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"If one went to a bank and said, 'I need an overdraft because I want to give more money to charity,' the bank would question the wisdom of that approach."-[ Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 26WH.]
Sheffield Forgemasters is not a charity. It has the potential to be at the centre of the green industrial revolution that our country needs. I have spoken to the management of Sheffield Forgemasters, the unions and people in Sheffield, so I know that they are bemused by the Government's decision.
I was the Minister who, along with Lord Mandelson, signed off the loan-it is not a grant-after we had looked at the arrangements over 18 months in government. It passed a whole set of value-for-money considerations, yet the Government have cut it off. I hope that the Secretary of State can force a reconsideration of the decision-
Edward Miliband: I have given way to the right hon. Gentleman a number of times, but if he is going to say at the Dispatch Box that he will reconsider the decision, I shall give way, albeit more in hope than expectation.
Chris Huhne: Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that an appropriate use of public money would be to ensure that the major shareholders in Sheffield Forgemasters do not have to reduce their equity holdings below 51%? I do not think that it would be.
Edward Miliband: That is an extraordinary statement to make on the Floor of the House. A set of commercial negotiations was carried out with Sheffield Forgemasters. The decision was signed off by the permanent secretaries of DECC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as a value-for-money loan, but now the right hon. Gentleman questions that.
The right hon. Gentleman's explanation is different from that offered by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who said that the loan represented value for money, but the Government did not have the money. The Secretary of State is not only wrong to oppose the loan, but confused about the reason why it is not being offered. I am afraid that the Government are hampering the green revolution that we need.
Toby Perkins: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that a Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury came to the House to tell us the decision about Sheffield Forgemasters, and that a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State is supporting that decision today, is just another sign of how the Conservative Government are using the Liberal Democrats as a fig leaf, which will shame the leader of the Liberal Democrats in his Sheffield constituency?
Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is completely right. He has experience of booting out Liberal Democrats locally-something that will happen in many constituencies at the next general election. It is blinkered short termism: that is the only way to describe what they have done.
"June Budget does little to suggest"
"promise to be the greenest Government ever."
That is not a very good start, but I want to reassure the Secretary of State by telling him that there is praise for the Budget from an unlikely quarter. Roger Helmer, a Conservative MEP and a well known climate change denier, quite likes the Budget and says:
"Green lobbyists are whingeing that 'this is the least green Budget for years'. Brilliant! Well done George. Maybe we've come to our senses".
The second test we should apply to the Budget is that of fairness. Is it a fair Budget or not? Let us be clear: as well as going beyond the decisions that the Liberal Democrats advocated for the first year, the Budget goes well beyond the pace of deficit reduction that they recommended. To sustain the Secretary of State's argument, we are talking about not only cuts now, but a much faster timetable. He shakes his head, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis published at the time of the election shows that the Liberal Democrats had set out exactly the same pace of deficit reduction in 2014-15 as we had, but this Budget goes beyond that, with £30 billion of extra cuts in spending and the rise in value added tax.
The question at the heart of the Budget debate over the past 48 hours is where do the cuts fall? Who bears the burden? That is the question that Lloyd George asked in this House years ago. The truth is becoming clearer: this is a regressive Budget, not a fair one. The Chancellor claimed in his speech that the Budget was
fair, and I think it important to quote him exactly. These are not my words, but those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said:
"Overall, everyone will pay something, but the people at the bottom of the income scale will pay proportionally less than the people at the top. It is a progressive Budget."-[ Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 180.]
That is simply not the case. That was exposed yesterday by the IFS. When one looks at the Budget measures, one sees that it is regressive, not progressive. According to the IFS, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) said, as a result of the measures in the Budget the poorest 10% will pay four times more as a proportion of their income than the richest. I repeat: four times more.
What the Chancellor did was an extraordinary sleight of hand. He published in the Red Book figures that take credit for Labour's last Budget, which was progressive, and he combined the impact with that of his regressive Budget. Remember, this is a guy who claimed in his Budget speech that there was a renewed transparency and honesty in the Budget process. What he had done was exposed within hours by the IFS. I give way to his former adviser.
