A lot has been said about what is happening now, but what will happen after this? What will happen if this lot get elected again? I went and had a look at the TaxPayers

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Alliance’s site to see what it was doing. We all know what the TPA is: the reserve Tory party, the ones who get paid by big business to tell the Tories what to do. It is talking about ending national bargaining, which means another freeze on wages. Another freeze, after five years of freezes, with some people getting no increase and some people getting only 1% increases. We can see where that is coming from, and that is what the TPA is telling the Tory Government.

The TPA wants an end to the triple lock on pensions. There we are: it is telling the Tories to end the triple lock on pensions. We could go on to benefits, of course. The TPA wants to freeze benefits for two years, so my constituents are in for a right surprise if they get them. That is another thing that will happen at the next election. Then, of course, there is the £12 billion that has to be cut from social security. All that has got to happen, and this is a Budget for happiness? I think that it is a Budget for disaster.

Then there is the cutting back. Apparently it is imperative that the next Government cut back on winter fuel allowances and bus passes. Last week, I saw on television that a compassion pill had been invented—someone could take it and become compassionate. I think £25,000 would give every Tory Member one, to see if we could get some compassion into their hearts for the people of this country, who have suffered for five years.

The TPA says that the next Government “need” to save £70 billion; that is what it is telling you. It is not telling us, thank God—I hope they are not, mind—but it is telling you, because those people are your people. That is who they are.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Obviously, when Members say “you” they mean me. Do not worry about it, Mr Campbell. Carry on.

Mr Campbell: I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker.

What have we got? We have the pension provisions. Okay, that is those people’s money and I suppose they are entitled to it, but I can tell Members what happened a few years ago when the miners were given the chance to pull their pensions out of the national mineworkers’ pension fund. I was chairman of the local branch at the time, not an MP, and I remember the spivs coming in big style. We had nothing to do with them, but they had meetings in social clubs and pubs and brought all the lads in. The Major Government said at the time that people could take their pension then as long as they got a better deal, the lads thought that they were getting a better deal and, of course, the spivs and speculators all came in. The lads all gave up their pension, saying that they were going to get a better deal, but within a year to 18 months they had to come back into the pension scheme.

That was a scandal waiting to happen, because there was no advice at all. The miners were finished—it was after the miners’ strike—and we told them to keep their pension where it was, but of course the spivs were telling them how wonderful their options were.

Mr Jim Cunningham: I remember exactly what my hon. Friend is talking about. Under the Thatcher Government, people were encouraged to come out of the state earnings-related pension scheme and to go into

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private pension schemes. I remember Rolls-Royce spending a lot of money encouraging people to do that, and look at how that ended up.

Mr Campbell: It nearly ended up in a scandal. The Government opened up the mineworkers’ pension scheme again so that people could bring their money out of the schemes they had been conned into joining. A lot of miners lost a lot of money, so the warning is there. As has been mentioned in many speeches today, the Government must be very careful that they do not fool the people.

I want to mention the national health service, because 65% of new contracts in the NHS have gone to private companies. I do not know what will happen if the Tories are elected at the next election, but I can tell Members one thing: in five years 65% of contracts in the NHS have become private and that is a disaster waiting to happen. I think that the Tories are waiting for 100% private contracts in the national health service, so that it is totally privatised. The Labour party is prepared to put in at least 5,000 more doctors and 20,000 more nurses, and I hope that that is a reality and that we can afford to pay for it.

I have to mention the banks, as they cost the taxpayers of this country a lot of money over five years. It is time that we started taking a lot more money off the banks than we are taking now. They owe the taxpayers of this country big time and we should increase the levy and say that they should pay the money back. We should not have bailed them out in the first place.

7.7 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell). I am glad that he is such a supporter of the triple lock on pensions. He must remember, of course, that it was the Liberal Democrats and not the Labour party that introduced the triple lock and restored the link with earnings broken all those years ago by Mrs Thatcher.

The economy is undoubtedly looking stronger now, not just according to the headline figures, with unemployment down, growth up, the deficit cut by a third in absolute terms and half in terms of GDP, inflation and interest rates both under control and living standards finally on the rise. It is stronger in a more subtle way, too. We have invested in infrastructure and in apprenticeships and skills, and carbon emissions are falling even while economic growth is increasing. Renewable energy has nearly tripled. This is a more sustainable economy and has strength in that regard as well.

I have some sympathy with something that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) said. When we think about the performance of the economy, we do not think enough about quality of life, and it would be a good thing to have a well-being Budget as well as a classical economic Budget, perhaps delivered by the Prime Minister the day before to put the economic Budget in context. It is important to think about not just economic growth but our quality of life and the state of the nation’s well-being, as well as to have reported to this House indicators on things such as

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mental and physical health, crime and sense of security, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and access to green space, and education and children’s happiness. That would be good in setting the context for the main Budget.

There is no doubt that in classical terms, at least, the economy is looking much stronger. Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have both taken the flak for the difficult decisions made in government that were necessary to secure those improvements and both parties should share the credit. I am certainly finding that the most popular headline policies in the Budget seem to be those pushed by the Liberal Democrats, such as taking more and more of the lowest paid earners out of income tax altogether; providing £1.25 billion over five years for mental health, particularly for children and new mums; and smaller items that might have passed almost unnoticed, such as £10 million for new school kitchens in support of the provision of free school meals.

It is on future spending plans, of course, that the coalition parties somewhat part company. The Chancellor identified £5 billion from tax avoidance and evasion and aggressive tax planning to help balance the books, which clearly we would welcome, and perhaps even push further on, but the other £25 billion he identified are all from public spending cuts, either in welfare or unnamed Government Departments. Of course, he wants to carry on cutting, even after the books are balanced, and apparently without seeking to raise a penny from those who can afford to pay more. That seems to me to be calculated to damage public services far more than they need to be damaged, to cut more than needs to be cut and to take us towards a less fair society, not a fairer one.

There were a few items in the Budget of particular interest to Cheltenham. I am very pleased that Cheltenham racecourse got a mention; it is not quite in my constituency, but it is economically very important to it. The commitment to a racing right that guarantees a more secure income from betting to racing is very much to be welcomed. I also welcome the commitment on superfast broadband, although there are still questions to be asked on exactly how that will be implemented, even in urban areas such as mine.

I welcome the endorsement for tidal lagoon power, although there are a few qualifications around that. I hope that the negotiations on the strike price will be negotiated quickly and hopefully concluded before the general election. I hope that they will reflect the fact that, unlike the nuclear industry, which receives a huge subsidy, being a 60-year-old mature industry, lagoon power is a cutting-edge, pioneering feat of engineering which has enormous potential for safe and sustainable growth in energy.

The Budget also included a reference to the intelligence services. The Chancellor made a very welcome commitment to right the injustice that has been suffered by the widowers, widows and former civil partners of firefighters, police officers and those in the intelligence services with regard to their pension rights. In the Budget documents, however, the commitment for the intelligence services is not quite so cast-iron; they talk about examining the possibility of doing the same thing for the intelligence services. Many of my constituents work tirelessly for the safety and security of this country. It is fantastic that the widowers, widows and former civil partners of firefighters and police officers will have their pension

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rights looked at and the injustice remedied, but it would be very unfair if the same right were not extended to the intelligence services. That is just one small way in which we could make our society fairer as well as building the stronger economy that we can all now celebrate.

7.12 pm

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): Having been a Member of this House for 36 years, I suspect that I have listened to about 45 Budget statements, but I must say that I cannot remember one that was so self-congratulatory—the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered it almost like a lap of honour. I must concede that he can claim one great success: he has been very effective in getting across the idea that the worldwide recession was created by the Labour party, not by the stupidities of the banking system worldwide, and that the British economy was in decline when this Government took over. The fact is that the economy was actually growing when they took over. It then went into decline and is only now creeping out. If we are now seeing a bigger than usual increase in output and growth, that is because we had fallen so low and are growing our way out of a very deep pit.

One of the things that the Tories promised before the previous general election was that there would be no rise in VAT, but their first Budget did just that.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Frank Dobson: No, because that would take up other Members’ time.

The Tories also promised to clear the deficit. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said that nobody can forecast that. Well, perhaps they cannot forecast it, but they did make that promise and they have not kept it; they have reduced the deficit by a third. They promised to reduce the national debt but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) pointed out, they have managed to reduce it by a fraction only by fiddling the books—that is as good a way of describing it as any. They said that they would rebalance the economy, but they have no more done that than the Liverpool captain rebalanced the membership of his team the other night. Then there is the claim that we are all in it together. Well, a lot of people have been dropped in it together, and they are not the rich people.

I would like to deal with something that, in a sense, has nothing directly to do with the Budget: taxation. The fact of the matter is that the House of Commons has had a pathetic record over the past 50 or 60 years when it comes to determining what the levels of taxation should be and how they should be applied. Time and again we have come up with a system that helps tax evasion and avoidance and lets people get away with late payment. It is no good simply blaming the civil service, because there has been a failure to deliver what every Government have said about people avoiding tax.

The problem is that the details of all taxation are formulated in secret with Treasury officials plus some experts, many of whom return to their day jobs in the private sector afterwards to pursue what they call “tax efficiency”. In other words, they exploit the loopholes

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in the taxation system that they helped formulate a year or two before. Years ago our predecessors decided to do away with secret treaties. I think that we now need to do away with secretly formulated taxation. I believe that in future the House of Commons should decide on the principle of a particular tax and then a Committee of the House should summon all the experts before it and decide on the detailed implementation so that we do not have the hole-and-corner fiddling and special pleading that has left us open to so much tax evasion and avoidance and late payment that people have been allowed to get away with.

If the House of Commons is to restore its reputation, we need to take our duty to check on the raising of taxation much more seriously than we have done. If we fail to do that, our reputation will continue to be low, because people expect that when Parliament passes a law, that law will work and it will do what Ministers said it would do. When we pass laws that do not do what Ministers said they would do, that undermines all of us, not just those Ministers. I think that the House of Commons has to take its duties in relation to taxation far more seriously in future, and I hope that it will.

7.18 pm

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), and I agree with a great deal of what he said about taxation and the importance of clamping down on tax avoidance, although I gently point out that this Government, having closed the tax gap and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) pointed out, made our tax system more progressive, have a better record than their predecessor.

I welcome the Budget, which is about securing this Government’s legacy of growth, jobs and recovery in the economy. It is about delivering on a plan, and a plan that is working. To see that, we need only look back at where we have come from. After the previous Government left the biggest peacetime deficit in our nation’s long history, the deficit has been halved and we have started to pay down the debt as a percentage of GDP. We are achieving record employment against Labour’s legacy of mass unemployment, and growth against its record-breaking recession. The number of apprenticeships has doubled, youth unemployment has been slashed, businesses are confident to invest and people are beginning to be confident to save once again.

Under the previous Government, many people were afraid to go to the bank in case they could not get their money out. We took over in a crisis and at the end of five years of difficult decisions we will leave the country emerging into the sun. I remember, under the previous Government, walking down streets in Worcester where every third door displayed a repossession notice. Those streets now show none. I remember seeing unemployment in Worcester above the national average—well above 2,500 people. Now it is below a falling national average, more than halved since the general election, and long-term unemployment has fallen for each of the past 11 months in my constituency.

The number of people in work nationally is at its highest ever level and around 80% of the new jobs created have been full time. Opposition Members like to talk about zero-hours contracts and part-time work.

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Both increased hugely in the latter years of their Government, but they chose to do nothing about them. This Government have acted to ban exclusive use of zero-hours contracts and increased full-time jobs by well over 1 million. Labour Members also talk about a cost of living crisis, and it is true that over a long period wages failed to keep pace with inflation. This was the consequence of our economy being £112 billion smaller on their watch, more people being in competition for fewer jobs as a result of the 2009 crash, and the inflation caused by higher energy costs.

