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Autumn Statement

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 5 December 2013

Britain’s economic plan is working, but the job is not done. We need to secure the economy for the long term, and the biggest risk to that comes from those who would abandon the plan. We seek a responsible recovery, one in which we do not squander the gains we have made, but go on taking the difficult decisions, and one in which we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, but this time spot the debt bubbles before they threaten financial stability. We seek a responsible recovery, in which we do not pretend we can make this nation better off by writing cheques to ourselves, and instead make the hard choices. We need a Government who live within their means, in a country that pays its way in the world.

Three and a half years ago, I set out our long-term economic plan in the emergency Budget. That plan restored stability in a fiscal crisis, but it was also designed to address the deep-seated problems of unsustainable spending, uncompetitive taxes and unreformed public services for which there are no quick fixes. Over the last three years we have stuck to our guns and worked through the plan. We have done so in the face of a sovereign debt crisis abroad, and at home in the face of opposition from those who got Britain into this mess in the first place and have resisted every cut, every reform, and every effort to get us out of that mess. We have held our nerve while those who predicted there would be no growth until we turned the spending taps back on have been proved comprehensively wrong.

Thanks to the sacrifice and endeavour of the British people, I can today report the hard evidence that shows our economic plan is working, but I also report the hard truth that the job is not yet done. Yes, the deficit is down, but it is still far too high, and today we take more difficult decisions. Yes, the forecasts show that growth is up, but the same forecasts show growth in productivity is still too low, and today we set out further economic reforms. Yes, jobs are up and unemployment is down, but too many of our young people lack the skills to fill those jobs and the opportunities to acquire them, so now we take bold steps to remove that cap on aspiration. Yes, businesses are expanding, but business taxes are still too high and exports are too low and we must address that. And yes, real household disposable income is rising, but the effects of the financial crash on family budgets and the cost of living are still being felt. So where we can afford to help hardworking families, we will continue to do so—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Ruane, calm yourself, man. Your bellicose barracking is detectable several miles away.

The hard work of the British people is paying off, and we will not squander their efforts. We will secure the economy for the long term, and this statement sets out how.

Let me turn to the report from the Office for Budget Responsibility. Again, I thank Robert Chote and his team for their rigorous and independent work. The OBR report notes that the Office for National Statistics has reassessed the depth of the great recession. The fall in GDP from peak to trough between 2008 and 2009 was not 6.3% as previously thought, but was instead an even more staggering 7.2%; £112 billion was wiped off our economy—about £3,000 for every household in this country—in one of the sharpest falls in the national income of any economy in the world. That is a reminder of the economic calamity that befell Britain and of the simple fact that our country remains poorer as a result of it. A lot of work still remains to be done to put that right. The data revisions also showed something else: there was no double-dip recession.

Let me turn to the future. At the time of the Budget in March, the OBR forecast that growth this year would be 0.6%. Today, it more than doubles that forecast and the estimate for growth will be 1.4%. Next year, instead of growth of 1.8%, it is now forecasting 2.4%. Faster growth now means that it has revised the following four years to 2.2%, 2.6%, 2.7% and 2.7%, so growth over the forecast period is significantly up. It is still not as strong as we would like it to be, but this is the largest improvement to current year economic forecasts at any Budget or autumn statement for 14 years. I can report that Britain is currently growing faster than any other major advanced economy: faster than France, which is contracting; faster than Germany; and faster even than America. That contrast itself points to the risks that remain for the UK from abroad, and the weakness of many of our main trading partners.

The first risk the OBR identified to our economic recovery is a recurrence of the damaging instability in the eurozone. Even with the relative calm of recent months, the OBR still forecasts that the euro area as a whole will shrink by 0.4% this year. Its growth forecasts for the US and emerging markets have also been revised down, and world trade has been weaker than it expected in March. While our exports are growing, they are not growing as fast as we would like. That is because we are too dependent on markets in Europe and north America. The Prime Minister’s visit to China this week is the latest step in the Government’s determined plan to increase British exports to the faster growing emerging markets, something our country should have done many years ago. Today, I am doubling to £50 billion the export finance capacity available to support British businesses, expanding the help available to firms in these emerging markets and ensuring that our excellent new trade Minister, Lord Livingston, has all the firepower he needs.

Let me turn to the forecast for employment. Today in Britain, employment is at an all-time high and the OBR has revised up its forecast for the future. It was expecting jobs to stay flat over the year, but it now expects the total number of jobs to rise by 400,000 this year. This is being felt right across the country. Since 2010, the number of jobs in Carlisle and on the Wirral, and from Selby to south Tyneside, has grown faster than in London. Meanwhile, the number of people claiming unemployment benefit has fallen by more than 200,000 in the past six months—the largest such fall for 16 years. Unemployment is also lower than in 2010, and is forecast to fall further from 7.6% this year to 7% in 2015, before falling even further to 5.6% by 2018. We have the lowest proportion of workless households for 17 years.

There were those who said it was a “fantasy” to believe that businesses could create jobs more quickly than the public sector would have to lose them. What they should have said was that it would be fantastic if it happened. So I have good news for them. Businesses have already created three jobs for every one lost in the public sector, and the OBR report today forecasts that this will continue, with 3.1 million more jobs being created by businesses by 2019, which, in its words, “more than offsets” the million or so reduction in the public sector headcount. Far from the mass unemployment predicted, we have a record number of people in work, hundreds of thousands fewer on welfare, and unemployment lower than when we came to office, and we will have 2 million more jobs than in 2010—an economic plan that is working and a Government who are seeking a job-rich recovery for all.

Let me turn now to the forecasts for Government borrowing and debt. When this Government came into office, the deficit was 11% of GDP. That was the highest level in our peacetime history. One pound in every four was being borrowed, and a former Chancellor and a former Prime Minister have now joined the consensus that spending was too high. The borrowing posed a huge risk to the economic stability and credibility of the United Kingdom, and we have taken many difficult decisions to bring that deficit down—every one contested and opposed.

I can report today, however, that the effort is paying off. The OBR uses a measure of what it calls “underlying public sector net borrowing”, which excludes the impact of the Royal Mail pension scheme and asset purchase facility transfers. I can tell the House that this underlying measure of the deficit, like the other deficit measure, has been revised down substantially since March. From the 11% back in 2010, the underlying deficit now falls to 6.8% this year, instead of the 7.5% the OBR forecast back in March. It then falls to 5.6% next year, then 4.4%, 2.7% and, in 2017-18, 1.2%. By 2018-19, on this measure, the OBR does not expect a deficit at all. Instead, it expects Britain to run a small surplus. These numbers mean that the Government will meet their fiscal mandate to bring the structural current budget into balance and meet it one year early.

Let me turn to the forecasts for cash borrowing on this same underlying basis. At the autumn statement last year, there were repeated predictions that borrowing would go up. Instead, borrowing is down—and down significantly more than was forecast. In their last year in office, the previous Government borrowed £158 billion. This year, we will borrow £111 billion, which is £9 billion less than was feared in March. That falls next year to £96 billion, then down to £79 billion in 2015-16, £51 billion the year after and £23 billion the year after that. So we are set to borrow £73 billion less over the period than was forecast in March. That means that we are borrowing the equivalent of £2,500 less for every household in this country.

In 2018-19, on this cash measure too, the OBR forecasts that the Government will not have to borrow anything at all. Instead, we will run a small cash surplus. Of course, this will only happen if we go on working through our long-term plan, delivering the reductions in the deficit we plan this year, next year and in the three years after. If we gave up on the plan now, we would be saddled with a deficit still among the highest in Europe, and the Government side of the House is not prepared to take that risk.

While the deficit remains, it adds to our national debt every year. The OBR today expects debt this year to come in at 75.5% of GDP, which is £18 billion lower than was forecast in March. It rises to 78.3% next year, before peaking at 80% the next year—5% lower than forecast at the Budget. In 2016-17, it then falls, albeit slightly, to 79.9%; then falls again to 78.4% and then to 75.9%. By 2017-18, debt is over £80 billion pounds lower than forecast in March. The supplementary debt target is for debt to be falling in 2015-16. At the Budget, the OBR forecast debt to be falling in 2017-18. It is now forecast to fall in 2016-17, which is one year earlier.

But let me enter this note of caution. The OBR is clear that this is a cyclical improvement. The forecast for the continuing fall in the structural deficit has not improved. The structural deficit is the borrowing that stays behind even when the economy improves. Thanks to our actions, it has fallen from the 8.7% we inherited to 4.4% today—more than in any other major advanced economy. It goes on falling, but no faster than was previously expected because, as we have always argued, the central task of reforming government and controlling spending does not simply dissolve when growth returns. It supports the case we have made all along that economic growth alone was never going to be enough to repair Britain’s broken public finances. An improving economy does not let us off the hook for taking the difficult decisions to make sure that the Government live within their means.

The single most important economic judgement I make today is this: we will not let up in dealing with our country’s debts; we will not spend the money from lower borrowing; we will not squander the hard-earned gains of the British people. The stability and low mortgage rates, the lower deficit and falling borrowing have been hard won by this country, but let us be clear that they could easily be lost. That is why we must work through our plan to secure the British economy for the long term.

So this autumn statement is fiscally neutral across the period. Indeed, I can announce today that we will take three new steps to entrench Britain’s commitment to sound public finances. First, we will bring forward next year an updated charter for budget responsibility and ask Parliament to support it. I can say today that both parties of the coalition have agreed that we must ensure that debt continues to fall as a percentage of GDP, including using surpluses in good years, for this purpose. In other words, this time we will fix the roof when the sun is shining.

We will look to see whether the five-year time horizon of the fiscal mandate could be shorter and even more binding now that the public finances are closer to balance, and we will see how fiscal credibility could be further enhanced by a stronger parliamentary commitment to the path of consolidation already agreed for 2016-17 and 2017-18. The answers will be written into an updated charter for budget responsibility, which will be presented to Parliament a year from now and voted upon.

The second step we take today to entrench Britain’s commitment to sound public finances is this: we will cap overall welfare spending. Welfare budgets were completely out of control when we came to office and the number of households where no one had ever worked nearly doubled. We have taken very difficult decisions to bring benefit bills down; we have saved £19 billion a year for the taxpayer. We need to maintain that discipline. The percentage of spending in the UK subject to fixed spending controls is very low by international standards—at just 50%. So from next year, we will introduce a new cap on total welfare spending.

I have had representations that the basic state pension should be included within that cap, but that would mean cutting pensions for those who have worked hard all their lives because the costs on, say, housing benefit for young people had got out of control. That is not fair, so we will not include the state pension, which is better controlled over a longer period. We will also exclude from the cap the most cyclical of benefits for jobseekers. All other benefits—from tax credits to income support to the vast majority of housing benefit—will be included in the cap.

At the beginning of each Parliament, the Chancellor of the day will set the welfare cap for the coming years, and will ask the House of Commons for its support. If the cap is breached, the Chancellor will have to explain why, and hold a vote in the House. The principle is clear: the Government have a responsibility to taxpayers to control their spending on welfare, and Parliament has a responsibility to the country to hold the Government to account for it.

That brings me to our third step. Ultimately, the test of fiscal credibility is whether you are prepared actually to make the difficult decisions that will keep spending under control. Tight discipline means that most Departments are now living well within their set budgets. This year they are expected to underspend by £7 billion, which is testimony to good financial management. We can therefore be confident in reducing the contingency reserve by £1 billion this year, and reducing departmental budgets by a similar amount in the next two years. That will save a further £3 billion in total. The protections for the NHS and schools will apply, and the security and intelligence agencies and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will be exempt. The Barnett formula means that over the next two years, the budgets for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will see a net increase. We will not apply those additional savings to local authorities, because we expect them to freeze council tax next year.

