As for the shadow Leader of the House's point of order, the safest thing that I can say is that it is not entirely clear to me that this is a matter of order for the Chair. A statement was made- [ Interruption. ] I am grateful to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire
(Alistair Burt): I know how earnest he is on these matters, and I will do my best to satisfy his appetite, if I can. Let me say to the shadow Leader of the House that it is not clear to me that he has raised a matter of order. A reference was made to blocking, but it seems to me that we are largely in the territory of debate, and I am happy to offer the Leader of the House an opportunity to respond.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): You referred to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) being earnest, Mr. Speaker, but was he actually here when those exchanges were made? [ Interruption. ] No, he was not here, and he does not know what those exchanges were, so he can be earnest, but he is not relevant. As for what the shadow Leader of the House said, let me make my position clear. It is to no avail for the official Opposition to say from the Front Bench that they support the Bill if their Back Benchers block it. Basically, it is Members from the official Opposition who have been blocking the Bill-that is self-evident-so what I am saying is that the right hon. Gentleman should get his party's act together, and then we can get that important Bill through.
Mr. Speaker: First, let me say to the Leader of the House that we could have a most interesting debate on the importance of being earnest, but I am not sure that it would greatly avail the House for us to do so. Secondly, let me say in a very friendly spirit to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire that I certainly cast no aspersions on what he said. Indeed, I would say to the Leader of the House that the idea that knowledge of something is a prerequisite for subsequently contributing to debate would be a new precedent for the House to set.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the BBC website there is a piece about an announcement that coastal towns are to share £5 million of Government funding, something that was also a topic on the "Today" programme this morning, which you might have heard, Mr. Speaker. I have hunted high and low for more evidence of that announcement, but I have found nothing on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website. Indeed, I have even approached a Treasury Minister, who knew nothing about it whatever. May I seek your guidance on this matter? Should we not find out about such information here in the House? Should there not be at least a written statement, or are we talking about another of those fictitious figures that come up at Budget time?
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I feel rather confused about something, so I hope that you can help me. There was some talk earlier, in the exchanges about private Members' Bills, about the wash-up, but as far as I can see from the Order Paper there are three more Fridays set down for private Members' business. Surely there would be ample opportunity to discuss those Bills, if not on 23 or 30 April, then surely on 7 May.
(1) It is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect
to value added tax so as to provide-
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation,
(b) for refunding an amount of tax,
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that-
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): I welcome this opportunity to begin the second full day of the Budget debate, because it gives us the opportunity to bring to the House's attention all the things that were in the Budget but not actually mentioned in the Chancellor's Budget speech. The debate will give us all a chance to reflect on what the rest of the country thought about the Budget-which is: not a lot. The fact that only three Labour Back Benchers have turned up to support the Government's final Budget suggests that the parliamentary Labour party does not think much of it either- [ Interruption. ]-or, indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; He normally turns up, but there we go. He did not turn up for his "Today" programme interview either, so, after an empty Budget, we got an empty chair. Anyway, it is a pleasure to be debating these matters with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), because one thing is certainly clear: depending on the result of the election, either she will be living in No. 11 Downing street or I will, so it is good for us to have this early debate.
It normally takes 24 hours for people to see through these Labour Budgets, but this one disintegrated within about 24 minutes. Even before the Chancellor sat down, it was clear that he had completely failed to rise to the challenge of the times we face and the expectations of his high office. We know that the country faces a storm of economic problems. One in five young people cannot find work. Our recovery is one of the weakest in the G20, and our banking system cannot finance that recovery at the moment. Family incomes are being squeezed, and we have the largest budget deficit of any country in the developed world. Our credit rating is under threat, confidence is lacking, manufacturing is shrinking, exports are falling and business investment has collapsed. Everything cries out for urgent action, for energy, for vision, for leadership and for new ideas to get our economy moving.
But what did we get yesterday from this exhausted, discredited Government? Absolutely nothing at all. An empty Budget. An exercise in politics, not an example of governing. The only ideas of any substance in this Budget are Conservative ideas. Taking first-time buyers out of stamp duty? Now, I knew I had heard that before, and when I did my research, it turned out that I had announced it at the Conservative party conference three years ago. It was roundly condemned by Labour Ministers at the time- [ Interruption. ] Well, we have the Treasury Minister here, and he told Parliament that the Government did not believe that our proposal on stamp duty
"would be an effective use of public money". --[ Official Report, Finance Public Bill Committee, 21 May 2009; c. 108.]
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has followed closely my comments in the Committee on that Finance Bill. He will be aware that I made those comments in the context of the fact that we had a stamp duty exemption set at £175,000, and that his proposal was neither costed nor funded. If he reads the 15-minute speech that I made at the time, rather than giving the House a selective and distorted quote, perhaps he will understand the situation a bit better.
Mr. Osborne: It is absolutely clear that the Minister said that taking first-time buyers out of stamp duty was not an effective use of public money. He talks about costing. This is quite a lesson for us, as the election approaches. The Labour party and the Treasury officials costed our policy at £300 million, and that is the figure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced at the beginning of January. They said that our policy would cost £300 million. It was part of the attack on our platform. Yesterday, however, when they put it into the Budget, that same policy cost £230 million. So the Treasury has costed exactly the same policy at £70 million less in the Red Book. That is typical of their complete nonsense.
I will tell the House about something else that was not in the Budget. The first-time buyers' exemption is for only two years. It is a temporary exemption, but the increase in stamp duty to 5 per cent. at the top rate is a permanent increase. That is something else that was not mentioned- [ Interruption. ] The Treasury Ministers themselves do not know what is going on; they are checking up.
