had to go through a massive international crisis, but we also all know that there was an underlying structural deficit that they did not deal with. The key question, however, is: what are we going to do now? I want to take as my text what the TUC has been talking about, because I would like to bring a few Opposition Members with me. The TUC asks how we are going to deal with this deficit without making cuts in public services, and it says there is £13 billion-worth of tax avoidance by individuals and £12 billion-worth of tax avoidance by corporations. Let us assume for a moment that that is true. How are we going to deal with it? If we follow the TUC line, the only way in which we can deal with it is through a radical simplification of how tax is raised and how the Government spend it.
The Chancellor made one historic announcement that has not been discussed much today, on the merging of national insurance and income tax. I urge him to continue with that theme, despite the siren voices that we have already heard, including that of a former Chancellor, who has said that it will result in winners and losers. The Chancellor must embark on this essential crusade. It may take many years, but it is vital, because simplification of the entire tax system lies at the heart of how we are going to deal with the deficit, with tax avoidance and with tax evasion.
The UK tax code has more than doubled in size since 1997 and it is now the world’s largest, recently surpassing even that of India. The only way to achieve simplicity in taxation is through a gradual move towards a much flatter rate of tax for both personal and corporate income, while eliminating the complicated system of loopholes, deductions and exemptions. Thus we would, eventually, have a system whereby we would set a single exemption for individuals, so that low-income earners would pay tax only if they earned more than a determined level of income. Many countries have already taken such an approach, including nine in eastern Europe, Hong Kong and Russia, the largest country in the world.
On defending the poor, I say to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead that it is not in the interests of the poor to have a so-called “progressive” income-based tax system. Such a system is structurally biased against them because they do not have the same access as the wealthy do to accountants and lawyers, and so cannot be instructed by them in the complex methods of tax avoidance. The poor are also caught in the poverty and unemployment trap. Many scenarios and Treasury models can be used, but it is estimated that if we had a flat tax rate of 22% with a £15,000 tax-free allowance, about 10 million of the poorest taxpayers would see their entire income tax burden disappear.
I know that people will say that the wealthy must pay more, but every time the top tax rate has been significantly reduced anywhere in the world, the wealthy have increased the proportion of tax income that they contribute. Under Mrs Thatcher’s Government, the top tax rate declined from 83% in 1979 to 40% in 1990, but high-earning individuals paid 35% of the total in 1979 compared with 42% in 1990. So it makes sense to have a much flatter rate of taxation—it makes sense for the economy and for the poorest in society, and it makes sense in terms of re-creating a sense of enterprise in the nation.
Once we dramatically simplify the tax system and get rid of all those loopholes and deductions, we will be able to explain the whole Budget process so much more easily to Parliament. At the moment, the Budget process is largely incomprehensible. I have been involved in the “Clear line of sight” project, and we want to simplify the whole process so that we know, line by line, what we are spending on behalf of taxpayers and how we are trying to get the nation moving forward again. I urge the Chancellor to be vigorous and brave in this debate.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Presiding Officer. [Interruption.] I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker; I knew I would do that one day. I have just left the Scottish Parliament, so I should have been slightly more careful in ensuring that I got the terminology right.
People I have met on the doorstep in my constituency are pretty clear about why they did not vote for either of the parties that make up this Government—it was because they remember what happened the last time there was a Tory Government. In Kilmarnock, people recall the loss of the factories that made the town well known worldwide: BMK carpets; Glenfield and Kennedy; and others. In the Irvine valley, the textile industry was all but destroyed as cheap imports produced in sweatshop conditions flooded the market. And in the former coalfield communities of Auchinleck and Muirkirk people remember how Tory policies deliberately and systematically killed off the mining industry, leaving a generation of people on the dole for the long term.
My constituents resent getting lectures on a big society from people who have never had to worry about whether their weekly income is going to stretch to the extras that others take for granted, be it the school trip for the kids, the birthday present, or the day out to try to give the family some respite from the daily grind. They are angry that their public services are being slashed and that the voluntary sector is being left to pick up the pieces without proper funding. Over the years those former industrial communities have tried hard to stand on their own two feet. They looked to the Government for a hand up, not a handout, and we got people back to work during Labour’s years in government.
Although people in my constituency did not vote for this Government, some of them perhaps had at the back of their mind the vain hope that maybe, just maybe, these Tories would be different, and would deliver a Budget that would bring some hope for hard-pressed families already worried about their jobs and keeping the roof over their heads. What did they get in reality? The facts are simple: unemployment forecasts have risen; inflation forecasts have risen; the growth forecasts have fallen; an increase in the personal allowance threshold was cancelled out by an increase in the cost of living; the cut in fuel duty was swallowed up by the increase in VAT; and the rise for pensioners was wiped out by the small-print cut in the winter fuel allowance.
The people on the Government Benches can have their private conversations, they can laugh and they can sit and smile—they can do what they like—but behind the figures we have heard about today are real people whose real lives are being affected now. The number of unemployed claimants in my constituency in February was more than 3,500, which represents a rate of 8.1%. Those people, who are desperately trying to get a job, feel that the Tories are reverting to type; they do not feel that the revised projections of unemployment rising are a price worth paying, but it is clear that the Tories do.
In Scotland Labour has pledged that there will be a Scottish future jobs fund that will create real jobs and provide training for about 10,000 young people, and for others who have been unemployed for six months or more. It will be supported by up-front and flexible funding for businesses to create those jobs. By contrast, the Tory Government here have announced only an extra 40,000 two-month work experience placements a year, and only 12,500 more apprenticeships a year.
I heard the Chancellor say in his Budget speech that the Government would consult the Scottish Government on how a new set of enterprise zones might operate north of the border. I welcome that. But before he does that, I want him to think about some of the criticisms of the previous incarnation of enterprise zones and ensure that his proposals do not fall into the same traps. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland has pointed out that although 63,000 jobs were created in the enterprise zones between 1981 and 1986, only 13,000 of those were new, the rest had simply been displaced. That will not do in the future. It will be important for those initiatives to be backed by significant infrastructure investment, and there must also be engagement with local authorities to build on economic regeneration work already under way. I am pleased that my constituency has just received the news that we are to get £2 million in European regional development fund money, but we need more help from the Government to back that.
In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker—I got it right that time—when I was elected I pledged that I would work with anyone who had the best interests of my constituents at heart, even if that meant putting aside political differences. That is exactly what I have done in my support for the “Make it Kilmarnock” initiative, because East Ayrshire council, which set it up, is of a different political persuasion from me. But sadly, what will define this Budget in history will be the economic mindset of a political class that is walking in Margaret Thatcher’s footsteps but has failed to learn the lessons of taking the wrong path on the economy.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson).
Every Budget is a step along the way in implementing the strategy of any Government. Part and parcel of the strategy that the Government have chosen to follow is wholesale welfare reform, which I welcome. A plethora of benefits are being simplified, people are being taken out of taxation, and the central issue at the heart of that strategy is that work should always pay. In this country—including London—today, I could take hon. Members to places where there are three generations of people who have never worked. They feel that it is better to be on benefits than to work, and we have to change that fundamental view in society.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned in his opening speech the scandal that is housing benefit in society today. It has fuelled rental rates and has got totally out of control. The squeals from Opposition Members when we try to implement fairly simple and straightforward reforms to housing benefit are legion. The housing benefit reforms are long overdue, and I welcome them.
Last year, after the general election, we had an emergency Budget that set out the emergency position that had to be implemented to counter the inheritance that this Government received. Some tough decisions had to be made at the time, and we were all warned that they would have a catastrophic effect on the economy. Clearly, the financial markets and every sane and sensible individual in this country could see that those decisions had to be taken, for the long-term benefit of this country.
We then had the comprehensive spending review, which set out tough targets for public expenditure over a range of years. There was tremendous consultation, certainly among Government Back Benchers, to ensure that the decisions taken were in the long-term interests of this country. Now, of course, we have the Budget for growth. That is the third part of the story.
It is clear that we must have private sector growth that generates job opportunities for the people of this country. Governments do not create wealth-creating jobs; it is up to the private sector to do that, but it is Governments’ duty to ensure that they create the environment in which the private sector can invest. The problem we inherited was that over the last 10 years of the Labour Government, the growth in employment all came in the public sector. Unsurprisingly, we hear from Labour Members about the percentage or number of people in their constituency employed in the public sector. We need to rebalance the economy completely to make the private sector predominant, and that is clearly where we are going.
The Opposition have two mantras: “It’s hurting but it isn’t working” and “The cuts go too far and too fast”. I detect the whiff of fear from Opposition Members that the Government’s strategy will work, and that by the next general election the public will realise that all the tough choices the Government have made were in the best interests of the economy and that the Opposition were wrong, and Labour will be defeated heavily at the polls as a result.
The Budget has brought in long overdue planning changes. I am concerned, as I do not want local people to be overridden, but I want business to have certainty about the decisions that are taken. Decisions on planning will be taken within a 12-month window that allows businesses to plan for the future and allows everyone to express their objections and comment on areas of uncertainty.
The council tax freeze has, without a doubt, already worked. Every council in England and Wales has frozen its council tax this year, and the Government have provided additional funds to ensure that services are provided by local authorities. I look forward to the Government, next year and the year after, providing a similar type of grant to freeze council tax again, so that instead of council tax more than doubling, as it did under Labour, it is frozen under the coalition agreement.
We clearly need a work force who are fit for purpose and apprenticeships that are available. I welcome the decision to fund more apprenticeships and training and to ensure that the work force are ready for the jobs as and when they are created. That is a key part of the strategy. The challenge now, after this Budget for growth, is for the private sector to start to create the jobs that the Budget wishes to see.
There is also a challenge for the Opposition. There is a potential alternative: we could borrow more money, increase taxation, increase interest rates and get into a position where there is more bust in society. I am sure the whole House will take the view that the Government have embarked on the right strategy and the right course, and will endorse the Budget tonight.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker—although I am from Scotland, I can get your title right.
The Budget has been billed as the Budget for growth and jobs, yet many right hon. and hon. Labour Members have already demonstrated ably why it has failed to live up to its billing on growth. It is also crystal clear that it is not a Budget for jobs either. Unemployment continues to rise, reaching a higher level than at any point under the previous Labour Government, yet the Chancellor’s Budget did next to nothing to address that serious issue.