This year, Britain becomes the first G8 country to meet our promise to the poorest in the world to spend 0.7% of our national income on development., but we do not have to increase the budget of the Department for International Development further in order to do that. The effectiveness of the British Government’s aid effort in the Philippines, matched by the generosity of the British public, is a reminder of what marks us out as a nation, and we in this country can be very proud of it.

We are also immeasurably proud of the work of Britain’s armed forces. As they wind down their operations in Afghanistan, the budget that we spend there is also falling fast, so we can reduce the military special reserve by a further £900 million this year while still funding all operational costs. To reflect our society’s debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women and their families, I want to make a further £100 million of LIBOR fines available to our brilliant military charities, and to extend that support to those who care for the work of our police, fire and ambulance services. I think the whole House will agree that the terrible events in Glasgow this weekend, and the work that those services are doing right now to cope with the adverse weather conditions, remind us how much we owe to them.

Discipline with the public finances means more than just words. It means making difficult decisions, and being prepared to stick to them. It means using surpluses in good years to keep debt falling, so that we fix that roof when the sun is shining. It means capping welfare to keep it under control, and, when we do want to spend more money, it means finding extra ways in which to pay for it.

One of the biggest single items of Government spending is the basic state pension. I am proud to be in a Government who have introduced a triple lock that ensures a fair and generous increase in the state pension every year for those who have worked hard all their lives. I can confirm that next April the state pension will rise by a further £2.95 a week. That increase, and the other increases that have been made under this Government, mean that pensioners will be more than £800 better off every year. I can announce that we are also going to offer current pensioners an opportunity to make voluntary national insurance contributions to boost their income in retirement, and that we will extend that opportunity to those who reach pension age before the introduction of the single-tier pension. That will help those who have not built up much entitlement to the additional state pension, especially women and the self-employed.

However, we must also guarantee that the basic state pension is affordable in the future, even as people live longer and our society grows older, and the only way in which to do that is to ensure that the pension age keeps pace with life expectancy. The Pensions Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, puts in place reviews of the pension age every five years. We have set the principle that will underpin those reviews. We think that a fair principle is that, as now, people should expect to spend up to a third of their adult lives in retirement. Based on the latest life expectancy figures, applying that principle would mean an increase in the state pension age to 68 in the mid-2030s and to 69 in the late 2040s. The exact dates will be set by the future statutory reviews and in line with the most up-to-date demographic data, of which the next update is published next week. This is one of those difficult decisions that Governments have to take if they are serious about controlling the public finances. Future taxpayers will be saved around £500 billion. Young people will know that our country can afford to give them a proper pension when they retire. That is this generation fulfilling its obligations for fiscal responsibility to the next generation, not saddling them with the debts and the decisions we were not prepared to deal with ourselves.

Having sound public finances also means making sure that we collect the taxes that are due. Most wealthy people pay their taxes and make a huge contribution to funding our public services; the latest figures show that 30% of all income tax is paid by just 1% of taxpayers. We have given incentives to enterprise and cut punitive tax rates, and this year the rich pay a greater share of the nation’s income taxes than was the case in any year under the last Labour Government. But alongside those paying the most tax are those who try to avoid paying their fair share of tax. So today we set out in detail the largest package of measures to tackle tax avoidance, tax evasion, fraud and error so far this Parliament. Together it will raise over £9 billion over the next five years.

We are going to tackle the growth of intermediaries disguising employment as false self-employment, depriving work forces of basic employment rights such as the minimum wage in a bid to avoid employer national insurance. We will halve the final period exemption for capital gains tax private residence relief. We will end the abuse of dual contracts, offshore oil and gas contracting, derivatives linked to profits and share buy-backs. And we will ensure the tax advantages of partnerships are not abused either. We are introducing a new, limited power that requires people to pay their taxes up front where the scheme they used has already been struck down by the courts. We are going to strengthen Whitehall’s capacity to prevent error and tackle fraud in the benefit and tax credit systems, and expand its efforts to recover money that is owed.

There is one personal tax change we make today which is not about avoidance, but is about fairness. Britain is an open country that welcomes investment from all over the world, including investment in our residential property. But it is not right that those who live in this country pay capital gains tax when they sell a home that is not their primary residence while those who do not live here do not—that is unfair. So from April 2015, we will introduce capital gains tax on future gains made by non-residents who sell residential property here in the UK.

I can also announce that from 1 January next year the rate of the bank levy will rise to 0.156% and its base will be broadened in ways we have consulted on. The levy will raise £2.7 billion in 2014-15 and £2.9 billion each year from 2015-16. The country stood behind the banks in the crisis, and now it is right that they support the country in recovery.

Having a Government who live within their means is essential to secure the economy for the long term, but it is not sufficient. Britain has to earn its way in the world. Our infrastructure needs to be overhauled. We have to help our businesses compete. Above all, our young people need the skills to succeed in the modern world. This autumn statement takes the next big steps in all these areas.

Let me start with infrastructure. We are going to be spending more on capital as a proportion of national income on average over this decade than over the whole period of the last Government. That has involved making tough choices about priorities in spending and sticking to them. But that is not the most difficult decision in this area. We have to decide whether we are serious as a country about competing in the modern world and say to people that we need the new roads and the new railways, including the northern hub and High Speed 2. We have to say that we are prepared to push the boundaries of scientific endeavour, including in controversial areas, because Britain has always been a pioneer. We should say that the country that was the first to extract oil and gas from deep under the sea should not turn its back on new sources of energy such as shale gas because it is all too difficult, and the country with the world’s first civil nuclear programme should not be a country that says we can do this no longer.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and Lord Deighton published the update to the national infrastructure plan. That includes a co-operation agreement with Hitachi on the next nuclear power station in Anglesey and a deal with the insurance industry to invest at least £25 billion in UK infrastructure. We published the strike prices that support long-term investment in offshore wind and prioritise it over onshore wind. Today we go further, with a commitment to invest in quantum technology, and a new tax allowance to encourage investment in shale gas that halves tax rates on early profits. In the week in which Professor Peter Higgs travels to Stockholm to collect his Nobel prize for physics, we commit to build a new centre in his name at Edinburgh university, because science is a personal priority of mine.

Some of the most important infrastructure for British families is housing and we must confront this simple truth: if we want more people to own a home, we have to build more homes. The Office for Budget Responsibility is absolutely right today to draw attention to the weakness of housing supply in this country. The good news is that the latest survey data showed residential construction growing at its fastest rate for a decade. Our hard-won planning reforms are delivering a 35% increase in approvals for new homes, but we need to do more.

This week, we are announcing a billion pounds of loans to unblock large housing developments on sites in Manchester and Leeds and across the country. We will increase the housing revenue account borrowing limit by £300 million. Aspiration is not only for people who can afford their own home. We want to regenerate some of our most run-down urban housing estates. Councils will sell off the most expensive social housing, so they can house many more families for the same money. We are going to give working people in social housing a priority right to move if they need to for a job.

Right-to-buy applications have doubled under this Government, and we will expand it more. The very same spirit of aspiration that underpins right to buy is what drives this Government with Help to Buy. It is not enough to build more houses if families who can afford mortgages do not have the large deposits that the banks have demanded. Help to Buy is now helping thousands to own their own home. I can today announce that Aldermore and Virgin, two challenger banks, expect to join the scheme this month.

Help to aspiring families and building more homes: that is what we stand for. We must also avoid the mistakes of the past decade. We want a responsible recovery. That is why I am the first Chancellor to give the Bank of England the responsibility and the power not only to monitor overall debt levels, but to take action to deal with asset bubbles if they threaten our stability.

We want a functioning, stable housing market. The OBR’s latest house price forecast today, while higher, still has real house prices 3.1% lower in 2018 than at their peak in 2007. Together with Governor Carney, I acted last week to focus the funding for lending scheme away from mortgages on to small business lending, where its support is still needed. It is precisely because the authorities can act in this targeted and pre-emptive way, and because our public finances are under control, that the Bank can keep overall interest rates lower for longer and support the rest of the economy.

Investing in the physical infrastructure of our country is critical to our future. But in this global economy, it is better education and skills that hold the key to long-term national success. This week’s programme for international student assessment—PISA—scores show how much ground this country has to make up. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is doing more to transform school standards and raise the aspirations of pupils from the poorest families than anyone who has done that job before him. His expansion of free schools and academies has the full backing of this Chancellor.

We also know that children do better at school when they have a proper meal inside them. This autumn statement has found the financial resources to fund the expansion of free school meals to all school children in reception, year 1 and year 2, announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and supported by me.

But today we also focus on what happens when our young people leave school—and we do more to help them. First, we will not abandon those who leave school with few or no qualifications. At present, Jobcentre Plus does almost nothing to help 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in work or education. We will change that and will now fund the jobcentres to support these very young adults to find an apprenticeship or a traineeship.

Without basic maths or English, there is a limited chance any young person will be able to stay off welfare, so we are taking a new approach. Starting in some areas at first, anyone aged 18 to 21 signing on without those basic skills will be required to undertake training from day one or lose their benefits. If they are still unemployed after six months, they will have to start a traineeship, take work experience or do a community work placement—and if they do not turn up, they will lose their benefits.

A culture of worklessness becomes entrenched when young people can leave school and go straight on to the dole with nothing expected in return. That option is coming to an end in our welfare system.

The second reform is to apprenticeships. We have doubled the number of apprenticeships and now we will transform the way they are provided by funding employers directly through HMRC. I can tell the House there will now be an additional 20,000 higher apprenticeships over the next two years. I can also announce a big expansion of start-up loans, through which a new generation of entrepreneurs is being created: 50,000 more people will be helped to fulfil their aspiration to start their own business. We are extending the new enterprise allowance, too.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of the Robbins report, which challenged the nonsense that university was suitable only for a small few. In 1963, Robbins said:

“Courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.”

That was true then, and I believe it should remain true today. Our reforms to student loans, difficult as they were, have put our universities on a secure footing. Some predicted that applications from students from poor backgrounds would fall. Instead, I can report that this year we have had the highest ever proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university.

But there is still a cap on aspiration. Each year, about 60,000 young people who have worked hard at school, got the results, want to go on learning and want to take out a loan to pay for it are prevented from doing so because of an arbitrary cap. That makes no sense when we have a lower proportion of people going to university than even the United States, let alone countries such as South Korea. Access to higher education is a basic tenet of economic success in the global race, so today I can announce that next year we will provide 30,000 more student places, and the year after we will abolish the cap on student numbers altogether.

Extra funding will be provided to science, technology, and engineering courses. The new loans will be financed by selling the old student loan book, allowing thousands more to achieve their potential.

Education underpins opportunity. It is business that provides those opportunities and the best way to help business is by lowering the burden of tax. KPMG’s report last week confirmed for the second year running that Britain has the most competitive business tax system in the world. Some in this House suggest that our response to this good news should be to increase corporation tax from 20%. Today, we publish the first of our studies of the dynamic effects of tax changes that shows that our corporation tax cuts increase investment and raise productivity—so much so that more than half the cost of the tax cut to the Treasury will be recovered because of higher growth. Putting up corporation tax hits investment, cuts productivity, costs jobs and raises much less. We thank the hon. Members for their submission, but we think it would be economic madness to pursue it.

Quite the reverse, today we take further steps to make our business taxes yet more competitive. The Budget announcement that we would abolish stamp duty on AIM shares was applauded around the world. Today, we also abolish stamp duty for shares purchased in exchange traded funds to encourage those funds to locate in the UK. We are making our successful film tax relief even more generous, and looking to extend the principle, including to regional theatre. We set out major reforms to encourage employee ownership of the kind that makes John Lewis such a success. And from April, we will be one of the first countries in the world to introduce a new tax relief for investment in social enterprises and new social impact bonds. I want to thank Sir Ronnie Cohen and the charities Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), for all their help in putting this innovative scheme together.

