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I want to say something about social mobility. One of the greatest attributes of the British people is their belief in fairness, and it is that sense of fairness that supports the notion that whatever your starting point in life's marathon, it does not have to be your personal best for the rest of the race. If you try to move up the field, or even get into the leading pack, you should have the opportunity to do so. Aspiration, family and enterprise have been essential elements in my own personal journey. They are also fundamental in a society in which mobility can flourish and not flounder. I should like to say a few things about each of them.
I believe in opportunity and aspiration, and in the ability of individuals to achieve, progress and reach their full potential, whoever they are and wherever they are from, if they choose to do so. I came from a pretty humble start, but I was allowed to progress in life because I had the good fortune to engage with people who instilled in me the importance of working hard and aiming high, and values such as individualism, self-empowerment, choice, freedom, free enterprise, self-reliance and self-esteem. I hope that we, as politicians, can advocate and reinforce those values, because if we do we may be able to help many, many people to rise beyond the circumstances of their birth, and if we do that, society as a whole will prosper.
I also believe in the power of the family. I believe that the family is a fundamental and vital tool in holding society together. It can provide security, stability and commitment. In the family we learn how to give, how to share, how to be kind, how to care, and how to build relationships. Those are the foundations that people need in order to progress. Yet for many years the family has been badly neglected as an institution, although it is also key to dealing with issues such as gun crime, knife crime, teenage pregnancy, truancy and antisocial behaviour. I hope that we, as a Parliament, will do all that we can to support the family.
As for enterprise, it enables aspiration to become reality. It can also create wealth, independence and choice. I set up my first business when I was 11 years old, digging up old bottles from a Victorian dump in Carlisle and selling them at an old curiosity shop. I know that that sounds like something out of Dickens, but it is absolutely true. At one stage I was making about £2 a week, which was a lot of money in those days. I have always loved business, and I have always been enterprising.
In our country it has nearly always been possible to aim high, work hard, be resourceful, take a risk and make money, but that is changing. Over-regulation is strangling enterprise. Every accident is someone else's fault, and people are quick to talk about rights-but what about responsibilities? Even our employment legislation has become so potentially onerous that people must be very careful about whom they take on. Any redefinition of a job description can be construed as constructive dismissal, and any criticism of performance may equal "harassment". I often feel that I cannot give a bad but honest reference without fear of litigation.
The combined effect of all that is a massive disincentive to enterprise, which is bad for business and bad for Britain. I hope that, through this coalition Government, we can get rid of some of this nonsense, replacing it
with a much more common-sense approach. In order to do that, however, we may need to promote and recruit Ministers and Government officials who have at least some direct experience of wealth creation, and who understand the importance of cash flow and the working environment in which we must all operate.
Our country is facing very difficult times. The House is debating an emergency Budget and the effects that it may have, but however we choose to rectify our financial position, we must strive to preserve the things that underpin our chances of success: aspiration, family and enterprise.
Mr Eric Illsley (Barnsley Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) on her maiden speech. As she admitted, she has a difficult act to follow, but the confident and assured way in which she addressed the House shows that she is well up to meeting the challenge. We look forward to listening to her on many occasions in the future.
This Budget is hypocritical, regressive and vindictive. It is hypocritical because, as recently as April, both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats rejected the idea of an increase in value added tax. The excuse that they have given since forming the coalition Government is that they found that matters were much worse than they had thought once they managed to see the books. I find that somewhat difficult to swallow, given that the problems relating to our finances have been well documented.
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) that the Government have been suckered into believing information from the Bank of England about the danger of our being sucked into eurozone problems, when in fact we are in no such danger. Before the banking crisis and the recession struck, our historic debt stood at about 40%, a level comparable to that in some other regions. It was not particularly excessive.
It is rather galling that the Liberal Democrats have fallen so easily into the coalition Government, agreeing not only to the £6 billion of cuts that affect my area but to the cuts that form part of this emergency Budget. They seem to sit comfortably in this cutting Government; they seem to be comfortable wearing the Tory mantle that they appear to have assumed. I think that many people in the country will rightly feel that they voted for Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament only to be presented with Tories.
The Budget is vindictive because it attacks the less well off: the lower paid and benefit claimants. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) let the cat out of the bag when he called it a Conservative Budget-a traditional Conservative Budget, which attacks the public sector and cuts the welfare state. Are the Government trying to tell us that, in an emergency Budget, they will remedy all the ills of recent years in which our welfare budget has increased? Are they going to do all that in one Budget? Surely not. Surely they could have taken time to examine our debt problems in depth before making slashing, swingeing cuts such as these.
It seems that we are returning to the old Tory mantra: if it is provided by the public sector it is bad but if it is provided by the private sector it is good, and everything to do with the private sector is far superior to everything to do with the public sector. That simply will not wash. It is the old dogma that we have heard in the past.
