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As the hon. Gentleman should be aware, the outgoing Government's capital spending plans have not been changed by this Government. We have to
accept the previous Government's plans for a modest increase in the capital stock of the state over a period of great stress in the budgets. But the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme and its replacement with a programme that gives better value for money is exactly what we want. The trouble with Building Schools for the Future was that there were three years of delay and £10 million of consultancy costs before bricks and mortar or steel and glass could even start to be laid.
What my right hon. and hon. Friends rightly want to do is cut out all that nonsense, stop wasting all the money on the documentation, delays, consultancies and all the rest of it, and have a more straightforward approach, so that a bigger proportion of the inherited capital expenditure budget can be spent on bricks and mortar and bricklayers' wages, as the hon. Gentleman wants.
Owen Smith: Is the right hon. Gentleman worried in any way by the remarks, made during the radio discussion that he took part in this morning, about the £50 billion of contracts that would be taken out of the construction industry as a result of the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme? Will that not have a detrimental impact on the economy-specifically, on jobs in construction?
Mr Redwood: Once again, the hon. Gentleman is not listening. I was explaining that the coalition Government have made no change to the capital expenditure line that they inherited from the outgoing Government. What they will do is get more bang for the buck-to get more spending on construction, relative to the total investment line in the Budget. On the radio this morning, I was able to satisfy the other people in the discussion; the independent forecaster's overall forecasts for the economy say that investment is going to rise. There will be an overall increase in investment because more homes will be built over the next five years than the pathetically low figure that was reached under Labour. There will be more investment in housing improvement, and more investment by the private sector. That more than offsets the decline in the investment programme in the public sector inherited from Labour.
Mr Meacher: The right hon. Gentleman's fantasy that there will be a continuation of or an increase in capital investment is completely belied by the OBR forecast on page 90 of the Treasury Red Book, which shows that net investment will fall from £49 billion in the current year to £21 billion in 2014-15. That is a colossal drop.
Mr Redwood: Those are Labour's figures for the public sector. I have just told the House that I am talking about total investment across the economy. Overall, the right hon. Gentleman will find in the Red Book that it is anticipated that the rises in investment elsewhere will more than offset Labour's cuts in the capital programme, which we have decided to live with. I should also tell him that he is quoting the net line when he should be quoting the gross line. In other words, he is knocking off the depreciation, whereas we are interested in the total spend-the gross line, which is much higher than the figures that he has inadvertently, I think, given the House in error.
Mr Meacher: How can the right hon. Gentleman believe that private investment will remotely compensate for this enormous fall in public sector net investment, given that household consumption is falling, particularly with the increase in VAT, the banks are not lending, and export markets are fading because of the situation in the eurozone? Why should the private sector invest in those circumstances?
Mr Redwood: That is what I have been explaining to the right hon. Gentleman. We are in this position because everything has been so awful. The private sector has just been through a couple of years when it has invested practically nothing because companies could not get any money and were not making much profit. Now, profit margins are growing, there is a bit more money around and they are getting more confident for the future.
It would be much better if Labour Members got behind their voters and constituents, who want the jobs that we wish to see created, got behind the recovery that everybody else is forecasting, and started to live in the real world. They presided over the collapse. Throughout their years in office, manufacturing fell, whereas in the Tory years before that, manufacturing rose. We want to get manufacturing rising again. From that point of view, the one good thing that they did was to preside over a collapse in the value of the pound. They probably allowed it to collapse a bit too much, and it is beginning to rise again under the new Government. That gives those in manufacturing a huge opportunity to make better profit margins, to invest more money, and to produce more. That is exactly what they are beginning to do, and there will be a beneficial effect.
Owen Smith: In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman suggests about manufacturing, is he not worried when he sees the prediction in the Deloitte manufacturing index that over the next five years our manufacturing will decline, not grow, and that we will shift from our admittedly low position of 17th on that index to 20th?
Mr Redwood: A shift in the relative position predicted by someone else does not necessarily mean that manufacturing is going to decline. The figures in the official forecast, and I think in most sensible forecasts outside, show that manufacturing will recover from the very low base that it reached in 2009-10. That is what is needed, and we need to have policies that do just that.
Mr Redwood: I am going to conclude, because many people wish to participate in this debate. Labour Members may want to be here until 3 o'clock in the morning, but they never used to when they were in the dock and did not allow us the time to debate these things properly.
The Budget is a necessary evil to clear up the mess inherited from the previous Government. This is a necessary task to instil confidence and to avoid interest rates going through the roof. Labour Members should look at what has happened in Ireland. Ireland had extremely big cuts-bigger, I am pleased to say, than those in this Budget. In the last quarter, the Irish
economy started to grow extremely well, which is exactly what Labour Members are predicting cannot happen if one starts to get control of public spending.
I urge the Government and the whole public sector to work strongly together to ensure that these modest increases in cash spending translate into maintained and improved public services, as they can if we take the right action over pay rates, efficiency levels, improved process, investment in technology and so forth. I hope that we will get the banks working better by creating a more competitive environment so that we can then have the investment we need in the private sector to fill the gap and create the jobs. This is a doable task and a feasible profile, and it is backed by the independent forecaster. We need to be very sure that we are going to pump everything into that task, because recovery is what we all want.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Has the Secretary of State for Education indicated to you any desire to come to this Chamber to explain the situation that has arisen? Following the points of order that were made by me and two of my hon. Friends, a further list of schools affected by the Building Schools for the Future cuts was published this afternoon. That third list reflects 22 errors from the first list, which means that a significant number of communities up and down the country have been affected by the chaotic statement about schools made yesterday by the Secretary of State. Are we to expect a fourth list, given that there are still some concerns that even the latest list may not be totally accurate? If not this evening, then tomorrow, we should expect the Secretary of State to come and explain what on earth is going on in respect of the cuts that are being made to a programme that is welcomed in communities up and down the country.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I have not received any information as to whether the Secretary of State for Education wishes to make a statement this evening. I remember that in the hon. Gentleman's first point of order for me he said that he had not received any list; he now appears to have three. I understand that the Speaker has already made a ruling on this matter. I am sure that if the Secretary of State does at some stage wish to make a statement, this House will be informed.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): I intend to finish my remarks by talking about the performance of the Chief Secretary, but I will start by commenting on what the shadow Chief Secretary said. He rightly pointed out that if the Government did not get the growth forecasts that they expected, the only option that they would have in meeting their deficit reduction targets would be to cut more. However, Labour's policy to halve the deficit, again in a fixed time scale, suffered from precisely the same problem. If the growth forecasts of 3.25% for four of the next five years had not been met-indeed, if there had been a downturn-there would have been no room not only for a fiscal stimulus but, perhaps, for the use of the automatic stabilisers. The Government's plans and Labour's previous plans have that problem in common.
Let me start by commenting on the things that we agree with in this very thin Finance Bill. I am pleased that the Bill seeks to bring down corporation tax. The
phased reduction in the headline rate will provide an incentive for businesses to locate in the UK, although I am not convinced that paying for this through the changes to investment and other capital allowances might not yet prove to be a problem for growing businesses. As the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), who is not in her place, said, this may help businesses that are up and running, but not those that seek to grow. I am disappointed that she is not here, because if she were, I would have the opportunity to ask whether she now regrets the Labour Government's abolition of the industrial buildings allowance-another key allowance to help industrial investment that went some time ago.
Mr Redwood: The hon. Gentleman and I made common cause against the previous Government for not adjusting for the cycle in their Budget plans. I believe that this Government have said that if things were to go wrong and we headed into another global recession, they would adjust the plans accordingly for the cycle.
Stewart Hosie: Indeed. It is worth making the point, though, that on paper there is a rigidity about this. I remain concerned that if growth forecasts, downrated sensibly, are not met, there will have to be these necessary adjustments.
"We are concerned about the reduction of the investment allowance for small firms to £25,000 from £50,000 which will have a detrimental impact on small haulage companies."
I am pleased by the way in which the Government have handled the capital gains tax changes, keeping the rate unchanged for basic rate payers to encourage and allow modest investment but increasing the rate for higher taxpayers. Closing the gap removes a perverse incentive to take income that could be taxed as capital rather than through income tax, but keeps a sufficient distance between the rates of income tax and capital gains tax to encourage real investment. That was handled quite well.
I have a question, though, about the rationale for the increase in insurance premium tax. I heard the explanation that it has previously mirrored the VAT rate, but there is no reason why that should still be the case. It will bring in some £2 billion in additional tax over the next five years, and I can only hope that that decision does not come back to haunt this Government in the way that the abolition of advanced corporation tax on pensions came back to haunt the Labour Government. The Conservative party in particular has made a great many criticisms about how that pension change was made and the impact that it had. Indeed, it was a smash-and-grab raid that the Chancellor described as "disastrous" in Accountancy Age last year. I hope that the insurance premium tax increase will not be described in that way in future.
Incidentally, in the same interview, on 6 October, the Chancellor also stated his aim to get the country saving again, which makes it even more difficult to explain the coalition Government's intention to scrap the child
trust funds. We have spoken about savings and savings ratios in the past, and the Red Book forecasts future ratios of just over 5%. However, that is about half the savings ratio that the Labour Government inherited and about the average through the whole of 2004 and 2005. It is not particularly ambitious, if the Government's intention was to get the country saving again.
However, the real damage in this Finance Bill, as many Members have mentioned, is the determination to put up VAT. That directly contradicts the stated intention of both coalition parties to create a fairer society. Although it may well be the case that in cash terms the wealthiest will pay more VAT, it is clear that the poorest 10% will pay nearly three times higher a percentage of their disposable income than the richest 10%. That is all because of the wrong-headed view, to some extent shared by Labour, that deficit consolidation must be achieved quickly. That is based, I believe, on a flawed assessment of the Canadian model, rather than a credible one perhaps based on the New Zealand model, which certainly worked. The consequence of the VAT changes, at least according to Save the Children, is that the VAT bill for the poorest could rise to more than £31 a week.
Mr Kevan Jones: The hon. Gentleman mentions the Canadian model, but does he agree that what we are seeing today is very similar to the Canadian model in that it was not necessarily just about deficit reduction, but was ideologically driven to reduce the size of the state in Canada?
Stewart Hosie: I think that was certainly a consequence of the actions that were taken, but the reason I say that the assessment was flawed is that Canada sat on the northern border of a booming American economy, and its recovery was export-driven. That was a sensible approach to take. I would love our economy to be export-driven as well, but given that the European Union is our biggest trading partner with more than 60% of our goods by volume going there, I cannot see how an export-driven recovery can be achieved to the extent that is hoped for. I would love it to be, but from looking at the numbers, I cannot see how it will happen.
Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman mentioned deficit reduction. Does he recall that in the post-war era successive Governments, Labour and Conservative, maintained a policy of full employment, which saw a gigantic deficit way beyond anything that we are seeing at the moment being seriously reduced? Does he accept that full employment, not cutting spending, is the way to reduce deficit?
Stewart Hosie: I certainly agree that long-term, sustained and sustainable above-trend growth is the real answer, but that is not to minimise the problem of the deficit and the impact that it can have on market credibility and the cost of money. I am not one to say that we need deficit or debt at any cost; I am arguing for a credible deficit consolidation plan as opposed to a fixed-term plan that is inflexible and will not work.
