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Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Volume 577: debated on Wednesday 19 March 2014

Amendment of the Law

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That,—

(1) It is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.

(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—

(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;

(b) for refunding an amount of tax;

(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—

(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and

(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.—(Mr George Osborne.)

Order. I think that the deputy Chief Whip knows better. We have not even got started. I hope that he will calm down.

The Chancellor spoke for nearly an hour, but he did not mention one central fact: the working people of Britain are worse off under the Tories. Living standards are down, month after month, year after year. In 2011, living standards, down; 2012, living standards, down; 2013, living standards, down. Since the election, working people’s living standards are £1,600 a year down. You are worse off under the Tories—[Interruption.]

Order. To be quite honest, I thought that the House was doing really well today. Courtesy was quite rightly shown to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I expect the same courtesy to be shown to the Leader of the Opposition. I want to hear it, and your constituents want to hear it.

They do not want to talk about the falling living standards of people across this country, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The 2010 Tory manifesto promised an economy where people’s

“standard of living… rises steadily and sustainably”

but they have delivered exactly the opposite: standards of living falling sharply and steeply. Today the Chancellor simply reminded people of the gap between his rhetoric and the reality of people’s lives. Living standards have been falling for 44 out of 45 months under this Prime Minister, unmatched since records began. No amount of smoke and mirrors today can hide it. We already know the answer to the question that millions of people will be asking in 2015: “Are we better off now than we were five years ago?” The answer is no. They are worse off, much worse off—worse off under the Tories.

The Chancellor trumpeted the tax allowance today, but what he did not tell us is that it is the same old Tory trick. He did not tell us the rest of the story. He did not mention the 24 tax rises introduced since he became Chancellor. He forgot to mention that he put up VAT, taxed away child benefit, raised insurance tax and gave us the granny tax. It is a classic Tory con: give with one hand and take away far more with the other—same old Tories.

The Chancellor painted a picture of the country today that millions of people will simply not recognise. This is Cameron’s Britain 2014, with 350,000 people going to food banks, 400,000 disabled people paying the bedroom tax, 1 million more people paying 40p tax and 4.6 million families facing cuts to tax credits. But there is one group that is better off—much better off. We all know who they are: the Chancellor’s chums, the Prime Minister’s friends—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister rolls his eyes, because he does not want to talk about the millionaires’ tax cut. There was no mention of it in the Budget speech. They are the beneficiaries of this year’s millionaires’ tax cut.

If you are a City banker earning £5 million and feeling the squeeze, do not worry, because they feel your pain. This year that City banker was given a tax cut, and not just any tax cut. It is a tax cut worth £664 a day, £20,000 a month and more than £200,000 a year. So the Prime Minister chooses to afford a tax cut worth more than £200,000 a year for that banker, but he cannot afford a pay rise of £250 a year for a nurse. And these are the people who have the nerve to tell us that we are all in this together. It is Tory values and Tory choices—same old Tories. Of course, the leader of the Liberal Democrats is with them every step of the way. Day after day he claims that he does not support Tory policy, but day after day he votes for Tory policy.

Now, to listen to the Chancellor today, for a recovery that arrived three years later than he promised, he expects the country to be grateful. Back in 2010 he told us that by the end of 2014 the economy would have grown by nearly 12%. Today the figures show that it has been barely half that, and he wants the country to be grateful. Back in 2010 he said that the Government would clear the deficit in this Parliament, by 2014-15. Today he wants the country to be grateful because he says that he can do it by 2018-19. Three years ago he told us, in his 2011 Budget speech, that he would deliver an economy

“carried aloft by the march of the makers.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]

But what has actually happened since then to the rebalancing he promised? Manufacturing output has fallen by 1.3%, construction output has fallen by 4.2% and infrastructure investment is down by 11.3%. Every time he comes to this House he promises a rebalancing, and every time he fails. The Chancellor talked about housing today, but what has he actually delivered? The Government have overseen the lowest level of house building since the 1920s and rents have risen twice as fast as wages.

At the heart of the argument we will have over the next 14 months is this question: whose recovery is it under the Tories? Under them, it is a recovery for the few, not the many. Bankers’ pay in London is rising five times faster than that of the average worker. This recovery is not working for working people whose living standards are falling. It is not working for the millions of women who see the gap between men and women’s pay rising. It is not working for the low-paid people promised by the Chancellor—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Williamson, you are in danger of exploding, which would be good neither for you, nor for the Chamber. Come on. Let us listen.

They do not want to talk about the low-paid workers promised a £7 minimum wage by the Chancellor but given just 19p more an hour. Under this Government it is an economy of the privileged, by the privileged and for the privileged.

Instead of admitting the truth about what is happening in most people’s lives today, the Government want to tell them the opposite. They tell people that their wages are rising when they are falling, just like they tell people that their energy bills are falling when they are rising. They tell people that they are better off, but everyone knows the truth. They can change the shape of the pound—it does not matter if it is square, round or oval—but if you are £1,600 a year worse off, you are still £1,600 a year worse off. You are worse off under the Tories.

They cannot deliver because of what they believe. His global race is a race to the bottom. It means people being forced to do two or even three jobs to make ends meet, not knowing how many hours they will get from one week to the next, and with no idea what the future holds for their kids. Low wages, low skills, insecure work—that is how they think Britain succeeds. That is why they are not the solution to the cost of living crisis. They are the problem.

We needed a Budget today that would have made the long-term changes that our economy needs, in housing, banking and energy. But they cannot do it. They will not stand up to the vested interests. They will not tackle developers sitting on land, even though they cannot solve the housing crisis without that. They will not force the banks to improve competition even though small businesses say they need it. They will not stand up to the energy companies and freeze energy bills, even though the public support it. Same old Tories. We know what their long-term plan is: more tax cuts for the richest, while everyone else gets squeezed. [Interruption.]

Order. This is getting totally out of hand and we certainly do not want any more pointing. I am worrying about the danger to Anne Milton’s hearing; the way she is shouting is not good for her or the Chamber. I want to hear the rest of the speech in peace. I certainly do not want all the muttering and challenges that have been running along the Benches. I will take it more seriously if I have to get up next time.

We know what their long-term plan is: more tax cuts for the richest while everyone else gets squeezed. What does the Chancellor say about the people dragged into paying 40p tax? He says that they should be happy and that it is good news for them. So this is the new Osborne tax theory: if you are in the middle, paying 40p, you should be pleased to pay more, but if you are at the top, paying 50p, you should be helped to pay less. Same old Tories.

It is no wonder that even their own side think they are totally out of touch. Even now, after all the embarrassment of the millionaires’ tax cut, they will not rule out going further. Maybe today we can get the straight answer that we have not had so far. Will the Chancellor rule out a further tax cut for millionaires to 40p? Just nod your head if you will rule it out. Come on, come on. Just nod your head. Maybe the Prime Minister would like to. Just nod your head. [Interruption.]

Order. There may be an influence of the wolves and the pack running around. That can be used in the zoo, but it will not be used in this Chamber.

It is very simple—all the Prime Minister needs to do is to nod his head if he is going to rule out cutting the 45p tax to 40p in the next Parliament. Just nod your head. Come on. There we have it. There they go again—they will not rule it out. Does that not say it all about them? They really do believe that the way you make the rich work harder is to make them richer and the way you make everyone else work harder is by making them poorer.

Just as they paint a picture of the country that working people will not recognise, so, too, themselves. The Prime Minister is an expert in rebranding. Remember the huskies, the bike and the tree? That was before they said, “Cut the green crap.” What is the latest rebranding from the Bullingdon club? It is beyond parody. What do this lot now call themselves? [Interruption.]

Order. Mr Williamson, I will not tell you again. I am sure your roast beef is ready for you—you might be better off eating a little raw meat than giving us the noise that we are getting in here.

What do this lot now call themselves? They call themselves the workers’ party. Who is writing the manifesto for this workers’ party? We have a helpful answer from one Conservative MP:

“There are six people writing the manifesto…five…went to Eton”.

By my count, more Etonians are writing the manifesto than there are women in the Cabinet—no girls allowed. This week, we have heard it right from the top. Here is what the Prime Minister’s former best friend—[Interruption.] They do not like to hear it do they, Mr Deputy Speaker? Here is what his best friend—[Interruption.]

Order. If Members wish to go outside and show people, they can do so by all means. I certainly do not need you to hold up papers all the way through. Quite seriously, respect is due to the Leader of the Opposition the same way it was given to the Chancellor. I want to hear him; if you do not, there is the door—please leave.

Here is what the Prime Minister’s former best friend, his closest ally, the Education Secretary, had to say about the Prime Minister’s inner circle. He said it was ridiculous, preposterous, unlike anywhere else in the world. They know they are in trouble when even the Education Secretary calls them a bunch of out-of-touch elitists. Where is the Education Secretary? I think he has been banished. Ah—he is hiding! He has been consigned to the naughty step by the Prime Minister. It is time we listened to Baroness Warsi and took the whole Eton mess out of Downing street.

We do not need a party for the privileged few; we need a party for the many. That is why a Labour Government will freeze energy bills, guarantee jobs for unemployed young people, cut business rates, reform the banks, get 200,000 homes built a year and abolish the bedroom tax. This is the Budget that confirms that people are worse off under the Tories—a worse-off Budget from an out-of-touch Chancellor. Britain can do better than them. Britain needs a Labour Government.

It is my job to take away the political punchbowl, just as the party was just getting going. What we have just heard is the most difficult speech that anybody has to make in the House of Commons, and I am sure we will all read it with interest.

First, I should like to say a few words in a personal capacity about what has been announced on savings. They look extremely interesting and long-term reforms. For a start, the ISA reform is resonant of PEPs; that goes right back to the beginning, as those introduced the savings allowance. It was a tremendous idea. I am really pleased that the cash and equity ISAs have been merged and that we have raised the cap. The Treasury Committee will have to look at the provisions. I hope I will not have to come to the House and say that it has a different view.

Getting rid of the defined contribution rules that force people into annuities is a tremendous achievement—a very far-sighted announcement. The last Labour Government were also looking at that for a while, but they could not find a way to do it. This Chancellor has found a way to do it, and we should commend him for that.

Before I say a few words about some of the other measures in the light of past Treasury Committee recommendations, I should like to say a few personal words about the deficit. When the Chancellor set out his initial Budget judgment on behalf of the new coalition, many thought that the coalition would collapse—that the political strains of implementing spending cuts would be too great and shake the coalition Government apart. Well, the opposite has been the case. The coalition has stuck with it and the deficit reduction plan has become the cement of the coalition.

Both sides deserve credit for the fact that the coalition is still going and dealing with the deficit. Particular credit goes to the Liberal Democrats. If I may say so—I hope they do not mind—I never thought they had it in ’em. But they have, and they have stuck with it.

May I make a bit of progress?

The deficit is down from the stratospherically high figure of 11% of gross domestic product to just below 7%, and next year it is forecast to fall to 5%, as we have just heard announced by the Office for Budget Responsibility. The consolidation is already significant. It has been achieved despite a massive external shock which was not built into the forecast four years ago and which I do not think the Chancellor mentioned—the eurozone crisis and the economic stagnation in our largest export markets. It was primarily that crisis that forced the deficit reduction plan to fall behind schedule. The key question for the Government a couple of years ago was whether to relax fiscal policy sharply in response to the almost 4% loss of forecast GDP, most of which was a consequence of the eurozone crisis.

Rightly, in my view, the Government showed considerable flexibility within the overall framework, in two important ways. First, they authorised the Bank of England broadly to double the quantitative easing programme; and secondly, equally importantly, the so-called economic stabilisers—the falls in tax receipts and rises in public expenditure that come with lower growth—were allowed to kick in.

To give an idea of the importance of the stabilisers and QE on policy, it is worth reminding ourselves of the numbers. Since the election, an additional £175 billion has been put into the economy through QE and £140 billion has been put in through the automatic stabilisers. The latter figure is based on Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates; no one knows exactly, but it is of that order of magnitude. These are very large numbers. That showed flexibility by the Government.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s flexibility included putting public spending up every year in cash terms over the period and relying on higher tax receipts to get the deficit down, which is how they maintained political agreement to the policy?

I do not know about the political agreement point, but of course the effects of the stabilisers operate on both the tax and the spending sides. I think the Government were right to do what they did.

The Government have also been right to see off calls fundamentally to alter fiscal policy by sharply relaxing deficit reduction and increasing public spending. One of the main reasons it was important that they did not listen to those calls is that credibility in fiscal policy is hard won. It is built up over time—over many years—and it can easily be squandered. The Government resisted that temptation.

I will say a few words about the historical context. Looking to the 1930s, when stagnation set in and the agony was prolonged, partly because automatic stabilisers were suppressed and partly because far from engaging in QE, the then coalition Government did exactly the opposite: they lengthened the maturity of the debt and sucked money out of the economy. That is why the 1930s were so painful.

Now that we have a recovery, some are complaining that it is not the one we ordered. They complain that the recovery is consumer-led or uneven across sectors, regions and income groups. Well, of course it is. All recoveries of any value trigger a reallocation of resources, and therefore all recoveries change the shape of the economy. A recovery rarely takes root where the jobs were lost or the firms failed; it was ever thus and it will be the same this time. As the Chancellor stressed in his speech, jobs are being created at a record rate, but we cannot expect those jobs to be in exactly the same places as the jobs lost in the downswing. I am confident that, as in all previous recoveries, if we can sustain this recovery—and even if it is uneven, as it will be—it will, in time, deepen and spread through the whole economy. The figures for previous upswings support that.

The crucial question now, though, will be whether we can sustain the deficit reduction plan. A threat to deficit reduction will come from siren voices who say, “With the recovery under way, we can go back to spending money we haven’t got.” We are already hearing that. We need to remind ourselves that we are still spending about £7 for every £6 we collect in tax. It is true that we are in better shape, but with a deficit of about 6.6% of GDP, as the Chancellor announced today, we will remain vulnerable to economic shocks unless we do more to tackle it.

Another risk to deficit reduction is one of simple arithmetic caused by ring-fencing—something that the Treasury Committee has flagged up on several occasions. It will become increasingly difficult to find cuts to an ever-shrinking share of non-ring-fenced departmental spending. In other words, with ring-fencing of nearly half departmental expenditure, finding these savings will get tougher year by year. The Chancellor has argued, rightly, that polling evidence shows that that ring-fencing reflects public preferences. I think that is true for health and education, but it is not supported in the area of overseas aid. Spending on aid has risen by over a third in real terms and will rise even more because it is linked to GDP. Politics always points to ever-more ring-fencing; economics to less. Eventually, ring-fencing will have to be revisited, however difficult it is for all political parties.

Perhaps I should say a little about the risks—

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) in this debate. I acknowledge the work that he and his Select Committee do on behalf of us all.

Some of the measures in today’s Budget will be welcome in the north-east of England, including the emphasis on manufacturing, the apprenticeships scheme, and the extension of the capital tax regime in enterprise zones. It would not be fair to say that the new leader of the worker’s party does not understand us; the statement on bingo duty shows that he has got to the very heart of our concerns. In my short contribution, I would like to address a number of the structural questions that form the context of today’s Budget, both nationally and internationally.

Income disparity in the United Kingdom has become starker over the past 25 years, with the growth of a class of people the noble Lord Lamont used to describe as the “internationally mobile”. In 1978-79, the top 1% paid 11% of all income tax, while in 2012-13 they paid 24%. The Chancellor made much of this in his address, saying that it proved that the wealthy were making their contribution. However, it is happening not because the very rich are being taxed more but because the top 1% of today are much richer than they were 30 years ago. They are also much richer relative to the rest of the population. For the rest of the population, real wages growth has steadily declined from 2.9% in the 1970s and ’80s to 1.5% in the 1990s, with a decline of 2.2% so far this decade. Of course, regular below-inflation pay rises in the public sector have a cumulative effect, and that is why such a policy cannot endure indefinitely. I was disappointed to hear what the Chancellor had to say about that today.

It is a fundamental truth that the gap between the richest and the poorest, in income terms, has increased substantially over the past 40 years. In 1979, the gap in weekly earnings between the richest and poorest 5% was £445; today it is £938. The richest 5% have seen weekly earnings increase by £531 since 1979, while the poorest 5% saw an increase of just £38. We are certainly not all in this together.

Our economy is largely a service-based economy. Services account for 79% of our economy and 83% of jobs. However, we should not forget the importance of manufacturing which, while accounting for 15% of the economy and only 8% of jobs, contributes a greater gross value added to the economy than financial services—£136 billion as against £115 billion. Manufacturing also accounts for over half of all our exports and three quarters of all research and development investment. While the UK economy remains at 1.4% below its pre-recession peak, manufacturing is at 10% below its 2008-09 peak. I am therefore not surprised that the Chancellor felt it necessary to pay some attention to that area.

As a country, we have a long-term productivity problem, which contributes to declining real wage growth and squeezes people’s living standards. Productivity fell by 0.3% on the previous quarter, following declines in 2012 and 2013. Despite improvements in the 1990s and the 2000s, the United Kingdom remained 10% behind the other G7 nations. The gap today is more marked, at 21%. The Government will say that they anticipate improvements as employers seek more from their work forces. I say we should be looking at some of the deeper structural problems that lead to poor productivity, such as education, skills development and training for both employees and employers.

For the north-east, these issues are of vital importance. Despite this morning’s welcome fall in unemployment of 2,000 people in the region and 38 in my constituency, we still have the highest unemployment rate of any United Kingdom region—9.5% compared with the national average of 7.2%. During recent months, the region has not seen consistent progress in reducing unemployment and it is still estimated that a further 60,000 private sector jobs are needed to make up for the gap with the other regions.

The shadow banking system, as a system operated through non-bank financial intermediaries and often beyond the scope of national regulations, requires much greater attention and understanding. The Financial Stability Board has estimated that the size of the shadow banking sector was €51 trillion in 2011, up from €21 trillion in 2002. That accounts for up to 30% of the total financial system, which is not properly scrutinised and, in my view, not even properly understood. Add a large amount of leverage into the equation and it is clear that the shadow banking system presents a clear risk to the global financial system. It was razor-thin capitalisation ratios held by financial institutions, created by unsustainable leverage, that contributed to the previous crash. The United Kingdom accounts for 12% of all shadow banking assets held through non-bank financial intermediaries, the third highest following the United States and the euro area.

There is a key question as to whether the state, or even nation states collectively, could once again step in to save financial institutions so soon after taking on the burden from 2008. Many financial institutions’ recorded asset values are close to, or even exceed, that of their host country’s GDP, including France, Belgium, Italy and Germany. The United Kingdom has one of the largest disparities, with the combined asset value of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and HSBC at 337% of UK GDP. That is a sobering thought.

Following the effect of the financial crisis, the combination of cuts in corporation tax and a weaker growth in taxable profits are contributing to what appears to be a longer-term decline in corporate revenues. Despite the United Kingdom historically receiving a higher proportion of revenues from corporate taxes than comparable countries, the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirms that the UK is seeing a downward trend in corporate tax revenues, which is likely to continue for the best part of the decade.

Corporate tax receipts will be at their lowest share of revenue by 2017-18—the level they were in the mid-1980s. Financial services receipts have declined from over 25% of corporate tax revenues before the crisis, to 11% in 2011-12. With corporate tax revenues declining and the rate being cut, there is concern over the extent of tax avoidance, evasion and non-payment by large corporations in the UK. Estimates of the losses vary. HMRC puts them at £35 billion, while Tax Research UK puts them at £70 billion. Whichever figure one takes, these are big figures.

There are remedies. The international dimension to these issues and the world trading environment is clear. Our country has an important role to play as part of the transnational attempts to deal with transnational offenders. The House should also play an enhanced role in scrutinising the progress that the Government are making on these great strategic issues. It is much to the credit of the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Committee that they have become two of the most influential Committees in the House, but we should look further and do more ourselves as a House.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown). As someone who was born and brought up in the north-east, I too understand the deep-seated challenges that the region faces, and I hope that the emphasis in the Budget on rebuilding the manufacturing sector and investing in high levels of skills will make some progress towards tackling those problems.

The Chancellor is absolutely right to highlight the progress that has been made since we came to office in 2010, but also the further progress that we need to make. Our job is not done, and that is why the reforms announced by the Chancellor today, which refer to the need to strengthen the roles of the makers, the doers and the savers, are vital if we are to secure the future of our economy in a competitive world.

I want to highlight some of the progress that we have made. Not much has been said about the unemployment figures that have been published today. We have seen a fall in the unemployment numbers, according to both the claimant count and the labour force survey. We have also seen a big increase in the number of people in work. Record numbers of women are in work. Often the Opposition’s criticism is that these jobs are temporary or part time, but the reality is that employment increased by nearly 460,000 last year, and 430,000 of those jobs are full time. During the last year, we have seen a contraction in the number of temporary jobs in the economy, and therefore a significant increase in the number of permanent jobs in the economy.

It is appropriate to recognise the important work that my hon. Friend made as a Minister in helping to move this agenda forward, which was a real contribution. On the important point that he has raised, does he recognise that there is also an increase in the number of full-time self-employed people, who have made a conscious decision that they want to have a real say in the future of their own employment?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The number of people who want to take control over their own lives and employment, and who want the security that comes from self-employment, is significant, and the number of schemes that we have introduced to help young people find self-employment as a route out of poverty and unemployment have been a huge benefit to those who want to set up their own businesses.

The dynamism that we have seen in the private sector, which has led to this increase in employment, has been coupled with welfare reform—a key part of our long-term economic plan. Welfare reform has sharpened the incentive to work, and we expect more of those who are out of work, too. We have brought forward the point when we work with lone parents before their youngest child starts school, so that they are better prepared to start work rather than remain on benefit. For far too long, people who have been out of work through illness have been written off by the system and expected to live on benefits for the rest of their working life. We have been working with them to ensure that they get into employment so that they can look after themselves and their families, and achieve the dignity that we so often take for granted.

The recovery in employment is a product of a strong and dynamic private sector. I welcome the measures that the Chancellor has announced today to encourage business investment and to double the annual investment allowance to £500,000. That will encourage businesses in my constituency that are strong, growing, dynamic manufacturing businesses to invest more in capital equipment. They are aided by the reduction in corporation tax. We should not forget the importance that that has in sending a signal to businesses overseas that the UK is open for business and a place where they should do business. The reduction in corporation tax is mirrored by measures around the employment allowance and scrapping national insurance for young workers under the age of 21. These tax changes, along with cuts to red tape, the investment in skills and the reform of training, are part of our long-term plan to sustain the economy and job creation.

I want to spend a few minutes on the savings measures announced in the Budget. Since they took office, this Government have made radical reforms to pensions and savings. They ended compulsory annuitisation and we are seeing the successful roll-out of auto-enrolment, which will give many people their first chance to build up a pension pot for their retirement. In the next Parliament, we will be launching a single-tier pension, which will mean that people will retire on a pension above the level of means-tested benefits. We have seen the launch of the Money Advice Service and strengthened consumer protection through greater powers for the Financial Conduct Authority. They are important steps that will help reform the savings landscape, and as the Chancellor said they also create a fresh platform for radical reform of pension savings.

