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23 Jun 2010 : Column 388

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): I hope that the hon. Lady will steer away from misleading the House into believing that the Labour Government did not wish to reduce the national deficit, because she must know that they proposed to halve it over a period of four years. Can she tell us with what part of that package she has so much difficulty?

Mary Macleod: The hon. Gentleman clearly has a very short memory of what the present Opposition did to the country. What we, as the Government, need to do now is address the present situation and, as we have done in the emergency Budget, come up with measures to turn it around.

Far from being reckless, as was suggested yesterday by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), this Budget has shown that the Government are prepared to take on their responsibilities and make the tough decisions required. That is something that the previous Government neglected to do. We are putting the country first, and doing the right thing. What would be reckless would be to continue to allow debt interest payments to increase as they have been doing. The cuts that are coming are actually Labour cuts. We have inherited a mess far worse than we were told we would inherit before the election, and we are paying the bills for the last Government's irresponsible actions. That is their legacy to Britain. If we carry on as we are, we may be paying about £70 billion in interest on our debt in five years' time.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I said in my speech that no one could avoid cuts, efficiencies, choices, priorities and projects, but there is a choice to be made in terms of both timing and speed. I ask the hon. Lady to hesitate before saying that the proposals from the coalition Government are the only way forward. There are plenty of voices out there saying that there are other ways of doing this.

Mary Macleod: The hon. Gentleman spoke very movingly about the impact on his constituents. Let me reassure him that I believe that this is the right Budget for the future, and that his constituents will recognise that over the next five years. If we retain our current debt in five years' time, however, we could be paying more in debt interest than on educating our children, policing our streets and defending our country, and that would be a disgrace.

The United Kingdom remained in recession for longer than the other G7 countries. Output declined for six consecutive quarters, and we now have the highest inflation in Europe. Continuing with business as usual simply is not an option, so we are faced with the task of making the unavoidable, and in some cases unpalatable, decisions that have been called for by the Governor of the Bank of England, the G20, and many in industry. Mervyn King has described the Government's deficit reduction as "strong and powerful". He said:

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso)-I went to Lairg primary school, so I am very fond of his constituency-talked about the risks and pain associated with the Budget, but
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he also said that this was something that we had to do. I agree wholeheartedly with that. However, we have tried to do it in a way that spreads the pain that is so inevitable, while protecting those most at risk and establishing the conditions required to ensure future growth.

First, let us look at the impact on business. Businesses large and small have much to be hopeful about following this Budget. As in other constituencies, there are many such businesses in Brentford and Isleworth. They need a stable economic environment in which to prosper, and this Budget will deliver that. The cuts in corporation tax will benefit them greatly and encourage them to continue to grow their staff and expand their operations in the UK, and smaller businesses will appreciate the cut in the small companies tax rate from 22% to 20%.

However, let me tell Members what some of my constituents said to me when I spoke to them today. The chief executive of West London Business, who represents more than 800 businesses in west London, said:

I also spoke to Andrew Doggwiler of the Hounslow chambers of commerce. He said:

That is what businesses in the hearts of our constituencies are saying.

Owen Smith: I ask the hon. Lady to reflect on the views of others in business. Ernst and Young has already said that it feels the Government have not fully understood the long-term financial consequences of the cuts, by which it means the reduction in demand in the economy. May I also point to the view of an inward investor in my constituency, GE Aircraft Engine Services Ltd, which feels that the reductions in corporation tax will not offset the damage done to its ability to invest by the reductions in capital allowances that manufacturing relies on?

Mary Macleod: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I have been in business for 20 years, and I could cite plenty of others, including Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, and the OECD, which says the Budget is far-reaching and courageous, so we need to have a balanced view.

I believe very strongly in the enterprise-led economy that we have put in place, and we have the building blocks in place to support future industry. That is why I was pleased to hear that spending on many capital
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investment projects will go ahead. Naturally, I will put in a request for Crossrail, a much needed capital investment for London.

