House of Commons
Wednesday 16 March 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Malawi: Development Support
The UK continues to provide essential support to Malawi in areas including health, education and economic development as well as life-saving humanitarian assistance for food-insecure households. We support increasing access to justice for women and vulnerable groups, increasing accountability and governance reforms.
Does the Secretary of State agree that domestic resource mobilisation is one of the best ways to ensure that poorer countries can fix their own problems? What conversations has she had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that the new tax treaty between Malawi and the UK helps the people of Malawi in that respect?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and the UK helped to establish the Addis tax initiative, which will see our country and many others, including in Africa, stepping up their support to develop tax systems. We do that in conjunction with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. One of the first things I did in this role was establish a joint working group between the Department for International Development and HMRC to send HMRC officials out to countries such as Malawi to help with their tax systems. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we work very closely with the Treasury.
On the tax treaty, may I ask the Secretary of State more broadly what role DFID will play as the tax treaty with Malawi is being renegotiated, particularly as regards supporting Malawi in its efforts to reduce poverty and develop more generally?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, HMRC leads on these negotiations, but they are progressing well and the House may be interested to know that the Government of Malawi issued a press statement on how they feel the negotiation is going. They talked about
“fruitful discussions to review and modernize the existing agreement”
and said that in their view:
“These discussions are progressing very well”.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to work alongside the Treasury to ensure that tax systems in the countries in which DFID works are developed so that in time they can self-fund their own development, releasing the UK from doing that.
But the UK’s current tax treaty with Malawi severely restricts the ability of the Government of Malawi to tax British firms operating there. Is this not a case of DFID giving with one hand while UK tax policies take away with the other?
I do not agree at all and, perhaps most importantly, neither do the Government of Malawi, who said:
“Whilst the current agreement is admittedly aged, there is no evidence that the agreement has motivated some British investors to deprive the Malawi Government of its revenues. On the contrary, both the Malawi Government and the British Government, as well as the nationals of the two countries, have evidently acted in good faith to ensure that neither party is exploited on the basis of the current agreement.”
It is time that the international tax system worked more effectively so that countries such as Malawi can mobilise their own domestic resources, including tax. The hon. Lady will know that this particular treaty was last updated in 1978. The Government have taken the initiative to work with the Malawi Government to update this relatively old treaty and, as I have set out, those negotiations are going well. Of course, it sits alongside the rest of the work the Government have done on beneficial ownership and improving transparency in tax so that developing countries can get their fair share.
West Bank: Humanitarian Situation
Their increase adds to the sum of human misery, undermines any prospect of a peace process and is contrary to international law. I have left the Israeli Government in no doubt about the strength of our disapproval; our embassy continues to do so.
I thank the Minister for his response. The latest figures from the UN, from early this month, show that there have been 400 demolitions since the start of the year, more than four times the rate of demolitions last year. The wave of demolitions is depriving Palestinians of their homes and their livelihoods and preventing European taxpayer-funded organisations from providing essential humanitarian support. As the British Government made representations when demolitions trebled, what more effective action or sanction will the Minister impose now that demolitions have quadrupled?
The hon. Lady is right that the rate of increase is now faster than at any time since calculations began to be made, and it is essential that the occupied territories, and in particular Area C, are governed in accordance with the fourth Geneva protocol. We will continue to make these representations to the Government. I know the hon. Lady wants to push me further, and I entirely understand the strength of her frustration and anger, but jaw jaw is better than war war.
Will the Minister join me in condemning incitement to violence or glorification of violence on either side?
Absolutely. We are wholly opposed to incitement, and when instances of incitement are brought to my attention, I go straight to the telephone to raise the matter with the chief executives of those organisations and make absolutely clear our fundamental disapproval, and our requirement that things are put right.
Overseas Development Assistance: Definition
3. What assessment she has made of the potential effect on the disbursement of UK aid of changes to the definition of overseas development assistance made by the OECD. (904127)
The recent Development Assistance Committee high-level meeting on ODA modernisation was able to agree the first changes in the ODA definition in 40 years and reflect the changing nature of aid delivery. We do not expect a significant shift in the disbursement of UK aid because these changes align well with the UK’s focus on conflict, fragility and economic development.
The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that the modernisation of the ODA definition had to be under consensus by a number of countries involved. In addition, the primary purpose that underpins aid—economic development and improving the welfare of the recipient country—remains in place. This was really about modernising the definition to reflect how aid is delivered today.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, goal 16 of the sustainable development goals agreed in the UN in September 2015 was all about the need to improve not only peace but security. It is nonsensical for us to work so hard on tackling sexual violence in conflict and not be able to use our aid programmes to help work with the military to prevent that.
Given the changes to the definition of overseas development assistance, and given that there are still some 37 million people living worldwide with HIV and AIDS, as well as 2 million new infections each year, can the Secretary of State tell the House whether her Department’s spending on HIV and AIDS will be rising or falling over the comprehensive spending review period?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we plan to set out the results of our bilateral aid review over the coming weeks, but I can assure him that our support for multilateral mechanisms, such as the Global Fund, that do so much great work on tackling aid, will continue, and he will obviously be aware that HIV and AIDS particularly affect adolescent girls in a growing proportion, so it is important that we stay the course on this.
It is great to see the Benches so packed for DFID questions. The more money the UK spends on ODA through other Departments, the more pressure there will be on DFID to deliver on its existing commitments. What impact will the changing use of ODA have on staffing numbers and capacity at Abercrombie House in East Kilbride?
As I said to the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), we will set out the results of our bilateral aid review shortly. The point of the new aid strategy is to achieve a cross-Government approach to drive development in the countries that we work with. I did not think it was right that DFID was carrying out all that work on its own. It is important to get other Departments to work alongside us to tackle extreme poverty.
Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria
The Global Fund is a fantastic success story. Every pound it saves on costs is a pound that can be put to better use saving lives. For example, a negotiated 38% reduction in the price of insecticide-treated bed nets since 2013 is projected to save $93 million over two years, equivalent to 40 million additional nets.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating a school in my constituency, Ysgol Esgob Morgan, on becoming the first in Wales to be awarded the Welsh primary geography quality mark gold, thanks in part to the DFID-funded global learning programme? Does he agree that every child growing up in the UK should have the chance to learn about the world around them, the facts of poverty and underdevelopment, and the potential to build a freer and more prosperous world?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Through him, I congratulate the school in his constituency and the 4,500 schools across the country that participate in the global learning programme, which we are proud to support with funding of £21 million, because we believe strongly in the importance of development education to support school improvement.
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Student Stop AIDS activists, who raised with me the crucial issue of access to medicines, in which the Global Fund plays a key role. Will the Minister set out the priorities for the World Health Assembly that is coming up shortly and the work that his Department will be doing to take forward that crucial issue?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the enormous success of the Global Fund in making it easier to access medicines. It is important to note that since 2002 the Global Fund has helped reduce deaths from the big three diseases by 40%—a staggering achievement—but there are still too many people dying unnecessarily from those awful diseases, which is why we look forward to a successful replenishment of that very important fund.
The all-party group on malaria, which I chair, is extremely concerned about resistance to anti-malarial drugs in south-east Asia. The Global Fund is doing a great deal of work on that. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of that work?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistent and tireless work in this area. I was with the senior team at the Global Fund the other day in Geneva to discuss it. I have no doubt about its commitment in the face of that challenge. I hope my hon. Friend takes some pride in the fact that the British Government continue to lead in this area, with the recent refresh of the commitment to spend £500 million a year in the battle against malaria in all its forms.
TB is the world’s leading infectious killer. The Global Fund provides more than three quarters of international finance to fight that epidemic. As we approach World TB Day on 24 March, will the Minister call on all Governments around the world to come together to ensure that the Global Fund’s replenishment target of $13 billion is met as a minimum?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for throwing a spotlight on a huge killer, on which we are not making enough progress. We are proud that the UK is the third-largest donor to the fund that provides, as he said, 70% of the funding around the world to combat that disease. It is critical, therefore, that the replenishment of that fund is a success and that other countries step up to the mark so that we can bear down on that unacceptable death rate.
Yazidi Communities (Iraq, Turkey and Syria)
Our response to the Syria crisis is a commitment of more than £2.3 billion, with an additional £79.5 million to Iraq. All our aid is distributed according to need, irrespective of creed or ethnicity.
Daesh is systematically targeting Yazidi children, forcing little girls into sexual slavery and conscripting young boys as child soldiers, yet there are reports from Turkey that support is not reaching some of the Yazidi refugee camps near the Syrian border. What steps is the Department taking to help ensure that children rescued from Daesh receive the support they need and that support reaches survivors in those camps?
The first thing is that we have gone to war with Daesh, and that is a very significant contributor. Equally, we are supporting the UNHCR and a number of organisations that are principally funded through the Iraqi national action plan and the Iraq pooled fund, to which we are the largest contributor.
Some of us met a delegation of Yazidis yesterday who explained the plight of almost 2,000 women still held captive. Would the Minister be willing to meet that delegation to hear at first hand of the difficulty they have in reaching help?
I do not think we have actually had an answer from the Minister. Reports of thousands of Yazidi women being captured by Daesh and sold as slaves, many suffering serious sexual abuse, are harrowing. What measures are the UK Government taking to address that slave trade?
We have sent a number of experts to the region specifically to deal with violence against women. The pooled fund, to which we are the largest contributor, provides maternal and child healthcare services, protection for women and girls, and livelihoods for female heads of households. The Iraqi national action plan delivers similar services, and we are dealing specifically with the needs of women in Dohuk, Kirkuk and the northern areas through the human rights and democracy fund.
Would the Minister describe what is happening to the Yazidis as genocide?
This morning I arrived back from heading the UK delegation at the United Nations for the Commission on the Status of Women. I also took part as a member in the first meeting of the Secretary-General’s high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment. Women’s economic empowerment is the best poverty-tackling and global economy-boosting strategy out there.
Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the devastating Syria conflict. Since day one, the UK has been at the forefront of the response, and that has included hosting last month’s conference. [Interruption.]
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the UK has been at the forefront of ensuring that there is humanitarian support in Sri Lanka, where necessary. He will also be aware of the role that the Prime Minister played in tackling the issues faced by Tamil communities in a part of the country where there had been long-standing conflict. Under the new Government, we hope to see Sri Lanka move forward to a more peaceful, democratic future.
Since February 2012, DFID has allocated £35 million in Turkey. The country hosts about 2 million Syrian refugees, and we are helping it to support them, and indeed other displaced people, with food, education, and skills training. Looking ahead, we shall also contribute our share of the €3 billion EU-Turkey refugee facility.
Efforts that will address education are welcomed by Labour Members. However, to make substantial progress on achieving a good standard of education for all children in developing countries, we must address the barrier of child labour. In June 2015, UNICEF found that 13% of children aged five to 14 in developing countries are involved in child labour. What progress, therefore, is DFID making to help developing countries tackle the use of child labour?
The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the barriers that keep children out of school. DFID is working on many of them, not least female genital mutilation and child marriage. Many of the children he talks about are girls who often do unpaid work at home and on family farms.
I can assure my hon. Friend that DFID and Foreign Office officials, together with other donors, raise concerns about the space for civil society with Governments, including the Government of Bangladesh. This is an incredibly important area. Non-governmental organisations funded by UK aid are active in negotiating with Governments to protect the space for civil society to operate.
T2. Over 150 charities have raised concerns about the supposed anti-lobbying clause attached to new Government grants. Does the Minister not recognise that advocacy is an intrinsic duty of charities in raising issues associated with poverty and ill health across the world? (904142)
I do not think these changes prevent charities from doing that, and they are often advocating the very same things as the UK Government in my area of international development. In fact, only yesterday I was at an event at the UN with charities combating child marriage.
T7. Senior Palestinian officials have condemned peace-building initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians, with one condemning football matches between Israeli and Palestinian youths as “normalisation of the Zionist enemy”. What representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Palestinian Authority to condemn these moves, and what moves is she making to build peace between Israel and Palestine? (904147)
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have played our role in supporting refugees who have fled the Syrian conflict and are now arriving in the European Union, and it is right that we do so. However, he is also perhaps right to say that we should also look to those countries to provide the support that they can, too.
My hon. Friend is right. In fact, in 2013 statistics showed that an adolescent girl gets infected with HIV every two minutes. We very much put the empowerment of girls and women at the heart of our development agenda. We are the second largest funder of HIV prevention, care and treatment, and we have pledged up to £1 billion to the global fund.
T8. At the weekend, we saw pictures of a new-born Syrian baby being washed with just a bottle of water outside a crowded a tent in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece, where more than 14,000 people are trapped as a result of the latest border closures. Will the Government work with other European states to ensure that there are safe and legal routes for refugees to claim asylum? (904148)
The Prime Minister was asked—
With unemployment falling by more than 60% and with more than 5,000 new apprenticeships, Redditch is doing well. I will hold my third jobs fair in the next few weeks, with 25 companies taking part. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have made a good start but that we must not be complacent, and that, through the midlands engine, we must continue to get good quality jobs into our region?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. If we look at the west midlands and today’s unemployment figures, we see that since 2010 the claimant count there has come down by 91,000 people. I am sure the House would also welcome an update on the unemployment figures out today. Employment in our country is at a new record high of 31.4 million people. Compared with 2010, there are now 2,370,000 more people in work than when I became Prime Minister, and the claimant county today is down 18,000 in the last month—figures that I am sure will be welcomed right across the House.
I do not have those figures to hand, but what I do know is that we need to make progress on air quality. That is why we have the new regulations on diesel engines, which are helping; the steady decarbonisation of our power sector, which will help; and very strong legislation already in place to make sure we have clean air, particularly in our cities.
May I help the Prime Minister? The sad truth is that 500,000 will die because of this country’s failure to comply with international law on air pollution. Perhaps he could answer another question: how much does air pollution cost our economy every year?
Of course it costs our economy billions, because people are being injured. That is why we have the new clean air zones, and emissions from cars are coming down. If I may give the right hon. Gentleman one example, if we deliver on our carbon reduction plan for electricity generation, we will see roughly an 85% reduction in carbon between 1990 and 2030. That will give us one of the best green records anywhere in the world.
The Royal College of Physicians estimates that air pollution costs our economy £20 billion a year. The failure to deal with air pollution is killing people. Only a few days ago, London faced a severe smog warning. The Prime Minister’s friend the Mayor of London has presided over a legal breach of air quality in the capital every day since 2012, so why cannot the Prime Minister hurry up action to make us comply with international law and, above all, help the health of the people of this country?
It was the Conservative Governments of the 1950s that passed the clean air Acts, and I am sure that it will be this Conservative Government who will take further action, including the clean air zones that we have and lower car emissions. Why are we able to do that? It is not only because we care about our environment, but because we have an economy that is strong enough to pay for those improvements, as we are just about to hear.
We all welcome the Clean Air Act 1956, but things have moved on a bit since. The Government are now threatened with being taken to court for their failure to comply with international law on air pollution. The Prime Minister is proposing to spend tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of pounds of public money defending the indefensible. Why not instead invest that money in cleaner air and better air quality for everyone in this country?
We are investing money in clean air in our country. For instance, we are phasing out the use of coal-fired power stations far in advance of other European countries and blazing a trail in more renewable energy and the clean nuclear energy that we will be investing in. All those things will make a difference, but let me say again: you can only do this if you have a strong economy able to pay for these things.