When compulsory annuitisation was scrapped, people could take full advantage of the flexibility of income drawdown products only if they could demonstrate that they would not be entitled to means-tested benefits. That meant they had to have a guaranteed income of £20,000 a year. That of course predated the introduction of a single-tier pension, and the limit was set at an amount that ensured that people would not fall back on those means-tested benefits. Now that the single-tier pension is in place, it is right to reduce that amount to £12,000 this year.

We also know that for many consumers it is difficult to shop around to buy an annuity. They are bewildered by the choice in the market, and annuities are often the only product that many of them can buy. Recent surveys have shown just how badly off consumers are as a consequence of not shopping around. I think that the Chancellor’s announcement today about the simplification of the way people can use their defined contribution pension pot will radically transform the insurance and savings market. It will force insurance companies to demonstrate that their products are good value, and create room for innovation for others to come up with products that will help people maximise their income in retirement.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the historic reforms announced today on the pensioner bond, the tax simplification for annuities and the scrapping of the 10p rate will begin the process of rebuilding a savings culture in this country? We last did that in the 1980s, but it was shamelessly attacked by the former Prime Minister through a series of stealth taxes on savings and pensions.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think this should be seen as the first stage in a series of reforms, because as the Chancellor also said in his statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that the savings ratio will continue to fall. As well as ensuring that we can provide a better deal for those in retirement, a better way for them to spend their pension pot and encouragement for them to build up more through individual savings accounts, we need to do more. I will come back to that in a moment.

These are radical reforms. I welcome another part of the package that goes hand in hand with the increased flexibility. The challenge that many pensioners face is finding advice and someone to help them through complex decisions about what they should do in retirement. Recent surveys have shown just what a bad job some of the comparison websites do for people trying to buy an annuity.

The right to advice is an important part of the package of reform, but I suggest to those on the Treasury Bench that we need to go further. The auto-enrolment savings system assumes that people do not think too hard about saving but save automatically. We then expect them at the point of retirement to engage in saving. We need to make sure that there is more advice and guidance available before they retire, to help them think about what age they want to retire at and what sort of income they want to retire on. I think that a key part of the next stage of reform should be to take that right to advice and see how we can provide better advice for people in the run-up to retirement in order to help them provide more for their retirement.

Is there not also a very cruel dilemma in public policy, in that savers want a better rate of interest but we need low interest rates to promote economic growth and to service the Government debt? There is a trade-off, and that is why tax breaks are particularly welcome at a time of low interest rates.

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend provides me with the opportunity to praise the Chancellor for introducing the pensioner bond. Those higher rates of interest will provide not only an attractive way of enabling people to save, but some support to the Treasury.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) made a point about the savings culture. We must recognise that we need to help people on low incomes to improve their savings, too. Although the minimum contributions under auto-enrolment help people get on the savings ladder, they are not high enough to provide them with a reasonable replacement income in retirement that is proportionate to their income in work. Those higher up the income scale tend to do better. Not only do they qualify for higher tax relief, but their pension contribution rates need to be higher, too. They also tend to have additional sources of income and savings in retirement.

I encourage my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to look carefully at this area. I welcome the fact that we have increased personal allowances for those on low incomes. In a constituency like mine, where the average wage is £24,000 a year, increases to the personal allowance are valuable. However, as well as helping the low paid while they are in work, we should think about how we help them prepare for retirement. That would help provide a rounded package of measures to help people build up savings for their retirement and then, once they are in retirement, think about how they will get best value for money from those savings.

In conclusion, it is not possible simply to repair 13 years of damage in just a few years of this first term of Government. The problems we inherited were deep-seated and challenging: an economy that was unbalanced—it was too dependent on the south and on financial services—and a Government addicted to spending, taxing and borrowing. Tackling those problems against the backdrop of economic uncertainty abroad was not easy. Plenty of commentators, including from the Labour party, said that it could not be done. They prophesised huge increases in unemployment as we cut back the public sector, and they said we were cutting too far and too fast.

They have been proved wrong: the economy is recovering, growth in the UK is expected to outstrip that of our main competitors and more people are in work than ever before. Now is not the time for complacency. We need to continue with our reforms and drive the recovery forward.

The Chancellor’s Budget demonstrated clearly just how out of touch this Government are with ordinary people. This Government stand only for the privileged few, not for the millions of people on middle or low incomes who are not feeling any recovery benefit, certainly not in their incomes and standard of living. The cost of living crisis continues, leaving people £1,600 a year worse off under this Tory-led coalition. Of course, from what we have heard today, the Chancellor does not care about that. He does not care that the standard of living has fallen for most people in this country.

The real story—not the story the Chancellor wants to tell—is that of constituencies like mine, where this Government have failed and where many people are struggling to pay their bills and have to choose whether to heat their homes or to eat, while bankers get big bonuses and the richest people earning more than £150,000 get a tax cut. I am pleased that Labour will reverse that cut. We should not forget the 24 Tory tax rises, with the VAT rise alone costing families with children an average of £1,350 over the past three years.

This Government are out of touch with the lives of ordinary working people. No. 10 is being run by old Etonians and a public school cabal. They are not in touch with the lives of people in this country. The Government have never stood up to the energy companies. My party is absolutely right to pledge to freeze energy bills until 2017 and reform the energy market to stop the customer being ripped off. Today’s response to the problem of energy bills was pitiful. I shall return to that issue and the industry shortly.

The real story is that of hundreds of my constituents having to rely on food banks as their source of food on a weekly basis. The number of users has grown massively since this Government came into being. The story is also about many in my constituency having to use payday lenders: Halton has the third highest concentration of payday lenders in the UK. Loan sharks have also been a plague in my constituency, preying on poor and vulnerable people on a regular basis.

The story is also one of still high unemployment in Halton, which has one of the highest levels of long-term youth unemployment in England. My surgery is visited regularly by individual claimants and by the families and parents of individual young people who are desperate for help to find their youngsters some work because they cannot get a job. That is why I support our compulsory jobs guarantee, paid for by a tax on bank bonuses.

Under this Government, despite what the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) has said, many of the jobs that have become available are part time and low paid, and many are on zero-hours contracts. One of the things that people want is continuity of employment, but one of the big problems under this Government is that people cannot rely on having a job for a very long time, so they cannot plan their income or expenditure properly or save up to buy a house or do things that most families do. It is just not possible with the type of employment available today.

I have been particularly vocal in this House about support for small and medium-sized enterprises, which I believe are the lifeblood of our future economic growth. Many are still finding it a struggle to get money from the banks, but the Government have not done a lot about it. I support my party’s proposal to cut business rates for small firms.

The Chancellor mentioned support for the energy-intensive manufacturing industry. To date, this has been a major failure. I have been lobbied rigorously by companies in my constituency about the Government’s failure, and I have also lobbied the Government regularly. I will look at the detail of what the Government have announced today, but the fact is that until today they have failed this industry. The chemical industry is a particularly important one in my constituency, providing many people with well-paid jobs. The Government need to do more.

The Chancellor referred to housing. Of course we all want people to be able to afford to buy a house if they want to or to have access to social housing, but the recovery is relying heavily on housing—there is a housing boom—and on lending. That is a real concern, which was mentioned today by the Governor of the Bank of England in, I think, the Financial Times. The issue is that the boom cannot be unsustainable, so we have to be very careful. I am really concerned about the unsustainability of the recovery. We can and should of course help more people to get on the housing ladder, but a housing boom will make that even more difficult, particularly for young first-time buyers.

What are the Government doing about social housing? Many constituents come to see me because they need access to social housing, but there is a real shortage. The Government do not have any real proposals to get people social housing, which is what people in my constituency want. That important matter was omitted from the Budget .

The Chancellor’s policy of cuts is destroying local government. In Halton, total revenue grant funding has been cut by £28 million, or 28%, since 2010, and its capital grant funding has been cut by £14 million. Local government is suffering badly, and that is affecting services for local people.

The Chancellor commented on the Mersey gateway, a project which started under Labour and which has received all-party support. Some colleagues and I have had a meeting with him on a cross-party basis, but he did not say what he would do to ensure that people who live in Halton—they currently do not have to pay to use their local road across the existing bridge, the A533—will not have to pay a toll in future. The plan is for them to pay a toll on the existing bridge and the new one. The Chancellor has said that he will look at that and see what he can do, but I have not heard back from him, even though he referred to the Mersey gateway today. Given that he announced that the A14 in affluent Cambridgeshire will not be tolled, it is wrong for people who currently use their local road for free in Halton—the 27th most deprived borough in the country—to have to pay for it in future. I do not know of any other such example in this country.

The Chancellor said little about the NHS, but there has of course been a real-terms cut. What about the number of hospital trusts that are running a deficit? Even my own has a £2.9 million deficit. He said nothing about that, although the NHS is in crisis and £3 billion has been wasted on a reorganisation.

In view of the income given to earners on higher tax rates, does my hon. Friend not think it is absolutely shocking that nurses have been devastated by the fact that many will not receive the 1% pay rise?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Whose side are this Government on? They are on the side of the rich, not the people who actually run our health service—the nurses, care workers and so on—

I will not, if the hon. Lady does not mind, because I have given way once and I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

The Government are not on the side of the nurses, as nurses know and understand; they are returning to true form in cutting the NHS, as they did the last time they were in power, while doing nothing about the deficits that hospitals in this country have to carry as a result of their policies and their poor funding of our hospital services.

I want to turn to the important area of defence, which rarely gets mentioned during Budget debates. Under all Governments, the Treasury has always had a vital role in the amount of money provided for defence, but the whole of our defence policy now seems to be run by the Treasury, which is not taking account of our present and future security needs. The massive cuts in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force will create real problems in future years, and we will come to regret those cuts. This Government’s defence policy is all over the place, and we heard nothing today about what they are doing to fund defence in future. That is storing up serious problems for this country’s influence in the world and its ability to respond to threats, such as what is happening in Ukraine and Russia.

At my surgery, I see many people on benefits who deserve and need them but who are now waiting even for their personal independence payment to be assessed—it is taking months and months. The system is in absolute chaos, with people being kicked off benefits for trivial reasons. We are also seeing the impact of the bedroom tax. What is happening to some of the most vulnerable low-income people in this country is an absolute scandal. It is okay for the Chancellor to say that there should be a benefits cap, but we do not know what it actually means for those deserving people who need benefits to be able to survive and continue with their lives. We do not know the details of what it will mean, and the Chancellor said nothing about it today.

The Government are clearly out of touch with ordinary people. They are run by a bunch of public schoolboys, and their first priority is to look after the rich and to ignore the rest.

This Budget represents another step in dealing with the economic mess left by the Labour party. Everybody at home knows that if they live on borrowings and max out their credit card, they will one day have to cut their standard of living. It is completely disingenuous of the Labour party to pretend otherwise. The Liberal Democrats want a stronger economy and a fairer society. We are proud that our No. 1 manifesto commitment to cut income tax for 25 million people by raising the threshold to £10,000 will be met next month, and that the Chancellor has gone further in this Budget by raising the figure to £10,500.

We hear a lot from the Opposition about tax cuts for millionaires, and they are now complaining about tax rises. Since April 2010, millionaires have paid higher taxes on their income, on their capital gains, on their pension contributions, on their spending and on their private jets, and they have had to engage in less tax avoidance. We know that the Chancellor in the previous Labour Government, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), put the higher rate of income tax up from 40%—they kept it at that level throughout their time—to 50% on 6 April 2010. That was an important day for two reasons: first, the higher rate went up to 50%; and secondly, Parliament was dissolved. Labour Members were on the Government Benches only for a few hours while the top rate was 50%, so we should not take any lessons from them.

All the Budget documents show that the rich are paying a lot more. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) shouts from a sedentary position about VAT, but VAT is on spending, and I have news for him: millionaires spend the most, and they therefore pay the most VAT.

When the hon. Gentleman sought the votes of the people of Redcar, he assured them that he would not support a rise in VAT, so why did he do so when he went in with the Tories?

When I stood in Redcar, I had not seen the note left by the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), saying that there was no money left.

I am pleased that the Government will give further support to apprenticeships. There have been 1.5 million of them in the country, with more than 4,000 in my constituency, and I welcome today’s news about an extra 100,000 apprenticeships. I welcome the cut in beer duty, and I pay tribute to my hon.—he ought to be right hon. one day—Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) for his relentless campaigning on the issue. I also welcome the cut in fuel duty, which will help hard-working people all over the country. We would certainly have paid a lot more under the Labour party’s plans.

Will my hon. Friend also welcome the scrapping of the duty escalator for wine? Certain Liberal Democrat Members like a glass of wine, but that is beside the point. The wine industry has suffered, but it will be much better off under the new move.

I am well aware that my hon. Friend enjoys a glass of wine. It is clearly good news for the wine industry that taxes will be frozen.

Players at Beacon Bingo in Redcar—they had to endure my calling the numbers a few weeks ago as part of the Boost Bingo campaign—will be delighted not only that their campaign to cut the duty from 20% to 15% has been successful, but that the Chancellor has gone further by cutting it to 10%. Bingo is a harmless social form of gambling and, from having talked to many players that day, it seems to me exactly the kind of thing that we should not penalise too heavily, as opposed to the high-stakes fixed odds betting terminals visited on us by the Labour party. I totally support the rise in taxes on those machines, of which we would like to see less.

I have a race course in my constituency and have campaigned in this House for the past three years for offshore bookmakers to be charged the betting levy. I am delighted to see that that is in today’s Budget. It will be a huge boost to the racing industry.

Other speakers have mentioned the measures on savings and annuities. I will not say much on those, except that the measures on annuities will be warmly welcomed. I receive a lot of correspondence from constituents who feel locked into products that have a very poor return. In some cases, they are not able to draw down the amounts that they want. Loosening all that is the right thing to do. As the Chancellor said, people should be able to access their own money. I welcome the safeguards in the small print to avoid people spending all their money and becoming dependent on the state. There is a threshold in the detail.

There is a lot of manufacturing in my constituency. We must remember that manufacturing supports many of the service industries. If one looks at the classification of industries, one will see that industries such as logistics exist mainly because of manufacturing. Those who say that the manufacturing industry is only a small part of the economy forget all the service industries that depend on it. The previous Government had a shameful record on manufacturing. It halved as a proportion of the economy and my constituency felt that particularly badly. I am pleased to see the growth that is happening.

I am pleased about the measures on energy-intensive industries. My constituency has not only a steel industry, but a large chemical complex. The employers will welcome those moves. I also welcome the moves on combined heat and power plants, which are relevant to my constituency. All those measures will help Britain to be more competitive and they are certainly needed.

We worry about the amount of money that sits on companies’ balance sheets and is not invested, so we should all welcome the increase in capital allowances. They were raised from £25,000 two years ago to £250,000 and are now being increased to £500,000. That is a huge incentive for people to invest in new equipment, plant and facilities. I have a special reason for welcoming the £60 million for new technology to support carbon capture, which is mentioned in the Red Book, because it is extremely relevant to my constituency.

The Lib Dems used to pride themselves on their green policies, so I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is equally happy that the Government are hell-bent on getting every last drop of oil out of the ground, as the Chancellor said? While I am at it, does he agree that, although the £140 million for repairing flood defences is welcome, it is well short of the £500 million that we need?

I am disappointed that, having given way to the hon. Lady, she took quite a lot of my time. I will see her outside the Chamber with the answers to those questions.

There are many further measures in the Red Book on corporate tax avoidance, about which the Chancellor did not go into detail. It is good to see that further steps are being taken on electronic services and the shifting of profits. There is more to do, but there are some good things in the Red Book about that.

I was interested to hear what the Labour party had to say. I must say that I was hoping for a lot more. We heard about the bankers bonus tax—the gift that keeps on giving. I was thinking about this the other day. If the Labour party wants to put income tax up to 50% and to tax bank bonuses at 50%, I have news for it: 50 plus 50 is 100. How many banks will keep on paying bonuses if the entire amount goes to a future Labour Government? They will find different ways to reward their staff, as they already are doing.

That policy does not hang together at all, and neither does the electricity price freeze, which is criticised by everybody, from large energy companies down to organisations such as uSwitch and Age Concern, for being completely impractical. I was at an event last week about the price freeze, where even a Labour shadow Energy Minister failed to defend it. I think that we will hear the end of that one quite soon.

The hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) spoke about social housing, but made no apology for the fall of 421,000 homes under the Labour Government—a truly shocking record.

The right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), who is not in his place, made some powerful points about inequality. I was listening very carefully. I do not necessarily understand how it is calculated, but the Red Book states that

“inequality is at its lowest level since 1986.”

That is because we are taxing people with the broadest shoulders, despite what the Opposition claim. I know that we have a long way to go, particularly in my area in the north-east, which has stubbornly high unemployment and many social issues.

I welcome the child care credit and, in particular, the 85% for people who are on universal credit. That will certainly help people get into work.

Overall, this is a Budget for a stronger economy and a fairer society, and I commend it to the House.

I welcome the announcement that the Chancellor made about the growth figures. In my constituency in Northern Ireland, there has been a 19% fall in unemployment as a result of the increased growth over the past year. That means that 550 individuals are earning money who were not earning money this time last year. That is to be welcomed.

I do not want to take a partisan view of the Budget. Fortunately, we in Northern Ireland do not have to be involved in the competition between the Government parties and the Opposition party here. I want to look objectively at what was said in the Budget.

My first concern is about growth. The Chancellor gave the growth figures, but we must remember that the figures have been revised time and again. Even though it has the imprimatur of the Office for Budget Responsibility, one has to ask what that growth is predicated on and whether it is sustainable. The growth up until now has been determined by consumer expenditure. According to the figures in the Budget, consumer expenditure will not jump dramatically, but, compared with the last two years, we will see a 48-times jump in private investment and a three-times jump in exports. If all the measures that the Government have taken to improve investment, such as the reduction of corporation tax and the enhanced capital allowances that were announced last year, and all the measures that they have taken to improve exports have not worked in the past two years, on what is the Chancellor basing the massive jump in private investment and exports that he is predicting will sustain growth for the next year?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but from a business man’s standpoint, the decision to invest is based on business confidence. When there is growth, they feel confident about investing in their businesses, which, in turn, creates jobs and more growth.

I would accept that point if I had not heard Government Members saying for the past three years that businesses are now more confident because there is a firm hand at the helm. We have not seen that come through in the figures to date. That is my first concern. I want growth to be sustained. I want the Chancellor to succeed. It does not matter to me electorally whether he succeeds or fails, but it matters to my constituents.

My second point is about the distribution of growth. Most of the growth has been in the south-east of England. Regions such as Northern Ireland, where there has been growth of 0.3%, have not benefited.

My hon. Friend has picked up on a point that I was going to raise, which is the unevenness of growth across the UK. Northern Ireland has a relatively low level of growth, which is having an impact on jobs and investment. Given his expertise in, and experience of, Northern Ireland’s finances, I would be grateful if he indicated what more the Government could do to help regions such as Northern Ireland.

I listened intently to the Chancellor, and I was pleased when he made the point that he wanted to ensure that growth occurred in all the regions of the United Kingdom. However, I was disappointed to listen to the rest of the speech, because I wanted to know what policies would be introduced to effect that more even distribution of growth. I welcome the setting up of the enterprise zone in Coleraine, but one has to bear in mind that that will just balance out the 350 jobs that have been lost in that town, where severe unemployment had already been caused by the closure of some companies. It is intended to balance out the impact that the central Government’s decisions have had on my constituents in Northern Ireland.

I would just like to correct the record. The forecast is for only a 4.7% increase in exports next year and an 8% increase in investment, which I think is achievable.

The percentage growth in exports was 0.8% last year, and in the next year it is forecast to be 2.6%. By any calculation, that is more than a three times increase in the rate of growth. The Government have talked about the reduction in the cost of finance for exporters, but measures that were introduced in previous years did not have the intended effect. Of course, that is against the background of a strengthening pound, so there will be a difficulty there. On what is the Government’s optimism based? If it is on export and investment-led growth, past patterns do not show that happening.

My second point is about the Chancellor’s throwaway lines saying, “I am not in the job of easing up just because things are getting better”, and “We don’t want to spend more.” I am not asking the Government to spend more; I am asking them to spend differently and better. Of course we have to get the deficit under control, but what is the increase in that deficit at the moment? Of the percentage of our GDP that is debt, what is most of it made up of? It is made up of paying people to sit on their backsides doing nothing, instead of spending on investment in infrastructure projects, which would have a return. It would put people back to work, increase tax revenues and stimulate growth. We can examine the infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland, such as in tourism. For modest amounts of money, the Titanic signature project is now bringing in millions of pounds and half a million visitors a year, mostly from outside the state. There has also been the extension of the gas pipeline. Many Members have talked today about the cost of living, and one way of bringing fuel prices down is to give people alternatives. For modest public investment, we have been able to increase the coverage of gas pipelines in Northern Ireland, bringing people cheaper fuel and helping to bring down their cost of living.

I do not have much time; otherwise I would be happy to give way.

Help has been given to industry in Northern Ireland for research and development, machinery and so on. I welcome the increase in capital allowances. In fact, one thing that we suggested was that if corporation tax could not be devolved to Northern Ireland, capital allowances should be increased so that companies were more able to invest using that mechanism. Such measures could stimulate growth and add to the productive potential of the economy. That is not about spending more; it is about spending differently. If we are finding it difficult to get private investment in the economy, it can be pump-primed with public investment, which can have an important impact.

I welcome some of the specific spending proposals in the Budget, such as the extra spending on infrastructure, filling in potholes and so on, all of which has Barnett consequences. I hope that in spending money to fill in potholes, the Government will not find themselves having to look for money to fill the financial holes in this Budget in a couple of years.

I also welcome the changes to pensioners’ savings. They will not have an impact on all pensioners, because many pensioners in my constituency have never earned enough to accumulate huge savings. Nevertheless, those who have saved should be able to experience the rewards.

The Chancellor has made a lot of helping industries with their energy costs. It is one thing to make temporary changes and give big energy users temporary help, but it is another thing to continue the mad policy of increasing reliance on renewables, which have pushed up energy bills. Once the temporary measures are over, firms will still have to face that problem. This country will have to reconsider its energy policy. I welcome the fact that the Chancellor wants to improve the extraction of oil from the North sea, despite what the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said, and frack gas, which is a natural resource that will give us cheap energy. If we stick to a policy of dear energy, we will pay the consequences.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who speaks with passion for his constituents. Towards the end of his speech, he focused on the changes that the Chancellor has made to savings policy today. Those are significant reforms. We will obviously need to have a look at the details of them, but I suspect that although this Budget will be remembered for many things, it will be remembered above all for those important reforms to savings.

Fair’s fair; the Chancellor deserves considerable credit for today’s Budget. The facts seem to me to speak for themselves. He set a course some time ago, and he has stuck to it. He has taken an immense amount of incoming fire from his detractors for many of the decisions that he has made in the past four years, but the United Kingdom is in a far better position today than most other countries. He deserves credit for his constancy and the decisions that he has made.

I want to pick up on a number of things that the Chancellor mentioned. First, it is a small point, but he mentioned that Minouche Shafik was returning to be a deputy governor of the Bank of England. She was my first permanent secretary at the Department for International Development, and it is a wonderful piece of good news that she is returning and that the Chancellor has managed to onshore her. Many of us were extremely sorry when she went off to the International Monetary Fund and will be glad that she is coming back to take up her new position.

The right hon. Gentleman pays tribute to the woman who, as I understand it, has been appointed to the Monetary Policy Committee. Does he agree that that appointment was purely on merit?