Ms Gisela Stuart rose—

Mr Walker: I shall not give way. I am sorry; I want to keep time for other Members.

However, this Government have presided over falling inflation, which is now at its lowest level on record, more jobs and, in the current year, above-inflation increases not just in the minimum wage, but in average wages and take-home pay. The crucial decision to cut income tax for the lowest paid contrasts starkly with Labour’s decisions while in power to scrap the 10p rate and to push up employers’ national insurance. Instead of driving up the cost of employment and taking more of people’s wages in tax, we have helped businesses to create more jobs and, crucially, let people in the lowest paid jobs—part-time workers and those on the minimum wage—keep more of what they earn.

As the Chancellor set out, families are £900 a year better off than they were in 2010 and the official figures showing this are borne out by independent research, which Opposition Members used to quote when it suited their arguments. The latest figures from the Asda income tracker show average family discretionary spending power at £185 per week—the first time since its records began in January 2009 that that figure has risen above £180, and an increase of £16 per week since the same time a year ago. In April 2010, before the general election, the equivalent was £172.

As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee I welcome the fact that this Budget delivers further for business by cutting corporation tax to one of the most competitive rates anywhere in the world, incentivising the employment of young people and apprentices through further changes to employers’ national insurance liabilities, and launching the long-awaited reform of business rates. I welcome the extension of small business rates relief and the high street discount, as well as progress with the valuation system review but, as the Committee’s high streets inquiry concluded:

“The short-term tweaking of the Business Rates system is building up problems for the future and, instead, the....system needs fundamental reform.”

I look forward to supporting the case for fundamental reform. We need to look for a system that removes the bias against our high streets and town centres and rewards businesses that invest and expand. Business rates are currently the only area of taxation where there is not only no incentive, but a positive disincentive to take more people on, and this needs to change. I know that the British Retail Consortium and the Federation of Small Businesses have warmly welcomed the commitment to reform, and I hope that both will be extensively consulted on how it can best be delivered.

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I also welcome the continuing focus on investing in skills and helping businesses to do so. The Budget saw the launch of apprenticeship vouchers for businesses to manage their own schemes, and businesses such as Worcester Bosch, Yamazaki Mazak, Titania cyber security, Comco and Green Lighting, which I visited during national apprenticeship week, will welcome the Government’s focus on this aspect.

One of the best things about this Budget is its support for saving. As chairman of the all-party group on credit unions, I warmly welcome both the £1,000 tax-free allowance for savings and the administrative changes that will remove a burden from savings organisations, including credit unions. Last week I attended my local hospital to see the launch of a payroll saving scheme from the Castle and Crystal credit union, which expanded into Worcestershire at my invitation. Such schemes will benefit from the Chancellor’s efforts to make saving more attractive.

In an age where saving for the deposit on a first home has become ever more challenging, I particularly welcome the launch of the Help to Buy ISA. My late father pioneered the policy of right to buy which helped thousands of people to own their first home in the 1980s, and I am hopeful that Help to Buy, combined with this innovative savings scheme, can help thousands more to enjoy the security of owning their own home in the 21st century. Help to Buy has already helped 184 families in Worcester and more than 900 in Worcestershire to get on the housing ladder. With the Help to Buy ISA I hope we can make a difference for hundreds more.

I welcome this Budget continuing the increase in the basic state pension. On the doorsteps of Worcester I often hear from pensioners who are very concerned about the fact that they may be paying income tax on a small pension inherited from a deceased partner. The move to increase the income tax threshold to £12,500 in the future will take thousands of those pensioners out of income tax altogether, which will be an extremely positive reform.

7.24 pm

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). Perhaps he has caught a bit of the virus of optimism bias this evening, but it was a pleasure to hear what he had to say.

This is probably my last chance to speak in Parliament. I am sorry that it sounds to colleagues like a series of valedictory speeches, but we are all taking our opportunity, which I want to use to talk about an issue close to my heart, and it is what brought me into politics more than 30 years ago.

Poverty in Salford was all around me—poor housing, no jobs, but above all at that time a sense of hopelessness and a belief that things could never be different. I was brought up by parents who both left school at 14. They had no chance to stay on, but they were determined that their children would have the chance to do well and get on in life. I think my mum thought of the phrase, “Education, education, education” long before the former Prime Minister ever dreamed of it. Education was then and is now the key to progress and success, not just for individuals, but for our economy and our country as a whole. Social mobility is at the heart of that.

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I shall start by saying a few words of thanks and congratulations—do not worry, it will not all be this nice—to the Chancellor and to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in particular for finding £200,000 a year for the next couple of years to support the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, which has been such a success and has changed the lives of so many young people over the past four years. I set it up because I was very worried about the fact that so many of our leading Members of Parliament and our Ministers came from what I called the transmission belt—being a special adviser, working for a Minister, getting a safe seat and being fast-tracked into the Cabinet. In 1979 only 3% of all MPs took that route. At the last election the figure was 25% and rising.

Our scheme aimed to bring working-class young people to work in Parliament—people who would never have got a foot in the door. They included Kay Nuttall from Salford, who had a fantastic experience here, went back to Salford, got a great job and stood to be a parent governor at her child’s school—a contested election that she won, and she is Labour. It is amazing. Another participant was Siraj Odedra, who stayed in Parliament and is working for my right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). He no doubt will have a long and, I hope, successful career in politics as well. Thanks very much for taking that step. I thank all the Members of Parliament who helped me establish the scheme and those from all parties who have agreed to take it on. I hope we will have a long-lasting scheme that gives young people the sense that they come here and can make a difference to politics.

I thank Alan Milburn for his work on the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. In his recent report, “Fair Access”, he said:

“Unpaid internships clearly disadvantage those from less affluent backgrounds who cannot afford to work for free for any length of time…Given their centrality to young people’s career prospects, internships should no longer be treated as part of the informal economy.”

That means that we should introduce proper terms and conditions, including remuneration. I am pleased to say that long-term unpaid internships are virtually a thing of the past in Parliament. When I came here, they were widespread. Unfortunately, they still exist in the media, fashion, culture and the creative industries. That means that unless young people have the bank of mum and dad, they cannot make that first step in life.

I thank the Social Mobility Foundation and Victor Blank, the chairman, and David Johnston, the chief executive officer, who have done so much to remedy that situation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has just done an evaluation of the Social Mobility Foundation’s work. It found that those programmes give people the kind of back-up they would get if they had had a private school education or a good family background, which means that among those who go to university, the Social Mobility Foundation projects increase the likelihood of attending a Russell Group institution by between 17% and 27%, compared with those with similar attainment from similar backgrounds who do not participate in the SMF programme. It is making a real change to hundreds and thousands of young people’s opportunities in the future.

The final thing I want to highlight is a local project, because for all my political career, I have been extremely proud of the things that happen in my constituency.

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We have the RECLAIM project, which is a two-year leadership programme, again for young people, men and women, who would never get a chance to do such work. It aims to inspire, challenge and develop people to become true leaders for the future. A young woman called Jaimeel, a local girl, who has been through the project, says:

“When I started RECLAIM I had very little idea about who I was, who I wanted to be or where I wanted to go. Due to RECLAIM I have completed several work experience placements, including a project to design a gym. I am a member of a music collective. I have had a work experience placement with the Co-op and with Investec Specialist Banking.”

She is now on the second year of an accountancy degree at Birmingham university. Her life has been changed by the RECLAIM project.

The thing that concerns me most is that in real terms in the next period, education spending will fall by 7% and the widening participation budget has been slashed from £130 million to £67 million. This a false economy. All the examples I have given show that our young people have talent. If we give them hope, encouragement and support, they will have the same chances that people like me have had. I hope that the next Government will take that on and make it a reality.

7.30 pm

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): During most of her speech, the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) spoke of optimism, a word that might have been coined for her. She is never knowingly under-optimistic, and we will certainly miss her sunny disposition.

Five years ago, like the right hon. Lady, I was canvassing for election. At that time, Tamworth was a town in trouble. Unemployment was climbing to 6%, businesses, including well-known names such as Woolworths, were going to the wall and people were losing hope. If you walked from the great city of Worcester to Tamworth, and then down Glascote road, you would see in window after window repossession notices as banks took possession of people’s homes. The grisly legacy of the previous Labour Government was that people were not just losing their jobs or their shops, but losing their homes as well. Walk around Tamworth today and you will see a town that is rebuilding. Just 427 people in the working-age population—fewer than 1%—are claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Unemployment is falling faster in Tamworth than anywhere else in the country: the BBC tells us so. It also tells us that wages are outstripping inflation. Since 2010, 105 new businesses have been created in the town. New jobs and new skills are being created, and with those new jobs and new skills comes new hope. Jobs are transforming people’s lives, and this Budget was a Budget for jobs.

I should like to speak about some of the more detailed elements of the Red Book that will help people and their jobs in Tamworth. Every year, I hold an export conference at Drayton Manor to help small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency to build the knowledge and confidence to export their goods and services. I am especially pleased that the Chancellor announced £3.5 million of new funding to help our trade with that great, unfathomable market—China. I mention that particularly because Birmingham airport has just extended

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its runway and it is now possible to travel long-haul directly to China, sending business folk to that place to do better business with it.

I hope that when the Chancellor considers that investment, he also remembers the £7.5 million that he has given to the northern powerhouse to aid its overseas trade delegations. In his next Budget, I hope that he will consider matching that funding to create a midlands powerhouse. Although we have in this Budget the £60 million invested in the Energy Research Accelerator in the midlands, Birmingham and surrounding areas could benefit from a midlands powerhouse strategy to help our economy to grow and prosper. I trust that the Chancellor will take that on board.

Also buried deeply in the Red Book is the determination to build up a study of regeneration on our larger estates in the midlands. That is welcome, but I hope that the Government, in their determination to look at the challenges that we face on big estates in Birmingham and Coventry, will also recognise that smaller towns in Staffordshire, such as Tamworth, Burton and Cannock, have smaller estates that face challenges and also require study and investment. I hope that the study that the Chancellor is considering will look at those smaller estates as well.

I end with a plea for a business in my constituency that benefits from the Budget. It is called Invotec, and it exports electronic circuit boards around the world—very successfully so. It employs 250 people in Tamworth and in Telford in Shropshire. However, while this Government and this Budget tear up more and more red tape, there is still a problem with exporting those circuit boards because they are used for defence purposes. No other country in the EU applies a licence regime for every circuit board that is exported. As a result, Invotec faces difficulty in selling to its clients. BIS undertook to review the situation, but the report that was due to resolve it has not been published. I encourage those on the Treasury Bench to find the time to encourage BIS to publish that report and that resolution so that Invotec can export its wares around the world and compete with our European competitors.

This Budget will be welcomed in the boardrooms and in the living rooms of Tamworth. It is a Budget for jobs—jobs that pay the mortgage, pay for the foreign holiday, and pay the taxes that pay for the schools and hospitals that we all want and need, and that must be fit for purpose in the 21st century.

7.36 pm

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): This Budget was summed up by the chief executive of Citizens Advice as a disappointment because

“People on the lowest income and those without savings benefit least”.

“But what about the increase in the personal allowance?”, I may hear those on the Government Benches say. There are two issues with that for the lowest-paid. First, there is the relationship with the benefits system. The lowest earners claiming housing benefit and council tax benefit lose 79p in every £1 that they gain through the increase in the personal allowance. Secondly, once they are out of tax, they are out of tax—they cannot gain any more for being even more out of tax. Raising the

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threshold at which national insurance is paid would be much more targeted at low-paid workers and enable them to keep much more of their income, and I am disappointed that that was not in the Budget.