If the Government and the Prime Minister are so keen on renewable and clean energy, can he explain why on Monday the House approved new legislation to allow communities a veto on clean energy projects such as onshore wind? I have a question from Amanda from Lancaster. She asks the Prime Minister this—[Interruption.] If I were him, I would listen. Will the Prime Minister offer the same right of veto to her community, and communities like hers across the country, of a veto on fracking?
We have a proper planning system for deciding these things. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what is happening in terms of renewable energy, I point out to him that 99% of the solar panels in this country have been installed since I became Prime Minister. That is the green record that we have. The United Kingdom now has the second largest ultra-low emission vehicle market anywhere in the European Union. We have seen one of the strongest rates of growth in renewable energy.
Is it not remarkable—five questions in, and no welcome for the fall in unemployment? No mention of the 31 million people now in work. No mention of the fact that we have got more women in work and more young people in work, and that more people are bringing home a salary—bringing home a wage—and paying less tax. Not a word from the party that I thought was meant to be the party of labour. This is the truth: the party of working people, getting people into work, is on this side of the House.
The Prime Minister once boasted that he led the greenest Government ever—no husky was safe from his cuddles. So will he explain why the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change has produced a report that is damning when it comes to green energy, saying that major investors describe his policies as “risky” as a result of cuts and changes? Why are the Government so failing the renewable energy sector, clean air, investors, consumers and those who work in that industry?
Any proper look at the figures will find that the Government have a remarkable record on green energy. Let me take the Climate Action Network, which said that Britain is the second best country in the world for tackling climate change, after Denmark. That is our record. Since 2010, we have reduced greenhouse gases by 14%. We are over-delivering against all our carbon budgets. We secured the first truly global, legally binding agreement to tackle climate change, and we have got annual support for renewables more than doubling to over £10 billion by 2020. On renewable electricity, we are on track to deliver a target of at least 30% from renewable sources by 2020. Almost all of that will have happened under a Conservative-led Government. That is our record, and we are proud of it.
West Midlands: Economy and Public Sector
There are some very positive things going on in the west midlands economy, and today’s figures show that employment in the region is up by 140,000 since 2010. More than 108,000 businesses were created in the region between 2010 and 2014. Thanks to our long-term economic plan for the midlands engine, we have been able to invest in our public services in the west midlands, helping to build a strong NHS, reform our education system and give our police the resources they need.
Unemployment is down again in my beautiful Lichfield! And yesterday was an absolute first for the west midlands, when the whole region co-operated to present 33 investment schemes at an international conference in Cannes, which will create a further 178,000 jobs. What more can the Prime Minister do to support the midlands engine—apart from ensuring, of course, that we never get a Labour Government?
I am very glad my hon. Friend chose to be here rather than in Cannes. I am very relieved by that. He is right about the 33 schemes. Just last week, we had a £300 million signed between Chinese investors and CAD CAM Automotive that will create 1,000 jobs in Coventry. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary was in Staffordshire with Nestlé to open a new coffee factory, bringing 400 jobs. We of course got that historic deal with the west midlands, which will see significant new powers devolved to the combined authority and the directly elected mayor. We are changing the way our country is run—devolving power, building the strength of our great cities—and Birmingham is the second city of our country.
If we had any plans to send conventional forces for training in Libya we would of course come to this House and discuss them. What we want to see in Libya is the formation of a unity Government. There is progress with Prime Minister Siraj, who can now lead a Government of national accord. We will want to hear from him what assistance and help should be given in Libya. Countries such as Britain, France, America and Italy will definitely try to help that new Government, because right now Libya is a people smuggling route, which is bad for Europe and bad for us, and we also have the growth of Daesh in Libya, which is bad for us and bad for the rest of Europe. If we have any plans for troop training or troop deployment in a conventional sense we will of course come to the House and discuss them.
The UK spent 13 times more bombing Libya than it did on securing the peace after the overthrow of the hated Gaddafi regime. The critics of UK policy even include President Obama of the United States. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment to bring to Parliament the issue of any potential Libyan deployment of any British forces for approval before giving the green light for that to happen? Will he give that commitment—yes or no?
I am very happy to give that commitment, as we always do. I am very clear that it was right to take action to prevent the slaughter that Colonel Gaddafi would have carried out against his people in Benghazi. I believe that was right. Of course, Libya is in a state that is very concerning right now, and everyone has to take their responsibilities for that. What I would say is that after the conflict the British Government did support the training of Libyan troops, we did bring the Libyan Prime Minister to the G8 in Northern Ireland and we went to the United Nations and passed resolutions to help that Government, but so far we have not been able to bring about a Government of national accord that can bring some semblance of stability and peace to that country. Is it in our interest to help the Government do exactly that? Yes, it is, and we should be working with others to try to deliver that.
Q3. My constituency of Gower, which was won for the first time ever by the Conservatives, could be transformed, along with the rest of the region, by the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Having signed a £1.2 billion deal for Cardiff yesterday, will the Prime Minister give an absolute assurance that the Government review of tidal lagoons will do everything to ensure that the wider Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project fits the UK energy strategy, and does he recognise the economic potential it will bring to the Swansea bay region? (904112)
I thank my hon. Friend. I remember visiting his constituency just after his excellent victory last year. I seem to remember that we went to a brewery for a mild celebration. He is right that tidal lagoons do have potential. Last month, we launched an independent review of tidal lagoon power to understand the technology better. We will look carefully at the findings of that review and continue working closely with the developers in order to make a decision on Swansea.
Q4. Wrexham and north Wales is a strong manufacturing and exporting region, but its growth is constrained by lack of access to airports in north-west England. The Office of Rail and Road is currently considering applications for rail paths from north Wales. Will the Prime Minister support a cross-party campaign for fairness for north Wales and for access to airports in north-west England?
The former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), came to see me recently about this. I think there is a very strong argument for how we can better connect north Wales with the north-west of England and make sure we build on the economic strength of both, so I will look very carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says and what my right hon. Friend says about the potential for increasing rail capacity.
Q5. Last week, a High Court judge ruled in favour of a compulsory purchase order for the grade II* listed former north Wales hospital in Denbigh. Years of neglect by its offshore company owner resulted in the buildings being brought to the point of collapse. Thanks to groundbreaking work carried out by Denbighshire County Council and the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, their future should now be safeguarded. What can the Prime Minister do to prevent buildings such as these, which are deemed national assets, from falling into the hands of those who are not fit and proper guardians, particularly those outside the control of our judicial system? (904114)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am aware of this case. While heritage is a devolved matter, it is great news that these buildings—I know how important they are—will be safeguarded. It is my understanding that they were bought way back in 1996 by a company and then left completely abandoned. As he says, that is no way to treat a grade II* listed building. That is why we have the powers in place for compulsory purchase orders. In this case, I think Denbighshire County Council was absolutely right to use them. Councils should have confidence in being prepared to use these measures when appropriate.
Q6. Two weeks ago, in front of the Education Committee, the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that “16-19 education should be done in a school-based environment, not in an FE institution.” He went on to say that some pupils who head off to a further education institution“do badly. They get lost, drop out”. Does the Prime Minister agree with him? (904115)
I think we need a range of settings for A-levels and post-16 study. I would say this: there are a lot of secondary schools that would like to have a sixth form. I think there are great benefits, in particular for 11-year-olds going to secondary school who can look to the top of the school and see what girls and boys are achieving at 16, 17 and 18: what A-level choices they are making and what futures they are thinking of. For many people it is very inspiring to go a school with a sixth form, but let us encourage both. Let us have the choice. This is why the academisation of schools is so important, because it gives schools the ability to make these choices for our children.
Q7. In National Apprenticeship Week, I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in thanking employers who have created 6,500 apprenticeships in Gloucester since 2010, the Gloucester Citizen for its support, and all the apprentices themselves, including my first apprentice Laura Pearsall, who is now Gloucester’s youngest ever city councillor. Looking forward, will my right hon. Friend do all he can to hasten the introduction of associate nurses, who will be higher apprentices? They will make a huge difference to the NHS and our health sector more broadly. (904116)
My hon. Friend is right. The south-west has delivered more than 280,000 apprenticeship starts since 2010, so it is absolutely pulling its weight—and well done to his constituents for doing that. He is also right about the introduction of associate nurses. We are working with Health Education England to offer another route into nursing, which I think will see an expansion of our NHS.
Q8. According to the statistics provided by the House Library, there are an estimated 280,000 problem gamblers in the United Kingdom. Will the Prime Minister indicate when the Government will take forward the 2010 report prepared for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport? Does he agree that the money from dormant betting accounts should be used to support those whose lives have been destroyed by gambling? (904117)
We will study the report carefully. We did take some action in the previous Parliament in the planning system and on the way fixed odds betting terminals worked to deal with problem gambling. I am very happy to keep examining this issue and to act on the evidence. I will be discussing it with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
Q10. The systematic killing of Christians and other minority groups by the so-called Islamic State across the middle east has reached unprecedented proportions, so the action being taken by Her Majesty’s Government is just. What more will my right hon. Friend do, working with the international community, to halt this genocide being committed against Christians by what I would rather call the satanic state? (904119)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to Daesh’s persecution of Christians and those of other faiths, including Muslims it disagrees with. We must keep to the plan. We have shrunk the amount of territory it holds in Iraq by about 40% and we are seeing progress in Syria as well, but this will take time, and we must show the patience and persistence to make sure we rid the world of this evil death cult.
Q9. The Prime Minister’s energy policy is a complete shambles and wholly dependent on the troubled and eye-wateringly expensive new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point. There is barely a plan A, let alone a plan B. Is the Prime Minister seeking to build the world’s most expensive power station or the world’s biggest white elephant? (904118)
We are planning to continue with a successful energy policy that is seeing cheaper and lower carbon energy at the same time. The strength of the Hinkley Point deal is that there is no payment unless the power station goes ahead and is built efficiently by EDF. That will be good for our energy supplies because, if we want low-cost, low-carbon energy, we need strong nuclear energy at the heart of the system.
Q11. Antibiotic Research UK, situated in my constituency, is the world’s first charity to tackle antimicrobial resistance, which is a looming global danger of disaster-movie-style proportions. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me to see how we can fund this vital research, so that this time it is not the Americans who save the world but the British? (904120)
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to raise this issue. Owing to the growing resistance to antibiotics, which in many cases now do not work, we face a genuine medical emergency around the world. That is why Britain must put this issue squarely on the G20’s agenda; why it was a large part of our discussions with the Chinese during their state visit last year; and why we are investing £50 million in an innovation fund, working with the Chinese Government to take it forward. I hope that the organisation in my hon. Friend’s constituency can benefit from some of this research.
The Prime Minister will know that his Home Secretary is once again trying to deport Afghan interpreters seeking sanctuary in the UK. These brave people risked their lives serving our armed forces, yet they now face being sent back, where they will be at the mercy of the Taliban or have to join hundreds of thousands of people rotting in refugee camps. Is this how Britain should repay those who put their lives on the line for us? Instead, will the Prime Minister do the right thing and do whatever is possible to ensure that they are offered safe haven here?
The last Government, in which the hon. Gentleman’s party played a role, agreed a set of conditions for Afghan interpreters to come to the UK and be given sanctuary, but we also provided for a schemee so that those who wanted to stay and help rebuild their country could do so. I would still defend that scheme, even if his party has changed its mind.
Q12. My constituent Deborah Reid and her sister watched their mother Joan waste away in hospital due to inadequate care after a fall, as has been admitted by the consultant in charge. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary hosted a global summit on patient safety and announced the creation of the new healthcare safety investigation branch. What more can the Government do to ensure that patient safety is at the heart of the NHS and to prevent such instances from occurring in the future? (904121)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise such cases, which are obviously horrendous and should be properly investigated, but, as she said, we then need to learn the lessons from them. I think we have made some progress. The proportion of patients being harmed in the NHS has dropped by over a third in the last two years, and MRSA bloodstream infections have fallen by over half in the last five years. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary was absolutely right to hold the conference and to examine what other industries and practices have done to ensure a zero-accident safety culture. We have seen it in other walks of life, and it is time we applied it to the NHS.
Just eight days ago, Oliver Tetlow popped to the shops and was brutally shot dead. The community is shocked and saddened by the murder of an innocent young man, and has asked for more community local policing and greater youth engagement. Will the Prime Minister meet me and community champions to discuss how we can make our streets safer?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. What we have seen in London is a reduction in gun crime. She refers to a tragic case, and our hearts go out to the family of the person she talked about, but as I say, we have seen a reduction—and more active policing in our communities and better intelligence policing for dealing with gun crimes. We must keep that up. I shall certainly arrange whatever meeting is best to ensure that the voices the hon. Lady mentions are listened to.
Q13. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, Highways England is consulting on a new lower Thames crossing, with the preferred option being so-called option C, which will divert 14% of traffic away from the existing Dartford crossing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that before spending billions on the new crossing, we should sort out the problem at the existing crossing, not only to help a greater number of motorists, but to address illegal levels of poor air quality and restore resilience to the M25 motorway network? Will he meet me to discuss these matters further? (904122)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As we discussed earlier, we need to tackle congestion and air quality. Stationary traffic is more polluting than moving traffic, so sorting out the problems at the existing Dartford crossing is important, but I believe we have to look at the options for a new crossing. As I understand it, two locations are now on the table as a result of early detailed work, and these are the best available options. Highways England has looked in detail at both locations, taking into account economic and community impact. We look forward to seeing what it recommends. When it does, I hope we can make progress. This is a vital set of arteries for our country’s economy, and we need the traffic to be flowing smoothly.
We will be hearing quite a lot from the Chancellor in a minute or two. What I would say is that we have a fundamentally strong economy that is facing a very difficult set of world circumstances. Here in Britain, with unemployment at 5%, inflation at virtually 0%, unemployment figures showing a fall again today and wages growing at 2%, that is a better record than most other countries in the developed world can boast. A lot of that is down to the very clear plan set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and followed these past six years.
Q14. Last week was English tourism week, and I was delighted to welcome an international delegation to the Eden Project to promote Cornwall as a destination for international tourists. Visitor numbers are up in Cornwall, but there is still more we can do to attract overseas visitors out of London and into the regions of our country. What more can the Government do to support the tourist industry and particularly to get more overseas visitors to come to Cornwall? (904123)
My hon. Friend knows that, as far as I am concerned, there is nothing finer than getting out of London and down to Cornwall. There is no better place than Polzeath beach when the sun is setting, the waves are big and my phone is working—and the Daily Mail photographer has gone home. That helps. We need to get people who come to our country to visit the wonders of London also to spend some time outside London. That is what some of the new schemes that we have announced—the £40 million Discover England fund, for instance—are all about. I urge the authorities in Cornwall to make the most of it.
In 2014, we exported £12.8 billion-worth of food products, with 73% of the total going to other European states. It is no wonder that 71% of Food and Drink Federation members want us to avoid Brexit. Does the Prime Minister think that our prospect of further improving the export profile of food manufacturing will be strengthened by staying in the European Union?
The view from food manufacturers, farmers and indeed the wider business community, 81% of which said yesterday that they wanted to stay in a reformed Europe, is very clear. The arguments on food are particularly clear. Our farmers produce some of the cleanest and best food anywhere in the world, and they know that they have access to a market of 500 million consumers without tariffs, without quotas and without any problems. We should not put that at risk. When we look at some of the alternatives to being a part of the single market—a Canadian-style free trade deal, for example—we can see that there are restrictions. Quotas on beef are one example, and I do not want to see that applying to British farmers who have so much to be proud of.