I believe that Minouche Shafik is an absolutely outstanding public servant, and she has been appointed as a deputy governor of the Bank. I am sure the whole House will agree that it is an outstanding appointment.

The economic plan that has been introduced is right. We had to make those decisions, because the United Kingdom has racked up far too much debt. Siren voices effectively urge us to head back in the direction from which we have come, but it does not seem likely to me that the public will accept that. Today’s Budget enhances and underlines the difference between the Government and the Opposition, and in my view it will stand the test of time.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that despite all the efforts to control the debt, which we need to do, debt interest will still be £60 billion next year, which is more than the education budget?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, but can he imagine what it would be like today if the Opposition’s policies were being pursued?

I wish to make a point that the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), will not agree with, although I thought his speech was excellent in every other respect. The Government deserve huge praise for sticking to their plans on international development. The House will be aware that as a result of the all-party support for that policy, countless lives have been saved. Hundreds of thousands of children are alive today in the horn of Africa who would not have been but for British leadership on the issue.

Through the House strongly supporting the Government’s policy to vaccinate, the British contribution means that we will vaccinate a child every two seconds in the poor world, and every two minutes it will save a child’s life from the effects of diseases that none of our children die from today. As a result of reforms introduced by the Government, such as building up governance structure and ensuring that poor countries have the benefit of effective taxation, independent media and so forth, we should all be incredibly proud of the success of that policy. I am enormously proud to have served in a Government who stuck to their promises to the poorest people in the world, and who did not seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest, either in Britain or overseas. That is also hugely in British interests—this is not just soft-hearted altruism—because it is not only aid from Britain, but aid and development for the benefit of Britain. It enhances the security and stability of our generation and of future generations, and it builds on the prosperity that our generation enjoys, and that future generations will enjoy to a greater degree as a result of those successful international development policies.

I also believe that the Chancellor was right to raise the threshold at which tax becomes payable, and—at a time of great austerity—to target help on those who earn the least. Of course the 40% level bites much earlier than we intended, but the austerity we have faced was harder and deeper, and inevitably those with a little more have had to pay a little more in those circumstances. I am clear, however, that the 40% band needs to be raised as soon as we can, and the drag of people into that band should be reversed once the economy can withstand it.

Most importantly, does my right hon. Friend agree that raising the personal allowance from £10,000 to £10,500 will save up to 3 million individuals up to £800 extra a year, which is good news for their pockets?

My hon. Friend, as always, is absolutely right, and bearing in mind the speech by the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), it is important to remember that in 2010 the richest 1% in Britain paid a quarter of all income taxes. Today the richest 1% are paying a third, and everyone in the House would agree that under these circumstances, that is correct.

The focus on getting younger people in particular into work is enormously important, and the raised thresholds clearly provide some help to that group. Reducing and ending employer’s national insurance contributions for those under 21 was an important measure made last year that I strongly support, just as I support the emphasis from across the House on increasing the minimum wage. All those things are extremely important.

We have also seen other ways of improving the situation for those entering the world of work. Last year, 510,000 apprenticeships started, while in 2010 there were only 230,000. That is enormously important in the part of the world I represent in the west midlands. Money has also been announced for new locally generated policies in eight core cities in Britain, which is right. However, we still have 1 million people in this country—children who have left school or students who have left university—who are not in education, employment or training, and we need an unremitting attack on that. It is quite wrong that young people who have left school or university should find themselves doing anything other than earning or learning. Although we have seen a significant decrease in the JSA claimant count, unemployment—particularly among young people—remains far too high in the west midlands, and we must continue that unremitting attack.

My final point was touched on in an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) and concerns the changes that the Government are making to welfare. I believe there are aspects of those changes that Members across the House can, and should, support. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have seen “Benefits Street” on Channel 4, which I think did a huge service to public broadcasting. Benefits Street is six miles from my constituency of Sutton Coldfield as the crow flies, but light years away in most other respects. What that programme showed in connection with welfare was the effect over many years of a very non-interventionist policy. It was almost as if benefits were paid, and once paid the recipients were forgotten.

The Government deserve considerable credit for helping those who cannot help themselves—for example by maintaining disability benefits throughout the stage of austerity—while also ensuring that we give help to those who can work and should do so. It is tough, difficult and hard to re-craft welfare policy, but in that Channel 4 programme we saw why it is essential to tackle the issue.

In conclusion, I believe that the welfare reforms, aspects of which command support throughout the country, could be one of the coalition Government’s finest achievements during their term in office. I shall end where I started by saying that the Chancellor and his colleagues on the Treasury Bench deserve considerable credit for crafting this Budget, which tackles needs at this stage of the economic cycle. I have no doubt whatsoever that his own share price will be rising, and rightly so.

May I say how glad I am that the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) is still in his seat? I enjoyed his contribution and it had passed me by that he had left the Government and returned to the Back Benches—the curse of Harris strikes again; just about every Conservative Minister that I have any time for, like, or respect has somehow found their way back on to the Back Benches—[Interruption.] You’re welcome.

I begin by welcoming the good news not only in today’s Budget, but the wider economic news against which speeches are being made. Unemployment in my constituency has fallen to 4.8%—a total of 2,187 jobseeker’s allowance claimants—and it is important that Labour Members welcome good news when it arrives. It is good news for my constituents, and good news for the whole of Scotland and the UK that unemployment has taken such a large dip in the latest published figures, and we welcome that without a “but” at the end.

The Lib Dems are like a broken clock—they are right at least twice a day. [Interruption.] Yes, they are clearly keen to attend the debate; perhaps they scarpered when they saw me standing up. I know that raising the tax threshold to £10,500 is not a policy supported by those on the Labour Front Bench. That is a matter of some regret for me as it is a policy I have supported for some time, and fundamentally I think that the lowest paid should be taken out of tax altogether. One argument against raising the threshold is that it also benefits people higher up the income scale, but I support the policy not despite its tax-cutting effect on the better-off, but because of it. I do not think there is anything wrong with reducing the tax take of people further up the income scale, and I do not regard tax as an unalloyed good thing. I see tax as a necessary evil, and where we can reduce the tax burden, we should do so.

The Labour party introduced the national minimum wage—that is often forgotten in these enlightened days when we see the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), and even the Liberal Democrats, welcoming a big increase in the minimum wage. It is often forgotten that when it was introduced, only the Labour party supported it, and it was opposed by the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats—[Interruption.] I wondered whether Scottish National party Members were going to say something, because there would be a riposte to any claims that the SNP supported the national minimum wage.

I believe that the national minimum wage must be entrenched in some way, and what better way of doing that than by instituting a change that means that someone who earns the minimum wage will not pay a penny in tax? That is the situation the Labour party should be pursuing, and such a policy would be welcomed throughout the country.

I was one of those who opposed the national minimum wage, and I was wrong. It was introduced sensibly and modestly by the last Labour Government, to my surprise. The challenge for us all, however, is that those on the edge of the labour market can be priced out if future Governments are too ambitious about where it stands. That is the fear about entrenching it. Does the hon. Gentleman respect that point?

Yes. I absolutely believe that when the minimum wage was introduced, it was set at the right level. It disappointed a lot of people who wanted it to be higher. There will always be those who want the minimum wage increased beyond what the market can sustain. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it has to be generous, but it has to be moderate so that we do not have the negative effect of losing workers.

But what about help for ordinary working families? I am loth to use some of the more overused phrases that we are encouraged to use like “cost of living crisis”—trademark patent pending—but the fact is there is such a crisis. If average wages in real terms have dropped by £1,600—and I have yet to hear any Minister saying that is not the case—that is something of a crisis if not for people in this House then certainly for families and workers in my constituency. Yet despite the high number of headline-grabbing announcements, many of which I would support, there is absolutely nothing in what the Chancellor said that will address this urgent issue that faces the whole nation.

The hon. Gentleman is right that there has been quite a big fall in real wages, but will he accept that the biggest part of the fall occurred in 2008-10?

I am, as always, very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for intervening as I was just about to get on to the events of 2008-09. I want to address the deficit, because so many Government Members have raised it in the House whenever they have got the chance in a way that I find completely disingenuous, not worthy of an adult debate and not related to what actually happened in 2008-09.

An observer from Mars who tuned into what the Chancellor said today might have come to the wrong conclusion that when the right hon. Gentleman was in opposition he somehow opposed the last Labour Government’s spending plans. That is not the case: right up to November 2008 the official Conservative party policy was to support our spending plans. That either means that the Conservatives believe the deficit was created in the 18 months from that point until the general election, which frankly none of us believes, or that they are now saying something that is completely the opposite of what they were saying in opposition. I remember sitting on those Government Benches—in a couple of years’ time I hope to be back there—and I do not recall any Conservative Member, or indeed Liberal Democrat Member, calling for an end to spending on their local schools, their local hospitals, their local roads. The fact is that the deficit was almost entirely caused not by profligate spending by the Labour Government, but by a disastrous fall in tax revenue caused by an international recession—the deepest any of us have seen in our lives. That is the truth of the matter.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats—and I have to say especially Liberal Democrats, who seem to get more incensed about this than anyone, even though they said not a word about it in opposition—stand up and demand all this nonsense about apologies for the deficit and for mistakes that were made. Of course all Governments make mistakes, but let us be honest with the British public about how the deficit was created. It was not created because new schools were built. It was created because of a recession that put a lot of people out of work and that cut off revenue to the Treasury. That is why we are where we are. It is not because of Labour’s spending plans.

There are some items in this Budget that I welcome, but I fear it will be most notable not for the issues it addresses, but for those issues it needs to address and, sadly, ignores.

I would like to remind the House of my declaration of interests: I provide some advice on global economies and investments to an industrial company and an investment company.

I greatly welcome this Budget, because I think it is right that we need to do more to help the promotion of exports, industrial investment, the rebalancing of our economy and continuing the long process of getting the deficit under control. In our exchanges already I have highlighted the fact that debt interest will be higher than the education programme next year, despite the Government’s best endeavours, and that unless we carry on to make good and rapid progress to get the deficit down and eliminate it, that debt burden will build up and future Governments, whoever they may be, will find they are spending more and more money on debt interest and have less and less for the public services that our electorates expect us to provide.

I would like to clear up a common misunderstanding about how that is being done that I think has occurred because of the use of jargon and economists’ language in describing the process. The reduction in the deficit has been described as 80% by spending cuts and 20% by tax rises. That is true if the programme is successfully completed by 2018 and if we measure it as a percentage of GDP at that point, but that is not how most people think about how an excessive deficit is curbed. If we have a large deficit in our own accounts, we have either to find a way of earning more money or to make immediate cuts in the amount of cash that we spend. I think a lot of people outside the House think that, because we inherited a deficit of £160 billion, 80% by spending cuts meant £132 billion-worth of cash cuts in public spending. Of course it does not, and I am very glad that it does not, because that would have done huge damage to important public services.

What the Government have decided to do is limit the rate of increase in public spending and promote a more active economy so that tax revenues eventually catch up, and we are in that long process. The first three years of this Government saw very little growth in the economy, which delayed the reduction in the deficit because we did not get the surge in tax revenues we were hoping for. Now it looks as if there is better news, with faster growth coming through, and so the process can be completed, assuming the economy still recovers.

I had thought we might cut public spending in real terms in the first two or three years, but it appears from the latest figures that there was a small real increase in public spending. In the first three years, current public spending went up by more than inflation, and if we look at the impact on the economy as a whole, it gives the lie to all those who suggest too much was cut too soon, and that that reduced output and was the cause of the delay in growth. If we look at the attribution of growth and decline in activity and incomes, we see that the public sector made a small positive contribution to the economy in every one of the first three years of the coalition Government. I hope that reassures some of those on the Opposition Benches who felt too much was being cut and damage was being done. The good news is that it was not. There will have to be some reductions in some programmes in the years ahead in order to hit the targets, however, because although public spending will continue to rise in cash terms, there will need to be a little bit of a real reduction in the next Parliament; and because some of the programmes need to go up quite a lot—debt interest will go up quite a bit anyway—we will have to make reductions in other programmes, whoever is in office.

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does he agree that, notwithstanding the austerity he is talking about and the fact that more than 500,000 jobs were lost in the public sector, what is particularly remarkable about these tough times was that 1.7 million jobs were created in the private sector?

Yes, that was magnificent news and it shows that the private sector is remarkably resilient despite all that has been thrown at it. That is why we can now look forward to both better living standards and a better public sector: we need all those people to be in work and paying more tax in order to pay for those public services that are much-wanted by our constituents.

I would also like to deal with the argument from the Opposition, which I thought was put in a very exaggerated form by the Labour leader in his response to the Budget, in what was a rather partisan appearance which was out of sympathy with his new style at Prime Minister’s questions. I am not one to condemn partisan debate, as I think sometimes it livens the place up, but it was a very partisan speech by the Leader of the Opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition’s rant, as my hon. Friend says, had just one basic message: the wrong belief that the Conservatives want tax cuts for the rich and misery for everybody else. What we want is tax cuts for everyone, and what this and the previous Budget offer is tax cuts for everyone.

Let me explain how we have different types of tax cut for people at different levels of income. We take those on the lowest incomes out of tax altogether, so they get a genuine tax cut: they go from paying something to paying no income tax at all. The House is, I think, united on the wisdom of that. At the top end, we cut the rate, and what happens is that the rich and successful people actually pay more tax, not less. That seems to me to be magic, because then everybody is happy—or they should be. Only the very jealous should be miserable, because what we then have is the rich staying here, investing here, creating jobs here, creating more money here and paying more tax because the rate is lower. What is not to like about that proposition?

What is odd is that the Labour party in office, until the last couple of days, knew that and kept the top rate of tax below the level that we inherited and below the level we have now fixed. It is a bit rich that Labour is now complaining that we are light on the rich, given that our tax rates are collecting a lot more tax from the rich and are higher than the rates that Labour imposed. Indeed, we could collect even more tax from the rich if we brought the rates down a bit more, which I hope, come a Conservative Government, we might be able to do. Surely what we want is to maximise the revenue from such people, not to make a political point and drive them abroad, so that we have a society with less money, fewer jobs and less creativity.

I am pleased that the Chancellor made some moves on energy. We need a much bigger and stronger industrial recovery than we have generated so far. The first thing we need to do to have such a recovery is to ignore the advice of the Green MP, and to go for cheap energy. America is going for cheap energy, and it is re-industrialising very quickly. America is now super-competitive against companies in the European Union. A leading chemical major in Germany has recently said that it will put more of its investment abroad, outside the EU altogether, because, in the light of the energy crisis, the gas feed stock is uncompetitive. We need to find that gas and to get it out as quickly as possible. We need to match the United States’ shale revolution if we wish to save our high-energy-using industries and to re-industrialise and give some hope to the northern cities in particular, with their long tradition of industrial activity, because they need much cheaper energy.

We need to do more for savers, and I am delighted by an elaborate and interesting set of measures from the Chancellor on saving. Savers have had a miserable time after the collapse. Rightly, successive Governments and Governors of the Bank of England have kept interest rates on the floor, as they had to do, to try to stimulate activity and to prevent a worse collapse than we experienced in 2008, at the height of the crisis. That has been very bad news for savers. The tax changes will help savers, and the pensioner bond offer, if the rates are around the level we are now looking at, makes sense and would be a bit more attractive and something for pensioner savers to look forward to. I also welcome more flexibility for pensioners generally. Annuities are not good news at the moment, and if people can put that off or have a better choice, that may well be an excellent answer.

This Budget needs to be good for savers, for industry and for exports, and we are going in the right direction. It will help to promote a bit more growth, and only if we get a lot of growth will we get out of this debt bind.

I start by welcoming a number of the measures that the Government announced, such as the increase in the revenue non-compliance budget, increased export funding and the further doubling of the annual investment allowance. If the Government carry on like this, we will be back to having an industrial buildings allowance policy, which should never have been scrapped in the first place. There is also the halving, at last, of bingo duty—my favourite cause. All these one-off measures are very sensible, could be implemented by any Government and ought to be welcomed by everybody.

However, that does not change this Government’s underlying direction of travel or the underlying shape of the economy as described to us in the Red Book. Scotland has suffered an 11% cut in the fiscal departmental expenditure limit, a 27% cut in capital and a real-terms 9.9% cut in the overall budget. The numbers announced today imply a further real-terms cut in the budget. I do not want to speak too much about Scotland, but it is important that we get on the record just how damaging this Government continue to be.

What the Budget speech and the Red Book tell us is that, by every measure the Chancellor has set for himself, he has failed. In his first Budget, he told us that in 2013-14 the current account deficit would be 2.3% of GDP, borrowing would be reduced to £60 billion and the net debt would be 70% of GDP. Today, he told us that for the same year, the current account deficit is higher, borrowing is actually at £95.6 billion and the net debt is around 75% of GDP.

Let me be generous: any Government can make a mistake for one year, so what about the big targets the Chancellor set for himself? They were: that debt would begin to fall as a share of GDP by 2014-15; that the current account would be in balance the following year; and that in the same year, public sector net borrowing would fall to £20 billion. Debt will not begin to fall until 2016-17—two years late. The current account will not be back in the black until 2017-18—two years late. Public sector net borrowing in 2015-16 will not be £20 billion; rather, the forecast figure—£68 billion—is more than three times that. Not a single one of the Chancellor’s key targets has been met.

Has the hon. Gentleman noticed the forecasted very sharp fall-off in petroleum revenue tax, and is that reflected in SNP plans?

It is extremely convenient that, once again, we have a “North sea oil price crash” story on Budget day, some six months before the referendum. If the right hon. Gentleman keeps saying it, I am sure someone somewhere will finally believe him. I am not dreadfully convinced.

The bottom line is that—just like the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention—the Chancellor’s speech was hugely political. He did not tell us about recovery; he did not tell us that he is trying to lift the burden from hard-working families; he did not apologise for trying to rebalance the economy on the backs of the poor. This Budget speech was a political platform for the next election, and if it was supposed to be a vindication of his policies, then it failed, because the policies have failed.

The Chancellor did of course have a deal to say about tax. He is right to increase the basic rate threshold to £10,000, and then to £10,500. Raising the threshold from £6,500 to £10,000, resulting in savings this year of £700 for the average person, is sensible, but of course, that is only part of the personal tax story. This Government have pushed ahead with a tax cut for millionaires and have continued to squeeze the middle—the genuine middle class. The threshold for those paying the 40% rate of tax has come down from £37,500 to under £32,000, so for every penny saved at the bottom, they have had to pay more than a penny at 40%. I therefore welcome the fact that the 40% threshold is going to be increased, but that is not until 2014-15. It will not change the fact that the proportion of people paying the 40% tax rate has doubled over the past two decades, and there are now 2.1 million more people paying a rate of tax that was previously only for the rich.

It is not just the middle: it is the poorest in society who have been hit hardest. We know—the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) told us—that the proportion of tax cuts to tax rises is 4:1. We knew from previous Budgets that the impact of the discretionary consolidation would be £155 billion. Interestingly, the Government have removed that figure from the Red Book: they have removed the year 2016-17 from the forecast, and are now telling us that the discretionary consolidation will be only £126 billion. However, that forecast goes only to 2015-16, and I am concerned that they are not making a longer forecast, so we can see the real scale of the damage they are trying to do.

We in the SNP know where the pain of this Budget and of this Government’s policy direction will be felt. It will be the 144,000 households in Scotland who are losing some £3,500 each through changes to incapacity benefit. It will be the 372,000 Scottish households who have seen tax credits reduced to the tune of £800 a year. It will be the 620,000 families hit by changes to child benefit, who have lost an average of £360 a year. It will be felt by the 55,000 people who are losing an average of £3,000 a year as disability living allowance is removed. Those are the people whom we should be thinking about and who should be helped. Instead, the Government continue to try to balance the books on the back of the poor.

I welcome the fact that the Budget forecast at least says that there will be some growth, but it is once again heavily predicated on business investment growth. In Budget after Budget, the Government have produced five-year growth forecasts. In 2010, growth was predicted to be between 8% and 10% a year, but by the time we got to 2011 it had turned negative and they had to set yet more ambitious targets for the next five years. So it went on, and we find in the Red Book that the forecast business investment growth for last year turned negative again. I am desperate to see positive business investment growth, and the jobs that come with it, but we keep seeing the same story from the Government. They keep failing.

What should the Government have done? There are any number of policies that they might have adopted. Instead of tinkering with air passenger duty, they might have cut it properly or acted sensibly to boost international connectivity. Instead of simply freezing fuel duty, they might have introduced a real fuel duty regulator to smooth out future spikes. They might have cancelled some of their austerity measures, or at least removed the cap on discretionary housing payments to help the poorest. There are so many things that they might have done.

In the North sea, the Government announced that they would implement the Wood review in full. That will save the industry some £45 million, and it is to be welcomed. However, they are keeping the offshore chartering regime that they announced last year, which will cost the industry £600 million. They keep getting it wrong every single time.

Should the Government not acknowledge that the North sea is booming, and that the drop in revenues is due to investment being tax deductible? What we are seeing is a healthy North sea for the years to come.

I am sure that we all support £14 billion-worth of investment this year and £100 billion in the plans, and the drilling of 133 oil and gas wells to invest for the future. We would all be far less happy if that investment was not taking place. The problem is that all the good things that the Government could and should have done would have required them to change their policy fundamentally, away from billions more in austerity cuts and away from the policies that have stifled growth and recovery over the past few years.

I am not at all convinced that this was a Budget for recovery. It was a political Budget from an all-too-political Chancellor. I saw Tory Back Benchers waving their Order Papers not only after the Budget statement but before it was even made, and I suspect that such hubris will come back to haunt them. I hope that with a yes vote in this year’s referendum, this will be the last Tory Budget ever to affect Scotland.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), although my Scottish father would be turning in his grave if he thought that Scotland would ever go down the independence route. With your Scottish ancestry, Mrs Laing—although, sitting in the Chair, you could not possibly acknowledge this—you probably agree with me. I heard what the hon. Gentleman said, and I hope that there are many more Budgets to come for the whole United Kingdom. Scotland remains better off with the rest of the United Kingdom.

In the brief time available, I welcome the provisions in the Budget. The Chancellor has held firm despite the many voices that have tried to steer him off his course. Today he is beginning to reap the rewards of his courage in sticking to a path, however difficult, and making sure that he was not diverted from it. I was particularly pleased to see the help for savers, because we must rebuild our savings culture in this country. The simplification of ISAs, the extension of the annual limit and the introduction of the pensioner bond will make a great deal of difference to many of my constituents. I am also pleased to see the new pension flexibility. Treating pensioners like grown-ups by not forcing them to buy annuities will be welcomed across the board, and it is long overdue. I am glad that a Conservative Chancellor has seen sense on that.

I am particularly proud that a Conservative Chancellor is pursuing our natural Conservative tax-cutting instincts. It has to be right to take more and more people out of paying income tax. Equally, it is right to make the other changes that make a difference to people’s lives, and which the Opposition welcomed. Even the halving of the bingo tax from 20% to 10% is something that nobody, on either side of the House, could quibble with.