Following on from the right hon. Gentleman's misleading use of statistics, which are described by the OBR on page 93 of the Red Book as "misleading", does he agree with me that the IFS said that when all the Budget measures are taken into account, the impact is greatest on the richest 10%, not the poorest 10%, and that he is quoting partially?
Edward Miliband: I want to be generous to the hon. Gentleman, as a new Member of Parliament, but I fear that he has walked into the most enormous elephant trap. Let me read from the last page of the IFS handout:
"Treasury said that reforms to be implemented between now and 2012-13 progressive, but
-This is mainly because of reforms announced by the previous government
-They only look at reforms to 2012-13-benefit cuts announced yesterday for subsequent years hit the poorest hardest".
"So likely that overall impact of yesterday's measures was regressive".
If the Chancellor wants to bring a new transparency and honesty to the debate, he cannot take credit for measures announced by my right hon. Friend the former Chancellor and say that they are somehow part of his Budget.
"It is a progressive Budget."-[ Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 180.]
Chris Huhne: The reality is that it is perfectly legitimate for the Treasury to analyse pre-announced measures as well as the measures that are announced, because a new Government reverse measures that they do not like and confirm measures that they agree with. Look at, for example, the decision to freeze the threshold at which the higher rate of tax begins to be paid. Does the right hon. Gentleman support that measure? It will increase the progressive element by taking more tax from the best-off.
Edward Miliband: The doublespeak just gets worse. The Conservatives spend the election attacking the Labour Government for putting up national insurance contributions on employees, then they produce their own Budget which is regressive and unfair, then they realise that that will be pretty damaging for them, so they take credit for a measure that they used to attack. That cannot possibly make sense. The truth is that the Chancellor made a claim in his Budget speech that the Budget was progressive. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, to which the Chancellor referred in his Budget speech, has said clearly that if one looks at the measures announced in the Budget one sees that it is a regressive Budget-and not just regressive, but deeply regressive, because the poorest 10% pay three and a half times more than the richest 10%. However much they may twist and turn with the help of their new friend, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who is auditioning to be a member of the Conservative party, it will not help them. People can smell it. People can see through the doublespeak.
Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has made a statement about national insurance that he knows does not tell anything like half the truth. Our objection always was to the employer's element-the jobs tax element-of the national insurance rises. It is that element that we have been very glad to put to one side, rather than the employee's element, to which he gives such undue prominence.
Rachel Reeves: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in addition to what I said earlier about this Budget affecting the top decile by just 0.7% and the bottom decile by 2.6%, Labour's March Budget had an impact on the top decile of 7% and absolutely no impact at all on the income of the poorest decile? There is a different way of doing a Budget, and that was a progressive Budget.
Edward Miliband: I am coming to them in a minute. That has been the case historically, but the difference this time is that the Liberal Democrats are faced with a choice. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark-someone I respect; a person of good conscience who came into politics to make our country fairer-has a big decision to make. He is not going to fall for the stuff we have heard from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, trying to explain away the Budget.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark knows an unfair Budget when he sees one, so he has a decision to make in the coming days. He has an honourable path to take. He can say, "Up with this I will not put." That is what Liberal Democrats throughout the country will expect him to do. Maybe he will defeat the Budget, maybe he will get the Government to rethink parts of it, but he could lead a movement, not just of Liberal Democrats in the House but of Liberal Democrats outside the House who will join him. He did not come into politics to put up VAT or to freeze child benefit. He campaigned against the freeze in child benefit in the 1980s under Mrs Thatcher. He did not come into politics to abolish the health in pregnancy grant. He did not come into politics to do those things, and he is not in office. He does not face the choice of resignation: he faces the choice of how to vote. In all candour I say to him that he wanted a Lib-Lab alliance after the last general election because he knew what would happen otherwise. He saw it in the runes. He saw where things would go, and he was proved right. But now he faces the ultimate choice in politics, which is between principle and expediency-and he should follow principle.
Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in The Independent. I say in all seriousness to him that, as we saw, the presentation from the Chancellor was that this was a fair Budget, and for a few hours it fooled some people, who thought that perhaps it was fair. But that has been completely exposed and blown apart by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but we all know what he would be doing if the Budget had been presented and he was not in government. He would be railing against it with his great eloquence. He would be talking about what he came into politics for: his belief in fairness.
One of the central arguments of the leader of the Liberal Democrats at the election was that the poorest people in our society paid too much in tax and the richest paid too little in tax. That was the central and powerful claim made by the Liberal Democrats at the election. The question one must ask is: what happens as a result of the Budget? It makes the situation worse. How can the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark possibly vote for that? This is not a Budget that he can in all conscience support.
The Budget does not help to lay the foundations for economic growth and it is not fair. It also attacks some of the most important things that we have in this country to help the poorest families, such as tax credits. The Chancellor said in his Budget speech that he would reduce payments to families earning over £40,000 next year, but we learn from the Red Book that the cuts are for those earning over £25,000 a year-not well-off families.
What about fairness? How have the banks fared as a result of the Budget? The banks were a big target for the Liberal Democrats during the election campaign. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman shouts "Bank levy". Perhaps this is the saving grace for the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps that is something that he can cling on to. It is interesting, because that is starting to unravel too. There was much trumpeting of the bank levy in the Budget as a fairness measure. But the reality is that the corporation tax cut from 28% to 24% will help every bank in the country. HSBC's banking analysts say:
"We'd expect most domestically-orientated banks...to be better off after four years than they were pre-Budget."
When the measures are taken together, the banks are not worse off but better off-another shred of credibility for the Budget destroyed. Deutsche Bank says that it is a good outcome for the banks. It is plain to see who bears the burden. This is not a Lloyd George Budget; it is a repeat of the unfair, unequal, unjust Tory Budgets of the past.
I end on a point about trust and credibility. The Liberal Democrats said that there should be no spending cuts this year; now they support them. They said that they supported our four-year deficit reduction plan; now they do not. They said that there should be no VAT rise; now they support it. They said that there should be protection for young people through the future jobs fund; now they support its abolition.
It takes a long time to establish an honourable political tradition, but it takes a very short time to destroy it. This is a week of judgment for the Government, but in particular it is a week of judgment for the Liberal Democrats. I say to them very clearly that they should exercise their conscience and be willing to oppose the Budget. The question that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues need to consider this weekend is whether they are still the party of Keynes, Beveridge and Lloyd George. We all know that those three men would turn in their graves at the idea that the inheritors of the liberal tradition were supporting this Budget.
Today, Liberal Democrats face the ultimate choice between power and principle. They did not come into politics to raise VAT, freeze child benefit or do all those other things. No doubt they think that voting against the Budget would truly make them turkeys voting for Christmas. The opposite is true. If they vote for the Budget it will bring unfairness and injustice to the people whom they claim to represent. It will go against everything that they have claimed to stand for, and it will destroy for ever their claim to be a progressive alternative. That is why they should vote down this unfair, unjust Tory Budget that will damage our economy and divide our society. That is why they should join us in the No Lobby to vote down the Budget next week.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I am happy to take part in what is clearly an important debate, in which we are invoking the spirits of forebears of mine, of ours, whom I pray in aid as part of the traditions to which I belong. Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge are indeed part of the family of progressive liberals, of whom I regard myself as a modest inheritor.
The most important thing that was announced in the area of energy and climate change and environmental policy, the specific theme of today's debate, was the green investment bank. It had been a Labour party commitment, and the Conservative party and Liberal Democrats were clear that it should be invented, created and got up and running. It is absolutely central to this Parliament's strategy that we set up that bank in the near future. It must not be a modest little invention hidden away in a corner; it must be a central part of the new stage of the British economy and it must draw on money from the private sector, which will be used for projects that would not otherwise be funded. But it must also help us to invest in the new generation of green jobs that will make us again the country that can export our manufacturing abilities and the success of the world. For the last 25 years, we have slipped back in manufacturing and exports in these areas and have relied too much on the City, on finance and on banking. That is not enough to sustain a modern economy, and it is not enough to change the environmental way in which we do our business and honour our international obligations.
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