The Government, like all previous Tory Administrations, basically believe that rising unemployment is a price worth paying. When they say that we are all in it together, we know that what they really mean is that the vulnerable, the unemployed and the poor are all in it together as they will bear the brunt of the Government’s reckless policies.
Labour’s priority in responding to the recession was to keep people in work. The previous Labour Government were determined to prevent the same devastation to families and communities that the Tories presided over in the 1980s and early 1990s, when unemployment rose to more than 3 million. Labour’s strategy was working and unemployment was falling, but now, less than a year into the life of this Government, unemployment is rising again, reaching its highest level for 17 years. That should have put jobs at the forefront of the Chancellor’s plans last week, but the evidence from his statement proves otherwise.
The £20 million funding allocated next year to support initiatives aimed at creating jobs is a pitiful amount in the grand scheme of things and the centrepiece of the Government’s plans for promoting the creation of new jobs, the establishment of 21 enterprise zones in England—not applicable in Scotland—simply takes us back to the failed past of the Thatcher and Major years. Indeed, entrepreneur William Chase, founder of the Chase distillery and Tyrrells crisps, described the plan for enterprise zones as a “criminal waste of cash”. He said:
“The Thatcher government wasted huge amounts of cash on enterprise zones in the eighties. They didn’t work then and I don’t see any reason why they should work now.”
According to a recent Centre for Cities report, which my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) mentioned earlier, the cost to the public purse of each additional job created in an enterprise zone during the 10 years of the programme was estimated at £17,000 at 1994-95 prices or £26,000 at 2010-11 prices, yet Labour’s future jobs fund cost only £6,500 per job created and the new deal for young people just £3,500 per job.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that recent research showed that 50% of people who had been placed through the future jobs fund were unfortunately back on benefits seven months afterwards? Does he agree that that shows that it might not have been money well spent?
And 50% of those people continued in full-time employment.
The Centre for Cities report also said that most jobs had simply been displaced from elsewhere and so they may bring short-lived prosperity to one area at the expense of another. That point was ably made earlier by my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell). Given the Government’s professed enthusiasm for efficiency it seems bizarre that they should pursue such an inefficient means of creating new jobs, but when it comes to unemployment the Tories continue to be stuck in a time warp. They believe that the Thatcherite policies of the 1980s are the solution to today’s job crisis, but we know they are no more the solution now than they were then, when millions were left on the unemployment scrap heap.
The most alarming aspect of unemployment today is the UK’s high level of youth unemployment. As Members will know, the number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds increased by 30,000 in the last quarter to reach nearly a million—some 20% of all young people—which is the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992. The Government have been pretending that this is somehow not their problem and that they are not responsible for that record high, but let us look at what they have done since taking office last year. They have axed Labour’s future jobs fund—a criminally short-sighted decision—they have axed the education maintenance allowance, thereby disincentivising young people to stay in further education and improve their skills, and they have axed other employment schemes that were aimed at supporting into the workplace young people who have been out of work for more than six months. Let there be no doubt that this Tory Government and their Lib-Dem pals are the ones who are responsible for the record levels of our young people out of work.
Youth unemployment in my constituency stands at nearly 1,000, which is certainly not the worst figure in the country by any means, but every unemployed young person is one too many. I know from speaking to young people in my area that many feel a sense of hopelessness about their situation. They feel that little is being done to support them, that no one in Government cares about their plight and that their future is bleak. Once again, a whole generation of young people is being cut adrift by the dogmatic policies of the Members on the Government Benches.
The Government’s work experience placements will not improve young people’s employment prospects in the same way that six months of real work would. The Department for Work and Pensions has already said that
“the target group for work experience will be a very small proportion of young claimants aged 18-21”
and that it is not about guaranteeing young people a permanent job. The extra 12,500 apprenticeships a year announced in the Budget are woefully inadequate given that nearly a million young people are out of work and need help.
The Federation of Small Businesses has said that the Chancellor’s Budget did not go far enough to incentivise job creation, so action on job creation is another clear dividing line between the Government and the Opposition. The Government stick with their reckless cuts and do nothing to address the record level of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, that they are presiding over.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak in this Budget debate, which affects each and every household in the country. The Budget presented last week was unique in post-war British history because the country has never found itself in more difficult times and the level of borrowing is at an all-time high in modern memory. We needed to face that challenge. Real politicians do not come into politics to be popular—they come to do what they believe is right. Politicians need do what is right for the country and that is why the Government have taken some very difficult spending decisions. We need only look at Portugal, which has singularly failed to implement a credible plan to deal with its budget deficit, to see why we need to continue with our plan to get our country back on track. We need to continue to deal with the deficit while also ensuring that the conditions for economic growth are in place and I commend the Chancellor on a job well done in achieving the balancing act referred to by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The Budget is first about promoting business growth, as we have heard already, secondly about helping households and families and thirdly about dealing with the tough issues that need to be addressed. First, on business growth, one aspect that stood out in the Budget was the measures to encourage business growth. The Prime Minister recently spoke of his desire to implement the
“most pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda ever unleashed by a government”
and I believe that the Government will achieve that.
How will we rebuild our economy? The new, low rates of corporation tax will help our home-grown businesses and will encourage new investment from overseas companies. Other measures include the entrepreneur’s tax relief and new finance available for small and medium sized firms, the simplification of the tax system, the removal of red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy, the extension of the small business rate relief holiday and the increased funding for work placements and apprenticeships, which will encourage investment and trade, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) has said. There is also the support for science and technology that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) mentioned. Those measures and others will help to stimulate business growth.
The reaction to the Budget from business has been favourable. The CBI’s director general John Cridland has said:
“This budget will help businesses grow and create jobs. The chancellor has made clear the UK is open for business.”
I have been speaking to businesses in my constituency to get their views on the Budget and how it will impact on them. Frank Wingate, the chief executive of West London Business said that his company
“welcomes the measures aimed at stimulating business growth—particularly lower corporation tax, enterprise zones, fuel price caps, reduced red tape and simplified planning processes. They will all help.”
Mike Freely, the managing director of design firm Octink, who recently met the Prime Minister to discuss how the Government could help small and medium-sized enterprises, said:
“There is a lot in the Budget for Small and Medium Enterprises like ours and a feel good factor that should inspire more confidence throughout our sector”.
The Budget has a lot to offer businesses both large and small. My constituency is full of successful and aspiring entrepreneurs and I hope that some of the measures in the Budget will encourage new business start-ups and continued expansion and investment. I am particularly interested in encouraging women who would like to start their own business, because a recent Federation of Small Businesses report has suggested that women could contribute far more to the UK economy if they started up more businesses. If we had the same level of entrepreneurship among our women as there is in the US, there would be 600,000 extra female-owned businesses contributing an additional £42 billion to the economy. We also need to get more women on boards. I refer hon. Members to the recommendations in Lord Davies’ report that FTSE 100 companies should have 25%-female boards and that companies should publish and disclose the number of women at all levels in their organisation. I believe that that would help to create growth, improve performance and make use of the great skills that are available to us in this country.
Secondly, the Budget will help households and families. The oil price, the scrapping of the fuel duty escalator and the cutting of duty have already been mentioned. I am also delighted that the Chancellor has announced the next step in increasing the personal tax allowance, as was mentioned earlier. Also, the announcement of £250 million to help first-time buyers will directly benefit many young people and will help on to the property ladder people who would not otherwise have been able to get on it.
Thirdly, the Budget is about dealing with tough issues. The Government have proved that they are not afraid to deal with difficult issues and the Chancellor has shown that he is willing to be resolute in fighting the deficit.
In conclusion, the Budget is one for business growth, helping households and families and continuing to face up to and deal with tough issues. We have a job to do and we are getting on with it. This country of ours has a genius for invention, industry and trade. There are great and powerful forces awaiting liberation in our economy—the forces of commercial creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs just need to have their hands untied so that they can create wealth for this country. The Budget supports aspiration, will help many people to achieve great things for themselves and will create a stronger, sustainable and stable economy—a better future for us all. I commend the Budget to the House.
I am pleased to say that this morning we had a coalition ground force moving into Swansea in a dawn raid at 8.30 am, with the Business Secretary alongside the Secretary of State for Wales talking in the chamber of commerce, and they had a great deal of local resistance from people with placards and the like. In Swansea, 40% of people in public services are facing cuts and unemployment, and we have been denied electrification by the Government, which would have meant inward investment in Swansea. In addition, Tata Steel has just had a bomb dropped on it about the new carbon tax, which will focus only on its facility in the UK and not on those in any of the other 20 countries in which it makes quality steel. Obviously, it is a very valuable employer in the area.
The people resisting the Secretaries of State this morning were similar to the hundreds of thousands who marched in London on Saturday. Who were those people? They were nurses, doctors and teachers—people who keep our work force healthy and educated. They were tax collectors who face losing their jobs—people who are supposed to be collecting tax more efficiently. They were police officers, who are meant to patrol and police, as well as look after the riots and protests being incited by the cuts. They were small business people who are clearly concerned that the Government’s attitude to small business is, “If you make a loss, sell your tools,” as opposed to achieving growth through increased sales. They were service users—people who face cuts in libraries, leisure centres, pools, centres for the elderly, Sure Start and so on. The people on the march had one common cause—that there should be an alternative mix of growth, tax, cuts and timing that is optimal to confront the deficit before us.
It is worth reminding ourselves that the deficit did not come out of some sort of Labour inadequacy. It was the price paid to avoid a depression caused by the banks. Two thirds of the deficit—£84 billion—has been evaluated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others as being the impact of the financial disaster that we imported from sub-prime debt. The fiscal squeeze on which the Government have embarked is about £98 billion, more than the overall financial crisis. That is to take place over four years. The question is whether, if there is a massive outside impact on the country’s financial deficit, we can hope to get rid of that and more within four years without disrupting our economic capacity and social fabric. Should it be the case that three quarters of that is cuts and only one quarter is tax?