The current situation has led to the VAT increase, and given that the poorest families may now pay more than £31 a week, I want to think about the impact on those families. Their unemployment benefits may be reduced in real terms, their tax credits cut and their
housing benefit put under real pressure, particularly in areas where rented housing is expensive. That part of society will suffer most from the VAT rise. According to Shelter, nearly half of local housing allowance claimants are already making up a shortfall of almost £100 a month to meet their rent. Socially, a VAT increase for people who are that hard-pressed at the moment might be considered unforgivable.
Mr MacNeil: One of the fig leaves that the Liberal Democrats have used to accept the VAT increase has been the argument that they did not understand the nature or size of the deficit until they got into bed with the Conservatives. However, a glance at the pre-Budget report and the Budget shows that the deficit is actually £20 billion to £30 billion lower, thereby surely blowing holes in the Liberal Democrats' argument for accepting a 2.5% VAT increase, which will hit the poorest in our society.
Stewart Hosie: That is absolutely correct. It is a pity that there is merely one Liberal left in his place to hear that argument. My hon. Friend makes a very good point that the deficit forecast now is less than that forecast in the Budget and the pre-Budget report. That certainly confirms the case that we made for a fiscal stimulus. Another criticism that comes from his intervention is not simply that Liberals do not understand the numbers but that the Labour Government left the UK as one of only two countries in the G20 without a fiscal stimulus, fully withdrawing it in 2010 before recovery was secure.
To wind gently back to VAT, I said that the increase would perhaps be socially unforgivable. It also makes little sense in economic terms. The British Retail Consortium has described it as "disappointing", which was something of an underestimate given that it went on to state, bluntly:
"We didn't want a VAT increase. It'll hit jobs."
"Higher inflation could trigger interest rises, risking the spectre of the double dip recession."
Mr Kevan Jones: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman read The Herald of Scotland this morning. He knows that I read the newspapers carefully. It states that because of the VAT increase, the Commonwealth games in 2014 will cost an additional £20 million?
Stewart Hosie: That is absolutely right, and VAT will not just hit building and the purchasing of supplies for the Commonwealth games or the Olympics, and it will not just hit the private sector and families. It will hit the public sector, which buys VAT-rated supplies and goods of all sorts. It will effectively mean spending power going out of the economy and straight to the Treasury.
Stewart Hosie: As my hon. Friend says, it will mean £26 million extra on the bill to the NHS in Scotland alone. We can easily add up the figures for all the public bodies and find out what the real cost of the VAT rise will be area by area, but we know that it adds up to £13 billion in total. It makes up more than a quarter of the additional £40 billion of fiscal tightening that the Government wish to see in 2014-15. That is £40 billion in that single year, on top of the cuts and tax increases inherited from the Labour party that they intend to keep. There is a huge problem with the VAT component of this Finance Bill.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): By and large, I must commend the hon. Gentleman for a constructive contribution to the debate-we have not had many so far. Given the amendment that I tabled last Monday about impact assessments on VAT, what alternative would he recommend to fill the hole that would be left by not increasing VAT by 2.5%, or does he not recommend an alternative?
Stewart Hosie: I suffer from the advantage of tabling many new clauses and new schedules to the Fiscal Responsibility Bill to establish a medium-term fiscal consolidation precisely to avoid the slash-and-burn approach of a massive hike in the most regressive form of tax. Instead of the VAT increase, I would not tackle the deficit and debt over a fixed term-certainly not a short fixed term such as the Government propose-but do it in the medium term, not least to benefit from the £50 billion of medium-term savings from cancelling and not replacing Trident. The Liberals appeared to be in favour of that midway through the election campaign, but were not towards the end, when it looked as if their leader would be in a position of some influence and power. I will stop there because the Liberals have had a hard enough time, but I will return to the subject shortly.
It is not simply what is in the Bill that causes problems, but what is not in it, and the missed opportunities that that represents. The reasoned amendment outlines those. For example, the Bill could have taken its lead from the second and final report of the Holtham commission-the Independent Commission on Funding and Finance for Wales-which repeated its call for an immediate "Barnett floor" on departmental expenditure limit payments to Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) mentioned that earlier. That came a year after the commission's first report recommended that such a floor, which would prevent further convergence between Wales and the England average, should be a multiple of 114% spending in Wales for every 100% in England. The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru were delighted that the Chief Secretary confirmed earlier that there would be no further convergence in funding for Wales in the next few years at least. I am sure that my hon. Friends in Plaid Cymru will hold the Government to that.
The Bill also missed an opportunity to deliver real progress on intergovernmental relations with Scotland. The Government could have ensured the release of the fossil fuel levy-nearly £200 million sitting in a bank account-without a corresponding cut to the Scottish block. Such a move would have been welcomed, and have provided a much-needed boost to the Scottish Government's attempts to secure economic recovery and kick-start jobs in the green economy. Better still,
the Government could have moved to a position of full fiscal responsibility for Scotland, so that Scotland would make all its tax-and-spend decisions and find its own solutions to ensure that we did not enter another recession.
There was also an opportunity to deliver a fuel duty regulator-a fuel duty stabiliser-and fair play on fuel, not least for the haulage sector. Instead, the Chancellor plans to go ahead with Labour's inflationary package of three fuel duty increases in the next year. The Road Haulage Association's chief executive said that that
"will simply further widen the gap between UK diesel duty and that of our EU competitors."
As my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) said several times, the Government have missed an opportunity for a fuel duty derogation now for remote and rural areas. I hope that that idea has not been kicked into the long grass, never to be seen again, and that the Liberals in the Government might find a little steel before they are ground down completely, and deliver something beneficial to remote and rural areas throughout the UK.
Mr Kevan Jones: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the proposals in the Bill for insurance premium tax will affect many of my rural constituents, who rely on cars as their sole form of transport? Youngsters will be particularly hard hit because they pay a larger percentage through high premiums than other drivers. Cars are not a luxury in rural communities; they are essential items.
Stewart Hosie: They are absolutely not a luxury. Insurance not only on cars but on homes and foreign travel, particularly for those who are slightly frail, is a vital matter. Taking £2 billion out of that sector is damaging enough, but if it is a disincentive, which stops people taking out the appropriate insurance, we could experience all sorts of difficulties in future.
"The case for a fair fuel deal for remote and rural communities is absolutely clear. People face longer journeys, much higher pump prices and few if any public transport alternatives. A lower rate of fuel duty is already available for remote and island areas in many other European countries."
"to protect, as a far as possible, the spending that generates high economic returns".
They could have done that by keeping tax relief for the video games industry, protecting more than 2,000 jobs and creating 1,400 new ones; saving £300 million in investment and encouraging £146 million more; protecting £282 million in revenue yield and increasing that by £133 million. However, they did not, and that is hugely disappointing for that sector and for growth in a modern industry in this country.
My hon. Friend mentioned the rural fuel derogation. It is important that the House understands exactly why we in the islands in Scotland feel that we deserve it. We pay more tax per litre than any other part
of the UK, and, therefore, for parity, equality and fairness, a rural fuel derogation might rectify the position till we approach something fair. I stress the word "approach".
Stewart Hosie: Given that the Bill's Committee stage is three days on the Floor of the House, it is impossible to amend it as we have previously amended finance measures to introduce fuel duty regulators or derogations, but my hon. Friend is right, particularly when he talks of fairness, which is one of the alleged underpinning principles of the coalition-I hope that members of the Treasury Bench are taking note of all the matters on which they could deliver fairness, and for which they may yet be held to account if they do not.
The Chief Secretary was unconvincing in his opening speech. The Bill is thin and the VAT increase hits the poorest-that is unforgivable. Of course, the Budget may well prove economically foolish, risking inflation, higher interest rates and recession, and making tackling the deficit and the debt more difficult rather than easier. The Chief Secretary said that what was being done is unavoidable. None of this is unavoidable. It is a political choice. The proposals are political choices, and I believe that the Government have made the wrong choices. We in the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru will oppose Second Reading.
If hon. Members googled my name as a new MP, the first website they would find is that of Steve Barclay, the comedian and cabaret entertainer. I can assure the House that that is not me in an unregistered second job. My speech sadly lacks the zany comedy and musical backing that his performances offer, and the current headline on his website,
"Barclay storms the cabaret floor"
It is the custom to pay tribute to one's predecessor, but in my case, it is a real pleasure. Malcolm Moss represented the constituency of North-East Cambridgeshire for 23 years with great distinction. He served first as a town, district and county councillor before going on to defeat the talented Clement Freud. He was a Northern Ireland Minister in the previous Conservative Government before holding a variety of shadow roles, including playing a key role on the Licensing Bill. He was also a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament. Malcolm was widely liked in the House and locally and he will be very much missed.
North East Cambridgeshire stretches from the Lincolnshire and Norfolk border all the way down to the edge of Ely and Peterborough. It is the largest constituency in Cambridgeshire, which is the fastest-growing county in the country. It is perhaps better known by its former constituency name-the Isle of Ely-although it is better known still as the fens.
As I am sure all hon. Members will know, the fens were first drained in the mid-17th century to produce the fertile farming land we have today. It is a distinct landscape, with endless fields, and big skies hosting
blood-red sunsets, beneath which traditional festivals such as the straw bear festival and the rose fair take place. Farming remains a crucial part of our economy, and as food security becomes ever more important, it is a vital national asset. Our fields and homes are protected by the work of the Middle Level Commissioners and the many internal drainage boards. I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), not to interfere in those internal drainage boards, as proposed by the previous Government. That is currently under review.
I want to focus my remarks today on a second drainage that is taking place in the fens. This drainage leaves not fertile land, but barren areas, as more and more assets are centralised in our cities, paradoxically as houses are being built in rural communities. There is a misconception that all rural areas are rich. Eighteen of the 25 most deprived wards in Cambridgeshire are in fenland, and one in 10 people in my constituency have used the excellent services of the citizens advice bureau in the past 12 months alone, 43% of whom did so for advice on personal debt-the manager, Linda Hutchinson, does a formidable job. Prosperous areas mask pockets of deprivation in rural communities, and often float us above the aggregate score on which national funding is usually targeted.
The drainage of our amenities continues at a frightening pace: we recently lost our driving test centre even though it cost only £11,000 a year in rent; our new further education college was scrapped a month before building work was due to begin; and local pubs are closing. There is a battle on to save them, not least Claire Hammond's fight to save the Nag's Head in Eastrea. We now face the risk of the closure of our magistrates court, adjacent to which is our police station, the cells of which have already been closed. I will discuss this closure with Ministers in the weeks ahead. As a community, we pay twice as much to the Exchequer in business rates as we receive back in the local settlement grant. It is time that the funding imbalance between the rural shires in England and elsewhere in the United Kingdom is looked at again.
I want to resist the temptation today to focus on the previous Government's legacy. Anyone in any doubt can look at that temple of waste, the regional fire headquarters in Cambridgeshire, which was built at a cost of £23 million and stands empty because the emergency phone lines cannot be made to work. Instead of large regional projects, we need to focus spending much more effectively to deliver the jobs and services that we need in rural communities such as mine.
First, we need to target money more wisely. The Budget was painful but necessary. However, I still feel that there are areas where policy needs to catch up with the new reality. Constituents in North East Cambridgeshire are staggered that we borrow money simply to give it away to countries such as China and India, which can afford their own space programmes. Likewise, factory workers in my constituency in food packaging, who are on modest incomes, wonder why councils can put as much as 20% of their total income into staff pensions.