Business rates impose a heavy burden on businesses of all sizes. Today, we will help ease that burden—and here is how. The last Government wanted to halve small business rates relief—a relief that helps cut rates bills for half a million companies and means a third of a million of the smallest businesses pay no rates at all. If we had followed that plan, small businesses would have faced a rate increase of up to £3,375. So we have rejected that plan. Instead, we have extended that rate relief scheme year after year. It was due to expire next April. We will now extend it for another whole year. We have also listened to the small business groups and will relax the rules that discourage these firms from expanding and opening extra premises.

But that does not go far enough. All businesses are expecting rates to rise by 3.2% next year. Instead, I will cap the inflation increase in business rates for all premises at 2% from next April. We will also allow businesses to pay their rates in 12 monthly instalments. We will clear almost all the backlog of valuation appeals by July 2015, with reform of business rates on the agenda for 2017 revaluation.

There is one group of businesses that has found the recession especially hard, as it has coincided with a rising challenge from the internet that is only getting stronger. These are our local retailers—the shops, the pubs and the cafés that make up our high streets across Britain. With small business Saturday this weekend, I want the Government to do all we can to help them. We are already changing the planning rules to help town centres compete. To get the vacant shops that blight too many town centres to open again, I am introducing a new reoccupation relief that will halve the rates for new occupants.

But we can do more, and I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal), for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and many others for their campaign. Like them, I also want to help those who have struggled hard on our high streets—often working long hours for not enough in return. So I can announce today that for the next two years every retail premise in England with a rateable value of up to £50,000 will get a discount on their business rates. This discount will be worth £1,000 off their bills.

This is what we offer: business rates capped; for the smallest firms, no rates at all; and help for the high street, with £1,000 off for small shops, pubs, cafés and restaurants across our country. The people in these businesses epitomise the hard-working values this Government support, and we are backing British businesses all the way.

And we are backing British families. Next April, the personal allowance will reach £10,000. This Government are delivering an income tax cut worth up to £700 a year to over 25 million hard-working people. Under the last Government, council tax doubled. We are now helping councils freeze it for the whole of this Parliament. Tax-free child care is being introduced and free school meals are on their way. But there is more we are doing to help.

This autumn statement confirms that from April 2015 we will introduce a new transferable tax allowance for married couples. Available to all basic rate taxpayers, it enables people to transfer £1,000 of their personal allowance to their wife, husband or civil partner. It is just a start. And I confirm today that we will introduce a new uprating mechanism that ensures the new married couples tax allowance is automatically increased in proportion to the personal allowance. Four million families will benefit, many of them among the poorest working families in our country. This measure, along with the others we take today, ensures that across this Parliament our policies are progressive, showing that we are all in this together, with the very rich paying the most.

We are also helping families with their energy bills, not with a transparent con by pretending that we can control the world oil price, but instead by focusing on the thing that Government can and should control—the levies and charges that previous Energy Secretaries piled on bills. [Interruption.] This week we deliver on the promise made by the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]

This week we deliver on the promise made by the Prime Minister to roll back those levies. The result: an average of £50 off family bills. We are doing this in a way that supports the lowest income families, reduces carbon, supports investment in our energy infrastructure and, as the document shows, does not add a penny to the tax bills that families pay. My political philosophy is clear: instead of penalising people with more taxes and more regulation, give them incentives by reducing their taxes and their bills. As I have often said, going green does not have to cost the earth.

That brings me on to fuel duty. We inherited from the previous Government the hated fuel duty escalator that would have inflicted hardship on families and small firms alike. Instead of those rises, we abolished the escalator, and we have cut and then frozen fuel duty. I have had further representations from many, many hon. Friends, from my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) and for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid), and of course my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who is a champion of the people he represents.

I said earlier this autumn that if we could find the money, I would like to go on freezing duty. Today I can report that because we have taken difficult decisions to control the public finances, I can deliver on that promise. Next year’s fuel duty rise will be cancelled. Instead of petrol taxes going up by 2p a litre, they will stay frozen. That means that, compared with the previous Government’s plans, petrol will be 20p a litre less. That is £11 less every time you fill up—a saving for drivers over this Parliament of £680, and double that for a small business with a van.

Cancelling fuel duty rises has been a major priority of the Government—a £22 billion demonstration that we are on the side of hard-working people in this country. A married couples allowance; £50 off energy bills. We are helping those who drive a car and we are helping those who get the train, too. Fares next January were going to go up by 1% above inflation. We are going to keep average fares flat in real terms.

We on the Government Benches know that there is one thing more than any other that has supported families through these difficult times, and that is being in work. At the heart of our economic plan is support for the creation of more jobs. That is why we opposed the last Government’s plan to increase the jobs tax. That is why we reversed the most damaging part of that increase in the very first Budget after we came to office. That is also why in the last Budget I introduced the employment allowance, which eliminates the jobs tax for half a million small businesses. And that is why we will go further still. We are going to abolish the jobs tax on young people under the age of 21. Employer national insurance contributions will be removed altogether on a million and a half jobs for young people. We are not going to leave young people behind as the economy grows. We are going to have a responsible recovery for all.

The cost for a business of employing a young person on a salary of £12,000 will fall by over £500. For someone on £16,000, that is over £1,000 off. I want to commend my hon. Friends the Members for Braintree (Mr Newmark) and for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and the Million Jobs campaign for highlighting this issue. The change requires legislation. It will come into force in April 2015, and it will not apply beyond the upper earnings limit.

This country is working through its long-term plan: bringing down the deficit and dealing with the debt; spending less on welfare and making the big decisions on infrastructure; living within our means and cutting tax on business; making work pay and letting people keep more of what they earn; and with confidence in the next generation, as they make their way in education and in the workplace. This statement shows that the plan is working. It is a long-term plan for a grown-up country. But the job is not done. By doing the right thing, we are heading in the right direction. Britain is moving again. Let us keep going.

The whole country will have seen today that for all his boasts and all his breathtaking complacency—[Interruption.]

Order. I appeal to the House—[Interruption.] Order. I do not need any sedentary comments from either side of the House. What I said in respect of the Chancellor applies equally in respect of the shadow Chancellor. Let us have a bit of calm and a bit of order. Following the response, as usual, I will facilitate the widest possible opportunity for questioning. Let us have courtesy, please.

The whole country will have seen today that for all his boasts and all his utterly breathtaking complacency, the Chancellor is in complete denial about the central fact defining this Government in office: under this Chancellor and this Prime Minister, for most people in our country living standards are not rising, but falling year on year.

Let me ask the Chancellor to demonstrate, because he did not mention it, that he is not completely out of touch with the cost of living crisis facing millions of people in our country. Can he confirm that, on average, working people in our country are £1,600 a year worse off than they were when the Government came into office in 2010, that prices will continue to rise faster than wages this year and into next year and that, as a result, people will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010? [Interruption.] Is not this the truth: after three damaging years of flatlining, after the slowest recovery for over 100 years—[Interruption.]

Order. However long it takes, the response—[Interruption.] Order. Mr Morris, I do not require your assistance. Calm down. Take up yoga, or whatever is necessary. However long it takes, the response, like the statement, will be heard. The sooner Members on both sides of the House grasp that very simple fact, the better.

There is a cost of living crisis, even if Government Members will not admit it in this House, and we all know why: after three damaging years of flatlining and the slowest recovery for over 100 years, from a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who said that we were all in this together and then gave a huge tax cut to millionaires, do we not know the truth? Working people are not better off under the Tories, but worse off. For all their complacent boasts, after three damaging and wasted years for most people in the constituencies of hon. Members on both sides of the House there is still no recovery at all.

Let me ask the Chancellor about the promises he made to the House on growth and living standards three years ago. He said then that the economy would grow by more than 8.4% by the end of this year, but even after today’s welcome upward revisions, growth is set to be half that—lower growth than he forecast in 2010 this year, next year, and the year after as well.

Did not the Chancellor pledge to get the banks lending, yet net lending to business is now down by £100 billion compared with May 2010? Did he not make the No. 1 test of his economic credibility keeping the triple A credit rating, yet it has been downgraded not once but twice? As for his promise to balance the books by 2015, did he not confirm today that in 2015 he will not be balancing the books but borrowing £79 billion? For all his smoke and mirrors—[Interruption.] For all his smoke and mirrors, he is borrowing £198 billion more than he planned in 2010: more borrowing to pay for three years of economic failure; more borrowing in just three years under this Chancellor than under the previous Government in 13 years. He used to say that he would balance the books in 2015; now he wants us to congratulate him on saying he will do it in 2019. With this Government, it is clearly not just the badgers that move the goalposts.

On energy bills, after the Government’s panicked and half-baked attempt to steal Labour’s clothes, we know that they are not only not very good at shooting badgers, but not very good at shooting other people’s foxes either. What is the truth? For three months, the Leader of the Opposition has been calling for an energy price freeze, and did the Chancellor announce an energy price freeze? No, he did not. Can he confirm that while the energy companies have already announced price rises of £120 this year, his policy will still see energy prices rise by £70 this winter? Under this Chancellor, the only freeze this winter will be for millions of families and pensioners with rising bills struggling to heat their homes. Does he really think he can get away with tinkering at the edges, moving green levies his own party introduced off the bills and on to the taxpayer, and—surprise, surprise—letting the energy companies completely off the hook? They are not paying a penny. Does he not realise that for millions of hard-pressed families, pensioners and businesses across our country, nothing less than a freeze will do? Rather than hard-pressed taxpayers, it should be the excess profits of the energy companies that pick up the tab.

As for the Prime Minister’s flagship policy for families—a tax break for marriage—why will not the Chancellor admit the truth and tell the Prime Minister that the policy will not even help the families the Prime Minister says it will? His own Treasury Minister has let the cat out of the bag: I have it here in black and white. The Exchequer Secretary says that just under one third of married couples will get the married couples tax allowance. Just one in six families with children will benefit. Contrary to the Prime Minister’s claim in this House a few weeks ago, a married couple both paying basic-rate income tax will get no benefit at all. [Interruption.] No wonder his own Chancellor of the Exchequer has this week told The Daily Telegraph that he thinks the Prime Minister’s policy is

“a turkey of an idea”.

The Chancellor thinks the Prime Minister’s policy is a turkey. Merry Christmas, Prime Minister, Merry Christmas! [Interruption.]

Order. It is very simple; this just lengthens the proceedings. It does not bother me; I very much enjoy chairing the proceedings. [Interruption.] I think that what Members on both sides of the House will wish to consider is how this conduct is regarded by the public we are here to represent.

I think that on this one the Chancellor is right—it is a turkey of an idea.

On the cost of living crisis, on energy, on supporting families, this Government just do not get it. There is a reason why this Prime Minister and this Chancellor—the Chancellor said it in his statement—believe that people are better-off: it is that the people on their Christmas card lists have seen their bonuses rise and their taxes cut. They have shown that they are willing to stand up for the interests of the energy companies—[Interruption.] We have a Prime Minister and a Chancellor who will stand up for the energy companies, stand up for the hedge funds, and stand up for people earning over £150,000—who get a tax cut—but will not stand up for millions of families and pensioners in our country: people struggling with rising energy bills, falling wages, and rising child care costs.

We all know and agree that rising life expectancy means we are going to have to work longer and that the Chancellor’s failure on growth and the deficit means more tough spending decisions in the next Parliament. But when the country is crying out for a Government who will work with business to promote investment and wealth creation and build an economy that works for the many and not just the few, does this Chancellor really think he can get away with tinkering at the edges, letting the free market rip, and waiting for the wealth to trickle down? Is not what the Chancellor has announced today the clearest evidence yet that the Government just do not understand the scale of the challenge we face to get an investment-led recovery that works for all and not just a few—a strong recovery built to last?

Let me ask the Chancellor—[Interruption.] With the permission of the House, let me ask the Chancellor this: with house building under this Government at its lowest level since the 1920s, does he not see that his Help to Buy scheme to boost mortgage demand can deliver a strong and balanced recovery only if he does what we and the IMF have urged and invests in housing supply—more affordable homes. [Interruption.] Government Members sneer at building more affordable homes. Can the Chancellor tell the House why infrastructure output has actually fallen by 15% since 2010? No wonder the CBI is so upset.