The OBR has reached its verdict. It has had to change the growth forecast from 2.6% to 1.7%, which shows that less revenue will come in from people working, and the Government will have to rely more and more on savage cuts. There is an alternative, the Labour alternative—to halve the deficit in four years rather than get rid of it completely, and to use three methods instead of just one, cuts. The three methods are to focus on growth, make the bankers pay their fair share and make savings over time. Germany, for example, is clearing its deficit through export-driven growth, rather than focusing on cuts.
I was over in Germany. I went to UK Trade & Investment, which markets Britain for inward investment. There are lots of German companies queuing up to invest in Britain. Those offers were put on a computer platform for regional development agencies to draw down, but because the RDAs have been abolished, those inward investments are not being taken up and are going to other countries. German regions, let alone the whole country, have offices in Seoul and other emerging markets and are trading and getting inward investment there, and we are not. We are undermining our ability to grow. Instead of a budget for growth, we have cuts.
Growth went negative in the last quarter of last year. Why? Because consumer confidence, the inclination to spend, and investment confidence were washed away by the talk of austerity and the reckless, breakneck speed at which the cuts were made. In addition to the 300,000 people who are to be sacked from public services, PricewaterhouseCoopers says that another million jobs will be lost in the private sector, costing around £7 billion in lost tax and benefit costs per year. Add to that the £4 billion that we have to spend on restructuring the NHS to help privatise it, and the other costs of unnecessary structural change at a time of shrinking budgets, and we can see that this is economic incompetence at its worst. It is not necessary in its current contortion, it is not fair and it is not sensible.
The key issue on banks is that they need to provide liquidity to small business as the engine for growth. We all heard about Merlin, but the question is whether that will be delivered. Sadly, a person in my constituency is on hunger strike over the issue. Finally, people may not have noticed the 3p reduction in inheritance tax given to bankers, who are now paying a smaller proportion. If they give money, for example through works of art, we can see from the fine detail—
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and other Members who have spoken so well.
May I begin with a story? It is about a family brewery in Blandford, which is not in my constituency, but in the neighbouring one. The brewery was run by one of my closest friends, David Woodhouse. Tragically, he died prematurely of a heart attack recently, aged only 49. His brother, Anthony, now runs the business, which employs 1,500 people, and he plans to invest £5 million in a new brewery. When David was alive, he and I used to speak regularly about taxes, red tape, bureaucracy. His bugbear was the duty on beer. “Do they realise,” he used to say, “what politicians impose on our business every single year?” Our conclusion was that they—the politicians—did not realise, because so many have not operated in a business.
Now it is Anthony’s turn and he is aghast that the beer duty, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), has risen by 10p for no reason other than the nature of the product he produces. Why do we go on punishing this industry, year in, year out? Is it to discourage drinking? If it is, there is no logic in punishing publicans who serve, in the main, law-abiding citizens in a safe environment. The lager louts get their beer from cheaper sources, not least the supermarkets.
On that subject, Mr Woodhouse makes an additional point. Pubs have to pay VAT on food, while supermarkets which sell prepared meals—often full of salt and preservatives—do not. This inequality is crippling the pub business. On the continent, VAT has been reduced on eating out—what an excellent idea and incentive.
The only other reason for this annual tax raid is to fill the Treasury’s coffers. And this from a Government who want to encourage the private sector. Let us stop targeting the brewers, remove the escalator and allow a vital UK business to survive. On the subject of removing burdens, surely the Budget was a wonderful opportunity for boldness. Conservative economic principles—I emphasise “Conservative”—are simple: low taxes, the minimum of red tape and bureaucracy, fair and balanced employment law, and freedom from unaccountable institutions like the EU.
The EU is one of the main handicaps to business in this country and to growth and prosperity. We can talk until we are blue in the face about deregulating, removing taxes and all the rest of it, but unless we leave the EU and renegotiate a trade agreement, business will never truly be set free. The EU superstate will fail, as sure as eggs are eggs. The question is are we bold enough to lead the way to pastures new where our economy can thrive and our people prosper?
Let me dwell briefly on personal taxes. Why have we kept the 50p tax rate? I agree that we should all pay our fair share, but surely a ceiling of 40% is more than adequate. Taxes are not there to punish people who aspire, work hard and contribute enormously to their country. Regrettably, and all too often, it appears to many that taxes imposed by the Opposition were based on envy. Our coalition partners are no better. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills suggested a mansion tax. That suggestion was spiteful, vindictive and regressive. Let us lower personal taxes. There is more than enough evidence to suggest that such a move increases the tax take.
Finally, let me touch on Saturday’s march. It proved to me and many others one point—how effective the Opposition had been in 13 years. Why? Because they effectively bought the electorate and created a bloated and unaffordable public sector. For those who are losing their jobs, I have every sympathy. We do not enjoy sitting on the Government Benches watching people lose their jobs, contrary to what many Opposition Members say. That is disingenuous of the Opposition. Now, as we have seen, tens of thousands of people are paying the price for Labour’s ideology. Wealth, which pays for the public sector, must come from the private sector. It is here that we must be bolder and far more far sighted.
The Government must free us from the EU yoke, lower and simplify business and personal taxes, review employment law and create a leaner public sector that we can afford. Let us finally take politics and politicians out of the economy and allow our business men and women get on with it. The Budget is a small beginning, but more boldness is needed in the years ahead.
I apologise to the House for my brief absence from the debate, which was caused by my attendance at a meeting that I had requested in a previous debate. After I intervened on the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), he said that I had not been here for the duration, so I would like to make that clear for the record.
I believe that a major focus of the Budget should have been the inclusion of measures that would boost growth, stimulate the economy and increase employment opportunities as a result, but what we have seen yet again from the Government is a set of ideologically driven and politically based measures, rather than anything based on practical economics. Fundamental to the Government’s entire approach is the belief that cutting the deficit deeply and quickly will stimulate growth in our economy. The very cornerstone of this approach is wrong. A year ago a Member of this House responded to the previous Labour Government’s Budget by declaring:
“We must not cut Government spending too soon and risk plunging a fragile recovery back into recession. Cuts without economic growth will not deal with the deficit”.
The Member who said that is now the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
It seems that the Office for Budget Responsibility agrees with the Business Secretary. It has shown that growth is down for this year and next year. This revision of the figures is a sad reflection of the fact that the Government have got it wrong. It appears that the Government do not realise that if the economy is not growing, thousands more people will lose their jobs, fewer people pay tax, more people claim benefits and it becomes harder to get the deficit down. That is what we mean by cutting too fast and too deep, and I think that it is reasonable for us, as the Opposition, to ask the Government what their plan B is if the downward trend continues.
The lack of growth is the central story of the Budget, but the Chancellor did announce some measures aimed at mitigating this and they are worthy of consideration. Enterprise zones look interesting, but we will need more details of their resources. As a Greater Manchester Member, I am willing to give them a cautious welcome, given our inclusion in the initial list of zones, but I heed the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for Livingston (Graeme Morrice) about the problems the zones might cause.
I had been hoping to hear more about improved resources for the regional growth funds, which seem to have modest budgets for what is expected of them. I worry that with the loss of the regional development agencies we in the north-west have lost more from this Government than we have so far gained. The Northwest Regional Development Agency was not a perfect institution, but research shows that it brought to the region more than £5 for every £1 it invested. I am not certain that local enterprise partnerships, which have more restricted powers and limited coverage, will be able to match that success.
I also welcome the Chancellor’s comments on manufacturing. I represent a part of the world where manufacturing is still very important and am often frustrated by comments in the House to the effect that there is almost no manufacturing industry left in the UK. Such comments are very misplaced. The UK is a world leader in a number of high-value manufacturing sectors, including pharmaceuticals, life sciences, advanced engineering and aerospace. Although we cannot deny that the number of people employed in manufacturing has been in steady decline for 30 years—people in my area know that only too well—the British Chambers of Commerce states that output and value have risen throughout that time, hitting an all-time high in 2007. Manufacturing will never return to the share of the economy it had in the 1980s, but there is a real potential for growth. There was an excellent meeting of the associate parliamentary manufacturing group this morning, where we looked at finance for small and medium-sized enterprises. I hope that the Government will engage with the group and look at some of its work.
I also note with interest the measures in the Budget that are designed to make the planning process simpler. I welcome any changes that would stimulate economic growth, but the biggest barriers to growth in some areas come from a lack of powers for local authorities to deal with planning blight. I have been working with local businesses in Stalybridge. I am passionate about retaining our town centre and the sense of identity it gives our community. Traders tell me how their businesses are often affected by the number of empty and unsightly properties around them. In some cases, these are large buildings with absentee owners who are unwilling to sell in the present economic climate, yet their very presence deters new investment from coming into the area. In one specific case, a consortium is interested in buying a building that is falling down, but complying with the legislation to use compulsory purchase orders and the powers to force a sale are difficult for local authorities. Piloting the relaxation of some of those regulations would be welcome, and I would be very pleased to see such developments.
I also want to say something about investment in infrastructure. I welcome the £85 million investment that the Government have promised in the Budget for a link between the Victoria and Piccadilly railway stations in Manchester, which will have a positive impact on journey times. I sincerely hope that in due course the Government will support the rest of the northern hub proposals, which would have a significant impact on economic growth in the area. In particular, I think there is a lot of scope to boost growth by improving transport links between the north-west and Yorkshire regions, and with that in mind I hope the Government will reinstate the planned Mottram-to-Tintwistle bypass through my constituency.
In many of the speeches made in the response to the Budget, Members have highlighted the impact of the Government’s agenda on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. I will never abrogate my responsibilities to speak for these people and I endorse what has been said, but I also want to speak for the thousands of my constituents who may not be the most vulnerable but who are still struggling to get by. These working and middle-class people are the backbone of Britain, and right now they are finding life hard. Rising fuel prices, the increase in VAT and changes to tax thresholds, particularly the changes to indexation, will increase the pressure. Next year, families with incomes as low as £26,000 will lose their tax credits entirely, and the year after l.5 million families will lose all their child benefit, which will be deeply felt.
For many of my constituents, the decisions taken by this Government are really hurting. With revised figures pointing to lower growth, higher borrowing and higher unemployment, there is no evidence that their approach is working. Is the Budget so ideological that the Government cannot see the danger signs staring us in the face? What we really need instead is practical and pragmatic economic leadership.