Let us move on to the unexplained £12 billion saving in the social security budget. From where—or rather from whom—will this come? Will it be low-paid families who are claiming in-work benefits? They have already been hard hit by this Government. Will it be people with disabilities? They have already been hard hit by this Government. Will it be children in poverty or young people? They have already been hard hit by this Government. I suggest that people have a look at Real Life Reform’s reports to see the real stories of those who have been hit by this Government’s welfare changes. Those people are certainly not feeling any optimism. In fact, one of its most recent reports says that at least 75% of them were feeling “not at all” or “not very” optimistic about their chances for the future. Will this £12 billion saving be clarified before the election so that people know exactly what they are voting for and exactly who they are voting for to be hard hit even further?

“Northern powerhouse” is easy to say, and I would love us to have one, but what is actually being delivered to councils in the north by this Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition is cuts of 75% more than in the rest of the country. Simply devolving responsibility and cutting budgets will not empower anybody.

It is good that savings are not double-taxed, but I regret the level being set at £1,000 of interest. Most of my constituents can only dream of £1,000 in total savings. The Chancellor’s figures are predicated on an unprecedented rise in household debt. Surely we should be looking at ways of preventing that. It seems that debt for the country is bad, but debt for the individual is welcomed. We should at least be looking to provide help for those who fall into unmanageable debt. It is worth remembering that an extra 0.5% of interest on a rising mortgage rate will put a further 600,000 people at risk of losing their homes. Where is the help for low-income savers to build a small pot for a rainy day, keeping them out of the clutches of the payday lenders and rent-to-own companies like BrightHouse?

Talking of exploitation, what extra protection are the Government putting in place to prevent the most vulnerable from being ripped off by companies offering to help unlock their pension pot? This is Money spent one hour and £100 to set up a fake website that popped up on Google alongside the Government’s own site when a search was done for Pension Wise. We already know that this happens in many other areas. For example, there are many sites offering to help people get the European health card for a fee of £49, even though it is free. Con artists are already looking at this as a great opportunity to make a fast buck. What is being done to protect people who are googling for information on who can help? The helpline is not yet up and running, so what is being done to help those people now?

The Budget has been called a “rollercoaster” by the Office for Budget Responsibility, but I would rather describe it as a game of snakes and ladders. Unfortunately, the ladders appear to be targeted at the rich, while the snakes are for the poorest and most vulnerable. Let us stop playing games with people’s lives and make the next Budget a Labour Budget, with a strong economic foundation that delivers a fairer recovery for all.

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7.41 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to participate in this debate. This is a good Budget not only because it is fiscally neutral, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has said, but because it underlines the fact that the long-term economic plan is producing solid results. It has been endorsed by none other than President Obama, who has pointed out that the UK and US economies are the only two that are really growing, so we must be doing something right. It has also been endorsed by the OECD, which has noted the solid performance of our strategy and suggests that we should not turn away from it. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has also pointed out that living costs are now becoming more favourable. That is the overall background.

The plan is good for another set of reasons. First, it is making sure that getting a job is a good thing, which is what we want to see. I inherited 1,488 unemployed people in my constituency, but we have got the figure down to 551. That is fantastic and exactly the direction of travel we should be taking. It is part of the strategy we have pursued, and that was underlined in last week’s Budget.

We need more savings and we need to turn the economy into a saving economy rather than one of debt. The actions taken to encourage not only pensioners to save, but young people to save for mortgages, are absolutely fabulous. Our course is absolutely right and we can only conclude that we have cause to celebrate.

The Budget is also about rebalancing the economy and creating a real economy that actually makes and sells things. We need infrastructure not only to enable our manufacturers and engineers to operate, but to promote and save the environment. That is why I was really pleased that the Chancellor recognised the need for more investment in my constituency to defend our land and houses against flooding. That is appropriate because it is both a real economy activity and worth while.

Training and education is another big area. I have been campaigning for some time for a university technical college in my constituency and we are going to get one on the site of the old Berkeley power station. This Government are committed to training, because it makes it possible for people to get jobs that last and that are highly skilled and worth while. That is exactly what the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said earlier: 80% of all new jobs are full time and 80% are highly skilled. That is what we want to see, and that is what I am seeing in my constituency. The situation has been buttressed by the performance of our economy and strengthened by the Budget.

I have also been campaigning for action to make it easier for road hauliers to recruit and train drivers. The Chancellor has helpfully responded by signalling in the Budget that that is exactly what is going to happen.

Not only have I successfully campaigned for a university technical college in my constituency; I have also been at pains to make sure that manufacturing and engineering are put under the spotlight and that schools and colleges work with business to make it a reality. We have to continue to attract investment, so what has the Chancellor done? He has made it easier and more attractive for businesses from afar to come to my constituency. That

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is absolutely brilliant, because we need high-tech modern businesses with plans to invest and the ability to translate research and development into products and services that people want.

I salute the overall approach the Chancellor has been at pains to take over the past five years. The real problem is that we inherited an economy that was swamped by debt, which does nothing for investors, hard-working families, the unemployed or people who need proper care. The challenge was, “Where is the money going to come from and what are we going to do to solve the problem of debt?” The Government have done something about that.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Neil Carmichael: I am not going to give way, because a lot of Members want to speak and it would be unfair to do so.

We have to make sure that we deal with our debt. We are on the right course.

The point I want to leave Members with is that it is essential that we continue to make our economy work for families, pensioners and people who need assistance, because that is how we will generate the capacity to pay for all the things we need. That is why the growth rate of 2.6% is very welcome: it is sustainable and reliable and we should embed it. The long-term economic plan should be saluted and cheered at every opportunity.

7.47 pm

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to speak in my final Budget debate. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor said:

“Future economic success depends on future scientific success”.—[Official Report, 18 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 776.]

I agree entirely, but this Budget does not do enough to unlock the potential of our science, engineering and technology industries, which have the capacity to grow and to invent and develop new products that will create jobs and wealth. Research by EngineeringUK shows that simply filling the demand for new engineering jobs could generate an additional £27 billion a year for the UK economy from 2022.

The Government claim that 8% of jobs created while they have been in power have been in skilled occupations, but the large demand for more skilled people is not being met. We need more engineers. Companies need 182,000 people with relevant engineering skills per year.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I think I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that we regret that this is my hon. Friend’s last ever speech in a Budget debate. On the need for more engineers and qualified people, will she reflect on the particular need for more women in engineering roles?

Meg Munn: My right hon. Friend may know that I have been banging on about that for years; I will come to it shortly.

There is currently an annual shortfall of about 55,000 skilled workers. The Chancellor’s commitment for financial support for PhD and research masters degrees will certainly help, but to keep up with demand we need to nearly double the number of engineering graduates. We

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need action on a much larger scale. We should be slashing tuition fees for engineering courses and providing bursaries to help students with living costs.

The Government tried using a programme to increase the number of skilled women engineers, but it was a complete failure. The employee ownership fund had £10 million to develop women engineers, but just £104,000 has been allocated. Unfortunately, despite me and the Women’s Engineering Society—of which I am a patron— pressing them, the Government have refused to reinvest the unspent funds into schemes specifically aimed at women.

Public services have been neglected not only in the Budget speech, but in reality. The Chancellor tried to give the impression that the Budget devolves resources to northern cities. He also claimed that

“the quality of public services has not gone down—it has gone up.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 770.]

However, the reality is that our front-line services have been cut to the bone. The fundamental question is: how they will be funded in the future? The silence from the Government Benches is deafening.

In the next 10 years, there will be a 27% increase in the number of those aged 80 or over in Sheffield. Without a new funding settlement, social care services will be severely affected, with more and more of my constituents unable to receive the preventive, joined-up services they need, and some will receive no support at all. How much longer are the Government going to spin the better care fund as a fund? They claim that my local authority will revive £37.8 million, but that figure represents the total amount of pooled budget shared with the NHS: they are top-slicing existing resources. Not surprisingly, decimating social care puts more pressure on the NHS. I am not surprised that Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has rejected the Government’s most recent offer on budget cuts, under which it would have had to find an additional £40 million in savings. Enough is enough.

In recent months, reports of child sexual abuse have been widespread, but a recent Ofsted report concluded that three quarters of councils do not deliver children’s social care to a good enough standard. The Public Accounts Committee has found that there has been little or no improvement in outcomes for children in foster and residential care, nor in how well they are looked after. It highlighted the abject failure of the Department for Education to take any responsibility for driving up standards. Let us not underestimate the effect of the downward pressures on local authority budgets in contributing to these issues. The College of Social Work has called on the Government to allow real social work to thrive and to invest in the service. It is hugely disappointing that the Government have again failed to make extra funding available to protect children from sexual abuse.

Social workers are often the glue that holds integrated services together. They possess the skills and expertise to lead multi-disciplinary teams and to provide help, care and, where necessary, protection. As such, the profession plays a key role in reducing delayed discharge, bringing mental health services into the mainstream, preventing emergency admissions, and supporting and

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enabling people to live full, independent lives. By contrast, the Budget will do little or nothing to contribute to these services.

When I was first elected 14 years ago, my constituents were seeing the start of the investment in the public realm that characterised the Labour years—new schools, hospitals and health centres and improved roads all led to better lives. This year, the revenue support grant for my local authority will have been cut by 50% compared with 2010. Local government cannot continue to absorb such pressures. It is no wonder that the people of my city have little time for the Tories. This Budget did not try to tackle the real issues at local level or to provide solutions to real problems, and it will do little to improve the lives of the constituents whom it has been my privilege to represent for the past 14 years.

7.53 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn). I entirely agree with her on two matters. The first is the need for more engineers, particularly women engineers. I saw that when I visited Alstom in my constituency recently and met women engineers, all of whom came from outside the UK. They are very welcome there, but with one exception, there were no British female engineers. The second is her call for a new model for health and social care funding, which the next Parliament will have to look at. At the moment, what we have from most—in fact, all—of the major parties is a sort of patchwork of funding for health and social care, but that is not enough to meet the demographic needs of the future.

In May 2010, the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in my constituency was 1,530, but it is now well below 600, the lowest figure since the current series of records began. However, there is absolutely no room for complacency. Not only are we working for full employment in Stafford, we want wage levels to rise in real terms. I will give a few examples of where the additional jobs have come from.

On Friday, I visited Turner Construction, which specialises in civil engineering works, house building and fitting. It plans to more than treble its turnover and work force between now and 2018, having already trebled its work force since 2009. That reflects two things: one is people’s increasing confidence in the performance of the economy, which means that they are investing in extensions and new kitchens; and the other is that house building is picking up again. Figures from the National House Building Council show that the number of homes started in my constituency has increased from 317 in 2013—compared with a national average of 188—to 473 last year. That includes a welcome increase in social house building, particularly through Stafford and Rural Homes. The increase is partly owing to the arrival of 1,000 servicemen and women and their families from this year. That has brought Stafford an investment of £150 million in military facilities and homes, and should provide a permanent boost of at least £15 million annually to the local economy, as well contributing greatly to community life.

Last month, I attended the opening of the Risual academy at Stafford college. Risual is an IT business, which was established in 2006, and now employs 120 people, with much of its increase having come in the past

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three years. It, too, intends to expand its staff considerably in the coming years, but it has run up against a skills shortage, as other hon. Members have mentioned. That is why it has decided to work with the local college to train young people to take up such positions.

If businesses are to expand or modernise, they need the space to do so. That is why Staffordshire county council has invested in a new business park to the north of Stafford. The wisdom of doing so was shown when Alstom announced in late 2014 that it would build its new world-class research and manufacturing facility for automation at Redhill, despite the fact that, as an international company, it could have chosen to go elsewhere. Its large transformer factory, which is the only one in the UK, has a full order book, almost all for exports. The Perkins engine plant in Stafford has also invested in the past few years, both in plant and in apprentices, and it too makes a considerable contribution to the UK’s balance of payments.

