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The Thames valley and Reading are relatively prosperous parts of the country, but the recession did not pass us by. Shops closed, businesses folded and people lost jobs. Labour Members say that Labour did a lot to help local
businesses, but I can tell them that local businesses in my part of the world and the rest of the country got by because they helped themselves. They increased productivity and took pay cuts, and instead of people working five days a week, they worked four. There has been a lot of pain in the private sector.
Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that small and larger businesses have taken the hit. We hear so often from Labour Members that they are worried about what is happening in the public sector, but that sector needs to take a leaf out of the book of the private sector, in which people have taken 10% cuts and four-day weeks. That has not happened at all in the public sector. We are looking for an increase in productivity. A 25% reduction does not necessarily-
On Government help for local businesses, during the height of the recession, I attended a meeting of more than 100 people from businesses in my constituency. That was when the then Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, was parading all over the place to tell us about all the schemes he was introducing to help local businesses. When I asked those business people whether a single one of them had been able to access any of the funds that Lord Mandelson was talking about, two hands went up in a room of more than 100 people. Both those people had tried to access the funds, but found the process too complicated and gave up. The reality is that businesses were not helped by the previous Government. I am pleased that in the Budget the Government propose a lower corporation tax rate, simplifying the tax system, reducing red tape and getting credit flowing.
I am delighted that the main rate of corporation tax will be reduced from 28% to 24% over four years, which will end up being the lowest rate among the G7 countries. Local communities, businesses and business organisations in my constituency have told me that they are delighted that the small companies rate will go to 20% instead of the planned increase to 22%, as proposed by the previous Government. On the jobs tax, which was talked about during the election and which universally businesses were not happy about, I am delighted that under the Budget the negative effect of the employers' rate rise in national insurance will largely be reversed by increasing the threshold for employer NI contributions by £21 a week above indexation. That means that the number of employees for whom employers will pay no national insurance will rise by 650,000.
We will see a simplification of the tax system. As the Budget Red Book makes clear, tax competitiveness is not just about rates and incidence of tax; predictability, stability and simplicity are also important. Like many Government Members, I look forward to the details of the proposed independent office of tax simplification. The key point is that local businesses want time to get on and do business, and not to get bogged down by red tape. I am delighted, therefore, that the Government have said that they understand that the volume and complexity of regulation can damage UK competitiveness.
I am pleased, therefore, that we will have a one in, one out system for new regulations as well as the imposition of sunset clauses.
A number of small businesses in my constituency that I have talked to are keen to get a share of the Government's pie when it comes to spending. Again, therefore, I am pleased that under the Budget the Government plan to promote small business procurement by publishing central Government tenders online from the end of the year. The final thing that many businesses want is credit to start flowing again, and I am pleased to see that recognised in the Chancellor's speech and reflected in the Budget documentation. The Government recognise the need for banks to promote lending, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises. I am delighted that there is going to be an increase in the enterprise finance guarantee and the creation of the growth capital fund, which will help fast growing small and medium-sized businesses.
Several Members have also touched on the banking sector. It is important that the Government want to ensure that the banking system and the financial markets meet the longer-term needs of the economy, and I look forward, therefore, to the publication of the Green Paper on business finance before the summer recess. This is a tough but fair Budget. We have had to make so many difficult choices because of the legacy left to us by the previous Government. I am pleased that, as part of the Budget, the Chancellor has made every effort to protect the most vulnerable people, including pensioners. That is so important and the hallmark of a fair society. The Budget will focus on returning stability to our economy, on getting the country back on its feet and, over the coming years, on delivering strong growth to the economy.
"The test of a government is how it looks after the most vulnerable, not just in good times but also in bad".
"any cabinet minister...who comes to me and says, "Here are my plans" and they involve frontline reductions, they'll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again."
That prompts the question: why did he not ask the Chancellor to think again about his dreadful Budget-a Budget that will result in the quality of life of Britain's most vulnerable people being sacrificed on the altar of Tory dogma, a Budget that will result in massive reductions in front-line services, and a Budget that will lead to a colossal increase in unemployment? It is less than seven weeks since the Prime Minister made those solemn pledges, but the Chancellor's proposal to increase VAT is making a fool out of him.