I was pleased to see the support for manufacturing and businesses. Having been Secretary of State for Wales, I was particularly pleased to see the continuation of support to energy-intensive industries through compensation for green levies. That has been an enormous problem in Wales for companies such as Tata Steel, and the measures will make a great deal of difference to our manufacturing base and its recovery. It is good that we are doubling the annual investment allowance. Giving our companies the most competitive export finance in Europe will certainly help. In the official EUROSTAT figures announced yesterday, I was pleased to see that the UK recorded the strongest export growth in the European Union last year and outstripped every other large economy by a large margin. I want that to continue, and the Budget will help to keep our businesses on track.

I would like to thank the Chancellor for the attention that he has given to the fuel duty incentives for cleaner fuels. In the autumn financial statement, it was noted that the fuel duty differential between the main rate of fuel duty and the rate for road fuel gases such as compressed natural gas would be maintained until March 2024. That, together with the differential on liquefied petroleum gas reducing year on year by 1p a litre, remained to be reviewed on vehicle uptake and public finance grounds at Budget 2018. In Zero-m, a company in my constituency, Mr Peter Dodd has been pursuing that relentlessly with his team, and I think it will make a great deal of difference in future. Methanol is a clean fuel, which pollutes less than other fuels. It produces virtually no particulates or oxides of nitrogen, and a reduced amount of CO2. It is less explosive than petrol, and therefore even safer. Those measures are most welcome.

I want to make a point on my pet project, High Speed 2. I notice that HS2 is again included in the infrastructure pipeline. In the words of Sir Rod Eddington in his 2006 transport study:

“The risk is that transport policy can become the pursuit of icons. Almost invariably such projects—‘grands projets’—develop real momentum, driven by strong lobbying. The momentum can make such projects difficult—and unpopular—to stop, even when the benefit:cost equation does not stack up…The resources absorbed by such projects could often be much better used elsewhere.”

Public sector overspend is certainly the trend. Two recent projects—HS1 and the channel tunnel—went 36% and 99% over budget respectively, and the average overspend on 11 recent major public sector building projects has been 158%. If HS2 continues, that trend will cost around £72 billion, and the Institute of Economic Affairs has estimated that it could go up to £80 billion.

We do not even know what the HS2 compensation packages will add up to. There are nearly 500,000 properties within 1 km of the proposed line, but the Government have not yet been able to give us details of the compensation package. I hope that when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury responds to the debate, he will be able to provide a light at the end of that particular tunnel, although I hope that it will not be in the form of a train coming towards me. Those people need to know what the compensation package will be, and when it will become available. Constituents of mine are losing their houses and their livelihoods. They are being evicted from their properties without proper compensation, and they need to know that the Government are listening and paying attention to this matter.

This project has to be queried at every step along the way. We are still paying down a large debt, and to pay down the money that will be spent on HS2 will involve us in untold interest and expenditure. Even business and industry do not want HS2. The Institute of Directors recently surveyed more than 1,300 directors to gather their views. The results revealed that the IOD’s members would rather see £50 billion spent on bringing Britain’s existing transport infrastructure into the 21st century. Over the past two years, the importance of high-speed rail to IOD members’ businesses has fallen significantly. HS2 is not the infrastructure project that Britain needs; nor is it the one that British business wants. Not enough businesses stand to benefit from it. It will benefit the few businesses, rather than the many.

I ask the Treasury to take the opportunity of this 2014-15 Budget, which is excellent in many ways, to re-evaluate the value for money on this project. If it cannot cancel it, will it at least look at how the benefits could be spread more widely and people’s interests could be protected, and announce proper compensation as soon as possible?

It is a real pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). As always, she has made a powerful case on behalf of her constituents.

In 2010, the Chancellor had what he called an emergency Budget. There was in fact no emergency. His predecessor’s Budget had already set out the deficit reduction strategy, and that policy was largely supported at the time by the Liberal Democrats. However, the present Chancellor—supported by the Liberal Democrats, who preferred Government to consistency of policy—made a choice and promised in 2010 that he would eliminate the deficit by 2015. On his own terms, he has failed. Today’s Budget is a confirmation of that central fact.

In 2010, when the economy needed stimulus and support, this Government provided neither. Instead, we and our constituents have endured four years of mistaken economic policy, which has resulted in most of the people I represent being £1,600 a year worse off than they were in 2010. Yet the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box today and expected plaudits. Following the delayed return of growth in the economy, the Government parties exude an air of complacency, but that is at variance with the views of most of the country and certainly of most of the people I represent in Wrexham.

The Government imposed substantial increases in VAT in 2010, contrary to the assurances given before the general election by both parties. The immediate result was that money was taken out of local economies and paid directly to the Government, suppressing demand in the retail and construction sectors. The long-term result has been a reduction in business activity. Lack of demand locally has been exacerbated by the failure of investment in local business. This Government’s failure to tackle the issue of business investment endures to this day, and is a consequence of their fundamental failure to implement meaningful reform of the banking sector. We heard nothing about that today.

In the early months of this Government, they talked a good game. They even set up an inquiry into high pay, although only in the public sector, not in the private sector. They have done nothing about the issue, however. We hear the occasional bleat from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, but the coalition Government have done nothing.

Again and again, Wrexham businesses tell me about the failure of the banks to provide adequate investment. Based as the banks are in the square mile, and focused as they are on financial services, that is not surprising. Why should those institutions understand the modern manufacturing and retail economy that is Wrexham, when none of their meaningful decisions is made by those who live in our community or have any knowledge of it?

The hon. Gentleman must surely accept that it was a mistake for Labour to vote against the provisions in the Financial Services Bill on 23 April 2012. Those provisions would have introduced greater competition, greater choice and a greater degree of local banking.

The fundamental mistake was the demutualisation of organisations such as Northern Rock by the Conservative Government in 1986 and the years thereafter. The hon. Gentleman should be arguing against such decisions, so that we can start creating institutions like local building societies again.

Our current banking system is not the only model of banking. In Germany, the Sparkassen model was affected much less than most economies by the 2007 recession. Local banks known as Sparkassen operate within geographically restricted areas and provide both retail and business banking there. Notwithstanding the existence of ordinary multinational banks, over 20% of ordinary local residents choose to invest in their local Sparkassen.

I welcome what the Chancellor said today about ISAs, but I believe that people would invest in local banks and institutions that supported the local economy and created jobs for young people. We want to see that happening, which is why we support the development of regional banks. Ever since the Conservative Government started to demutualise in the 1980s, destroying institutions such as Northern Rock, the Leeds Permanent building society and the Halifax building society, the move has been ever more towards centralising investment by the banks in this country. Local economies have suffered as a result.

Business investment has not recovered since 2007, and the City still dominates the economy. The growth that we are seeing in the UK is growth of the kind that led to the problem in the first place. We can all see the train coming down the track. We know what kind of a recovery this is, and we need to do something about it. The people I represent are not benefiting from the recovery at all. Women in my constituency are still earning less than they were in 2010, and men there have also seen a reduction in their incomes since that time.

I must make some progress; I have a particular point that I want to make.

This Government are not even addressing those issues. They do not seem to understand that they exist. Nothing that the Chancellor said today will help the people I represent. They are fed up with inequality in this country, and with the massive support that is given to those in the City and those who earn millions of pounds a year, who are so remote from the lives of my constituents that they can have no understanding of how the rest of the country works.

Believe it or not, there was a time when the Prime Minister supported a move towards greater equality. He quoted “The Spirit Level” in 2009, before he was elected, when he was trying to present a positive face for the Conservative party for the election. Those days are long gone.

We need to take responsibility ourselves. Inequality is the issue of the time. I am a member of the Nationwide building society.

I will not give way; I have a particular point to make.

The chief executive of the Nationwide building society was paid £2.3 million last year. I have written to him asking him to support a motion within the society that his salary should be no more than 75 times the rate of the lowest paid employee in the organisation. This is a mutual society that we should all support. He has refused, and I as a member, acting as an individual, intend to present a resolution to the annual conference of the Nationwide building society. A mutual organisation should respect the principles of mutuality and should accept that it is not appropriate for investors’ money to be used for that level of executive pay. If people want executives paid at that level, they can go and bank with Barclays. When I shifted my account to the Nationwide building society, I did so because I believed in mutuals. I want my chief executive’s pay, like that of the chief executive of the John Lewis Partnership, who operates precisely on those terms and has been in his position for many years, to be linked to that of other employees in the organisation.

I am looking for support. Members in all parts of the House can join my campaign. I need 500 signatures by 4 April, and I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider joining it, if he is a member of the Nationwide building society. We need to ensure that the people we represent know that we understand that this country faces a cost of living crisis and that individuals are worse off now, and that we will not put up with increased executive pay of millions of pounds for people who are not supporting the local economies in our constituencies.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas).

There are four tests of a Budget that we could reasonably apply. First, is the cake growing? Secondly, are we distributing it fairly? We will come to that. Thirdly, did the Budget get tempted by short-term electoral considerations or was it long-term and structural? Fourthly, when the Chancellor had an opportunity, was he radical and reforming? On all four measures, this Budget is a success.

First, on growth, as we have heard, we are the fastest-growing country in the OECD—that is a tremendous statistic—and growing faster now than even the United States and Canada. In particular, we are growing faster than France, the country on which I believe the Opposition base their policies. Secondly, are we distributing the results of that growth fairly? We just heard a speech about fairness from the hon. Member for Wrexham. Income inequality in our society is at its lowest level for 28 years. Why is that? Because this Government increased capital gains tax by around 40% when they came in and have increased stamp duty by more than that. Both measures are bringing in significant amounts of revenue.

The Opposition are caught up in the debate on the 45% and 40% income tax rates. That is not how to achieve more equality in society. People are getting rich because of capital gains. Five years ago I knew people who were paying 10% capital gains tax under the previous Government when they sold their businesses. We have fixed that, which is why income inequality is much lower now. A further reason is that we are getting a great deal more in revenue from sorting out tax avoidance.

The third test is whether the Budget was designed for short-term electoral gain or whether it introduced long-term structural change. Some measures will kick in fast. The £500 extra on the personal allowance will come in quickly, but the Chancellor has spent just as much money as he spent on that on the carbon price floor, support for energy-intensive industries and the investment allowance. None of those things will take effect in the short term and all of them are important to the structural rebalancing of the economy.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had time yet to look at the OBR report. The comment on the investment allowance in that report is that it will make very little difference to economic growth.

I have not had a chance to read the report. According to the Red Book, the cost of that allowance will be £1.2 billion next year, an awful lot of money. I will not respond to the hon. Lady’s point about growth, because my point was that the Chancellor has introduced medium-term structural measures into the economy, which is a responsible approach.

The fourth test is whether this is a radical and reforming Budget. The measures on pensions, ISAs and particularly annuities are genuinely reforming, genuinely radical and potentially genuinely transformative.

I want to talk a bit about all those things, but first I want to say something about the support the Chancellor has been able to give the Foundation for Peace—the peace centre in Warrington. There was an issue to address, as it was funded from the lottery and that funding will run out in April. The work the centre does for victims, both of the troubles in Northern Ireland and of 7/7, was under threat, and the support that has now been given will fix that. It is also true—I know Colin and Wendy Parry agree with this—that the funding must be put on a sustainable basis, as the centre needs to do more projects over time with the Home Office and the Foreign Office and all that goes with that.

I totally endorse what my hon. Friend said. Does he also welcome the use of the LIBOR funds to support the scouts, girl guides and emergency services, and the waiving of the VAT for air ambulances, which is much welcomed after a long campaign in this House?

I support that, and I just reiterate the words the Chancellor used: those who have the worst values in our society are being used to fund those who have the best values in our society. That just about sums it up.

I have given way twice already, so I am sorry but I am not going to do so now.

I wish to say a little about the carbon price floor, because I was delighted that the Chancellor has acted on it. The action makes no difference to our commitments on the overall carbon reduction profile that this country has made, but it makes a great difference to the potential carbon leakage we are facing in our great energy-intensive industries, particularly in the north-west and north-east. Some 900,000 people work in energy-intensive industries in our country, and I sometimes think they are forgotten in our dialogue about energy prices. It is worth understanding that what the Chancellor has done is remove the straitjacket on costs, which would have put a great deal of those jobs at risk. For example, we have already lost primary aluminium smelting in this country—it has moved out of the UK—and we are losing marginal chemicals capacity from this country. I am surprised that a number of Opposition Members are not more exercised about this issue in general, given that they represent parts of the north-east, where there is heavy chemical manufacturing, and there are a lot of energy-intensive industries and a lot of jobs, because we cannot rebalance our economy back towards manufacturing if we have differentially high energy prices in this country. We just will not be able to do that—it will not happen.

This issue is not just about what is happening in the United States on shale gas and shale prices; it is also about what is happening on mainland Europe. It is an inconvenient truth—to use a known phrase—in this whole issue of carbonisation that we produce not only considerably less carbon per head than the EU average, but less carbon per capita. We produce 30% less carbon per head and carbon per capita than Germany, yet Germany is pursuing a policy of building unabated coal power stations at scale. We are being left behind in all that, and what the Chancellor has done on the framework is absolutely spot on and will make a difference to those 900,000 jobs. I predict that we will be revisiting this issue at the next Budget and certainly into the next Parliament, because there is a great deal of unfinished business in this area.

Before I leave the field of energy, may I say in passing that the infrastructure plan is very welcome? Two big parts of the national infrastructure plan are Hinkley Point C and Wylfa—together they make up about a quarter of it. They are both vital to our country and our economy. Both are currently under EU state aid investigation, which is holding up the projects. I have heard Ministers saying that they are confident that they will have that agreed, and I very much hope that is the case, because it would be a great paradox if those low-carbon projects, which are essential to our energy security and to our decarbonisation efforts, are held up within the EU at the same time as our EU partners are building unabated coal power stations at scale in countries such as Holland, Germany and Belgium.

I want to move on now to tax avoidance and tax evasion. The Red Book shows incremental revenue of £2 billion over the next two years from the anti-abuse legislation that we introduced. I very much welcome the Chancellor reducing the level of corporate avoidance of stamp duty from £2 million to £500,000. The closure of that tax loophole has brought in hundreds of millions of pounds. It is an example, as I said at the start of my remarks, of why income equality is so much better now than it was under the previous Government.

I also welcome the up-front taxation of tax schemes, which means that if people get involved in controversial schemes, they will not be saving tax and cash flow as they wait to go to tribunal. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is also able to act more quickly than it has hitherto been able to do.

There were four tests today, and the Chancellor has passed them and any reasonable expectation of this Budget. I am happy to support it.

The Budget mentioned two of the biggest issues in my constituency, which are housing and child care. However, the Help to Buy provisions solve the problems for only some people, but not for those who rent. That is a real issue in my constituency, and I will touch on it in a minute.

On child care, another initiative has been announced, but the practicalities of it have not been addressed. We still have a Government who are looking to threaten the quality of child care, which, for parents in my constituency, is a real concern.

One of the key things that is missing from the Budget statement today is a Treasury commitment to freeing up public land for housing. Under Treasury rules, public land needs to be sold at the highest price. Years ago, when I was a councillor in Upper Holloway in Islington, I had to fight over the then Royal Northern hospital site to ensure that it was sold to improve housing in the area. Most of the housing there ended up being privately owned because of that very Treasury rule. Some 20 years later, we still have that same rule.

The Budget provided a great opportunity for the Chancellor to allow land to be sold at slightly lower than market rates so that more affordable homes could be built, thus improving public health and the general and economic well-being of people in my constituency. The St Leonard’s hospital site in my constituency is a worry as it is now owned by NHS Property Services and will have to be sold—if it is sold—for the highest rate.

Support for affordable housing in areas such as mine is very important. There are now more private renters than home owners. However, both private renting and ownership are out of the reach of people who live in social housing, and the waiting list for social housing is immense.

This Government treat the country as two halves. Over the past six months, a home owner in Hackney will have seen property prices increase by 3.58%. Someone could earn £15,060 in six months on an average property. The average price of a property in Hackney is now more than half a million pounds—£554,306. A flat would cost £347,000. Someone owning a property could earn £45,000 in a year—nearly double the national average wage. It is fine for those people who own properties, but for those who do not, ownership is a long-distant dream.

Let me quote from a letter from my constituent, Tommy. He said:

“I have been looking to purchase my first home. I am 35, and in full time work since I left university in 2001. I have worked hard my whole life but I still require assistance from my parents to purchase my first home.”

In some ways, Tommy is one of the lucky ones. Although he has not found a home, he has parents who may be able to provide him with some help. Many of my constituents are not in that situation.

The hon. Lady is making some good points about the shortage of affordable housing. Does she support an increase in the threshold of £4,250 for the rent a room scheme, in which landlords can rent out a room or floor of their house tax-free, which has not changed for many years, and does not reflect current rental values? I do not see such a measure in the Budget, but would she support an increase?

I completely support that. Only last night, I was talking to tenants in Haggerston about rent a room and the ability to take in a lodger. They worried about getting into tax and so on, and they were worried about the threshold. That is exactly the concern. In my constituency, someone could legitimately rent out a room in their home for £200 or even £250 a week, so they would quickly reach the threshold. That is a real issue: it is one small way in which we could help some people to find a home, but it does not solve the major problem.

New home starts in the UK have gone down by 10% from February 2013 to just under 9,500, according to figures from the National House Building Council. Completed homes were just over 8,000, so we are a long way short of the target for the new homes that need to be built, and certainly for those that are genuinely affordable. I commend to the House the Co-Operative Housing Tenure Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). It is a great shame that the Chancellor did not take the opportunity to look at co-operative solutions that enable people to be much more in control of their own destiny.

I mentioned at the outset that child care is a huge issue in my constituency. I represent a very young borough, and parents want quality. It is a great shame that the Government took a “pile them high, teach them cheap” approach, although that was eventually dropped after their surprise at the backlash from parents. The tax break is welcome for those it helps, but there is confusion about how it will work. It is really important in child care policy that these things are simple, clear and do not change too often, as that makes it confusing for parents to navigate their way through.

Child care is really important to enable women to participate fully in the work force. Will the hon. Lady join me in celebrating the fact that the figures show record numbers of women in employment and setting up businesses? Does it not sadden her that today the Leader of the Opposition denigrated the achievements of women by attacking Conservative women, calling us “girls”. How would she like it if he called her a girl?

I do not need to be told by the hon. Lady about the leader of my party. He is an enormous champion of women. There are a lot of women, as we can see, in the shadow Cabinet and in his ministerial team. I do not doubt his commitment to women who work, and to women who do not work, in this country. The record of the Labour Government stands for itself.

On the issue of women’s employment, many women in work are in part-time jobs or on zero-hours contracts. The women I meet from day to day in my constituency are often keen to work more hours, but they cannot find them. Child care is often part of the problem. The figures from the Family and Childcare Trust show that the average cost of a nursery place for a child under two is £5.60 an hour in London. That is 28% more than the national average. The cost of child care in London is a big concern, especially as my constituents increasingly live in expensive private rented accommodation, which squeezes their budget. The cost of living is a big issue.

In London, the average cost of a childminder looking after children under two is £5.46 an hour, but in Hackney, it is much more, ranging from £6.50 an hour to £10 or even more. The supply and cost of child care are a real challenge. Providing support for the cost is one thing, but it does not deal with the question of supply. Cross-party work needs to be done on the issue. My party supports the right initiatives on child care, because we support women who want to work and have their children looked after properly, but we need to make sure that there are policies that we can support in the first place. Sadly, although there is much noise and talk about this, there has not been action at the right level.

I have mentioned my view that the Government treat this country as two halves: the very wealthy, and then there are my constituents, who work on zero-hours contracts, are in part-time jobs, and are on the minimum wage, which has risen, but it is still tough to live in London on £6.50 an hour. A man came to see me. He was a kitchen porter and, although he was out of work, he was seeking a job. The distances he was being asked to travel to work, plus the extra hours of travel, meant that child care and travel costs made those jobs uneconomical, even though he was living in social housing. Those are real concerns for London, and we need to look at London weighting on some of the issues.

The increase in VAT has had a regressive impact on my poorer constituents. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) defend the increase. I thought that as a Liberal Democrat he would not defend such a regressive measure.

For those people not in work, there is the whammy of the bedroom tax. Last night I met tenants in Haggerston who are very concerned about it. Those who are hit are having to pay £767 a year if they have one so-called spare bedroom, or £1,370 a year if they have two. Many of them will not leave their homes of many years, as one woman told me only last week. They will find the money somewhere or get into debt. The Government are contributing to indebtedness for people who do not have places to move to, even if they wanted to, and they do not have the money out of their benefits. The women I spoke with said, “I am temporarily not working. I want to work again, but I’m not going to leave my home, where I have lived for 32 years.” She was adamant about that and will go to great lengths, possibly getting into debt, to avoid moving.

Another opportunity has been missed. The housing benefit disregard in tax credit will be abolished when universal credit comes into place, which means that 100,000 people will see their child care support drop from 96% to 70% of costs. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said from the Front Bench, this Government give with one hand and take with the other. That will have a particular impact in my constituency because of the high private rents.

There are some things in the Budget that I welcome, such as the export loan changes, which will help many of the businesses in my constituency, particularly in Shoreditch. However, there was no move to make banks more locally accountable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) highlighted. Although more data are now published on where banks lend, there could have been an opportunity for the Chancellor to look at a US-style community reinvestment Act. I hope that the Government will still consider that.

The tax avoidance measures, following up on the work of the Public Accounts Committee, are also very welcome. I hope that they will do something to stop big companies trying to dodge their bill to the British taxpayer. The stamp duty increase for companies purchasing properties worth over £500,000 might do something to stop overseas purchasers. The changes for air ambulance services will be of great benefit not only to my constituents—the Royal London hospital is just on the edge of my constituency—but to many people up and down the country.

Finally, I am delighted that my constituents of Caribbean origin will now see a fairer deal on air passenger duty. It is about time that the people who broke their backs for Britain when they arrived in the ’50s and ’60s got a fair deal. It is an injustice that has now been righted. I also welcome the bingo tax changes. I support my local Mecca bingo hall, where I have called out the numbers, to my embarrassment and that of regular bingo-goers. It really is an important provision for many people, so it is good that that wrong has now been righted.

This Budget has been billed as a resilient Budget for a resilient economy. I say that it is a robustly, and indeed resolutely, resilient Budget for a really strong future economy. I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) that it passes all the tests of looking to the long term, rather than at short-term give-aways, which is so important in any Budget.

The first thing I would like to say is a huge thank you to the Chancellor on behalf of Northamptonshire for the contribution to a pothole fund, which Northamptonshire will be universally delighted about—[Interruption.]

That is a great shame. The Chancellor mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), so I was rather hoping that we would get to keep it all, but perhaps not.

I would like to mention the efforts that the Chancellor has made for business, which is the source of our country’s long-term recovery. Doubling the annual investment allowance to £500,000 per annum is superb for businesses and will allow manufacturing companies in my constituency, for example in motorsport valley—the area around Silverstone—to invest in plant and equipment. Doubling the UK’s direct export lending programme will enable us to create the export-led recovery for the long term that we so much want to see. Capping the carbon price support rate will save costs for manufacturers in the medium and long term. That is great news for the east midlands, the west midland, the north of England and the entire UK. I hope that Opposition Members will be honest enough to welcome those measures.