Secondly, we need a clearer distinction between investment and spending-the lines have been deliberately blurred in recent years. The fens are only 100 miles from
London, yet they are held back by the chronic lack of transport infrastructure. Wisbech, the capital of the fens, has no rail line when it used to have two train stations. There is a single-carriageway road, the A47, which has not been improved in decades. Its port-the only one in Cambridgeshire-was more used even in Roman times than today, and some of our villages around Wisbech get just one bus a week.
Money needs to be focused on things that can deliver economic return, including transport and our further education college. We also need to use money where it will directly save lives. I commend the campaign of my constituent Graham Chappell, who has done so much work to highlight the issue of deep waterways adjacent to fen roads, where we have had so many fatalities.
Thirdly, we need to empower our small business base far more. North East Cambridgeshire is not just about farming. We have many small and medium-sized businesses, such as the high-value engineering firm Metalcraft in Chatteris. I am delighted that we are expanding the apprenticeship scheme, but grants can also have a positive effect. In the commercial world, the aim is always to make it easier for customers to access products, and the public sector needs to do the same. It needs to cut the duplication and time-consuming paperwork so that small businesses that do not have specialised staff can access grants.
In more than 80 years, my constituency has had just four Members of Parliament. I hope that it is a tradition my constituents will continue. I will speak up for this forgotten fen landscape, which is distinct and beautiful and is not currently getting its fair share of resources. We need to target Government spending more effectively, so that we can unlock the potential that the fens offer and deliver the growth our economy needs.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I compliment the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) on an excellent maiden speech, which gave us a clear vision of the opportunities and challenges of his fenland constituency. His contribution was clear and measured.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech just 23 years to the day after my predecessor, Elliot Morley, made his. What is more, 6 July appears to be a popular day for novice MPs from Scunthorpe-it was the day on which Michael Brown, who now scribbles so ably for The Independent, made his maiden speech. Elliot Morley served the constituency for nearly a quarter of a century as a respected, hard-working MP. He rightly gained a national and international reputation for his steadfast work on animal welfare and climate change. His record in helping to create a better world should not be lost in the wake of recent events.
I am the first MP for 80 years to represent the constituency after an adult lifetime of living and working in it. It is my adopted home town, and I love it. The first Labour MP for the area, David Quibell, was elected at the age of 50. He was born in Messingham, which still lies within the constituency boundary. A passionate early socialist who was active within the trade union movement and Independent Labour party, he, like me, knew the constituency inside out when he was elected in 1929 and took his place on the Labour Government Benches in an interlude between failing coalition Governments.
"He was a revolutionary and a rough customer. If, at his meetings, anyone at the back interrupted, he would not think twice about getting down off the platform and thumping the interrupter."
You will be pleased to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I do not plan to imitate Mr Quibell's style in that respect. My friends tell me that, if anything, I am too consensual in my approach. In that respect, I follow more in the footsteps of Ian Cawsey, who was the MP for Brigg and Goole until the election. Thanks to boundary changes, I inherited the village of Scawby from him. Ian demonstrated the power of cross-party working when he persuaded three other MPs-a Welsh Labour, a Scots Nat and a well spoken English Conservative-to join him in the band MP4. Out of those discordant political notes, musical harmony came forth, and I am told that their CD, "Cross Party", can be bought for just £10.99. It is still in stock in Oxford street's HMV, with all proceeds to Help for Heroes. I hope that hon. Members will not all rush off just yet.
I must also mention my friend, neighbour and mentor John Ellis, who represented Scunthorpe from 1974 to 1979. He does his level best to keep me on the straight and narrow, but has his work cut out, despairing from time to time at what he sees as my new Labour pragmatism.
The industrial garden town of Scunthorpe always surprises new visitors with its fine parks, green open spaces and magnificent floral displays. Its people are hard-working, neighbourly and welcoming. There is much to be proud of. It is home to the world-famous Corus steelworks, whose track record in producing high quality steel at competitive prices is second to none. There are vibrant businesses large and small, from the construction and logistics giant Clugstons to the organic farm shop, the Pink Pig, where you can buy, among other things, pink pigs-the soft, cuddly variety. All these businesses are witness to the innovation, hard work and enterprise of local people.
Scunthorpe boasts a Championship football team-up the Irons-and a rugby union team that achieved promotion to the national leagues this year, as well as a fine speedway outfit and a range of other great sports clubs. The area also has a vibrant arts, drama and musical community and is home to last year's BBC choir of the year, the Scunthorpe Junior Co-operative Choir. It has good schools and two high performing colleges, one of which, John Leggott, is renowned for the excellence of its education and which I have been privileged to lead as principal for the last four years.
In addition to those already mentioned, the constituency includes more fantastic towns and villages, Bottesford, Kirton, Redbourne, Hibaldstow, Gainsthorpe, Holme, Manton, Cadney and Howsham-all great places to live.
All of us, regardless of party or seniority, should have the humility to listen carefully to the people we seek to serve. The parties opposite are right when they say that Labour lost the election. We did, but let us be completely honest-no party won the election. Labour lost, the Conservatives lost and the Lib Dems lost. We all lost the election. Deals done behind closed doors put together the present ruling coalition, a coalition that-we were promised-would act in the national interest and be committed to protecting the vulnerable. Already, few believe that to be true. VAT destroyed that illusion. The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) described
the increase in VAT as "unforgivable" and has already mentioned the analysis of Save the Children. Only yesterday Flora Alexander of Save the Children said:
"VAT is a regressive tax, affecting those on low incomes disproportionately. The 2.5% increase will mean families living in poverty will be put under even more pressure."
Neither party opposite told the electorate, "Vote for us and we'll put up VAT to 20%, vote for us and we'll cut public spending by 25%, vote for us and we'll cancel Building Schools for the Future." My electorate in Scunthorpe was certainly not told this by my Conservative and Lib Dem opponents.
The argument that we need to cut fast and cut furiously, as if it were some virility test, does not have the support of the electorate. The electorate rejected this Conservative argument-which was well put by the Conservatives during the election-just two months ago, and instead supported proposals to tackle the deficit in a measured, proportionate way.
We should all have the humility to recognise that there is no mandate for the Budget proposals before us today, no mandate for fast and furious cuts and certainly no mandate for a huge rise in VAT or for the freezing of child benefit-measures at the heart of this unprincipled Government's approach. Both the Labour and Lib Dem parties made it clear-and the public agreed on 6 May-that the British economy is too fragile to bear these cuts without plunging us back into recession. That is why the electorate rejected the Tory offer at the polls. The public know full well that cuts in the public sector lead to job losses in the private sector. The public are not daft-they know that the private sector prospers when it is able to sell its goods and services. With Europe's economies contracting and the squeeze put on the UK economy, individuals and companies will stop spending and jobs will be lost in the private sector to add to job losses in the public sector. That is what the leaked Treasury papers said last week and that is what I fear-I hope that they and I am wrong. I would rather that the analysis of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) were correct, but I fear that it will prove to be false and flawed.
"Economic policy in the UK is being run by a bunch of ideological amateurs who are destined to fail, at enormous cost to the British people."
The so-called black hole in our finances is an invented story to camouflage the truth and to wriggle out of promises made to the electorate at the election. It is a story that I have heard before. I heard it on North Lincolnshire council when the Conservatives briefly took control and went on about a black hole in its finances. It was not true then and it is not true now. It is a story, a figment, a fantasy. It is something to con themselves with-I think that they have achieved that-and then con everybody else. It cuts no ice with me, nor with the people of Scunthorpe. While at present it might resonate with some people, it will reverberate in a most hollow way if this Budget ends up devastating people's lives. I sincerely hope that it does not, because there is no mandate for this and there is no need for this.
I urge all Members of this House to vote in line with the manifestos on which they were elected just two short months ago. I urge all Members of this House to
be true and faithful to their promises. I am immensely proud to have been chosen by the voters of Scunthorpe county constituency to represent them in this Parliament. I will carry out my duties in line with the promises that I made to them. To that end, I will vote against the measures in this Finance Bill and I call on all honourable Members to do the same.
Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): I should first of all pay tribute to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who showed in his maiden speech that he will be a robust defender of his constituents, even though-if I may say so-his grasp of accountancy as it pertains to the Finance Bill and the proposals of the coalition Government bears similarities to that of his predecessor in his seat.
This is a vital Finance Bill: it is one of the most important Bills to come before this House in decades. The reason for that-contrary to the speeches that we have heard from Labour Members so far-is that it puts right the unsustainable spending that has been the characteristic of Government in the past few years. Not only that, it takes the opportunity-which presents itself rarely to Governments-to reshape the nature of the relationships between the state, families, individuals and communities. Such opportunities are rare, and it is clear from the votes cast at the general election that that is a move that the country wishes to see, whether the votes were cast for one party in the coalition or the other.
Many Members have not yet grasped the fact that not to use this opportunity would be to condemn future generations to the poverty of opportunity that all of us in our work here wish to eradicate. I ask, therefore, that everyone support those measures in the Finance Bill-of which I, for one, believe there are a great many-that are beneficial to the economy. I am not saying that this is a new problem, nor one that has not presented itself to this country before. One of my esteemed predecessors as Member of Parliament for Ipswich was a gentleman called Nathaniel Bacon, who was elected to the 1660 restoration Parliament. At that point, the town had two Members-one a cavalier and one a roundhead, which is a good simile for the coalition now assembled on the Government Benches. In his treatise on government, which was well thumbed at the time-it is less so now, but I recommend it to all Members-he wrote that
"it befalls some Princes, as other men, to be sometimes poor in abundance, by riotous flooding treasure out in the lesser currants; and leaving the greater channels dry. This is an unsupportable evil, because it is destructive to the very being of affairs, whether for War or Peace."
That was true then, as it is true now, because the investment we need to make now to ensure that our economy, locally and nationally, grows in the years ahead is prejudiced and put at risk by precisely the irresponsible spending that we have seen. That is because by increasing the amount of money we have to put into the revenue account, we deny the money that we should put towards capital expenditure. That is what I would like to address in my first remarks to the Front-Bench team.
Ipswich and elsewhere, including other parts of the east of England, need greater investment in transport infrastructure, as my hon. Friend the Member for North
East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) said. Without investment in the road and rail infrastructure serving Ipswich, the many opportunities that the town has cannot be fully realised. This is about opportunity. I am not talking about the global sums in the Budget, with which I heartily agree, but I do seek to press Ministers as far as possible to do all they can to bear down on revenue spending, so that as much as possible can be released within the budget in the years ahead for investment in infrastructure.
Both side of the House agree on opportunity-something that Ipswich has in abundance. It is a famous manufacturing town, and was the origin of many of the tools and much of the machinery that brought about the agrarian revolution. Since then it has become a significant service centre with a beautiful medieval centre that describes well the town's historical importance. Most importantly, it has a significant and important spirit to succeed. It is a quiet, East Anglian spirit, but it is a spirit none the less-and it is one that I experienced during my campaign to save the local hospital, which I conducted throughout my candidature and which I hope is about to come to fruition.
In that campaign I differed from my predecessor, Chris Mole, to whom I pay tribute for bravely giving the ground to me, as a candidate, and allowed me to debate these things robustly in public when many other opponents would have denied me that opportunity. That showed determination and an interest in the democratic process that is entirely to his credit. Neither was that his only contribution as a Member of Parliament for Ipswich. He made many such contributions to the people of that town. He was a Minister of the Crown, he served on many Select Committees and, most importantly in my mind, he sponsored the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, which enforced the digital deposit of records in the British Library, giving the nation an endowment of which he should be justly proud.
