Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) for his fluent and assured maiden speech. There is a great future for him in this House.
The Budget that was presented to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week was brave and bold, and it was the right thing to do. History will record that it will set our country back on the road to economic recovery and prosperity. Just as it fell to Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago to deal with the poisonous legacy of Labour profligacy and financial ruin, the Prime Minister faces a similar challenge today. Labour Members, in their faux outrage at the Budget, barely comprehend the fiscal catastrophe that they inflicted on our country, displaying a mixture of cocky bravado and denial.
A modicum of humility or contrition from Labour would surely be appropriate and in order. Given Labour's utterly negative message at the general election, with no vision of what a fourth Labour Government would mean, it is no wonder that few commentators and fewer voters take its protestations seriously. It simply has no coherent alternative, other than to tax and spend, and to bribe the core vote with other people's money. Labour's plan to cut the deficit was completely empty of detail and its deficit reduction bill merely partisan window-dressing.
The Labour party would have had more credibility at the general election and in this debate if it had been honest with the voters about the 20% cuts in non-ring-fenced departmental budgets that the previous Chancellor had already planned. We know that Labour prepared position papers in the Treasury for a 20% VAT rise, which, most importantly, the party failed to rule out in its election manifesto. Labour bet the ranch over the past 13 years on financial services that were not properly regulated, on unsustainable increases in public spending and on a housing market built on a South Sea-style bubble. Labour lost, and we all lost: a £155 billion deficit-bigger in percentage terms than in Italy, Greece or Portugal-a structural deficit that is £12 billion more than we were led to believe, and a debt mountain of £1.4 trillion from the Government who gave us £3 billion overspends on welfare payments and wasted £780 million on the reorganisation of Departments and agencies.
It is scarcely possible to believe that during a dozen years of plenty so many of our fellow citizens were failed, and none more so than the so-called working poor-those who get up in the morning and go to work, pay their taxes, teach their children right from wrong, and have a sense of pride and self-respect. People are rational, and they will do rational things. If we pay for people not to go to work, they will take the path of least resistance and not work. That is Labour's legacy: the people who need our help, trapped in a half-life of bureaucratic form-filling, and a hopeless and aimless existence on benefits. I believe that the Labour Government were not malevolent, but merely incompetent to an Olympian degree. After 13 years, the number of children in severe poverty is rising. We also have a higher number of children living in workless households than practically any other country in the European Union, 4.8 million people of working age in workless households, and one in five 18-year-old boys who are NEET-not in education, employment or training.
Mr Leigh: The worst statistic of all is that last year, of the 85,000 children in receipt of free school meals, whom we should be helping more, only 45 got into Oxbridge, which is fewer than those who came from just one school-that attended by the Leader of the Opposition. That is the true demerit of what we have been creating in the past 13 years.
Mr Jackson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the House's attention to that statistic. Likewise, the number of children who go from care into higher education is also a shameful figure. I therefore strongly endorse the ambition of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to tackle the deep-rooted causes of poverty in this country, and to tackle the twin aims of lessening the scale of social breakdown and improving the quality of life of the poorest in our society. If our Government achieve nothing less, they will have served our country in achieving that.
In my constituency, where we have recently suffered job losses, and where we also have low skill levels, lower-than-average pay and high welfare dependency, the problems are real and they are about people, not statistics. Hundreds of children in Peterborough live in dysfunctional families, their parents on welfare benefits. Those children lack ambition, a focus and, often, a moral framework, going without anything other than peremptory familial love and experiencing, through no fault of their own, an inevitable poverty of imagination, as well as, too often, material poverty. Dedicated teachers, nursery staff, health professionals and members of the extended family, such as grandparents, are often forced to assume a role in loco parentis. I believe that we have a moral duty to those children to do something about the situation, even if not to their often indolent and feckless parents.
More than 6,000 of my constituents languish on disability living allowance and, most shockingly, more than 1,000 of them languished on that particular benefit for more than 12 years under the previous Labour Government.
We simply cannot go on as we are. I welcome the measures in the Budget. I believe that they seek to protect the vulnerable while rebalancing our efforts to generate a private sector-led recovery that will benefit everyone in the medium term. In that spirit, I particularly welcome the 50,000 extra apprenticeships, an increase in the child element of the child tax credit, the re-linking of pensions and the allowance increase of £1,000 for low and middle-income earners. I restate our commitment to Sure Start, to refocusing on the neediest families and to helping ensure that the 6 million carers in our country receive appropriate respite care. I welcome too the cuts in corporation tax, the £200 million increase in the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, the green investment bank and the green new deal.