“Rescue, rebalance and recover”. No, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have not got hold of a copy of the late George Best’s doctor’s notes, nor a copy of the advice from the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) to his younger brother after a mauling at Prime Minister’s questions. I refer to the three words that the Chancellor used at the beginning of his Budget statement last week, which are so important in setting out its significance: “rescue” because the coalition has had to rescue the British economy from a debt crisis that would have seen our interest repayments rising to £70 billion a year; “rebalance” because the Labour party has tested to destruction the thesis that a modern economy can be driven through public spending and an unsustainable boom and bust; and “recover” because without a private sector-led recovery, we are condemned to a decade of stagflation.
Having listened to the debate yesterday and today, I must say that Opposition Members still do not seem to have got the two real golden rules of modern economics. The first is that every pound they commit at the Dispatch Box, claiming it as their own, has to be earned by the private sector before it can be spent on public services. The second golden rule, which we proved in the ’80s and must now prove again, is that cutting taxes on business increases the amount of money available to us in this House.
The truth is that, like a gambler forced to come home one day and ’fess up to his sad family that he has not been working but living off debt and gambling with his credit card, the British economy must now be weaned off the unsustainable boom that was fuelled by cheap credit under the Labour party. As in our personal lives, crises are always opportunities. The Budget was significant to me for this reason above all: it set out carefully the steps towards a sustainable recovery and the rebalancing of our economy. “What”, I hear Opposition Members ask, “will this rebalanced economy look like and where will the jobs come from?” Let me try to explain.
The Budget again contains the seeds of the recovery: in the enterprise investment scheme reforms, in the venture capital trust reforms and in the encouragement for investors putting their own wealth at risk to start small companies, it will first be an enterprise recovery. In the emphasis on the clean economy, high-technology jobs and life sciences, it will secondly be a smart-growth recovery. And in the emphasis on corporation tax reductions and sending a signal around the world that this country is open for business, it will be a global and export-driven recovery.
Nowhere will that be cheered more loudly than in my constituency, Mid Norfolk, and my region, East Anglia, a region that for 30, nay 40, years has been treated by London Governments as nothing more than a commuter reservoir to feed the London economy. Our area has huge resources in offshore energy, in high-tech engineering at the Hethel centre, in the headquarters of Lotus, in Norwich research park, a global centre of food science and agriculture, in the university of East Anglia, a leading, world-class centre of climate science, and 40 miles down the road, in what the Americans would term one cluster, Cambridge university, with all its strengths in science and research. How woeful that over the past 30 or 40 years we have treated the area as a commuter reservoir.
Well, the people of East Anglia are ready to rise to the challenge, and with the investment in infrastructure that this Government have laudably managed to secure from a difficult financing settlement, in terms of dualling the A11 and the money announced last week for regional rail, we finally have some hope that our area will be able to stand again and lead the economic recovery as we have in the past.
Norfolk, as Members will remember and not need me to remind them, was the county that gave us the agricultural revolution, our finest military hero and our first Prime Minister, but it is a county that has been left behind and failed by the model of state dependency which the Labour party has pursued. In championing the high-technology and life science potential of our area, I draw attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am proud to have entered the House after a 15-year career helping to start some of those businesses and to help entrepreneurs to take the risk of creating new businesses.
In closing, I want to concentrate on the laudable support given to the life sciences. As we think about the markets throughout the world in which we have the chance to grow our economy, we should look no further than the recent Foresight report, which drew attention to the fact that the world’s population will rise to 9 billion. With that rise will come huge markets in food, medicine and clean energy. Those are the markets of tomorrow, the markets in which this country has the potential to lead; and those are the markets for which this Budget will begin to sow the seeds of a sustainable recovery.
The significance of that point is not just economic. The Budget last week set us on the road to a recovery that we can be proud of—a recovery that will give this country back a sense of purpose throughout the world. What finer mission is there than to be a small nation putting its experience in science, trade and enterprise to the benefit of people in the developing world, giving them the hope that there is a model for them and that they do not have to take 200 or 300 years to reach the privileged position that we have reached? It is therefore with huge pride that I support the Budget and commend it to the House.
I want to talk about work, the value of work, the economic necessity of work and the consequences of millions of people being without work.
Work is more than what we do; it goes to the very heart of who we are. When we meet people, what is the first question that we ask? “What do you do for a living?” In the early 1980s in Salford, in my city, we had two really deep recessions, high unemployment and flight from the city, leading to a completely unbalanced community, low self-esteem particularly among our young people, very high crime and antisocial behaviour and lots of family breakdown. Again, in the 1990s, after almost 20 years of Conservative government, I had 50% male unemployment in two of my inner-city wards and more than 70% youth unemployment. That scarred our city, and it has taken us a whole generation to recover, and I am very worried that we are about to repeat some of the mistakes that we made then.
Unemployment has risen to more than 2.5 million, the highest since 1994; youth unemployment is almost 1 million, up 70,000 since the Government took office; and almost 30% of unemployed people in Salford and Eccles are between the ages of 18 and 24. But every statistic, every number, is a real person and somebody’s life. Just in the past three days, I have been contacted by a young man called Jack, who is about to graduate in criminology. He has been a special constable for the past three years and is desperate to become a police officer, but he has very little chance of that now, with the cuts to our police service. I have also been contacted by Tracy, a young mum with three children, who went out and became qualified as an adult residential nurse, but again, we are making redundancies in the hospital, and she has very little chance of getting such a job.
The increase in apprenticeships in the Budget is of course welcome, but it is simply not enough. The future jobs fund would have given 150,000 opportunities to our young people, and in Salford and Eccles alone 800 young people secured opportunities through that fund and many have full-time work.
The enterprise zone at Airport City is also very welcome, but all the evidence, including from IPPR North in a good report by Ed Cox, shows that the previous enterprise zones were far more about displacement than about creating new jobs—and what we really need are those new jobs.
We find that some people are juggling two or three jobs on very low pay. They are desperate to make ends meet, they see little of their families and they have no leisure time. Others have no work at all; at least 10 people are chasing every vacancy in my area. Just last week, a charity shop opened on our local shopping precinct, and 200 people queued up for it to open. That is an incredibly grim existence—a really depressing life and no money to enjoy anything else. I remember the days when we talked about the future and how it would mean a decent home, a decent job and lots of leisure time. It was like a painting of utopia—we would have time to go to the theatre and have arts, beauty, culture and all of that. What we are left with is a reality where people have very little money and no time with their families, and cannot enjoy that better life.
If we are going to get through this undoubtedly difficult time and get our country on to a better footing, then we all have to pull together and do our bit. There is a big, resounding silence at this point. Yes, we need more volunteers, and public services do need to be more efficient, but if we really are all in this together, business has to step up to the plate, think hard and change the way it operates. Old-fashioned capitalism that simply maximises profit and squeezes its workers is exactly that—old-fashioned, out of date, and not always even very efficient. It is time to think hard about a new capitalism that is socially responsible, respects those who work and contribute, and makes good economic sense rather than one that is based on a race to the bottom with people competing for the lowest wage.
The best, most modern and most forward-looking companies “get it”, whether it is Google or Microsoft. Andrew Witty, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, said in the papers at the weekend:
“I really believe one of the reasons we’ve seen an erosion of trust…in big companies is they’ve allowed themselves to be seen as being detached from society and they will float in and out of societies according to what the tax regime is...isn’t it better to be in a country and say ‘let’s try and work through the difficult times and get to the good times’?”
That is the kind of company that we need—one that is dedicated to this country and recognises the value of its workers. The Co-operative bank has increased its dividend payments by 16%, and it has had a 38% increase in the number of current accounts and 140,000 extra customers. That is because it operates ethically. It did not take the high risks that many other banks took, and therefore it has a sense of trust and reliability. That is the kind of new industry that we need.
The new model for successful industry is to embed companies in the UK. We should not close our borders through protectionism, but want them to come here and stay here, creating the conditions for growth and—dare I say it—a true sense of corporate social responsibility, not a bit of charity at the end of the year. That will not be achieved by limiting rights to request flexible working or limiting maternity and paternity leave. That flies in the face of a proper joint enterprise. This is a moment when we should take a step back and realise the damage that has been done to our economy and to our people primarily by the actions of greedy, risk-taking banks selling loans that could never have been repaid. Let us say, “Never again.” We want a responsible capitalism that recognises the interdependence of those who finance the wealth and those who produce it.
The future looks very bleak for many people in Salford and Eccles who have little or no shelter from the storms that are heading their way—people without savings who struggle to pay the rent and have an insecure job, and hundreds of thousands who have little hope of any job at all. The economic numbers are appalling, with unemployment going up, growth down and inflation up. I believe that this Government will live to regret the political choices that they have made with our economy.
It is a real privilege, as ever, to follow the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), who spoke so movingly and who is prepared and brave enough to set out an alternative—something that her Front Benchers are not courageous and bold enough to do.
I want to deal with the issue of poverty and the least well-off, and what this Budget does for people who struggle and do not have a lot of money. The previous Government were like a game of two halves. First, when Tony Blair was in charge between 1997 and 2001, they were a responsible Government who were quite effective in many ways, particularly when it came to fighting poverty. However, after that period, as the former Prime Minister increasingly got his hands on the levers of our public finances and wider economic policy, things started to go wrong.
It is against that backdrop that I am particularly keen to see the measures in this Budget succeed. It is not good enough that the 60% median for child poverty—relative poverty—went from 3.6 million in 2004-05 to 3.9 million in 2008-09, or that the number of those in deeper poverty went from 2.3 million to 2.6 million in the same period. That rise was really disappointing considering that the previous Government had pledged to take positive action on that problem. The problem is not just with child poverty; it is wider than that. The figures for all individuals show that 13.4 million people were worse off than the 60% median in 2000-01, and that in 2008-09, that figure was stuck at 13.4 million. To me, that is a real disappointment.
In this afternoon’s debate in the Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee, I raised what has happened to those who are of working age and are in poverty. According to the relative poverty measures, in 2000-01 6.5 million such people were in relative poverty, and that had risen to 7.8 million people by 2008-09. The second half of the game of two halves that was the previous Government was not a ringing endorsement of how we look after the least well-off in our communities. As we all know, the rising inequality in that period between those in the bottom quintile and those in the top quintile was a great shame. Over the whole period, inequality rose. That is a great shame.