If we are to continue that story of successful job creation and investment, there is much we need to do. First, we need to improve careers guidance and advice. That issue has been raised with me by students and employers, and it is part of the manifesto of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, of which I am a member. Secondly, the increase in apprenticeships during this Parliament to more than 2 million needs to be maintained. I welcome the pledge to increase the number of apprenticeships to 3 million, but we need to work continuously to improve their quality. Thirdly, we have to continue to increase investment in infrastructure. Fourthly, we need to improve productivity. As hon. Members have mentioned, we still lag well behind our competitors. There is no simple solution: better training, more spending on research and development and greater investment in plant and equipment will all help, but education about work and working effectively at school are also essential. Finally, we need to maintain the drive to improve exports. UK Export Finance has been expanded, and the UK’s diplomatic network has been put at the service of exporters, but we need to do far more if we are to reach our target of £1 trillion of exports by 2020.

In conclusion, I want to address the opportunities in the heath sector. In Stafford, we are very aware of the importance of our national health service. We have been through extremely difficult times, but we have worked together as a community to ensure that we retain an excellent district general hospital with an accident and emergency department, when some people told us that it would be closed or privatised, or would become a cottage hospital. We are still campaigning for a return to 24/7 A and E with paediatrics and consultant-led maternity, and we will continue to fight. At the same time, however, I welcome the investment being made in refurbished wards, operating theatres, the expanded A and E department, chemotherapy and dialysis. In Stafford, we are building the district general hospital of the future, with an emphasis on acute care for the frail and elderly, alongside first-class general services for children and adults. I am determined to work with everybody to make that dream a reality.

7.59 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The thematic focus on jobs in this debate helps us to get to the heart of why last week’s Budget was a huge missed

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opportunity. The Government had a chance to move away from a cuts agenda that has stifled recovery, but they failed to take it. Instead, Scotland alone is looking at a further £12 billion of cuts over the next four years, which will hamper our economic recovery, damage our public services and harm our poorest communities and families.

Everyone welcomes the fact that finally the economy is recovering and unemployment is falling, but it has been a painfully slow process. It is the slowest recovery from recession in history. The OBR does not expect real wages to return to 2008 levels until the second quarter of 2016. On the most recent figures, the UK’s GDP per capita is still 1.8% below pre-recession levels and the current account deficit—a measure of our trade and income flows with the rest of the world—is worse than at any point in the UK’s history.

In 2010, the Chancellor said that the UK would run a surplus of £5 billion in the current structural budget this financial year. Instead, he now expects a structural current deficit of over £45 billion. In the six years to March 2016, the Chancellor’s borrowing target from 2010 is set to be missed by £150 billion. The austerity programme simply has not worked in the way he led us to expect.

If austerity has failed in economic terms, it has been a disaster for people, especially people on the lower half of the income spectrum. When we look at the cumulative winners and losers from the changes to the tax and benefits system over the past five years, we see that those who are trying to raise children have taken some of the heaviest hits to their incomes and living standards. The distributional analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrates that in every income group households with children have lost relative to those without children.

Given the rapid growth of child poverty levels, we should be particularly concerned about those in the lowest-income households. The Child Poverty Action Group points out that almost two thirds of the children who are growing up in poverty in the UK today have at least one parent in work. I have said before in the House that in-work poverty is one of the greatest challenges we face. The Budget offers little that will help those families. Indeed, measures such as the increase in the personal allowance tend to benefit higher-paid workers and higher-rate taxpayers far more than those in low-paid work. That is symptomatic of the wrong priorities that we have seen from this Government. On the Government’s own figures, the poorest 20% of households will be worse off by an equivalent of £466 a year. I am fortunate to represent a constituency in Aberdeenshire where unemployment is extremely low, yet in parts of Banff and Buchan, one in four children is growing up in poverty.

Mr MacNeil: Does my hon. Friend agree that the increase in VAT, which was proposed by the Liberals and the Tories, certainly did not help poor people, and that it is unforgiveable that Labour abstained on that vote?

Dr Whiteford: I agree with my hon. Friend that regressive taxation has played an important part in driving up child poverty. The pernicious combination of low pay and cuts to tax credits and child benefit has been the main driver of child poverty in our communities and of the increased pressure on parents to comply with

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the sometimes quite unreasonable and disproportionate conditionality in the system.

Child poverty has long-term consequences for the health, education and life chances of those who experience it. That is why it is short-sighted of the Government to short-change families and inflict yet more financial pain on those who are already carrying the can for the financial collapse.

I do not want to leave the topic of jobs without acknowledging the significance of the Budget announcements on the North sea fiscal regime. Many of the better-paid jobs in my constituency are in the energy sector. However, it is not just those who work directly in the oil and gas sector and its supply chain who depend on the industry, but myriad large and small local businesses, including retailers, hoteliers and service providers. The Government’s U-turn on the fiscal regime in the North sea, at long last, is very welcome, but it could have been done months ago when problems started appearing on the horizon—some of them predating the fall in oil prices. It has taken the Chancellor four years to reverse the tax increases he has imposed on the sector since 2011.

Will the Chief Secretary, who is back in his place, now accept that his supplementary charge was a mistake that has had a detrimental impact on our offshore energy sector and on the people who work in the industry, onshore and offshore? Will the Government provide assurances that their poor stewardship of our oil and gas resources will give way to a period of fiscal stability for the sector? Over the past five years, the one consistent chorus that I have heard from every part of the industry has been, “Stop shifting the goalposts on tax.” While we are still seeing announcements of job losses in the north-east, it is more important than ever that the industry can plan ahead with confidence.

There has been a cosy consensus around austerity that implies that it is inevitable, necessary and unavoidable, but there is nothing inevitable about it. The Chancellor had headroom in the Budget to make small increases in public spending, while still bringing down the deficit and debt. Such small increases would help to protect our public services and our social fabric, which has never looked so worn and fragile. Professor Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford university argues that the Government’s austerity programme may have cost the UK economic growth equivalent to 5% of GDP. No doubt economists will argue the toss on the detail, but the huge loss of potential tax revenues that that represents helps to explain why the OBR’s 2010 forecasts on public borrowing have been £150 billion out over the past six years.

An alternative approach to deficit reduction could benefit the economy and expand the tax base, bringing real and sustainable economic growth. The benefits of that are simply not reflected in the Treasury’s modelling. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has set out an alternative to the austerity agenda to support jobs and public services. I hope that in a few weeks’ time, an enhanced group of MPs will sit on these Benches and make that case. We will be a strong voice not just for the people of Scotland, but for everyone in the UK who wants a progressive alternative to this failed austerity project and this failed coalition Government.

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8.5 pm

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Today’s debate focuses on work and pensions—the two issues that are at the heart of this Government’s mission to ensure that everyone is better off working and everyone is better off saving. Neither of those things was remotely true in 2010 and both are much closer to being true today. It is vital that Britain allows this Government to finish the job of making both those crucial philosophies true.

The first part is about ensuring that universal credit is rolled out and implemented effectively everywhere. That means that, finally, the tax credits that have prevented so many people from working for longer than 15 hours will no longer prevent people from doing so and that many of my constituents will have the chance to benefit from having full-time jobs.

At the same time, we need to get the spirit of the triple lock, which has brought security so effectively to those on the basic state pension by giving everyone £950 more than they were getting in 2010, into the world of annuities, which have been liberated, so that those who need and want them can have them, but those who do not want them do not have them. The small income that many of my constituents generate from their savings should not be taxed, so that there is an incentive to save. The means-tested pension prevented many people from saving, because they could see that their neighbour was better off not saving. We must not allow that world to continue.

That is our mission. It is what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) called free market economics with a social conscience. In my words, it is getting the economy right in order to improve lives. That is the mission that this Government have been on for the past five years and it must continue.

How does it feel on the ground in my Gloucester constituency? Youth unemployment went up by 40% under the previous Government and it has gone down by almost 60% under this Government, from 760 to 345. There were too many families with two generations, if not three, in which no one was working, meaning that there was no role model. Some 2 million children across the country were growing up in those households.

Today, we have 5,900 new apprenticeships in Gloucester, which is more than double the pace under the previous Government. That is not about statistics, but about opportunities for individuals. People who come from backgrounds that meant that they never imagined they would be able to get a job and that they faced a future on benefits are getting the skills that they need for a lifetime of opportunities. In terms of social justice, there is no better individual story than that of Beauty—a Nigerian woman who was trafficked to this country and who, with help from a number of us, was given the chance to stay in this country and is now training to be a nurse in a hospital in Gloucestershire. That is the mission.

Interestingly, only today, I read the best indicator I have come across of business confidence in the south-west of England. It stated:

“Turnover and profit growth are expected to remain steady”.

It said that there were good prospects for jobs. However, there was a but: the prospect of a new Government makes many business leaders nervous about their long-term prospects. It is no surprise that businesses are nervous.

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They should be, and so should parents because the shadow Business Secretary announced recently that the Labour party would axe the level 2 national vocational qualification from being considered an apprenticeship. That would be a disastrous blow for the many people who leave school at 16 or 17, start with a level 2 and go on to improve the level of their apprenticeship.

We need a Government who are fiscally responsible—as the Budget was—and who produce specific instances of improving the lives of our constituents. I was delighted with the encouragement for tidal lagoon power and its first historic opportunity to develop marine energy from Swansea bay. The company is headquartered in Gloucester and is a £1 billion project. Opportunities in the future with three or four further tidal lagoons will offer thousands of jobs in south Wales and around Gloucestershire. There was also encouragement for my plan for the redevelopment of Gloucester railway station. That was confirmed by the announcement this morning by the Department for Transport that we will be getting a new station car park with up to 240 new places and a new entrance to our station on Great Western road, linking our hospital and the station directly for the first time. That will come in 2016.

I also welcome the announcement by the Chancellor—we await the full details—that the campaign that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) have been running for justice for police widows has been accepted by the Government. That is a good example of where a stronger economy allows for social justice and for the Government to make decisions that improve the lives of those who, through no fault of their own, were victims of an historical injustice.

Some things remain to be done, and we await the details of the retirement guidance on savings. That is critical and we must work to ensure that it is good. We must continue with auto-enrolment and to reverse the decline of those with pensions and savings. We might consider a new ISA for care. I say yes to 3 million apprenticeships—deeper, broader and perhaps more for the over 50s. The hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) said there have been five wasted years, but they were not wasted. We must now build on those years to ensure that we go forward with an even better, stronger economy, helping those who have less.

8.11 pm

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): It my solemn duty to inform the House that outside this Chamber the Prime Minister has informed the BBC that he will not seek a third term as Prime Minister. I think this is a constitutional first. It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister who has yet to win a general election—let alone contest a second one—has ruled out serving a third term as Prime Minister. We are all grateful, Mr Speaker.

As the MP who represents England’s most remote and least accessible constituency from Westminster, I was disappointed but not surprised by the Budget. The job of any Government, particularly in the wake of the Scottish referendum, must now be to facilitate the ambitions of the English regions. A new constitutional settlement for Scotland also compels a new constitutional settlement for the other nations of the United Kingdom. Difficult? Yes, but inescapable, and the Budget ducked that challenge.

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As a starting point, I will again look to Scotland. During the recent debate surrounding the future of the UK, Scottish nationalists sought deliberately to conflate the entire concept of England with Toryism. That is and was a knowingly false claim. The insinuation beneath the lie was that the English are content with London’s dominance of the national economy and with how Westminster functions, but nothing could be further from the truth. In cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds, dissatisfaction with how London runs the show and how Westminster functions is about to erupt. People are dissatisfied all over the country, so I will talk about regional growth policy for England.

Regional devolution is a necessity, but it is only the beginning of what England requires. Beyond our great cities, the nation building that England needs will be much more difficult, and the Government must begin to concentrate their efforts in the peripheral areas outside our major conurbations. England is beset by a toxic disconnection between the governed and the governors, and that problem is central to the proposition of regional economic growth in our country. Nowhere is that disconnection more keenly felt than in that forgotten England, largely ignored by the political mainstream and the national media—those places people have heard of but have never been to. In our rugby league towns and our lower-league football cities, a crisis is taking grip that the Budget did nothing to address. Right now, England’s peripheral economies are experiencing a collapse in their reserves of “social capital”.