I hope that the new fiscal rules that the Chancellor has outlined will mean that by 2016, if we have extra money as a result of the cyclically adjusted current
balance being in surplus, we will be able to cut tax again for the lowest-paid working people in this country. It took courage in this Budget to tackle the entitlement culture and some of the shibboleths and sacred cows, but putting this country back on track will require further tough decisions, which are the right thing to do. We should also disregard the opportunism of Her Majesty's Opposition. There is nothing inevitable about a double-dip recession, and I believe that it will not happen. The Budget is borne of desperate necessity, but is there any evidence that seeking to encourage private sector growth and reducing the size of the state to 39% of GDP in four years is a bad thing and will not create jobs, wealth and new markets for our goods and services?
The Chancellor was candid and straightforward last week, in contrast to the Labour years of subterfuge, stealth taxes and fictitious growth projections. Tough but fair, a progressive and forward-looking Budget; a Conservative Budget for the nation and not for narrow, sectional, vested interests and the core vote-it is for this reason that I commend the Budget to the House and my constituents. I will be voting for it tonight.
There was a kind of creepy pleasure in listening to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) because, in a curious way, it was like hearing a really bad horror film, and there is always a great deal of pleasure to be found in a really bad horror film. As for this recalling of Thatcherism in all its glory, dressed up for the 21st century, I love the idea that we can simply get people to work. There are all these people living in Peterborough who apparently have no desire to work and are perfectly happy to stay at home, neglecting their children, but the hon. Gentleman has been their MP for all this time-how long?-so why has he not done something about it? The issue is that in Peterborough, as in the rest of the country, under this-in my view Thatcherite mark 2 -Budget, there will be no jobs. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson)-I regret that he is no longer in his place-the only guarantee in the Budget is a massive rise in unemployment.
Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): In my constituency, the number of people in receipt of disability living allowance doubled under the previous Government; and not only did it double, it went up every year. Would the hon. Lady not see that as an example of the failure of the policies of the previous Government?
Perhaps that is one of those areas-this was briefly touched on in an earlier contribution-that, like our health service, has increased so much because we are all living longer, so that people who might have died many years before are still living, but justifiably claiming disability living allowance because they are disabled. The hon. Gentleman should forgive me for giving him a tiny history lesson, but I would just point out to him that when his party was last in total
government-as opposed to being propped up by the "30 pieces of silver" party-it massaged the unemployment figures by putting people on incapacity benefit, and that ran for years.
The hon. Member for Peterborough is also suffering from selective amnesia. Those of us who lived through the first Thatcherite era remember well the levels of unemployment, the destruction of communities, and the throwing on to the scrap heap of the greatest national resource that this country will ever have: its people. Their talent, their ability, their creativity and their capacity for hard work were all thrown away for the same reason that they are being thrown away now. "You can't buck the markets" was the litany then; it is exactly the same now, even though it has been dressed up and presented in a very different way.
We hear massive arguments from Conservative Members that the Labour party created this fiscal downturn, yet they are all intelligent enough to know that that is grossly untrue. It is easy, in the blame culture that we live in today, to make threats to bankers and to say that they are the most blameworthy people, yet they have not been punished in the Budget at all.
The hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who is no longer in his place, and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) both attempted, in their different ways, to make a salient point-namely, that this is a fair Budget because the richest pay the most. They must know that that is completely and utterly untrue. It is a grossly unfair Budget, because the poorest are the most dependent on public services, which we know will be slashed under the comprehensive spending review, when it eventually happens in October.
"budget cuts will hit Britain's poorest families six times harder than the richest"?
It is neither progressive nor fair. What is depressing about the path that the coalition Government have gone down is that they have learned absolutely nothing from the lessons of history. This is always the case: it is always the poorest who pay the most; their health suffers, they live in the worst possible housing, and their job opportunities are nil. I love the Secretary of State's wonderful idea that they can move out of their social housing to another part of the country and find a job. This is coming from a Government who have already destroyed the regional development agencies. Sheffield Forgemasters has also been mentioned. There is absolutely nothing in the Budget that will help to create employment. One of the worst aspects of
the Budget is that it will slash the confidence of those people who need it the most in order to get out there and compete in an ever-shrinking jobs market.