Harry Cohen: The hon. Gentleman claims that the proposal on stamp duty was Conservative policy. Was the increase in stamp duty-the extra 1 per cent. for those properties selling for more than £1 million-also a Conservative policy?
Look, we set out a proposal for a levy on non-domiciles that was also copied immediately after I had given that conference speech. We also set out plans for inheritance tax which were copied by the
Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. As for the increase in stamp duty to 5 per cent., there are going to be lots of Labour tax rises that we will have to deal with if we become the Government. Our priority will be to avoid the tax rises on the many rather than the tax rises on the few. Our No. 1 priority will be to avoid the national insurance rise that the Labour Government have pencilled in for millions of hard-working people across this country.
So that was one idea that the Government took from us. Then, yesterday, the Chancellor said that he was taxing the drinks that caused the binge drinking problems. That also struck a chord with me, because the Conservatives had announced that at our conference last autumn. It seemed, then, to have been adopted by the Government, but, when we look at the small print, we see that they have not exactly copied our idea. They have used it as a cloak for a huge duty rise on all cider drinkers, instead of just on the super-strength white ciders that are linked to problem drinking. That will hit the industry hard and it is something that we oppose.
Then there were the 20,000 new student places. When my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that proposal at the Conservative conference, it was attacked. The Minister responsible for universities said that it was elitist, and it was denounced by the Labour party. Now, of course, we are hearing about it in the Budget. But again, there is a catch. The Chancellor said yesterday that the Government would provide funds to
"create 20,000 more university places...starting in September this year."-[ Official Report, 24 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 262.]
We all thought, "Well, that's good of him to have found the money." Then we looked at the detail, and it turns out that only 10,000 full-time undergraduate degree places are being created, not 20,000. When we looked on the website of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills-this is not in any Treasury document-we found that the funding for those three-year courses is for one year only. So they are going to fund the students' first year, but not their second or third years. The funding for those years has to be found by the universities themselves.
There were lots of other things that we proposed and the Government adopted, such as the green investment bank. We do not mind this pathetic Government, in their dying days, adopting our policies, but let me say this: we will never again listen to their lectures about how we do not have anything to offer the country, when the only things that they have to offer the country are the things that they have taken directly from us. Stealing Conservative policies is not going to hide the fact that the Labour party has nothing of its own to say to the British people any more.
That is the extraordinary thing about this Budget. It is more interesting-if that is the right word-for what it does not say than for what it does, and that is what I want to focus on. What was not in the Budget, but should have been? Let us start with the things that were not in the Budget speech itself. How on earth did the Chancellor think he could get away with freezing the personal tax allowances of 30 million working people, and not mention it at that Dispatch Box yesterday? One would have thought that, having watched all those Budget speeches from his predecessor, the Prime Minister, in which the stealth taxes were not mentioned and the
spending was double-counted, and having seen the damage that that did to the reputation of the Treasury, he would have learned the lesson. Apparently not. Did he really think that no one would turn to page 123 of the Red Book and see what he was doing? When the allowances were frozen last autumn, retail price inflation was negative. That was the excuse that the Chancellor used for freezing the allowances. Today, retail price inflation is 3.7 per cent., yet he is going to freeze the allowances from April. That is, in effect, a tax rise for 30 million working people, and it was not even mentioned in the Budget.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): The hon. Gentleman will know that allowances and benefits have been uprated by autumn inflation figures since the late 1970s. Does he now believe that that decades-old policy of uprating should be ditched?
Mr. Osborne: I did my research. Only once in the 13 years of this Government did the Labour Chancellor uprate in line with inflation; on all other occasions, it was above inflation. The only Budget in which Labour froze allowances before was in 2003. It is perfectly within the Chancellor's power to take account of inflation at the time. As I say, this is effectively a tax rise on 30 million working people, which is one of the reasons why the Budget has gone down so badly.
Yvette Cooper: Let me ask the question again. The normal uprating with respect to the retail prices index is linked to the autumn inflation figures, and it has been for many decades. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that that policy, which is built into legislation and has been in existence for many years, should be ditched?
Mr. Osborne: I am sure the right hon. Lady understands the mechanics here. The law requires writing into the Red Book the uprating in line with inflation, but it is perfectly within the Chancellor's power to go beyond that, as Labour Chancellors have in all but two Budgets delivered since 1997. One would have thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have had the courage to announce what he was doing at the Dispatch Box yesterday so that people did not have to wake up this morning to find out what was really in the Budget.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not simply working people who will be affected by that policy because many pensioners will see the benefits of their state pension increase completely wiped out by this underhand measure by the Chancellor?
Mr. Osborne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Income tax applies to pensioners and pensioner income, and it is also a stealth tax on them. Also barely mentioned in the Budget, of course, are the other £19 billion of tax rises previously announced, often in the pre-Budget report books rather than speeches, that are coming down the track. That was one of the great missing parts of the Budget speech-the extraordinary tax rises pencilled in, but not discussed by the Chancellor.
"extra support to small businesses through the tax system".-[ Official Report, 24 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 259.]
Who could complain about that? What he did not tell us was that the extra support is more than cancelled out by the other tax rises on small businesses that are in the pipeline. He told us that he was cutting business rates, but the Red Book reveals that he is expecting to raise an additional £1 billion in revenue from business rates next year.
The Chancellor made a great fuss of doubling the small business investment allowance. The Treasury cost it at £100 million, and the Chancellor paraded it as something that he was doing for small businesses. He did not mention the fact that he is increasing the small companies tax rate at a cost to small businesses of £420 million-four times the amount that he is giving with one hand is being taken back with the other. No wonder that the response of the Federation of Small Businesses was that the Budget