On investment, why has not the Chancellor used the money from the planned increase in spectrum licence fees to endow a proper business investment bank? On tax avoidance, will he tell the House why HMRC has reported that the amount of uncollected tax actually rose last year?

Almost 1 million young people are unemployed; a record number who want to work full time are being forced to accept part-time work; the Work programme is a flop; the welfare bill is rising; and, as we have learned today, universal credit is a complete and utter shambles. There was no mention of universal credit in the statement: IDS—in deep shambles.

Is it not the fact that, for all the shambles and chaos and rising welfare bills, what the Chancellor has announced on youth unemployment is too little, too late? There will be help for under-21s only, and only in the last weeks of this Government in 2015. Why is he not being more ambitious? Why will he not repeat the successful tax on bank bonuses to pay for a compulsory job for all young people—a job they will take or lose?

Why will the Chancellor not remove the winter allowance from the richest 5% of pensioners? Why will he not reverse his tax cut for hedge funds and protect disabled people in our country by scrapping the unfair and perverse bedroom tax this Prime Minister introduced? Why will he not go further on the bank levy and expand free child care for working parents, make work pay and use it to help working parents?

Is not this the truth: will the Chancellor confirm that even after what he has announced today on fuel duty and increases in the personal allowance, his VAT rise, his cuts to tax credits and his cuts to child benefit mean that, on average, families with children are worse off because of his Budgets? That is the truth—giving with one hand, taking away much, much more with the other.

With energy bills still rising this winter, no real action to tackle the cost of living crisis, no proper plan to earn our way to rising living standards for all, surely Britain can do better than this.

This complacent Chancellor sits there and thinks he deserves a pat on the back. I have to say that, with bank bonuses rising and millionaires enjoying a big tax cut, this is a policy that is working for a few. But as this autumn statement shows, with this out-of-touch Chancellor and Prime Minister, hard-working people are worse off under the Tories.

The Leader of the Opposition and I agree on one thing: that was a complete nightmare. The only turkey around here is the speech just given. As for denial, the man who said that borrowing would not come down, unemployment would not come down and growth would not happen, and who refuses to apologise for what he did to the British economy, is the very epitome of denial. That is the central problem with his response and, indeed, his whole economic framework. Not only did he predict that the recovery would never come; he went out of his way to say that if we stuck with our plan it could never come.

This is what the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) said in March this year:

“I’ve said consistently…unless there is a government led plan for confidence, for growth and jobs, the economy will get worse but also the deficit won’t come down, it’ll go up”.

He predicted that the economy would get worse and the deficit would go up and that 1 million jobs would be lost, but the economy is growing, 1 million jobs have been created and the deficit has gone down. I have an explanation for what has happened: we do have a Government-led plan for confidence, for growth and jobs. It is our plan, it is working and the right hon. Gentleman should have welcomed it.

The extraordinary thing about the right hon. Gentleman’s performance was that he could not bring himself to welcome any of the better economic news. He has built his whole proposition as shadow Chancellor on the basis that our effort to deal with the public finances would make that growth impossible. That makes me wonder what the right hon. Gentleman has been up to with his time, but he gave a clue in a newspaper interview this week. He said that he had to cancel his grade 3 piano exam, because it was

“exactly the time when George Osborne is standing up to do the Autumn Statement!”

I think he should have gone ahead with the “Chopsticks” rendition. The newspaper article also says that he asked Miss Perrin, his piano teacher:

“‘If I go wrong can I start again?’ She said: ‘I think it’s probably best to keep going.’”

He takes the same approach to economic policy as he does to his piano. The final thing he said is that he hopes to reach grade 8 piano over the next four years. After his performance today, I can see why he expects to have a lot more time to practise.

Let me turn to the points the right hon. Gentleman raised. The central point is that it is not possible to have a cost of living plan without an economic plan. Labour’s silence on the economy goes to the heart of its weakness. It cannot talk about its record, because it had the biggest recession ever. It cannot talk about the deficit, because it has no plan to deal with it. The right hon. Gentleman cannot even talk about infrastructure and his much vaunted plan for a cross-party consensus, because he was the person who tried to break the consensus on the biggest project of all. He cannot talk about housing, because there were 420,000 fewer affordable homes at the end of the Labour Government. He cannot talk about business rates, because they went up 71% under Labour. He cannot talk about support for business, because he wants to put taxes up on business. He cannot ask about standing up to the powerful, because this is the week that Labour caved in to the trade unions. He cannot ask about jobs, because he wants more jobs taxes. And he cannot ask about banking and financial services, because the person Labour hired to advise it was the Reverend Flowers.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he would be the co-operative Chancellor. Let me end by saying that that is exactly what he would be: borrowing more than he can afford, with catastrophic management of the finances, and a deluded leadership preaching one thing and doing another. It is hard-working people who will pick up the price if it blows up again. He cannot welcome the economic recovery because he is the biggest risk to economic recovery.

Does the Chancellor agree that the confidence now returning to the economy is a vindication of the Government’s decision to stand firm on reducing the deficit? Is it not now absolutely crucial that Britain sticks with this policy as the economy recovers, reduces the size of the state and creates room for the economy to grow, and with it, when resources allow—and only when resources allow—to reduce taxes?

I thank my hon. Friend for his support and his observation about what is happening in the economy. I complete agree with him. One of the things I said in the speech was that of course risks remain, the job is not done, productivity remains too low and we want it to grow. That requires economic reform and reducing taxes on business, which is what we have done again today.

I notice that the Chancellor’s growth forecasts follow a very familiar pattern of being fairly flat and then rising to, I think, 3.7% in four years’ time. That, of course, drives his assumptions in relation to borrowing and debt. Does he agree that risks remain not just in the eurozone, but here at home? In connection with that, could he tell me what the Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting in relation to North sea oil revenues over the next few years, because there are some people who believe that that is a limitless source of funding for whatever they happen to be promising in the coming referendum? Finally, could he also tell me the source of the funding for the very welcome centre at Edinburgh university?

The right hon. Gentleman and I are both looking forward to the Higgs centre at Edinburgh university, which is a reminder of the scientific collaboration that can happen across the entire United Kingdom. We are, of course, incredibly proud of Professor Higgs.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about oil and gas receipts in the forecast from the entirely independent Office for Budget Responsibility. Its forecast today for the whole of the UK is that oil and gas receipts will be £3.5 billion in 2016. That compares with the £6.8 billion on which the SNP Scottish Government have based their premises and their claims for independence. It is twice as much as the OBR has independently assessed, and that is another example of how they are not being straight with people about the facts in relation to independence. It would of course mean that there was a black hole in an independent Scotland’s public finances that would cost the Scottish people £1,000 each. It is yet another example of how they are not being straight; the independent facts refute their case.

Will the Chancellor confirm that the independent official forecast shows that the more successful he is in future years in curbing spending and cutting borrowing, the faster the economy will grow, just as America has shown that by cutting the deficit, it can get more growth?

I agree with my right hon. Friend that unless we have a sustainable state, with borrowing and public finances under control, it will be very difficult to get the stability during which sustained growth happens. We have seen that in many of our neighbours, and that was the risk facing the United Kingdom in 2010. We have absolutely demonstrated that we can stick with a plan to deal with the deficit and take hard decisions on public finances, and see job creation and business expansion happen alongside that.

Last year, the Prime Minister told tax avoiders to wake up and smell the coffee. Will the Chancellor explain why in last year’s statement he promised that £3.2 billion would come into our coffers from Swiss bank accounts, yet since April he has managed to collect a meagre £440 million? Will he also explain why the OECD’s head of tax has singled out the UK as the only country giving companies new opportunities to avoid tax by changes in the controlled foreign company rules? When will the Government’s reality match their rhetoric?

First, all receipts from any of these tax measures are now independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility, so there is an independent audit. The truth is that some of these taxes turn out to raise less than we hoped, and some raise more. For example, we are getting less from Switzerland, and we are speaking directly with the Swiss Government about that, but the deal with Liechtenstein is bringing in more money than was forecast. Some of the other measures we have taken—for example, to prevent the avoidance of stamp duty on residential property, particularly in London—are raising more money than forecast.

On the OECD, the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister have led the effort at international level to get international rules on base erosion and profit shifting to make sure that there is a global response to a global problem.

Do not cutting tax on low pay, helping small business, freezing the petrol tax and getting from recession into growth show what can be achieved when two parties are prepared to work together and take the tough decisions that Labour would not have had the courage to take?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. In 2010, there was a hung Parliament and the potential for political paralysis in this country, but two political parties from different political traditions came together. It is a remarkable testament to the strength of this Government and the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that we can put together these complicated, difficult autumn statements, with difficult decisions being taken on things such as the pension age, public expenditure in Whitehall and tax avoidance. We can do that together; of course, I would rather do it alone, but that is up to the British people in the next election.

There was such hubris from this Chancellor that he pointed to a 1% rise in GDP this year, when GDP will still be 2.5% smaller than before the crisis; that he pointed to recent falls in unemployment, when there are still 1 million more unemployed than before the crisis; and that he said borrowing would fall to £111 billion, when that is £55 billion more than he promised for this year in 2010. That was before the body blow of increasing the retiral age, so that youngsters leaving school this year will have to work for 50 years and will be older than their grandparents are now before they can draw their pension. Given that this Chancellor has failed on every target he has set himself, how can we possibly trust him on anything he has said today, including on oil forecasts?

The central point that Scotland might want to focus on today is that the oil forecasts are independently produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility, so either the SNP believes that Robert Chote has somehow fiddled the numbers to stack the campaign against independence, or the truth is that it is making a false promise to the Scottish people. The SNP is not being straight with people about the public finance position of an independent Scotland, and it is Scottish people who would pay the price if there was such an outcome, but I think that they are beginning to have serious doubts about the claims that the SNP is making.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend, particularly on removing the jobs tax on young people. Will he confirm that one of the aims of his Budgets has been to ensure that the young people of today do not end up paying for the mess left by Labour?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank her for what she said. A central part of my Budgets has been to say to the next generation, “We are going to make sure you have the opportunities to succeed. If you have no skills, we will help you to get those skills. If you want vocational work and training, you will get that through apprenticeships. If you want to go on to higher education, you will get support from the lifting of the cap on student numbers, which is a huge reform”—and, as she mentioned, to say—“If you want to get into work, we will help you by abolishing the jobs tax on young people.” Dealing with the debts and deficits is also, of course, a huge part of saying to the next generation, “We will not leave you with the problems we weren’t prepared to tackle ourselves.”

How can the Chancellor conceivably claim that this recovery is sustainable when business investment is still 25% below the pre-crash level, when only 0.1% of the 0.8% growth in the last quarter came from business investment, when productivity is one of the lowest in the OECD, when real wages have fallen 7% and are still falling, and when exports have still not taken off, despite the 25% fall in the exchange rate, and the deficit on traded goods is still likely to be in excess of £100 billion this year?

As I said in my statement, we need productivity to pick up in order to sustain the economic plan. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we want exports to increase. Exports were badly hit because our main export markets were in recession for much of last year. I agree with him about such things, but we disagree about the route to achieving them. His proposal is to put up a tax on business. I do not understand how that would possibly help either investment or exports. Tax increases on businesses would be regarded around the world as a bizarre move by the United Kingdom, and we are certainly not going to do that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on helping us to get out of the debt and deficit horror that was left by the previous Labour Government. In particular, I commend his downward pressure on public expenditure, which is the only way to get us out of the debt interest that has been so crippling. Does he agree that the fact that we will spend more money next year servicing our debt than educating our children is the ultimate monument to socialist economic failure, the likes of which we saw outlined yet again by an Opposition who seem to have learnt absolutely nothing from their own failures?