Mr Ward: Does the hon. Lady believe that it was a question of 30 pieces of silver when Clem Attlee, Herbert Morrison, Hugh Dalton and Ernest Bevin joined a coalition Government at a time of national disaster?
Glenda Jackson: This is a kind of psychobabble. When we get to the age of 18 and become adults, we really cannot blame everything on our parents, and, at his age, the hon. Gentleman really should not be blaming all those grandparents and great-grandparents for anything. The Liberal Democrats made their choices: they campaigned and they spent money on posters that warned of the VAT bombshell, but they have now signed up for it.
I want to go back to my point that it is always the poorest who pay the most. It will not be the richest who will feel the pain of the VAT increase; it will be the poorest. We have only to go round the supermarkets to see the kind of changes that are being brought into play. The special purchases of particular products that are cheaper than the branded product-or even, in some instances, than the supermarket's own product-will be the products that the poorest people will have to buy.
Glenda Jackson: No. The idea that you have allowed children to languish in that state in Peterborough for all these years and done nothing about it-no, I am sorry, I cannot give you time. You voted against Sure Start. You voted against the new deal. You voted against every single policy that the Labour Government brought in over our 13 years to give every child a chance and to ensure that we as a nation invested in our greatest national treasure: our people.
Mr Binley: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady. Does she not have any regrets at all about the massive rise in the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training? That can be laid at no one else's doorstep but the Labour Government's.
Glenda Jackson: May I just point out to the hon. Gentleman that, when his party was last in government, it was not children who were not in education, employment or training? In Birkenhead, the city in which I was born-admittedly, I have not lived there for a very long time-there were men who were entirely fit, healthy and capable of work, but the only way for them to earn a living was to pick over the rubbish dumps to see if they could find anything to sell.
There is a fantasy about a big black hole of debt that is resting on the shoulders of every man, woman and child in this country. I have lived all my life under the debt incurred by this country fighting and winning the second world war. We paid that debt off about five years ago, but I had not even been aware of its existence. During those decades, I and millions like me were given opportunities to move forward, to develop our talents and to create work that had not been dreamt of by the preceding generations. That could have happened again, but it will not happen under this Budget. This Budget is quite deliberately following the good old Conservative rule of divide and rule, and blame the poor-
Glenda Jackson: Don't shake your head. In every soundbite you give, you are running with the idea that the people who are claiming benefit are scroungers, and that they have no job because they do not want to work. That is classic Conservative party doctrine. This Budget is a disgrace, because it attacks the most vulnerable in our society, and they are the people, regardless of their party political colour, whom everyone in the House should be committed to defending and protecting. You are simply destroying their opportunities.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. This might be an appropriate time to remind Members that, when they use the word "you", they are addressing me, and I have been accused of many things for which I was not responsible. I call Helen Grant.
Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. Paying tribute to my predecessor is a task that I find very easy. Ann Widdecombe was a high-profile and eminent MP who worked very hard for the people of Maidstone and The Weald. She is a woman of great integrity, honesty and sincerity, and a lady I am very proud to call my friend. Ann has been one of our most colourful and controversial politicians, and I know that her pragmatic contributions will be sadly missed in this place. Happily, her clarion voice will continue to be heard in the media and beyond, and, on behalf of the House, I wish her well in her future endeavours.
The constituency of Maidstone and The Weald is the perfect mix of rural and urban life. The rural aspect of the seat stretches some 20 miles to the south of Maidstone, encompassing vibrant communities such as Cranbrook and Marden, and picture postcard villages such as Benenden. In the north of the constituency, we have Maidstone, the county town of Kent, which is also the home of the 36 Engineer Regiment. I should like to pay tribute to the bravery of our engineers and to remember their losses in Afghanistan. May God bless them, their families and their loved ones.
I must declare an interest in our armed services, as my eldest son, Ben, is a Royal Marine training in Devon. As a forces Mum, I am gaining an understanding of the tremendous pride that families feel, but also of the emotional rollercoaster that they ride each day. I hope that what I learn from my son's service will translate into something useful for our many military families.