I commend the Chancellor on his work for savers and pensioners, which is truly groundbreaking. I also want to pay tribute to Dr Ros Altmann, who has long campaigned for changes to annuity rates. She has been pointing out the weakness in the annuity construction of pensions for many years. I understand that she was in fact an adviser to Opposition Members when they were in government. She has been trying to persuade Governments of all colours to lift the unfair obligation to buy an annuity on reaching retirement age. I am delighted about the news, which will really change the fate of future pensioners.

The annual ISA cap has been lifted to £15,000, but much more important is the allowing of investors to choose whether they want to invest in cash or stocks to meet their savings needs. These things are incredibly important. When it was introduced, quantitative easing was essential to try to prevent further harm to our economy. However, there can be no doubt that the historically low interest rates that have resulted from the QE programme have very badly harmed savers and pensioners—those on fixed incomes. The structural change that the Chancellor has made is really important and will be welcomed not just in my constituency but across the UK.

I have paid tribute to Dr Ros Altmann, who I feel sure is a woman of absolutely high enough calibre to be considered for the next post available on the Monetary Policy Committee, the Financial Conduct Authority or the Financial Policy Committee. I defy any Member to disabuse me of that notion. I also welcome the appointment, announced yesterday, of Dr Shafik to the Monetary Policy Committee.

Absolutely on merit, as is the case for all high-calibre women. The Governor of the Bank of England is showing real foresight in recognising that he needs committees of a diverse range of talents—not just the white middle-class theoretical economists whom he has tended to inherit from the previous Governor. The appointment is incredibly important. Dr Shafik will be leading the Bank’s review of its market intelligence following the fixing of foreign exchange rates. The Treasury Committee will follow that with great interest. Sadly, there may be many more fines as a result of the appalling behaviour that we continue to see among the banks. Those fines will be put to good use.

I want to use the last few moments of my contribution to talk about a real game-changer for the banks. I commend to all Members something in page 84 of the Red Book. It is perhaps the most ground-breaking, profound proposal of the Government’s in this Budget:

“The government has today announced that it will switch on the Market Investigation Reference powers of the Payment Systems Regulator a year ahead of schedule.”

That means that there will be a regulator of payment systems. Until now, there has been a small group of powerful banks that are, yes, too big to fail, as we have discovered only recently to our enormous cost. They have also been determined to put up barriers to prevent the entry of second-tier, smaller banks and shut out new competitors. A regulator of payment systems will surely reduce those barriers and enable the new banking competition that Members across the House want.

Specifically, the really important measure in the Budget is the requirement on the payments regulator to review the effectiveness of the current account switching service and look at instant account portability before the next Budget. If someone wants to switch bank account now, they have to move their account number, cheque book, bank cards and so on. People get to keep their mobile phone numbers when changing mobile phone provider; it would be so much easier for people if they got to keep their bank account numbers when switching bank accounts. It would also be so much easier for new challenger banks to persuade us to switch—“Just give us a try. If you don’t like us, you can go back to your old bank tomorrow.”

People could literally switch bank once a week or fortnight. That would significantly encourage new competition, but most importantly it would persuade the big banks that they needed to enter into customer retention strategies, which they have not had to do for years. Such a change would significantly improve the fate of small and medium-sized enterprises, which desperately need to be able to access new sources of financing. It would also mean that the Bank of England could easily step in to move accounts from a failed bank to a survivor bank, thereby ensuring that the awful situation of people queuing down the street to take their money out, as happened with Northern Rock, would never happen again.

In summary, this is a resolutely resilient Budget which I believe contains some seriously game-changing proposals that will have a significantly positive impact on the future of our economy for many years to come.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). She concentrated on banking, but my contribution will be somewhat more mundane, because I regret to say that far too many of my constituents have probably never even seen the inside of a bank, let alone know about the workings of a bank.

We again heard today about a drop in unemployment figures. That really has to be welcomed, but I remind the House, as I have done over a period of time, that some parts of the country are not seeing the recovery that others are experiencing. I listened intently to the Chancellor’s fantasy figures and tried to picture in my mind his portrayal of this rapidly improving economic situation across the country. I tried desperately to engage with that, and probably to be as imaginative as the Chancellor himself in entering his world, but I can tell him that far too many individuals and their families, many of them hard-working indeed, have simply not been given a chance to enter that imaginary world.

There can be no doubt—I would be the first to admit it—that thankfully, after some three years, there is a return to growth. However, the Chancellor needs to recognise that in my local authority area an increasing number of people are claiming jobseeker’s allowance. This month, yet again, we saw a further rise in unemployment on the back of last month’s rise. The figure now stands at 2,740—an increase of a further 0.1%. In May 2010, 75 young people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than 12 months; that figure has almost doubled to 145. In February, youth unemployment rose to 740—an increase of 0.3% on the previous of month to 6.7%, which is 1% above the Scottish average and 1.5% above the UK average. In May 2010, the number of adults claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than 12 months stood at 460; last month, the figure rose to over 800.

That is a tragedy for each and every one of those people. If they took time today to listen to the Budget statement, it will only have confirmed what they have probably suspected for a very long time—that the Chancellor has lost touch with those at the bottom end and does not understand the battle and the sheer struggle that still goes on for many people right across the country.

My hon. Friend might be interested to know that in Swansea, 65% of people on JSA have been sanctioned. These are people on less than £72 a week. It is not that the Chancellor has lost touch with them; he is crushing them under his boot.

My hon. Friend is right. If I have time, I want to mention an experience I had with a young couple who came to my surgery last Friday.

Earlier today, I met a representative of the Prison Officers Association from my area who was down in London taking part in a rally that had been timed to coincide with the Chancellor’s Budget speech. He explained to me that morale in the prison service is at an all-time low because of increases in serious violent attacks on prison staff, a five-year pay freeze and continuing demand for front-line staffing cuts, and an increase in pension contributions that is driving down the take-home pay of hard-working public servants. I suspect that it is not a job that many of us would relish doing. That driving down of take-home pay is coupled with working in an environment that is physical and, all too often, dangerous. These public servants are now being asked to work up to the age of 68. It is little wonder that they are angry and have taken to the streets today.

The Resolution Foundation’s report “Low Pay Britain 2013” shows that 4.8 million workers—20% of all employees—earn below the living wage, which is a massive leap from the 3.4 million in 2009 at the height of the recession. The growth of poverty has an uneven impact on particular sections of the population, and the tragedy is that young workers have been hit particularly hard: one in three 16 to 30-year-olds—2.4 million—are on low pay and are low skilled. These young people deserve better than this. Decent adults they are and will be, but they need greater chances in life. Living standards are down for far too many people, and as colleagues have said, that has been compounded by the 24 tax rises, households £1,600 a year worse off, and a reduction in tax credits.

On the positive side, I applaud the decision to reduce bingo duty to 10%. I am sure that the industry will be very much relieved at that. Like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have visited my local bingo club, but there were fewer customers than I had ever seen before. The simple reason behind that is that people’s incomes have reduced so significantly that they simply do not have the wherewithal to spend time at the bingo hall in the way that they did for many years.

I also applaud the steps being taken to support pensioners through the relief measures in respect of savings, but again I have to say that many pensioners have no savings at all, and struggle to get by from week to week or month to month. These may be pensioner couples where one of them has been a carer for a son, daughter or elderly parent. They have struggled to get through their working life and they are now struggling in their old age.

I suspect that many energy-intensive industries will be delighted to hear of the extension of the existing compensation scheme. I have one in my constituency that has been pursuing me for answers to various questions that it had. Perhaps now that the Budget is over, I will be able to get those answers without any pre-Budget leak.

I am critical of the youth unemployment levels in my local authority area, and with some justification, but I welcome today’s announcement on apprenticeships, providing that genuine opportunities will be there for young people. I came across a young woman on a Government employment scheme working 32 hours in a retail business. When the scheme ended, the company said that she could remain with them, but that did not mean 32 hours’ work, but eight hours spread over a Saturday and Sunday. She is now out looking for a second job, and—who can tell?—perhaps a third job. It is a throwback to where we were in the early and mid-’90s.

I welcome the decision not to increase fuel duty, but as I have said on many occasions in the House, under the previous Government we saw nine years and 11 potential increases that were either suspended or not introduced at all.

The decision on the personal tax allowance will be welcome, but—here I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris)—many people are not even in the tax bracket, so they will see no benefit from the increase from £10,000 to £10,500.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown). I want to start by welcoming the Budget and reflecting on the legacy the Chancellor inherited before bringing us to where we are today. Let us not forget that we had a deficit of £156 billion a year, which has now gone down by a third to £109 billion a year. There was a structural deficit from 2002 onwards, and throughout the Labour years there was a total failure to regulate the banks and our banking system, which left it massively exposed, and unemployment rocketed.

The Chancellor had the most difficult inheritance in this country’s history in many ways. He has turned things around these past four years so that this country is now on the path to recovery. The economy is growing, jobs are up and the future looks promising for Britain. In the past, the roof was not fixed while the sun was shining, but while it has been raining we have been furiously fixing the roof and doing so with some success.

Areas such as my constituency of Dover and Deal do not have enormous amounts of money and there is a lot of deprivation. The rise in the personal allowance to £10,500—it was £6,475 when I was elected—will make a real difference to those constituents of mine who are not well paid. It will make an enormous difference for people without a lot of money.

The freeze in fuel duty will make a massive difference for the many people in my constituency who have to travel by car. It is now 20p lower than it would have been under the previous Government’s plans. A freeze in council tax year after year makes a massive difference to my constituents, after it had doubled in previous times. Moreover, given that unemployment in Dover and Deal rose by 50% in the previous Parliament, it makes a massive difference to my constituents that it has fallen by 20% in the past year alone: more jobs, more money, more aspiration and more success. Aspiration matters, too: the number of apprenticeships has risen from 440 when I was elected to 880 today, so there are more chances for our young people.

Not everyone in my constituency is extremely badly off; there are areas where people have more money and are trying to find somewhere to save it in order to get a return. I greatly welcome the fact that we are incentivising ISA saving with a £15,000 limit. It is really important that we encourage a savings culture in this country. Let’s face it: it was destroyed by the pensions tax and everything that followed in previous times. We have to rebuild that savings culture, the idea of a rainy day fund and the ability of our constituents to take more responsibility.

What this Government have done is not just about practical help in terms of more jobs, more money, more prosperity and fewer taxes. In my constituency they have made a much bigger difference in terms of infrastructure and investment. When I was elected, the port of Dover was about to be sold off, having been stuffed in a car boot sale by the previous Prime Minister in a desperate bid to raise some cash. It was going to be sold off to the French or whoever—we did not know who. Our hospital had been decimated over the past decade and was not fit for purpose. A new hospital was needed and had been talked about for years. There were stalled construction sites all over Dover and Deal. I ran a campaign against “coming soon” signs, because they had said “coming soon” for so long—for the past decade—that one of them had rotted away and had to be replaced.

Fast-forward to 2014 and the port has been saved: we are now talking about a community-led port that can get the investment that the port of Dover has needed for so many years. A new hospital is being built, which will make a practical difference to people in their daily lives and will open its doors next year. More jobs have made an enormous difference to people. A compulsory purchase order has been served on Burlington house, which scars the seafront of Dover. That is making a difference and giving people more confidence and hope and a greater sense of belief in the town’s future. A fast train now rolls up at Deal—which was previously considered a village—and shortly will do so all day long. That kind of infrastructure makes a massive difference to people’s prosperity, success and aspiration.

Whereas in previous times the regional South East England Development Agency spent £20 million building a business park near Deal without anything on it—there were not even any buildings—now the coastal communities fund and the Homes and Communities Agency are supporting the Hadlow college project at the former pit site of Betteshanger, which promises to create 1,000 new jobs. That sort of practical help on the ground, which goes beyond high-level policy discussions, makes such a very big difference to people in their daily lives.

That is why I regret hearing the Leader of the Opposition’s speech. He reminded me of Marshal Foch saying, “My centre is collapsing, my left is in retreat and my right has gone altogether”—because all the Blairites have been chased away, sacked and discredited or have resigned. The Labour party’s lurch to the left has done it no good whatever. In its centre, Labour Members have no economic policy, except for more spending, more welfare, more debt and more taxes. Those discredited policies of the past will not take this country forward. To try by sleight of hand to say that they will have a current surplus—thinking that people will not notice a 25 billion quid bit of wriggle room and that he will get away with it—is not the right way to do it. The Leader of the Opposition should have come to the Dispatch Box today with a plan and a positive case, but all he did was rage against iniquities largely created by his party in past times or during the previous Parliament.

My hon. Friend will also have noticed that the Leader of the Opposition referred to nothing having been done to reform the banks. He seems to have been asleep for the past four years, during which banking reform and financial services legislation has gone through and a huge amount has been done to reform the banks. Does my hon. Friend think that the Leader of the Opposition has been asleep or has just ignored what has happened?

My hon. Friend asks a very important question about what the Leader of the Opposition has been doing for the past four years. He has certainly not been preparing a high-quality response to this Budget, that is for sure.

Even though the Leader of the Opposition wants to say, “Situation excellent; I am advancing”, not only is there a complete hole or collapse in the centre of the Labour party, with the Opposition having no long-term economic plans, but on its left flank, which is in retreat, Labour Members are talking about the cost of living. What will they say if wages rise above inflation in a few months’ time? It little behoves them to talk in that way, because people will start to see through everything they say. They are now saying that long-term unemployment is terribly high and all that sort of thing. However, when they talked about high unemployment, it started falling, and when they then talked about the lack of full-time jobs, people started getting such jobs. The risk is that the number of long-term unemployed will start to fall in a few months’ time, and they will have to look for another selective statistic to cite. Such talk will not do them any good, because people will see through it.

It is therefore time for the Labour party to think more carefully and more long-term about what it can offer this country, because right now it can offer very little indeed. This Government can and rightly do now say that we cannot give back the keys to the people who crashed the car, particularly when they are still drunk, still will not listen and still have not learned anything, but will carry on and do it all again.

For one hour, I listened very closely to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—during the past few hours, I have had a chance to look through the Red Book to check that I did not miss anything—and I desperately waited for any acknowledgment that millions of people up and down our country are really struggling to get by.

Despite the Chancellor not wanting to hear it and Government Members laughing at my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he suggested it, there is a cost of living crisis. We know that working people are £1,600 a year worse off under this Government. Real average earnings are more than £1,600 a year lower today than in May 2010. Prices are going up faster than wages, and the OBR has confirmed that people will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010.

Not a week goes by when, at my surgery or on the doorstep, I do not meet a constituent who is really finding it tough. As my hon. Friends have said, such constituents have to make very real choices about having a hot bath or putting food on the table, with mums having to decide whether to go without food in order to feed their kids. A constituent at my surgery last week said that he was reduced to brushing his teeth with salt water and growing a beard because he could not afford toothpaste or razors; not very long ago, he did not have such challenges. Every week, numerous constituents come to my surgery because they cannot pay utility bills and have no answers for the people who come knocking on their door, which is the reality for too many people.

My local food bank will be celebrating—if we can call it a celebration, which it is not—its third year in a few weeks’ time. The number of people in my constituency who have to access emergency food aid has gone up from 2,126 in 2011 to 8,600 in this financial year, and that is not even the final figure. Nationally, more than 500,000 people are having to access emergency food aid, and that is a very conservative estimate.

I raised that point at Prime Minister’s questions the other week after I visited Ilkeston. I raised the case of a young person I met who was called Billy. Billy had been in employment since he left school, but was made redundant at the age of 23. He was making 70 job applications a month on average and could not feed himself. I learned the term “skipping”, which I had not heard before, and raised it at PMQs. Skipping is when people wait for supermarkets to throw food out at the end of the day in order to feed themselves, because they cannot afford to buy food. People wait to forage in the bins of Iceland to feed themselves and their families. The fact that people cannot afford to feed themselves in the seventh richest nation in the world is a national disgrace. I am ashamed that we have a Government who will not acknowledge the impact of their policies, such as people having to turn to food banks.

It is not just families and pensioners on low incomes who are being affected. I held a “what women want” session the other week to celebrate international women’s day. I had a discussion with mums from all different backgrounds at one of my local children’s centres. One of them told me that although both her and her husband have what she described as good jobs—management jobs—they can no longer afford a holiday. Every month, they struggle to make ends meet. That experience was repeated by many people during the discussion. Where is the help for the millions of people on middle and lower incomes who are not feeling any recovery at all? Those people are angry that the Government have given a £3 billion tax cut to people earning more than £150,000, while they and everyone else are worse off.

In the same discussion with women, another concern that was raised was the cost of child care. I echo the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). Many of the women said that the cost of child care was making the move into work impossible. The Chancellor’s announcement today does nothing for parents who are suffering eye-watering increases in the cost of nursery places, which has gone up by 30% since 2010. That is compounded by the fact that there are 35,000 fewer child care places. That is unsurprising from a Government who will have taken £15 billion out of support for children by the next election. Parents need support with child care now.

I am listening carefully to what the hon. Lady is saying about child care. I wonder whether she is going to mention the 85% of child care costs that will be paid for people who are on universal credit.

Oh, goodness! As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, I was very generous in giving way. I come back to the point that one in three councils do not have enough places to deliver the Government’s promised child care for disadvantaged two-year-olds. Today’s announcement will not come into effect until next year. I reiterate that parents need help now, because child care costs are putting parents off going back into work. I am very disappointed as a result of what we did not hear from the Chancellor today.

I listened closely to the Chancellor’s announcements on energy bills, but the best deal in a broken market is not a good deal. Energy bills have gone up by about £300 since 2010. As I said before, my constituents are facing the choice between heating their homes and eating. The Liverpool Echo, my local newspaper, carried out a special investigation last week that highlighted the experience of Merseyside pensioners, who are being plunged into fuel poverty by rocketing energy bills. Under the Government’s new definition of fuel poverty, my constituency is among the top three in the country for that challenge. Where was the help for those people with their energy bills in the Chancellor’s Budget? There was none.

We need proper reform of the energy market. We need to freeze bills so that we can do what needs to be done to ensure that we know the cost of the energy that is generated by the six companies that generate 70% of the energy in the UK. At the moment, we have no idea of the true cost of that energy. We need to create a transparent pool, so that we are all fully aware of what the companies are generating and the cost of that energy. We also need a regulator with teeth, which we do not have at the moment. There needs to be a means by which people can properly compare and contrast prices, as they can for mobile phone bills. That is not possible at the moment because we do not have single standing charges and unit prices that can be compared. Again, there was nothing from the Chancellor to help not only households and individuals but businesses that are struggling to pay their energy bills.

On the day of the Budget, we have also heard the unemployment figures. The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) just talked about the statistics, but when we talk about long-term youth unemployment, we are talking about young people in my constituency who do not have employment, which will have long-term effects—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman gesticulates that the number has come down. In my constituency, the number of long-term unemployed young people—those who have been out of work for more than a year—has gone up by more than 60% since 2010. That is a waste of the talent of our young people and has long-term implications not only for them but for the wider economy. The young people who are not employed at the moment bring a cost to our economy of £3.2 billion over their lifetime. In my constituency, 835 young people are out of work, and I wanted more from the Chancellor to address that situation properly. We know that the current schemes are not working, and that less than 20% of young people locally are getting into work. We need to do everything we can.

I will not, because I have less than a minute left.

Labour’s policy is to provide a jobs guarantee by repeating the bankers’ bonus tax. I listened to the Chancellor to hear whether he might do that, but there was nothing on that front, even though Barclays alone has increased bankers’ bonuses by 10% to more than £2.5 billion. Would not some of that money be well invested in the young people of our country, to ensure that they are in work and have a chance throughout their lifetime? We need to get the long-term unemployed, including the young long-term unemployed, off benefits and back into work. A jobs guarantee through repeating the bankers’ bonus tax would have achieved just that.

My constituents will be dismayed by the Chancellor’s Budget. I am sad that he could not find it in himself to acknowledge the cost of living crisis that millions of people are experiencing every day, including in my constituency. The Government are so out of touch, and today’s Budget has reinforced that.

I would like to say that it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), but I do not recognise the biased and party political points that she made. Her speech was loaded against the positive news, which should be welcomed, about measures to help people in her constituency and others who need the Government’s help and support. I hate to think of the contributions that she and many other Opposition Members would have made if we had not been able to look forward optimistically to the sustainable growth that the Government have helped craft through their difficult decisions over recent years.

As we look optimistically at that growth, it is hard to believe the predictions that the Opposition have presented to us over recent years. We all remember the “too far, too fast” line, and then there was “flatlining”. We then had predictions about a double dip and even a triple dip; then they predicted that there would be a million jobs lost. That shows the Opposition’s lack of credibility, following their previous prediction about having ended boom and bust. They simply have no economic credibility, so their criticisms of an important building block in delivering sustainable economic recovery and growth show them for what they really are.

Of course the growth is welcome, but I am also extremely impressed by the nature of the recovery. Deficit reduction is important in itself—after all, it is the fundamental building block in creating confidence. The deficit has already been reduced by a third, and the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that it will have been reduced by half by later this year. Of course, that in itself will not deliver sustainable economic growth, so we need to examine the data that are available beneath the deficit reduction figures.

The growth that we are experiencing is quite remarkable, and, again, it undermines the arguments that Opposition Members have made in recent years, and particularly today. The UK is now the fastest growing major economy in the world, and the fastest growing of the OECD nations. Even more than that, all sectors of the economy grew last year. We have to go back to 2007 to find the last time that happened, which demonstrates the balance of the economic recovery we are experiencing, be it in services, construction or manufacturing. Those are important sectors that demonstrate how growth in the economy is serving all parts and sectors of the UK, including those who are employed and those who seek employment. We are all sharing in the success.

All those who spoke from the Opposition Benches mentioned inequality and tried to highlight the differences between those who have and those who have not. However, they missed a really important line from data provided by the OBR and the Office for National Statistics, which is that we now have the least inequality in the United Kingdom for 28 years. That completely exposes all the anecdotal and selective evidence that has been presented. We have the lowest rate of inequality for 28 years, which is something Labour Members should be glad about.

If we examine the data further, we realise that the unemployment figures presented today were remarkable. Unemployment stands at 7.2% across the United Kingdom. It is unheard of for the rate of unemployment in Wales to be lower than the national average. In all my life I cannot remember unemployment in Wales being lower than across the rest of the United Kingdom, yet it now stands at 6.7%, so the gap between unemployment in Wales—my nation—and the rest of the United Kingdom is not just 0.1% as it was last month. I am absolutely delighted, and I hope that Labour Members from the Principality will join me in welcoming that success. It demonstrates that growth is serving every nation of the United Kingdom, and every sector in our country.

If we look at growth figures from the north-west, Wales or anywhere over the past two years, we see that all regions and nations of the United Kingdom have experienced levels of growth. Again, that shows that growth is not dependent on the dominance of London and the south-east, as was the case during the 13 years of the Labour Government.

As has been said, Wales has the highest level of poverty in the UK, with more in-work poverty than out-of-work poverty, and it is the most affected by the horrendous bedroom tax. The Tories are putting the boot into Wales, which is why we will kick the hon. Gentleman and the Government out next time.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making such an important point about poverty in Wales, because it needs to be recognised. However, even in the darkest, most difficult days, when coal mines and steel plants were being closed and things were extremely difficult for those communities, Wales was not the poorest part of the United Kingdom. After 13 years of Labour control, Wales is sadly the poorest part of the United Kingdom, but it is now experiencing higher and faster growth than most other parts of the UK. That goes to show that the UK Government are playing their full part in our turning the corner and getting out of the cul-de-sac that the Labour party left us in. That was what Labour left us.