Social capital can be defined as those people with “talent”: literate, numerate, ambitious, financially adept and engaged with civic society. Successful regional economies are built on that class, which oxygenates local economies and acts as the arteries of local and regional civic life, including in health care, local government and commerce. In short, the Government’s task in those areas should be to create nothing short of a vibrant, thriving, mercantile class. Whatever public investments those areas might receive, without the software of social capital, new hardware will be largely pointless. We have seen that in a blunt and unsophisticated way through our foreign policy efforts in “nation building”. It is now time for nation building in England.

In many places, driven by austerity, the community fabric is being destroyed and the pillars of local society and community are disappearing. Therefore, when the Chancellor presents a Budget in which the takeaway message is that “the worst is yet to come”, those areas understandably wince. Such communities are used to dealing with the consequences of factory closures, but a new challenge is on the horizon. What happens to these communities when the Government pull out? It is a vital question and it is left unanswered by the Budget. At the centre of attempts to drive regional economic growth is the essential question about the role of the state. What size should it be? Should it command more or less resource? Should those resources be spread more thinly, performing more functions, or should they be concentrated by performing less? Away from that debate, austerity is not just crucifying the public and private sectors in these peripheral areas; it is also causing the social capital to flee. Life outside the premier league is tough, as figures released today by the Industrial Communities Alliance demonstrate perfectly.

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For my constituents, the Budget provided precious little in the way of encouragement for our ambitions—those ambitions are likely to be achieved despite, not because of, anything the Government are likely to do. After 10 years of work, Copeland and west Cumbria—Britain’s energy coast—is on the verge of a transformative era that will see billions of pounds of investment, tens of thousands of new jobs, and the emergence of our area as a world leader in high-skilled engineering, manufacturing and research and development.

We are about to witness investment on an Olympic scale, and the Government should have used the Budget to ensure that we have the tools we need to deliver on our ambitions after five years of savage cuts to our area, but that has not happened. We needed more investment in developing skills for local people and our young people, to ensure that we can truly benefit from the work we have put into developing Britain’s energy coast after the last 10 years. In west Cumbria our local secondary schools require significant investment after the Government withdrew the Building Schools for the Future money—almost £70 million—allocated by the previous Government. Along with local head teachers, businesses and Cumbria county council, I am developing a plan for secondary school investment in my constituency, but the Government must contribute to that. Their record so far has been shameful, and if they cannot or will not fund new secondary schools, they should at least help to enable and expedite such schemes.

I would have liked the Chancellor to support my call for improvements to the A595, and for more to have gone into our health service. I would have liked the money that was taken from hospitals in Millom, Maryport, Keswick and elsewhere immediately after the last general election to be addressed, but it was not. It is a matter of record and frankly weird that the Chancellor spoke about the battle of Agincourt more than he mentioned the NHS in his Budget statement, and he could have done a lot more to ensure that local government was given the type of settlement it needs.

William Cobbett, the radical Tory, left a chequered legacy that was in part contemptible. He also wrote “Rural Rides”, which was published in 1830 after touring England on horseback to discover for himself the condition of England. He famously wrote:

“I defy you to agitate a man on a full stomach”.

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister should saddle up, get around England and see for themselves in the 21st century the agitation in the country at large.

8.17 pm

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) who is such an advocate for the north and particularly his area.

When I made my maiden speech in June 2010, I paid tribute to former colleagues working in the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission at Longbenton, and said to Members that we as fellow public servants should do all we can to protect our colleagues across the public sector from harsh Government cuts. My words obviously fell on deaf ears as far as the Government are concerned, because since then they

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have constantly attacked our public services in an attempt to balance the books. Under the coalition we have seen the erosion of pay and conditions for teachers, the police and firefighters, despite campaigns to demonstrate clearly that those workers have a case. To add insult to injury, the 1% pay rise announced by the Chancellor last year did not apply across the board, with some workers—particularly nurses—scandalously missing out on that below-inflation increase.

This year in the Chancellor’s Budget, civil servants will lose any remaining contractual pay progression. Moreover, the announcement of a further £30 billion of cuts to come will not only be an attack on the most vulnerable in society, who have no choice but to rely on the welfare system, but will mean public servants facing the threat of further job losses, further cuts to their pay and conditions and, for those who keep their jobs, more pressure in the workplace.

The Public and Commercial Services Union points out that in the past few years public sector workers have suffered a loss in real wages of up to 20% because of the pay freeze and pay cap, as well as higher pension contributions. Many workers in the civil service are on low pay. Ironically, the very workers who will be administering universal credit will be eligible to receive it themselves.

The Government have made big play of the fact that they want to tackle tax evasion and avoidance. However, with proposals afoot to reduce the number of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff by 10,000, the Chancellor will be hard pressed to collect the £5 billion target he has set, which falls far short of the tens of billions actually lost to the Treasury every year. HMRC is stretched to the limit and the team responsible for the enforcement of the minimum wage has fewer than 200 staff across the country. In fact, HMRC needs 100 more compliance officers to ensure that workers can get what they are due. How can the Chancellor claim that living standards are on the rise when the vast majority of ordinary people working for Government Departments across the land have seen their living standards and job security fall year on year under this coalition? Poor growth and poor pay will do nothing to boost our economy. It is no wonder the Chancellor has not been able to clear the deficit as he promised he would do by this year.

I would like to raise another important employment issue. I listened attentively to what the Chancellor had to say about helping the oil and gas industry. His words were good news for the industry, which has been hit so hard by the fall in oil and gas prices. That is all fine, but, while the measures will help operating oil and gas companies, there is nothing to ensure that in return for concessions there will be an expectation that UK fabricators will be given the opportunity to tender for related contracts. In the past five years, the majority of North sea fabrication contracts have gone overseas. The Government could do a lot more for the fabrication industry without breaching either EU or World Trade Organisation regulations. Companies such as OGN in North Tyneside have a track record of supporting thousands of jobs when they win these contracts, instead of companies from other countries which benefit directly at the expense of the British taxpayer.

In conclusion, people in North Tyneside, whether they work in the public sector or the private sector, have

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little hope for a better future with this Budget. The Tory Chancellor has let the people of North Tyneside down yet again.

8.22 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): The Chancellor did not deliver a Budget last week; he delivered a party political broadcast on behalf of the Tory party. The macro-economic state of our country, which is the real purpose of a Budget statement, was almost entirely absent. His speech had two purposes: first, to give the impression that the worst of austerity was now over and that the sunny uplands now beckon if only we vote Tory at the election; and, secondly, to shoot as many Labour foxes as he could squeeze into an hour on his feet. I want to show that he failed on both counts.

The Chancellor claimed that factors such as lower inflation enabled him to ease up on austerity by pulling back his target of a £23 billion surplus after the elimination of the structural deficit to a mere £7 billion. The fact is, however, that the pathway by which he might meet even this more modest target of a £7 billion cutback is, frankly, pure cloud cuckoo land. The rate at which the deficit has been cut by this Chancellor has averaged so far about £7 billion a year. The deficit still stands at £90 billion. Yet according to page 23 of the Treasury Red Book, the deficit will supposedly go down by £15 billion next year, then by a whopping £36 billion the year after that, then by £27 billion and then by £18 billion in 2018-19. These are, frankly, confetti figures. They have been manufactured and thrown about simply to produce a political feel-good factor that somehow austerity is easing off. This is the most enormous con being perpetrated on the British people. Either those figures are wildly wrong and will never remotely happen, or, if the Chancellor does choose to push them through, they will mean cuts in benefits and departmental expenditure on a scale of up to three to four times anything that has previously been experienced. I suggest that the nation will never stand for that. If he does press them, I think there will be an explosion on the streets.

The Chancellor also failed to shoot Labour’s fox that he is still determined to take the British state back to the 1930s. That was the cat he let out of the bag in his autumn statement three months ago. Page 75 of the Office for Budget Responsibility report on the Budget gives the lie to any idea that he has backtracked when it states that Government expenditure under the Chancellor’s latest twiddling of the figures

“would be the joint lowest level in consistent National Accounts going back to 1948”.

The truth is that almost all the vainglorious boasts the Chancellor made are either seriously misleading or not supported by the evidence. He claimed that the deficit was being cut this year, when in fact that is only due to the exceptional delaying of tax payments until the end of the fiscal year by the super-rich to take advantage of the reduction in the top income tax rate to 45%. Without that, which of course will not be repeated, the deficit would have risen this year, and on present policies, it will rise in future years.

The Chancellor promised the biggest increase in real spending for a decade in 2019-20. As others have said, however, that is only because of the rollercoaster boom and bust after massive cuts in 2016-18, which any

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Whitehall mandarin will tell the Chancellor is a crazy, not to say utterly irresponsible, way to manage public services. He claimed that national debt will begin to fall in 2019-20, but that is only because he is planning to pocket the £20 billion windfall from selling off the proceeds of bank privatisation, not because there has been any change in the fundamentals of debt inflation.

The Chancellor complimented himself on a nationwide recovery. The truth is that London and the south-east continue to pull away from the rest of the country. Manufacturing and construction still badly lag behind the financial sector. He claimed that Britain stood tall and was now beginning to pay its way in the world. The truth is exactly the opposite: the OBR is predicting that in 2014 Britain had its biggest current account deficit since 1845. I repeat that: not 1945, but 1845—nearly 200 years ago.

The Chancellor claimed that with rising real wages, albeit by a fraction and only because of the collapse in oil prices, prosperity was now returning to British households. The truth is that real wages are still nearly 8% below their pre-crash level, while at the top inequality marches on relentlessly. The ratio between the average FTSE chief executive’s remuneration and median pay in those companies is now on average more than 140:1. The Sunday Times rich list shows that the richest 1,000 people in the UK have actually doubled their wealth in the past five years, from a staggering £250 billion to an almost unimaginable £500 billion. I think the conclusion from all this is unavoidable: the real problems of the economy have not been addressed, we are investing far too little, productivity has collapsed and the UK continues to run up debts at an unsustainable rate.

8.28 pm

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): The Government parties are trying to brainwash us into thinking they have an economic plan, when in actual fact it is an economic puzzle, given some of the measures announced.

The Government have to be challenged over their allegation that the Labour Government created the economic situation in 2010. I think the Conservatives have forgotten that in opposition they said they would match our Budget pound for pound—in fact, they said we were not spending enough. That does not suggest any economic foresight on the part of the Chancellor when he was shadow Chancellor. Moreover, the previous Governor of the Bank of England, who was an adviser to the then Chancellor and Prime Minister, said it was not the Labour Government’s fault. It actually started in America with Fannie Mae and Lehman Brothers—the bankers—and the housing crash. In other words, the Government have become apologists for the bankers, rather than holding them to account for what they did to this country and the international community in 2008.

We should also remind the Government that we kept interest rates down to help young people, in particular, deal with negative equity. We introduced the quantitative easing that the Government are still carrying out today and persuaded George Bush—funnily enough, a Conservative American President—to pump more than $200 billion into the American economy, and when Obama came in a month later, he saved the motor car industry, which helped this country. If we had not

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bailed out the banks, some Ministers would be losing not just their houses but their pensions. We bailed out the banks partly because we knew that otherwise the ordinary person—the pensioner, the saver, the young person saving for a mortgage—would have gone under, but it also helped to rejuvenate industry.