Q15. Does my right hon. Friend agree that having an inspirational mentor can give young people opportunities from which they would never have benefited before? Can he tell me how the £14 million that the Government will be putting into a new national mentoring scheme will benefit some of the most disadvantaged children in our society? (904124)
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I think that one of the most important things that our schools can seek to do in the future is encourage mentors from business, the public sector and charities into their schools to give that extra one-on-one help from which young people benefit so much. I visited a Harris academy in Southwark yesterday to see how well that is going. Every child who is studying for GCSEs who wants a mentor can have one, and I think that that makes a huge difference to those children’s life chances.
The £14 million that we are putting in should allow an extra 25,000 of the most disadvantaged people in our country to have a mentor, and I urge all schools to consider that. There are so many people in business, the public sector and charities who would love to take part and help young people to achieve their potential.
The Prime Minister likes to suggest that he is the champion of localism, but today his Government are seeking to gag local communities with a crass forced academies policy that will stamp out local consultation and dissent. Can he explain to the vast majority of parents and residents in Brighton and Hove who recently roundly rejected academy status for two local schools why their views will count for nothing in the future?
I would argue that academy schools represent true devolution, because the parents, the governors and the headteacher end up having full control of the school and are able to make decisions about its future. If that does not convince the hon. Lady, I ask her to look at the results. She will see that primary sponsored academies have better records and are improving faster, and she will see that 88% of converter academy schools have been rated good or outstanding. This is true devolution: making sure that every headteacher is in charge of his or her school and providing the great education that we want for our children.
My constituent Jacci Woodcock has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. She has shown outstanding courage in her fight against the disease, but unfortunately she did not receive support or compassion from her employer, who wanted to dismiss her through capability procedures. Now her former partner, Andy Bradley, is trying to have the house that they own together repossessed, leaving her homeless while she is dying. Does the Prime Minister agree that we require better protection for working people who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, and will he join me, and Jacci, in supporting the changes outlined in the TUC’s Dying to Work campaign?
The points my hon. Friend has made are absolutely right, and I will look very carefully at the case that she has raised. The truth, in all these things, is that as well as clear rules, we need organisations—employers, housing associations, landlords or, indeed, trade unions—to act with genuine compassion, and to think of the person, the human being, at the other end of the telephone.
Ways and Means
Before I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I remind hon. Members that copies of the Budget resolutions will be available to them in the Vote Office at the end of the Chancellor’s speech. I also remind them that it is not the norm to intervene on the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Leader of the Opposition.
Today I report on an economy set to grow faster than any other major advanced economy in the world. I report on a labour market delivering the highest employment in our history, and I report on a deficit down by two thirds, falling each year, and, I can confirm today, on course for a budget surplus. The British economy is stronger because we confronted our country’s problems and took the difficult decisions. The British economy is growing because we did not seek short-term fixes, but pursued a long-term economic plan. The British economy is resilient because, whatever the challenge, however strong the headwinds, we have held to the course we set out.
I must tell the House that we face such a challenge now. Financial markets are turbulent; productivity growth across the west is too low; and the outlook for the global economy is weak. It makes for a dangerous cocktail of risks, but one that Britain is well prepared to handle if we act now so we do not pay later. Britain has learned to its cost what happens when you base your economic policy on the assumption that you have abolished boom and bust. Britain is not immune to slowdowns and shocks, but nor as a nation are we powerless. We have a choice. We can choose to add to the risk and uncertainty, or we can choose to be a force for stability. In this Budget we choose to put stability first. Britain can choose short-term fixes and more stimulus, as others are, or we can lead the world with long-term solutions to long-term problems.
In this Budget we choose the long term. We choose to put the next generation first. We choose, as Conservatives should always choose, sound public finances to deliver security, lower taxes on business and enterprise to create jobs, reform to improve schools, and investment to build homes and infrastructure, because we know that that is the only way to deliver real opportunity and social mobility. And as Conservatives, we know that the best way we can help working people is to help them to save and let them keep more of the money they earn. That is the path we have followed over the past five years, and it has given us one of the strongest economies in the world; and that is the path we will follow in the years ahead. In this Budget we redouble our efforts to make Britain fit for the future.
Let me turn to the economic forecasts. I want to thank Robert Chote and his team at the Office for Budget Responsibility. To make sure that they have available to them the best statistics in the world, I am today accepting all the recommendations of Sir Charlie Bean’s excellent report. I also want to take this moment to thank another great public servant, Sir Nicholas Macpherson. He has served as permanent secretary to the Treasury for 10 years, under three very different Chancellors, and throughout he has always demonstrated the great British civil service values of integrity and impartiality. He is here today to watch the last of the 34 Budgets he has worked on, and on behalf of the House and the dedicated officials in the Treasury, I thank him for his service.
The OBR tells us today that in every year of the forecast, our economy grows and so too does our productivity. But it has revised down growth in the world economy and in world trade. In its words, the outlook is “materially weaker”. It points to the turbulence in financial markets, slower growth in emerging economies such as China, and weak growth across the developed world. Around the globe, it notes that monetary policy, instead of normalising this year as expected, has been further loosened. We have seen the Bank of Japan join Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and the European Central Bank with unprecedented negative interest rates.
The OBR also notes that this reflects concerns across the west about low productivity growth. The secretary-general of the OECD said last month that
“productivity growth...has been decelerating in a vast majority of countries”.
As a result, the most significant change the OBR has made since its November forecast is its decision to revise down potential UK productivity growth. The OBR had thought that what it describes as the
“drag from the financial crisis”
on our productivity would have eased by now, but the latest data show that it has not. The OBR acknowledges today that this revision is, in its words, a “highly uncertain” judgment call, but I back the OBR 100%. We saw under the last Labour Government what happened when a Chancellor of the Exchequer revised up the trend growth rate, spent money the country did not have and left it to the next generation to pick up the bill. I am not going to let that happen on my watch. These days, thanks to the fact that we have established independent forecasts, our country is confronted with the truth as economic challenges emerge, and can act on them before it is too late. We fix our plans to fit the figures; we do not fix the figures to fit the plans.
The IMF has warned us this month that the global economy is “at a delicate juncture” and faces a growing “risk of economic derailment”. Eight years ago, Britain was the worst prepared of any of the major economies for the crisis we then faced. Today, Britain is among the best prepared for whatever challenges may lie ahead. That is what our long-term economic plan has been all about.
When I became Chancellor, we borrowed £1 in every £4 we spent. Next year, it will be £1 in every £14. Our banks have doubled their capital ratios, we have doubled our foreign exchange reserves, and we have a clear, consistent and accountable monetary policy framework, admired around the world.
The hard work of fixing our economy is paying off. In 2014, we were the fastest-growing major advanced economy in the world. In 2015, we were ahead of everyone but America. So let me give the OBR’s latest forecasts for our economic growth in the face of the new assessment of productivity and the slowing global economy. Last year, GDP grew by 2.2%. The OBR now forecasts that it will grow by 2% this year, then 2.2% again in 2017, and then 2.1% in each of the three years after that. The House will want to know how this compares to other countries. I can confirm that, in these turbulent times, the latest international forecast expects Britain to grow faster this year than any other major advanced economy in the world.
The OBR is explicit today that its forecasts are predicated on Britain remaining in the European Union. Over the next few months, this country is going to debate the merits of leaving or remaining in the European Union, and I have many colleagues whom I respect greatly on both sides of this argument. The OBR correctly stays out of the political debate and does not assess the long-term costs and benefits of EU membership, but it does say this, and I quote directly:
“A vote to leave in the forthcoming referendum could usher in an extended period of uncertainty regarding the precise terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU.”
It goes on to say:
“This could have negative implications for activity via business and consumer confidence and might result in greater volatility in financial and other asset markets”.
Citing a number of external reports, the OBR says this:
“There appears to be a greater consensus that a vote to leave would result in a period of potentially disruptive uncertainty while the precise details of the UK’s new relationship with the EU were negotiated.”
The House knows my view. Britain will be stronger, safer and better off inside a reformed European Union. I believe we should not put at risk all the hard work that the British people have done to make our economy strong again. [Interruption.]
Let me turn to the OBR forecasts for the labour market. Since the autumn statement just four months ago, the businesses in our economy have created over 150,000 more jobs than the OBR expected. That is 150,000 extra families with the security of work, and that is 150,000 reasons to support our long-term economic plan. This morning, unemployment fell again, employment reached the highest level ever, and the data confirm that we have the lowest proportion of people claiming out-of-work benefits since November 1974.
Now the OBR is forecasting a million more jobs over this Parliament. We remember what our political opponents said in the last Parliament: they claimed 1 million jobs would be lost—instead, 2 million were created. When the jobs started coming, we were told that they were going to be low-skilled, but today we know that almost 90% of the new jobs are in skilled occupations. We were told the jobs were going to be part-time, but three quarters are full-time. We were told the jobs would all be in London, but the unemployment rate is falling fastest in the north-east, youth unemployment is falling fastest in the west midlands and employment is growing fastest in the north-west. And in today’s forecast, real wages continue to grow and outstrip inflation in each and every year.
The OBR forecasts lower inflation, at 0.7% this year and 1.6% next year. I am today confirming in a letter to the Governor of the Bank of England that the remit for the Monetary Policy Committee remains the symmetric consumer prices index inflation target of 2%. I am also publishing the new remit for the Financial Policy Committee, the body we created to keep an eye on emerging long-term risks in our financial system. I am asking it to be particularly vigilant in the face of current market turbulence, because in this Budget we act now so that we do not pay later.
That brings me to our approach to public spending and the OBR forecasts for our public finances. In every year since 2010, I have been told by the Opposition that now is not the right time to cut Government spending. When the economy is growing, I am told we can afford to spend more. When the economy is not growing, I am told we cannot afford not to. Today, I am publishing new analysis that shows that if we had not taken the action we did in 2010, and had listened instead to our opponents, cumulative borrowing would have been £930 billion more by the end of the decade than it is now forecast to be. If we had taken their advice, Britain would not have been one of the best-prepared economies for the current global uncertainties, we would have been one of the worst-prepared.
Now, the very same people are saying to us that we should spend more again—I reject that dangerous advice. The security of families and businesses depends on Britain living within its means. Last autumn’s spending review delivers a reduction in Government consumption that is judged by the OBR to be the most sustained undertaken in the last 100 years of British history, barring the periods of demobilisation after the first and second world wars. My spending plans in the last Parliament reduced the share of national income taken by the state from the unsustainable 45% we inherited to 40% today. My spending plans in this Parliament will see it fall to 36.9% by the end of this decade. In other words, the country will be spending no more than the country raises in taxes. And we are achieving that while at the same time increasing resources for our NHS and schools, building new infrastructure and increasing our security at home and abroad.
The OBR now tells us that the world has become more uncertain, so we have two options: we can ignore the latest information and spend more than the country can afford—that is precisely the mistake that was made a decade ago—or we can live in the world as it is, and cut our cloth accordingly. I say we act now so we do not pay later. So I am asking my right hon. Friends the Chief Secretary and the Paymaster General to undertake a further drive for efficiency and value for money. The aim is to save a further £3.5 billion in the year 2019-20. At less than half a percent of Government spending in four years’ time, that is more than achievable while maintaining the protections we have set out.
At the same time, we will continue to deliver sensible reforms to keep Britain living within its means. On welfare, last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions set out changes that will ensure that within the rising disability budget, support is better targeted at those who need it most. Let me confirm that this means the disability budget will still rise by more than £1 billion, and we will be spending more in real terms supporting disabled people than at any point under the last Labour Government.
On international aid, I am proud to be part of a Government that was the first to honour Britain’s commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on development. We will not spend more than that, so the Budget will be readjusted, saving £650 million in 2019-20.
We are also going to keep public sector pensions sustainable. We reformed them in the last Parliament, which will save more than £400 billion in the long term. To ensure that those pensions remain sustainable, we have carried out the regular revaluation of the discount rate, and the public sector employer contributions will rise as a result. This will not affect anyone’s pension, and will be affordable within spending plans that are benefiting from the fiscal windfall of lower inflation. Each of these decisions is a demonstration of our determination that the British economy will stay on course. We will not burden our children and grandchildren. This is a Budget for the next generation.
Let me now give the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts for the debt and the deficit. The combination of our action to reduce borrowing this year, along with the revisions to our nominal GDP driven by lower inflation, have produced this paradoxical result. In cash terms, the national debt is lower than it was forecast to be in the autumn, but so too is the nominal size of our economy. We measure the fiscal target against debt to GDP, so that while debt as a percentage of GDP is above target and set to be higher in 2015-16 than the year before, compared with the forecast, the actual level of our national debt in cash is £9 billion lower. In the future, debt falls to 82.6% next year, then 81.3% in 2017-18, then 79.9% the year after. In 2019-20, it falls again to 77.2%, then down again the year after to 74.7%.
Let me turn to the forecast for the deficit. When I became Chancellor, the deficit that we inherited was forecast to reach 11.1% of national income—the highest level in the peacetime history of Britain. Thanks to our sustained action, the deficit is forecast to fall next year to just over a quarter of that, at 2.9%. In 2017-18, it falls to 1.9%. Then it falls again to 1% in 2018-19. In cash terms, in 2010, British borrowing was a totally unsustainable £150 billion a year. This year we are expected to borrow less than half that, at £72.2 billion. Indeed, our borrowing this year is actually lower than the OBR forecast at the autumn statement. Borrowing continues to fall—but not by as much as before—to £55.5 billion next year, £38.8 billion the year after, and £21.4 billion in 2018-19.
I know that there has been concern that the challenging economic times mean we would lose our surplus the following year, and that would have been the case if we had not taken further action today to control spending and make savings. But because we have acted decisively, in 2019-20 Britain is set to have a surplus of £10.4 billion. That surplus is then set to rise to £11 billion the year after. That is 0.5% of GDP in both years.
We said that we would take the action necessary to give Britain’s families economic security. We said that our country would not repeat the mistakes of the past and instead live within our means. Today, we maintain that commitment to long-term stability in challenging times. We have taken decisive action to achieve a £10 billion surplus. We act now, so that we do not pay later. We put the next generation first.
In every Budget I have given, action against tax avoidance and evasion has contributed to the repair of our public finances, and this Budget is no different. In the Red Book, we have set out in detail the action that we will take to: shut down disguised remuneration schemes; ensure that UK tax will be paid on UK property development; change the treatment of free plays for remote gaming providers; limit capital gains tax treatment on performance rewards; and cap exempt gains in the employee shareholder status.
Public sector organisations will have a new duty to ensure that those working for them pay the correct tax rather than giving a tax advantage to those who choose to contract their work through personal service companies. Loans to participators will be taxed at 32.5% to prevent tax avoidance, and we will tighten rules around the use of termination payments. Termination payments over £30,000 are already subject to income tax. From 2018, they will also attract employer national insurance. Taken altogether, the further steps in this Budget to stop tax evasion, prevent tax avoidance and tackle imbalances in the system will raise £12 billion for our country over this Parliament.
The Labour party talked about social justice, but left enormous loopholes in our tax system for the very richest to exploit. The independent statistics confirm that, under this Prime Minister, child poverty is down; pensioner poverty is down; inequality is down; and the gender pay gap has never been smaller.
The distributional analysis published today shows that the proportion of welfare and public services going to the poorest has been protected. I can report that the latest figures confirm that the richest 1% paid 28% of all income tax revenue—a higher proportion than in any single year of the previous Labour Government and proof that we are all in this together. [Interruption.]
