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My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) made a powerful speech about tax credits and personal allowances in which she made two important points. First, the take-up for tax credits is very high—among families earning £10,000 or less, it is 97 per cent. Secondly, she pointed out to Liberal Democrat Members that action to target poverty through tax credits is far more powerful than action
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through personal allowances: if one spends £1 billion by increasing the threshold for the working families tax credit, on average it will provide a family with about £7 a week; if one spends £1 billion through the personal allowance, on average it will provide a family with just 68p a week.

Chris Huhne: What assumption is the Economic Secretary making about take-up?

Ed Balls: Those numbers are based on the take-up figures that I read out a moment ago.

The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) made an interesting speech—in a way, it was the most intellectually and politically honest speech of the evening. However, I did not agree with it at all, and if he studies the detail, he will find that the tax cuts that he called for in an impassioned way would lead to rising poverty among children rather than falling poverty—I am happy to go through the numbers with him.

As always, the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) made a long speech, and it rivalled the Budget response by the Leader of the Opposition in its perceptiveness.

The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) made an interesting speech for which I commend him. His discussion of carbon capture and storage was very interesting. When he said that he had been at a meeting of the Conservative human rights commission, I was surprised to find out that it exists and would have thought that listening to its proceedings would have been more interesting. However, his call for action on carbon capture and storage was interesting. In my experience, we should be able to make progress on both coal and gas, and I hope that that will be looked at carefully when the competition is run.

Finally, I listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Member for Fareham. [Hon. Members: “What about the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns)?”] I referred to the importance of passion as well as of expertise in my opening remarks, and in doing so I covered his speech. There is still one question that neither he nor his Front-Bench Treasury colleagues will answer: will they match our spending plans? The Budget announced that total expenditure, which is £552 billion this year, will rise by £34 billion to £587 billion in 2007. It will then rise by £29 billion in 2008 to £615 billion, by another £29 billion to £644 billion in the next year and then by an additional £29 billion to £674 billion in the following year. That is extra spending on schools, hospitals, law and order, defence and climate change. Will the Conservative party match our spending—yes or no? I am happy to take an intervention.

The problem is that if one is committed to abolishing stamp duty at a cost of £4 billion, making a 1p cut in corporation tax, refunding the North sea oil companies and introducing a transferable married couple’s allowance, one cannot match our public spending plans, which is revealed by the silence of Conservative Members. The reality is that the budget for schools, hospitals and law and order would be cut under Conservative plans.

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The Leader of the Opposition has made things very clear, and our careful balance between borrowing, tax and spending is quite different from his proceeds of growth rule. He has said that he will split growth between taxation and spending. In May last year, he told the “Today” programme:

He is absolutely right.

Peter Luff: Will the Economic Secretary give way?

Ed Balls: I will not, because I have only five minutes. The reality is that one cannot claim to support our goals of tackling child poverty and investing in public services and at the same time continue with the proceeds of growth rule.

Peter Luff: Will the Economic Secretary give way?

Ed Balls: I am not going to, because I want to turn to the environment. The whole House knows that the Conservative party, for all its rhetoric, stunts and opportunism, has consistently opposed the measures that the Government have taken to address climate change and to protect the environment. It has consistently voted against the climate change levy and opposed planning permission for wind turbines and renewable energy schemes. It also opposes, through its stridently anti-European stance, the efforts that we are making to reach agreement on the next stage of the European emissions trading scheme. To be fair to the Leader of the Opposition, he has now come forward with a policy.

Peter Luff: Will the Minister give way?

Ed Balls: I shall not. The policy is to demand that every family report to Ministers every time they take a flight on holiday and to impose VAT on airline flights. Before we get overexcited, I should point out that the details require further inspection.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Will the Minister give way?

Ed Balls: No, I shall not. The details require further inspection, not least for their cost and civil liberties consequences. As for the tax proposal, it would apply only to domestic flights, business would be able to claim back the VAT and, even by 2020, it would save in one year what we achieve in one week through the climate change levy. [Interruption.]

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: Why does the Minister not stop criticising the view of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—that is exactly what he is doing now?

Ed Balls: I am not doing that at all. As the Secretary of State has said, we have worked very closely together on the full range of these tax policies. He made it clear in his speech that he has the same sceptical view of the tax on airlines as I do. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Chamber is getting very noisy, and I am finding it difficult to hear what the Minister is saying. I must be allowed to hear what he is saying.

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Ed Balls: The Conservative policy is a gesture and a signal, but what signal does it send? Ordinary families will be taxed more for their domestic trips, whereas business travellers will be able to claim back the money and foreign holidays will be exempt.

The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) lectures the rest of us about things that clearly do not apply to him and his jet-set lifestyle. Over the past year, he has taken many flights both within the UK and abroad. I have no problem with that, but as his Register of Members’ Interests makes clear, many of them were private flights on private aircraft or helicopters, and many of his trips were so short that by the time his plane was at cruising height, the flight crew were already prepared for landing. Only yesterday, we learned more about his private jet-setting and helicopter hops, which included a 20-mile trip one month and a 30-mile trip the next.

What signal does that send? It is like the signal of riding a bike to work while the chauffeur is driving behind with the shirt and shoes in the boot. The signal is that the right hon. Gentleman’s gestures and stance are not backed by substance; in fact, it appears that the opposite is true. He tells us that people who ignore aviation

However, he is not prepared to follow that advice.

We are told by the Leader of the Opposition’s office that such an approach is okay because the right hon. Gentleman carbon-offsets. That means that he takes his private flights and then writes a cheque to buy himself out of an awkward position. What does that mean in layman’s language? It means do as I say, not as I do. Presumably his bike rides are also carbon offset; he must be the only cyclist in Britain who has to carbon-offset his own bike rides to work and pay the congestion charge for the limo driving behind.

Is there not a wider pattern? The environment is not the only area about which the right hon. Gentleman says one thing and then does the other. He claims in public to support popular goals, but to appease his Back Benchers he then has to offset that by nodding in the opposite direction. One might say that carbon is not the only thing that the he has been offsetting in recent months. He says that he will put stability first, but then backs a £21 billion a year tax cut proposed by the Forsyth commission. He says that he supports the national health service, but offsets that with a proceeds of growth rule that would mean a £20 billion tax cut. He claims concern about child poverty, but offsets that by saying that he would abolish tax credits and the new deal.

The fact is that it is the same old Conservative party. The public know that it is a party that cannot be trusted, and they also know that the Labour party has delivered record low inflation, record high employment, and falling child and pensioner poverty, and that it has led the world in tackling global emissions. The British public will not put all that at risk.

It being Ten o’clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow .

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Business of the House



Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(4) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Environmental Audit


Mr. Speaker: It may be convenient to the House to take motions 5 and 6 together.


Public Accounts

Finance and Services


Tiverton and Honiton Hospitals

10 pm

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I have two petitions on behalf of my constituents. At the end of last year, we lost services in two of our community’s hospitals. The night-time small injuries units were closed and, in the case of Honiton, seven
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beds were closed without any prior consultation or warning. There has been great support in my constituency for urging the reopening of those services and seeking the reassurance that we are not going to see further closures of services in the coming year. On Friday, the primary care trust indicated that on Wednesday it will recommend to its board the reopening of the minor injuries unit, which I welcome. However, the petitions express the widespread concerns not only of patients but of medical professionals in my constituency.

The petitions state:

To lie upon the Table.

To lie upon the Table.

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IVF Treatment

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Huw Irranca-Davies.]

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