As far as we know, the Chancellor needs to make another £30 billion of cuts, but we do not know if that means more cuts to the police. We know there will be benefits cuts, but we do not know where they will come from, and defence cuts, but we do not know whether there will be further cuts to the NHS. I am not scaremongering. Unless the Government tell us exactly where the cuts will be, it will be open to speculation. They have emasculated local government financially—is local government facing further cuts? Is that part of the plan? In Coventry, at least 1,000 jobs will go over the next three years, and the city council has to find £75 million in cuts, which will affect basic services. Today I attended a school where children were trying to save their local library. The council has granted a reprieve, but there is another area where the council might find itself in difficulty—care in the community. There has been bed blocking at the university hospital in Coventry because we do not have enough social workers to discharge people back into their own homes. Labour will certainly put that right.

People in the public sector have not been appreciated and have had their wage increases held at 1% for the last three or four years. The Government can say what they like about wages rising by about 2%, but purchasing power has dropped by 6%. They say we are back to 2010 wage levels—well, that is one heck of a cut over the past four or five years. We have also had cuts to the legal aid budget, meaning that people cannot get social justice. We have 1.6 million people on low-wage zero-hours contracts, yet the Government have the effrontery to hand back £6 billion in tax cuts to their friends. The Chancellor proposes to cut £12 billion by reducing welfare spending and £13 billion by reducing departmental spending. Where is this coming from? Only £2 billion of cuts have been announced, so where might these cuts come from? I have already indicated some areas where they might fall.

The NHS is due to have increased funding in line with Simon Stevens’s proposals, which the Government are supposed to be in favour of. Similarly, the education budget is supposed to be protected, as is overseas development assistance. As I just mentioned, the Government have promised £6 billion in personal tax cuts, without bothering to inform us how they will be costed. We should also consider the NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, which the Prime Minister recently advocated. If they do not achieve this, will we see more cuts and job losses in the defence industry? The Government have also promised to ring fence universal benefits and the state pension triple lock. So it comes down to this: where do they plan to make the cuts and why will they not open up and tell us?

8.34 pm

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). Last week, the

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Chancellor proved to us all just how out of touch and deluded he and his Government are. Apparently, people in my South Shields constituency have better living standards than they did in 2010, despite weekly pay across the north-east being the lowest in the country and dropping again just last week, prices continuing to rise, public sector jobs being shed at the rate of over 1,000 a month since 2010 and having 28,000 people in the north-east stuck on exploitative zero-hours contracts.

At the same time as the Chancellor was making his statement, one of my local food banks moved to larger premises to cope with the increase in the working poor they feed. That is hardly a record that any Chancellor should be proud of. When he boasts about full-time employment, what he fails to mention is that this includes those who are self-employed. The reality for many of the self-employed I have spoken to is that they are low paid: some do not even take a wage themselves and many do not work full time. It is worth noting the correlation between high levels of self-employment, low pay and poverty. We need look only at other EU countries where self-employment is high—Greece, Spain and Portugal, which are countries where working people are struggling.

On hearing the Chancellor’s speech, people in Shields will have concluded either that he does not know their pain or that he does not want to know. I bet he does know that many of the people taken out of the unemployment figures in Shields have not found employment at all, but have been unfairly sanctioned or ushered into meaningless training courses just so they do not show up in the stats. If so, the Chancellor is painting a picture he knows does not match up with what is really happening in our country—a picture that my constituents are far too smart to fall for: they will see right through it.

It was not only on living standards that the Chancellor’s hype did not match the reality. What about his so-called northern powerhouse? We were told to expect big announcements, but in our part of the north, there were next to no announcements at all. He mentioned the north-east once in his speech and for every five projects announced in London and the south-east, he announced one for the north-east.

Looking more closely at the Chancellor’s plans for our region, it appears that they are totally vacuous and simply an afterthought. The northern transport strategy document re-announced a number of projects, some of which are still not under way. There was no announcement on business rates. Talks about reopening a ferry route to Norway were “welcomed”, but without a commitment that the Government would do anything to make any of these things happen.

I have been a Member of this House for just under two years. Prior to that, I lived and worked under this Government, and I am telling the House now that things were tough—at times, really tough. Life beyond this place has got tougher for the people of this country. I wanted to be here to give a voice to the people in my constituency who have suffered under this Government, and to fight for a Labour Government because Labour has a different way—a fairer and more balanced way.

We know from the Office for Budget Responsibility that another five years of this Government will bring a level of pain that will be nothing like the pain people have already seen. People have a choice. They can opt for cuts to the vulnerable on a faster and crueller pace,

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deep and damaging cuts to our police, defence and social care budgets and total decimation of our NHS coupled with VAT rises, or they can choose Labour’s plans to make work pay and bring the deficit down in a more responsible way, while protecting vital services like our NHS.

I conclude with the observation that the sun is certainly not shining yet, but come May, it will be—when we have a Labour Government.

8.39 pm

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): I place on record my indirect interests in the register entry for my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford).

The Chancellor had a throwaway line in the Red Book referring to a review he plans to undertake if he is re-elected and in government about whether the airport in Plymouth is needed and should be reopened. Let me point him in the first instance to the report produced for Viable, the group that has tenaciously kept the issue on the boil, and the report of some 146 pages produced for the city council at the end of 2014. I ask him to use those as a starting point rather than to delay the process by seeking a brand-new report covering the same ground.

In its Plymouth Plan, the city council has already made clear its intention of protecting the airport site. We also know that at last, as part of its bargaining tool to persuade the Government to back its expansion plans, Heathrow is considering offering slots or cash to smaller regional airports, and it will be interesting to see whether Gatwick follows suit. Governments of all complexions have missed a trick in relation to regional growth by not consistently supporting airports such as Plymouth. Plymouth should be receiving the sort of help that Dundee has received, which I think could be provided by the Government or one of the London bids.

The inclusion of Plymouth’s enterprise zone bid says a great deal about the quality of the offer, and I congratulate the Labour city council on making such a strong case, alongside the local enterprise partnership and businesses. Chancellors do not throw money away so close to a general election if they do not believe that doing so will bring about a positive outcome. Plymouth, under Labour, delivers.

One of the Government’s biggest failures has been their inability to keep the level of housing benefit down. Over the past five years, they have spent about £1.8 billion more than they planned to spend on housing benefit for people in work because they have depended on it to meet the cost of the otherwise higher rents that they have imposed through “affordable rents” or the private sector. That has happened notwithstanding the earlier mantra from, in particular, the then Housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who made a number of rash promises virtually all of which, unsurprisingly, proved to be inaccurate or undeliverable. Since the election of this Government, the number of working people who are forced to claim housing benefit to pay their rents has risen by more than 50%, and the Budget does nothing for them.

The Budget is very light on anything specific to the delivery of much-needed social rented housing. There is the offer of an individual savings account for first-time buyers, but that will not solve the main problem, which

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is the fact that we are not building enough homes. I find the Secretary of State’s bare-faced cheek extraordinary, given that his Government have delivered the lowest level of house building since the 1920s. During the run-up to the great crash, Labour were delivering 200,000 homes a year. This Government’s record of building new and affordable social rented housing is abysmal, and enormous pressure has been imposed on the private rented sector, pushing up rents.

The Government cannot duck the evidence. The UK Housing Review and the live tables of the Department for Communities and Local Government give clear figures for social rented housing starts and completions. The Chief Secretary may wish to listen, because he got the figures wrong in the Chamber the other day. In 2009-10, there were 39,492 starts and 30,939 completions. In 2013-14, the last full year, there were a meagre 3,961 starts and 7,759 completions. That is a massive drop in the number of homes available for social rent. It is also a further indication that the rise in rents that has resulted from people being given no option but to rent in the private sector, and the increasing number of so-called affordable rents, have contributed to the inexorable rise of the housing benefit bill.

The Budget contains no measures to boost social housing numbers. Indeed, the Conservatives are now talking about introducing a right to buy for housing association residents, which would reduce the stock further and leave people with low incomes facing the pressures of the private rented sector with little hope of finding homes that they could afford without recourse to housing benefit. Successive housing Ministers have promised that their enhanced right-to-buy scheme, offering up to £77,000 per unit, would lead to a one-for-one replacement, but that scheme has failed dismally. Analysis shows that only one home has been built for every 21 that have been sold. That is not solving the problem.

The Government are pushing more and more housing associations to become developers, building homes for market sale rather than to meet social need. They will not be able to cross-subsidise from the market sales sufficiently to cover the loss of units from a potential right-to-buy option. That idea, floated by the Prime Minister, is yet another reason why people should vote Labour at the election. The hopes of home ownership aspirants can already be fulfilled through existing shared ownership schemes and other low-cost home ownership initiatives.

There has been a dramatic and deliberate reduction in the amount of social housing, and a further right to buy would have a devastating effect. The slashing of the social housing grant has already led to a reduction in the number of units that it has been possible to build. David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, has said that this is

“not a budget to end the housing crisis.”

He did not mince his words, and he was right. Sadly, it is not a Budget that matches the reality of most people’s lives, and it will not help them to deal with the pressures that they face.

8.44 pm

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): Like the Chancellor’s previous five Budgets, this one does nothing to recognise or address the problems faced by my constituents and

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many others across the country. It is a Budget that yet again demonstrates how out of touch this Government are.

The Chancellor talks of a national recovery and an economic plan that is working. However, the reality is that thousands of hard-working people in my constituency continue to experience low pay and in-work poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is right to say:

“There was little in today’s Budget to enable those on the lowest incomes to be part of an economic recovery.”

Indeed, about 18,000 of my constituents currently earn less than the living wage.

The Chancellor’s announcement of a 20p increase in the minimum wage will mean very little to my constituents. It is yet another example of a broken promise from a Chancellor who, over a year ago, promised to increase the minimum wage to £7 per hour. People in my constituency and across the country deserve better and it is clear that more needs to be done to help those on the lowest incomes. It was a Labour Government who introduced the minimum wage and it will be a Labour Government who go further and increase it to £8, because that is what people deserve.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s words. Will the Labour party raise it to £8 even if it should be higher than that?

Graeme Morrice: I think that is a possibility, and I am glad the hon. Gentleman acknowledges we will have a Labour Government on 7 May.

Throughout the past five years, people have come to my surgery to tell me that their benefits have stopped or that they are struggling to pay their bills, and what is clear is that, month after month, people are worse off under the Tories, as the prices of food, heating and travel rise faster than wages. Given the continued struggle faced by my constituents and many others over the last five years, it raises the question: who is this Budget for? The answer is that this is a Budget made by the rich for the rich.

The bedroom tax continues and so do zero-hours contracts, and retail energy bills do not reflect the fall in wholesale costs. There can be no getting away from the fact that working people are £1,600 a year worse off after five years of the Tories. Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies is right to say that

“the poorest have seen the biggest proportionate losses”.

The Budget offered nothing to help families with children, who have borne over 70% of the impact of this Tory Government’s changes to tax credits and benefits. The Chancellor said they “choose families” but it is clear from the Budget that they choose millionaires.

The Budget also offers nothing to help our young people. It speaks volumes that there was hardly any mention in the Chancellor’s Budget speech of any real commitment to help our young people and their prospects. Our young people are the key to the future success of our country, and our young people deserve the chance of a secure job with decent pay.

I know from speaking to young people in my constituency that many feel a sense of hopelessness about their situation. Indeed, nationally youth unemployment remains

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high, with 743,000 young people currently out of a job. In my constituency, youth unemployment remains above the national average, with 3.6% of young people in West Lothian unemployed. Even when our young people do get jobs, many of them are insecure zero-hours contract jobs. There was nothing in the Budget to address any of these problems, and that once again demonstrates how this Government have written off our young people.

Young people need a Government who will listen to their concerns and ensure they have a better future. They need a Labour Government who will introduce a jobs guarantee scheme for all young people out of work for a year and over 25-year-olds out of work for two years, and I have no doubt that this scheme will be of enormous benefit to all young people in my constituency.

My constituents cannot afford another five years of the Tories, but it is clear that there would be further pain to come if they were to form the next Government. Indeed, the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that there is to be

“a sharp acceleration in the pace of implied real cuts”.