I therefore welcome the measures in the Budget that aim to make work pay. That is the key message that we need to send. We are taking 1.1 million people out of tax altogether by increasing the personal allowance. We are helping and understanding by engaging in the issues of fuel duty and introducing the fair fuel stabiliser.
The most important measure is the universal credit. I am pleased to see from chart A.5 on page 78 of the Red Book that there is a clear plan that in 2012-13 the distribution will be such that the least well-off will be protected from expenditure decisions. I am pleased to see that the universal credit will make work pay. That is focused not on the middle classes who are on the fifth or sixth deciles, and who are frankly quite well off, relatively speaking, but on the least well-off, who are on the bottom two deciles. Too often under the previous Government, those people were sadly neglected. Those are the people who really need help and on whom we should focus. Those are the people for whom we should make work pay through incentives to enter work. What I particularly like about the universal credit, which is shown on pages 80 to 81 of the Red Book, is the real help for lone parents and first earners that was not there before. Those pages also show that the marginal withdrawal rate is under control, and that it will broadly incentivise work and make part-time work more possible and practical.
To conclude, I welcome the measures that should provide help on the issue of child poverty. The Budget measures are aimed at reducing child poverty by 50,000. That is really positive. I hope that as we come out of recession and out of the difficulties, things will start to improve for everyone across the board. However, we really need to look after the least well-off as best we can.
The Government’s main jibe at the Opposition throughout this debate has been, “What is the alternative to the cuts?” I will spell out what I think that alternative should be. Of course the deficit has to be brought down —we all agree on that—but slashing public expenditure by £80 billion in four years is probably the most risky and counter-productive way of doing that. The Chancellor has largely ignored the other three ways.
First, there are the proceeds of economic growth. The estimate of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility for growth over the next five years, albeit recently scaled down, has growth at 1.7% this year, 2.5% next year, then 2.9%, 2.9%, and 2.8%. That means that, on the Government’s own estimates, there will be an increase in the national income of £185 billion. Governments always take about 40%. That means that there will be extra Government revenues over the next five years of £74 billion. That is half the current Government deficit of £146 billion, and nearly three quarters of the Government’s estimated structural deficit of £109 billion. Therefore—on their own estimates, I repeat—the Government would halve the budget deficit in five years without making a single public expenditure cut. I am not against such cuts, and I think there should be some, but I am simply pointing out that there are alternative and far better ways of dealing with the problem.
The reason why the Government have chosen to focus obsessively on benefit and public expenditure cuts is not because they are economically necessary on the scale that they say, but because of their overriding ideological objective of chopping back the welfare system and shrinking the state. That is what it is really about.
The second way to reduce the deficit is obviously through tax increases, but the Government have chosen to minimise that option and maximise the cuts option—the balance between the two is 77% and 23%. Thatcher never went beyond 50:50. The Chancellor has ostentatiously avoided any tax rises that might disturb the rich. The non-dom loophole has not been closed; it would bring in an extra £3 billion. The promised £2 billion to be saved in tax avoidance is really pretty small beer, given that even Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs admits that avoidance will cost £16 billion this year and most independent experts think that the figure will be £50 billion. The tripling of the Government’s bank levy, which was recommended by the International Monetary Fund and would bring in another £6 billion, has simply been passed over.
Moreover, the Chancellor has simply turned his eyes away from any fiscal innovation that might produce a fairer Britain where all of us are in it together. A financial transaction tax at a modest rate of 0.05% would raise about £30 billion. An empty property tax would raise £5 billion, and a land value tax, which would be a great deal fairer than the council tax, which it could replace, would raise more than £30 billion. A minimum tax levy on high earners would put a cap on avoidance and raise more than £10 billion.
The Chancellor really ought to be less timid. The public want taxes that will hurt the rich, and particularly bankers. I do not think the Government realise that. Any permutation of the taxes that I have mentioned could raise at least £30 billion a year—probably rather more if the Chancellor chose, but of course he will not, because the Tory party gets half its funding from the bankers.
Then there is the third option for reducing the deficit, which is a jobs and growth strategy. The cost of putting a million people on the dole, which is what the Government are planning to do, is probably about £6 billion depending on the level of benefits involved. Instead of throwing a million people on the scrapheap, which will substantially worsen the deficit, the Government could invest in a million jobs to provide the social housing and transport infrastructure that are so desperately needed; to develop the green technologies that the green investment bank was supposed to fund if only the Government had not shrivelled its powers; to deal with the rising child protection case load; to train a more skilled work force; and to care for a growing ageing population, to mention just some of the service jobs that could be provided. There would be a significant net gain in deficit reduction for many reasons, not least because of instead of a million people being a drain on the Exchequer, they would contribute to it.
The real cause of the financial crash has not been addressed at all. It is astonishing that three years on, nothing has been done to address the massive flaws in the banking system’s structure and its use of derivatives, bonuses, lending practices, offshoring and speculation. The Budget sets out £80 billion-worth of spending cuts that are not economically necessary on such a scale, will do lasting damage to the social fabric and do not deal with the real—
I have listened to this debate with growing incredulity this afternoon and for some hours yesterday, as speaker after speaker on the Labour Benches has risen to deny that the last Government’s profligacy could in any possible manner have had an effect on the economic situation that we now find ourselves in.
We need to remind ourselves that we have a £150 billion deficit, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) pointed out, represents about 12% of GDP. Back in 1976, when another Labour Chancellor, Denis Healey, went cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund because we were bust, that figure was only 7%. Our economy has been completely and utterly out of balance. We spend £43 billion on interest alone, which is more than we spend on education, and more than we spend on defence, the Foreign Office and overseas aid combined. That is an absolute disgrace.
There is no doubt that the previous Government brought us to within a scintilla of being where Greece is. We would have been there, if we had had a credit downgrade and our interest rates had gone up. That is where we would have been headed if Labour had won the election.
The previous Government presided over a halving of the manufacturing sector in this country, a fall in our share of world trade, and an expansion of the gap in prosperity between the north and the south. We should take no lessons on economic management from Opposition Members.
I welcome the Budget, which is a Budget for growth and jobs, against a tough background. Nobody enjoys figures such as the 0.6% contraction in the last quarter, or the OBR’s downgraded forecast of 1.7% growth for this year, but equally, nobody who looks at the previous Government’s record can imagine that under Labour, those figures would be anything but worse.
Labour Members offer no constructive alternative. Instead, they offer opportunistic objections to every sensible suggestion by the Government about saving on expenditure. Every time an Opposition Member stands up and says, “No. We don’t want this measure on tuition fees and we don’t like moving from RPI to CPI in pensions,” and so on, they are really saying, “We’re going to increase expenditure, and we’re going to increase either the deficit or taxation as a consequence.” That opportunistic approach is at odds with their rhetoric of prudence, which is in turn at odds with the marchers’ placards on Saturday calling for no cuts whatsoever. That did not stop the Leader of the Opposition strutting his stuff on the stage in Hyde park and trying to assume the mantle of Martin Luther King. He had the dreams, but he did not have the detail or the substance.
Tax for corporations will be reduced under this Government to 23%, which is 16 percentage points lower than the rate in the US. On the radio the morning after the Budget, Sir Martin Sorrell told us that WPP, the largest advertising agency in the world, would relocate to this country from Ireland. On that subject, even when suffering and having to go to the IMF, what is the one thing that Ireland holds on to and defends above all else? It is its low corporate taxation rate, which, at just 12.5%, has enabled that country to attract double the average level of EU inward investment. We need to bring taxes down.
I welcome the fact that small business taxes will be reduced to 20%, and that we will support entrepreneurship by doubling the enterprise allowance to £10 million, so that those who go out and create businesses and wealth for themselves are encouraged to do so. In the process, they employ people, generate wealth, and pay the taxes that pay for the front-line services that we all want protected.
I was astonished by what the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), who I am pleased to see is in his place, said. He regaled us with all the benefits of red tape and told us all about how regulation was such a marvellous thing. In the real world of business, not a single business person would ever say that. I have not heard one business person further that argument.
I welcome the fact that we will implement Lord Young’s review in full, and that we will ensure that companies that employ fewer than 10 people and genuine start-ups will be exempt from domestic regulation. That is a step forward.
I also welcome the support that we are providing for the young. There will be 50,000 new apprenticeships, increasing to 250,000 over the period of this Parliament, and the work placement schemes—the 80,000 places that we heard about earlier. We will also double the number of university technology colleges from 12 to 24.
I am pleased that something was done on fuel, particularly for rural areas such as mine in Central Devon, and I am particularly pleased about the rise to 45p of the tax-deductible mileage allowance, which will help many voluntary organisations that rely on voluntary drivers. I also welcome the fact that the Budget is fair in raising the tax threshold, because it means that we will take more of the poorest hard-working people in our land out of tax altogether. That is the right and the decent thing to do. I shall conclude now—because I am aware that others wish to speak—by saying that this is a Budget for growth, it is a Budget that stands for enterprise, and it is a Budget to which Labour Members have no answer.
As we debate the Budget it is deeply disappointing, but not a bit surprising, that Labours Members are once again forced to highlight the impact that the Government’s approach is having in our communities. The Budget was more of the same. The Chancellor has confirmed that he will not alter his course, in spite of the pain it is causing to ordinary families. The Government’s cuts are too deep and too fast, and they are hurting. In my West Dunbartonshire constituency the jobless total is at its highest for well over a decade, and the predictions are that many more people will lose their jobs.
Pensioners are feeling the pain of the VAT rise and now, thanks to the Budget, will be hit with another attack on their income, because the Government are doing what they promised they would not do and slashing the winter fuel payment. Shame on them. And let us not forget that pensioners will lose thousands of pounds through the Government’s plan to link public sector pension rises permanently to the consumer prices index rather than the retail prices index. The Government say that that is necessary to reduce the deficit, but pensioners now, and those who will collect their pensions in years to come, will continue to see the value of their pensions slashed long after the deficit has been paid off. That leads us to conclude that the changes are an ideological measure intended to make pensions much less generous.