We talk about balance across the economy, but more needs to be done to strike that balance in every way, and the Budget has taken a significant step in that direction. There has been significant support for manufacturing, including a £7 billion package that provides elements for capping the carbon price support scheme. One benefit of that £7 billion will be the £50,000 cut in energy prices or costs for a mid-size manufacturing plant. There are hundreds of those in Wales, including several in my constituency, and as a result of the Budget they will get a £50,000 cut in energy costs.

Does my hon. Friend also recognise today’s important initiative in relation to export credit guarantees, which will encourage particularly small and medium-sized enterprises looking to export beyond the shores of the United Kingdom? That will make a significant difference in the high-resolution manufacturing industry, which is so well catered for in the part of the UK he represents.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining that point. I was going to come on to it, but his intervention presents me with an opportunity to highlight again the balance that the Chancellor is determined to restore to the economy to ensure that every part of the country and every sector within every part of the country is playing a part in promoting the economic growth and is sharing in and generating the prosperity.

The other point I wanted to make on energy related to the support for the energy-intensive industries. Dow Corning in my constituency exports 90% of its output. It is a true success story in the Vale of Glamorgan. The high energy prices really did raise some serious questions for the management of the organisation, but this support will be welcomed far and wide within the group and particularly in Barry, where it is the largest employer.

We need to acknowledge that as this recovery has been built, some people have had to pay quite a significant price, including savers, many of whom are pensioners. Of course, low interest rates were essential to deliver the economic growth we all need and on which public services are built. I am particularly pleased that the Chancellor has recognised that it is time for the growth to be shared with our savers and pensioners. Today’s announcements on encouraging saving, and especially the pensioner bond, is significant. A 2.8% return predicted for one year and a 4% return for three years is really quite important for people who want to be able to plan their future and for those who have done the right thing in that they have worked hard and saved hard.

The changes to the ISA are extremely important and very welcome. They will simplify the process, again providing certainty and security: if people work hard, save hard and do the right thing, this Government are on their side.

Finally, I just want to say this: “If you’re a pensioner or about to retire, there is significant help; if you’re employed, the tax allowance will make a big difference; if you’re a saver, there is extra support; if you want to export, there is help available; and if you’re involved in manufacturing, there are significant energy cost reductions.” This is a Chancellor who is building sustainable economic growth as part of our long-term economic plan.

Following on from the comments of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), may I gently remind him that we have had three wasted years before the recovery kicked in? I am sorry if he thinks that is a partisan or a party political point, but it is factually correct. The majority of my constituents in Hull North are certainly not feeling better off under this recovery, and I think the Budget will do very little to make them feel that things are going to get better for them and their families.

Few people in Hull will be taken in by the Tories rebranding themselves as the “workers’ party.” Some changes, such as the cut to bingo tax, are very welcome after some of the shambolic proposals we had in previous Budgets, like the caravan tax and the pasty tax in the infamous omnishambles Budget.

I listened very carefully to what the Chancellor said about building a resilient economy and delivering security for people in this country. Hull and the Humber should be at the forefront of fighting many of the challenges facing this country, such as climate change, generating green energy and developing the science of flood prevention. I believe we could turn issues that are seen as problems and costs into a positive opportunity for growth in the economy, but looking at this Budget in relation to Hull and the Humber, my constituents will be asking the following questions. Does this Budget help the real wealth creators and invest in the modern public services an efficient, growing economy needs? Does it help, for example, the part-time women workers I recently met in a Tesco in Hull who told me about the problems they were having in getting extra hours to make ends meet and pay their bills?

Hull has the 19th highest unemployment level in the country. Will this Budget help the 4,265 people still out of work in Hull North, according to today’s figures? Will it do anything for the long-term young unemployed in particular? Will it deal with the problem of those not in education, employment or training? It will not do any of those things. As the TUC said today, this is a

“short-term Budget…to shrink the state and help the rich.”

Thanks to the coalition’s confusion over energy policy, we are still awaiting good news from Siemens. If Siemens does not come to Hull, the jobs building wind turbines will in effect be exported out of the UK. Climate change deniers in UKIP might welcome that, but it would be a disaster for the economic regeneration of my city. The Budget also failed to announce rail electrification to Hull, but I hope that the Government will have some good news for us shortly.

We heard in the autumn statement that London is to get two new tube stations and a garden bridge, and there is talk of rebuilding Euston station. However, some bright civil servant thought it a good idea, when announcing the electrification of the trans-Pennine route, to stop in Selby, 20 miles short of the end of the line, which is Hull. Yet again, the people of Hull have said, “If the Government aren’t going to help us, we will help ourselves.” A proposal has been put together to bring in private sector money to electrify the line. If the Government put in some £2 million of public money, it will unlock approximately £96 million of private investment. I hope they will make that announcement shortly, and certainly in time for 2017, when Hull will be the city of culture.

My hon. Friend is highlighting a very important point about Government investment in electrification programmes in the north of England. I recently attended a meeting of the all-party group on rail in the north, and the map of the investment programme we were looking at had a line heading north-east that said “York”, and then an arrow saying “to Scotland”. The north-east of England was not mentioned at all.

My hon. Friend makes his point very well. If the Government are serious about rebalancing the economy, they need to invest in northern rail.

It is interesting to note that, because of recent events, the coalition has now realised that flooding is a major economic problem. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that the Thames valley was affected and the playing fields of Eton were flooded. I am pleased that the Chancellor announced additional money for flood defence work, but of course that should be seen in the context of the Government’s slashing the flood defence budget in previous years. As those in any area that has been flooded know, spending £1 on flood defences saves £8 in the cost of clearing up after a flood, so such investment makes sense.

On flood insurance, I note that the Chancellor is extending the Help to Buy scheme. Advertisements encouraging people to buy are plastered everywhere in places like Kingswood, in Hull North. However, it is a shame that other parts of the Government do not seem to think that houses should be built in areas like Kingswood, because they will not be able to participate in the flood insurance scheme that the Government have negotiated with the insurance industry. I should also point out that the new garden city at Ebbsfleet will be in a flood-risk area, and the owners of the houses built there will not get flood insurance under the Government’s scheme. It seems that one part of the Government does not know what the other part is doing. Small businesses are guaranteed access to flood insurance under the Government’s current scheme, but they will be excluded from the new scheme. The Government need to look at that problem.

On the cost of living crisis, which many people in my constituency face, there has been much fanfare about raising the personal allowance, but we know that 5 million of the poorest workers gain nothing from that increase. Many of those will be women. We know that the Government wanted to give the 8,000 millionaires their £40,000 windfall from the cut in the 50p rate of tax, but it is interesting to note who is bearing the brunt of the coalition’s austerity. The majority of those now falling into poverty and ending up at food banks are actually in work. That shows that the Government are not making work pay: being in work is no longer a guarantee of escaping poverty. FareShare in Hull said this week that demand for its help is up 53%, and the Trussell Trust reported a trebling of food bank use in a year.

Does the hon. Lady accept that with the increase in the personal allowance announced today, particularly from next April, 3.2 million people will be taken out of income tax completely, 56% of whom will be women?

I do not think the Minister was listening to what I said: 5 million workers earn much less than the personal allowance, so they are not affected by the increase. The analysis that has been done shows that the better off benefit far more from that increase. It is not a way of targeting the poorest in our society.

We are seeing the shocking growth of charity dependency in 21st-century Britain, which, as many hon. Members have said, is the seventh-richest nation. That is Dickensian in a digital age. It is tragic for the life chances of millions of people that after the coalition inherited an economy that had returned to growth in 2010, we have had three years of flatlining. Places such as Hull and the north have suffered the most from, for example, the savage cuts to council funding, despite the coalition Government’s rhetoric about rebalancing the economy.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the raising of the tax allowance, which will cost £1.4 billion to begin with and rise to £1.8 billion, compared with the bedroom tax, which will save about £500 million, shows us everything we need to know about the Government’s priorities? They are giving three times as much to people who have got some money, and the very poorest are being crushed.

My hon. Friend makes that point well. There have been 24 tax changes under the Government, and average families will be £1,600 worse off at the end of the Parliament. The recovery is too much based on the south, financial services, private consumer debt and an unsustainable property bubble. More women are now in work than ever before but many of them are in part-time work, on zero-hour contracts or on short-term contracts.

The poorest people in the most deprived areas have been hit hardest by the coalition Government. We have a bedroom tax, but we have no mansion tax. We have bank bonuses for some, but we have food banks for many. The new £1 coin neatly sums up Lib Dem involvement in the coalition. It is not the 12 sides that we need to worry about; it is the two faces. This is another Bullingdon Budget from a coalition of two parties representing one privileged class and creating two nations.

Order. The enthusiasm for interventions has meant that most Members have spoken for considerably in excess of the eight minutes allotted. Therefore, I have to reduce the time limit to seven minutes.

I will not break with tradition and agree with everything that thehon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has said, but I wish her well with getting the Siemens plant. I saw some Siemens wind farms onshore in Morocco in the western Sahara recently, and they are very effective.

Reflecting on the hon. Lady’s quip about our coalition partners, which was somewhat unfair but slightly amusing, I noticed that the Chancellor is announcing a competition to determine what will be on the tails side of the coin. Heads you win; tails you lose, and I hope that at the general election, the Opposition will lose. Perhaps it would be appropriate to commemorate a failed Labour politician on the coin.

The hon. Lady talked about unemployment. I have looked forward, particularly during the past year and a half, to receiving the excellent House of Commons Library brief on unemployment by constituency, which is rich in information on what is happening. Time and again over the past 12 months, the unemployment rate in my constituency has fallen significantly.

I was pleased to hear that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training—NEETs—had declined to its lowest level UK-wide since 2008. I appreciate, however, that there are unacceptable differences across the country and that some constituencies have yet to feel the benefit. I am sure we all hope that it will be felt in the near future. The extension of the apprenticeship grant for employers to 2015-16 will certainly help, not only in places such as Prospects college in my constituency but in other constituencies where the unemployment situation is even more acute.

The people of Rochford and Southend East will be delighted by this Budget. It will mean more money in the pockets of hard-working people, homeowners and motorists. As the Chancellor put it, it is a Budget for the makers, the doers and particularly the savers. I will focus on the savings element of the Budget later. From an Essex perspective, people in my constituency will be pleased to hear that fuel duty has been frozen once again, providing a saving of 20%, given the rise that would have taken place had it not been blocked. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on campaigning for that change, and I commend the Chancellor for implementing it.

There was also good news on bingo. We did not get the 15% tax cut that had been requested, but one of 10%. The good people at the Mecca bingo hall in the Victoria ward in Southend might now invite me back. They told me last time that I would not really be welcomed back—[Hon. Members: “Aah!] Yes, I was somewhat surprised, but they were kind to me and said that they had voted for me. However, they made the mistake of allowing me to be the bingo caller, and I got it all wrong. I did not know my fat ladies from my two little ducks, or whatever it is. They told me: “Stick to the day job. Stick to politics.” I will do that, but I might go back and play bingo with them to celebrate the tax cut.

Thanks to this Government and to the Chancellor’s resilience, we will be able to keep interest rates low. This is critical; not enough has been said about interest rates, but they form the backdrop to the economy. The income tax personal allowance is to be increased again, to £10,500. This will really help working families and, in particular, it will help women who have had children to get back into work, perhaps working part time. It is crucial that they should be able to do that relatively early, to maintain a good employment history.

As a cider drinker and a beer drinker—not at the same time—I very much appreciate the Chancellor’s 1p cut in duty. It is a small amount, but it is a nod in the right direction. Based on the average price of a pint in a pub or a club, it means that for every 200 pints hon. Members drink, they will effectively get one free. It is a step in the right direction, and I think a few people in the House and in our constituencies will have a drink to say thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer tonight.

The export package is fantastic. It will help companies such as Ipeco, which makes the pilots’ seats for every single Boeing. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that it is based in my constituency. The package will also help KeyMed, a big medical supplier in Southend that employs more than 600 people.

Using the LIBOR fine for charities and good works is really nifty, in that it focuses on what we should be focusing on. Most people will not even know what LIBOR stands for—why should they?—but when excesses in the City are identified, they should be punished. It is great that the LIBOR fine will be paid to charities and to organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which operates on the foreshore in Southend as well as at the end of the longest pleasure pier in the world. The scouting movement will also receive some of that money, which is to be welcomed.

The companies around London Southend airport will welcome the Budget, and I look forward to reviewing it with them in the next few weeks when the Secretary of State for Transport comes to launch the new, improved terminal. The change to air passenger duty for flights to the Caribbean has long been called for and an inequity has now been resolved. Hats off to the Chancellor for finally sorting that one out.

The Chancellor talked of the city deal, from which Southend has benefited. On savers, it is wonderful that we are now able to trust people on annuities. The ISA merger is superb as it will allow people to save more and to move from equities to cash in later life, not just with new ISAs, but with the old ones. I noticed that on the Treasury website it is referred to as NISA rather than ISA. I hope we are not trying to rebrand for the sake of it, as natty as NISA sounds. The savings tax for people on low incomes, taking them out at £5,000 is excellent. Overall, there is something for everyone in this Budget and I am sure the good people of Rochford and Southend East will be very happy with it.

Following convention I shall refer to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) and say I agree with some of what he said, but I disagree with the vast proportion of his speech because it deals with the general principles of the Chancellor’s Budget.

From the Chancellor’s speech one would think that everything was rosy with the economy, but that is not the case. Many people, including those in Northern Ireland, are experiencing a very different reality—a reality that the current Government are almost completely out of touch with. Families are faced with rising food bills, sky-rocketing energy costs and stagnant wages. This is pushing more and more people into personal debt and we could be faced with a personal credit crisis as people over-extend credit cards and use payday loan companies to cover rising bills. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned just yesterday that excessive borrowing was again posing a grave danger to the economy.

The employment figures announced today do not tell the full story, with a vast proportion of these new jobs coming from self-employment, temporary positions and zero-hours contracts. Many of these jobs are unstable and reflect not a true recovery, but a permanent low-wage economy. The figures are not geographically consistent. According to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland, the local employment rate of 72% is the lowest of any region, and unemployment remains stubbornly high at 7.5%, compared with the UK average of 7.2%.

This is to say nothing of the tragedy of joblessness faced by our young people. Youth unemployment stands at nearly a million in the UK and more than 20,000 in Northern Ireland. About one in four of our young people cannot find a job, which will have a devastating impact on our economy and on their own lives in the coming years. Many have emigrated and many more face emigration. PricewaterhouseCoopers has said that this will cost the Northern Ireland economy £l billion by 2016. The Chancellor said nothing new today that makes me think he grasps the scale of the problem or is seeking the necessary remedies.

The Government have made concessions on the transferable tax allowance and on child care provision, but they have omitted to make any allowance for single-earner families where one of the parents goes to work and they forgo a second salary so that they can invest in the life of their children. There is provision for those at the higher level of taxation and provision for those at the lower level of taxation in respect of child care, but for those in between there is none. Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a shortfall in the Government’s child care provision for that section of the community?

Yes, I agree. The Government need to make provision for that section of the population.

With respect to welfare, the supposed recovery is not a balanced one, as this Government continue to attack the most vulnerable and worst-off while giving handouts to those at the top. This political sleight of hand, blaming the poorest in society for the economic woes caused by the banking collapse, which has been repeated by the Chancellor in Budget after Budget, is deeply cynical and should not go unchallenged. The Government’s divisive rhetoric and continued draconian approach to welfare reform is of great concern. The current roll-out of universal credit is unravelling at an alarming rate, yet we are expected to accept even more of this misery for the worst-off in society. We have valid concerns about these measures in Northern Ireland, yet the British Government and the Department for Work and Pensions continue to try to force this issue through with threats and grandstanding.

Today, we hear of further attacks on the most vulnerable, with the introduction of a cap on welfare spending. I have great fears that this proposed cap will be used in an entirely pernicious manner, with little consideration given to need. As always with the Budget, the devil will be in the detail, and I will be fully pursuing this in subsequent weeks. In particular, concerns have been raised as to exactly what benefits will and will not be included in such a cap. I have since been informed that benefits such as disability living allowance, carer’s allowance and bereavement benefits—the very benefits that affect some of the most vulnerable in our society—will be impacted upon.

Although some elements of the Budget are to be welcomed, I have a concern in respect of one sector. The tourism sector is absolutely vital for our economy in Northern Ireland. The measure announced in relation to air passenger duty is extremely limited and will do nothing to lower the excessive rate of duty on flights within the UK and to Europe—such flights form the vast majority of those to and from Northern Ireland. We are still faced with the highest rates of APD and VAT on tourism products in the EU. Almost every EU state has some form of reduction in VAT for the tourism industry, and just last month I held a debate asking for the Treasury to consider introducing a similar scheme in the UK, which would provide an instant boost for the tourism industry and our tourism sector in Northern Ireland. It was notable during that debate that MPs from across the House supported my proposal, including many of the Chancellor’s own Back Benchers. The lack of movement on either of those issues was a glaring omission from today’s Budget.

We see Ireland as an island tourist market, but businesses in the north face a 20% rate of VAT, whereas the Irish Government have taken the sensible step of keeping their rate at 9% for tourism products. Regrettably, the only border for tourists moving between the south and the north is an economic one, brought about by the decisions of the UK Treasury. I ask the Chancellor again to take a hard look at a cut in the rate of VAT for tourism products, which would become budget-neutral after the first year, according to Professor Blake, who used the Treasury’s own economic model.

I am sorry, but I cannot give way again, as I am conscious that other Members wish to speak.

We are also seeking clarification on the aggregates credit levy scheme. I have had much correspondence with the Chancellor and Treasury Ministers on that issue, and I understand that we may be nearing a positive conclusion with the European Commission. So it would be helpful if we could get clarification on that issue, and on the whole area of the Barnett consequentials for flood defences, because I represent a coastal constituency whose coast has been undermined by the impact of climate change.

This was a political Budget from a political Chancellor, and it comes at the cost of the real economy. It will give little comfort to people who will continue to face low wages and high costs.

I have sat through this debate for the past four hours, listening to the doom merchants from the Labour party, so I would just like to advise them of the position in my constituency, not what people would class as a high-wage, high-cost constituency. In 2010, we had unemployment in excess of 10% and we were in the top 10 of the worst unemployment blackspots in the country. This morning I got the figures for my constituency, and unemployment has now dropped to 5% and the town is listed 173rd for unemployment. That is a dramatic recovery.

The increase in personal allowances was the major issue for me in the Budget. It was something that I had campaigned for and that was on the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last election—[Interruption.]

Let me touch on the unemployment figures in east Lancashire. Like me, my hon. Friend will want to congratulate Rossendale and Darwen as well as Burnley on their reducing figures. Does he not accept, though, that the fact that the three-month claimant count in the north-west has gone up shows just how fragile the recovery is and how dangerous it would be to go back to the Opposition party’s policies of more borrowing, more debt and higher unemployment for east Lancashire?

I thank my hon. Friend for that remark. When it comes to the north-west, I can only speak about my constituency of Burnley, which is a prosperous manufacturing town. We have invested heavily in manufacturing over the years, and I am pleased to say that we are not one of the problems in the north-west.

I am delighted to hear about the continuation of the triple lock on pensions, which is great for pensioners. I have to declare an interest as I am a pensioner and I understand how it all works. I welcome the end to the hideous 75p rise that was awarded to pensioners under the previous Government.

I am also delighted that we still have the excellent pupil premium, as I have a number of junior schools in my constituency. One school alone receives more than £100,000 a year to help children from really poor backgrounds.

My main interests are manufacturing and apprenticeships. The Chancellor’s decision two Budgets ago to introduce capital allowances was something that I had argued for and that he had agreed were a great idea, but as the scheme had run for two years, I fully expected him to cancel it in this Budget. However, he did not cancel it; he doubled it to half a million pounds a year. An Opposition Member said that she could not understand the reason for capital allowances. She asked what they could do for manufacturing. Obviously, she has never been involved in manufacturing, and probably has never been in business. She is probably one of the few Members who do not understand what is going on.

I also want to comment on the amazing rise in apprenticeships. In my role as apprenticeships ambassador, I have been able to visit apprentices in different industries across the country. I have seen apprentices build Typhoon fighter jets at BAE Systems in Preston, missile systems in Bolton and Airbus aircraft wings in Chester. I have also seen the other side of manufacturing. Only yesterday, I went to see apprentices at Starbucks in the Westfield shopping centre in White City and they showed me how to make a proper latte with a fancy topping. I met some amazing young people.

I have also met apprentices at Next—one would not expect that such industries would have apprentices. The young apprentices at Next were absolutely amazing and a credit to the young people of this country. I did not realise that Next ran such an excellent apprenticeship scheme, which rivals the one run by Rolls-Royce. Next is committed to its young people, and it sees apprentices as its assets for the future. It is fantastic to see the massive rise in apprenticeships. Apprentices are the future—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) wants to intervene, I am happy to give way.

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman compares the apprenticeships at Next with those at Rolls-Royce. What a disgraceful thing to say about one of our foremost companies. Picking socks is not the same as fixing engines.

If the hon. Gentleman had listened rather than talked to his friends, he would have realised that I was talking about the apprenticeship scheme, and not the apprentices themselves. Next treats apprentices properly, and they go through a proper three-year training programme, as do the Rolls-Royce apprentices. It is a different industry, but those young people are as keen as the apprentices at Rolls-Royce to have a proper career—rather than the career that the Labour party offered them when they were in government—and one of which they can be proud.

The hon. Gentleman might not think that is a good idea, and perhaps in his constituency he would like young people to go on Government training schemes that deliver nothing. These schemes are delivered by proper companies for young people.

They are not youth contracts. They are proper training schemes, and young people are absolutely delighted to be on them. I am appalled that the hon. Member for Swansea West should try to decry them. It is absolutely disgraceful, and he should withdraw his comments.

Unfortunately, I cannot give way, as I have done so twice, and I regret giving way the second time.

I welcome the new pension scheme. It is a fantastic scheme, but I would like—and this is something a number of my constituents have asked for—an end to the problems with Equitable Life. It is time that the Government looked at how we can finally wind up the problems with Equitable Life. Many Equitable Life members are now very elderly, and they would like a conclusion to the problems, which should have been sorted out by the previous Government. I believe that we should step in and sort them out. It is not a lot of money, so we should do that.

I welcome the Budget. The Government are working towards delivering a strong economy. They are delivering a fairer economy, they are creating jobs for our young people, and they are creating security for our industries. The previous Government had one major success: they managed to reduce manufacturing from 22% to 9% without trying. That was an absolute scandal of their 13 years in office. Fortunately, we are now bringing manufacturing back, and we are bringing apprentices back. Manufacturing is climbing again, and it is saving this country from the mess it was left in.

There was much in the Chancellor’s speech with which I disagreed, but at least I gave him the courtesy of listening, unlike Government Members, who gave no such courtesy to the Leader of the Opposition. In fact, when my right hon. Friend was talking about the crisis of living standards, there was a great deal of laughter among Government Members. The country will have seen exactly what they stand for.