I am proud of how, during the campaign, we both led constructive and robust campaigns in which we discussed issues openly, without ever digressing into unpleasantness. That quality is present in this coalition, which is why I support it so wholeheartedly. Frankly, the great majority of the public, who have little interest in the eccentric mechanics of politics that interest us so much, cannot understand why we are so obsessed with bickering among ourselves. Through the mere act of overcoming our differences in the coalition, we are finding common cause on the many things in which we have a far greater interest: narrowing the gap between rich and poor, the re-establishment of the free market economy and all the other things that we are doing in the coalition. We are doing those things through mature discussion, and already my constituents and others to whom I have spoken are thanking us for that.
I like to think that Ipswich gives us a considerable precedent for the sense of amity between our parties. Not only do we have a Liberal-Conservative coalition on the borough council that has achieved considerable success, but we had two of Gladstone's brothers as Members of Parliament in the 19th century. One of them, John Neilson Gladstone, was described by a biographer-I could not resist this-as follows:
"He took no strong independent line such as would anger his father but accepted his minor role in the scheme of things."
I can assure the House that on the former point it should have no fear whatsoever, and on the latter point,
I believe that all of us will succeed only if we show the independence and courage of our convictions-something that the coalition must show in abundance.
We have heard much over many previous years of the tough decisions that face us, but now is the time to take them, and no issue is more important, pressing or necessary than penal reform. The Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) outlined brilliantly and bravely last week a vision for sentencing and for the prison system that I, and many on both sides of the House, would wish to endorse.
Yet to achieve that, we need to find common cause on two things: the first is on the budget for the Ministry of Justice and prisons. It goes without saying that it is clearly a gross and offensive waste of public money to be warehousing prisoners in buildings of little utility save for the security they afford the public in incarcerating criminals, which in the end produce men and women who come out with a staggeringly low possibility of finding a job, succeeding in a relationship, building a family or contributing to society, and a staggeringly high probability-the highest in Europe-of going on to reoffend and contribute once again to the crime rate.
Opponents of reform must consider carefully whether it is right to continue with a system in which half of prisoners cannot read at the level expected of an 11-year-old, 65% cannot count at that level, and 82% cannot write at that level. I do not understand how they can possibly contribute to their communities, build relationships and sustain their families with that level of underachievement. Future generations will look upon our treatment of prisoners in much the same way as we now look upon how the Victorians established workhouses-as a near barbaric mechanism to deal quietly with one of society's problems without facing up to the real issues that it presents.
We can, I hope, overcome that problem in two ways. The first is to protect in the Ministry of Justice's budget the excellent plans, which we on the Conservative Benches have had for some years, for the complete restructuring of the prison estate. Hon. Members might wish to know that 16 prisons in the prison estate predate the reign of Queen Victoria, and there are many others that were built in her reign. Those prisons are not only completely unsuitable for rehabilitation, but consume massive amounts of manpower, which reinforces my earlier point about the unnecessary waste of money that goes on revenue spending, rather than on capital expenditure, which actually produces results.
The second thing that I would ask of hon. Members-and of the media-is to accept that it would be a good thing if we were to enjoy the kind of consensus that I have praised in the coalition, on the matter of penal reform across the House. Too often the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State for Justice last week have been uttered by Members in all parts of the House, but they have fallen prey-because they are perennially vulnerable-to cheap political point scoring of a short-termist nature, which has done us enormous damage. I hope that those who wish to oppose the reforms that are necessary understand that to do so would be to condemn families, victims, perpetrators and communities to the repeated misery that we now have a golden opportunity to prise ourselves away from.
A maiden speech is a privileged opportunity to outline some of the issues that interest a new Member. It is a greater privilege, needless to say, to represent our
constituents-in my case, the people of Ipswich. Almost all new Members come to this House lauding their new constituency, professing an ardour that I would not wish to impugn. All I would say is that I cannot claim to be Ipswich born, even though it is my local town and has been all my life, but I can increasingly claim to be Ipswich bred. It is a town that I have come not only to respect but to love. It is the most profound honour to serve the people of Ipswich, who put their trust in me in the election that we have just had. I shall do all I can in the coming years to repay that trust, and help us all to realise the considerable opportunities that lie-tantalisingly-ahead of us.
Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): I pay tribute to the three maiden speakers whom we have just listened to: the hon. Members for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) and for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). I am always struck by how confident, forthright, quite often amusing and, on occasion, even inspiring maiden speakers are. I am sure that we shall hear a great deal more from them all. I also noticed that they all touched on issues of policy. When I first came to the House, it was a custom that maiden speakers talked about their constituencies and their predecessors, but skirted round any question of policy. I am pleased that that rule is obviously now more honoured in the breach, and I hope that we shall hear much more about policy from all the maiden speakers whom we have heard this evening.
On the Finance Bill, let me start by agreeing with what I can-this part of my speech will be very short. I agree that the deficit is too large and that it needs to be reduced. On every other issue-the size of the cuts, their composition, their impact on growth, the balance between tax increases and spending cuts, and the whole question of fairness-I think that the Budget judgment, as expressed in the Finance Bill, is fundamentally and manifestly wrong.
First of all, as some of my hon. Friends have also said, the Chancellor made great play of the idea that his Budget to eliminate the structural deficit within five years was unavoidable. That is absurd. Balanced budgets are the primitive 1920s economics of Montagu Norman in this country and Herbert Hoover in the United States, and in both countries they led directly to the great depression. Capitalism is driven by cyclical forces that need constant regulation, not balanced budgets irrespective of the economic cycle. The truth is that the Chancellor has gone overboard on austerity. The cuts are as tough as those that the IMF is imposing on Greece, which is on the verge of bankruptcy, which we certainly are not. They are also twice as tough as the Canadian measures that the Chancellor has repeatedly prayed in aid to justify what he is doing, three times as tough as Sweden's measures in the mid-1990s and much tougher even than the IMF measures in 1976.
Then there is the question of how the deficit should be reduced-as I have said, no one disagrees that it needs to be. There are three ways of reducing the deficit: not only through tax increases or spending cuts, but through economic growth as well. Before the Budget, the OBR estimated that UK growth this year and over the succeeding four years would be slightly less than
2.5% on average. As each 1% of growth adds an annual £15 billion to UK income, the OBR forward projections of economic growth imply an increase in UK income over the next five-year period-the perspective of the Bill-of between £150 billion and £180 billion.
Because all Governments take roughly 40% of any increase in UK income, those figures imply an increase of revenues to the Government of around £70 billion to £75 billion over this five-year period. That would be enough virtually to halve the current budget deficit over that period, which hugely reduces the need for spending cuts. I do not say that I am against spending cuts totally. Indeed, when it comes to Trident, ID cards and some of the extraordinarily wasteful Government IT databases, there is plenty of room for cuts. However, the figures that I have quoted raise starkly the question of whether the Chancellor's enormous spending cuts will squash out the growth-generating potential of the economy-something that, frankly, would make the cuts simply counter-productive.
Indeed, those figures also raise the central issue, which had something of an airing between those on the Front Benches in the earlier debate, of where the Chancellor expects the growth to come from over the next few years. Household consumption, which accounts for two thirds of national output, is now almost certain to fall, particularly with the increase in VAT. Any growth in wages after inflation is already weak and is likely to weaken further as unemployment rises, which it will. According to all surveys, consumer confidence is fading, while some 60% of UK exports go to the eurozone, which as we all know is in considerable disarray. So where exactly is the growth going to come from?
I give the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) credit for being the one Government Back Bencher who tries to make a case for the Budget, but he seems to have forgotten the prime rule of computer projections, which is: garbage in, garbage out. If we feed in dodgy premises, we get out dodgy conclusions. Government Members keep quoting the OBR as though it is independent-I do not think that Sir Alan Budd is actually independent, and the OBR is next to the Treasury, so it is not exactly independent-but that is not the point. The key point is that the OBR projections are based on certain premises that are--I say this without exaggeration-fantasy.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Given the strength of the right hon. Gentleman's views on the neo-Keynesian economics that effectively advocate keeping on spending because that is the only way to grow the economy, what does he think of the performance of the Irish economy? In 2009, Ireland managed to reduce state spending by 7% as a result of stringent measures involving public spending and public sector salaries, yet, in the first three months of this year, its economy grew by almost 3%. Does that not demonstrate to him and to other Labour Members that it is a false assumption to say that reducing public sector pay will shrink the economy, and that cutting back can in fact provide an opportunity for the private sector to grow again?
The opposite conclusion should be drawn from the Irish economy. The Irish Government made huge, swingeing cuts of 12% to 15%, which absolutely
decimated that economy. Sooner or later, of course there will be a revival in all economies, but at a fearful cost. We shall very much be going down the route of the Irish economy if this Budget goes through. If the hon. Gentleman were to go to the Republic of Ireland and ask people's view of the finance budget of three or four years ago, I think that he would get a very different impression.
Helen Goodman: I support my right hon. Friend's interpretation of what has been going on in Ireland. The construction industry has been completely destroyed, and there are empty shells of houses all around the countryside. Unemployment is sky high and, for the first time in many decades, people are emigrating from the Republic.
I want to be fair and point out the Government's proposals on corporation tax and the small companies tax to get firms investing, as well as the national insurance cuts for firms outside the south-east to aid new hiring. That is all very welcome, but those measures will be more than cancelled out by the additional Tory spending cuts of £32 billion a year by 2014-15, and the additional £8 billion in tax increases. Let us take a highly topical example. It has been pointed out that the construction industry gets 40% of its work from public sector contracts. The 700 cutbacks in the schools building programme announced yesterday, and the nadir in house building, which is now at its lowest ebb since 1923, will almost certainly cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of building workers their jobs over the five-year period.
I shall give the House another example. According to the Treasury Red Book, the OBR forecast for public sector net investment is that it will be flattened from its current level of about £49 billion to just £21 billion in 2014-15. That is a staggering drop. It is not just a marginal change or a change in direction but a staggering reduction. So I repeat, where is the growth going to come from, especially as the banks are not lending? The Bank of England reported a fortnight ago that the flow of net lending to UK businesses was still negative. In other words, people are repaying money to the banks, rather than the banks handing out money to businesses. That compares with the situation in the first half of 2007, when there was annual growth of 20% in the relevant M4 figures for banks lending to businesses.
The great fallacy of the Bill-the fantasy black hole at the centre of the Budget-is that as the devastating public spending cuts take effect, the private sector will expand its hiring and investing to compensate. That is the Government's argument, but the premise is completely indefensible. Why should the private sector do that? The only reason that private businesses invest is because they see the possibility of profitability and expansion, but where will that come from when consumption is falling, when the banks are not lending and when export markets are fading? Where is the growth to come from? All the coming misery is allegedly unavoidable because there is a crisis in the bond market, which there is not, and because the UK is supposedly like Greece, which it certainly is not.
Many of my colleagues have pointed out the real risk involved in this deficit-cutting fixation to shrink the state. Let us make no mistake, this cannot be justified economically; it has ideological motive. That is the fundamental bottom line in assessing this Budget. It will impale Britain on a very low growth path for years ahead, with rising joblessness and stagnant gross domestic product, even if the country does avoid a double-dip recession, although the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice admitted the other day with typical frankness that that remains an open possibility.