VAT is obviously a regressive tax. It affects the less well off far more than those on higher incomes. It is a question of involuntary versus voluntary expenditure. Yes, people on higher incomes will pay more in VAT, because they will spend more of their disposable income on luxuries. Unavoidable expenditure on food, groceries and other necessities will affect the lower paid much more than the well off.
As we have heard time and again this evening, housing benefit cuts will throw people out of their homes. It is apparently assumed that those people can move from one end of the country to another to find employment, but slashing public sector spending by 25% in every Department will surely result in further job losses. Here we are, throwing people on to unemployment benefit while at the same time cutting the welfare state that is designed to assist them. That will have an impact on areas such as mine, in which there are high levels of public sector employment. Why does my area have a high level of public sector employment? Because a certain previous Government removed its one major industry, the coal industry, many years ago. We have struggled to find incoming investment and employment to compensate for those job losses, and, as has been mentioned, when the coal industry was being closed down the Government of the time encouraged workers to go on to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment benefit because that reduced the unemployment figures. We therefore have a legacy of higher numbers of claimants of incapacity benefits such as disability living allowance. As for the idea that we will bring in a medical test for DLA, the conditions for DLA are based on care needs. They are based not on the medical condition of the person claiming, but on whether they require care throughout the day or night. The introduction of a medical would therefore remove a lot of people from that benefit, probably unjustly.
Why have the Government decided to cut at the ratio of 80:20? Why does the cut suddenly need to be so great? The hon. Member for Peterborough made the point that this is a Conservative Budget. The Conservatives have, with the co-operation of the Liberal Democrats, taken the opportunity to attack the public sector and the welfare state, just as they have done in the past. This is simple opportunism to cut the welfare state and the public sector work force.
Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con):
In the limited time available to me, I want to concentrate on some specific areas of the Budget that affect either my constituency or subjects about which I feel passionately, but first let me say that there was one subject the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Mr Illsley) did not speak about: bingo. It is a passion that we share, and it is important to mention it as I do not think it has
been referred to so far in the Budget debate. Through campaigning, we recently managed to secure a reduction in the tax on bingo from 22% to 20%, and I am sure he would want to join me in campaigning to ensure that that reduction continues until we have got it back to the 15% level and that we get a commitment from the Government that they will look to reduce that tax as soon as the financial circumstances of the country allow.
The right hon. and learned Lady the Leader of the Opposition said in her response to the Chancellor's statement that the Budget would "hit" constituents in Cheshire the least. I am unsure whether she said that out of concern for the poorest and most vulnerable people in my constituency or out of political mischief aimed in the direction of the Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne)-although I think I know which is the more likely-but I am nevertheless glad that she raised the matter. Crewe and Nantwich is home to some of the most poverty-stricken areas in Cheshire, and it is the people in those areas who deserve to be-to quote the right hon. and learned Lady again-"hit" the least.
In 2008, the year in which I was first elected to the House, Labour hit the lowest paid with the 10p tax fiasco. While this is a difficult Budget, I am proud of the fact that the coalition is doing the opposite by lifting 880,000 of the lowest paid out of tax altogether. I am also proud that we are introducing the earnings link for pensions, something Labour did not do for 13 years, instead, unforgettably, increasing the pension by 75p.
It is not just these headline measures that affect my constituency, however. The Government have announced that they will reduce regulatory costs by introducing a one in, one out system for new regulations. That was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), who made an excellent maiden speech. She made the point that regulation is right at the heart of the issues that small businesses in particular face. At an election hustings event in Crewe and Nantwich organised by the Federation of Small Businesses, local business man after local business man told me about their No. 1 concern: stifling regulation. At present, a small business spends on average seven hours a week filling in forms. What a waste! Three in four firms say the Budget will make a positive impact on their business, and I have no doubt that to those job and wealth creators the reduction in regulations is one of the most important measures that back business in the Budget. It has inspired a welcome response.
Another measure in the Red Book that will benefit business in Crewe and Nantwich is the coalition's commitment to investigate ways to help with fuel costs in remote rural areas. The coalition is considering the case for introducing a fuel duty discount in those important parts of the country, including a possible pilot scheme in Scotland, but I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to consider extending the scope of the pilot schemes to include thriving rural economies such as that in Crewe and Nantwich, which is at the very heart of our dairy industry.
I also want to speak about one of my particular passions: adoption and fostering, and looked-after children. As chairman of the all-party groups on both those subjects, and as someone who shared his childhood-and most of his adulthood-with foster children, I can say that foster carers will be very happy that their capital
allowance rules will be amended in this Budget to ensure that they operate consistently and as intended for all carers. Foster carers are to be applauded for the sterling work they do in providing for some of the most vulnerable in our society, and none of them should be penalised by the taxation system purely because their business circumstances change.
