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"were shouting in anger, and they were all alike...The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), but he will not be surprised that I cannot agree with his analysis. I wish to make two specific comments to him. First, he spoke passionately on behalf of the poorest people in his constituency, but I cannot see how one helps the poorest and those out of work in Coatbridge by messing up the public finances and producing spending plans that are unaffordable and cannot be carried through. Making promises of that kind does the poor no favours.
Secondly, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's accusation that we take pleasure in the measures that were announced on Tuesday. There are many things in the Budget that I do not take pleasure from, and many spending cuts are coming that Members in all parts of the House will probably wish had not been made. There are certainly tax increases in the pipeline that we would not have wished for. However, many of the decisions that the Chancellor has taken were simply unavoidable because of the mess that we have inherited. We take no pleasure in the judgments that have had to be made.
It is heartening to Members on the Government side of the House, after so many years of hubris, boasting and declaration, to have a Budget that is so clear, honest and straightforward. Even if the right hon. Gentleman disagrees with the measures in it, it sets them out clearly and simply. It is refreshing to have a Budget that takes the longer view-a Budget for a whole Parliament. It is good to know now the structure of the measures in it, unpopular and unpalatable as some of them are to Members on our side of the House as well as his, and that if those decisions are carried through, the current structural deficit will be closed by the end of this Parliament.
It is refreshing also to have a Government who face up to a situation that has deteriorated rapidly, as we have seen in the eurozone. There is no exact parallel between our deficit and that of Greece, or between our debt and that of Spain, but there was a parallel between the Labour Government and the Governments of Greece and Spain in that all of them ignored successive warnings. They were all warned by the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the European Commission to start putting their public finances in order, and they ignored those warnings. That is why we have had to be confronted with a second Budget in a year-an emergency Budget that puts right the weaknesses that have been identified.
Mr Tom Clarke: When the hon. Gentleman makes comparisons with other countries, will he bear in mind that we in Britain are not in the euro? Will he also, as he did when he was on the Treasury Committee, recognise that there is a big difference between short and long-term debt, and that that matters?
Michael Fallon: I accept both those points, and I am not drawing exact parallels with Greece and Spain. I am making the much more general point that when a country is warned by all the international agencies and commentators, and depends on the international markets to finance its accelerated borrowing, it has to listen to those warnings. That is why we are now confronted with a second Budget in three months.
The Budget is to be welcomed because the pain is quite clearly shared. We can of course argue about its relative impact on various deciles and so on, and we have had that argument. We can also discuss whether we should include the measures taken in earlier Budgets or just consider this Budget itself. What cannot be argued about, however, is that the pain is spread across all income groups and sectors. My constituents will bear some of that pain, just as the right hon. Gentleman's constituents will in Coatbridge.
Let us be clear about some of the spending cuts that will ensue: they are legacy cuts; in the end, they are Labour's cuts. We discovered that some of the spending promises made in January would, shockingly, have been financed from the reserve, which was set aside to ensure that our troops in Afghanistan would be properly financed if new need arose there for equipment and so on. It would have been raided to finance the extra spending commitments that were announced in the pre-election rush. The plain fact is that the spending was unfunded. We cannot continue to spend £700 billion and raise only £545 billion in taxes. That gap must be bridged and the Budget, for the first time in a series of Budgets, sets out a credible path for achieving that.
I am pleased that, when the Chancellor considered the make-up of those spending totals, he decided not to cut the capital spending programme further. That is important. Clearly, there are implications for jobs, and the capital spending totals were already being halved from their peak. There are explanations for that, but it was right not to cut them further.
I note that when the Chancellor reviewed the capital spending programme and future capital spending commitments, he was careful to preserve some of the commitments for key infrastructure projects in, for example, the northern cities. It is not true that the Budget hits Scotland, Lanarkshire or the north harder than other parts of the country. The dualling of the A21, for which we have long campaigned in Kent, was one of the first casualties of the spending review. Long-cherished projects in the south-east, too, are being further postponed. The pain is being spread across the country. That should be borne in mind when particular decisions, such as the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, are considered.
I want to make three further comments about the Budget judgment. First, I assume-obviously, I must await the completion of the spending review-that there will be further contributions from annually managed expenditure. I assume that, as well as the decisions that have already been made-I accept that Labour Members may oppose them-about housing benefit and some of the other grants that have been mentioned, there will be more changes through some of the welfare reforms that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his team are considering.
Secondly, I hope that, when an element of spending is protected, it will not be wholly insulated from the same downward pressures that we apply elsewhere to reducing
management, eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy and focusing more spending on the front line. That must apply equally to health and international development as to other matters. Otherwise, in two, three or four years, those who happen to work in the health service will end up being better rewarded than those who have chosen to work in the education service or the police service. That would not be right.