Even in the Chancellor's own framework for the Budget, there remains the question of striking a balance between tax increases and spending cuts. The Chancellor chose an 80:20 ratio, but that is far more heavily weighted against public spending than in previous economic episodes of this kind, including under previous Tory Governments, such as that of the early 1990s. Poorer households will unquestionably be the main victims of the spending cuts, and even the tax increases-notably VAT-will of course impact most harshly on the poorer half of the population. This is anything but a fair Budget.
Even the two new taxes that impact directly on the rich will have little effect on them. The £2.5 billion bank levy will mainly be offset. There has been no mention of this, but it is fixed at the very low rate of 0.07% of eligible liabilities. One could hardly find a tax rate lower than that. One can be sure that it will be largely avoided through balance sheet adjustments away from short-term wholesale funding, together with other devices such as group restructuring and de-leveraging.
The second tax change that will affect the rich is the increase in capital gains tax to 28%, but that still takes it only halfway to parity with higher rate income tax, which is where it ought to be, and where Nigel Lawson-Nigel Lawson!-left it in the 1980s. The change will still allow people with very high incomes to dress up their income as capital gains so as to halve the tax that would otherwise be payable. The idea that the rich are making an equivalent sacrifice and-to use the mantra that I think will come back to haunt the Government-that we are all in it together is nothing more than a sick joke.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I have some sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, because the Liberal Democrats were also inclined to support a higher rate of CGT. But does he still support that proposal, given the evidence that it would raise less income and thereby impose harsher penalties on the public sector than if it were left at 28%?
Mr Meacher: I have never believed what some Laffer economists say, which is that increasing taxes on the rich results in a reduction in the net income. I believe that that is based on a false premise.
I regret that the Labour Government did not succeed in narrowing the gap between rich and poor. However, they did something quite remarkable in reducing the number of children in poverty by 600,000. No, it was not enough, and we fell below our target.
I can tell the hon. Lady why the gap widened, however. To cite a phrase that was used early on in the Labour Government, new Labour took the attitude that it was fairly unconcerned about people becoming filthy rich. That was a serious mistake, and the increase in the wealth of the tiny top segment of the population has been enormous. That is the reason that the gap increased.
Mr Meacher: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is wrong on the figure; the last figure available for when Labour were still in government suggested an increase of about 100,000. That, of course, was the result of a recession caused by the bankers. The Labour party protected the poor and the unemployed to a significant degree, as those groups are about to find out from the very different treatment meted out to them by this Government.
Kate Green: I have no idea what statistics the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) is looking at. Over the period Labour were in power, between 1997 and 2010, child poverty fell by 500,000 on every measure. While it is true that it rose in one or two years, it still finished significantly lower than it had been at the beginning of the first Labour Government's term.
Mr Meacher: I think I must move on-and we must move on-from debating poverty between the parties. Since I have the privilege of speaking, however, I have the last word. The fact is that the Thatcher Government tripled poverty to more than 3 million over the period between the early 1980s and the end of the 1990s; Labour reduced that significantly, but did not, in my view, do as much as it could have done to reduce the enormous gains of the wealthy.
As always, it is the dog that did not bark in the night to which we should give most attention. There is nothing in the Bill about a financial activities tax on financial speculation, which is a domestic version of the Tobin tax. Considering that the banks' recklessness was a major contributor to the crash, that would have a significant reforming potential as well as being a major revenue earner. There is nothing for a really tough crackdown on tax avoidance, which is still estimated to cost the Exchequer some £25 billion a year, nor is any action being taken on the indefensible non-dom loophole. Nor is there any reference to a wealth tax, which might have seemed reasonable when, according to The Sunday Times rich list-not a trendy-lefty organisation-the top 1,000 richest multimillionaires, a minuscule proportion of the population, have nearly quadrupled their wealth over the last decade and a half by no less than £335 billion. This was all in The Sunday Times rich list two or three months ago. In the last year alone, their wealth increased by £77 billion. The fact that they are not being required to make any significant sacrifice at all, when everyone else is-
The fact that those people make no sacrifice while everyone else is being hit extremely hard makes an utter mockery of any idea of fairness in the Budget. This is not an honest Budget or an honest Bill. It was born of an ideological fixation to shrink the state well below 40%. The facts and arguments have been massaged to fit around this preconceived idea, and the methods used-draconian cuts to produce a balanced Budget-remain a throwback to the reactionary and ultimately disastrous economics of the 1930s. It will fail, but the risk is that it will drag down Britain with it.
Despite not being the first Member to represent Weaver Vale, I am the first ever to give a maiden speech. My predecessor, Mike Hall, had already given his maiden speech as the Member for Warrington, South five years before this constituency was created in 1997. Although it is conventional to pay tribute to one's predecessor in a maiden speech, Mike, who was never one for convention, said of his Conservative predecessor for Warrington South, Chris Butler, after what must have been a particularly bitterly fought contest, that
"it would be hypocritical of me to pass favourable comments on Mr. Butler."-[ Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 123.]
However, during my three years as a candidate trying my best to unseat Mike Hall, he was always extremely courteous to me, and I do not believe it would be hypocritical of me to pay tribute to the work that he did for the constituency. Although perhaps not the most high-profile of Members here in Westminster, he was highly regarded as a hard-working constituency MP for Weaver Vale. We shared similar interests in football and military history. Despite the views of his Labour colleagues on Halton council, we were in wholehearted agreement in our opposition to wind turbines being built on Frodsham marshes, as well as to the numerous incinerator applications across Cheshire. I was sorry to learn that Mike was forced to stand down owing to ill health and I wish him and his wife Lesley a long and happy retirement.
Weaver Vale is a rather unusual constituency in both its shape and character. Thanks to its ambiguous name, many Members have expressed a little confusion as to its whereabouts. The seat is located in the heart of Cheshire, focused around the River Weaver, a tributary of the River Mersey. It stretches from Northwich in the south-east to Runcorn in the north-west. It is a source of considerable pride that, on this side of the House, I am the sole representative on the Mersey estuary, although I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) is to be working with the coalition.
Weaver Vale has an impressive and proud industrial history. Northwich, the largest town, is based on salt mining, which started in pre-Roman times. Imperial Chemical Industries was started in Northwich and one of its founders, Sir John Brunner, was a former Member of Parliament for the area. While ICI may be no more, Brunner Mond is still based in Northwich, and the chemical industry is still going strong in Runcorn, as well.
While traditional heavy industry is very much part of the landscape in the constituency, we have the added benefit of a wide range of high-tech industries at Daresbury, including robotics and nanotechnology. Indeed, Global BioDiagnostics has just announced that it will be moving its research and development to Daresbury, making it the home of the global fight against tuberculosis. The laboratory and the science and innovation campus are at the cutting-edge of science, as well as an essential provider of local jobs.
I firmly believe that these genuinely wealth-creating industries, both old and new, are going to be instrumental in leading the recovery. With this in mind, I am delighted to be giving my maiden speech in this debate on the Finance Bill, following the emergency Budget which has already helped to restore considerable market confidence with the message that Britain is open for business again. In particular, the plans for a regional growth fund and the substantial reduction in employer national insurance contributions in targeted areas demonstrate that this Bill is good news for industry and for the north of England.
Besides its industry, Weaver Vale has some of the most beautiful countryside and picturesque villages anywhere in the country-villages such as Crowton, Acton Bridge, Kingsley, Norley and Manley. Most distinctive of all is Helsby Hill and the surrounding settlements of Helsby and Frodsham. However, Weaver Vale is also a seat of sharp contrasts. Besides vibrant enterprise and leafy villages, there are areas of severe deprivation. Within Runcorn alone, the disparity is breathtaking. In the Windmill Hill area, only 8.1% of pupils achieve 5 GCSEs including maths and English. Those pupils can expect to live for nearly 10 years less and to earn an average of £30,000 a year less than my constituents who live in the more prosperous parts of Runcorn.
The gap would be even wider if Windmill Hill were compared with some of the prosperous commuter villages such as Hartford or Kingsmead. After 13 years of a Labour Government, this is quite simply a disgrace and should act as a constant reminder to those on the Labour Benches, who have already begun looking back on their time in government as some sort of golden age in which poverty and inequality were abolished. Sadly, the truth is that, under Labour, the poor got poorer while the debt grew bigger. Labour Members will almost certainly be spending the next few years in hysterical opposition, attacking the Government for fixing the mess they created, completely oblivious to the reality that we cannot help the most vulnerable in society by basing the economy on debt. Without wealth creation, we cannot achieve the social justice that we all want.
Before I finish, I would like briefly to express my thanks to my constituents, who have sent me here to represent them. It is the greatest honour and privilege of my life to serve the people of Cheshire. It has been quite a long and personal journey here, as well. I was born on a council estate in Cheshire, as the youngest of four children. My father was a wages clerk, but he died when I was young, and my mother worked in a series of local shops and pubs to make ends meet. I left my local comprehensive school with few qualifications and got a job stacking shelves at the local supermarket, but I was fortunate to have the chance to study business at night school, and went on to have a successful manufacturing
career working in sales. I should like to think that I was one of those slick salesmen whom the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) liked to attack on such a regular basis in the last Parliament.
I have always enjoyed serving my local community, spending four years as a special constable in the Cheshire police and 10 years as a local councillor. I have no idea how long I will serve in the House-that will be up to the people of Weaver Vale-but I hope that if I am to leave this place sooner rather than later, I will be able to help, in a small way, to put the "great" back into Great Britain. In that vein, I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): Let me begin by congratulating the new hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and expressing some solidarity with him, given what he said about his background and experience of growing up on a council estate. I am sure that his constituents will be very well served by the effective way in which he makes his remarks.
In a few days it will be my birthday, and as I inch towards the fourth decade of my life, it occurs to me that the economic downturn that we are experiencing now is also my fourth. The truth is that I do not remember the first recessionary period in the early 1970s, but I have strong memories of the recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s. I think back to what it was like growing up poor and black in my present constituency in Tottenham, and the hardship experienced by my family and many others at the time. I remember my father losing his business in the early 1980s, and the depression and the booze that followed.
Children do not always quite understand these things as they are growing up, but I remember, in about 1982 or 1983, coming to understand that there was far less money in the home. The fridge seemed much less full, and-although I do not want to suggest that my parents were not generous-the presents at Christmas were not what we might have seen in the commercials on television, and not what we might have liked. I think that the VAT rise had something to do with it. Although Margaret Thatcher had said that she would not change the rate before the election, she raised it from 8% to 15%. I also vividly recall the freezing of child benefit for successive years, and how hard that was for my mother. More than anything, however, I remember the restlessness, the fecklessness and the worklessness of the broader community and the explosion of violence that we experienced in my community as a direct result of that, leading to some of the worst images that this country has ever seen or experienced.
Richard Graham: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in that context, it is particularly regrettable that the Government of the last 13 years left us with more than 1 million unemployed young people-an absolute record?
Unemployment at that time in my constituency was running at 20%, and in some communities, particularly the black community, the rate was double that. It is because of the situation then that young people like me, growing up in constituencies like Tottenham, forged such a huge solidarity with colleagues and friends in different parts of the country. Although those areas
seemed very different from Tottenham, the assault on manufacturing industry and the attitude to former mining and steelworking towns led us to forge a solidarity that remains on these Benches today.