My right hon. Friend puts his argument incredibly well. He has also argued that the best national security policy a country can have is to make sure that it is dealing with its debts and has sustainable public finances. Debt interest remains far too large a part of the Government’s budget, because the national debt went up so much under Labour. It left us with an 11% budget deficit, which we are now of course bringing down. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that debt interest—the bills of economic failure—is what we were bequeathed by the previous Government.

In the real world, is it not a fact that working people are faced with cuts in real wages, part-time jobs and zero-hours contracts? It is nothing short of purgatory for those who have to work for a living, and a paradise for the bankers. On Reverend Flowers, is it not a bit of a cheek for the Chancellor to talk about the subject of lining people’s nostrils, while at the same he is lining the pockets of the people on millionaire’s row?

The people who sucked up to the bankers and brought the British banking system to its knees are sitting on the Labour Benches. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor shakes his head. He is in denial. He was the City Minister when RBS bought ABN AMRO and when Northern Rock was selling 125% mortgages. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) that working people have paid a very high price for that catastrophic economic failure.

In warmly congratulating the Chancellor on putting hard-working families and enterprise growth at the centre of the statement, may I draw his attention to those people in hard-working families who occupy key managerial positions and who typically earn just over £40,000 a year? More and more of those families are being dragged into paying higher rate income tax—perhaps as many as 2 million by the end of this Parliament. I ask him to bear those people in mind because they are the key to our recovery.

I agree with my hon. Friend that we want to help people on middle incomes as well as those on low incomes. Many of the measures, in particular those on fuel duty and rail fares, will help those people. The personal allowance is now passed through so that those who pay the higher rate of income tax, although not those who pay the top rate, get the benefit if they earn less than £100,000. The benefit is therefore flowing through to those people as well. That is all part of what we are doing to help working people in both the middle and lower income brackets.

Last year, wholesale energy prices rose by 1.7%, but energy bills rose by more than 9%. Why does the Chancellor think it is appropriate to reduce the number of solid wall insulation tasks for energy companies, thus destroying thousands of newly created jobs, rather than tackling the excessive profits of the greedy energy companies that have their hands in all our pockets?

Of course, it was the Labour Government who left us with six energy companies—[Interruption.] I do think that is relevant, because it is this Government who are seeking the competition that will bring new entrants. Let me address the specific point that the right hon. Lady makes. To compensate for the fact that we are rolling back some of the levies, for example in the energy company obligation, we have set out schemes today that will reward home owners who use energy efficiency measures to improve the efficiency of their home. Those include an additional bonus for solid wall insulation. There is also extra money for public sector organisations and private landlords to make their buildings more efficient. Across the board, we are supporting the insulation industry, but we are doing so in a way that does not penalise people through their electricity and gas bills. That is something that she should support.

In Watford, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is aware, unemployment is coming down every month, the number of apprenticeships has doubled in the past two years, a new university technical college is opening, and the Government are investing significant capital expenditure on infrastructure in the shape of the Croxley rail link. It seems that the shadow Chancellor’s policy is to spend more and borrow more, which would lead to exactly the reverse of what has happened in Watford. I hope that the Chancellor can assure me that he will be undeterred by what has been said today by the Opposition and will stick to his policies that support growth.

I want to return the compliment that my hon. Friend has paid me. He has been an outstanding Member of Parliament. His jobs clubs have helped many young people and his offer of work experience is helping people to get on the jobs ladder. The rail measures that we have announced today will help his constituents in Watford. He is right that for Watford, a Labour Government would mean higher unemployment, higher mortgage rates, more borrowing and more debt. That would put Watford and the rest of the country back into the economic mess we are taking them out of.

Whatever one’s view of the past, there are worrying signs that the bonus culture is returning to the City, with large payouts, share distributions and high dividend payments disguising what were formerly bonuses. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer make it clear that the Government stand ready to introduce further measures to control the bonus culture? I believe that they would have the support of the whole House in doing so.

I find myself in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. He put his question in a very measured way. We do not want to see a return to the uncontrolled bonus culture. We now have a much tougher regime in respect of the transparency of bonuses and clawback, which means that if things go wrong in trades or for a bank, they can get the money back that they have paid people in bonuses. We will take measures to tackle things such as dual contracts, as I mentioned briefly in my statement and as is set out in the document. People who work in the financial industry often split their contract so that they can claim that they are only working for part of the time in the UK to avoid tax. Where there is egregious tax avoidance, we will take steps. I agree with him that the banking system as a whole must be cognisant of the times in which it lives.

I congratulate the Chancellor on the fuel duty freeze which, as he pointed out, will save motorists 20p per litre compared with Labour’s plans. Will he confirm that motorists on the islands and in remote parts of the mainland in my constituency, such as Appin, will save 25p per litre compared with what the Labour party wants to charge them?

My hon. Friend has been an assiduous campaigner for lower fuel duty for his constituents. Indeed, he lobbied me about it in the Division Lobbies yesterday, although we had already taken the decision by then. He draws attention to the rural fuel rebate. That is an important scheme that we have introduced for some of the remote islands in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. We would like to extend the scheme more widely, but we are constrained by European Union rules, which we are challenging. I am glad that the scheme is benefiting some of his constituents.

When will the Chancellor accept the reality that for most ordinary people, the economy is about the cost of living crisis? Will he confirm that for 40 of the last 41 months, under his stewardship, prices have risen faster than wages?

Disposable household income is rising. The way to ensure that it continues to rise is to ensure that we have a sustained and responsible economic recovery. The cost of living for the people who live in this country cannot be detached from the performance of the overall economy, as the country sadly discovered when it had the biggest recession in modern history and people’s incomes were hit so badly. Our argument is that the only way to improve living standards in this country is to create jobs, support businesses as they expand and create those jobs, and ensure that the country gets out of its dependence on debt. That is precisely what we are doing.

I commend my right hon. Friend for sticking to the course when others suggested that he was going too far and too fast. I am looking forward to voting for the charter for budget responsibility next year. What conclusion does he think people should draw if other parties in the House oppose it?

That will be an interesting opportunity to hear what the Labour party and any other party in this House that does not support our consolidation plans for 2016-17 and 2017-18 would do. If one listens carefully to what the shadow Chancellor says, one finds he makes a promise about current spending in the year in which the election will be held, but he makes no promise about capital spending in that year and says absolutely nothing about spending plans thereafter. We have an important opportunity to entrench this country’s commitment to fiscal consolidation. We will see what the Opposition do.

The Chancellor has turned doublespeak into a new art form today with his mind-boggling claim to be helping the fuel-poor by slashing the very programmes they depend on to insulate their homes. Does he accept that this statement is a hugely squandered opportunity to offer lasting relief to the fuel poor by launching a major retrofit programme that would cut bills, cut carbon, and create hundreds of thousands of jobs?

As I said, we are launching a huge scheme to help home movers insulate their homes, help public authorities insulate their buildings, and ensure that private landlords also have incentives. I disagree with the hon. Lady—and, I guess, her philosophy—in that I think such things are better done through incentives and lower taxes than through higher taxes and higher charges that put people off the agenda she wants to promote.

The Chancellor is an historian of some note. Can he recall an occasion where such good news on jobs and growth was heard in such stony silence by the Labour party?

I did history at university if that is what my hon. Friend is referring to. The extraordinary thing is that the Opposition gambled on there not being an economic recovery, and the shadow Chancellor based his entire reputation not only on the idea that the recovery would not happen, but that it could not happen. As a result, his entire economic edifice has collapsed.

What advice does the Chancellor have for my 85-year-old constituent Ennis Peck, whose energy bills will rise to more than £120 a month in the new year? As a direct result of the Chancellor’s capitulation to the energy companies and changes to the energy company obligation, my constituent may no longer get his hard-to-heat, solid-wall home insulated under Nottingham’s greener housing scheme.

If Labour Members now say that they oppose our changes to the ECO, as implied by the hon. Lady’s question, she would be saying that bills should go up for the families she represents. It would be interesting to hear the Labour party clarify its position. The solid-wall insulation industry will be supported by additional incentives under the scheme to help home owners insulate their homes. Surely what we all want, including the hon. Lady, is for bills to come down for people across the country, and that is what will happen, by an average of £50.

I am delighted that the Chancellor took notice of my speech last week that called for the abolition of business rates on small shops. Now that there is flexibility in the defence budget, is it not time the Government reinstated the modernisation programme for the houses of our brave soldiers and their families?

My hon. Friend is right that the help for the high street announced today is significant—£1,000 off for shops, pubs, restaurants and cafés. For many shops that will be a lot better than a freeze and will wipe out their rates bill for a couple of years and help them in this difficult time. I know my hon. Friend has campaigned passionately on forces’ houses, and a lot of money is now going to military charities from the LIBOR fines. I know some of the bids being considered specifically involve forces’ housing, so that is one route through which we can ensure they get a better deal.

What does the Chancellor have to say to the hard-working, aspirational Erdington family with whom I spoke this morning? The dad has lost his job twice in the past three years, with each new job on a yet lower rate of pay. The mum is a full-time carer for their disabled son. They are increasingly struggling to pay their mortgage and energy bills. They say to me, “Like all our friends, Jack, we don’t recognise the Chancellor’s recovery. Does he understand people like us?”, and in particular they ask, “What planet does the Chancellor live on?”. What does the Chancellor have to say?

I would say to his constituents, and anyone else, that times have been incredibly difficult for this country because we had the deepest recession in this country’s modern history. We had a 7% fall in GDP, which makes the country poorer. I argue that the best way to help that family, and many other families, is by keeping mortgage rates low and ensuring that more and better jobs are created in the economy, and that people can work longer hours if they want to. All those things are happening because we are standing behind our businesses and have control of our public finances. We are now investing in the next generation to ensure that that family can have a brighter future.

Somerset celebrates the fact that the iron Chancellor has shown his true mettle. Following his comments about the dynamic effect on corporation tax, will he consider whether that may have an effect on other taxes, and will he look to the dynamic effects of tax cuts in future statements?

My hon. Friend is assiduous in his observation of these matters, and he will have spotted the first step in a quiet revolution. The Treasury has produced a dynamic model for tax reduction—in this case, for corporation tax. At the moment that sits alongside the static, more orthodox, model that the Treasury has always used. That dynamic model—which we have made available and will, of course, be subject to scrutiny—shows that reductions in corporation tax not only increase investment in this country, but as a result cost less than the scorecard method we normally suggest. We certainly intend to roll out that approach, as they say, to other taxes.

Does the Chancellor accept that the recovery is too dependent on consumer expenditure? With net exports not increasing at all, the EU stagnating in coming years—as the Chancellor indicated—and business investment on the floor, what positive steps is he taking to secure a more balanced recovery?

We want a balanced recovery, as the hon. Gentleman says, and if we look at recent GDP data, the good news is that we have growth in manufacturing, construction and services. The forecast is for business investment and exports to increase, but I agree that those remain challenges, particularly because of what has happened to the source of 50% of our exports—the European continent. That is why the Prime Minister’s trade mission and the expansion I announced today of the export finance guarantee scheme will help Britain’s companies go out to emerging markets and ensure that we are connected to some of the fastest-growing parts of the world.

I welcome the statement and the news that despite the OBR’s calculation that the recession bequeathed to us by the previous Government represented a shocking 7.2% destruction of wealth—the sharpest fall in income since the war—there has in fact been no double dip, and the UK is now the fastest-growing economy in the west. I particularly welcome the creation of three jobs for every one lost in the public sector, the workfare proposals to tackle those not in education, employment or training, and the relief for pensioners and motorists, which will be warmly welcomed in Norfolk. Is not the truth that the tough decisions taken by the Government, and the hard work of the British people in paying off the debts they were left, mean that we are building a sustainable recovery, and that the Opposition’s economic policy has been proven to be—balls?