I can report solid steady growth; more jobs; lower inflation; and an economy on course for a surplus—and all done in a fair way. This is a Britain that is prepared for whatever the world throws at us, because we have stuck to our long-term economic plan.
Credible fiscal policy and effective monetary policy have only ever been part of our plan. A crucial ingredient has always been the lasting structural reforms needed to make our economy fit for the future. With new risks on the horizon, and with all western countries looking for ways to increase living standards, now is not the time to go easy on our structural reforms. It is time to redouble our efforts. My Budgets last year delivered key improvements to productivity, such as the apprenticeship levy, lower corporation tax and the national living wage.
My Budget this year sets out the further bold steps that we need to take: first, fundamental reform of the business tax system, with loopholes closed and reliefs and rates reduced, and the result a huge boost for small business and enterprise; secondly, a radical devolution of power so that more of the responsibility and the rewards of economic growth are in the hands of local communities; thirdly, major new commitments to the national infrastructure projects of the future; fourthly, confronting the obstacles that stand in the way of important improvements to education and our children’s future; and, fifthly, backing people who work hard and save. In short, this Budget puts the next generation first, and I will take each step in turn.
In the last Parliament I cut corporation tax dramatically, but I also introduced the diverted profits tax to catch those trying to shift profits overseas. As a result, Britain went from one of the least competitive business tax regimes to one of the most competitive—and we raised much more money for our public services. Today, the Financial Secretary and I are publishing a road map to make Britain’s business tax system fit for the future. It will deliver a low-tax regime that will attract the multinational businesses that we want to see in Britain, but ensure that they pay taxes here too—something that never happened under a Labour Government. It will level the playing field, which has been tilted against our small firms. The approach that we take is guided by the best practice set out by the OECD. This is work that Britain called for, Britain paid for and Britain will be among the very first to implement.
First, some multinationals deliberately over-borrow in the UK to fund activities abroad, and then deduct the interest bills against their UK profits. From April next year, we will restrict interest deductibility for the largest companies at 30% of UK earnings, while making sure that firms whose activities justify higher borrowing are protected with a group ratio rule.
Next, we are setting new hybrid mismatch rules to stop the complex structures that allow some multinationals to avoid paying any tax anywhere, or to deduct the same expenses in more than one country. Then, we are going to strengthen our withholding tax on the royalty payments that allow some firms to shift money to tax havens, and, lastly, we are going to modernise the way that we treat losses. We are going to allow firms to use losses more flexibly in a way that will help over 70,000 mostly British companies, but, with these new flexibilities in place, we will do what other countries do and restrict the maximum amount of profits that can be offset using past losses to 50%. This will apply only to the less than 1% of firms making profits over £5 million, and the existing rules for historic losses in the banking sector will be tightened to 25%.
We will maintain our plans to align tax payment dates for the largest companies more closely to when profits are earned, but we will give firms longer to adjust to these changes, which will now come into effect in April 2019. All these reforms to corporation tax will help create a modern tax code that better reflects the reality of the global economy. Together, they raise £9 billion in extra revenue for the Exchequer. But our policy is not to raise taxes on business. Our policy is to lower taxes on business. So, everything we collect from the largest firms who are trying to pay no tax will be used to help millions of firms who pay their fair share of tax.
I can confirm today that we are going to reduce the rate of corporation tax even further. That is the rate Britain’s profit-making companies, large and small, have to pay, and all the evidence shows that it is one of the most distortive and unproductive taxes there is. Corporation tax was 28% at the start of the last Parliament and we reduced it to 20% at the start of this one. Last summer, I set out a plan to cut it to 18% in the coming years. Today I am going further. By April 2020, it will fall to 17%. Britain is blazing a trail; let the rest of the world catch up.
Cutting corporation tax is only part of our plan for the future. I also want to address the great unfairness that many small businessmen and women feel when they compete against companies on the internet. Sites such as eBay and Amazon have provided an incredible platform for many new small British start-ups to reach large numbers of customers, but there has been a big rise in overseas suppliers storing goods in Britain and selling them online without paying VAT. That unfairly undercuts British businesses both on the internet and on the high street, and today I can announce that we are taking action to stop it.
That is the first thing we are doing to help our small firms. Secondly, we are going to help the new world of micro-entrepreneurs who sell services online or rent out their homes through the internet. Our tax system should be helping these people so I am introducing two new tax-free allowances, each worth £1,000 a year, for both trading and property income. There will be no forms to fill in, no tax to pay—it is a tax break for the digital age and at least half a million people will benefit.
On top of the two measures comes the biggest tax cut for business in this Budget. Business rates are the fixed cost that weigh down on many small enterprises. At present, small business rate relief is only permanently available to firms with a rateable value of less than £6,000. In the past, I have been able to double it for one year only. Today I am more than doubling it, and more than doubling it permanently. The new threshold for small business rate relief will rise from £6,000 to a maximum threshold of £15,000. I am also going to raise the threshold for the higher rate from £18,000 to £51,000.
Let me explain to the House what that means. From April next year, 600,000 small businesses will pay no business rates at all. That is an annual saving for them of up to nearly £6,000, forever. A further quarter of a million businesses will see their rates cut. In total, half of all British properties will see their business rates fall or be abolished altogether. To support all ratepayers, including larger stores who face tough competition and who employ so many people, we will radically simplify the administration of business rates, and from 2020, switch the uprating from the higher retail prices index to the lower consumer prices index. That is a permanent long-term saving for all businesses in Britain. A typical corner shop in Barnstaple will pay no business rates. A typical hairdresser in Leeds will pay no business rates. A typical newsagents in Nuneaton will pay no business rates.
This is a Budget which gets rid of loopholes for multinationals and gets rid of tax for small businesses. A £7 billion tax cut for our nation of shopkeepers. A tax system that says to the world: we are open for business. This is a Conservative Government that are on your side.
Just over a year ago, I reformed residential stamp duty. We moved from a distortive slab system to a much simpler slice system, and as a result 98% of homebuyers are paying the same or less and revenues from the expensive properties have risen. The International Monetary Fund welcomed the changes and suggests we do the same to commercial property, so that is what we are going to do, and in a way that helps our small firms. At the moment, a small firm can pay just £1 more for a property and face a tax bill three times as large. That makes no sense. So from now on, commercial stamp duty will have a zero rate band on purchases up to £150,000, a 2% rate on the next £100,000, and a 5% top rate above £250,000. There will also be a new 2% rate for those high-value leases with a net present value above £5 million.
This new tax regime comes into effect from midnight tonight. There are transitional rules for purchasers who have exchanged but not completed contracts before midnight. These reforms raise £500 million a year and while 9% will pay more, more than 90% will see their tax bills cut or stay the same. So, if you buy a pub in the midlands worth, say, £270,000, you would today pay over £8,000 in stamp duty. From tomorrow, you will pay just £3,000. It is a big tax cut for small firms, all in a Budget that backs small business.
Businesses also want a simpler tax system. I have asked Angela Knight and John Whiting at the Office of Tax Simplification to look at what more we can do to make the tax system work better for small firms and I am funding a dramatic improvement in the service that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs offers them. Many retailers have complained bitterly to me about the complexity of the carbon reduction commitment. It is not a commitment; it is a tax. I can tell the House that we are not going to reform it. Instead, I have decided to abolish it altogether. To make good the lost revenue, the climate change levy will rise from 2019. The most energy intensive industries, such as steel, remain completely protected, and I am extending the climate change agreements that help many others.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I are announcing £730 million in further auctions to back renewable technologies, and we are now inviting bids to help develop the next generation of small modular reactors. We are also going to help one of the most important and valued industries in our United Kingdom, which has been severely affected by global events. The oil and gas sector employs hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland and around our country. In my Budget a year ago, I made major reductions to its taxes but the oil price has continued to fall, so we need to act now for the long term. I am today cutting in half the supplementary charge on oil and gas from 20% to 10% and I am effectively abolishing petroleum revenue tax too, backing this key Scottish industry and supporting jobs right across Britain—[Interruption.]
Both those major tax cuts will be backdated so that they are effective from 1 January this year and my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary will work with the industry to give them our full support.
We are only able to provide this kind of support to our oil and gas industry because of the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom. None of this support would have been remotely affordable if, in just eight days’ time, Scotland had broken away from the rest of the UK, as the nationalists wanted. Their own audit of Scotland’s public finances confirms that they would have struggled from the start with a fiscal crisis under the burden of the highest budget deficit in the western world. Thankfully, the Scottish people decided that we are better together in one United Kingdom.
Believing in our United Kingdom is not the same as believing that every decision should be taken here in Westminster and Whitehall, and that is the next step in this Budget’s plan to make Britain fit for the future. Because as Conservatives we know that if we want local communities to take responsibility for local growth, they have to be able to reap the rewards. This Government are delivering the most radical devolution of power in modern British history. We are devolving power to our nations. The Secretary of State for Scotland and I have agreed the new fiscal framework with the Scottish Government. We are also opening negotiations on a city deal with Edinburgh; we back the new V&A museum in Dundee; and in response to the powerful case made to me by Ruth Davidson we are providing new community facilities for local people in Helensburgh and the Royal Navy personnel nearby at Faslane, paid for by our LIBOR fines.
In Wales, we are committed to devolving new powers to the Assembly and yesterday the Secretary of State for Wales and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury signed a new billion-pound deal for the Cardiff region. We are opening a discussion on a city deal for Swansea and a growth deal for north Wales, so it is better connected to our northern powerhouse. I have listened to the case made by Welsh Conservative colleagues and I can announce today that from 2018 we are going to halve the price of the tolls on the Severn crossings.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I are working towards the devolution of corporation tax. I am also extending enhanced capital allowances to the enterprise zone in Coleraine and we will use over £4 million from LIBOR fines to help establish the first air ambulance service for Northern Ireland.
In this Budget we make major further advances in the devolution of power within England too. It was less than two years ago that I called for the creation of strong elected Mayors to help us build a northern powerhouse. Since then, powerful elected Mayors have been agreed for Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, Newcastle and Sheffield. Over half the population of the northern powerhouse will be able to elect a Mayor accountable to them next year. We will have an elected Mayor for the West Midlands too.
These new devolution arrangements evolve and grow stronger. Today I can tell the House that the Secretary of State for Justice and I are transferring new powers over the criminal justice system to Greater Manchester. This is the kind of progressive social policy that this Government are proud to pioneer. I can also announce to the House that today, for the first time, we have reached agreement to establish new elected Mayors in our English counties and southern cities too. I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and my Treasury colleague Jim O’Neill for their superhuman efforts. We have agreed a single powerful East Anglia combined authority, headed up by an elected Mayor and almost a billion pounds of new investment. We have also agreed a new West of England mayoral authority—and they too will see almost a billion pounds invested locally. The authorities of Greater Lincolnshire will have new powers, new funding and a new Mayor. North, south, east and west—the devolution revolution is taking hold.
When I became Chancellor, 80% of local government funding came in largely ring-fenced grants from central Government. It was the illusion of local democracy. By the end of this Parliament, 100% of local government resources will come from local government—raised locally, spent locally, invested locally. Our great capital city wants to lead the way. My friend the Mayor of London and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) passionately argue for the devolution of business rates. I can confirm today that the Greater London Authority will move towards full retention of its business rates from next April, three years early. Michael Heseltine has accepted our invitation to lead a Thames estuary growth commission and he will report to me with its ideas next year.
In every international survey of our country, our failure for a generation to build new housing and new transport has been identified as a major problem. But in this Government we are the builders. So today we are setting out measures to speed up our planning system, zone housing development and prepare the country for the arrival of 5G technology. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be bringing forward our innovation proposals. And because we make savings in day-to-day spending we can accelerate capital investment and increase it as a share of GDP. All these are things that a country focused on its long-term future should be doing.
Our new stamp duty rates on additional properties will come into effect next month. I have listened to colleagues and the rates will apply to larger investors too. We are going to use receipts to support community housing trusts, including £20 million to help young families on to the housing ladder in the south-west of England. This is a brilliant idea from my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and many other colleagues. And it is proof that when the south-west votes blue, their voice is heard loud here in Westminster.
Because under this Government we are not prepared to let people be left behind, I am also announcing a major new package of support worth over £115 million to support those who are homeless and to reduce rough sleeping.
Last year, I established a new National Infrastructure Commission to advise us all on the big long-term decisions we need to boost our productivity. I am sure everyone in the House will want to thank Andrew Adonis and his fellow commissioners for getting off to such a strong start. They have already produced three impressive reports. They recommend much stronger links across northern England. So we are giving the green light to High Speed 3 between Manchester and Leeds; we are finding new money to create a four-lane M62; and we will develop the case for a new tunnelled road from Manchester to Sheffield. My hon. Friends the Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson), for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) and for Hexham (Guy Opperman) have told us not to neglect the north Pennines. So we will upgrade the A66 and the A69 too.
I said we would build the northern powerhouse. We have put in place the Mayors. We are building the roads. We are laying the track. We are making the northern powerhouse a reality and rebalancing our country.
I am also accepting the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendations on energy and on London transport. The Government who are delivering Crossrail 1 will now commission Crossrail 2. I know this commitment to Crossrail 2 will be warmly welcomed by the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). It could have been designed just for him, because it is good for all those who live in north London and are heading south.
Across Britain this Budget invests in infrastructure—from a more resilient train line in the south-west, to the crossings at Ipswich and Lowestoft in the east that we promised—we are making our country stronger.
To respond to the increasing extreme weather events our country is facing I am today proposing further substantial increases in flood defences. That would not be affordable within existing budgets. So I am going to increase the standard rate of insurance premium tax by just half a per cent., and commit all the extra money we raise to flood defence spending. That is a £700 million boost to our resilience and flood defences. The urgent review already under way by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will determine how the money is best spent. But we can get started now. I have had many representations from colleagues across the House, including my hon. Friends the Members for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker). So we are giving the go-ahead to the schemes for York, Leeds, Calder Valley, Carlisle and across Cumbria.
In this Budget we invest in our physical infrastructure and we invest in our cultural infrastructure too. I am supporting specific projects from the Hall for Cornwall in Truro, to £13 million for Hull to make a success as city of culture. Our cathedral repairs fund has been enormously successful so I am extending it with an additional £20 million, because there is one thing that is pretty clear these days—the Conservative party is a broad church. In the 400th anniversary of the great playwright’s death, I have heard the sonnets from the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and we commit to a new Shakespeare North theatre, on the site of the first indoor theatre outside our capital. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) has proposed that we introduce a new tax break for museums that develop exhibitions and take those exhibitions on tour. It is a great idea and we add that to our collection today.
We cut taxes for business. We devolve power. We develop our infrastructure. The next part of our plan to make Britain fit for the future is to improve the quality of our children’s education. Providing great schooling is the single most important thing we can do to help any child from a disadvantaged background succeed. It is also the single most important thing we can do to boost the long-term productivity of our economy, because our nation’s productivity is no more and no less than the combined talents and efforts of the people of these islands. That is why education reform has been so central to our mission since we came to office five years ago. Today we take these further steps.
First, I can announce that we are going to complete the task of setting schools free from local education bureaucracy, and we are going to do it in this Parliament. I am today providing extra funding so that by 2020 every primary and secondary school in England will be, or be in the process of becoming, an academy. Secondly, we are going to focus on the performance of schools in the north, where results have not been as strong as we would like. London’s school system has been turned around; we can do the same in the northern powerhouse and I have asked the outstanding Bradford headteacher, Sir Nick Weller, to provide us with a plan. Thirdly, we are going to look at teaching maths to 18 for all pupils.