We know we have to make choices in this Budget about where we make cuts. There are issues of essential spending and issues of discretionary spending, but money spent on looked-after children and the caring and support of vulnerable children by foster carers should never be seen as a luxury, so my plea on behalf of a part of our population that cannot speak for itself in these chastened and difficult times is do not forget about us. If the baby P and Edlington cases taught us anything, it is that when it comes to child protection we cannot afford to cut corners or pass the buck. With 40% of people in prison having been through the care system, we have to recognise that there is still much to do.
I believe that this is a decisive Budget. It deals with the record deficit the Government inherited from Labour and it contains important measures that will benefit some of the poorest and most vulnerable in my constituency, as well as the business and rural communities. It is hard to welcome some of the tougher measures contained in it, but, sadly, they are necessary, albeit painful, decisions. I applaud the overall structure of the Budget, therefore. We on the Government Benches did not build up the record deficit, but we will do all we can to knock it back down and get Britain back in the black.
Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity to make my maiden speech, and I would like to congratulate the hon. Members for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) on their excellent maiden speeches.
I am delighted to have been elected for my home constituency of Airdrie and Shotts. To represent the people from whom I have come is the greatest honour I can imagine. It is, however, sad that this, my maiden speech, comes on a day when we will be asked to vote on a Budget that is more regressive than anything Thatcher ever managed to produce. It is a Budget based on ideology, not reality; on aggressive cuts, not need. The hard-working people of my constituency will be among those hardest hit by the measures proposed: when tax credits are cut, when necessary benefits are lowered, when 100,000 jobs are lost that would have been saved under a Labour Government.
My constituents have not forgiven the Tories for the destruction they let loose upon Scotland in the 1980s. Unfortunately, if the Budget gets through, it looks as if history will repeat itself. How can a Budget that reduces the opportunities that are available, that takes away support from those in danger of losing their homes and that increases VAT be described as progressive? How can Liberal Democrat Members who publicly campaigned so hard against these measures support this Budget? I have quickly come to the conclusion that the Members on the Government Benches do not know the meaning of the word "progressive".
One of the most famous sons of my constituency, the father of the Labour party, James Keir Hardie, was an intelligent man, ahead of his time. While, admittedly, he did show an affinity for the Liberals early in his career, he soon became disillusioned with the economic policies of Gladstone's Government and came to the conclusion
"that the Liberals neither would nor could ever adequately represent the working classes."
Reading Keir Hardie's story once again, as I prepared this speech, I was reminded why I became interested in politics. His family had little and lost the little they had because they were unprotected from unemployment and health problems, and there was a lack of education provision. He struggled against startling odds to educate himself, beginning at night school in Holytown in my constituency, and took great risks to enter politics and represent those unable to represent themselves. It is to lift people out of poverty and ensure that no one has to exist like that that I entered politics. We in the Labour party are grateful to Keir Hardie for blazing the trail that allows us to sit in the Chamber today.
Thirteen years after Keir Hardie first led Labour MPs into the House of Commons, my constituency was fortunate to be represented by the then baby of the House, Jennie Lee. She gave her maiden speech in response to Churchill's Budget, using the opportunity to highlight the real suffering behind the figures. Since 1945 my constituency, in its various guises, has been represented by some of Labour's brightest stars, including Margaret Herbison, who in her 25 years as an MP fought for miners' rights and was instrumental in forging the foundations of our welfare system.
Peggy was succeeded by Labour's former leader, the right hon. John Smith. My first political memory was hearing of his death when I was in a school assembly. His memory and influence remain at the heart of my community and its politics as much as they lie in the spirit of this Chamber. He will never be forgotten.
Following John Smith's death a by-election was called and the right hon. Helen Liddell emerged victorious. Helen's strong wit and character lit up the Chamber. She will be an excellent addition on the red Benches and I look forward to the contributions she will make there. When Helen headed for sunnier climes down under, the right hon. Dr John Reid took her place as Member of Parliament for Airdrie and Shotts. Dr, soon to be Lord, Reid has served the people of Lanarkshire for 23 years. His wit became apparent in the first minute of his maiden speech when he mentioned that the empty Tory Benches he was facing reminded him of a mass rally of the Scottish Conservative party. Following this year's general election in Scotland, I could not agree more.
Soon after Labour came to power in 1997, Dr Reid began his ministerial career at the Department for Transport and went on to hold more Cabinet posts than any politician in recent history. As Secretary of State for Scotland, he oversaw the handover of power from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament. He went on to become Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when the peace process was in jeopardy. I know that the highlight of his political career was to witness Martin McGuinness and the Reverend Ian Paisley sit down together at Stormont as Deputy and First Minister, an outcome helped along by the work of Dr Reid.
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