I agree with my hon. Friend which, of course, is not very difficult because that is now the general conclusion. Indeed, I have just heard that a source in the office of the Leader of the Opposition says:

“Labour has a very strong economic argument to make. Unfortunately it was not made well in the Chamber today.”

I agree with my hon. Friend about growth in Norfolk and across East Anglia, and there is real commitment to science, which I know is a particular passion of his. As detailed in the document, we intend to set out next year a long-term science strategy so that we can get right the investments in technologies and discoveries that will transform our world.

While the Chancellor was speaking, 30-year-high storm surges have been battering the coast of Britain. If he looks at the national infrastructure plan, he will find that the rate of coastal realignment is happening, in the view of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, at only one fifth of the pace necessary to avoid wholesale flooding that will cost billions of pounds to the economy. Will he look at that issue again, and at the funding for flood defences that this year has been reduced from £633 million to £527 million?

I will certainly look at the report that hon. Gentleman mentions. As I said in my speech, it is right for all of us to remember that people are enduring some very adverse weather conditions on the east coast of Britain and our emergency services are working hard to protect them.

On the broader point, we are investing in flood defences. We have recently increased the investment going into flood defences, and that is all part of the long-term infrastructure plan that this country needs.

Is it not correct that there were those who predicted that my right hon. Friend’s policies would lead to a double-dip recession and increases in unemployment, and that it would be impossible to reduce public spending at the same time as restoring the economy to growth? In those predictions, they were wrong, wrong, wrong. The national nightmare would be if the people who made those predictions were allowed anywhere near the door of No. 11 Downing street.

My hon. Friend is right. It is not just that they got the predictions wrong: it is what that says about their governing philosophy—that they could go on spending and borrowing and running up the deficit with no consequences whatever. Unfortunately they were let near the door of No. 11 in the last decade and that is one of the reasons we are all clearing up this mess at the moment.

The Chancellor told us in 2010 that he would close the deficit gap by 2015 and he has told us today that it will be 2018-19. What happened?

As we have now discovered, the recession was even deeper than we knew at the time, with a 7% fall in national income. The financial crisis had an even bigger effect on our economy and its recovery and, at the same time and as is obvious to everyone, our nearest neighbours in the eurozone almost had their currency fall apart and remain in recession. During this period, we were also told repeatedly that if we stuck with our plan and went on trying to reduce the deficit, there would be no economic recovery. We have still had no explanation from a Labour Member as to why we now have a recovery.

As an Oxford MP, I welcome the Chancellor’s personal commitment to science and his ongoing investment in Oxfordshire science. We already lead the world in key sectors, but does he agree that, as well as funding certainty, future STEM competitiveness will rely on our redoubling our efforts to raise school standards and increase our pool of highly skilled researchers and technicians—women as well as men?

I agree with my hon. Friend. She represents one of the greatest universities in the world. I met yesterday a professor of physics from Oxford university, Professor Walmsley, and he was very welcoming of the additional investment we are putting into quantum technology—£270 million in the coming years. It is cutting-edge technology and Oxford is a leader in it. I agree that we need to make sure that kids come out of our schools with the science and maths to take the undergraduate places that turn into the graduate research fellowships and the like. The school reforms being pursued by the Government are the best guarantee of that happening.

Is the Chancellor aware that the people I represent will have noticed that in his litany of constituency references, he did not include Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill? Could that be because he is ashamed to admit that though he says the economy is doing well, he did not take the opportunity to get rid of the hated bedroom tax, or could it be because he did not lay a finger on the excessive profits of energy companies while people are dying of hypothermia?

The people of the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency and across the country have of course been hit hard by the collapse in the economy in 2008-09 and we have had to take difficult decisions to recover our economy—[Interruption.] I am told by a colleague that unemployment in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency has fallen by 15% in the last 12 months, and that points to the central argument we are making today—if we create jobs and give people opportunities to work, we can improve their standard of living. The only way we can create jobs is if we have economic stability and we control public budgets, including the welfare budget. That requires difficult decisions. If we duck all the difficult decisions, as the last Government did, it is an absolute disaster for the people he represents.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on holding his nerve and taking the tough but necessary decisions that are really helping Cornwall. I especially welcome support today for hard-working people on very low incomes who need decent homes. Will he explain a bit more about the plans for building more social housing?

We now have the largest social housing building programme under way for a generation, and of course there were 400,000 fewer social homes at the end of the Labour Government than at the beginning. I said explicitly in my speech that I am for aspiration, whether it is for people who can afford to buy their own home or for people who cannot, and we should be providing them with decent housing. We are setting aside £300 million for the housing revenue account, and councils, including my hon. Friend’s, will be able to bid for that money if they put forward value-for-money plans to build additional homes and make sure that hard-working constituents are decently housed.

I welcome the fact that as a result of the Barnett formula Northern Ireland will be better off after the autumn statement. I also welcome the fact that the Chancellor has adopted a policy that has been very successful in Northern Ireland in bringing small businesses into empty premises through rate relief. As growth is so dependent at present on consumption expenditure, much of which has been financed by the withdrawal of savings, what will happen under the welfare cap if spending exceeds what he expects? Will those who are on benefit through no fault of their own have to bear the burden through decreased benefit payments?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman notes that the Northern Ireland Executive will get additional resources because of the way in which the Barnett formula is applied. We are clear that we want to be fair to Northern Ireland. In designing our reoccupation relief we noted how some of Northern Ireland’s schemes to help people reoccupy empty properties have been successful. There is no doubt that empty shops on the high street—partly driven by technological change—are not a good advert for a community.

If the welfare cap is breached it is up to the Chancellor of the day to come to the House and say either, “I am prepared to breach the welfare cap: let’s have a vote on that”, or, “I am not prepared to breach the welfare cap and here are the measures I am prepared to take”. Those measures would also have to be voted on. In other words, the Chancellor will be accountable to the House for welfare spending, instead of the situation we have had for the past decade, in which welfare spending doubled with no statement ever being made from this Dispatch Box.

On behalf of retired coal miners across the country, I thank my right hon. Friend for his recent announcement restoring the concessionary fuel allowance—it was the right and proper thing for him to do. I also commend him for his announcement on business rates, which will be welcomed by small businesses in Selby and Tadcaster and across my constituency. Will he join me in thanking those entrepreneurs and business people in my constituency whose efforts have resulted in a reduction in unemployment of more than 30% since the last election?

My hon. Friend led an effective and powerful campaign on behalf of his constituents and other former miners who had lost their concessionary fuel allowance because of the collapse of the company they had worked for. I stepped in to help because he and others, including my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles), came to talk to me about the matter. It was a simple case of doing the right thing and, thanks to my hon. Friend, we have done it.

Will the Chancellor confirm press reports this morning that his free school meal announcement has resulted in an £80 million raid on the school building budget of the Department for Education?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and thank him for his announcement reminding local authorities that they no longer need to increase council tax. Will he join me in urging my constituents to sign my petition to stop the Labour-controlled city council in Plymouth putting up council tax?

Plymouth council absolutely should freeze council tax. I commend my hon. Friend and his constituents for their campaign to make that happen. We have not included local government in the additional savings we have asked Whitehall for today, precisely so that councils can deliver a council tax freeze. If his council does not deliver a council tax freeze, he can ask Labour why it is putting up the cost of living for his constituents.

There is a housing crisis in London at the moment. The autumn statement says that house prices grew by 9.4% in the first nine months of this year—and that is before Help to Buy comes in, which nearly all forecasters believe will increase prices further. Does the Chancellor believe that spiralling house prices are good for the economy?

I made a point in my statement of saying that we want stable house prices and that we need more homes to be built. I know that that is what the Mayor of London also believes. We have taken steps to give the Bank of England powers to deal with asset bubbles as they develop. That, of course, did not happen five or six years ago, much to our cost. Specifically on the cost of London housing, the early Help to Buy statistics suggest that most of the families who have taken it up are from outside London and the south-east, and are buying properties worth on average £160,000. Help to Buy is therefore helping exactly those we want it to help: aspirational families who can afford a mortgage but cannot currently afford the very large deposit that the problems in our banking system have demanded of them.

I congratulate the Chancellor on sticking to the vital task of reducing the deficit. Does my right hon. Friend agree that calls to increase spending and further to drive up debt come from the same school of economic thought as no return to boom and bust, which was brought to us by the Labour party?

I agree. The school of no more boom and bust gave us the biggest boom and the biggest bust in our history—it was spectacularly unsuccessful. One would think that those who had been through that would have learned their lesson and be keen to see borrowing controlled, public finances in good order and the deficit come down, but they are not. That speaks to a broader truth, which is that in bad times the Opposition say, “Borrow more because the country needs it” and in good times they say, “Borrow more because the country cannot afford it.” What they never say is, “Let’s get a grip on the public finances.”

I do not know if the Chancellor does irony, but does he realise that the fundamental structure of his economic plan is similar to the strategy used by RBS, which was revealed in his own Tomlinson report? RBS looked after its big clients and attacked the financial circumstances of its small clients, driving them down into debt, poverty and eventually into bankruptcy, and then selling off their assets. That is, of course, what he is doing at the moment. The small folk in a democracy can vote out the Chancellor, unlike with the banks. One question I have raised in writing with the right hon. Gentleman relates to companies moving their assets of their pension funds to offshore funds—for example, in the Channel Islands—and declaring bankruptcy. The workers then have to go to the Pension Protection Fund. When will the Chancellor do something about that? I was told in a letter from his Department that that is legal, but those companies are clearly cheating the taxpayer and cheating their workers.

I am happy to look further at the hon. Gentleman’s point. The rules on pension protection and the pensions regulator are designed to prevent people from deliberately crashing their pension scheme to avoid their liabilities, and for those liabilities to fall on to the state or other companies. I am happy to look at any specific case he has. On his broader point on the economy, unemployment has come down by 11% in his constituency. The measures I announced today—abolishing the jobs tax for young people and the £1,000 discount for shops, cafés and pubs on the high street—are all designed to help small businesses, which are the engine of any recovery.

May I welcome the investment in infrastructure, particularly flood defences? In east Kent in the next 24 hours, we face a difficult time and the investment in the flood defences in the town of Deal, which I represent, will help to keep the town more secure than it otherwise would have been.

I, with my hon. Friend, wish the people of Dover and Deal the best as they endure this difficult weather. I join him in praising the emergency services who will help people in that area through this difficult time. The flood defences in Deal will mean that such areas are better protected from adverse weather. The only way to afford such schemes is by controlling public spending and putting it into priority areas.

With the Governor of the central bank saying he can foresee the assets of the banking sector swelling to nine times the size of the UK economy and with recent economic growth being driven by household consumption and house price inflation, has the Treasury not been re-infected by the British disease? What happened to the Chancellor’s march of the makers?

Manufacturing grew and was one of the strongest sectors in the most recent GDP numbers, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say we have got to make sure—this was implied in his question—that the financial system does not bring down the British economy again. All the banking legislation we have spent many days in this Parliament debating—ring-fencing the banks and putting the Bank of England in charge—has been designed to make sure we spot problems in advance this time. Britain wants competitive financial services. I suspect that in the many constituencies represented in the Chamber financial services is one of the largest private sector employers, so this is not just about the City of London. We have to ensure that this is done in a way that is safe for our economy and supports it, rather than bringing it down.

The Chancellor was absolutely right to stick to his strategy of backing business to deliver growth and jobs. My constituents will especially welcome the cut in energy prices, the freeze on fuel duty, the funds to help revitalise our high streets and even more support to get our young into jobs. My right hon. Friend knows how important housing debt write-off is to housing regeneration in Gloucester. Can he confirm whether the Treasury have been able, in principle, to approve the circa £50 million debt write-off case made by Gloucester city council, which would be the catalyst for our stock transfer and the first new social housing in our city for more than 25 years?