The Chancellor began his speech—and Government Members have repeated this—with the mantra, “Oh, the recession was caused by the Opposition.” Somehow, it was financial mismanagement by the Labour Government that caused the economic crisis. That is not true, because there was a worldwide recession. Perhaps I can help Government Members with some facts and figures. When Labour came to power in 1997, the ratio of gross domestic product to national debt was about 47%, but by 2001, after four years of Labour government, that percentage was in the low 30s. [Interruption.] It came down to 33%, so it was 10% less than it was when the Conservative party was in power. It was not until 2008-09 that the ratio of GDP to national debt went up. Everybody knew why it did—there was a global recession. At the end of the day, the Labour party was not in power in the USA, Japan, Germany or other countries. To claim that the financial crisis was somehow caused by the Labour party’s mismanagement is complete and utter nonsense. Government Members should really stop peddling these myths and lies.

The hon. Lady has missed out the fact that the Labour party was running a deficit before the recession, when the economy was growing. That is why we were in the mess we were in.

That is absolutely wrong. A few years after we came into office, the amount of the receipts coming in was more than the national debt, the GDP net. After the debate I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the facts and figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which show how prudently we looked after the economy. Yes, we spent, but guess what? We spent on hospitals and schools. We took millions of children out of poverty. We provided working tax credits for poor families. I do not remember Opposition Members at the time complaining when new schools and hospitals were being built or refurbished in their constituencies. I do not remember any Members complaining about that. That was real investment. The suggestion that the previous Labour Government spent money on throwing parties or something is ridiculous. It was real investment in our country’s infrastructure, which created jobs and made ordinary people’s lives better.

The hon. Lady says that no Members complained when schools were built in their constituencies, but they did. I remember writing long letters about the private finance initiative and the false comparison with the public sector, which was based on a false equation. I think they were built expensively under the Labour Government. I am sorry to have to bring that up after she was so generous in giving way.

I agree that there were some problems with PFI. I am not one of those who say that everything was perfect. However, to suggest that spending on our country’s infrastructure, which created jobs, made people better off and led to between £80 billion and £90 billion being spent on the national health service, was somehow a waste of money is, I think, a real insult to the people of this country.

If my memory serves me correctly, the Opposition at the time agreed fully with the Government’s spending analysis. They did not object to any of it and said that they would carry on spending at the same rate. Therefore, to try to suggest that somehow money was spent recklessly is absolute rubbish. The myths that Government Members have been peddling for the past four years should stop. The Government parties should recognise that they have been in power for four years and should start thinking about what they have done.

We know that on average families are £1,600 worse off. Energy prices have gone up and up. We have said that there should be an energy price freeze until 2017. If the Government really want to help ordinary people, why do they not do that and reform the energy sector? The education maintenance allowance, which helped 16 to 18-year-olds from poor families to stay in school, was abolished, which again hit the poorest in our society the hardest. The Chancellor today announced a new garden city, but it has taken him four years. We have been arguing for four years that more house building projects are needed. It is great that something is now happening, but we have had to wait too long for it.

I would like the Chancellor to have frozen energy bills until 2017, which would have been really helpful. Young people should have been put back to work with a jobs guarantee scheme, which we have said would be funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses. Free child care should be extended to 24 hours for three to four-year-olds, and we should also cut taxes for 24 million people on lower incomes, with a lower 10p starting rate of income tax. That would help a lot of ordinary working people. The Government should also cut business rates for small firms so that we can create more jobs. That, too, would help ordinary people and small businesses.

Finally, we should consider the issue of equality, pay gaps and wealth distribution. It is said that things are better now than 28 years ago, but recently there have been various articles and a lot of discussion about the fact that the pay gap is too large. Even the International Monetary Fund, hardly a hotbed of communism, has said that countries with a great deal of inequality have economic as well as social problems as a result. Steps should be taken to narrow the gap even more. There should have been real measures to tax the really wealthy in our society, especially their homes, so that we can reduce the gap.

Even Her Majesty, who is not known for getting involved in the political issues of the day, has expressed concern about the level of poverty and the situation of the poor. If the Queen starts getting involved in these issues, that is a wake-up call for everybody—not just for the Government, but for my party. However, the coalition is in power and it should be looking at the issue of inequality.

Apart from the fact that it is only right that society should be more equal and fair, addressing inequality makes economic sense. Problems with mental and physical health often arise from financial difficulties and cost the economy about £40 billion. Addressing inequality makes sense, but there was nothing in the Chancellor’s speech that helps the ordinary working poor person.

Order. I am sorry to have to tell the House that, to get more colleagues in, I must reduce the time limit, with immediate effect, to six minutes—a reduction of one minute.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi).

I suggest that today’s Budget was a significant and historic one for this country. Twelve months before a crucial general election, it gave the British people a clear choice. It showed through the Office for Budget Responsibility report the success of the last four years’ work of rebalancing and laying the foundations for long-term growth. It showed us a Chancellor and a Government committed to the long-term programme of recovery on which we had embarked. It was a Budget for resilience, responsibility and the real economy.

I particularly want to highlight three elements: first, the extent to which we have finally begun to get on top of the appalling historic legacy of debt that we inherited from the Labour party; secondly, the significant steps that we set out to support science, innovation and export-led growth; and thirdly, the historic package of support for savers and pensioners.

Will the hon. Gentleman add the Cambridge city deal as a fourth point? That will contribute so much to what will help his constituents, as well as mine.

I am delighted that the Chancellor has been able to support the Cambridge city deal, which will play a key part in our innovation economy.

We should take time to remember the mess that we inherited four years ago, and the causes of it. The truth is that between 1997 and 2010, we saw the largest increase in public spending as a percentage of national income of any industrialised country. During that period, we rose from 22nd to sixth in the world league table for public spending as a percentage of national income. Before Opposition Members try to argue that that was a result of the global crash—indeed, after they have tried to do that—I should say that if we take the date of 2007, before the crash, we see that our position on the table had risen from 22nd to 10th. That is the second largest increase in history.

That legacy was created by a wilful overspend by the Labour party. It left us, in 2010, with the biggest peacetime budget deficit in our history—a £157 billion deficit and a £1 trillion debt. If we pay off that debt at £1 million a minute, it will take us 30 years. The truth is that everybody in this country is now paying for that. We inherited a situation in which debt interest alone was set to rise to £70 billion a year. When we started, debt interest alone was, in effect, the fourth biggest Department of State, and we were borrowing £1 for every £4 spent. It was an absolute disgrace for the outgoing Labour Government’s Chief Secretary to have left a note with an exclamation mark saying that he thought it was funny that there was no money left. We should remember that. I do not think it is a joke, because we are all paying the price.

That is why I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of the OBR’s reporting on the progress that we are making in our deficit reduction plan through the 80:20 rule—80% from spending and 20% from tax. These were tough decisions—all of which, we should remember, were opposed by Labour—and they are now beginning to lead to sustained long-term growth. Growth is up to its highest level for 30 years, and we are now the fastest growing economy in the G8. Some 1.5 million private sector jobs have been created—three for every one regrettably lost in the public sector. There has been a 24% fall in unemployment, with the fastest fall in youth unemployment for 20 years. As a result, we are now on track to eradicate the deficit by 2018 and we are paying off debt quicker than any other western economy. That is a record of which we should be proud and a record to which this Budget stands testament.

I want to highlight the important work that the Government are doing from that platform to support our innovation economy. Today’s announcements on science and technology and the knowledge economy included £42 million for a new Alan Turing institute of big data, in which Britain is leading the world; £74 million for the cell therapy manufacturing centre and the graphene innovation centre, putting Britain at the cutting edge of new technologies that will turbo-charge new industries and new business creation; and £106 million for 20 doctoral training centres across the country.

We have an enormous opportunity to trade our way out of the debt crisis by plugging into the fastest growing emerging markets around the world, particularly in the life sciences, in food, in medicine, and in energy. In 30 years, those economies will go through the same industrial and agricultural revolution that we started and went through in 300 years. They represent vast markets for our knowledge economy. That is why I particularly welcome the support for export finance. As a trade envoy and a former business man myself, I know how important it is to support our small companies. We are starting from a woefully and shamefully low base. After 13 years, Labour left us very weakly linked into those emerging markets. We still export more to Luxembourg and Belgium than we do to China. I am delighted that the Government are making such progress.

You do not need to take this from me, Mr Speaker—take it from the business community. The Institute of Directors has said:

“This is a responsible and imaginative budget which should promote growth, exports and investment. It will be widely welcomed.”

The British Chambers of Commerce said this afternoon that the Budget was

“disciplined, focused, and geared toward the creation of wealth and jobs”

and that it “passes the business test”. The CBI has said:

“The Budget will put wind in the sails of business investment, especially for manufacturers.”

I turn to the historic announcements on savings and pensions, with the pensioner bond, the new ISA, the abolition of the 10p rate on savings, the child trust fund, and the increase in the amount that can be invested in the junior ISA.

There is often a problem with the governance of ISAs when the banks attract savers into ISAs and then change their rules and boundaries so that within a year they are no longer selling that ISA but have moved on to the next ISA pot. Sometimes savers may be ripped off by banks that have not been responsible in managing their ISAs properly in moving the vehicle that the money is in and lowering the interest rate after a year or two.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The bigger point is that in the 1980s the Conservative party launched a historic renaissance of saving and wealth creation whereby more and more people, through ISAs and PEPs, were able to own shares and save. That was wilfully destroyed by the former Labour Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), through his stealth taxes. It has long been necessary for us to restore a culture and a set of incentives for a genuine renaissance in savings, and that is key to the resilience that the Chancellor set out today. That was the most important set of measures in today’s Budget, and it will stand the test of time.

What did we hear from Labour Members? I came here genuinely wanting to hear the Opposition’s response to this package. I wanted to hear the alternative economic policy that Labour is going to put to the British people next spring. For all the noise we hear on the Government side of the House, the real test, as we know, is the silence from the Opposition Benches. What we heard today was an embarrassing descent into business bashing and class war. If that is what the Leader of the Opposition defines as his “new socialism”, I wish him luck. I will be sending a copy of his speech to all the businesses in my constituency, because it fails the business test in spades, and it is the business test that will drive the growth and investment on which the public sector always depends.

Will the hon. Gentleman also be sending them a copy of the noise that was being generated by Government Members during the speech of the Leader of the Opposition today?

I will have a chance to read Hansard. I am not surprised there was noise. It was a shameful performance. When, 12 months from the election, this country needs a choice, and Her Majesty’s Opposition are supposed to set out an alternative economic policy, it was woeful. It gives me no pleasure to say it. The result is that the choice is now clear: a Chancellor, a Government and a Prime Minister with a long-term plan for resilience and recovery, led by the real economy and investment, and a Leader of the Opposition who seems now committed simply to going into the election on a ticket of partisan politics and gesturing to his trade union funders. It was not a Budget response that merited his title. It did not set out a serious economic programme for recovery, and I am afraid that it deserves the response that I think it will get at next year’s general election.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this Budget debate. I begin by welcoming the Chancellor’s announcement on new housing developments at Brent Cross and Barking-Riverside, and the overground extension at Barking. Those are much needed in London. There were also important announcements for the air ambulance service in London, particularly a reduction in VAT on fuel, which I know will be welcomed by the London ambulance service. For those who have campaigned for many years on air passenger duty—the Minister will recognise that that has been a real sore in the Caribbean community throughout this country and I know that Northern Ireland Members have also raised the issue—the announcements were surprising but very welcome.

I had hoped that the Chancellor would deal with one of the central challenges in our economy, which The Spectator described as one of the biggest and most disturbing social changes of our age: the polarisation in the unemployment market, referred to in a BIS report last year. Britain now has an hourglass economy, with a significant chunk of jobs at the top end—those on huge salaries in the banking industry or those who are part of the global industrial nature of our world—and a shrinking of jobs for those in the middle level and those who are working up and hoping to take part in our economy. It is why there is such a debate about the living wage and the minimum wage. We heard nothing in this debate about how we are to deal with this hourglass economy.

Our economy has lost 1.2 million semi-skilled jobs that so many hon. Members would have recognised just a few decades ago. I am talking about the manual operators, the secretarial and administrative jobs that existed in our economy. People are being squeezed as a result. Of the newly created jobs, 300,000 are in customer services. The number of men working in customer services has risen by 46%. There is a real issue about the quality of jobs in this economy, and how working people can provide for their families. Some 88% of Londoners are now reliant on the service economy. The fundamental question for any Chancellor is whether that is satisfactory when the bulk of those services are in the retail economy. We say that the economy is looking better and consumers are spending a bit more, but can we not learn from the economic crash in the first place and ask for an economy based on creativity and innovation, and not one based on consumption and predatory practices, as the Government seem to applaud without dealing with the structural problems in our economy?

I want to see more manufacturing in our capital city. If New York can do it, so can we. Advanced manufacturing means that people are paid more. We ought to be setting that as our aim, but the Budget did not seem to deal with those issues. Of course one welcomes the extra 15,000 homes in Ebbsfleet, but the vision is poor. Eleven new towns were set up in the Abercrombie plan—look to Stevenage, Crawley and Peterborough, where I went to school. The idea that we will solve our housing crisis with 15,000 homes is, frankly, pathetic.

In London, people’s rents have increased eight times faster than their salary and an average property costs 16 times the salary of those who want to buy their own home. The average age of a first-time buyer in London is 38 and they are doing it with the help of the bank of mum and dad: 70% of them are borrowing from their parents in order to get a deposit and get on the ladder. I did not hear enough about how this Budget will deal with the big housing challenge this country faces.

I welcome the decisions on energy in particular, but if we are really going to be a creative economy and the innovation nation that we have to be in order to compete with so many other countries, research and development is critical, but spending on it in Britain dropped again last year by 8%. What was in this Budget to support R and D and ensure that we will be the innovation nation that we have to be? Not enough.

The Budget felt complacent. It gave the impression that all is good. Apparently we are all in it together, but in fact, when this House votes on the Budget, we will be voting, in effect, for an increase in our pay, because the thresholds have changed and we will benefit. My concern is for the many out there who will not benefit from this Budget—the many who are dependent on an economy with structural problems that are not being addressed, on housing and on those jobs that that this country needs. We should see more from this Government.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who understands the need for strong families.

I want to deal head-on with many of the points that have been made about the financial challenges that people face. The facts are that the recession this country faced was much deeper than we thought; at the same time, this country faced a huge commodity price shock, with energy and food prices going up significantly; and our major market in the eurozone, where half our exports go, was flat on its back. Those were significant challenges.

The Chief Secretary in the previous Government, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), pointed out that wages for lower-paid workers had been rising very slowly since 2003. On top of that, there was a huge wave of immigration under the previous Government. Between 2005 and 2010, there were 413,000 fewer British people and 736,000 more foreigners in employment. Those are official figures from the Office for National Statistics. That had an impact on driving down wages, which has been at the root of many of the concerns we have heard from the Labour party.

How do we deal with low wages and create a high-wealth economy so that we can deal with the issues of poverty we have been discussing this afternoon? We do it by having world-class schools. This is a Government who are not content with British children getting better educational results than the previous year—they want them to match the results of those in the highest performing countries. We do it through highly skilled apprenticeships: the number of people going into apprenticeships has doubled, and some 2 million apprenticeships have been launched under this Government. We do it by setting up university technical colleges nationally—my constituency has Central Bedfordshire UTC—to make sure that our young people have the skills to go on to earn decent wages in productive industries. That is how we will deal with productivity, because the money is there to be earned.

Government Members think it is morally unacceptable to pass this generation’s unpaid debts on to our children and grandchildren. It is frankly shameful that this country has not lived within its means since 2001. The fact is that every four days we are still spending £1 billion more than our income. That is why we have further work to do on getting the budget back in balance. As the Chancellor reminded us at the start of his speech, we still have one of the highest deficits in the world.

In their first term, the Labour Government brought down debt as a proportion of GDP from, roughly, 40% to 30% when they followed Conservative financial plans, and I commend them for that. To be fair, they were right to do it.

We have created 1.7 million new private sector jobs, with 400,000 new businesses set up, and we are looking at a real-terms increase in the minimum wage to £6.50. I may add that cleaners at the Department for Work and Pensions are now on the living wage, which was not the case under the previous Government. For the first time in 35 years, the United Kingdom has a higher employment rate than the USA.

For pensioners and savers, the Chancellor has today announced fantastic and really significant changes. I remember saying in opposition, in one of my first speeches in this House, that I wanted people to have the same sense of ownership in relation to their pension as they have in relation to their house or their car, and we have moved significantly towards that today. People will feel that they own this money and have much greater control over it and much greater flexibility, which is all hugely welcome.

The tax cuts coming in are hugely significant. The investment allowance is going up to £500,000. Fuel duty has been frozen. Council tax has again been frozen. The personal allowance will increase to £10,500. Corporation tax has been cut from 28% to 21%. Business rates for smaller businesses will be cut next month by £1,000, which is brilliant for our small shops and businesses. Employers national insurance contributions will also be cut from next month by £2,000. A penny is being taken off a pint of beer. From next April, national insurance will not have to be paid for everyone under 22. All those measures will help enormously, as will the cuts in energy costs, which I was delighted to hear about because they are absolutely necessary. I very much welcome the fact that families will get a further £15 off their energy bills, while mid-sized manufacturers will get £50,000 off their bills.

What the Chancellor said about exports was fantastically significant. Going from the least competitive to the most competitive export finance regime in Europe is fantastic. I am the son of a small manufacturer who exported all over the world, so this is in my blood. I get hugely excited when I see businesses in my constituency—BE Aerospace, Honeytop Speciality Foods, Strongbox Marine Furniture—exporting all around the world. We need to give them more help, and we need more exports.

The Chancellor said that this is a Budget for resilience, and it is good that this Government are trying to encourage resilient families. The number of children living with both parents has increased by 250,000, going up from 67% to 69%; and it is particularly welcome that the figure has gone up from 45% to 48% for low-income families.

Finally, I hugely welcome the cut in VAT on air ambulances. Many mayors in my constituency have raised money for the air ambulance in the east of England.

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who seems to have been spellbound by the Wizard of Osborne’s Wonga economics.

I say that because since the arrival of this Government, debt as a share of GDP has risen from 55% to 75%, and it will rise to 80% when they leave office next year. [Interruption.] Contrary to the mutterings by Government Front Benchers, the reality is that the previous Government did a very good job in increasing GDP by 40% in the 10 years to 2008 and, when they faced an international crisis, by engaging in fiscal stimulus—with President Obama—to avoid a deep depression and give us a shallow recession, so that by 2010 we had the modest growth that was then destroyed by the current Chancellor. He announced 500,000 job cuts in the public sector, which basically stopped consumption and flatlined the economy, which is why the debt has grown and why this Government have borrowed more in three and a half years than the previous Government did in 13 years.

The Chancellor says that there is now growth, with a new recovery, but if we analyse that growth, we can see that lending by banks in the form of mortgages and consumer debt is at the same level as in 2008, while lending to business is down by 30%. That is why productivity has fallen—down 5% in Britain, compared with an 8% rise in America—and why this is not sustainable growth rooted in the real economy, but just a bubble in the housing market that will burst once interest rates go up, as they will when unemployment goes below 7%. After the next election, the bubble will blow up in people’s faces, as happened with sub-prime debt, because people do not have the income to pay the higher mortgage costs that will follow a rise in interest rates.

Government Members say that everything is rosy and that incomes are going up, but the people who are worst off are those on jobseeker’s allowance who are desperately looking for jobs. As I mentioned in an intervention, in Swansea 65% of people who are on JSA have been sanctioned. They have less than £72 a week to live on, but they are having money taken away for not turning up to Work programme appointments that they were only notified of the day after the appointment should have happened. That is a dreadful situation.

I met somebody last week who has chronic disabilities. He has a major heart condition. Although he is 28 years old, he was judged to have the physique of somebody of 98 by his consultant. He went to Atos and got zero points. He is now in a state of malnutrition, along with his other problems. He is unfit to work.

We all welcome the increase in the tax allowance. That will cost about £1.8 billion. There was choice about that this year.

There has been some talk of inequality being at a 25-year low. However, the changes in benefits will increase inequality. The poorest spend a greater proportion of their money on indirect taxes—some 30% for the poorest fifth compared with 14% for the richest fifth—but the Tories have decided to give money away through direct taxes, because that helps people who are better off. That is only what we would expect.

The major initiatives on exports, such as credits for exports and support for UKTI, are to be welcomed, but let us not forget that the trade deficit has grown by 15% from £100 billion to £115 billion since 2010. We welcome the increase in building, but let us not forget that the target is lower than the increase required by population growth alone. Companies such as Taylor Wimpey and Barratt are saying that they will build a maximum of only 15,000 homes a year each. All the money is being funnelled by the banking system into mortgages, which is lifting the price of existing houses, rather than into building new houses, so Help to Buy is obviously a political ploy that will blow up in our faces.

There have been cuts in infrastructure over the past two years, and they are beginning to pick up. High Speed 2 will not arrive until 2030. The Prime Minister said that he would electrify the railways in the valleys, but now he is saying that the Welsh Government should do it. The Government have given borrowing powers to the Welsh Government and so have said they have to pay for it. That was a clever bit of footwork. There was a 49% cut in road building between 2010 and 2012, and there are no new motorways or highways.

I welcome the cuts in energy prices for companies such as Tata, which is local to me. However, much of the problem was created by the Chancellor’s carbon pricing in previous Budgets.

Obviously bingo is great. If people go down the pub and buy 200 pints of beer, they will now get one pint free. That is great as well.

Overall, this is a political Budget that is focused on the better-off and the south-east, and that cuts the public services that people rely on. It could have been better for businesses and for people. We want a one nation economy, not two nations in Britain being pulled apart. We want fairness and strength, but we will not get them with this lousy Budget.

Mr Speaker,

“By making a better business environment his top priority, the Chancellor has recognised that successful and confident companies are the key to transforming Britain’s growing economic recovery into one that is felt in homes and on high streets.”

That was the response this afternoon of the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. It reflects the fact that the Budget takes place in an economy where growth is established—it is set to grow faster than any other developed economy in the world—and where unemployment has been falling consistently and steadily. More than 1 million jobs have been created in the private sector across the country. Today’s unemployment figures provided further good news. In my constituency, unemployment fell again. Unemployment is 20% lower than it was at the time of the last general election and I hope that it will continue to fall. That is making a difference to people’s lives and circumstances.

I am sometimes dismayed to hear Opposition Members decrying the number of jobs that have been created and pretending that they are not worth anything. The best thing that we can do in the economy is get people back into work, and there are a variety of jobs that people want to do. In an intervention earlier, the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) seemed to dismiss a job for a young person as an apprentice in the retail sector as one that was not worth having, particularly in the fashion and textile industry. I find that absolutely staggering, because it is an important industry that people want to go into.

I welcome the extra investment in the apprenticeship programme announced today. The programme has helped a lot of young people get into work, and I have seen it work to great effect in my constituency. At an event that I attended with the Federation of Small Businesses last week, I was pleased when it said that because of growth and falling unemployment, one of the big demands from employers is to have more skilled people to recruit from. Investing money in apprenticeships, further education and skills training is important in meeting that demand.