In the 1990s I qualified as a young lawyer, but I did not go straight into employment because, yet again, the country was in recession and the employment was not there. I went to the local unemployment benefit office hoping that I might become a barrister, but not sure whether that would actually happen. My mother was now struggling on her own with a 15% interest rate, and the shops up and down Tottenham high road were boarded up because of bankruptcy. That was the backdrop in the 1990s. We experienced two recessions that had huge social consequences-social consequences that I deeply fear could be repeated as a result of this Finance Bill.
Richard Graham: The right hon. Gentleman is very generous in giving way. Given his experience in the early 1990s, is it not an absolute tragedy that he was part of a Government who, having promised to abolish boom and bust, landed us with the largest recession not just in his lifetime, but in the lifetimes of three generations?
Phil Wilson: I agree with 100% of what my right hon. Friend is saying. Back in the 1990s, 11% of young people were out of work; in the 1980s, the figure was 12%. As a proportion of the work force, the unemployment rate was much higher than it is now, and 40% of those people had been out of work for 12 months or more. That figure too is much higher than the figure today. In my own constituency the unemployment is just over 1,000, but at the height of the recessions in the 1980s it was 5,500. The main reason for the difference between what we have experienced over the last year and what we experienced then is what the Labour Government did to ensure that ordinary people up and down the country did not suffer.
Mr Lammy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why Members on the Government Benches should be reminded that employment in my constituency was running at 20% in the recession of the 1980s and at 28% shortly before we cane to power in 1997, and that although my constituency now has the highest unemployment rate in London, it is currently running at 9%. I say "currently" because it will surely rise as a result of this Finance Bill. The consequences-the social consequences -of what we are debating today, and what we will vote on in a few hours' time, will be so significant that it is hard to put words to them, but they will be real and stark.
Andrew Bridgen: The right hon. Gentleman is speaking passionately about his opposition to unemployment. Surely he must be ashamed to be a member of a party that has formed Governments many times over the past 70 years and that, every time it has left office, has left unemployment higher than when it came to office.
What we see in the Bill is absolutely ideological. It is not the first time that the House has debated such ideological decisions, which have huge social consequences for people a long way from Westminster. On one side, we have an orthodoxy, a Conservative position, that says that we must reduce deficits at all costs, despite the social consequences. Behind that there is a desire to reduce the state and welfare at the same time. On the other side, consistently, over generations, we have progressive parties, and at the centre of those is the Labour party, which understands that the private and public sectors are co-dependent. They rely on each other.
There are times during difficult recessionary periods when the public sector must borrow to ensure growth. That is why I am hugely proud of the future jobs fund. That was a classic example of our Government borrowing £1 billion to create jobs and to ensure that the social plight that constituencies such as mine have seen in the past did not come to pass again. What an outrage. What a shame. How can hon. Members look at the young people of Tottenham, who now do not have that scheme and who will join the unemployment queues as a result of yet another catastrophic decision? We on the Labour Benches remember the failed youth training scheme, a joke scheme that was not really about jobs; it was about gerrymandering the figures, which started to look so bleak in the depths of unemployment in the 1980s and 1990s.
Mr Kevan Jones: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the VAT increases that are in the Budget will make it worse for the poorest in his constituency-not only the unemployed but those on low pay and on limited incomes?
In debating the Budget, we have to defend the hope and prospect that there is a different economic way. That is articulated not just by the usual suspects-economists such as David Blanchflower have been mentioned in the debate-but Martin Wolf in the Financial Times, Samuel Brittan and George Joseph Stigler. A number of economists are saying that this is the time for fiscal stimulus, for an FDR-type new deal, for an LBJ-type offer. This is the time for that big society that they dreamed about.
When this country lay in rubble after the second world war, we did not shrink back. The Attlee Government invested. We built the NHS, we built housing, we built schools. That is the example that we should be following. Instead we get this false smoke-and-mirrors game.
Politically one has to applaud, in some senses, the Government for the way in which they have changed the debate that was about fiscal stimulus, support, opportunity and hope, despite these difficult times. The country had a focus on the banking sector in this country, in particular,
but that has been turned into solely a debate about deficits; that is the only discussion taking place. I say, as a Labour Member who is proud of my party's tradition, that the discussion had not solely been about the recovery; it had also been about what had led us to this position. That was a discussion about materialism, consumerism and excess, but all we hear now is this emphasis on cuts, cuts, cuts and deficits. The Government are wrong, as was made clear in the G20 meeting and the letter that President Obama wrote shortly before it. They have taken the wrong position for ideological reasons, which will have grave social consequences.
The Government have said that this Budget is unavoidable, but of course it is not, for the reasons that I have set out. It is not unavoidable, because the previous Budget, in March, made it clear that we intended to cut the deficit over the next Parliament in a measured way. This Budget is not progressive. How can one describe a Budget that means that unemployment will rise and growth will shrink as "progressive"? This is a total twisting of the word "progressive". We have a dictionary on the table in front of the Economic Secretary, so I invite her to pick it up and look at what "progressive" means. It certainly does not mean what is in this Budget. This Budget is not fair to many people beyond this place.
Martin Horwood: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that taking nearly 1 million people out of income tax altogether, a measure of which the Liberal Democrats are immensely proud, is progressive or not?
Mr Lammy: The hon. Gentleman knows that this is robbing Peter to pay Paul-I am sure that his mother said that to him. One cannot give to people on the one hand and take a damn sight more in VAT on the other, and he knows it. I am talking about people such as the Uddin family, who live on the Broadwater Farm estate in my constituency. I am grateful to the TreeHouse charity for asking me to spend a Friday afternoon with a family in my constituency, dealing with the issue of autism. Because of the context of this Budget and the Finance Bill that flows from it, I was, of course, examining the wider issues that surround this family.
It was privilege to go to the Broadwater Farm estate, which I have known all my life, as I grew up and spent many years there. It was a privilege to go up the stairwell to the 15th floor to spend time with the Uddin family. In that two-bedroom flat was Mr Uddin and his wife, a family of five children and a niece. There were eight of them in this flat surviving on income support of £322 a week and struggling with a five-year-old autistic child. I was the bearer of bad news, because I had to explain to them that Mr Uddin, who cannot work as a result of an injury at work-he was a chef in an Indian restaurant and he had a serious back injury-would face a new medical test in order to get the disability living allowance that made up that £322. I had to explain to them that once again-I recalled this from my own background-their child benefit would be frozen. I had to explain to them that the price of living would go up because extra VAT would be whacked on their household goods and items such as school uniforms. I had to explain to them that the toddler element of the child tax credit and the element for their new five-week-old baby had been taken away. That was worth £1,000
to many families across the country. The Uddin family would be experiencing huge hardship as a consequence of this Budget.
It gets worse. What the Uddin family would dearly love of course is better housing. The prospect of better housing in London as a consequence of this Budget is dark indeed. That brings me on to the real test of what is progressive and what is fair. The cap on housing benefit will have the most pernicious effect in this city. Rents in London boroughs such as Islington, Camden and Westminster can run into the many hundreds of pounds, so there will inevitably be an exodus from zones 1 and 2 to zone 3. My constituency already has 20,000 on the housing list, more than 3,000 in temporary accommodation and, as I speak, more than 800 in emergency accommodation. It will become even more crowded. There will be no prospect of the Uddins moving anywhere, particularly when, as we would expect, Conservative local authorities in London continue to refuse to build. Guess what? Westminster council built just 200 affordable homes in the last year for which there are records. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea built just 100; Richmond built 127; Wandsworth just over 300. That is the record on affordable housing. It is very bleak indeed. The Mayor has made not one representation on the housing consequences of this Budget.
Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that beyond metropolitan areas such as London the Government's decision to take away the regional spatial strategies that allowed councils to work together to deliver affordable housing will have a profound effect on the way in which we manage the problem of affordable housing?
Mr Lammy: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I hope he will have an opportunity to develop later. I want to make it clear that, as a result of the housing benefit cap, there will be an exodus from zone 1 to zones 3 and 4 and areas such as mine. I predict as a consequence something similar to what we see in Paris-suburbs that are most often brown, black and other ethnic minority in complexion and are crowded, cramped and dangerous. The decisions made in the Finance Bill will lead to social unrest.
Liberal Democrat colleagues in London, especially the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) and for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) should hang their heads in shame if they vote for the Bill tonight. Working people voted for them on the basis of the platform on which they stood. They know that people will suffer as a consequence because benefits will be cut and housing benefit will be capped. People who voted for them in good conscience will suffer.
Martin Horwood: I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who is being attacked in her absence, were here to defend herself, she would do a very good job of it. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the consequences of very high housing benefit payments in central London has been, in effect, to line the pockets of private landlords with public money? Even if he does not accept the solution presented in this Budget and Finance Bill, does he not think that something needs to be done to address the problem?
Mr Lammy: I commend the hon. Gentleman for his defence of his hon. Friend, who, let us face it, is having a bad few days. This is not the moment to say that the private sector should step in. What are the chances of one of my constituents wanting to go into the private sector, as many of us have encouraged our constituents to do, given the uncertainty about what will happen to their housing benefit? None. The people who are in social housing will stay there, despite conditions such as those that I have described.
This is the time to walk the walk, I say to the Liberal Democrats. This is the time to demonstrate compassion, care and empathy-to walk alongside those who are poorest in our community. That is test of whether this is an effective Finance Bill, and it does not meet that standard.
Mr Kevan Jones: It will not only be private sector tenants who are affected. If a cap is introduced either in London or in my North Durham constituency and that cap is less than the current social market rent, the gap will have to be filled by the tenant. Some will be unable to afford it, and they will either be evicted or have to move out.
Mr Lammy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There will be a significant increase in evictions as a result of the housing benefit measures. Many Members will remember London in the 1980s and the early '90s. We remember what it was like walking under Waterloo bridge-sometimes it seemed as though whole families were living there, homeless. We remember the stories of "cardboard city". That is what we remember, and that is what we will see again as a result of this Bill.
To say it is fair if a Bill places a £2 billion levy on the banks but imposes on hard-working people cuts and VAT rises that combined in total come to £24 billion is to treat people like fools. Of course it is not fair. How could it possibly be fair? That is why I repeat that Members who know a lot better and who have relied on the votes of those hard-working people should be ashamed of voting for this Finance Bill. I urge them, in the time left as we continue to debate the Bill, to hear those voices in this place and beyond that say that this moment, as tough as it is for our economy, can be a moment of hope, can be a moment of growth and can be a moment of fiscal stimulus. I urge those Members not to line up alongside the ideological orthodoxy that always sees the opportunity not just to cut a deficit but to cut the state and to cut welfare, but to say once again, as we have in progressive moments in the past: no, we can act differently. I am proud and very lucky to stand here having grown up in a constituency such as mine was in the past, but there are many young men and women who faced years
of unemployment and many who, sadly, spent too many years serving at Her Majesty's pleasure, as a direct consequence of decisions that were made about our economy at that time.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): May I begin by congratulating hon. Members on a series of excellent maiden speeches? My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) spoke. I did not know that area of the country at all before he did so, and I feel much better informed as to its great beauties. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) told the House, to its considerable relief, that he is not going to be a pugilist, as one of his predecessors once was, so I am glad to note that, if he disagrees with my speech, I may not end up with a broken nose- [ Interruption. ] I could not quite catch that, and I expect the Hansard reporters could not, either. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), as Edmund Burke said of Pitt the Younger, is not so much a chip off the old block, as the old block itself. And finally, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) told us that he was-on the internet, under the same name-a cabaret artist. I may be rare in the country at large, but in this House probably not, in that I much prefer a political speech to a cabaret artist, so I am very glad that we had the wrong website for him.