We need a Labour Government to ensure that that does not happen. We need a Labour Government with a plan for working people and their families and for our young people. We need a Labour Government who will stand up for the whole of my constituency and for the whole of our country.

8.50 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): It is great to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), who has reminded me that when Labour introduced the minimum wage, it was fiercely opposed by the Conservatives, who said it would bring about the end of the universe as we knew it. Also, unless I am much mistaken, that was when we had our last all-night sitting in the House. We kept the debate going until 8 o’clock in the morning, with a full house on the Labour side all waving their Order Papers as we brought in the minimum wage. That was one of our proudest achievements, and one that we should never forget. We should never take any lectures from the Conservatives on that subject.

Today, I want to talk about the dog that did not bark—the thing that was not mentioned in the Budget. According to the latest news from Asda Mumdex, 70% of women think that it is the most important factor affecting their lives. It is called the NHS. I am not sure whether its omission from the Budget was the logical extension of the Government’s trying to take politics out of the NHS, which the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) tried to do with dubious success. However, to try to do that now would be to deny the fact that the NHS is deeply political because it is a service that is dependent on an annual decision on what percentage of the tax take we should spend on it.

I do not know whether the Conservatives want to take politics out of the NHS by moving to an insurance model, for example, but if they do, I would have to warn them about making comparisons with what is happening in the United States of America. The US spends 16.9% of its GDP on health but produces only 3.1 hospital beds per 1,000 of population, whereas we spend 9.3% of our GDP on health and produce three hospital beds per

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1,000 people. So ours is an extremely efficient system. My constituency has some of the best in NHS provision, as well as the second largest number of doctors and life sciences professionals in the country. If something cannot be done in Edgbaston, in the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, then it cannot be done.

I have set up an NHS tracker service for my constituents, and in the past month, 400 of them have come forward with responses which show that 17% said that either they or a member of their immediate family had been to accident and emergency in the previous month, of whom only 78% were seen in under four hours, with 16% waiting longer to be seen. Also, 67% of the respondents said that either they or a family member had seen a GP in the previous month, with 34% being seen on the same day and 24% being seen in one or two days. However, 11% had to wait more than a week to be seen, and 8% waited more than two weeks. This tells us that the service is being stretched to the limit.

We also know that the Government have tried to delay a number of decisions until after 7 May. For example, when Monitor tried to arrange the tariffs for specialised hospitals, the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust faced a potential deficit of £60 million because of the funding structure, but when a number of hospitals objected, all that happened was that Monitor delayed the decisions. We will now have to wait until the end of May or early June and hope that the problem will go away.

The problem will not go away, however, because the botched £3 billion reorganisation that the Tories and the Lib Dems saw through not only cost us a lot of money but created unnecessary structures. We now have about 440 new bodies and administrative layers. They have not improved patient care, but they have diluted accountability and made it even more difficult to find out who is actually in charge.

In addition, there has been an increased reliance on agency staff in our hospitals, and people have been made redundant only to be rehired. We have ended up with a Tory Government who are trying to make us believe that the NHS is fine and things are working, but even in the best areas, such as mine, things are about to be stretched beyond their limits. The dismantling of some of the state structures that has taken place over the past few years will become worse if there is another Tory Government. In three areas—local government, education and the health service—state structures have been dismantled in a way that makes some services simply undeliverable.

So what I want in my patch in the NHS is: a return of the 48-hour GP guarantee; a stop to the closures of the walk-in centres, because the ones we have are being used; and a better use of our pharmacists. Above all, I do not just want an extra 20,000 nurses and 8,000 extra doctors to be recruited—I want more of them to be trained. Although the Chancellor forgot to mention the NHS, it is still extremely important. However, it is currently not funded and structured in a way that is sustainable, and that is one of the most important omissions of this Budget.

8.56 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): Since this Government were elected five years ago, three mantras have been quoted by the Con Dems against the Labour

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party, and I want to debunk some of them. The first is the suggestion that, somehow, the global financial crisis was caused by the Labour party.


The second is that, somehow, that was because we had a light touch in our regulation of the banks. The third is that, somehow, our party is anti-business. Conservative Members started laughing when I mentioned the global crisis, but they perhaps need to be reminded that when Labour came to office in 1997 the national debt to GDP ratio was 43% but by 2002, five years later, it was down to 30% under Labour. So let us not have any lectures about our financial prudence.

The banking crisis occurred later—I expect more laughter—but Conservative Members should stop laughing because if the banking crisis was our fault, why were the USA, Japan and the entire world having the same problem? That is why it was called the global financial crisis. It was not the UK’s financial crisis; it was the global financial crisis, which we know started with the sub-prime mortgages in the USA, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the other things that happened. So it is wrong for the Government to have said what they have said for the past five years, and I hope that the British people, who know the truth, will reject them at the forthcoming election.

We keep hearing about our light-touch regulation, with people saying, “You took your eyes off the banks and you regulated them too lightly.” Yet this Chancellor and this Prime Minister were saying up until 2010 that the Labour party was far too stringent on the regulation; we were being accused of stifling business and of over-regulating the banks. So which way do Conservative Members want to play this: were we overly light or too strong? I would say that we regulated the banks properly. Again, the Government have collective amnesia and they need to be reminded.

The current national debt is £1.36 trillion, whereas when Labour left power in 2010 it was £0.76 trillion, about half what it is now. The national debt to GDP ratio is about 95% now, so we need take no lectures from Conservative Members about financial management and fiscal prudence. The reason there remains such a high debt, much bigger than when we left office, is that the Chancellor’s austerity measures meant he was not able to get the revenue receipts he needed to close the deficit.

Although jobs have been created, which we welcome, most are on zero-hours contracts, part-time jobs and poorly paid jobs. Many people still have to rely on working tax credits to make ends meet. It is worth remembering that, in 2007, the Labour Government borrowed £37.7 billion, but spent £28.3 billion on big projects, such as building hospitals and schools, which helped the economy. By contrast, when this Government borrowed £91.5 billion in 2013, they invested only £23.7 billion. The rest was used to bring down the budget deficit, so there has been no economic miracle.

Today’s debate is about jobs. We are told by Government Members that we are the party that is against business. Well, since 2010, it is Labour that has constantly urged the Government to fulfil the infrastructure projects that we pushed for and it took years for the legislation to be passed so that they could go ahead. We called for a reduction in VAT and in national insurance to help small businesses. We called on the Government to reduce business rates to enable start-ups and to allow local

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authorities to help small businesses. We have constantly argued that the banks were not lending enough money to small and medium-sized enterprises. We are the party that said we would build 200,000 new homes. We are the party that said that all 18 to 24 year olds who qualify would get apprenticeships, which is about 1 million young people. We are the party that said that it would create 20,000 more nurses training places and 8,000 more doctor and GP training contracts.

Adam Afriyie: The hon. Lady is saying that Labour is the party for all sorts of things, but was it not also the party that did nothing about zero-hours contracts when it was in power?

Yasmin Qureshi: When zero-hours contracts are properly used, which is rare, they are fine—I am talking about students who work part time—but we now have 1.5 million people on them.[Interruption.] I am sorry; I thought that the hon. Gentleman wanted to intervene again.

Adam Afriyie: I am happy to intervene.

Yasmin Qureshi: No, no. To say that we are a party that does not believe in business or enterprise is wrong. We are a party with a social conscience. Some years ago, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition talked about producers and predators, he was said to be anti-business; he was not. We are the party that believes in fairness. We are the party that believes that if a person does a day’s work, they should be properly remunerated. We are the party that spent many hours in the previous Parliament arguing for the minimum wage when everyone in the Conservative party was trying to argue against it. We have a record of which we should be proud.

9.3 pm

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Last week, we had the Budget announcement and the eclipse. One plunged the nation into darkness and the other one was a rare and important astronomical event. [Interruption.] I got one laugh, thank you.

The Chancellor claimed that Britain was walking tall again, giving the impression that our economy was booming, that well-paid jobs were being created, and that voters were better off now than they has in 2010. But are voters really better off, because that is not what they are telling me in Heywood and Middleton?

Many of my constituents work in the public sector where they have seen their pay frozen since 2010 or have been subjected to below-inflation pay rises. Some NHS workers have seen their pay fall by as much as 30% through the withdrawal of recruitment and retention premiums and reductions in out-of-hours pay on top of flatlining basic wages, not to mention additional pension contributions.

Ms Gisela Stuart: At the same time as people on regular employment contracts are undermined, our hospitals are spending extraordinary sums on agency payments, destabilising the labour market even more.

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Liz McInnes: My hon. Friend makes a good point about the amount of money NHS trusts are having to pay for agency workers. It is scandalous that NHS staff are being made redundant and the spaces created are having to be filled by agency workers. The problem is also caused by the stress that is now caused to NHS staff, as so many NHS staff are off sick with stress that yet again the gaps are having to be filled by agency workers.

To get back to Heywood and Middleton, none of my constituents is coming to see me to tell me how much better off they are now than they were in 2010—quite the opposite, in fact. As TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said,

“The Chancellor’s Britain, where happy people skip to their secure jobs to celebrate their rising living standards, is not one that many will recognise.”

Last week, the Prime Minister was falling over himself to tell me that the claimant count in Heywood and Middleton was down, in answer to a question I had not asked. The reality that he does not see is that constituents come to see me in dire financial straits because of benefits sanctions when their benefits are withdrawn for minor reasons, such as being a few minutes late for an interview. That leaves them penniless and forced to seek help from one of the biggest growth industries under this Government—food banks. Yes, the food banks do wonderful work and I for one am very grateful that so many people give freely of their time and energy to help those less fortunate than themselves, but I have yet to talk to a single volunteer at a food bank who does not express regret that such a thing should have to exist.

Cuts to taxes on savings do not mean much when there is no money to save. In my constituency, 40% of local workers are paid less than the living wage, with women workers particularly badly affected. Sadly, my constituency features in the top 10 worst areas of the UK for payment of the living wage. When I asked the Prime Minister about those figures he responded on the subject of the minimum wage, yet the minimum wage has risen by just 70p under this Government and is set to rise by 20p in October. Those meagre sums will go nowhere near far enough to meet the Government’s objective of ending in-work poverty.

Enforcement of the minimum wage is lacking in resources and the HMRC team responsible comprises fewer than 200 staff across the whole country. At least 100 more national minimum wage compliance officers are needed to ensure that workers get what they are due. Although workers have an alternative means of pursuing the minimum wage by applying to a tribunal, the imposition of fees for applications to employment tribunals mean that workers who might have taken that route will approach HMRC instead, generating yet more work for an already under-resourced work force.

Today, we have the evidence of five years of Tory-led austerity, with wages driven down, damaged public services and devastated lives. In the Budget, the Chancellor has reminded us that he is either incapable of or uninterested in building an economy that works for the good of all. Perhaps only the cuts to beer, cider and spirits will be of comfort to public sector workers, who might want to drown their sorrows at the prospect of even more cuts in their living standards to come.

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9.9 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I rise not to make any party political points on the Budget, with regard to parties formerly or currently in government, but to respond to a Budget statement that was full of smuggery and spin. It seems to me that the Chancellor was claiming circumstantial credit for things such as low commodity prices and low inflation and using that context to set out a Budget stall that was very much about making an election statement. However, I need to look at such a Budget and ask what the implications really are for the next spending period and for my constituency.

Beyond some of the measures that the Chancellor announced, not all of which I disagree with—indeed, some of them no one would disagree with—it is quite clear that he has locked in further heavy cuts for the next spending period, not least in welfare. I represent a constituency that is consistently ranked as having the highest level of unemployment anywhere in the UK, and the problem is genuinely lack of work, not lack of work ethic. It is also a border constituency. We must therefore judge the measures in the Budget and in what is promised for the next spending review, courtesy of the previous autumn statement, in terms of the implications for our economy and our services.