We must not forget the Deputy Prime Minister either, who said that he wanted to "hardwire fairness" into society. However, increasing VAT does not hardwire
fairness into society; on the contrary, it short-circuits fairness, because it hits the poorest families twice as hard as the richest. Britain's richest families spend just 7% of their disposable income on VAT, while the poorest spend almost 14%. How fair is that? The truth is that it is not fair at all. Cutting tax credits, freezing child benefit, slashing housing allowances, cancelling the help in pregnancy grant and chopping free school meals are not fair either.
No doubt the Liberal Democrat members of the coalition Government will point to the increase in tax thresholds that they wrung out of the Chancellor as evidence of their influence. However, the sad fact is that the meagre increase that they secured will make little difference to low-paid workers and will be more than offset by the regressive measures that the Chancellor announced yesterday. Worse still, many of the workers who might benefit from the modest uplift in tax allowances will end up losing their jobs if the Liberal Democrats vote through the Budget.
Of course, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor insist on repeating their quasi-egalitarian mantra, "We're all in this together." Needless to say, it is nonsense, and it has overtones of the infamous scene in George Orwell's "Animal Farm" when the animals realise that the pigs have changed the seven commandments to read:
"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others"-
Increased unemployment will force more people on to state benefits, which will put pressure on the size of the national deficit, which the Chancellor claims to be so concerned about. However, unless he has a damascene conversion, I suspect that he will respond to the failure of his economic prospectus by making even deeper cuts in welfare provision, as happened in the 1930s and 1980s. No doubt he will try to justify his failure by repeating his Orwellian mantra, but the reality is that it will not be his former Bullingdon club colleagues paying the price of that failure. No, it will be Britain's poorest people, who will be in it up to their necks.
Of course, the Tories have form on that. I saw what they did in the 1980s to proud working-class communities in constituencies such as mine all over the country. They caused mass unemployment, slashed welfare provision, decimated front-line public services and did not stop cutting until they were thrown out of office in 1997. They even used another Orwellian ploy: to blame the unemployed for being out of work, labelling them as "scroungers". Indeed, I see that the Prime Minister was at it again over the weekend when he talked about "welfare scroungers". The Chancellor joined in the Orwellian chorus with his "Ministry of Truth" description of his Budget as a "progressive Budget".
Unemployment certainly fell in my constituency in the 13 years of the previous Labour Government. I will tell the hon. Gentleman this as well:
thanks to the measures that they put in place, poverty was reduced in my constituency, people enjoyed the national minimum wage and were able to get health treatment far more quickly than previously, and children were not taught in overcrowded schools, so let us have no more lectures from him.
Let us never forget that everything that I have described has only been made possible by the vacillating Liberal Democrats, who say one thing then do another. Less than seven weeks ago, the Deputy Prime Minister said that his party represented a new kind of politics, with fresh ideas. What we got was a party supporting reactionary right-wing policies instead. Fewer than seven weeks ago, he was apparently opposed to the self-same right-wing policies that he now endorses. This is what he told his party conference on 23 September last year:
"We know what happens when you simply squeeze budgets, across the board, until the pips squeak. We know, because we lived through it before, under the Conservatives. We remember the tumble-down classrooms, the pensioners dying on hospital trolleys, the council houses falling into total disrepair. We remember, and we say: never again."
"Do I think that these big cuts are merited or justified, at a time when the economy is struggling to get to its feet? Clearly not."
Millions of people who rejected the Conservatives' right-wing policy prospectus were seduced into voting for the Liberal Democrats by the Deputy Prime Minister's rhetoric. People actually believed that the Liberal Democrats represented progressive values. How wrong they were. People now see that the reality is very different from the Deputy Prime Minister's rhetoric. People see that he is now so determined to appease his Conservative masters that he is even prepared to sacrifice his own constituents by opposing a Government loan to Sheffield Forgemasters.
That is nothing new. The Liberal Democrats and their predecessors in the Liberal party have assisted the Conservatives into power in four out of the last seven general elections. It is thanks to the Liberal party splitting the centre-left vote in 1983 and 1987 that Margaret Thatcher was able to secure two landslide election victories. Then the Liberal Democrats did the same thing in 1992, forcing the country to endure another five years of Tory rule. The truth is that they are not a progressive party at all; they are merely a collection of self-indulgent political loners.
All the post-war progressive legislation has been introduced by Labour Governments often in the teeth of fierce opposition from the Tories and sometimes the Liberals, too. Examples include the NHS, the welfare state, comprehensive education, equal pay, civil partnerships, the national minimum wage, Sure Start, the ban on fox hunting, and the Open university, to name but a few.