The short answer I can give my hon. Friend is yes. He brought to the Treasury an innovative scheme, on behalf of the people of Gloucester, to deal with the debts in the housing sector and enable the building of new homes. In our document, we reference the scheme specifically and give it our support in principle.

In the past, the Chancellor often condemned economic growth based on an expansion of consumer spending and consumer debt, as opposed to investment and exports. We now have economic growth based on consumer spending, while exports and investment lag. I think there was in part an acknowledgement of that in the extra money for UK export finance. Unfortunately, he did not clarify whether the main obstacle to small businesses exporting our way out of recession is the drop in the minimum threshold for a deal from £5 million to a lower level, which the CBI says would bring in an extra £20 billion if implemented. Will he clarify whether he is doing that?

I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s specific point. We are expanding the scheme to help small businesses export, which is one of our central objectives. If we can go further, I will happily look at that and take it forward in the Budget, because that is our shared objective. We want more exports, but the issue is that our main export markets have been in a deep recession for the past year. It is not surprising, unfortunately, that exports have been hit. That has led to companies exploring opportunities much further afield. One of the best things to do for small exporters is to ensure that, when they turn up in places such as Shanghai, there is a helping hand, with facilities and an office available for them to start their search for partners. That kind of thing is precisely what we are funding today.

I warmly congratulate the Chancellor on the Government’s commitment to delivering the Greater Cambridge gain share, allowing us to unlock £1 billion of investment, providing much-needed sustainable transport and affordable housing and enabling Cambridge to continue to contribute to the British economy. Will he join me in congratulating Cambridge city council, the county council, South Cambridgeshire district council, Cambridge university and the local enterprise partnership on their work in delivering this?

My hon. Friend and the Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), raised with me the Cambridge city deal, which is a really good plan. I can be absolutely candid with him: we worked hard to announce it today, and although we did not quite get it over the line we hope to do so in the next few weeks. It is a classic example of a good local authority and local MPs working with the national Government to secure a long-term plan that will help create jobs and housing in an incredibly important city.

In view of this week’s announcements on infrastructure, would the Chancellor, a fellow Cheshire MP, agree to meet a cross-party group of MPs from Cheshire and Merseyside so that we can air our case to change the plans to toll both the current Mersey crossing and the future road crossing? Our case is as strong as that behind his decision to drop the tolls for the A14.

I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other MPs local to my constituency. I know how important the second Mersey crossing is—he and I have joined forces over many years to try to deliver it—but I would draw a distinction: the A14 was an existing road that wanted upgrading, but of course it is controversial to put tolls on an existing road, whereas the bridge is a new bridge, and there is a long-established principle, from the Humber to the Severn estuary, that new bridges have tolls. Local people will have strong views on the level of the tolls, however, and I am happy to discuss that with my honourable neighbour.

I thank the Chancellor for his statement today. It shows how this Government are full of energy in driving forward British business and finding solutions. I want to give particular thanks for the A14 situation. Is it not important that we continue to dismiss the scaremongering and show that Britain is open for business?

Britain is very much open for business. We are now the destination for a huge amount of investment from around the world, and we have some very important ports, one of which in particular depends on the A14. That is an important strategic link. We have listened to representations from local people concerned about the prospect of tolling an existing road, albeit an improved one, and we will ensure that the road is improved, not just for local people, but for the whole country, but without imposing a road toll.

Evidence from Citizens Advice showed that last year citizens advice bureaux received 92,000 inquiries about fuel debt and 81,000 about water debt and that the four months to June this year saw a 78% rise in the number of people inquiring about food banks. Does the Chancellor agree that, with families on average £1,600 a year worse off, this is an unbalanced recovery, and does he regret that the UK has suffered the second-biggest fall in wages of any G20 country since this Government came to office?

We had one of the deepest recessions and the highest budget deficit of any country in the G20. We have been recovering from that situation, which this Government inherited, increasing the number of jobs in the hon. Lady’s constituency and ensuring opportunities for people to go to university or find apprenticeships and for those without skills to get good training. These are the things we are doing to clear up the mess that her party left behind.

I congratulate the Chancellor on pulling us out of the mire the last Government left us in. To help bolster growth and provide the building materials needed for what is going on thanks to his efforts, a brickworks that closed down in 2010 in my constituency on the borders will reopen at the end of this month. I invite the Chancellor to come to the reopening. I also congratulate him on helping to get youth unemployment down by 15% in the last three months in Morecambe and on his comments about business rates for shops. The Visitor newspaper has been running regular articles on getting our shops restarted in Morecambe, and this will help immeasurably. May I also—

Order. The hon. Gentleman really has overdone it. I exercised a degree of leniency. I wonder whether he was seeking an Adjournment and then realised he had already had it.

Mr Speaker, there are so many good things happening in Morecambe that I am not surprised my hon. Friend wants to bring them to the attention of the House. Under this Government, not only is unemployment down and not only will many businesses be helped by the measures we have announced today on business rates, but, as he said, the construction materials industry is doing well, as construction continues apace. If I come and visit the beautiful Morecambe bay area with him, I will ensure we pop into the brickworks.

Is it not the hard-working people of this country who have not had a wage rise for three years, the poor, the sick and the disabled who have had their benefits cut who are paying for this, while the Chancellor has been looking after his friends in the City—the spivs, the bankers with their big bonuses and those who are fiddling their taxes?

Presumably, those bankers the hon. Gentleman talks about are people such as Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson.

“Them particularly”, said the hon. Gentleman, in case the Hansard reporters did not hear.

We have discussed what we can do for Blyth Valley and are setting up the enterprise zone in the port of Blyth. The hon. Gentleman could at least have acknowledged that unemployment has fallen by 21% in the last 12 months and youth unemployment by 22%.

In contrast to Labour’s nightmare economics, the Chancellor’s statement was both realistic and encouraging, especially for the real economy. I welcome his focus on STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—subjects and the need to upskill our work force and reinforce our interest in engineering and manufacturing.

One of today’s most significant announcements, which will not necessarily be on the front pages tomorrow, was the increase in student numbers and the lifting of the cap on aspiration. That is a major structural improvement in the British economy. Britain has fewer graduates as a proportion of population than many other comparable countries, and it is a basic tenet of economic success that we should do more in this area. We are providing additional money for STEM subjects so that they are taught properly as well.

Last year, The Brick, a Wigan borough charity, gave out 920 food parcels. This year to date, it has already given out 3,750, many of them to working families. Does the Chancellor agree with Citizens Advice that for many low-income families in work, the gain from the change in the personal allowance is swamped by the Government’s other changes to tax and benefits, causing them to turn to food banks for everyday necessities?

I praise the work that citizens advice bureaux do across the country, and I know that the hon. Lady was previously connected with them, but cutting income tax for the low-paid and taking them out of income tax is a real help, as is the freeze in fuel duty, rail fares and the like. As I say, in the end, the biggest thing we can do for this country is deal with our debts and get people into work. In her constituency, unemployment is down 26% and youth unemployment is down 40%. [Interruption.] Labour MPs shake their heads. I thought it used to be the party of full employment, but now it cannot welcome falls in unemployment.

Long before the last election, my right hon. Friend raised the unfairness of overseas residents buying the most expensive London properties without paying capital gains tax. Is he surprised that it has been left to him to close those loopholes and ensure that overseas residents pay both capital gains tax and proper stamp duty?

I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned on this issue. When I announced this measure in the autumn statement, one member of the Opposition Front-Bench team said, “Why aren’t you doing it sooner?”. Labour had 13 years to make this tax change, and the man who actually designed the tax policies and wrote the statements is the shadow Chancellor. I find it extraordinary that, whether it is dealing with this unfairness in capital gains tax or the general unfairness where they boasted that people in the City were paying lower tax rates than people who cleaned for them, we have stepped in to deal with the unfairness.

I find the Chancellor’s hubris absolutely breathtaking. Given that the economy would have to grow 1.5% every quarter until 2015 just to reach the levels that applied at the end of 2010, his hubris is staggering. He did not answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), so given today’s terrible weather, does he regret cutting the flood defence budget in 2010?

First, we are putting in additional money for the flood defence programme. Indeed, additional money in the autumn statement has gone into coastal management, too. The hon. Lady makes a point about the economy, but we have not, of course, heard a serious economic argument advanced by the Labour party so far. Let me point out that in the hon. Lady’s constituency, unemployment is down 30% and youth unemployment is down 48%, which are very significant falls for the people she represents.

With small business Saturday coming up this weekend, I join the director general of the British Retail Consortium, who said that the business rate cap

“will be welcomed enthusiastically by retailers across this country.”

While I will still keep urging the Chancellor to consider full-scale reform of business rates, does he agree that today’s announcement will save thousands of jobs around this country and boost the local economy in communities such as those in Brentford, Isleworth and Chiswick?

I know my hon. Friend has been assiduous in campaigning on behalf of her constituents for us to help with business rates for people running shops on the high street. I believe that she has raised the issue at the last two Prime Minister’s Questions, showing what a champion she is of her local constituency. She can take part of the credit for the measures we have taken today to help the high street.

We have heard a great deal from Government Members about the economy today, but some might say that it is a huge amount of bluster and bravado that will not square with the reality of life for millions of people up and down the country. Will the Chancellor simply confirm that the economy is now 2.5% smaller than it was before the crisis?

The economy is smaller because it fell 7%. That is why. It fell in the years 2008 and 2009 when the Labour party was in charge.

I warmly welcome the Chancellor’s announcement about capital gains tax for foreign owners of property, particularly in London, and the increase in the borrowing limits for local authorities. When he does his review, promised in the autumn statement, of local councils’ ability to deliver more affordable housing, will he look at some very good examples of housing associations that, by using private sector investment and private sales, have hugely increased their capacity to build social housing—not just at affordable rents, but at social and target rents as well?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some excellent housing associations have used private money and sold off some of the most expensive social homes in order to provide more resource for building more homes, which is precisely what we want to encourage. On the additional money in the housing revenue grant, which I know has been of particular interest to his party, we have said that that money should be available on a competitive basis to those councils that are going to work with housing associations, for example, to deliver the sort of innovative schemes that he champions.

Some of the predictions in the OBR report have not been mentioned today. One is an upgraded prediction on how much is going to be spent on certain benefits, such as employment support allowance, which by 2017-18 is going to be £2.1 billion higher than in the last prediction, and housing benefit, which is going up by £1.8 billion—again, higher than the previous estimate. Quite apart from the misery caused by things like the bedroom tax, these welfare reforms are simply not working. When is the Chancellor going to ensure that his Government get a grip on that problem, rather than let those bills spiral? Given these predicted rises in spending, it is going to be very difficult to put a cap on welfare.

Although the hon. Lady put her question in quite a partisan way, she hits on a very good point. There are sometimes big increases in welfare spending that are not subject to the kind of control that we in this House exercise on much smaller sums in Government Departments. Precisely because of the forecast increases in employment support allowance and housing benefit, it is right for us to bring those issues to the House and discuss them. It is a bit wrong-headed to complain on the one hand that housing benefit is going up too much while on the other hand campaigning to increase housing benefit. No doubt we will be able to have a fuller debate when we introduce the welfare cap.

I thank the Chancellor for his statement and for listening to businesses about their concerns over business rates. Businesses right across Ealing Central and Acton will welcome the cap on business rate rises, and many others will welcome the £1,000 reduction for those with houses of rateable values up to £50,000. It is a Christmas present come early for many, so I thank the Chancellor.

My hon. Friend is another who has been an assiduous campaigner on behalf of the shops, pubs and restaurants, and indeed the charity shops, in her constituency. These measures really will help on the high streets of Ealing and Acton, and I am glad that they have been so warmly welcomed. The people who run these businesses are the epitome of hard-working and aspirational people. This Government and our party are going to stand by them.