Let me come to the matter at hand, the Second Reading of this incredibly important Finance Bill. It is, like the one in 1981, of considerable controversy but great importance. We have heard at length, but interestingly, from Opposition Members that, actually, this is not a serious circumstance, and that, if we pay off the debt, though a bit too high, in dribs and drabs, all will be well. Sadly, that just is not correct. The deficit that we have faced has reached levels that in peacetime we have never had, and a key factor about the funding of the deficit last year has been missed. It was that almost all the gilts that were issued were bought by the Bank of England under its programme of quantitative easing. That programme has now stopped.
Even with this Finance Bill, we face an increase in the amount that the Government need to raise from £40 billion to £160 billion, and if we had stuck to the Opposition's proposals it would have been higher still. Where does that money come from? Who is willing to give this country £160 billion? As it is collected, who finds it harder to borrow? The answer is the very businesses that Opposition Members say find it difficult to make investment decisions. If we borrow and borrow, and the Government use up all the money, we force up interest rates for mortgage holders and squeeze out the investment that private companies need to make.
I am trying, but I am having great difficulty following the hon. Gentleman's train of thought. On the one hand, he says, rightly, that the deficit and the debt stock are too large, but he then connects
that with extremely high interest rates. We do not have extremely high interest rates; we have record low interest rates at the moment.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am sorry to say that the hon. Lady left my train of thought at the wrong station. The point I was making was that, if we carry on issuing gilts at an even faster rate, long-term interest rates will rise, and it is on long-term interest rates that mortgages end up being priced. If we look at the gilts market, we see that the very thought-the prospect, the hope-of a Conservative Government saw it rally, therefore reducing the cost of borrowing to people in this country, whether Her Majesty's Government or private individuals. So yes, we have very low overnight rates, but the long-term rate set by the gilts market is more important for mortgages.
Chris Leslie: But surely the hon. Gentleman, as a sensible and grounded individual, will recognise that there is a world of difference between the Greek situation, to which some of his more hot-headed colleagues have compared our country, and the rather sturdy and well managed way in which we deal with our debt and gilts issuance in this country.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I do not believe that I had mentioned Greece in the few words that I had spoken. I would say, however, that it is better to cut before getting into a Greek situation. I admire my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer because, in his foresight, he has brought forward action early. Countries in a Greek situation find that they can get no money from the financial markets and have to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund or the European Central Bank. How much better it is-how much more "prudent", to use a word once popular with Labour Members-to get our house in order before reaching that state of desperation.
Kate Green: I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument, I think, thanks to the probing questions of my hon. Friends. Are we not talking about a balance between getting the long-term interest rates sufficiently low and not overreacting and over-dramatising, which I fear the hon. Gentleman is in danger of doing?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Lady ought to allow me to get over-dramatic before accusing me of being so. Her point is to some extent valid; of course we need to consider these things rationally and deal with them in a sensible and prudent fashion. That is exactly what we have done. The point that I am trying to establish is that the level of debt needs to be tackled urgently. I am not saying that the United Kingdom is bankrupt; there are studies that show that there has been no default on our debt since 1688. I do not believe that the situation was going to lead to a default on gilt-edged securities. We had not reached that stage.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: However, I do not believe that it would have been impossible, purely because of our strong history, for us to have reached that stage if we had not done something early-sooner rather than later. Does the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) still want to intervene? I shall be delighted to give way.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is why, as I was saying, it is right to address the problem now, when we are in a strong enough position to do it and take the pain. Nobody denies that cutting is painful. It is always difficult.
Having, I hope, established the seriousness of the situation, I want to move on to the balance between tax rises and spending cuts and why I think, once again, that Her Majesty's Government have exactly the right balance. One figure has not been drawn out in these debates, but it is noteworthy. If we take net tax receipts and national insurance contributions as a percentage of GDP, we see that they will reach 36.4% in 2013-14. That level has not been achieved in any single year of socialist government from 1970-71 onwards. We are having the highest level of taxation as a percentage of GDP because of a Conservative Budget, of all things. Incidentally, the same figure was reached under the chancellorships of Lords Howe and Lawson. So the Conservatives are willing to tax when it is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the country.
Owen Smith: Given the manifest command of economic history that the hon. Gentleman is showing, will he answer a question that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury could not answer when I asked him earlier today? It was about growth. Can the hon. Gentleman name one five-year period during any of the past 40 years when we have seen the level of growth projected by the OBR-in particular, the level of job creation in the private sector?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman asks the wrong question, for a very straightforward reason. I would happily ask a question back. Can he point to a deeper recession in the history of the United Kingdom? The fact is that recovery rates from very deep recessions are much faster than those from shallower recessions. That is the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) made earlier. We get very strong recoveries after a very serious downturn, and the seriousness of the recent downturn goes back to the 1930s, as the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) so rightly pointed out.
Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was possible to name any recession in which there has been such a recovery. What about the 1930s? I understand that it was only through rearmament that Britain recovered from the deepest recession of all.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is accurate about the recovery in the 1930s. There is a common misconception that the recession of the 1930s was the same in the United Kingdom as in the United States, but that is not correct. What really happened in the 1930s is that when we came off the gold standard, there was a gigantic monetary stimulus, and that led to the recovery. The one thing that is of crucial importance, but outside the strict remit of this debate, is that we must maintain a loose monetary policy, which will be supportive of the recovery, as it was in the 1930s.
Gregg McClymont: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer. However, my understanding is that we had mass unemployment until the war took its course and we had to rearm. Am I not right in saying that the unemployment problem that emerged after 1929, and particularly after 1931, was not solved until rearmament and the war occurred?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the problem of unemployment in the 1930s, although the situation began to recover in the United Kingdom considerably earlier than in the United States. I accept that in the United States, rearmament led to recovery, but I suggest that in the United Kingdom the recovery resulted from coming off the gold standard and the boost to trade that that provided.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think that Neville Chamberlain managed to balance the budget, so we had a Chancellor who was a Conservative doing quite a good deal of work in the 1930s. However, we may be getting a little abstruse and far away from the 2010 Finance Bill.
Let us move back to 2010 and the need for the tax rises to be as they are, not higher. Clearly, at 36.4% of GDP, we are at a tax level that it is very difficult to surpass. I remind Labour Members who disparage the great Professor Laffer that when tax rates were at 83%, they still failed to get above 36.4% of GDP, so taxation is as high as it can be.
My final point is on spending. The problem with spending is that it got out of control post the period when Labour followed the Conservative plans for public spending. It is simply not sustainably to have Government spending at 48% of GDP when the tax base is 36.4% of GDP.
Grahame M. Morris: If that is the case, why did the Conservatives support the Labour Government's spending plans until 2008? In fact, my recollection is that there were demands for more spending-more police numbers, more support for carers, and so on.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: There were political reasons, I think it might be said, for supporting those spending plans. I was not a Member of the House at that time, and it is a bit harsh for me to be expected to take responsibility. I think a lot of people, not only in this House, held to the mistaken idea that the economy was going to carry on growing for ever. I have always thought that boom and bust is a fact of life. We always have booms and we always have busts, and we will have them again. One can look at studies of financial cycles going back to biblical times, so the thought that there would always be growth was simply wrong, and to try to match Labour's spending programme was a mistake. However, even Homer nods. The point is that spending was out of control and had to be cut, and taxation is at its limit.
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I know that the hon. Gentleman keeps quoting the figure of 36.4% of GDP, but is that not dependent upon what GDP actually is? According to the coalition Government's prospectus, GDP will actually go down.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman ought to bear in mind that we will achieve growth if we leave some money for business to borrow rather than it all being pinched by the state. That was the point that I was making at the beginning-if the state borrows all the money that is going, in the absence of quantitative easing, it crowds out private investment.
I know that Members do not want to listen to me all evening, so I shall-[Hon. Members: "No, more!"] Well, as I understand it, if I go on long enough tomorrow's business is forfeit, and that is an Opposition motion, so I will conclude.
We know that the situation is serious and that tax is as high as it can be, therefore spending must be cut, however difficult it is. I commend the Liberal Democrats for their courage in supporting that and facing up to the realities of government, which they have not needed to do for a few decades. If I were wearing my hat, I would take it off to the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) on his contribution. I am really pleased that the Rees-Mogg family are all in this together with us in the tough times ahead, and I hope that the financial strain that the Rees-Mogg family will have to face will not mean that the hon. Gentleman's tailor is somehow deprived of business.
It is a pleasure to speak with you in the Chair for the first time, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is the first time that I have spoken in a debate in this Parliament, and it is an opportunity not just to recognise the dangers of the Budget but to pay tribute to the benefits that we in North Durham received from the 13 years of the Labour Government.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and the hon. Members for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) on their excellent maiden speeches. They all rightly paid tribute to their predecessors, and will be strong advocates for their constituencies.
This Finance Bill is a bit odd in that it is a two-stage Bill. Some of us have been used to having the Second Reading debate on the Floor of the House, and then the Members who had either upset the Whips or were financial saddos went into a Committee Room for several weeks for the Committee stage.
Mr Jones: My hon. Friend says it is a shame that that is no longer the case. I know that when he was a Back Bencher two Parliaments ago he was an assiduous Member, perhaps with the sad anorak tendency of those on the Finance Bill Committee.
Mr Jones: He did. We are now to have all stages on the Floor of the House, which I greatly welcome. I look forward to exploring the Bill in depth in the next few weeks, as I am sure many other Labour Members do.
"This emergency Budget deals decisively with our country's record debts. It pays for the past, and it plans for the future. It supports a strong, enterprise-led recovery, it rewards work and it protects the most vulnerable in our society. Yes, it is tough, but it is also fair."-[ Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 166.]
His apprentice, in the form of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, came before us today. He is wheeled out every time the Conservative party wants to do a nasty deed. I would have thought that he would wake up to the fact that the Conservatives use him and the Liberal Democrats as a shield.
Mr Jones: I am not sure that it is, because the Chief Secretary knows what he has signed up to. With his great experience as press officer for the Cairngorms national park, I am sure that he knows danger when he sees it. We need to expose the Liberal Democrats' rank hypocrisy. They went into the election campaign arguing against most of the things to which they have now signed up. They have abandoned decades of commitment to some of the poorest in our society.
Those actions are predicated on a myth. The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) identified it earlier when he mentioned Canada. That is a worthwhile example, because if we want to explain what is happening, we need to examine in detail what happened in Canada in the 1990s. The Government are copying not only
every single measure that the then Canadian Government introduced but the tactics, including the great consultation with the Canadian people about how to cut the budget.
Clive Efford: I am interested in my hon. Friend's argument, particularly his comparison of the consultation that is about to take place with what happened in Canada. Will he confirm that the consultation in Canada took place on the basis that the Government would reinvest in the public sector after they had got through their budget deficit, whereas this Government are making an ideological change whereby they will cut back the state for ever? They are inviting people to take part in a consultation not to ascertain where we should take short-term measures, but to cut from the state services that people will never see again.