The Government say that it is okay to cut public sector jobs because the private sector will fill the gap. Perhaps that will be achievable in some areas—I really hope it will—but in my constituency there are 35 unemployed people for every job vacancy. The Government’s approach, therefore, is breathtakingly complacent and reckless as far as my constituency is concerned. The fact that in many parts of the country there are such high numbers of people out of work compared with the number of vacancies goes to show just how out of touch the Government are, if they think that the private sector will come to the rescue.
Furthermore, the Government’s plans to equalise the state pension age earlier than previously planned and at a greatly accelerated rate means that hundreds of thousands of women in their mid-50s will lose thousands of pounds. This change is fundamentally unfair on women who have planned carefully for their retirement. It cannot be fair that with just seven years to prepare and plan, they find that they must work an extra two years before being able to draw a state pension. In contrast, men of a similar age have been given eight years’ notice of a one year change. On Friday in Dumbarton I met a woman who said that she could not continue to meet the physical demands of her job for that extra time. What is the Government’s response to such women? They are not arguing that the state pension age should not be equalised, and neither am I, but the Government are going about all this the wrong way.
The cuts will impact hard on vulnerable people. I support the basic principles of welfare reform—trying to simplify the benefits system and doing all we can to help people into work where they are able to work—but the Government are going too far. Imposing an arbitrary 20% cut to the bill for disability living allowance proves that the Government’s approach is ill considered, and by publishing the Welfare Reform Bill before they have finished consulting, they cannot even pretend that they have taken into account the impact on the vulnerable people who will be affected by these changes. Scrapping the mobility component of DLA for people in residential care shows pure indifference to the needs of millions of people with disabilities who need vital support. It is an outrageously unfair cut that will leave many disabled people trapped in their homes. We had an intervention earlier from the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), but we still have not cleared up the confusion on this issue. Earlier the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), who is not in his place at the moment, said from a sedentary position, “Stop frightening disabled people.” Let me be very clear with the Government Front-Bench team: it is their reforms that are frightening disabled people.
I have been contacted today by a number of individuals and charities that fear that the new work capability assessment will discriminate against many seriously sick and disabled benefits claimants, including, for example, blind people with guide dogs. The Government need to think again before rushing through any changes in that area.
The Government’s cuts are fundamentally unfair and completely contradict the claims that we are “all in this together”. They are driving up unemployment, cutting lifeline support for ordinary families and pensioners, and targeting women and vulnerable people. In response to a point made by the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), let me say that public sector workers pay taxes too. It is ridiculous to suggest that they do not contribute to the economy of this country. Ordinary people are being forced to pay the price of the excesses of the bankers, while the banks themselves have been given a massive tax cut by the Government this year. The huge march in London at the weekend showed that the mainstream majority across the country want the Government to change course. Sadly, the Budget was just more of the same.
It is a great honour to speak in this important debate. I am mindful of the contribution made by the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher), who talked about the importance of growth. He recognised that the economy would start growing soon and suggested that this would yield a considerable amount of additional money for us to spend. He is quite right, and I welcome that admission. However, he is completely wrong to think that growth will simply happen without our tackling the deficit. That is what we must do, which is why the Budget is essentially fiscally neutral: we have already set out plans lasting for four years that will deliver the outcomes that we need for growth. That is why the Budget is all about growth, and I want to focus on those important issues.
First, one reason why I was not marching in London on Saturday—although I would not have done it anyway—was that we were celebrating the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement of massive investment in infrastructure in my constituency, with the Stroud to Kemble redoubling. That kind of development really matters. My constituents are delighted to know that we will have a better way of getting to London. Businesses are already gearing up for more investment, and there is a general feeling that the scheme will lead to more prosperity. That stands in sharp contrast with, for example, the haphazard way in which the regional development agency attempted to promote growth in our area. Indeed, it was more likely to end up building houses than promoting factories. I welcome the fact that the Government have invested so wisely, and they are doing so elsewhere in the country too.
The second important thing is the announcement about the green investment bank, with £3 billion to start with. That is a great start, and is exactly the sort of investment that we need—certainly in my constituency, but across the board too. I look forward to the day when the green investment bank can start raising capital on its own. I understand why there is caution about that, but we have made an excellent start and the green investment bank will deliver some important things.
The third important thing—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned this in his opening speech, and I will develop it—is giving people the opportunity to get to work. Once people are in work, we need to ensure that they benefit from appropriate training, which is why I welcome the emphasis on training and apprenticeships. For far too long under the Labour Government, we were effectively training people up to a standard that was good, but not good enough: it was just level 2, and we want level 3. We should learn a few lessons from Germany’s export-led recovery, one of which is that good training matters. I therefore celebrate the Government’s efforts to deliver really good training for our young people.
It is important to mention planning, too. We need a more flexible and collaborative planning system, involving those being planned for—home owners and local communities—businesses and local authorities. We should see more agreement at an earlier stage, so that things happen more smoothly. We do not want to see the kind of attitude that we have seen in the past, which at worst has involved planning by appeal— and, sometimes, not a huge amount getting done. I welcome those changes.
I also welcome the measures on fuel. I have had a lot of complaints from my constituents about the rising cost of fuel, and I understand them. We are in a rural area, and we have a large number of haulage firms. For them, the changes in taxation will be welcome. We must stick to a fiscally responsible approach to public expenditure, but we need growth, and we need to be active in promoting it. The right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton was correct in saying that growth would go up, and that it would do so on the basis of investment, good training and a sensible taxation strategy.
Like others, my speech will focus on people. The number of unemployed claimants in my constituency is now 3,812, which is 9.2%. In the north-east of England, despite the progress made over the past 12 years in diversifying our industrial and business base, we still have the highest rate of unemployment in the whole country, at 10.2%. Even more worrying is the fact that 23% of our 16 to 24-year-olds are out of work. It is against that backdrop that I want to speak today.
The worst of the cuts are yet to come. Thousands of public and private sector workers are set to lose their jobs, and the cuts are being front-loaded, leaving local authorities with no choice but to make quick savings by making staff redundant. My own very efficient local authority, Stockton borough council, is faced with having to make savings of £29 million over the next four years. The Chancellor is effectively throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of work, but he is passing the axe to the local authorities and leaving them to do the chopping.
Let us not forget that recent analysis published by the TUC found that there were almost 10 applicants for every vacancy in Labour-held constituencies. The figure in Tory constituencies was 4.5, and in Liberal Democrat areas, it was 6.1. That is because the cuts are hitting the poorest communities the hardest. Recent research into the impact of the cuts reveals that all but two of the 20 worst-hit councils are in the bottom 20% most deprived council areas in England. It cannot be fair that low and middle-income neighbourhoods should carry the heaviest burden because of the Government’s choices.
We are told that there is no alternative, but there is a choice being made by the Government to cut far too fast. Under Labour, the economy was heading in the right direction. It was growing at 1.2% when Labour left office. In the last quarter of 2010, however, it had shrunk by 0.6%. So, under this Tory-led Government, growth has gone down last year and this year, and it will go down next year. The Chancellor blames the poor economic performance on the wrong type of snow, yet Germany and the US suffered from similar Arctic conditions last winter and their growth figures are not so grim.
Inflation is up, and unemployment is up. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Tory-led Government’s plan for the economy is, yes, hurting but not working. Yet we are repeatedly told that there is no plan B. What we have instead is a real-life economic experiment, and the disgraceful thing is that it is completely politically motivated. The coalition hopes to get the worst of the pain out of the way before the next general election. What an irresponsible way to deal with our economy, and with people’s jobs and lives.
What is the Government’s response to this bleak outlook? We have had the announcement of the local enterprise partnerships, but with no money. The Budget announced 21 enterprise zones, including one in the Tees valley. I hope that both those projects flourish and create much-needed new jobs, but the reality is that their funding is a fraction of the funding that was available for regional growth through the now abolished regional development agencies.
What are the Government doing to address the fact that almost 1 million 16 to 24-year-olds are out of work today, the vast majority of whom are desperate for a job to kick-start their adult lives? The budget announced just 40,000 two-month work experience placements a year, and an extra 12,500 apprenticeships a year. That will not deal with the tip of the iceberg. I fear that there will be a lost generation, which will cost this country a great deal, economically and socially, in the years to come if we do not tackle the problem head on. The Government’s Work programme also gives me cause for concern. Every person who receives incapacity benefits is to get a medical reassessment, and huge numbers face being moved on to the jobseeker’s allowance, losing a third of their payments, if they are found to be fit enough to work. Many of them might not be.
As a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, I recently visited Burnley, where we spoke to people who had been part of a pilot for these assessments, and some of the stories we heard were very worrying. The test has been severely criticised by groups such as Citizens Advice and some argue that it is not fit for purpose. I look forward to the Committee’s further inquiry into that matter.
Clearly, the proof will be in the pudding, but even if these people are moved on to jobseeker’s allowance and are able to get the comprehensive support they will need to make them job-ready, they then face finding work in a tough environment, competing against people who might recently have been made redundant and against all those young people for fewer and fewer jobs. This will be tough enough in Tory constituencies, never mind those like my own in Stockton North and throughout the north-east. The Government need to think again about providing realistic incentives to create jobs and help people back to work, while still protecting the most vulnerable.
The real spending cuts are only just starting to hit people. My real fear is that we are facing a jobless recovery. This would be a disaster for Teesside and the north-east, which, as I have already said, suffers from the highest unemployment rate in the whole country. The Government must do much better.
I am delighted to contribute to what has been a quite well-subscribed Budget debate, particularly because this Budget outlines how Britain can earn its way in the modern world. It is a Budget that seeks to reform the country’s economy and regain the ground that Britain has lost in the world economy.
Ministers on the Treasury Bench should be congratulated on bringing forward a package of measures that, against the backdrop of the most corrosive structural deficit on record, will provide practical and lasting measures to support hard-pressed families and people back into work, to help businesses grow and to stimulate long-term economic growth.
At the heart of this Budget is a clear message to make Britain a better place in which to do business. From the biggest multinational companies to the newsagents, convenience stores and beauty salons on all our high streets, which all employ our constituents, the Budget has recognised the insurmountable burdens that they have faced year on year with an unequivocal aim to give business the long boost that it needs to invest in jobs and grow in Britain. With the Government now accounting for half of our economy, we need a new economic model underpinned by investment, manufacturing and exports.