Thirdly, I want to say a little more about the proposed freezes. There are freezes on public sector pay, child benefit and council tax. The reasons for them are all too obvious: the private sector has had to accept a huge measure of freezing-I pay tribute to trade unions in the private sector for the extent to which they accepted the necessary restraint on pay and the changes in working practices that had to follow in the teeth of one of the worst recessions we have had to face. It is therefore right that, as well as freezing pay, we should continue to consider the greater flexibilities that we need, and equity between the private and public sectors. Working practices, various entitlements and inherited rights should also be examined. It is not simply a question of freezing pay for two years and exposing public services to some of the problems that we have experienced in the past with incomes policy, when there is immediate demand for catch-up, immediate pressure for comparability and so on. While the freezes are in place, it is important to continue the search for radical reform, which helps restructure those services. That should apply across the public sector, where we have frozen pay and in local government, where we will freeze council tax. We must continue the drive for more efficient services, and shared services between councils.
The principle may also apply to some of the frozen benefits, such as child benefit, where freezing the benefit does not wholly tackle some of the inherent difficulties with universal benefits-the deadweight cost that is expended on those who are well able to afford to bring up their children but are entitled to exactly the same amount of child benefit as those much further down the income scale. Those issues need to be addressed while the benefits are frozen.
As we rebalance the economy away from the expansion in the public sector to encouraging the private sector to grow again-I welcome the enterprise measures in the Budget-it is enormously important to continue to focus effort on reskilling and ensuring that those who have to change their jobs and seek the new opportunities that are being provided have the necessary skills to alter their position in the labour market. We must get alternative training providers in alongside jobcentres and existing services.
Labour Members have described the Budget as a gamble. It is not a gamble, but a necessary judgment to restore the public finances and get our economy growing again in a way that provides the jobs of the future. We are in politics to make such judgments, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out his judgment so honestly in the Budget that I support.
Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC):
In my speech today, I will examine several different issues of Welsh, UK and international significance, noting the impact of the new Budget on the Welsh
economy and Welsh families and communities. However, I begin by asking whether the Budget was even necessary, never mind whether it deserves the billing of an "emergency Budget." It was clearly a political and ideological Budget, designed to shrink the state, and not one that was economically needed.
Indeed, even the Financial Times columnist, Sam Brittan, called it a "totally unnecessary budget" in his column of 18 June. We already had figures from the March Budget from the new Office for Budget Responsibility, and we all knew that the major announcements are actually the cuts that will be announced in October in the comprehensive spending review.
On Tuesday, the UK Government confirmed that, except for health and overseas aid, departmental budgets are to be cut by 25% during this Parliament. If we map that level of cuts on the position in Wales, around 60,000 public sector jobs are at risk-15,000 more than the 45,000 job cuts planned by Labour in March. Indeed, based on today's Financial Times figures, 65,000 public sector jobs are in danger in my country. That is very worrying for many families in Wales, and we believe that it is unnecessary and avoidable.
Clearly, the national debt and deficit must be tackled, but there is a question of timing, and I cannot believe that increasing the cuts in this way and at this time is in any way beneficial to the people of Wales. However, the implementation of the recommendations of the Holtham commission on funding and finance in Wales would be beneficial. A major plank of that was the recommendation that a floor of 114% of English spend be implemented immediately, to ensure that Wales does not lose out further under the Barnett formula.
"the Westminster Government should act immediately"
in introducing a floor. That £300 million a year would save around 9,000 public sector jobs in Wales, but would be only the first step on the way to the fairer, needs-based formula that we need. It is therefore disappointing that all this has been put on the back burner. With so much work on the issue contributed by Gerry Holtham and his team, as well as three other independent reports, I cannot see the need for an additional commission after a successful referendum on further powers for the National Assembly.
There were other areas where the new Budget is both tough and unfair. The most important are the cuts in the welfare budget, to the tune of £11 billion in coming years. As figures in the Financial Times showed, any cuts in welfare or the public sector hurt areas that are already in need of more. The change from upgrading benefits according to retail prices index inflation to upgrading them according to the consumer prices index will mean a lower rate of benefit growth than before, as well as a stealth saving. Having worked for Citizens Advice Cymru, I can tell hon. Members that people who rely on benefits will struggle because of those changes, and we are talking about real people and families on low incomes, not the "welfare scroungers" that the political right like to caricature.