It is not the case that the Budget has little to do with the circumstances in a place such as Derry because all the key service decisions are devolved. Many of those decisions are rightly devolved, and I want to see more decisions made at that level, but of course the spending power of the devolved Executive is determined here, and of course the working circumstances for many of our businesses as well as our services are still determined by the Chancellor’s Budget statement.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) pointed out that the Chancellor said nothing in his statement about the health service. I agree with her, but actually he said very little about the public services at all, and in circumstances in which he was using a degree of spin and a few wheelie turns to try to say that austerity was coming to an end earlier and that an easing was in sight. Nothing was offered to the people in key public services who have endured pay restraint after pay restraint, even as their work loads have increased. As payrolls have decreased and work loads have increased, the pressures on them have gone up and the rewards have gone down. With the exception of what they can find in the changes in the personal tax allowance, absolutely nothing—not relief or respite—was offered to them. Instead, they are being offered more of the cuts that will affect the circumstances in which they are working very hard to provide those services.

It must be remembered that the private sector in Northern Ireland, and certainly in my border constituency, is very dependent on selling across the border, and in circumstances in which our trade is affected, so our retail sector and those selling services to households are losing out because, with the current exchange rate, trade is going across the border and people are purchasing across the border, rather than locally. For those who export, much of their business is in the south, and obviously the continuing pressures in the eurozone and the high exchange rate affect those markets. The Budget therefore contains no great news for our public

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sector, on which Northern Ireland is very dependent, and nothing to relieve the pressures faced by our private sector.

The Chancellor referred to the Government’s moves in relation to corporation tax for Northern Ireland and the Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill, which we welcome. We recognise that the Chancellor made it clear that he is committed, if he is returned to that position, to go on reducing the headline rate of corporation tax for the whole of the UK, so the differential that we will achieve for Northern Ireland will not be as marked as it was when people first sought the devolution of corporation tax. We also know that the Government are saying that the commencement of the devolution of corporation tax in 2017 will only be on the basis that the Treasury is satisfied at that point that Northern Ireland has a balanced and sustainable budget.

We see this year that the Government set out pre-conditions for the introduction of the corporation tax Bill, such as that the Assembly had to deliver welfare reform measures in terms that it might have preferred not to. The question arises whether the Executive and the Assembly will similarly be told in 2017 that what will then be the corporation tax powers Act will be activated only on the basis of decisions then made, such as the welfare cuts to be imposed at that time. We know that £12 billion of welfare cuts are foreseen in the next spending review period, so again we have to ask where that is going to leave the Executive in Northern Ireland and, more importantly, people in my constituency.

9.16 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who spoke with characteristic passion on behalf of his constituents in Foyle and more broadly in Northern Ireland.

In his speech last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that

“the north grew faster than the south”.—[Official Report, 18 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 767.]

However, when we scratch beneath the surface, the Chancellor’s headline figures do not match the reality on the ground. In the region where my constituency is situated, the north-west, it is true to say that in a single year, 2012-13, the north-west was the fastest growing region in the country, and that is welcome, but if we look at the first three years of this Government, 2010 to 2013, the overall figures for the north-west show that we have grown more slowly than any region other than Northern Ireland. So yes, there is welcome news in that one year, but taking the three years as a whole, the picture is not quite the one that the Chancellor set out.

I welcome the fact that unemployment is down. In my constituency in Liverpool, the memories of jobless economic recoveries of the past are very real, especially the impact of the Thatcherite policies of the 1980s. Unemployment can leave a scar on communities that may last for generations. As we all know, the evidence shows that once people are out of work, it can be very hard for them to get back into it. In my constituency many people are managing to find work. Over the past year the claimant count is down by 28%. Work is a good thing, but the quality of jobs is surely critical as well.

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Once again, the story is more complicated than that set out by the Chancellor last week or the Secretary of State earlier this afternoon.

Too many of the jobs in Liverpool are insecure, low paid jobs. The growth in agency work lies behind a large part of the fall in unemployment in my constituency. Recently, I met two local people, one of them a constituent, who worked at a factory in Liverpool. They had worked there for several years. However, they are paid and technically employed not by the company that runs the factory, but by one of the biggest agencies and suppliers of contract labour. They do the same work as regular staff, but are paid £2 an hour less, and the supply of hours is sporadic and uncertain. Their holiday and sick pay entitlements are far worse, and scandalously, one of them told me that when he suffered an injury at work, the medical centre at the factory turned him away because technically he was not an employee. Surely such working arrangements are unfair and wrong.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): However bad those contracts are, does my hon. Friend accept that the explosion of zero-hours contracts, which are even worse than agency contracts, has occurred under this Government because of the tightening of some regulations to try to stop the abuse of agency worker regulations?

Stephen Twigg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to make that point as we seek to understand the reasons for that and find solutions. I will come to that next.

I pay tribute to the employment, enterprise and skills select committee of Liverpool city council and its chair, Councillor Barry Kushner, for undertaking painstaking research that shows the extent of this problem. Their work has revealed that there are currently about 6,500 vacancies in Liverpool, over half of which are agency jobs. The council has identified the Swedish derogation as a major cause of the increase in exploitation. This derogation allows for agencies to employ staff directly and the eventual engager—the employer—to treat workers less fairly than their directly employed workers. Without the derogation, the system would still allow for the use of agency workers, which can still be of real use in various sectors, but the engager would be obliged to give the agency workers the same rates of pay as their permanent staff after a 12-week period in employment. The two local people I met who have been working for years at the same factory, but are paid less than the colleagues they are working alongside, feel like second-class citizens. Reforming this area would make a real difference for them. That is why I am delighted that my hon. Friend the shadow Business Secretary has promised that a Labour Government would end the Swedish derogation for agency regulations—a change that cannot come soon enough.

Other long-term changes need to be made. To tackle the structural problems of a low-pay, low-skilled job market, we need to ensure that entrants to that market have the appropriate skills. As a country, we have failed for far too long in this respect. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has talked about the “forgotten 50%”—the young people who do not get the opportunity

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to go to university. It is welcome that fewer young people are unemployed, but our youth unemployment rates are still significantly higher than those of countries such as Germany, Austria and Norway that have invested in high-quality technical, vocational and practical education that breaks down the barriers between different sorts of learning.

We need to strengthen devolution within England. That is why the Andrew Adonis review recommended an English devolution Act, a central plank of which would be to devolve powers and funding for skills, and commission 19-plus further education provision based on local decision making. On top of this, city and county authorities should have the power to commission the Work programme in order to get the long-term unemployed back to work. I pay tribute to Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, and to Liverpool city council for the extraordinary work they have done to promote apprenticeship and work opportunities for people of all ages, but particularly young people.

Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a speech of characteristic subtlety, which is why he is no longer on the Opposition Front Bench. He is making some good points about apprenticeships. Does he not regret that the Leader of the Opposition has pledged to end all level 2 apprenticeships across the country on a blanket determination, which will do more damage to people’s ability to learn good skills than any other policy that anyone is proposing in this House?

Stephen Twigg: That is not what the Leader of the Opposition has said. I worked on that policy. We want to ensure that apprenticeships are high quality, learning from the countries I mentioned that have a great track record in this area. Our policy is not the policy to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

I appear not to have received the extra minute for the intervention that I think I should have had, Mr Speaker. Should I have that extra minute?

Mr Speaker: Yes. I would not want the hon. Gentleman to be denied, and I think that in the interim the appropriate adjustment has been made. I am glad that he is alert to his rights.

Stephen Twigg: I am immensely grateful to you, Mr Speaker.

To get this right, we need to give priority to spending on education. That is why the commitment that the Labour party has made to protect the entire budget of the Department for Education, including early years and 16 to 19, is so important. That contrasts significantly with the Conservative policy, which does not protect early years and 16 to 19. Those are precisely the areas that have faced the biggest cuts over the past five years, and they would face even bigger cuts were the Conservatives to win again. Investment in education and fairness in the jobs market should be features of a Budget, but they were not features of this one.

9.24 pm

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): May I first take the opportunity to note the many valedictory speeches by right hon. and hon. Members who have

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chosen to step down at the forthcoming general election? They brought back many good memories of my time working with them.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) reminded us of the necessary steps he took after the global banking crisis, which, of course, the Conservative party wants to airbrush from our recent economic history. I am glad we managed to keep the cash machines working, but the recklessness of the banks left a dreadful legacy and deficit that has stayed with us to this day.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) spoke passionately. He has been a good friend to many Members on both sides of the House and he will be an enormous loss to Parliament. He is such an impressive individual and one of the great parliamentarians whose capability is incomparable.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) spoke passionately about her advocacy of getting young people involved in politics. Her achievements will be seen for many decades to come. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) also talked about their belief in public service and the need to invest in public services, and they told us that we should never forget the need to regulate the banking sector and make sure that the dreadful activities we have seen are never repeated. Those were fine valedictory remarks. I do not have time, in the final moments of several days of debate on the Budget, to congratulate and thank my many other colleagues who spoke passionately today.

This is the coalition’s last Budget. The final verdict is in. There are no more opportunities to pull rabbits out of the Government’s Budget boxes, whether they be red or yellow. For all the Chancellor’s complacency about walking tall and how we have never had it so good, the residual legacy of last Wednesday was confirmation that, if the Government parties get their way with their proposed public investment in vital public services, the rollercoaster will be pushed over a precipice.

The Chancellor tried every trick in the book to distract from the Government’s plan for extreme cuts, and he hoped that the public would not notice his record of failure on living standards and borrowing. Every target he has set has been missed and every promise broken.

In 2010, the Chancellor told us that the structural deficit would be eradicated in time for this Budget—it would all be gone—yet we are still borrowing £90 billion this year, which is only a 5% fall from last year’s deficit. Tax receipts should have been strong and tax credit costs significantly lower by now, but in the low-wage economy that this Chancellor has fostered—with an epidemic of job insecurity and zero-hours contracts up 20% in this past year alone—revenues have stagnated and the Government are spending £25 billion more on social security than the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Chancellor had expected. We were meant to have an export-led recovery, heading towards £1 trillion-worth of exports by 2020, but we have already fallen a little bit behind that target—about £300 billion behind it. Moreover, our triple A rating, which was once this Chancellor’s litmus test of economic credibility, was, of course, downgraded.

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It was not supposed to be like that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) has pointed out, and this is not where the Chief Secretary’s party wanted to be, either. The Budget spectacle over the past few days has been not of a responsible Government focused on the economy, but of an out-of-touch Chancellor in denial and focused on political survival and a Chief Secretary counting down the hours and living out his own fantasy, which even his own leader could not bear to sit through.

The reality is that we have had one and a half Budgets in two days from two parties that had nothing to offer the majority of people in this country. Those two parties are basing decisions on party political interests and their perceived electoral advantage, rather than on what is in Britain’s best interests. The Chancellor’s Budget was a Budget that could not be believed, and the Chief Secretary’s statement was just unbelievable—a Budget not for public services, not for working people, not for families and not for the NHS.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Chris Leslie: I will certainly give way to my hon. Friend.

Andrew Gwynne: Now that the dust has settled from Thursday’s Liberal Democrat statement, has my hon. Friend had the chance to scrutinise the document—published online, rather than available in the Vote Office—and if so, may I draw his attention to table 2.A on the scenario input assumptions? Did he notice, as I did, that the source for the assumptions was not authoritative bodies such as the ONS, the OBR or the IFS, but none other than the Chief Secretary to the Treasury?

Chris Leslie: I commend to Conservative Members, who should have a good read of it, this very authoritative document with very carefully crafted figures:

“Source: Chief Secretary to the Treasury”.

It was a classic. My hon. Friend knows that the real Budget was in the Red Book. Shall I pass it to him? Perhaps not.