I heard Members of the coalition parties, including the Chancellor, eulogising the Canadian experience of cutting its deficit in the 1980s and arguing for the same approach to be adopted here, but their "Ministry of Truth" description of themselves as "compassionate Conservatives" imposing so-called caring cuts defies all reason. The reality of the Canadian experience saw increased homelessness, overcrowded classrooms, pension cuts and a drastic shortage of hospital beds. On one occasion, the Canadians even emptied a hospital and blew it up in a desperate attempt to save money. Is that really what the coalition parties mean by "caring cuts"?
"the timing and pace of consolidation in each country suit the needs of the global economy".
"We must be flexible in adjusting the pace of consolidation and learn from the consequential mistakes of the past when stimulus was too quickly withdrawn and resulted in renewed economic hardships and recession."
But the Chancellor just does not seem to get it. He is obsessed with implementing an approach that failed in the 1930s, failed in the 1980s, failed in the 1990s and is destined to fail again. He wants to implement an unfair budget that will hit the poorest hardest, undermine the economic recovery, destroy public services and increase unemployment.
"now convinced that as a result of this reckless Budget the UK will suffer a double-dip recession or worse, not least because there is no room for interest-rate cuts, although lots of additional quantitative easing... from the Bank of England could soften the blow".
Growth is the key to addressing the deficit, and the Budget is a wasted opportunity. The Chancellor has chosen to penalise the weak and the powerless, instead of making the rich and powerful individuals and institutions pay.
Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): The lack of responsibility taken by Labour Members for the state of the country's finances is breathtaking. The Labour Government left this country not with a small hole in the public finances, but with a yawning chasm, which this Government will have to sort out.
Chris Williamson: That irresponsibility is on the Government Benches, because David Blanchflower, an esteemed economist in this country who predicted the recession and who should be taken seriously, is now predicting a double-dip recession as a result of "this reckless Budget". The hon. Lady ought to reflect on his words, rather than criticising Labour Members.
Rather than taking the appropriate steps against powerful individuals and institutions, to ensure that they pay a fairer contribution towards reducing the deficit, the Chancellor has chosen to penalise the weak and the powerless. The Budget has let down the great British public. I assure Government Members that it will come back to haunt them. We will certainly ensure that the British public know what this Government, and the Liberal Democrats in particular, have inflicted on them. When the next general election comes, the Liberal
Democrats, who have been swallowed whole by the Conservative party in this Chamber, will live to regret the day that they put the Tories in power.
Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on a matter that impacts on the life of every person in the country, every minute of every day. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) on his maiden speech, in which he spoke warmly about Yorkshire at its best, and said that his constituency was open for business. He took the words out of my mouth, because I was going to say that my constituency was open for business, and that shows how we need the whole country to be open for business after the Budget. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) also made his maiden speech, in which he spoke about regeneration. I am sure that he will be just and fear not in his time in the House.
This is a serious Budget for serious times. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) reminded us, this is also a day when England were playing a serious game of football. On behalf of the House I congratulate our team on winning the game, and perhaps they will continue to win throughout the World cup.
I really do not know what planet the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), who has just spoken, is on. He should be apologising for what the previous Government did to take the country to the brink of ruin.
Guy Opperman: The hon. Member for Derby North quoted some statistics at us about the degree of unemployment in his constituency. I am lucky enough to have the paper on unemployment by constituency from June 2010; handily, it was in my pocket as I walked into the Chamber. Without going back 13 years in relation to the Labour Government, let me say that the paper indicates that in Derby North in May 2005 there were 1,318 jobseeker's allowance applicants, but that that has now gone up to 2,576-a significant increase, one might think, of 95.4%.
Mary Macleod: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That proves that the Opposition are living on a different planet, and that they have not a clue about what they have really done to the country over the past 13 years.
This emergency Budget is very much about a plan for the future. We have shown that we are bold enough to make the tough decisions that need to be made. The Chancellor has been faced with a deficit of a size that we have never seen before. I commend his Budget and his determination to stick to the principles of responsibility, fairness and enterprise. Not acting to reduce the deficit is simply not an option. We are not in a position to decide whether to deal with debts or go for growth, as Labour would have us believe. We have seen from the recent crises in the eurozone that unless we deal with those debts, there will be no growth. This Budget is about achieving balance in our economy by paring spending to affordable levels and stimulating growth so that we can encourage business and enterprise.
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