In my view, this Budget has kick-started the reform with an essential tax cut to business, rate relief for small firms, a doubling of entrepreneurs’ relief and more support for research and development. There are now clear plans to scrap the burdens of regulation that have cost business billions every year. It is absolutely right that we have brought in a moratorium on all new regulations for our smallest companies. I put out a challenge to the Treasury Bench right now: the Government should host a bonfire of the excessive regulations, including many of the gold-plated regulations emanating from Europe as well as those that hinder employment opportunities and stifle enterprise and opportunity across our country.
In the Witham constituency, more than 82% of jobs are in small and medium-sized businesses. That equates to more than 25,000 local people and their families who are dependent on the prosperity of thousands of businesses in high streets, town centres, industrial estates and in the rural communities. The recession has hit them all really badly, but many have survived through their own dogged determination, and it is the inherently Conservative policies of the Budget that provide the light at the end of the tunnel for them.
I know that businesses in my constituency will relish the additional opportunities to tap into the new apprenticeship schemes that are coming on board. With more than two thirds of all apprenticeships in small firms, I can assure this House that businesses throughout Witham and Essex are ready to respond to the Chancellor’s call to action and to take on more new apprenticeships. Young people are looking for work and by creating these apprenticeships and the right conditions for growth, local jobs will certainly be created.
Finally, Labour has left the British economy unbalanced, with far too much reliance on debt, household borrowing and the City of London and far too little emphasis on manufacturing, exports and balanced growth across the country. The creation of the new enterprise zones will, in my view, drive growth and new jobs everywhere. I have to say that I am tremendously disappointed at the negativity coming from Labour Members about the enterprise zones. If they do not want them in their constituencies, I can tell them that the county of Essex will welcome them with open arms.
The new zones will be targeted at areas with high growth potential, and the House may be not be surprised to learn that I know of one such area. Essex—including my constituency—would benefit from an enterprise zone, because it is a county of entrepreneurs. We not only work hard but save, and we have real drive, entrepreneurial spirit and flair. Our county consists of both urban and rural communities. Surely the point of enterprise zones is that while we should not focus disproportionately on urban centres, we should recognise that the urban parts of our communities offer much in terms of innovation and employment opportunities. There is a significant skills base that we must tap into. My constituency contains businesses ranging from window and glass makers to chocolate and jam makers to high-tech sat-nav companies.
I commend the Budget, which is not just good for jobs and growth but good for my constituency.
I must tell the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) that her speech was a bit like “all our yesterdays”. The one thing that she did not seem to think would create jobs in this country was slashing the national minimum wage, and I was surprised that she did not suggest that.
Today’s debate opened with one of the most lamentable speeches that I have ever heard the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions deliver, in which he presented—as have other Government Members—the rosy view that the Government’s proposals will automatically create jobs, that there will be people who will be qualified to fill them, and that the future will be golden. If we look at the Red Book, which Government Members have waved in our faces on many occasions, we see that what the Government are setting in train is a Budget that will create a vast increase in unemployment. Unless they intend to abolish the whole benefits system at a stroke, an astronomical amount will have to be spent on unemployment benefit and passported benefits—although, of course, they may wipe all those out as well.
Government Members have the audacity to accuse us of frightening some of the most vulnerable people in our society, but it is not us who are frightening them. In my constituency and in those of Government Members, it is the Government who seem to look at nothing but the bottom line. It is they who introduce swingeing policies which, nine times out of 10, do not mesh, and the Secretary of State responsible for delivering those policies does not know what impact they will have on the ground.
A precise example from today’s debate was what I understand to have been the initial proposal from the Department for Work and Pensions in regard to jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit. It was proposed that 10% should automatically be slashed from the housing benefit of anyone who had failed to find a job after 12 months on jobseeker’s allowance despite doing everything demanded by the Government—and that is housing benefit which is being capped.
It is to his shame that, in his opening speech, the Secretary of State ran again with a canard that he is on record as saying he hoped would not be fulfilled: that the majority—he did not use the word “majority”, but it was implied—of people on housing benefit are living in properties where the rent is £100,000 a week. Everyone in the House, and certainly the Secretary of State, ought to know that the majority of people claiming housing benefit are pensioners, people with disabilities, or people on very low pay.
Many hard-working families in this country are entirely dependent on housing benefit. Nowhere is that more marked than in constituencies such as mine in central London, where housing, travel and training costs are vastly above the national average. However, nothing in the Budget appears to acknowledge regional variations, which will of course affect the potential for people to find jobs even if the private sector is capable of providing them.
Another remarkable feature of many speeches from Government Members was their contempt for public sector workers. It seemed that none of them wanted additional nurses in their hospitals, additional doctors in their surgeries, or additional teachers in their schools. Certainly we know that they do not want more policemen, because their numbers are being slashed all over the country, as will be the very people on whom the most vulnerable in our society depend.
That, of course, is the other great canard. This Government came into office saying that they would take tough decisions. They said the road was bumpy, but that they would protect the most vulnerable. They have betrayed the most vulnerable, however—the very young, the very old, people with disabilities. Women are a marked target for this Government. We women are clearly expected to have the broadest shoulders in the country because the cuts will fall on us. The Government are expecting women to go back to work—if there is a job to go to, of course—while at the same time taking away child care support, which is the absolute bedrock that enables a woman with children to go back to work.
The Government have markedly failed to think through their grievous policies. This is not a Budget for investment or growth. Rather, this is the Budget of a group of people who have markedly failed to understand the realities of the situation facing millions of people in this country who do want to work, who wish to take this country forward, and who have optimism and believe in all of us. The people who do not believe in the people of this country, or indeed in this country itself, are the Conservatives.
I am gutted that the Chancellor is not present to listen to the winding-up speeches on his Budget.
In the Budget, the Chancellor had the opportunity to help millions of British people and families who are being hit hard by the biggest squeeze in their living standards for 80 years. He also had the opportunity to admit that ploughing full-steam ahead with cuts at the speed and on the scale that this Government have planned is about to have a devastating impact on people and communities up and down the country. People wanted some hope for the future from this Chancellor and this Government, but what they got was a Chancellor and a Government on autopilot. They got a man who refuses to see that the economic storm clouds are gathering around us once more; they got a man who will not admit that his cynical electoral strategy of scaremongering about a sovereign default has collapsed consumer confidence and weakened our prospects of recovery; and they got a man who has been so boxed in by his own political strategy that his only resort is to glory in the folly of sticking to his plan A, even if all the economic indicators show that it is hurting but it is not working.
Of course we accept that the deficit has to be reduced, but we disagree with the sheer speed and scale of the Government’s cuts plan. In the Chancellor’s self-styled emergency Budget last June, he embarked on a risky and extreme experiment with our nation’s future. He chose to cut the deficit deeper and faster than was economically necessary; he chose to cut it faster than any other major economy; he chose to order the largest spending cuts since the second world war with a nasty ideological relish; and he was cheered to the rafters by Members of both coalition Government parties in a distasteful display of enjoyment that none of us on this side of the House will ever forget.
Some £80 billion is to be sucked out of the economy in the next four years, in cuts to services and the public sector. With tax rises included, £126 billion in all will be withdrawn from the economy by 2015. Only Iceland and Ireland are cutting faster than this Government have decided that we should cut, and now the Chancellor is claiming, with his usual modesty, that he has rescued the British economy, but aside from his own vainglorious rhetoric, what are the facts actually telling us? The truth is revealed by the Office for Budget Responsibility: there has been a significant deterioration in economic performance since the Chancellor’s slash-and-burn Budget last year. As its latest forecast demonstrates, things are getting worse, not better, and that is before most of the cuts have really begun to bite.
After just 10 months of the Chancellor’s fiscal masochism, virtually all the important economic indicators are now moving in the wrong direction. Consumer confidence is at a 20-year low; inflation is at more than twice the Bank of England’s target; the VAT rise has pushed prices up, and the OBR expects them to rise even further this year; unemployment, which was falling last year, is now at a 17-year high—in my constituency, 22 people are now chasing every job; and the growth forecast has been downgraded again and again and again.
Because of this lower growth and higher inflation, the Government have admitted that they will have to borrow £46 billion more than they planned in November. We warned the Chancellor that huge and rapid cuts in public expenditure risk choking off growth, thereby increasing unemployment, and that that might make the deficit worse rather than better. Last March—conveniently before the election—the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), now the Business Secretary, said:
“We must not cut Government spending too soon and risk plunging a fragile recovery back into recession. Cuts without economic growth will not deal with the deficit”.
I could not agree more. It is a pity that he, like the rest of his party, is now supporting an economic policy which is the exact opposite of the one that he campaigned for.
We warned the Chancellor last year that he needed a growth strategy, alongside any deficit reduction plan, if the economy was to be restored to balance without doing untold damage to our social infrastructure. We waited and waited, but meanwhile growth faltered and then stalled. The economy shrank by a shock 0.5% in the last quarter of 2010. The Chancellor crossed his fingers and blamed the snow, and the Government’s spin machine then cranked into action. Just two weeks ago, at the Tory spring conference, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor promised to make this a pro-growth Budget. The Chancellor said that it was going to be “unashamedly pro-growth” and the Prime Minister went further, by declaring that it was going to
“tear down the barriers to enterprise and be the most pro-growth Budget this country has seen for a generation.”
If we look behind all the Government hype and the propaganda, and check out what really happened last week, we see something a bit different. The Chancellor actually came to this House and downgraded the growth forecasts—they are down this year to 1.7% and down next year too. Far from being a pro-growth Budget, this is actually a no-growth Budget which puts Britain into the slow lane. To distract attention from that inconvenient fact, the Government published, alongside the Budget document, “The Plan for Growth”, a self-styled “urgent call for action”. But this much-trailed growth plan achieves nothing in the short term, when growth is in such short supply. It consists of loud invocations of motherhood and apple pie, and it rehashes the familiar laissez-faire mantras shared by the Orange Book Liberals and the Thatcherite Tories. It is nothing more than a mish-mash of reheated, failed 1980s Thatcherite orthodoxy.