When this Government gutted the public sector in the north-east, the Chancellor insisted that the private sector would make up the shortfall. A recent report by KPMG, however, shows that over a quarter of private sector jobs pay less than the living wage, compared with less than 10% in the public sector. Is it any surprise to the Chancellor that in-work poverty has risen in my constituency?

First, I would have hoped that the hon. Lady would welcome the 15% fall in unemployment in her constituency. We want to make sure that people get better jobs, and the way to achieve that is to ensure that our businesses can expand and our country and economy can grow, thus also dealing with the scourge of youth unemployment. One thing noted by the hon. Lady’s predecessor as MP for South Shields, before he left to look after International Rescue in New York, was that youth unemployment was rising from 2004. Since then, however, it has gone down by 23% in her constituency. If we invest in apprenticeships, in higher education and people with low skills, we will be able to help her constituents and the next generation of her constituents.

When I first came to this place, one issue I raised with my right hon. Friend was the importance of urging the Government always to take a long-term rather than a short-term view. In that spirit, does the Chancellor agree that the real and true economic measure of any Government—and of any future Government—is the economic legacy they bequeath to their children and grandchildren?

My hon. Friend puts it very well. We have great obligations to the current generation, but we also have obligations to the next generations. Saddling them with debts or with an uncompetitive economy or one where jobs are not being created is a complete dereliction of our duty to the next generation. Thankfully, with the help, support and advice of my hon. Friend, we are now turning that situation round, dealing with the debts and making sure our businesses grow. Because of my hon. Friend’s forceful campaign, we are also helping many shops in his Wolverhampton constituency.

Is not the point about the community infrastructure levy that it is there to pay for the infrastructure that communities need? Will the Chancellor tell us how much of it he intends to give away to individual households, and how he proposes to make up the resulting shortfall in funding for local infrastructure?

I congratulate the Chancellor on a statement that will provide support for business and employment. If my city of Carlisle is to grow and prosper, businesses need to succeed, and if the young people of Carlisle are to share in that success, they need employment. Does the Chancellor agree that the abolition of the jobs tax for under-21s gives businesses in Carlisle an incentive to employ the young?

I specifically mentioned in my statement the work that my hon. Friend has done on behalf of his constituents in Carlisle to support important local large employers such as Pirelli. Thanks to his campaign, we are now able to abolish the jobs tax for people under the age of 21, which will help young people in Carlisle to obtain jobs, but we are also helping those who want to go to college. I congratulate my hon. Friend on standing up for his constituents.

The Chancellor claims that the marriage tax allowance will help some of the poorest members of society, but poorer families who must rely on universal credit will be perversely affected by the rules on the earnings of a second person in the household. Will he look again at the way in which the clawback tapers will work, so that that does not become a disincentive to work?

The whole purpose of universal credit is to remove the disincentives to work that exist in our current welfare system, driven both by the complexity of all the different benefits and by the couple penalty for whose removal my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has campaigned for many years. He is removing it—or, at any rate, heading in the direction of removing it—through universal credit, but there may be more than we can do, and I shall be happy to look into that.

Sadly, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) could not be with us today to hear about economic growth, but he did leave us the gift that is the shadow Chancellor. Given that everyone is saying that the shadow Chancellor had a bit of a nightmare today, is this not an opportunity to give him a break and to leave him in place rather than his being sacked, so that he continues to serve as a reminder of the economic failure in which the last Labour Government landed us?

Hard-working people in my constituency are an average of £1,600 a year worse off because prices have risen faster than wages in all but one of the months in which the Chancellor has been in office. Can he confirm that this afternoon the Office for Budget Responsibility downgraded its March forecasts for average earnings next year, the year after, and in every year of its forecasting period? Did not the autumn statement simply fail to get to grips with Britain’s cost-of-living crisis?

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will not have to stuff his Christmas turkey this year, given that he so comprehensively stuffed the economic policy of the Opposition.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the excellent fuel duty freeze. Does it not show—along with the right to buy and the lower tax for lower earners—that we are the party of aspirational working people, and the true exponents of white van Conservatism?

I agree with my hon. Friend. For the people of Harlow, thanks to his assiduous campaigning, we have not only frozen fuel duty to make it 20p per litre less than it would have been had there been a Labour Member of Parliament for Harlow and a Labour Government, but helped people on low incomes by lifting them out of income tax, ensured that businesses can expand, and cut business rates for those on the high street. We have done all those things to help people who want to work hard and get on, who are exactly the people whom my hon. Friend represents.

According to figures from the Local Government Association, Croydon is experiencing the biggest growth in demand for school places anywhere in the country. However, Croydon council predicts that because of inadequate Government investment, there will be a shortfall of nearly 2,500 permanent places by 2016. Why will the Chancellor not act to resolve Croydon’s school places crisis, rather than showing the complacency that we witnessed this morning?

When we came to office, there was no provision to deal with the large increase in the number of school places that was clearly going to happen because there were more children. Since then, my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has devoted billions of pounds to dealing with the increase and ensuring that school places are available in Croydon and elsewhere. That is another example of our not only planning for the long term, but clearing up the mess that was bequeathed to us.

It is clear from today’s statement that although the economy is recovering, there is still much to be done, but it is also clear that this Chancellor will not shy away from the tough decisions that will allow our progress to continue. Does he agree that it is entirely appropriate that the key beneficiaries of the measures that he has announced will be our young people, both through employment incentives and training opportunities from which they can benefit now, and, in particular, through his removal of much of the burden that was left for future generations by the Labour party?

My hon. Friend has campaigned on behalf of his Rugby constituents for more opportunities for young people, and we are providing those opportunities through the abolition of the jobs tax and the steps that we have taken to enable his young constituents to obtain apprenticeships and go to university. Above all, however, we are helping the businesses in his constituency. He in particular campaigned for me to do something about business rates, so he can share the credit: he is part of the Government who have delivered today.

My constituent Mrs Patricia Zachariah complained to me yesterday that her gas bill was set by to rise by 86%. Does the Chancellor think that that is acceptable? If not, why did he not take strong action today to deal with the energy companies that are causing so much difficulty to our hard-pressed constituents?

First, we have taken action to take £50 off people’s energy bills. Secondly, we are looking at competition in the market that was left to us by Labour where there were only six energy companies, in order to ensure that there are new companies for people to choose. We are also insisting that people are put on the lowest tariffs, and giving them a real opportunity to switch so that they can obtain a better deal.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on doing the right thing and clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion—that will add a further £6.8 billion to Treasury revenues over the next five years—but can he estimate the extent of the revenues that were forgone because of avoidance and evasion during Labour’s supposed boom years? Is this not another example of our having to clean up after Labour’s failure?

We are increasing yield by £40 billion over the current Parliament. It is not just a question of the specific measures that we take to deal with tax avoidance; it is also a question of the resources that we provide for the fraud and tax avoidance units of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Let me take this opportunity to praise HMRC for the incredible job that it has done.

We must ensure that we collect the revenues that are due. Of course we want to live in a society in which people pay lower taxes, which is why we raised the personal allowance in order to cut income tax, and why I have announced measures to cut business rates for shops and the like. However, people must pay the taxes that are due because they cheat the rest of the country when they do not, and that is why we have taken action to deal with tax avoidance.

One in four families with children is headed by a lone parent, and those are the children who are likely to face the greatest risk of poverty. They do not choose their own family circumstances, and, of course, they will not benefit at all from the Chancellor’s married couples tax break. Will he consider again whether there might be better and fairer ways of spending that £700 million on families?

We are helping lone parents in particular by offering them more help to obtain work, or to obtain the skills and training that they need in order to find work. All the evidence—and I know that the hon. Lady has spent a great deal of her life examining it—suggests that if children of lone parents can be in working households, that will really assist their life chances. Lone parents often have the least skills and have received the least help, and we are doing a huge amount to change that.

I welcome the Chancellor’s statement. Does he agree that, while by reducing corporation tax the Government have already shown that Britain is open for business, today—with the announcement of real help for high street retailers, support for SME exporters, and the extension of small business rate relief—they are showing that Britain is very much open for small business, too?

My hon. Friend and neighbour has been a champion of small businesses. I am delighted that the change that we have brought about today with a £1,000 discount for shops and high streets will mean that in Congleton, Holmes Chapel and Middlewich, the people whom she represents will get a better deal.

The self-congratulatory tone of the Chancellor and Government Members would be slightly less nauseating if it was not for the fact that people in Chesterfield are £1,600 a year worse off despite the fact that they are in work. As he reads out the fall in unemployment numbers, he will know that a huge number of those in jobs are under-employed. It used to be that going from unemployment to work made people better off. Does it not sicken him as much as it sickens me that on his watch people come to my constituency surgeries saying, “I am now in work and I am no better off than I was when I was on the dole”?

First, we are making work pay, through the changes to the welfare system, so that people are better off in work than out of work. This is the last Labour question and perhaps this is what the Opposition stand for: they would rather have people on welfare—[Interruption.] They would rather have an economic plan that was destroying jobs and putting taxes on business up than a plan which in his constituency has delivered a 21% fall in unemployment and a 14% fall in youth unemployment. He should get up and support the plan that is delivering that for his constituents.

I very much welcome the Chancellor’s statement, which will help hard-working families and businesses in my constituency. In particular, I welcome the announcement on train fares. It will help hard-working constituents with their cost of living, unlike the Labour party, which increased train fares by more than 30% in my constituency —that was unacceptable.

I have been with my hon. Friend to one of his train stations in Gillingham. He has campaigned assiduously on behalf of the hard-working people he represents for help on train fares, and I am delighted that his persistence and campaigning for the people he represents have paid off today.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and congratulate him on his steadfastness in not listening to the voices, inside and outside this place, that said there was an alternative route to our recovery. Does he believe it would be irresponsible to duck our responsibilities to clear up the mess of the previous Government and leave it to our children and grandchildren to do?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We need a responsible recovery. We need to help not just this generation, but the next one. Whether we are talking about providing opportunities for young people to get training and skills and get on in life, abolishing the jobs tax for the young people or, above all, dealing with the debts that the people who created those debts were not prepared to deal with, this is all about being on the side of young people.

I very much welcome the removal of the arbitrary cap on student numbers, which I believe is a decision taken in the long-term interests of this country and which will bring significant economic growth in the future. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is precisely the time for universities to invest in the future? They should not do what Staffordshire university is perhaps doing by thinking about moving away from Stafford; it should invest there for the future expansion of university education.

I very much support my hon. Friend and his campaign to make sure that the university thrives in Stafford, and I commend him for identifying this as such an important issue for our country. Some 60,000 people a year have the grades, have the ambition, are willing to take out the loan and want to go to university, but at the moment we say no, because of a Gosplan system that has been in place. We get rid of that today. There will be a big increase in student numbers—of course quality will be maintained—and that will be great for the people he represents.

Over the time that council tax rates have broadly been frozen in England, my constituents and people across Wales have faced council tax increases in the region of 9%. Will the Chancellor join me in supporting the “Freeze the bill” campaign—the council tax bill campaign—to ensure that my constituents get fair play? This is a tax that politicians can control.

I absolutely support my hon. Friend and his campaign to make sure that the local council helps local hard-working families by freezing council tax—that is what it should be doing. By bringing this to our attention, he reminds us that there are things we can do to help people, and we are doing them today.

I warmly welcome the Chancellor’s statement, particularly his focus on infrastructure and his infrastructure plan, and the progress that has been made on the extension of Birmingham airport. Does he agree that as we sustain this economic recovery, investment in infrastructure in places such as the west midlands is crucial to rebalancing the economy and creating jobs in constituencies such as mine in the black country?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The good news is that businesses are expanding, and jobs are being created in Halesowen and across the black country. We have got to make sure we support that, with enterprise zones, with transport links, with links to the rest of the country and, indeed, with the European continent, through High Speed 2, and by investing in important things such as his local hospital. In all these areas we are backing his constituents, and because they have him as their Member of Parliament, they are heard in this place.