The Chancellor reminded us today of the cuts in business taxes that the Government have put in place, particularly the headline cut in corporation tax from 28p to 20p in the pound next year, which will make a big difference, including to smaller businesses on the high street. One of the great tests that I apply in Folkestone and Hythe to see how well the local economy is doing is what the high street looks like. Is it busy? Are people out shopping? Are businesses trading? I am pleased to see more new independent businesses opening and taking shape, and more entrepreneurs setting up their businesses in incubator spaces such as the Workshop in Tontine street in Folkestone. Town centre businesses will benefit from the £1,000 cut in business rates that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement and the £2,000 employment allowance, which will go to smaller businesses.

The cuts in income tax will benefit a huge number of people across the country. More than 3 million people will benefit from the lifting of the personal allowance to £10,500, and 45,000 people in my constituency will be better off as a result of the changes in income tax that the Chancellor has announced.

I also particularly welcome the Chancellor’s focus on what he called “the makers”, who are an important part of our economy. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said that we should do more to support and stimulate the creative economy, but we have done a huge amount. The Chancellor confirmed today that the European Commission has approved the production tax credits that were announced in the previous Budget for the video games industry, high-end TV production and drama and the animation sector. Those policies are now bringing investment into this country and into a rapidly growing industry. The film and television sector in this country is booming and sustains a large number of jobs across the creative sector, not just those employed in it directly. The Chancellor was absolutely right to say that he wanted to extend those production tax credits to theatre, including regional and touring theatre.

I know that many people in the drinks industry, as well as drinkers, will welcome the cut in beer duty and the freeze on whisky duty. Last week, I met some winemakers at Chapel Down in Kent, who work in an important and growing area of the UK drinks industry. I am sure that they will welcome the scrapping of the duty escalator, but what was more important to them in today’s Budget were the incentives to invest in the growth and development of their business. They are much more concerned about growing and expanding their market overseas, so they will hugely welcome the increase in export finance from the Government to £3 billion and the £500,000 annual investment allowance for businesses, as they invest in the future success of their business.

I wish briefly to mention savers. Many people in my constituency will have been delighted to hear what the Chancellor said today. For a long time, it has been a bugbear of many people approaching retirement that annuities have been poor value, and they have resented being forced into taking out a poor product that they did not want. They now have more freedom. I know that many older people who rely on savings income have been concerned that they have not been able to get the returns that they would like, because banks’ interest rates have been low and the range of products has been limited. The creation of new bonds that will be available to pensioners, with returns of up to 4%, will lead to a revolution in the savings market in this country, as will the reforms to ISAs. Somebody said earlier that they should now be known as NISAs—new ISAs—which is a nice touch. They will be simpler, and people will be able to save more, which will be—

Exactly.

Like other Members, I greatly welcome the removal of VAT on fuel for air ambulances. Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance is a fantastic organisation and has been calling for that change, and it and people across Kent will welcome it.

In the lead-up to the Budget, I argued that the Chancellor should use this opportunity to demonstrate a clear Government strategy to support young people and, in particular, I hoped to see him signal a strong commitment to apprenticeships. I therefore welcome the Chancellor saying that he will double the number of apprenticeships, but unfortunately that is not enough to bridge the skills gap.

The fact that youth unemployment remains so high is of concern to us all, and I was heartened to hear hon. Members speaking about schemes in their areas and saying that unemployment is going down. Unfortunately, however, in Rotherham and many other constituencies that is not the case. The current figures paint a grim picture: almost 1 million young people are still not in education, employment or training, and today more than 730,000 more young people are out of work or underemployed than in 2005. We are seeing the beginnings of a generational crisis that will not only cause problems for young people today, but create a skills gap that will follow them into the future. If we do not give our young people the training they need to work now, the future of our long-term economy will be at stake.

The impact of the Government’s choices does not end with the economy, because the quality of life enjoyed by our children, and our children’s children, will also be affected. I do not want future generations to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or whether they can afford to heat their house, because they were not given the chance to develop vital career skills when they were young. That is why I felt it so important for the Chancellor to use this Budget to invest more in young people’s skills and training.

Young people want to work. We know that, but there is still a lot more we can do to invest in their future. Regardless of the Chancellor saying today that he will add 100,000 apprenticeships, the number of new apprentices fell by more than 25,000 in the past year. In addition, there are now more than 5,000 fewer under-19s starting apprenticeships than there were in 2009. Supply of apprenticeship opportunities is simply not keeping up with rising demand, with many young people missing out as a result. Added to that are concerns that many apprentices are not receiving the legal minimum wage, and a recent survey showed that 29% of apprentices are not being paid enough. What does the Budget do for apprentices who are not getting the minimum wage? What does it do for young people who want a job but cannot find one?

I still believe that apprenticeships are not being taken seriously enough by this Government as a credible alternative for our young people. The level of apprenticeship applications outstrips the number of available places by 12:1, and the Chancellor’s announcements today will do little to address that. Nationally, think-tanks have reported that England currently has only 11 apprentices in place for every 1,000 jobs. Now is the time for us to turn the tables and invest in young people by creating more apprenticeships of greater quality. The Chancellor says that his plan is working, but if he really had a convincing plan, he would have built into the Budget serious and credible measures to support young people, safeguarding the economy for the future.

Allow me to paint a picture of the crisis in my constituency. The census showed that more than 50% of young people in Rotherham are either unemployed or economically inactive. Let me say that again: more than half of Rotherham’s young people are without a job. They want to work but they have nowhere to turn. Scandalously, that is not even the worst of it. If we compare the number of young people in my constituency who have claimed jobseeker’s allowance for a year under this Government with the equivalent in the last four years of the Labour Government, we see that the figure has increased dramatically. Indeed, I was flabbergasted to find out that that figure had increased not by 20% or even 50%, but by an incredible 760%. That is a 760% increase in young people in Rotherham claiming jobseeker’s allowance for a year under this Government—you couldn’t make it up! That figure alone is enough to make me ask what the Chancellor has been doing to support unemployed young people in Rotherham in the past four years. What hope has he offered them in this Budget? The answer is clear: he has done very little indeed, and he is offering them very little hope.

I wish to make a plea to the Chancellor: it is time to start taking the youth unemployment crisis seriously, and it is time to invest the Government’s Budget in young people because they are our future business leaders, construction workers, engineers, and scientists. If we do not act today, we risk creating a generational skills gap. Our society needs a strong, motivated and skilled young work force who will serve Britain not just now, but for long into the future. Young people need serious Budget commitments to support them, not the Budget we were given today that clearly supports the richest few at the expense of all others.

At a time when people are facing a choice between heating and eating, the sight of those ignorant, braying public school boys on the Tory Benches during the response by the Leader of the Opposition showed the contempt that they have for the serious issues that people in my constituency are facing. The speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) spoke far more to the real issues faced by my constituents than did the hour-long lecture that we heard from the Chancellor today.

This is the Chancellor’s fourth Budget and people in Chesterfield know what to expect: a recovery for the few, not the many; a denial that the cost of living crisis is engulfing British families under his watch; and a steadfast refusal to take action on the key issues facing our economy. He said today his core purpose was the economic security of people in Britain; well, he has a funny way of showing it. He should know that despite the increase in the tax threshold, the combination of the VAT increase, the failure to take action on uncompetitive markets, the low wage, low security economy he is creating, and the slowest recovery in history mean that people are poorer under the Tories.

For those feeling the pinch, as families are £1,600 worse off under this Government, there was precious little here. For families struggling with the cost of child care, there was a promise that after five years of rising prices things will get better if only people are fool enough to vote for the Tories a second time. For those who cannot afford a deposit as house prices spiral, there is nothing about tackling the lack of supply but further measures that could increase the prices. For the small business owner desperate to grow and branch out but who has been refused loans by all the major high street banks, there is nothing about the access to finance crisis.

These stories are all too familiar to people in Chesterfield, but their plight is not a by-product of the Chancellor’s plan; it is the Chancellor’s plan. He thinks that Britain’s economy can grow only by winning a race to the bottom, but an economy built on insecure work, zero-hours contracts, and fewer rights in the workplace is a castle built on sand, trapping people between an insecure workplace that seems to say that working people should just be grateful for any work they can get and a benefits system that shatters their dignity and crushes their spirit.

The Chancellor said that each job makes a family more secure. Well, not under this Government it doesn’t, because many of the 5,000 people who rely on food banks to feed them are in work. The increase in the number of people in work and in poverty is a national disgrace. Under this Government work is not the route out of poverty it once was.

The Chancellor promised us the pain he inflicted on our families would be worth it because two parties had come together to eradicate the deficit, but today we learn that his central purpose—the reason we put up with this Government—which is deficit eradication is still £90 billion away. We should remember what the Office for Budget Responsibility told us back in 2010. It told us that by the end of this Parliament we would have seen growth of 14.6%. Well, from quarter four of 2010 until now growth has been just 3.5%. The deficit will still be £75 billion by 2015-16. The Chancellor’s failure means he has increased the national debt more in three years than Labour did in 13 and he has failed in respect of the cost of living for working families and he has failed to take action on the energy companies.

We know from a ComRes survey released just this Sunday that a pitiful 9% of the public say their ability to pay their monthly bills has improved since the Chancellor entered No. 11 Downing street, and what about yesterday’s Survation poll showing that, when the poll was restricted to people in work, Labour held a 17% lead? Let there be no doubt which is the party for workers. The Chancellor’s priorities could not be clearer: take food from the mouths of families living in poverty to fund a £100,000 cut for his friends in the City earning over £1 million a year.

As shadow pubs Minister it would be churlish of me not to welcome the Chancellor’s temperance when it came to alcohol duty this year, although we should remember both that he is the Chancellor who raised most from the beer duty escalator that he kept for three Budgets, and that his increase in VAT added more to the cost of a pint than the increase in beer duty has done.

On business rates, what we have seen is a Conservative con trick: a £1,000 discount while the underlying rate of business rates is going up—a bomb waiting to go off under the high street recovery. In two years’ time those levels of business rates will have continued to go up and the discount will just disappear if anyone is foolish enough to vote for this Government again. Businesses’ key concerns in respect of the Budget were crystal clear: all the major business groups’ Budget submissions said there must be action on access to finance, yet we have seen absolutely nothing.

This Government are in denial. They cannot understand why people are not thanking them for the recovery they are delivering, but the truth is people know that evidence of the recovery is not appearing in their pockets. We desperately need a jobs guarantee, and Labour’s jobs guarantee will not only take young people off the scrapheap, but it will end the cycle of hopelessness that sees young people trapped in life on the dole. They will not be further impoverished by benefits sanctions, but will have a positive role that says to the young, “You should be at work. We’ll fund the job, you’ve got to take it.”

This was the Chancellor’s last chance, but, again, when the moment arrived he flunked it. Trapped in an analysis of Britain’s problems that is fundamentally wrong, it is hardly surprising he came up with the wrong answers. People struggling with the cost of living yesterday will still be struggling tomorrow. Parents kept out of the jobs market by the cost of child care have been told to hang on until 2015. For big business struggling with access to finance, absolutely nothing. This Government have run out of ideas; let’s have an election.

Order. As a result of a slew of brief speeches delivered without interventions over the last half an hour or so, I am now in a happy position to be able to raise the time limit on Back-Bench contributions, with immediate effect, to eight minutes.

It is an honour and a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), both of whom made thoughtful contributions. Those of my constituents who watch Parliament Live TV—some of them do—will have heard their speeches and know that Labour Members are standing up for their concerns. My Merseyside constituents have had three really tough years, and listening to the Chancellor today, I have to ask myself what his message was to them. It is hard to know what he thought he was offering the people of this country. Economic growth is still behind the projections made by the Office for Budget Responsibility in 2010.

I know that economic forecasting is a somewhat interesting art, shall we say—it is not always the easiest thing to do—but it is a little tough to take from a Chancellor who has set great store by his intervention in the world of forecasting that he has effectively not met the test he set himself. He has failed on growth, failed on the deficit, is still behind where he said he would be, and is now trying to rewrite the record ahead of an election. The British people are not so foolish: they will not buy it. They know that the Chancellor said he would cut and cut and cut to protect the credit rating—and, lo and behold, lost the credit rating in any event.

Today’s macro-economic picture shows that the Chancellor is failing the tests he set himself and reheating and re-announcing a whole bundle of things, many of which were actually initiatives of the last Labour Government. Nobody is going to be fooled. Worse than that, he has totally missed the genuine problems in our economy. There is fragility at the lower end of the income distribution scale, and I have real concerns about what is happening at the top. Meanwhile, people in the middle are being squeezed yet again.

I say to those Members who are considering crowing about this Government’s record on unemployment that they seem not to have learned the lesson of the 1980s on the claimant count. It is perfectly possible to reduce the claimant count just by getting people not to claim what they are entitled to, and not to turn up at the jobcentre. If anyone wanted to solve the unemployment problem by getting people not to claim benefits, the DWP’s current strategy would be an excellent way of going about it. The culture there is not about helping people to find a job, but making them feel as though they are there to be judged, dictated to and sanctioned. As everybody knows, the Work programme is failing.

Thanks to you, Mr Speaker, in Westminster Hall this afternoon I was able to raise an issue that I have raised time and again: the iniquitous zero-hours contracts and the massive increase in part-time and self-employment, all of which is clouding the true picture of what is going on in our labour market. In speaking up for my Merseyside constituents, I should point out that we have not seen a rebalancing. It was interesting to hear what was said about the Cambridge city deal, which I am sure is wonderful for the people of Cambridge—but Cambridge was doing pretty well anyway. I really do not understand how investing in Cambridge was supposed to amount to rebalancing.

Meanwhile, the north-west is doing pretty well and I am really proud of it, but much of the credit for that goes to the leadership of the cities of the north-west rather than to the Chancellor. Where is the north-east—[Interruption]—and Yorkshire in all this? No effort is being made to address the economic problems there. I urge Conservative Members to look at their history: they will not reconnect with the people of the north of England by ignoring us and pandering to those who view us as unreconstructed, or to the Tory think-tanks that believe we should have a managed decline. But that is not what is happening, and the reality is that the Treasury seems to be straightforwardly ignoring the people of the north of England.

For those in the middle, it is deeply unfair that even skilled people such as nurses are not getting pay rises. Many small business owners raise with me the question of business rates, which my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield mentioned, but again that issue seems to have been totally left to one side. Action must be taken on business rates, on energy prices and on the other problems that trouble families in my constituency, who still need to have conversations around the dinner table about how to manage the family finances and who still worry about getting to the end of the month.

At the top end of the income distribution scale, the Chancellor clearly has not learned the lessons of the 1980s, and certainly not of the big bang in 1986 and its legacy of exposing our country to risk in the City of London. I am afraid that is not good enough. Because the Help to Buy scheme covers properties worth as much as £600,000, it risks creating a similar bubble, and many commentators are fearful about what is going on in the housing market. The Bank of England now says that the City might reinflate itself to between nine and 15 times the size of our economy. If that does not look and sound like a genuine risk to the stability of our economy, I am not sure what does.

The Chancellor mentioned broadening the LIBOR investigation, which is a real worry to me, because we have not yet got a handle on the culture in financial services. Plenty of people work in ordinary jobs in financial services, and I am not criticising the sector as a whole. However, the high levels of inequality and the poor culture at the top do not benefit the ordinary people who work in bank branches and call centres, helping people with their banking every day. They, like everyone else, want the sector to be controlled. There are real problems with people on low wages.

It would be nice to have some recognition for the reinvention of the modern apprenticeship in 2003. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham is absolutely right that we need to do much better when it comes to the number of apprenticeships.

We have problems at the bottom; we have a squeezed middle, and no answer has been proposed to their problems; and I have genuine concerns about the long-term stability of our economy.

There is little in the Budget for families with children. It follows a series of Budgets and spending reviews that have been difficult and disappointing for children and which, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted, will lead to a substantial rise in poverty over this decade.

I recognise why the Chancellor wants to incentivise saving, and of course we want to ensure that pensioners are protected from poverty, but I am concerned that the Budget exacerbates an increasingly unbalanced approach to support between the generations. The first thing that constituents of all ages say to me on the doorstep is how worried they are about the prospects for the next generation.

I am proud that Labour took more than 1 million children out of poverty. The Budget and the Government’s depressingly weak child poverty strategy that was announced the other day represent missed opportunities, and as a result, the gains made under Labour will be all but wiped out. That is not because there was no option: different choices could have been made. The burden of austerity has been predominantly borne by spending cuts rather than by tax increases for the wealthiest, and that has had a disproportionate effect on low-income families.

We know that family benefits have been an important plank in reducing child poverty. According to the Institute for Social and Economic Research, the UK has the second highest child poverty rate, before taxes and transfers, in the 27 EU countries, yet, by the 2014-15 financial year, working age benefits spend will be £22 billion less than in 2010-11 as result of uprating policies, cuts and freezes. That is having an especially harsh impact in households with a disabled family member. One third of people in poverty live in a household with a disabled member, and a quarter of children in poverty live with a disabled adult.

Localising benefits also makes the situation worse. Council tax assistance and local assistance schemes have been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee respectively. The Committees have expressed concern about their impact on vulnerable families. In the meantime, the cost of living is rising—the impact on families with children is especially harsh—yet for first time since the 1930s, the uprating policy for payments for children is now entirely detached from the price rises that affect them. Uprating at 1% bears no relation to RPI or to CPI; the cost of goods and services has risen 15% in past three years. Indirect taxes have hit the poorest families hardest, as a higher proportion of their income is hit.

The living costs that particularly affect families with children have been rising fastest. They include food, energy, rent and child care. This week’s announcement on child care will still leave families without the help that they need. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed there is no new money to fund the announcement, and the number of families benefiting from the scheme is around half what the Government said it would be. Figures revealed in the Government’s latest consultation document show that around 1.26 million families will benefit from tax-free child care, not the 2.5 million claimed in the original consultation document. Also, there is no new support for those on tax credits, who will not be able to access the tax-free child care.

I welcome the increase in support for child care costs under universal credit to 85%, but it is a matter of concern that that will be met from within the universal credit budget. It is therefore unclear where the money will really come from. Universal credit is already running late and over budget, so how can this extra sum be afforded? We also have no firm timetable for all parents being migrated on to universal credit; we know that the programme is experiencing significant delays.

The Government say that work is the best route out of poverty, but the majority of children in poverty live in a household in which at least one adult is working. Tax breaks do not do enough to compensate those families. The Resolution Foundation has found that 75% of the benefit of the increase in personal tax threshold goes to the top half of the income distribution. The Chancellor himself confirmed this afternoon that higher rate taxpayers—those earning up to £100,000—will benefit from the increase in the threshold. Only a tiny element of the cost of the initiative will go towards lifting people out of tax altogether. I understand why the policy is popular, and why it has been effective for some low-paid workers, but Ministers need to look carefully at whether this is now becoming a game of diminishing returns. Meanwhile, there is no other effective labour market strategy. There is no strategy on progression, for example, and there has been insufficient action on low pay, zero-hours contracts and part-time work.

The gender pay gap is also widening. The element that is totally missing from this Budget—and all previous Budgets and spending announcements from this Government—is a gender analysis. Their policies fail to recognise that child poverty is a product of maternal poverty. Mothers are usually the main carers of children, yet this Government’s policies are positively inimical to women. Universal credit is to be paid to one member of a household, which provides poor incentives for second earners to increase their pay. The marriage tax break will help only one in six families with children, with 84% of that benefit going to men. Meanwhile, child benefit, which is usually paid to women, has been frozen or removed, and the child tax credit uprating has been held back at 1%. Marriage tax breaks are no help whatever to lone parents, the majority of whom are women, and whose children face greatest risk of poverty. Lone parents are also now having to pay for the child maintenance to help to support their children.

Overall, the value of financial support for families with children is being eroded, compared with the minimum income needed for families to raise their children. This is beginning to create real desperation among those families. More and more parents are going without, in order to provide the basics for their kids.

I was disappointed when I looked to the Budget today for a new approach. But a new approach is affordable and it can be done: we could redirect the ill-chosen marriage tax break to benefit low-paid families; we could do more to attack the basic living costs faced by families, and more to freeze energy prices and support low-income families with the cost of child care; we could rebalance the system to recognise the role of mothers as main carers of children, putting an emphasis on money paid to women in the tax and benefits system, and money paid to mothers which will be spent on their kids; we should look again at the structure of universal credit, and at its disincentives for lone parents and second earners to maximise their income from work; and we should look back to the helpful recommendations the previous Government received from Lisa Harker, which I believe were welcomed by all parties, to design employment support in Jobcentre Plus more effectively to recognise the particular parenting and caring needs of parents—that should also be done in the Work programme.

If those measures were undertaken, we would be on track to eradicate child poverty, to boost parental—especially maternal—employment and to end inequality gaps. I hope that Ministers will begin to re-examine the way in which they achieve a balance of measures that properly reach out to all families, particularly families with children. That has been sadly lacking from the Budget today.

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who made an extremely good speech about how the Budget and the Chancellor’s actions have a direct impact on people—she discussed the social dimensions to this Government’s actions. I wish to concentrate on the economic aspects.

On Sunday, the Chancellor said that we need to tackle the long-term economic challenges facing the country, and I could not agree more. The problem is that he also said that we have “a balanced recovery”—I could not agree less. If we are serious about tackling the big problems in our economy, it is best to start by admitting what they are. The simple truth is that there is a huge imbalance in our economy between the north and the south, and that is one of the biggest challenges our country faces. The Chancellor came into office talking about rebalancing the economy, driven by what he called the “march of the makers”. But this Budget shows that this Chancellor is incapable of matching words with actions. Instead of the march of the makers, we have yet another championing of the capital; we have an economic policy that suits London but that does not suit the north of England.

To see that, we need look no further than tonight’s London Evening Standard, whose front page says it all: “Osborne’s Budget boost for London”. It talks about Barking Riverside housing, Brent Cross regeneration, the Ebbsfleet garden city and the air ambulance for London. I am not saying those things are not needed, but all that was in the Budget speech and it is all about the south-east and about London; there is nothing about the north—about Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Yorkshire or the north-east. That is the reality of it; there is no rebalancing of the economy.

Let us just look at this Government’s record on rebalancing the economy. All of this Government’s major infrastructure projects have been based in London and the south-east. Weeks ago we even had trains from the Pennines being hauled down to Oxfordshire—that is the reality of it.

I will not give way. These trains were needed in the north to provide vital links between our cities. There is no better example to show where this Government stand and what their priorities are.

Let me give the House another example: the new homes bonus. According to the National Housing Federation, it has taken £104 million from councils in the north and given £342 million to councils in the south, stuffing money into the back pockets of well-off local authorities—that is the reality of it. The regional development fund was supposed to counter many of these issues by pumping regeneration money into the north of England, but even that has been a failure under this Government, with more than £2 billion of the £2.6 billion budget still lying in Government coffers—it has not even reached the targets it was supposed to reach.

Perhaps the worst example of this Government’s southern bias is the way that they have treated business rates. Delaying the revaluation of business rates was a cynical and calculated move designed only to insulate southern businesses from paying fair rates. That is the reality. We now have the ridiculous situation in which struggling retail centres, such as Rochdale high street, are effectively subsidising places such as Regent street in London where business is booming. It is outrageous, and business people in the north of England are quite rightly furious about it.

Does my hon. Friend think that the reason for this unequal distribution of resources is that there are hardly any Conservative MPs in the north-east and the north-west?

I appreciate the intervention. The reality is that the Government are writing off the north of England, because they know they will not have any success there in the forthcoming general election.