The passages on the Government’s growth strategy in the Chancellor’s speech were so riveting that the Justice Secretary actually fell asleep on the Front Bench right in the middle of them. We sympathised with him, but the 50 punters who had put money on at odds of 16:1 that he would sleep during the Budget were richly rewarded. Now I hear that Ladbrokes has slashed the odds that there will be a double kip from him some time in the next year.
The Office for Budget Responsibility was almost as unimpressed as the Justice Secretary, because page 39 of its report on the Budget states:
“we judge there is insufficient evidence at this stage to adjust our trend growth assumptions in light of these measures.”
In other words, despite all the ministerial proclamations, all the Government propaganda and all the cynically pre-arranged third-party endorsements, this is still a no-growth, go-slow Budget.
The Chancellor’s extreme austerity programme will suck demand out of the economy, and if growth continues to falter the plan will be irrelevant. We know that inflation is higher than it should be and unemployment is higher than it should be: there will be 30,000 fewer jobs this year and 80,000 fewer next year, and 200,000 more people will be unemployed by the end of this Parliament. I do not know what the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions finds so amusing about that.
Two weeks ago, at the same Tory conference where the Chancellor promised to make his Budget unashamedly pro-growth, he also promised to listen to public concern about the cost-of-living crisis. It is all very well listening, but it is real help that people need. Instead, we got a Budget in which the Chancellor gave a little with one hand but took away much more with the other. The well-trailed £45 tax cut next year is more than clawed back by the decision to raise national insurance thresholds only by the lower consumer prices index. That is a small-print stealth tax that, funnily enough, was not briefed in advance to the press but will raise more than £1 billion extra in income tax by 2015. The VAT rise is already costing a family with children an extra £450 this year alone. The banks have been given a tax cut while families and children bear the brunt of the spending cuts. Even the Chancellor has almost stopped claiming that we are all in this together and he can hardly keep a straight face when he does.
Pensioners were excluded from the tax cut con, only to discover that their winter fuel payment will be lower, too, by £50 or £100. The Treasury explained that that was not actually a cut but merely allowing a top-up to expire, but it seems that no one had told the Deputy Prime Minister that. He clearly had not even bothered to read the Budget that he had just signed off, because during a radio phone-in last Thursday he was questioned about this and claimed at first that winter fuel payments had been increased. He then resorted to accusing my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor of frightening people by
“throwing around a lot of…wild allegations”.
The trouble for him was that those wild allegations were actually part of his Government’s plans and, worse still, he had agreed to them. We all know that he will not accept any paperwork after 3 o’clock in the afternoon, but I really think he ought to have made an exception for the Budget. He should really learn that the pesky details in big documents can sometimes be quite important.
The headline-grabbing centrepiece of the Budget was the 1p off petrol duty announced with a great flourish and much waving of Order Papers on the Government Benches, but that is a paltry reduction when compared with the 3p a litre increase that the VAT rise has already added to fuel bills. I wonder how many Members of the parties opposite would have cheered quite so loudly if they had read the small print and understood that the Chancellor has merely delayed and not cancelled future fuel duty increases. Duty is due to rise by 3p a litre on 1 January and to rise again in August next year. VAT at 20% will only make it worse.
There is also mounting evidence that the fuel duty cut has not been fully passed on to motorists, despite the Chancellor’s pledge to watch “like a hawk” to see that it was.
What does my hon. Friend make of today’s announcement that Statoil, a Norwegian company—from a country where tax is not exactly low—is to put on hold its £3 billion-plus North sea development as a result of the Budget increase in oil and gas tax?
This smash-and-grab raid on the oil companies to pay for the tax cut appears to be unravelling. Certainly, sudden changes to tax regimes without notice have big implications for investment. The Government need to pay particular attention to what the oil companies are saying, especially about their investment intentions. Having a North sea oil regime that can switch and is not set, because of the $75 a barrel oil price, which is going to change the regime again, may be particularly damaging. We will have to take a close look in Committee at how the Government intend to implement this mechanism.
The offshore oil and gas industry, which was a growing industry and could have been the driver that took the country out of recession, tells me that the one thing it needs to invest in this country is stability, but the fuel duty stabiliser will not give it that stability. Indeed, it will do the very opposite and make things even more volatile.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We will have to look at precisely how the stabiliser mechanism will work. How long will the oil price have to be at $75 a barrel to trigger it and how will that be measured? What will be the implication for future investment decisions? We know that there is a great deal of competition in the oil and gas industry for the use of very expensive infrastructure. My hon. Friend has made very important points and we will be watching like a hawk—to use a phrase that has already been used—to see about the practicalities of the announcement.
I note that the Government are reportedly urgently considering handing out hundreds of millions of pounds in tax breaks to compensate energy companies that are apparently considering shelving existing plans for further investment in UK gas fields or raising domestic prices still further to make up for profits lost. By
“squeezing the maximum amount of tax revenue from Britain’s oil and gas assets,”
“is putting further offshore investment at risk…He’s more interested in cash today than investment tomorrow.”
That was the current Chancellor speaking in 2007, but now he is in Downing street he seems to be ignoring his own advice. The truth is that this policy was cobbled together at the last minute, the OBR did not have sight of it and now it is descending into chaos. I must issue a warning to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, because I read over the weekend that he is being blamed for this incompetent piece of policy making on the hoof—apparently it was all his idea. I would be watching my back if I were him. We now see the reality that the fuel duty cut was a classic Tory con that really will not help anyone at all.
Meanwhile, the small print of the Tory-Lib Dem Budget shows that the NHS will be hit with a £1 billion cut in real terms, breaking the Prime Minister’s pre-election poster pledge that he would not cut it. The OBR’s new inflation forecasts reveal that spending on the NHS will fall for the next two years for the first time since records began—that is before the Government waste billions more on a reorganisation that nobody wants. The Tories drained the life out of the NHS in the 1980s and now they are back and are trying to do it all over again.
We were told that the Budget was all about growth and the Government promised to help Britain’s hard-pressed families with the cost-of-living crisis, but they have failed dismally on both counts and today the Bullingdon boys have sent along a Lib Dem whipping boy to defend it. If the Chancellor has “Je ne regrette rien” playing on his iPod, then the Chief Secretary has “Puppet on a String” playing on his. Just last year he promised his party’s Scottish conference:
“In our first year in government, we will invest to create new jobs and boost the recovery.”
Well, 10 months later and two Budgets in he has done precisely the opposite. The fact is that this Government’s extreme experiment with the British economy is failing and British people are suffering.
This Budget was a dodgy Conservative con that was signed off by the ever-compliant Liberal Democrats—the human shields of British politics. Far from making life easier for people, the Budget will make life tougher. The Government’s agenda of cuts, cuts, cuts is ruining lives and dividing the nation. It seeks to pit the private sector against the public sector, the young against the old, the north against the south, the weak against the strong, and the rich against the poor. We reject the politics of division. This is the wrong Budget in tough times. The Government should come back and have a second attempt which does not cut too far, too fast. That is why we will vote to reject the Budget tonight.
There has been a good debate today and over the past four days. Today the debate was graced in particular by a contribution from the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), the former Chancellor, who addressed the topic of business confidence and gave the House the benefit of his experience of issues in the world economy. He might have noticed that figures today show that business confidence is rising, but it was good to hear from him in the debate, and also from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) who, among many other hon. Members, made the point that it was important to hear from the Opposition what they would cut.
This year’s Budget is about reforming the nation’s economy so that we have sustainable growth and jobs in the future. As many hon. Members observed in the debate, none of this would be possible without the difficult decisions that we have already had to take to tackle the enormous budget deficit that we inherited—decisions that have secured our international credit rating and been praised by the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; decisions that have provided the firm platform that we need to build a strong, sustainable and balanced economy; and decisions that have brought about economic stability and confidence in Britain’s ability to pay its way in the world. That stability and confidence would be forfeit if we stepped back from our plan, as some have suggested. To do so would cost jobs and growth and would mean more cuts for more people for longer in the future.
The action that the Government have taken is allowing us to move from rescue to recovery, from a decade of unbalanced, unsustainable policy to the hard road back to prosperity, for this Budget confronts the problems that our predecessors chose to ignore. For the past decade Britain has been losing ground in the world’s economy. While other nations have reduced their business tax rates, ours have increased. While other countries have removed barriers to enterprise, ours have grown higher still. While our competitors have improved their education systems, reformed welfare and increased exports, we have had to endure the opposite. That is the legacy of the Labour Government.
That is why, in the Budget, we have set out the Government’s new vision for growth—a vision that has four key ambitions at its heart. First, Britain should have the most competitive tax system in the G20. Secondly, Britain should be the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business. Thirdly, Britain should be a more balanced economy by encouraging exports—
If the right hon. Gentleman is creating an environment for inward investment and enterprise, how does he explain the fact that when I spoke in Dusseldorf to UK Trade & Investment, which markets Britain abroad, it said that it was generating lots of leads for inward investment, but because the Government had abolished the RDAs, those were not being drawn down and all that inward investment was going elsewhere? Is that not a pathetic indictment of the Government’s failure to generate growth?
Let me answer the intervention before I give way again. We have abolished the regional development agencies, which were bureaucratic and inflexible, and we have replaced them with a localised, bottom-up process of local enterprise partnerships that are making a real difference in our economy.
I thank the Chief Secretary for giving way. Has he read the article in The Guardian today, which reports that the UK has slipped from third position to 13th in the whole world on green renewable energy technology under the Tory-Liberal Democrat Government?
I am afraid I have not read The Guardian today. I will turn to green issues later in my speech. I disagree with that assessment, although of course the hon. Gentleman is quoting one of the very few organisations that backed his party’s economic plans, if that is what they can be called.
The fourth objective of our growth strategy is to have a more educated work force who are the most flexible in Europe.
Let me turn first to creating a more competitive tax system. We used to have the third lowest corporation tax rate in Europe, but we now have the sixth highest, so from April this year corporation tax will be reduced not just by 1%, as we announced last June, but by 2%. It will continue to fall by 1% in each of the next three years, taking our corporate tax rate down to just 23% and giving us the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7.