Fourthly, we are going to introduce a fair national funding formula, and I am today committing £500 million to speed up its introduction. We will consult, and our objective is to get over 90% of the schools that will benefit on to the new formula by the end of this Parliament. The Conservative Government are delivering on their promise of fair funding for our schools. Tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will publish a White Paper setting out further improvements that we will make to the quality of education, because we will put the next generation first.
Doing the right thing for the next generation is what this Government and this Budget are about, no matter how difficult and controversial that is. We cannot have a long-term plan for the country unless we have a long-term plan for our children’s healthcare. Here are the facts that we know: five-year-old children are consuming their body weight in sugar every year. Experts predict that within a generation more than half of all boys and 70% of girls could be overweight or obese. Here is another fact that we all know: obesity drives disease. It increases the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and it costs our economy £27 billion a year. That is more than half the entire NHS pay-bill.
Here is another truth we all know: one of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity is sugary drinks. A can of cola typically has nine teaspoons of sugar in it. Some popular drinks have as many as 13 teaspoons. That can be more than double a child’s recommended added sugar intake. Let me give credit where credit is due. Many in the soft drinks industry recognise that there is a problem and have started to reformulate their products. Robinsons recently removed added sugar from many of its cordials and squashes. Sainsbury’s, Tesco and the Co-op have all committed to reduce sugar across their ranges. So industry can act, and with the right incentives I am sure it will.
I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job, and say to my children's generation, “I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease, but we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing.” So today I can announce that we will introduce a new sugar levy on the soft drinks industry. Let me explain how it will work. It will be levied on the companies. It will be introduced in two years’ time to give companies plenty of space to change their product mix. It will be assessed on the volume of the sugar-sweetened drinks they produce or import. There will be two bands—one for total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 millilitres, and a second, higher band for the most sugary drinks with more than 8 grams per 100 millilitres. Pure fruit juices and milk-based drinks will be excluded, and we will ensure that the smallest producers are kept out of scope.
We will, of course, consult on implementation. We are introducing the levy on the industry which means that companies can reduce the sugar content of their products, as many already do. It means that they can promote low-sugar or no-sugar brands, as many already are. They can take these perfectly reasonable steps to help with children’s health. Of course, some may choose to pass the price on to consumers, and that will be their decision, and this would have an impact on consumption too. We as Conservatives understand that tax affects behaviour. So let us tax the things we want to reduce, not the things we want to encourage. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that this levy will raise £520 million, and that is tied directly to the second thing we are going to do today to help children’s health and wellbeing.
We are going to use the money from this new levy to double the amount of funding we dedicate to sport in every primary school. For secondary schools, we are going to fund longer school days for those that want to offer their pupils a wider range of activities, including extra sport. It will be voluntary for schools but compulsory for the pupils. There will be enough resources for a quarter of secondary schools to take part, but that is just the start. The devolved Administrations will receive equivalent funding through the Barnett formula and I hope they spend it on the next generation too.
I am also using the LIBOR funds specifically to help with children’s hospital services. Members across the House have asked for resources for children’s care in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Southampton, and we provide those funds today. We have a determination to improve the health of our children, a new levy on excessive sugar in soft drinks, the money used to double sport in our schools—a Britain fit for the future, a Government not afraid to put the next generation first.
Let me now turn to indirect taxes. Last autumn I said that we would use all the VAT we collect from sanitary products to support women’s charities. I want to thank the many Members here on all sides, in all parties, for the impressive proposals they have put forward. Today we allocate £12 million from the tampon tax to these charities across the UK, from Breast Cancer Care to the White Ribbon Campaign and many other causes. We will make substantial donations to the Rosa fund and to Comic Relief so that we reach many more grassroots causes.
I now turn to excise duties. When we took office, we inherited plans that would have seen fuel duty rise above inflation every year and cost motorists 18p extra a litre. We wholeheartedly rejected those plans and instead we took action to help working people. We froze fuel duty throughout the last Parliament—a tax cut worth nearly £7 billion a year. In the past 12 months, petrol prices have plummeted. That is why we pencilled in an inflation rise. But I know that fuel costs still make up a significant part of household budgets and weigh heavily on small firms. Families paid the cost when oil prices rocketed; they should not be penalised when oil prices fall. We are the party for working people, so I can announce that fuel duty will be frozen for the sixth year in a row. That is a saving of £75 a year to the average driver and £270 a year to a small business with a van. It is the tax boost that keeps Britain on the move.
Tobacco duty will continue to rise, as set out in previous Budgets, by 2% above inflation from 6 pm tonight and hand-rolling tobacco will rise by an additional 3%. To continue our drive to improve public health, we will reform our tobacco regime to introduce an effective floor on the price of cigarettes and consult on increased sanctions for fraud.
I have always been clear that I want to support responsible drinkers and our nation’s pubs. Five years ago we inherited tax plans that would have ruined that industry. Instead, prompted by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and others, the action we took in the last Parliament on beer duty saved hundreds of pubs and thousands of jobs. Today I back our pubs again. I am freezing beer duty, and cider duty too. Scotch whisky accounts for a fifth of all the UK’s food and drink exports. So we back Scotland and back that vital industry too, with a freeze on whisky and other spirits duty this year. All other alcohol duties will rise by inflation, as planned.
There are some final measures that we need to take to boost enterprise, back the next generation, and help working people keep more of the money they earn. All these have been themes of this Budget. Let me start with enterprise. We Conservatives know that when it comes to growing the economy, alongside good infrastructure and great education we need to light the fires of enterprise, and our tax system can do more. To help the self-employed I am going to fulfil the manifesto commitment we made, and from 2018 abolish class 2 national insurance contributions altogether. That is a simpler tax system and a tax cut of over £130 for each of Britain’s 3 million-strong army of the self-employed.
Next, we want to help people to invest in our businesses and help them to create jobs. The best way to encourage that is to let them keep more of the rewards when that investment is successful. Our capital gains tax is now one of the highest in the developed world, when we want our taxes to be among the lowest. The headline rate of capital gains tax currently stands at 28%. Today I am cutting it to 20%. and I am cutting the capital gains tax paid by basic rate taxpayers from 18% to just 10%. The rates will come into effect in just three weeks’ time. The old rates will be kept in place for gains on residential property and carried interest. I am also introducing a brand-new 10% rate on long-term external investment in unlisted companies, up to a separate maximum £10 million of lifetime gains. In this Budget, we are putting rocket boosters on the backs of enterprise and productive investment.
In this Budget, I also want to help the next generation build up assets and save. The fundamental problem is that far too many young people in their 20s and 30s have no pension and few savings. Ask them and they will tell you why. It is because they find pensions too complicated and inflexible, and most young people face an agonising choice of either saving to buy a home or saving for their retirement. We can help by providing people with more information about the multiple pensions many have, and providing more tax relief on financial advice, and the Economic Secretary and I do both today.
We can also help those on the lowest incomes to save, and the Prime Minister announced our Help to Save plan on Monday. Over the past year, we have consulted widely on whether we should make compulsory changes to the pension tax system. But it was clear that there was no consensus. Indeed, the former Pensions Minister, the Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, said I was trying to abolish the lump sum. Instead, we are going to keep the lump sum and abolish the Liberal Democrats. [Laughter.] I am tempted to say it will take effect from midnight tonight.
My pension reforms have always been about giving people more—[Interruption.]
My pension reforms have always been about giving people more freedom and more choice. So, faced with the truth that young people are not saving enough, I am today providing a different answer to the same problem. We know people like ISAs—because they are simple. You save out of taxed income, everything you earn on your savings is tax-free, and it is tax-free when you withdraw it too. From April next year, I am going to increase the ISA limit from just over £15,000 to £20,000 a year for everyone.
For those under 40, many of whom have not had such a good deal from the pension system, I am introducing a completely new, flexible way for the next generation to save. It is called the lifetime ISA. Young people can put money in, get a Government bonus, and use it to either buy their first home or save for their retirement.
Here is how it will work. From April 2017, anyone under the age of 40 will be able to open a lifetime ISA and save up to £4,000 each year. For every £4 you save, the Government will give you £1. So put in £4,000 and the Government will give you £1,000. Every year. Until you are 50. You do not have to choose between saving for your first home or saving for your retirement. With the new lifetime ISA, the Government are giving you money to do both.
For the basic rate taxpayer, that is the equivalent of tax-free savings into a pension, and unlike a pension, you will not pay tax when you come to take the money out in retirement. For the self-employed, it is the kind of support they simply cannot get from the pensions system today.
Unlike a pension, you can access your money anytime without the bonus and with a small charge. And we are going to consult the industry on whether, like the American 401(k), you can return the money to the account to reclaim the bonus—so it is both generous and completely flexible. Those who have already taken out our enormously popular Help to Buy ISA will be able to roll it into the new lifetime ISA—and keep the Government match. A £20,000 ISA limit for everyone. A new lifetime ISA. A Budget that puts the next generation first.
I turn now to my final measures. This Government were elected to back working people. The best way to help working people is to let them keep more of the money they earn. When I became Chancellor, the tax-free personal allowance was less than £6,500. In two weeks’ time, it will rise to £11,000. We committed in our manifesto that it would reach £12,500 by the end of this Parliament. Today we take a major step towards that goal. From April next year, I am raising the tax-free personal allowance to £11,500. That is a tax cut for 31 million people. It means a typical basic rate taxpayer will be paying over £1,000 less income tax than when we came into government five years ago. And it means another 1.3 million of the lowest paid taken out of tax altogether—social justice delivered by Conservative means.
We made another commitment in our manifesto, and that was to increase the threshold at which people pay the higher rate of tax. That threshold stands at £42,385 today. I can tell the House that from April next year I am going to increase the higher rate threshold to £45,000. That is a tax cut of over £400 a year. It is going to lift over half a million people who should never have been paying the higher rate out of that higher rate band altogether. It is the biggest above-inflation cash increase since Nigel Lawson introduced the 40p rate over 30 years ago. A personal tax free allowance of £11,500. No one paying the 40p rate under £45,000. We were elected as a Government for working people. And we have delivered a Budget for working people.
Five years ago, we set out a long-term plan because we wanted to make sure that Britain never again was powerless in the face of global storms. We said then that we would do the hard work to take control of our destiny and put our own house in order. Five years later, our economy is strong, but the storm clouds are gathering again. Our response to this new challenge is clear. We act now so we do not pay later.
This is our Conservative Budget. One that reaches a surplus so the next generation does not have to pay our debts. One that reforms our tax system so the next generation inherits a strong economy. One that takes the imaginative steps so the next generation is better educated. One that takes bold decisions so that our children grow up fit and healthy.
This is a Budget that gets the investors investing, savers saving, businesses doing business, so that we build for working people a low-tax, enterprise Britain, secure at home, strong in the world. I commend to the House a Budget that puts the next generation first.
provisional collection of taxes
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing order No. 51(2)),
That, pursuant to section 5 of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968, provisional statutory effect shall be given to the following motions:—
(a) Stamp duty land tax (calculating tax on non-residential and mixed transactions) (Motion no. 45.)
(b) Tobacco products duty (rates) (Motion no. 62.)
(c) Alcoholic liquor duties (rates) (Motion no. 63.)— (Mr Osborne.)
Question agreed to.
I shall now call upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to move the motion entitled “Amendment of the Law”, and it is on this motion that the debate will take place today and on succeeding days. The Questions on this motion, and on the remaining motions, will be put at the end of Budget debate, on Tuesday 22 March.
Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation
amendment of the law
Motion made, and Question proposed,
(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 Osborne.)
Order. This corner of the Chamber by the Chair is not some kind of fairground attraction. We expect courtesy from both sides of the House whoever is speaking. I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition and, as I said before, I know that the public in this country want to hear what the Opposition have to say as well.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
It is a recovery built on sand and a Budget of failure. The Chancellor has failed on the budget deficit, failed on debt, failed on investment, failed on productivity, failed on the trade deficit, failed on the welfare cap and failed to tackle inequality in this country. Today he has announced that growth is revised down last year, this year and every year he has forecast. Business investment is revised down and Government investment is revised down. It is a very good thing that the Chancellor is blaming the last Government—he was the Chancellor in the last Government.
This Budget has unfairness at its very core, paid for by those who can least afford it. The Chancellor could not have made his priorities clearer. While half a million people with disabilities are losing over £1 billion in personal independence payments, corporation tax is being cut and billions handed out in tax cuts to the very wealthy.
The Chancellor has said that he has to be judged on his record and by the tests he set himself. Six years ago, he promised a balanced structural current budget by 2015. It is now 2016—there is still no balanced budget. In 2010, he and the Prime Minister claimed, “We’re all in it together.” The Chancellor promised this House that the richest would
“pay more than the poorest, not just in terms of cash but as a proportion of income as well.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 179.]
So let me tell him how that has turned out. The Institute for Fiscal Studies—an independent organisation—found that “the poorest have” suffered “the greatest proportionate losses.” The Prime Minister told us recently that he was delivering “a strong economy” and “a sound plan”—but strong for who? Strong to support who, and sound for who, when 80% of the public spending cuts have fallen on women in our society? This Budget could have been a chance to demonstrate a real commitment to fairness and equality; yet again, the Chancellor has failed.
Five years ago—they were great words—the Chancellor promised
“a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”—[Official Report, 22 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]
Soaring rhetoric, yet despite the resilience, ingenuity and hard work of manufacturers, the manufacturing sector is now smaller that it was eight years ago. Last year, he told the Conservative conference, “We are the builders”, but ever since then the construction industry has been stagnating. This is the record of a Conservative Chancellor who has failed to balance the books, failed to balance out the pain and failed to rebalance our economy. It is no wonder that his close friend, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), is complaining that
“we were told for the next seven years things were looking great. Within one month of that forecast, we’re now being told that things are difficult”.
The gulf between what the Conservative Government expect from the wealthiest and what they demand from ordinary British taxpayers could not be greater. The “mate’s rates” deals for big corporations on tax deals is something they will be for ever remembered for. This is a Chancellor who has produced a Budget for hedge fund managers more than for small businesses. This is a Government—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
This is a Government who stood by as the steel industry bled. Skills, output and thousands of very skilled jobs have been lost, and communities ruined and damaged, by the inaction of the Government. The Chancellor set himself a £1 trillion export target; it is going to be missed by a lot more than a country mile. Instead of trade fuelling growth, as he promised, it is now holding back growth. He talked of the northern powerhouse. We now discover that 97% of the senior staff in the northern powerhouse have been outsourced to London—to the south. For all his talk of the northern powerhouse, the north-east accounts for less than 1% of Government infrastructure pipeline projects in construction. For all his rhetoric, there has been systematic under-investment in the north.
Across the country, local authorities—councils—are facing massive problems, with a 79% cut in their funding. Every library that has been closed, every elderly person left without proper care, and every swimming pool with reduced opening hours or closed altogether is a direct result of the Government underfunding our local authorities and councils.
Far from presiding over good-quality employment, he is the Chancellor who has presided over under- employment and insecurity, with nearly—[Interruption.]