We must always have someone with whom to compare ourselves and say, "We could be like that." The current tendency is to compare us with Greece, whereas in Canada in the 1990s, New Zealand was used an example. The process followed the same pattern as today. The starting point is to convince the public that the debt is so horrendous that there is no alternative to ideologically driven debt reduction; some hon. Members have claimed that today. The next step is to whip up the media and get a friendly think-tank or other supportive organisation to put forward selective facts about the size of the deficit. To crank up the national debt as high as possible, everything is added in, including future private finance initiative funding. Revenue accounting is added to capital costs, without explaining to people that capital investment is investment in this country's economy. That is how to try to scare the public.
As happened in Canada, the next step is to say that if the cuts are not made, the consequences will be dire. Guess what the Canadian Liberals did? They threatened, "If we don't do this, the IMF will come in tomorrow." We heard that during the election campaign. There is nothing new about what is happening here. The Conservative party has clearly copied the Canadian model, and even adopted the playbook. Unfortunately, it has been able to con the Liberal Democrats into being its human shield.
Mrs McGuire: Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the leaks that apparently came out of the Government in the past two or three days concerning 40% cuts are designed to set the context of fear that he is describing? When interviewed at the weekend, one senior Government Minister said that nobody would be asked for 40% cuts, and that that was only scenario planning. Are the Government trying to set the context so that people might be relieved that the cuts are less severe than those paraded in the media?
Mr Jones: As a former trade union negotiator, I can tell my right hon. Friend that that is an old trick. People go into negotiations asking for 50% knowing that they will come out with 5%. It is exactly as she portrays.
If anybody wants to read about the Government's game plan, or war plan, I recommend an excellent book-someone sent me a copy from Canada-called "Shooting the Hippo" by Linda McQuaig. It is nothing to do with wildlife, and I say to the more delicate individuals in the Chamber that it is not actually about murdering hippos, but where the title comes from is interesting. Part of the media hype in Canada centred on the example of the baby hippo that would have to be shot because the zoo could no longer afford the size of compound it needed. We thereby get into a self-fulfilling prophesy, in which there is somehow no alternative.
Hon. Members have mentioned the comparison with Greece; the Canadians used the example of New Zealand. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats have justified the emergency Budget by talking about our "sovereign debt crisis" as though it were the same as Greece's, or that of some other southern European country. That has been the entire justification for the proposals. The hon. Member for North East Somerset referred to gilts and other investments as though they would be at risk if nothing were done, and actually claimed credit for the Government for the change in the gilt yield. However, the 10-year bond yield in the UK today is around 4.5%, but it actually dropped to 3.5% in February, way before the election.
Mr Jones: To somehow attribute that decline to- [ Interruption. ] From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) asks me to give way. I am glad he is now either a Parliamentary Private Secretary or some other kind of bag carrier on the Back Benches, because it will stop him making his fatuous contributions. I hope that the Exchequer Secretary is a good Minister to carry bags for, unlike the Minister for Equalities or one of the other Liberal Democrat Ministers. I shall give way with pleasure to the hon. Member for North East Somerset.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: The financial markets in February had the intelligence to work out that there was an election in May and to consult the opinion polls. It was not exactly a case of consulting Mystic Meg.
Mr Jones: The financial markets obviously and clearly got it wrong, so I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. The idea that the Labour Government left us in such a dire situation is absolute nonsense. It, too, is part of the scare agenda.
Andrew Bridgen: The hon. Gentleman seems to have the impression that the world has an insatiable appetite to buy UK Government debt. If that is the case, why did at least one Treasury gilt sale fail to be fully taken up?
Helen Goodman: I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that a large proportion of British Government debt is bought by domestic savers rather than overseas savers. That is another reason why the British Government are much less at risk from the international markets.
Mr Jones: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. A Bank of International Settlements report that I looked at this morning-it is worth looking at, and I suggest that anyone who has a spare half hour, or who suffers from insomnia later tonight, read it-contains an interesting graph showing exactly where debts are: 70% of Greek debt and 50% of US debt is held by non-residents, but for the UK the proportion is 30%. That makes my hon. Friend's point well.
Ministers increasingly raise the spectre of Greece. For example, last week the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change said that the Chancellor had said that the Budget was necessary because otherwise Britain would be in danger of not being able to pay its way in the world. Public debt in Greece is the highest in the euro area at about 120% of GDP. It also has one of the highest fiscal deficits in the OECD, with 14% of GDP. I do not seek to minimise the UK's debt-it needs to be dealt with, and we set out a clear plan to tackle it-but it rose 20% in the last couple of years for a very good reason. We faced a massive economic downturn, and investing the money was the correct thing to do to ensure that we did not go into not only a recession, but a long-term depression. I remind new Conservative Members that when those who are now in government were in opposition, they got it wrong on Northern Rock and wrong on how to deal with the banking crisis. Did they ever oppose anything that we did on that? No, they did not; they supported our measures. Their approach would have got us into a complete mess.
The UK debt is 68% of GDP, which is much lower than the euro area average of 79%. Our fiscal deficit is 11%. However much people try to portray our borrowings as on a par with those of Greece or some of the other basket cases-as the press call them-that is just not so. It is the same with the return on bonds. In the US it is 3.58% and in Germany 2.5%. In addition, we have to recognise what type of debt we have. Those who are following the war plan to frighten everyone might fall for the suggestion that somehow our debt has to be repaid tomorrow. We are even hearing some of the nonsense that we heard in the Thatcher era about the idea that the UK economy-or a business-should be run like a personal bank account. That is complete nonsense. If people look at the chart on page 68 of the Bank for International Settlements report, on the maturity of debt, they will see that for the UK it is 14 years. In the US and Germany it is under nine years, and Greece has some debt on short-term loans of two years, with an immediate requirement to repay. The idea that we are in such a mess that we have to repay debt now, and so need this emergency Budget-with all the damage that the VAT increase and everything else will do-is utter nonsense.
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): While what the hon. Gentleman says about the duration of the Government's debt is correct, what is of more importance now is the amount of borrowing that the Government have to do on a weekly basis because of the size of the deficit, which is-at 13% of GDP-the largest in Europe. We are borrowing roughly £3 billion a week, and that has nothing to do with the duration of the debt. Regardless of the duration, if the deficit is not addressed we will still be in the market trying to borrow £3 billion a week. That is one of the reasons why the auction that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) mentioned earlier failed in the markets.
Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands. No one is suggesting that we do not need to reduce the debt: the Labour Government did reduce the debt. I know that during the election the stock in-phrase was "Labour didn't mend the roof while the sun was shining". Well, I am sorry, but we did. We actually paid off debt. For example, the 3G licences for mobile phones raised in excess of £20 billion, which went directly to paying off debt. However, we are now in danger of doing what happened in the 1980s with the Thatcher Government: borrowing money not to invest, which we were doing, but to pay unemployment and other benefits. The Government are going to slash welfare benefits, exactly as happened in Canada, and blame the poor. It was not the poor, unemployed or disabled in my constituency who got the debt this high; it was the international bankers and the people who are now to be rewarded by the Budget proposals on corporation tax as part of this stimulus.
On the recession, if anyone says we are out of the woods, they should look at the provisional gross domestic product figures: 0.3% growth in the first quarter of this year, and 0.4% growth in the final quarter of 2009. The new Office for Budget Responsibility thinks that the economy will grow by 1.2% in 2010, and by 2.3% in 2011. So the Budget is a great gamble. However, this is not just about what is in the Budget and the Finance Bill, which will take money out of the economy at this crucial time when we need to put money in; the Government are also gambling on the complete and utter nonsense that there are two different economies in the country-the private sector, which is good and which we look up to and say, "It's a wonderful thing," and the public sector, which is bad and which we boo whenever we talk about it-and that somehow we can separate the two. I shall return to that point in a minute.
On the proposed deficit reduction, the Government's fox has been shot by their own Office for Budget Responsibility. Its independent analysis is that Labour's deficit reduction plan would have more than achieved the target of halving the deficit over four years, from 11.1% in 2009-10 to 5% in 2013-14. The OBR also said that the Labour plan would reduce the structural deficit by nearly three quarters, from 5.2% of GDP in 2010-11 to 1.6% in 2014. The plan as outlined to halve the budget deficit within four years would have met the timetable set out at the recent G20 summit on 27 June 2010. Government Members and commentators say that the previous Government did not have a plan, but they did, and even the Government's own Office for Budget Responsibility recognise that. That plan, however, is now being crammed into two years, which cannot be done without a cost to jobs.
Mrs McGuire: Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the scenario he has painted and the fact that the previous Government's budget deficit plan would meet the international criteria, one would suspect that the current plan is more about ideology than economics?
Mr Jones: My right hon. Friend is right as usual: the Government's plan has nothing to do with that, but is being used as an excuse for an ideological attack, because what they actually want is a smaller state in this country. I return to the point that the Government's plan is about saying, "Private sector good; public sector to be sneered at, public sector workers to be denigrated and not valued," and that if we reduce the size of the state, that will somehow lead to nirvana, at which point we can all go off into the sunset and live happily ever after. However, the Government suddenly announced yesterday that they were basically going to shelve the Building Schools for the Future programme, affecting exactly those jobs that the local construction industry-I met the Civil Engineering Contractors Association a few weeks ago-was relying on to ensure that the recovery continues. Therefore, to argue that we can somehow cut back the public sector without having any effect whatever on the private sector is complete nonsense.
We all know that in regions such as mine in the north-east, as well as those in Northern Ireland and others that have a larger public sector dependency than other areas, the effect of what is outlined in the Budget will be even worse. However, I give hon. Members this warning: we ain't seen nothing yet, because the Finance Bill will work by salami slicing, which is a technique that the Government are using to slip the news out. The biggest crackdown will come-we all know this-with the public sector spending round in October. That is when the real cuts in both capital budgets and other investments will be made.
Phil Wilson: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again, and he is absolutely right. The Government have an objective of trying to create a big society, but does he agree that if we continue down this road, what they will produce is a little Britain?
Mr Jones: Yes, they will, and there is something else that they will do. Interestingly, the hon. Member for Ipswich, who made an excellent maiden speech, talked about prison reform, saying things that he really meant, on an issue to which he is committed. However, he will soon be disabused of that, when he finds that the prison reforms being put through the Ministry of Justice have nothing at all to do with the penal system, and everything to do with budget restraint.
As for the other measures , the VAT increase will have a disproportionate effect on my constituents and those in regions such as mine, because it is, in part, one of the poorest communities. As for the Liberal Democrats-we saw a half-hearted attempt earlier to defend the increase in VAT-the measure will indeed affect the poorest.
Grahame M. Morris: On the point raised by Government Members about the impact assessment, will my hon. Friend comment on the impact of the VAT increase on the third sector? I had meetings at the weekend, and I know that many in the voluntary and community sector rely on trading activity and are concerned about what the increase will do to their income levels.
The increase is going to affect every single organisation that provides public services, including local councils--the increase will cost them a lot of money. As we saw earlier, certain commitments were
given on VAT, and I have here the Liberal Democrat poster from 8 April-and I must say that it is very good. I am sorry if I am going to pour more scorn on to the Liberal Democrats, but I enjoy doing it, and I am sure that some of their Tory colleagues will enjoy it as well. The poster says:
"Tory VAT bombshell.
You'd pay £389 more a year in VAT under the Conservatives".
The Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) made quite a few comments on VAT before the election. He referred to it on the "Today" programme on 7 April 2010, saying that VAT
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