Specifically, the proposals to lower the number of people on disability living allowance are a cause for concern. In Wales, more than 240,000 people are on
DLA. Having seen the impact of tribunals and stricter qualification criteria on other benefits, we have concerns about how the new changes to eligibility will be implemented and who will make the final decision. What appeals system will be in place, for example? We and disability groups support getting people into work. That is a good thing, but when such schemes are suggested, especially in such a manner and in such a Budget, there is a wider concern that they are just a means for getting people off benefits, rather than supporting them back into work.
I must also say that, in many parts of the UK, even if people are able to work, they cannot. Some parts of my country have very few jobs available, with between 10 and 15 registered jobseeker's allowance claimants for each advertised job, and that is even before adding people who are switched from disability benefits. It is the same with parents of young children going back to work. If the work is not available and we are forced into making savage cuts in the public sector, how are those people to find work?
However, there are some steps in the Budget that we welcome. There was a recognition that Wales and other parts of the UK have not shared in economic growth in the past and that a level playing field is required. Quite how Labour managed to create or accept a situation where only one private sector job was created in the north or midlands of England, but 10 were created in London, is beyond me. That shows Labour's failure of imagination in growing or developing a balanced economy. However, the Conservatives' proposal to allow a national insurance holiday is hardly likely to correct the years of economic centralisation in London and the south-east of England, or rebalance the economy geographically.
A more far-reaching idea might be the regionalisation of corporation tax according to gross value added. That would give the poorest nations and regions a competitive advantage. In west Wales and the valleys-the areas that I represent-GVA is only 64% of the UK average, so additional assistance to equalise that across the UK would be warmly welcomed. Another avenue might be the devolution of that tax, so that the Welsh Government could make their own decisions, within EU regulations. Bolder moves to develop the Welsh economy are needed than those given in the Budget. The route map for economic renewal, to be launched in a few weeks' time by Welsh Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones, will provide more nuanced, Welsh solutions.
Changes that bring about real-terms cuts in benefits and public sector pay freezes punish those who had nothing to do with the economic mess created by the banks. The general public will contribute £13 billion extra towards the deficit through the VAT hike. The bankers will pay a measly £2 billion a year through a levy, yet still see huge benefits in shifting their profits from income tax to capital gains tax. The levy is not only small; it is being introduced only gradually. The banks will not be squealing as a result of this Budget, as the cuts in corporation tax will compensate for the levy. Considering that the Public and Commercial Services Union estimates that there is £123 billion of uncollected tax, far from demonising vulnerable people struggling to get by, would it not be better if the Government targeted the super-rich for their tax avoidance and
evasion? Instead, cuts to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs staff will reduce capacity to collect due tax from those intent on not paying their fair share.
There were elements of the Budget that must be welcomed, not least the increase by £1,000 of the level at which income tax is paid by basic rate taxpayers, a Plaid Cymru policy at the general election.
However, a further disappointment for my country in this Budget is that although confirmation was given of other transport schemes in England, the electrification of the Great Western line was noticeable by its absence. I do not need to remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that Wales ranks alongside Albania and Moldova at the bottom of the electrified rail track league table. Without a concrete timetable for either electrification of the Great Western line or the creation of a high speed rail link to south Wales and north Wales, we will languish there much longer.
Far from all of us being in this together, the emergency Budget aimed its axe at the poorest and the most disadvantaged communities, while being more or less "business as usual" for the economic elite.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. As hon. Members will have recognised, we have a 12-minute limit, and I am grateful to everybody for observing that. I am sure that the House will also want to observe the conventions associated with maiden speeches.
Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): It is an honour to address this House for the first time today. It is an equal honour to do so as the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands. I could easily use up all the time available in praising my beautiful constituency, and although I shall resist doing so, as there are pressing matters facing the House, I make no apology for my pride in representing the people of the Moorlands, among whom I feel very much at home, as I represent the seat where I was born.
I would like to start by paying tribute to my predecessor, Charlotte Atkins. She made many friends in the constituency in her 13 years of representing the seat. There are many local causes that she made her own, including her advocacy for the charity Sailability and her vocal campaign for the preservation and promotion of the canal network. I am privileged to take up the baton in representing the Staffordshire Moorlands in this House.
Right hon. and hon. Members may be aware of the unique character of the Moorlands. Staffordshire is a large county with a great industrial history, but sometimes we overlook its claim as home to much of the Peak district. The geography of Staffordshire Moorlands is demonstrated not only by the name, but by the fact that one third of the seat is made up of Peak national park land. I see it as one of my responsibilities to encourage visitors to that beautiful place, which is something of an undiscovered tourist gem. When hon. Members visit the Moorlands, they will find a wealth of natural attractions. The very many hills enjoyed by walkers provide striking and inspiring scenery, including the famous Roaches. While among the peaks, hon. Members can slake their thirst in up to five of the 10 highest pubs in Britain.
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