Order. Certain people are testing my patience, so just think what your constituents are thinking out there as well. I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition and I expect you to hear the Leader of the Opposition. If you do not want to hear him, I am sure the Tea Room awaits. Perhaps there will be a phone call for Mr Hoare if he keeps shouting.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Security comes from knowing what your income is and knowing where your job is. If you are one of those nearly 1 million people on a zero-hours contract, you do not know what your income is: you do not have that security. We have the highest levels of in-work poverty on record and the largest number of people without security. They need regular wages that can end poverty and can bring about real security in their lives. Logically, low-paid jobs do not bring in the tax revenues that the Chancellor tells us he needs to balance his books. Household borrowing is once again being relied on to drive growth. Risky unsecured lending is growing at its fastest rate for the past eight years, and that is clearly not sustainable.
The renewables industry is vital to the future of our economy and our planet—indeed, our whole existence. It has been targeted for cuts, with thousands of jobs lost in the solar panel production industry. The Prime Minister, as we discussed earlier at Prime Minister’s Question Time, promised “the greenest Government ever”—here again, an abject failure. Science spending is also down, by £1 billion compared with 2010.
Home ownership is down under this Conservative Government. A whole generation is locked out of any prospect of owning their own home. This is the Chancellor who believes that a starter home costing £450,000 is affordable. It might be for some of his friends and for some Conservative Members, but not for those people who are trying to save for a deposit because they cannot get any other kind of house.
We have heard promises of garden cities before. Two years ago, the Chancellor pledged a garden city of 15,000 homes in Ebbsfleet, and many cheered that. His Ministers have been very busy ever since then—they have made 30 Ebbsfleet announcements, and they have managed to build 368 homes in Ebbsfleet. That is 12 homes for every press release. We obviously need a vast increase in press releases in order to get any homes built in Ebbsfleet, or indeed anywhere else.
While we welcome the money that will be put forward to tackle homelessness, it is the product of under-investment, underfunding of local authorities, not building enough council housing and not regulating the private rented sector. That is what has led to this crisis. We need to tackle the issue of homelessness by saying that everybody in our society deserves a safe roof over their head.
Child poverty is forecast to rise every year in this Parliament. What a damning indictment of this Government, and what a contrast to the last Labour Government, who managed to lift almost 1 million children out of poverty.
Eighty-one per cent of the tax increases and benefit cuts are falling on women, and the 19% gender pay gap persists. Despite the Chancellor’s protestations, it is a serious indictment that women are generally paid less than men for doing broadly similar work. It will require a Labour Government to address that.
The Government’s own social mobility commissioner said that
“there is a growing sense…that Britain’s best days are behind us rather than ahead”,
as the next generation expects to be worse off than the last. The Chancellor might have said a great deal about young people, but he failed to say anything about the debt levels that so many former students have; the high rents that young people have to pay; the lower levels of wages that young people get; and the sense of injustice and insecurity that so many young people in this country face and feel every day. It will again require a Labour Government to harness the enthusiasms, talent and energy of the young people of this country.
Investing in public services is vital to people’s wellbeing—I think we are all agreed on that, or at least I hope we are—yet every time the Chancellor fails, he cuts services, cuts jobs, sells assets and further privatises. That was very clear when we looked at the effects of the floods last year. Flood defences were cut by 27%. People’s homes in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria were ruined because of his Government’s neglect of river basin management and the flood defences that are so necessary.
Obviously, we welcome any money that is now going into flood defences, but I hope that that money will also be accompanied by a reversal of the cuts in the fire service that make it so difficult for our brilliant firefighters to protect people in their homes, and a reversal of the cuts in the Environment Agency that make it so hard for those brilliant engineers to protect our towns and cities, and for those local government workers who performed so brilliantly during the crisis in December and January in those areas that were flooded.
Our education service invests in people. It is a vital motor for the future wealth of this country, so why has there been a 35% drop in the adult skills budget under this Government? People surely need the opportunity to learn, and they should not have to go into debt in order to develop skills from which we as a community entirely benefit.
On the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that turning schools into academies boosts performance. There is nothing in the Budget to deal with the real issues of teacher shortages, the school place crisis and ballooning class sizes.
The Chancellor spoke at length about the issue of ill health among young children and the way in which sugar is consumed at such grotesque levels in society. I agree with him and welcome what he said. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the work done by many Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and by Jamie Oliver in helping to deal with the dreadful situation with children’s health. If we as a society cannot protect our children from high levels of sugar and all that goes with that, including later health crises of cancer and diabetes, we as a House will have failed the nation. I support the Chancellor’s proposals on sugar, and I hope all other Members do, too.
There is an issue, however, that faces the national health service: the deficit has widened to its highest level on record, waiting times are up and the NHS is in a critical condition. Hospital after hospital faces serious financial problems and is working out what to sell in order to balance its books. Our NHS should have the resources to concentrate on the health needs of the people; it should not have to get rid of resources in order to survive. The Public Accounts Committee reported only yesterday that NHS finances have
“deteriorated at a severe and rapid pace”.
I did not detect much in this Budget that is going to do much to resolve that crisis. The Chancellor has also cut public health budgets, mental health budgets and adult social care.
Earlier this month the Government forced through a £30 per week cut to disabled employment and support allowance claimants—[Interruption.]
Last week we learned that 500,000 people will lose up to £150 per week due to cuts to personal independence payments. I simply ask the Chancellor: if he can finance his Budget giveaways to different sectors, why can he not fund the need for dignity for the disabled people of this country?
The Chancellor said in the autumn statement that he had protected police budgets, but Sir Andrew Dilnot confirms that there has been a decrease in the police grant, while 18,000 police officers have lost their jobs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) pointed out in her question to the Prime Minister earlier, in order to cut down on dangerous crime against vulnerable individuals we need community policing and community police officers. Eighteen thousand of them losing their jobs does not help. This Government have failed on the police, the national health service, social care, housing and education.
Public investment lays the foundations for future growth, as the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and the G20 all recognise. The CBI and the TUC are crying out for more infrastructure investment. It is Labour that will invest in the future—in a high-technology, high-skill, high-wage economy.
The investment commitments that the Chancellor has made today are, of course, welcome, but they are belated and nowhere near the scale this country needs. People will rightly fear that this is just another press release on the road to the non-delivery of crucial projects.
The chronic under-investment—both public and private—presided over by this Chancellor means that the productivity gap between Britain and the rest of the G7 is the widest it has been for a generation. Without productivity growth, which has been revised down further today, we cannot hope to improve living standards. The Labour party backs a strategic state that understands that businesses, public services, innovators and workers combine together to create wealth and drive sustainable growth.
The Chancellor adopted a counter productive fiscal rule. The Treasury Committee responded by saying that it was
“not convinced that the surplus rule is credible”,
and it is right. The Chancellor is locking Britain into an even deeper cycle of low investment, low productivity and low ambition. We will be making the positive case for Britain to remain in the European Union and all the solidarity that can bring.
Over the past six years, the Chancellor has set targets on the deficit, on debt, on productivity, on manufacturing and construction, and on exports. He has failed them all and he is failing Britain.
There are huge opportunities for this country to build on the talent and efforts of everyone, but the Chancellor is more concerned about protecting vested interests. The price of failure is being borne by some of the most vulnerable in our society. The disabled are being robbed of up to £150 a week. Those are not the actions of a responsible statesperson; they are the actions of a cruel and callous Government who side with the wrong people and punish the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society.
The Chancellor was defeated when he tried to make tax credit cuts from next month by the House opposing them, and by Labour Members and Cross Benchers in the Lords. The continuation of austerity that he has confirmed today, particularly in the area of local government spending, is a political choice, not an economic necessity. It locks us into a continued cycle of economic failure and personal misery. The Labour party will not stand by while more poverty and inequality blight this country. We will oppose those damaging choices and make the case for an economy in which prosperity is shared by all.
Let us harness the optimism, the enthusiasm, the hope and the energy of young people. Let us not burden them with debts and unaffordable housing, low-wage jobs and zero-hours contracts, but instead act in an intergenerational way to give young people the opportunities and the chances they want to build a better, freer, more equal and more content Britain. The Chancellor has proved that he is utterly incapable of doing so with his Budget today.
The Leader of the Opposition has made the most difficult speech of the parliamentary year. He is responding to a Budget that he has not seen. I have not seen it either, as a matter of fact. I would be interested to know whether he feels that that was the speech of a democratic socialist; I think it was. It was certainly spoken with great sincerity, but I wonder whether—he can nod and tell me whether he agrees or disagrees—he now accepts, as John Smith and Tony Blair did, that a capitalist economy, properly regulated, is the most powerful source of prosperity and growth yet invented.
I am not going to put the right hon. Gentleman under any pressure.
The Chancellor deserves a great deal of credit for the recovery, and I have said so before; so does the Prime Minister—he has just slipped out of the Chamber—who has backed the Chancellor, I think, for the most part. The last six years have been extremely difficult at times, and it is a defining achievement for the Government that they have led the country out of the worst crisis in modern history and that they are now stabilising the public finances, which looked, and indeed were, completely out of control in 2010. We should not forget the scale of the challenge that beset the then coalition Government.
The Chancellor has talked about storm clouds gathering. I think he called it a “cocktail of risks”, coming particularly from abroad. He is certainly right about that. Emerging markets are slowing down, capital markets are faltering and the eurozone is edging back towards a serious crisis. If all that is sustained, the UK economy is going to take a hit. Of course, as the Office for Budget Responsibility has pointed out, the uncertainty in the short term about the EU referendum will not help either. We have seen all that reflected in the OBR’s forecasts, particularly on productivity. The Chancellor is right to be extremely cautious.
If I get time, I will say something briefly about the fiscal rules, and their merits or otherwise; there are some problems with the fiscal rules. I will also say whether fiscal policy should be so frequently adjusted to take account of forecasts as a consequence. I might say something, if I get time, about the way in which Budget measures are advertised so far in advance, which I am not sure is at all helpful.
First, I want to answer one central criticism of the recovery that is now under way—we did not hear so much of that from the Leader of the Opposition, although there were hints of it from time to time—and that is the assertion that the UK is in the grip of an unsustainable debt-driven, consumption-led recovery. Frankly, the statistics do not support that. Of course, one might say that the statistics are not worth much, because they have come from the Office for National Statistics and other sources, and we have discovered that they are of very little merit. Sir Charlie Bean is trying to improve statistics. They are the only figures we have got, however, and on the basis of the figures we have got, that claim, which is certainly widely made, does not hold up.
Investment has contributed a third of the total growth since the depths of the recession in the middle of 2009, despite accounting for only one seventh of GDP in recent years; that is the figure for the past five years. Debt as a proportion of household income has remained well below crisis levels, and recently productivity and real wage growth, which are the hallmarks of a sustainable recovery, are also showing signs of a pick up—something that the Chancellor did not emphasise in his speech—so I do not think that that argument holds up. Even if it were true that the recovery was very uneven as a consequence, that is what I would expect. The bigger the shock—this was a very big shock, the biggest in modern economic history—the more uneven the recovery is likely to be. Growth returns only a result of a fundamental reallocation of capital after a major crisis and more efficient use of that capital in the places to which it goes.
That process, this time, has been made particularly difficult by a profound weakness of the banking system. Firms, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, appear unable to obtain the capital they need to invest and grow even now. Again, that is something that the Chancellor did not emphasise. Although it is true that the average rate of interest for new advances is not very high—around 4%—the total stock of outstanding loans to SMEs tells its own story. It is falling, and has been falling pretty steadily for several years, even though the economy is recovering. That suggests that SMEs are not able, perhaps because of some form of rationing, to get the money that they need to grow and to sustain economic activity. That is a question that we need to come back to in the context of banking reform. Above all, we need desperately to get much more banking competition into the SME market and into the retail banking market.
I said that I would query the fiscal rules, and I am going to do so, as indeed has the Treasury Committee in an earlier report. The Chancellor was able to show a good deal of flexibility when it mattered in the last Parliament. His fiscal rules provided him with a good deal of leeway to adjust policy in response to the euro crisis, which was a heck of a shock to adjust to. He recently imposed three new restrictions on himself. First, there is this new surplus rule. Then there is the ring-fencing of three quarters of public spending. Now we also have the tax lock, which prevents rises in VAT, national insurance and income tax, which collectively account for three quarters of tax revenue.
Making fiscal rules all began with the efforts of Tony Blair and the former right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath to restore credibility to Labour’s economic policy in the 1990s. Since 1997—I have taken a look at the fiscal rules and if somebody wants me to go through them all, I will, but that will only delay the House—I have worked out that we have had six, so the average life of those fiscal rules has been three and a half years. I am afraid that the record of this Government and the coalition Government is no better than that of their predecessors; actually, it is somewhat worse. There is some merit in the Government’s giving guidance to markets and the public about their intentions, particularly their long-term and strategic intentions, but the rules have been presented, as their names suggest, as something far more permanent. They are called guarantees, rules, mandates, charters or pledges. Of course, as each one has been broken, it has not done much for the quality of politics and political discourse, and it has not done anything for economic credibility. The Government’s fiscal credibility does not derive from the rules or the mandates; it comes from the fact that they have tackled the deficit and have got it down from 10% to about 3% or a bit more.
Parties on both sides of the House now have fiscal rules. The new Labour shadow Chancellor—I do not think he is new Labour himself, but he is the recently appointed shadow Chancellor—has recently come up with one of his own. Both parties are at it, but I do not think the rules of either of them are offering much.
Is not one of the problems faced by any Government the fact that the so-called independent forecasts by the OBR and the Bank of England are always wrong and that they are always changing them? Those forecasts can have more of an impact on the Budget than common-sense judgments about where the economy is going, because we are always dealing with the errors of the OBR.
That is exactly the point I was coming on to make. We have just seen that the Chancellor has been forced to adjust his short-term policy to take account of what the OBR is now saying. He has altered his plans of only four months ago, and so long as the rule remains in place, he will have to do so again after the next fiscal event. That is mainly why the Treasury Committee concluded—the Leader of the Opposition did not give the whole quote—that it was
“not convinced that the surplus rule is credible in its current form.”
There is merit in something that can give some guidance, but it must be something less than one of these cast-iron rules that turn out to be so brittle they get smashed the first time there is a problem.
There are the public expenditure rules. On public expenditure, the Government have ring-fenced about three quarters of public spending—health, schools, defence, international aid, pensions and child benefit. That is a heck of a lot. I will give an illustration of the effect of doing that. The Chancellor said that he needs to find only 50p in every £100, which I think he said will come mainly from value-for-money savings across the public spending framework. In fact, of course, three quarters of that framework is ring-fenced, so he really needs to get £2 in every £100 from the quarter from which he can raise it.
Then there is the tax rule. It says that the Government are committed, in law, not to increase VAT, income tax or national insurance contributions, which collectively amount to three quarters of Government revenue. I voted for that piece of declaratory legislation. I am not very keen on declaratory legislation, but I went through the Lobby for it. I must say, speaking personally—not on behalf of the Treasury Committee—that I would much rather have voted for legislation that prohibited Chancellors from tying their hands behind their backs in such a way, and I would like to limit hypothecation at the same time.
I will not detain the House for very much longer, except to say that the Budget measures will need very careful examination by the Treasury Committee. There is certainly quite a bit to examine, as there usually is every year. As the son of a shopkeeper, I cannot be anything but delighted to hear what has been said about class 2 national insurance contributions and small business rate relief. Although I will take a close look at that, it sounds as though that is exactly what is required. The reduction in corporation tax to 17% should not be underestimated. I would not mind betting that we will get some more revenue from that, quite independently of the anti-avoidance measures that are being pushed through.