Secondly, we also have to tackle the excess costs. This Budget has tried to create the right infrastructure for the future, but it is vital that we tackle the excess costs within our economy and get control of the welfare state. I have received letters from, and spoken to, constituents who feel it is unfair that they have worked hard all their lives and have paid taxes and are living in modest circumstances, whereas others are not working and are being supported by the state in accommodation way beyond anything they could envisage for themselves. As the Chancellor said, some of these benefits have got completely out of control, and we must review these costs.

The Chancellor was also right to point out the waste that the benefits culture engenders, not only in a financial sense to the state, but in terms of the loss of talent from individuals themselves and the ongoing impact on self-esteem and stress on family life to which living in workless households can lead. I therefore welcome the proposals that the various welfare to work schemes will be combined and simplified to support people back into jobs. It is vital for the revised scheme to be as flexible and creative as possible, particularly when looking at ways to bring groups such as lone parents whose children are at school back into the work force.

Thirdly, I want to comment on departmental budgets, which will focus the minds of many of us here in the next few months. I certainly support the target of making savings of 25% in those budgets over the next four years. I have spent many years in business cutting costs in operations around the world and I feel that the 25% figure is challenging and tough, but definitely achievable and necessary.

Fourthly, I want to mention a group in our society who are often overlooked and about whom I am often reminded by my constituents-pensioners. We all know the facts about how many of us are living and thriving into old age these days, but after 13 years under Labour there are still 1.8 million pensioners living in poverty. Many of my retired constituents feel that the contribution that they have made throughout their lives to our economy and society as a whole is not recognised as they struggle to live on their pensions or, if they save money, as they are penalised by taxation policies that seem unfair. I am delighted that we will now be able to restore some of that respect for our older citizens by putting in place the link between pensions and earnings from next April, and through the triple-lock guarantee.

I met one of my spritely 70-year-olds the other day at a surgery. He asked for the Government's support in helping him to go on working. He said, "I'm fit and well, I love my job, I'm perfectly able to carry on working and I want to be able to continue to do so." I hope that I will be as energetic as him at his age, and I should like us to take people like him into account when we consider the future of the retirement age.

Andrew Percy: My hon. Friend talks about support for older people. Does she agree that one of the biggest costs for elderly people in the past 13 years has been the doubling of council tax that we saw under previous Governments? In north Lincolnshire, that was done year after year by the Labour council.

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Mary Macleod: I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend.

I commend the Government for their plan to increase the tax allowance to £7,475, and I should like to see that go further. Perhaps that level will rise in the next few years. In conclusion, this progressive Budget has set us off on a journey of change. It is well thought out and it gives us a route map for the next five years. I commend the Budget and the courage that it shows in doing what is right for the economy and the country.

6.37 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): Yesterday's Budget should be judged on three key tests. First, will it protect and enhance economic growth, and nurture an all too fragile recovery from the worst global recession since the 1930s? Secondly, is it fair and will the poorest and those least able to defend themselves be affected the least? Thirdly, less than two months after the general election, does it reflect the election manifestos of the coalition Government? On each of those tests, the Government's Budget is found wanting.

It would be remiss of me not to congratulate the hon. Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) and for Carlisle (John Stevenson) on their maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough made a fluent and interesting maiden speech. Having initiated the first debate on social enterprises in this House, I welcomed in particular his interest in and support for social enterprises. He talked about his constituency being affluent and having excellent schools; perhaps at another time, he might acknowledge more generously the part played by the excellent work of the previous Government in that respect. The hon. Member for Carlisle also made a fluent and interesting speech, offering generous praise to his predecessor, Eric Martlew, who continues to be well liked on both sides of the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for being unable to share his assessment that the Budget was, although tough, also fair, but I shall come to that later.

This is the Conservative party's Budget-no one seriously thinks that the Liberal Democrats were the driving force behind it, despite the protestations of the Business Secretary and others-and to listen to the Conservatives, one would think that there had not been a global recession. One would think that there was not a need to protect families or to keep demand in the economy, and that the borrowing and other measures that the previous Government took to stimulate the economy were not needed. We took decisive action to invest in the economy and to create the demand that the private sector needed to minimise business failures and job losses.

