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Budget (Ministerial Meetings)

Volume 543: debated on Wednesday 18 April 2012

2. How many meetings he had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the two weeks preceding his financial statement of 21 March 2012 on the effect of the Budget on Scotland. (102887)

I have regular meetings with senior Cabinet Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which a wide range of issues are discussed. This includes the period in the run-up to Budget 2012.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, although I have my doubts about whether he did have any such meetings. Anyway, there are more families losing their tax credits and more pensioners set to be affected by the granny tax in Glasgow than there are millionaires who will be affected by the mansion tax in the whole of Great Britain. Is that what he calls the Liberal Democrats speaking up for Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman just cannot get the Labour party off the hook of the mess that it left the economy in at the end of the last Parliament. We are having to sort out the biggest deficit in peacetime history and get ourselves on the path to sustainable growth. We have had to take some tough decisions, but I am proud of the fact that, because of the measures in the Budget, more Scots will be taken out of income tax altogether and pensioners will receive the biggest cash increase in their pensions that they have ever had, in contrast to the insult of the Labour party’s 75p increase.

Did my right hon. Friend or the Chancellor receive any Budget representations from the Scottish Government about the financial consequences of Scotland separating from NATO?

In the discussions that the Scottish Secretary had in the run-up to the Budget, did he make a case for re-profiling capital investment for funding shovel-ready projects, which would be the most effective thing we could do to build gross domestic product growth, or did he simply roll over, have his tummy tickled and accept the tax cut for millionaires?

The hon. Gentleman should reflect carefully on the case he is trying to make. Perhaps, in a rare moment of generosity, he would welcome the fact that since the spending review, we have announced £1 billion of further spending allocations to the Scottish Government. We are continuing to create the conditions for sustainable growth to support businesses, and in Dundee there are now enterprise zones that get 100% capital allowances. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

In Argyll and Bute the high price of fuel is doing damage to businesses and people’s incomes, because of the long distances people by necessity have to travel. Will the Secretary of State please have a word with the Chancellor and encourage him to cancel, if the price of fuel remains high, the August fuel duty increase?

My hon. Friend is a consistent campaigner on this issue, and I am always happy to have discussions with him about it. I hope that he, like me, would recognise that as a result of the measures we have taken, we have provided a cut of 10p on fuel relative to what Labour was proposing, and provided support to remote rural communities in Scotland as well.

Will the Secretary of State tell us the last time he ate a hot bridie? Did he discuss with the Chancellor the impact of taxation on hot bridies, and does he recognise that his Front-Bench colleague looks as if he has eaten a lot of hot bridies recently?

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman was above such personal attacks. My own preference is for fish and chips. He will know that there are plenty of places in Galashiels and elsewhere where a fine fish supper can be had. We have had to take tough decisions, but have made sure that everything is fair on that particular front.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in difficult economic times it is vital for the Government to help people on low incomes by cutting their taxes and taking the lowest paid out of tax, which is in stark contrast to the last Labour Government, who doubled the 10p tax rate, hitting the lowest paid the hardest?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Our priority in difficult times must be to give help to people on low and middle incomes—the earners who need the most support. Because of that, more than 160,000 Scots will be out of income tax altogether, and millions more will pay less tax. That is the right way to approach this.

May I begin with a quote?

“The simple equation is that we think the priority is to help those on the lowest incomes. Clearly that is going to have to be paid for and we think it is fair that those who have the broadest shoulders should be the ones to contribute to that.”

Can the Secretary of State tell us which Cabinet member said that about the recent Budget?

The important point is that in the very difficult economic circumstances that we inherited from the hon. Lady’s Government, we must fix the deficit, get the economy on the right track and in doing so make decisions that help the lowest paid and middle-income earners. That is what we are doing by taking people out of tax altogether and by ensuring that we reduce the tax burden on others.

I am surprised that the Secretary of State did not even recognise a quote from himself. He should know that the Resolution Foundation has confirmed that cuts to tax credits will dwarf any gains from an increase in personal tax allowances—so he needs to stop using that argument. Will he tell us why he has changed his position since he last spoke to the Evening Standard, when more than 400,000 Scottish pensioners are going to be hit by the granny tax and more than 84,000 families in Scotland will have lost all their tax credits, while at the same time his Budget has given 16,000 of the richest Scots a massive tax cut? Will the Secretary of State finally admit that this Budget has hit Scotland hard and has done more for millionaires than for hard-working families? When will he stop being a Tory front man and stand up for working people in Scotland?

The last Labour Secretary of State, who has now joined the hon. Lady on the Front Bench, said that Labour had to be credible on the economy and on the financial regime, but it is not being credible in the proposals it is making. I stand by my comments. My intention and that of my colleagues with this Budget is to ensure that we provide support to the lowest and middle-income earners and that those on the highest earnings pay their way. Through the abolition of tax reliefs, we will ensure that they do.