The sugar tax has been limited to fizzy drinks and soft drinks. Speaking personally, if we are going to have a tax based on sugar, I wonder whether we should not consider widening that base in the longer run. After all, it is not just the sugar in drinks that is held to be harmful. Whether we always want to define tax bases on health grounds is another matter, but that bridge has been crossed now that such a levy has been introduced.
There are the cuts to the capital gains tax rates, the lifetime ISAs—they look very interesting and are certainly worth examining carefully—and of course the changes to income tax thresholds. There are quite a few other things, but those are the main ones for now. There is a lot for the Treasury Committee to examine with all this. We will get at it in the coming weeks and produce a report for consideration during the passage of the Finance Bill. There are quite a number of colleagues from the Committee in the Chamber at the moment.
We will score all the tax measures against whether they make the tax system simpler or more complex. We will reduce that assessment, on the basis of technical advice from the leading authorities in the field, to a number. Simplification is a mantra: everybody says we must have a simpler tax system, and every year Tolley’s tax guide expands. We must now, much more rigorously, start to create the conditions in which we can reverse that process. One of them is to flag up just how much more complex the tax system is becoming.
We will look carefully at the distributional impact of the measures. I regret that the Chancellor decided to change the basis of the assessment that the Government agreed to produce on the distributional effects. He originally, and very helpfully, published that in 2010, but he changed it in 2015, which I regret. We will look at that issue. Continuity of method, which he agreed to in evidence to us, is absolutely crucial.
I am grateful to the Chairman of my Committee for giving way. He is talking about the distributional impact of the Budget. Does he not see it as a source of regret and deep concern that the biggest revenue raiser in this Red Book will be the cuts to personal independence payments for disabled people?
The hon. Gentleman has had a chance to look at the Red Book, but I have not. We will certainly examine the merits or otherwise of that important remark. I will make sure that he gets an opportunity to make his points when we cross-examine witnesses during our evidence sessions.
We will take a close look at the remit letters for the Bank of England. It is often taken for granted, but a very great deal of power has been transferred from the Treasury to the Bank of England on key questions. It is not just about interest rates, but about much more than that, particularly with quantitative easing in place and the financial stability aspect as well. We will examine that very carefully, and it is extremely important that we do so. With that, and of course the work we are doing on the economic and financial costs and benefits of membership of the EU prior to the referendum, there will be a very great deal for the Treasury Committee to do.
As with every Budget, there are some things to welcome. I welcome what the Chancellor said about the European Union. He will not be surprised to get help on that from SNP Members, because we also believe that we are better off in. I also welcome some of what he said about tax evasion and avoidance, and the abolition of class 2 NICs.
When it comes to the self-employed and contractors—people who, in many cases, are taking their first step in forming a new business—I would make the point that the Red Book suggests that there will be £765 million in extra tax due to travel and subsistence changes. It would have been far better to review that regime entirely rather than simply going ahead and doing that.
I welcome the oil and gas changes. The changes to the supplementary charge and petroleum revenue tax are very welcome. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of strategic direction, with no mention of exploration or production allowances, but I am sure discussions are ongoing. Likewise, I welcome the freeze on whisky duty and the freeze on fuel duty, for which we have been calling.
It is one of the small measures, but may I say that we very much welcome the additional money for school sports? I do not know what the Barnett consequentials of that will be, but it provides a useful opportunity for SNP Members to welcome the creation, in the past week, of the 150th school sport hub in Scotland, delivering the necessary additional sport for children.
I have a small point of disagreement with the Chancellor. He prayed in aid the leader of the Scottish branch of the Tory party, to cheers from many Members on his side of the House. It is probably worth noting that, last May, she led the Conservatives to their worst UK election result in 150 years.
The Chancellor rather skipped over his record in the last Parliament on debt, deficit and borrowing. We know he did not meet a single one of his targets. He told us that debt would fall as a share of GDP by 2014-15, that the current account would be in balance this year and that public sector net borrowing would be barely £20 billion. That, of course, did not happen. We warned at the time that debt would not begin to fall as a share of GDP until later, that the current account would not be back in the black until 2017-18, and that public sector net borrowing for this year would be about four times what he promised.
Our judgment is that much of the Chancellor’s failure came about because he strangled the lifeblood from the recovery by cutting too much too quickly, with little or no regard to the consequences—an error he set in stone with the fiscal charter, with its requirement to run a permanent surplus almost irrespective of economic conditions or the effect that cutting more than necessary would have on the prospects for the economy. We have had a very quick look, and we listened to what the Chancellor said, and the current account will not now be back in the black until 2018-19. The targets keep getting pushed back—more broken promises. Borrowing will still be higher in four years’ time than he promised it would be this year. That is the scale of the failure on the key economic metrics. Even in this Parliament, when he has continually been warned about repeating the mistakes of the past, he has done the same today—in many ways with a vengeance.
Capital expenditure is a mixed bag, and I will come on to that. I do not expect the Chancellor to listen to me, but he should listen to the IMF and the OECD. The IMF said that he had done enough to stabilise the Government’s finances—that is questionable—for them to embark on extra investment spending should GDP growth slow. He should take that advice. Only in February, the OECD told him it was revising down its GDP forecast for this year and recommended a commitment to raising public investment, which would boost demand while remaining on a fiscally sustainable path. We would have expected him to listen. We are glad that there is a very modest rise in capital expenditure over the forecast period, but it is actually marked down this year compared with the forecast we got in the autumn statement last winter. That is not consistent with what needs to be done, or with the advice received from others.
It is not all about broken promises on debt, deficit and borrowing. We now have a Chancellor who has done this many times—he has set about replicating the errors he made with his borrowing figures in his trade and export figures for this Parliament. He said previously that he expected to be able to deliver an almost certainly unachievable doubling of exports by 2020, but the OBR told him last year, at the time of the autumn statement, that he would fall short by £350 billion. We looked at the autumn statement, and the impact of net trade on GDP growth will be negative from 2016 through to 2020, and there will be a deficit in the balance of trade current account for the entire period. I am disappointed, because action can be taken. The impact of net trade on GDP growth is no better or worse in every single year of the new forecast period, and the balance of payments current account is actually worse in every single year, even compared with last autumn’s forecast. In the past week or so, we had confirmation of a £92 billion trade deficit and a £125 billion deficit in the trade in goods.
To be fair, those failings are not all the fault of the Chancellor. Some have been embedded in the UK economy for decades, whether on exports, support for innovation and manufacturing, or boosting productivity. They are all inextricably linked. In many ways Labour is the biggest culprit, having lost more than 1 million manufacturing jobs during its time in office—and that was before the recession. But it is the current Government’s failure to address those problems that is really troubling. We would have expected concerted action today on innovation, manufacturing, productivity and work with academia—all the things we are falling behind on internationally, which has led to decline. Manufacturing was 30% of the economy in the 1970s, and today it is 10%; it provided more than 20% of all jobs in the 1980s, and today it is 8%; and it went from more than a quarter of all business investment in the 1990s to barely 15% today.
The Chancellor will argue that some of the tax cuts will allow businesses to keep and invest more of their own money, and I hope that is true, but if he were serious, we should have seen an increase in the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Instead, we have seen the Department’s budget being marked down every single year. We would have seen an announcement on support for innovation, because we know that since 2010 the science budget has been frozen in cash terms, with a real-terms drop of 10%. By 2012, publicly funded science fell to less than 0.5% of GDP, and we can see nothing today that will take us off the bottom of the G8 heap.
I am very grateful. Is not the British problem not that we lack great universities, great ideas, great innovation, a large number of patents and a lot of start-ups, but a problem of getting smaller businesses to grow sufficiently and become big businesses that can export to France and Germany? How would the hon. Gentleman tackle that problem?
That is indeed one of the substantial issues, which is why our Government in Scotland have delivered the small business pledge. In return for assistance from Scottish Government agencies, the pledge requires those businesses to seek out and take export opportunities, and to innovate. We have delivered a £78 million fund for innovation to encourage 1,000 new inventions and to allow 1,200 businesses to liaise and work directly with academia. There are many practical ways to solve the problem that the right hon. Gentleman rightly identifies.
We will have to check the fine print about businesses that want to export, but in the Blue Book in the autumn, UKTI’s budget, after a slight rise for 2016-17, was cut by more than £20 million a year. Between 2018-19 and 2019-20, it will be flatlining in cash terms and falling again in real terms. We need to begin to tackle properly the underlying issue of poor productivity. From our perspective, that means delivering inclusive growth—essentially, a fairer and more equal society. We have seen the numbers, and we understand that it is not enough simply to grow the economy to fund public services. We must squeeze inequality out of the system to get the growth we need in the first place.
The Tories have never believed in that, and Labour failed on it for 13 years, and we have seen some of the mistakes repeated today. In the previous Parliament, discretionary consolidation—the balance of cuts and tax rises—went from a ratio of 4:1 to 9:1. What did we see today? Billions taken from people with disabilities, through changes to the personal independence payment, to fund an above-inflation increase in the 40p threshold. The 40p threshold did need to be addressed—I have said it for years—but to have an above-inflation rise while taking billions from the most disabled people in the country is disgraceful and economically wrong. The UK lost 9% of GDP growth due to rising inequality in the two decades from 1990, and the Chancellor is making the same mistakes again.
Some of the business measures that the Chancellor announced are to be welcomed. It was good that the Chancellor mentioned apprenticeships, but what he did not mention, of course, is that many firms—he should know this by now—already pay a 1.5% levy on payroll to the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board for training. The apprenticeship levy was simply an additional tax on jobs. I had hoped the Chancellor would reflect on the comments made following its introduction last year.
Likewise, the Chancellor told us last year that he was counting on a windfall of about £31 billion from the sale of banking, financial and commercial assets, but the OBR told us last year that it would be £24 billion, and there has been little change since then. Clearly, the Lloyds stock will still be privatised, and the Red Book refers, I think, to other sales, but there was absolutely nothing about an anticipated windfall, so it will be interesting to see whether he intends to sell off the family silver in a way that has gone unannounced today.
The Scottish Government’s ability to re-energise the Scottish economy cannot be hamstrung and hampered by decisions taken here. Before today’s statement, we expected that our discretionary budget this Parliament, taking into account the cuts already imposed, would be about £3.9 billion, or 12.5%, lower in real terms than it was in 2010. No matter what has been said, we expected capital spending to be £600 million lower in real terms than in 2010-11, and, based on the autumn statement, we expected that the departmental expenditure limits—DEL—budget would be increased by about 0.7% in cash terms, or a 1% real-terms reduction. We wait with interest to see what the number crunchers tell us the implications of the Budget will be.
This is all about political choices. We said at the election—and we hold to it—that a very modest, 0.5% real-terms increase in expenditure could have released money not just for investment but to make sure that those on benefits did not fall any further behind. That would have been a sensible, humane and productive thing to do, but the Chancellor and the Government have gone against that one more time. He might be able to sell it to some of his Back Benchers, but he has been unable to sell it in Scotland. I fear that that will continue to be the case.
It is a pleasure to be called so early in the debate. As I am trying to respond to a Budget without having as long to read it as I would normally expect, I now know how the Leader of the Opposition feels.
I welcome the many measures in the Budget that help hard-working people in Amber Valley. The further rise in the personal allowance is a welcome measure for which I have been campaigning for several years. We want someone living on the minimum wage—or the living wage, as it will be—to pay no income tax on their wages. The rise in the 40% tax band is also welcome and will help people who should never have been caught by that band—I think especially of one-earner families. I think we should aspire to increase the band still further.
I am happy about the slightly unexpected freeze in fuel duty. Many of us have been slowing preparing our constituents for a rise. I have been telling mine that perhaps the freezes are coming to an end, that it will have to increase and that this might be the year, so I welcome the freeze being continued, as fuel duty is a significant cost. The freeze will help families and small businesses to meet what is a significant bill.
I also welcome the measures targeted at the east midlands: the aerospace grants worth £15 million for the east midlands, including £7 million for Rolls-Royce in Derby; the changes to Midlands Connect to place it on a statutory footing; the funding for the M1 improvements so we get a smart motorway right through the east midlands up to Yorkshire; and an investment fund for the midlands of up to £250 million to help small businesses grow. Those welcome measures show that the Government recognise the importance of the midlands and the east midlands to the UK economy. The east midlands had the highest productivity growth throughout the last Parliament.
I also welcome the changes to business rates, especially for small businesses, which will help the high street in my constituency. Business rates are a significant cost for small businesses, and the long-term certainty of a permanent lower rate, rather than the annual uncertainty—“Will this be the last time we benefit from an exemption?”—will really help.
One thing that was not announced in the Budget, of course, was a devolution deal for the east midlands, the north midlands—or whatever we have been calling it in recent weeks. The deals announced today are a model for how the east midlands can go forward. I want to see a powerful voice in the east midlands to ensure we get our fair share of spending investment, to make the case for the east midlands as a great place to invest and to show that we can compete with the west midlands and south Yorkshire. To those disappointed that the deal has not been announced, I say that we should rethink our proposals. It would make for a far better bid, if Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire could join together and come up with a three-county proposal, much like the East Anglian one. It would be more coherent economically, have a better chance of getting buy-in from people across the east midlands and be more likely to succeed, because the area would be based around the airport and the new HS2 station and would have the M1 running through the middle, and it would fit the great synergies between three big cities and the surrounding areas. I urge those in local government trying to negotiate a deal to rethink what they are asking for and to go for a three-county proposal.
Is my hon. Friend’s concern the lack of collaboration—or the weakness of collaboration—between the constituent areas or the lack of ambition? As we have seen in Birmingham and elsewhere, bold decisions are welcomed by Ministers.
The leaders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire have shown ambition in trying to find a deal that works outside the core cities, but there are always challenges, in areas where people do not all look to one city, in working out whether closer working or more competition is the right way forward. I think there is also a lack of trust in Derbyshire and a feeling that a Greater Nottingham bid would centralise too much in Nottinghamshire. A bid that covers three cities and three counties would look less focused on the biggest city and take a more strategic and sensible approach that could help the whole region to compete with neighbouring regions. To be fair, however, there has been a lot of ambition already to bring the counties together. We just need to find a situation that works. That we had to change the name from D2N2 to East Midlands and then to North Midlands suggests we have not got the geography right.
I come to a couple of areas on which major changes have been announced. The first is the pensions system. The Chancellor announced some welcome changes in the Budget. I like the idea of the Help to Save scheme—we appear to have help for everything now—to give people on low incomes a 50% bonus if they can save a certain amount for two years or longer, and I like the idea of the lifetime ISA and making pension saving a bit more flexible so that people can save when they can and then, if they need to—if they want to buy a house or need to do some repairs, or if they fall out of work and want to live on their savings—draw down the money and put it back later. That sort of system is more flexible, is better suited to how people live and can help people to manage the ebbs and flows in their financial situation.
We need to stand back and ask, “What are we trying to do in using taxpayers’ money to help people save?” We are in the slightly strange situation of compelling people—generally those on low incomes—to enrol on to a pension scheme, hoping they do not opt out and then giving them roughly a 25% bonus from the Exchequer on what goes into that scheme. We have now produced another savings vehicle—Help to Save—whereby we give them a 50% bonus if they save a certain amount for a certain period. For some people on low incomes, it might be better to be enrolled on to the latter—they would have a more flexible savings pot with a bigger taxpayer-funded bonus—than a pension scheme that locks the money away for a long time, which has high charges and which they cannot use flexibly when they need to.