As the shadow Chancellor made clear, the measures that we took were continuing to have a positive impact. There was a return to growth-fragile, yes, but it was a return to growth. Unemployment was stabilising and starting to fall, while tax receipts were up and borrowing was lower than expected. The Office for Budget Responsibility has made it clear that the measures taken by the last Government are the reason why the economy is growing now. Indeed, those measures were part of Government spending plans which, as the shadow Chancellor pointed out, the party opposite supported until the end of 2008.

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The run-up to the Budget was marked by a remarkable level of dangerous scaremongering by the party opposite. The Chancellor has been marching from one television studio to another and, like Don Quixote, he has continued to tilt away at Greek windmills while the Chief Secretary and now the Business Secretary have been competing to be Sancho Panza, bobbing loyally along behind.

We are not remotely in the same position as Greece, yet time after time, Front Benchers and Back Benchers opposite have sought to raise the spectre of Greece to justify the approach behind the Budget. The truth is that this Budget puts at risk a fragile economic recovery. On the OBR's forecasts, growth will be down this year as a result of measures in the Budget, and down next year too. Unemployment will be higher as a result of the measures in the Budget, which will cut jobs in the public sector and the private sector too because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) noted, many companies supply goods and services to the Government. The OBR acknowledges that employment will drop by 100,000 as a result of this Budget, and it is true to say that many outside voices expect the figure to be higher still. With tens of thousands more on the dole queue and employment levels down, it is fair to say that this is a return to traditional Tory politics.

The Budget also fails the fairness test. It savages support for the poorest and most vulnerable. Child benefit will be cut, and tax credits reduced for families on low and modest incomes. Support for families with young children is being axed, and the VAT rise will hit the poorest hardest. The Conservative party promised not to balance the Budget on the backs of the poorest, yet they have done exactly that. The Financial Secretary may not yet be aware of the damning verdict of the Institute for Fiscal Studies on the fairness of this Budget, but it has said that it will

The same point was made with considerable force by my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson) and for Derby North (Chris Williamson), and by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas).

Guy Opperman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Thomas: Given the time, no. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

The Budget also breaks clear promises made to the British people by the coalition partners at the election. The now Prime Minister told Jeremy Paxman in an interview in late April that his party had "absolutely no plans" to raise VAT. He recognised then that VAT was regressive and that it hit the poorest hardest. He said:

The Deputy Prime Minister agreed that VAT was "very regressive". He went further, making fear of Tory VAT plans a memorable part of his election campaigning. Yet now, with the electorate having cast their votes, we have an immediate volte-face from the parties opposite.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor made clear, in a classic effort to pull the wool over the public's eyes, those on the Government Front Bench use
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Labour measures to try to pretend that this Budget is fair. The charts deployed in the Red Book to justify that fantasy claim fail to acknowledge the scale of benefit reductions that will not have worked their way through fully in the period covered. They certainly do not include the impact of looming cuts in public services that are likely to hit the poorest households the most, or of changes to housing benefit. I have a specific question for the Financial Secretary: will he publish charts showing the impact of the Budget not just in 2012-13 but in future in years, by income distribution?

It is not just Opposition Members who recognise the unfairness of the Budget. Robert Chote, the head of the IFS, has said:

Some Liberal Democrats-perhaps those such as the Orange Book Liberals-will be entirely comfortable with the unfairness of this Budget. Others on the Liberal Democrat Benches need to find the courage of the convictions that they had before 6 May to challenge their Front Benchers.

This is a Budget that puts economic growth at risk. It fails the fairness test. The poorest will suffer the most. The IFS analysis blows away the pretence that we are all in this together. It is a Budget of broken promises. On VAT both coalition parties broke election promises. It is a Budget that is overwhelmingly Thatcherite in tone and we will not support it.

6.45 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): We have had a good debate about the impact of the emergency Budget on the growth of the British economy over the years to come. The contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett), for Reading West (Alok Sharma), for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) were passionate and well informed. There were contributions from the hon. Members for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), for Derby North (Chris Williamson), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). The debate was thoughtful and informative.

I am pleased to see the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) in the Chamber-[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]

Some maiden speeches were made. There were three in yesterday's debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Simon Reevell), for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) made excellent speeches about the impact the Budget will have on their constituencies and the challenges it will address. Today, we heard maiden speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) and for Carlisle (John Stevenson).

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