We ought to consider giving employers the choice of auto-enrolling people on to the lifetime ISA, which might be a more flexible and attractive solution for people on low wages—the ones generally in auto-enrolment—who we are trying to help to save and have the right savings at the right time in their lives. We are going in the right direction, but we need to make sure that what we are strongly encouraging—not compelling—people to do makes sense now that there are different vehicles on the market.
The pensions dashboard, which is hidden away in the Red Book, will be of great use in getting the industry to produce one place where people can go to see what they have in their pensions and savings. It will mean they can see what they can have in their retirement and what more they need. I welcome the move to make that happen. It has long been talked about, and we have to assume it can be done, given how IT is used these days. I look forward to seeing it happen.
I want to make a few remarks about the corporation tax changes. There are some welcome measures here to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion, and I hope they can all be made to work as effectively as they can. We can do more to give the public confidence that our large businesses are complying with tax requirements. My sense is that most of them do, and it is only a small proportion that go in for the aggressive avoidance that we cannot accept. I urge the Government to look at the idea of making large companies publish their corporation tax returns when they file their statutory accounts, so that we can actually see in some high-level way how much tax each company says it owes and how they have got from what is in their accounts to the cash tax bill.
Given the amount of disclosures of their actual accounts we require from companies, this would not put much sensitive information in the public domain. The principle of taxpayer confidentiality applies to individuals but should not apply to large companies, which might disclose their income in any case. I believe this would bring greater confidence and it would show, I hope, that most of those companies are not doing anything that is not acceptable.
I welcome the changes to try to expand how withholding tax works on royalties. Our rules in that area have been somewhat outdated and they do not apply to all forms of royalty. Extending them to certain other payments and trying to ensure that we actually collect the tax has to make sense. We should be careful to draw this wide enough to ensure that we catch things such as know-how payments or payments for access to recipes or whatever else companies will try to say their payments are. If it is not a payment for a tangible service or product, it probably ought to fall in the royalty regime and the withholding tax ought to apply.
I am not entirely sure how we will get this through our tax treaty network or the EU interest in royalties directive without having to give zero rates to nearly everyone we pay royalties to. I guess the measures announced for how we deal with situations where royalties have flowed through a regime that we would accept into one about which we have concerns, particularly about how to ensure we collect the tax in those situations need to be worked through.
I welcome, too, the proposals to simplify loss release for companies that are having to spread them across a group of companies. Five years ago, I tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill to try to argue that the Government should look at a group tax return so that large groups would file one tax return for all their companies, rather than having to file many dozens. I thought that would help to tackle tax avoidance by taking away the scope for funding arrangements between those companies that do not have any economic effect. If we are to simplify how companies use losses, it would be easier to let them file one tax return to show their group profit, and have one loss offset, rather than try to find a way for a group to calculate these things in a strange way further confusing HMRC. I think HMRC will benefit from knowing exactly how much profit a group is declaring in one return, so that it can then be compared with real turnover.
The announced interest restrictions are a sensible idea. We have moved past a situation in which we can justify allowing large companies to borrow in the UK, claim tax relief for profits not earned here without paying tax and dividends that come back. We have to be careful to do this right. We have attracted a lot of head offices here by the generous exemption we chose to give. We do not want to lose them all, but we also do not want to make infrastructure spending far more expensive than it needs to be. That can justify high levels of interest; there is generally no income in the early days. I hope we can find an exemption to get right and for the private equity industry as well.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967 that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measures:
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2016
Charities (Protection of Social Investment) Act 2016
Childcare Act 2016
Education and Adoption Act 2016
Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016
Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016
Diocesan Stipends Funds (Amendment) Measure 2016
Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation
We all look forward to poring over the details of today’s Budget, particularly to see the distributional analysis and to wait to hear from the IFS. Experience has taught us that, when it comes to this Chancellor, the devil is almost certainly in the detail. The Chancellor spoke a lot in his statement today about his record, on which I would like to focus the majority of my remarks.
I welcome today’s overall fall in unemployment—we all do—but unemployment in my Barnsley East constituency is actually going up. It rose again today for the second month in a row, which is a matter of huge concern locally. It highlights the weakness of the economic recovery, the fundamental variations that are taking place in different parts of the country and it shows once again why more jobs are needed in areas such as mine.
In former coalfields, including my own area, there are still not enough jobs. The recent report of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, “The state of the coalfields”, highlighted that there are approximately 50 jobs for every 100 residents of working age across the former coalfields. The Government’s own figures show that the employment rate in my Barnsley East constituency remains lower than the national average.
Indeed, the picture that the Chancellor painted today about what is happening in our economy will seem like a million miles away from the day-to-day realities of life for very many people, including in my constituency. Despite all the Chancellor’s boasts about the employment rate, and for all the palpable nonsense about a “northern powerhouse”, there are still huge discrepancies across the country.
According to the Resolution Foundation, in Yorkshire and Humber the employment rate increased by just 0.2% from the financial crash to 2015. That compares with 3.3% in London. Young people have been left behind, with the same figures showing that nationally the employment rate for 18 to 24-year-olds actually decreased by 3.5% over the same period.
What about the jobs that have come? Let us look at the reality behind some of the headline figures. The truth is the jobs that have come are too often insecure and are low paid. The number of zero-hours contracts is now at a record high, with more than 800,000 workers on a zero-hours contract for their main job. In 2010, there were 168,000 people on zero-hours contracts. The percentage of people on a zero-hours contracts with no guaranteed hours is higher in Yorkshire and the Humber than it is across the rest of the UK. Again, young people are hit hardest, with 38% of all 16 to 24-year-olds employed on a zero-hours contract. It is no wonder that this age group is not saving: they cannot get the hours, so they cannot get the money in to pay the bills. They are still struggling. If we look at today’s figures, we again find a significant rise in part-time working. How often do we knock on doors or talk to people at our surgeries and hear people saying, “I just cannot get the hours.”? They are struggling because of that.
I would like to make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
If the jobs that have come are more insecure, let us look at what has happened to living standards. According to the Resolution Foundation measure, there was an 8.9% fall in median pay for all employees between 2009 and 2015. For 22 to 29-year-olds, pay has fallen by 12% over the same period. Even using the Government’s own ONS figures, gross weekly pay for full-time workers in my constituency has actually fallen to £432.80 in 2015—a wage cut of more than £22 since 2010, and significantly below the national average.
We know that 29% of women earn less than the living wage, and the figure is 18% for male workers. We know that up to today, 81% of the savings made to the Treasury through the Chancellor’s tax and benefit changes since 2010 have come from women. According to the IFS analysis of the Chancellor’s last autumn statement, we know that when all of the tax and benefit changes are taken into consideration, 2.6 million working families will be on average £1,600 worse off by 2020.
No, I am going to make some progress.
It tells us everything we need to know about this Government when they seek to redefine rather than reduce poverty. Three in 10 children in Barnsley East are living in poverty. How does that fit with “putting the next generation first”? Where under the previous Labour Government the number of children living in absolute poverty fell significantly, the number under this Government has risen significantly. That is why local campaigns in Barnsley, such as the one being led by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on tackling child poverty, are so important.
We know that one of the biggest growth industries under this Chancellor has been in food banks. In 2010-11, just over 61,000 three-day emergency food packages were distributed to people in crisis across the country. Under this Chancellor in 2014-15, over 60,000 were distributed just in Yorkshire. The figure for the whole country is more than 1 million.
A bad situation is being made worse by the Chancellor’s approach to local government funding in particular. Not only is the Department for Communities and Local Government seen as a soft touch, but cuts for local government are presented as “cuts for town hall bosses”. Let me make clear what we are actually talking about. We are talking about cuts in social care, mental health and other vital local services. We are talking about jobs going, about cuts affecting libraries, museums and grassroots sport, and about cuts in support for fantastic organisations such as Barnsley Independent Alzheimers And Dementia Support, the local dementia charity of which I am a patron. We are also talking about cuts in Sure Start: we have lost more than 100 jobs in children’s centres in Barnsley because of this Government’s cuts.
It is not as if the axe has fallen on local government in a fair or equal way. Under this Chancellor, the idea that we are “all in it together” is just a really, really bad joke. More than one in five neighbourhoods in the Barnsley council area are ranked in the top 10% of the most deprived in England, yet analysis of the Government’s own local government finance settlements—verified by SIGOMA, the special interest group of municipal authorities, a cross-party body that represents local authorities in urban areas—shows that from 2011-12 to 2016-17, Barnsley council’s spending power will be cut by more than 26%, whereas that of the Prime Minister’s local authority, Oxfordshire County Council, will be cut by only 10%, and that of the Chancellor’s local authority, Cheshire East Council, by only 9%. Why should people in my constituency, an area with greater needs that is only a few miles from the south Yorkshire pit village where I was born, suffer bigger cuts than some of the most affluent areas in the country?
Why should women be hardest hit—women with children, and those who act as carers? Why should young people be held back? That is the reality, regardless of what the Chancellor said today. Does he not understand that every time he lets a young person down by allowing a children’s centre to close, it is not just a disaster for those young people and their working parents, but a disaster for the whole country? An opportunity denied to a young person means a talent wasted for the country. But of course the Chancellor does not understand that; if he did, he would have done something about it.
We heard a self-congratulatory victory roll from the Chancellor today, but it is clear that he is completely out of touch. This is a Chancellor who does not understand, or simply does not care about, the impact that his policies have on many people in very many parts of the country. The Chancellor talked a great deal about his record today, so let us be clear about it. His record is one of promises broken, his own targets missed, the lowest-paid working families worse off, the deliberate targeting of disabled people, young people let down, women hit hardest, the poorest parts of the country suffering the most, poverty deepening, and inequality widening. How on earth can that possibly accord with the nonsensical claim that this is a Government for working people?
If the picture that the Chancellor has painted in his Budget today seems a million miles away from the realities that many people face, that is because we have a Chancellor who lives in a world that is a million miles away from the realities that many people face.
I remind the House that, in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I have declared that I advise an industrial and an investment company.
I support the main measures in the Budget, and the thrust of the Budget statement. I strongly welcome the tax reductions. I am very pleased that the Chancellor is making progress in implementing our promises to take more people out of income tax altogether, and to take people out of 40% tax when they are on relatively modest incomes in comparison with the costs of housing and living in many parts of the country. The more progress we can make in that regard, the better.
I am delighted that I, and others, made representations on behalf of the North sea oil industry, that those representations have been well heard, and that substantial changes have been made. It is important for us to do all that we can to give that industry, which has been hit by the very low oil price, some momentum and some hope for the future. I am also very pleased about the capital gains tax changes, because I have campaigned for them for some time. I think we will find that they bring in more revenue, not less.
It is interesting to read the forecast in the Red Book that, by 2019-20, there will be a substantial increase in revenues from CGT at the lower rate, but there will be a period of no increases for two or three years. I find that a surprising profile, and I think it draws attention to an underlying problem. I do not think that the economic models and the tax forecasting system used by the Office for Budget Responsibility are fit for purpose. The OBR was obviously very wrong about the impact of the reduction in the 50p rate to 45p: there was a big surge in revenues which was not in the original forecast figures.
This is the background against which we meet today. Many of the changes that the Chancellor has had to make are simply a result of the OBR changing its mind over the very short period between the autumn statement and today, and deciding that the economic outlook is not as good as it thought it was at the end of last year. We have to ask why it has reached that conclusion.
I do not think that there is very much difference. All economic forecasters experience difficulties in getting their forecasts right, but some of us are more humble about our expectations than these official forecasters. I think that the danger of having an official forecast is that too much credibility is given to it, and big decisions are then made on the back of it. When official forecasters are zinging the forecasts around every three or four months, it becomes difficult for any Chancellor to run a stable medium-term policy involving, for example, important spending items that matter a great deal to our constituents.
I urge the Chancellor to be a little more sceptical about the wisdom and virtue of the OBR forecasts. The one thing of which we can be sure is that, over the period during which we have had the OBR, it has always been wrong, but what is stunning is the degree of the error. The OBR itself kindly points that out to us on page 234 of its very readable book, saying that, on average, it has revised the underlying borrowing forecast by £46 billion for the review period in question on each occasion. Given that the figure is an average, it is clear that the forecast revision has been considerably higher. The OBR tends to make its biggest revisions in autumn statements, but it has given us quite a whopper on this occasion. When a Chancellor must face a £46 billion revision every time he has to do the sums, it makes the task of stable economic management much more difficult. This is one of those instances in which an idea that was intended to produce more stability has proved to be destabilising.
The same can be said, I am afraid, of the current Governor of the Bank of England. The Governor of the Bank of England is meant to provide stability and wisdom, but we have now heard four different mantras from this Governor about when interest rates are going to rise. That is a very important statistic, which informs the forecasts of the OBR.
First of all, the Governor said that interest rates would probably go up when unemployment fell below 7%. When it tumbled rapidly below 7%, the Governor changed his mind. I am glad that he did, but the fact remains that he changed his mind. He then said that when real wages started to go up, interest rates would probably go up as well, and I am pleased to say that almost as soon as he had said it, they started to go up. Then he changed his mind, in that he had apparently not meant what he said.
The Governor then said that the turn of the year, 2015-16, would be a witching hour, when interest rates might have to go up. Well, we roared through the end of the year and the beginning of the new year, and they did not go up. Again, I was pleased about that, because I think it might have been unhelpful if they had. However, that shows that people and institutions who should be good at providing stability can be very destabilising and very misleading, and it is all noise that the Chancellor has to deal with.
The one good thing about all this is that when these ridiculous forecasts are made by the OBR and the Governor of the Bank of England that we would be worse off if we left the European Union, we can completely ignore them. We know that those people are always wrong about the things in which they are meant to specialise, so why should we believe what they say about something that is more important?
I think that I am doing that now. The Chancellor quoted the OBR, and the one thing that I disagreed with profoundly in a very good Budget was the OBR’s forecast on what would happen with Brexit. [Laughter.] It is not funny. Labour Members might learn something if they listened. They have obviously closed their ears to any idea that an independent Britain could be rich, prosperous and free, but many of us think that we will be more rich, prosperous and free if we leave the EU.
I want to develop the argument a little more. As has already been pointed out, the forecast contains very worrying figures about the balance of payments deficit. And of course, were we to leave the EU, we would immediately have £10 billion at our disposal that we would no longer have to send abroad to be spent in rich countries on the continent. That is the net amount that goes to the continent. So our balance of payments would immediately improve by £10 billion a year if we did not have to make those contributions.
To cheer up Opposition Members even more, and to get them to change their vote, I can tell them that we and they would have the pleasure of spending £10 billion a year more in our own country—[Laughter.] Why is that funny? Why should not British taxpayers who have to pay £10 billion not have the advantage of spending it on things that they want instead of it being spent on new roads in France or Spain? I think my taxpayers want it to be spent here. That £10 billion a year could more than banish the austerity that Opposition Members claim has done some damage to our country. Looking at the figures, we can see that real public spending has gone up all the time under the coalition and the Conservative Government, but not by as much as it went up under previous Governments. If we had that £10 billion back to spend in the United Kingdom, we would have a better profile on public spending and on tax reductions.
But of course. I have checked the Government’s very own net contribution figures, and it is very likely that they have got those figures right, because even the Government can count how much they have spent and how much they have had to give away to the rest of the European Union. That is the damage that is being done.
On the balance of payments, I would urge my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to do more work on getting the balance of payments deficit down. Obviously, they will not all agree with me about taking the quick easy hit of getting our £10 billion back to make a big reduction in the deficit, but we need to understand that that d