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"let's remember, is a regressive tax".
What has changed since then? What is being proposed will affect the poorest in our society.
The Deputy Prime Minister is not the only one who has form in this area. When the then Leader of the Opposition appeared in Exeter in something called Cameron Direct on 8 May 2009, he said:
"You could try as you say put it on VAT, sales tax, but again if you look at the effect of sales tax, it's very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you."
So what is different now? What has actually changed, apart from the fact that the Government now have their posteriors on the Treasury Bench and in their ministerial limousines?
Ms Angela Eagle: My hon. Friend is making a perfectly good point and an extremely good speech. I should like to update the House about the website of the Deputy Prime Minister. The "Tory VAT bombshell" poster, which was on the website until very recently, has just been removed.
Mr Jones: I congratulate the hon. Member who raised the matter earlier. Someone obviously had to scurry away and take the poster down very quickly.
Tom Blenkinsop: In my constituency, I recently met representatives of the North East Federation of Small Business, who were concerned about their members who worked in retail on the high street. The increase in VAT to 20% will affect them very badly.
Mr Jones: I will come to that in a moment. Let me be honest-I have never considered shopping a leisure activity, and I think people are quite strange if they do. Unfortunately, my family and large numbers of my constituents think that it is. The VAT increase will have an effect on that leisure activity, which will have a direct effect on jobs that occupy a large proportion of the local economy in many areas. My hon. Friend's constituency has been affected by events at the Corus steelworks, and one possible result of that is that people will be looking for other jobs, including in retail, but those jobs simply will not be there.
Mrs McGuire: My hon. Friend said that we needed to look at the whole package. Will he reflect on the fact, linked to some of the cuts in maternity benefits, that new parents will have to pay 20% VAT when they buy a pram, for example? The VAT increase will apply not only to the big common items such as fridges, washing machines and cars but to basic goods that families have to buy daily.
Mr Jones: That will be a double whammy for those new families. Something like 30,000 children in the north-east will also lose out through the abolition of the child trust fund. Their families will then be hit by the VAT increase, on top of the huge expense of a new child, which will have a disproportionate effect, as my right hon. Friend points out. It will have an even greater effect on low-income families and people who are on benefits.
We spoke earlier about where the burden of the cuts will fall. It was obviously a first outing for the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), and the Government have obviously run out of people to put on the Front Bench, judging by the performance that we saw. She tried to argue that VAT was not a regressive tax, although the Liberal Democrats said throughout the election campaign that it was. She also tried to argue that the increase would not affect the poorest in society.
One of the great things about being a Member of Parliament is that we have access to a great Library here. I suggest that all hon. Members go and take a look at the excellent document on VAT and the new standard rate of 20%. Turn to page 4, which has a very useful graph that shows that, as a result of this increase, the poorest will pay some 19% more as a proportion of their net household income, while the richest will pay less than 11%. People in North Durham who are on benefits and those made unemployed over the last few weeks will find themselves being hit straight away next year by this tax. Also affected will be a lot of small businesses, shops and others.
Kate Green: Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason why the poor are hit so particularly hard is that for them this is not discretionary spending, but spending on essentials? While the rich might face paying out a higher proportion of their expenditure, that is because they choose to incur that extra expenditure, while poorer families are being fleeced for expenditure on items for which they have no choice but to spend.
Mr Jones: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Unlike the hon. Member for North East Somerset, who might be able to forgo a visit to the tailor once this year, some of the families he is talking to will not have a choice about whether to buy a new pram or other essential equipment for their baby. I have some further examples to put to the House.
Mr MacNeil: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me into the debate. The reason I often hear from the Liberal Democrats for their support for the increase in VAT is that the figures were far worse than they expected them to be. However, the pre-Budget report said that the deficit would be £176 billion, yet when it came to the Budget proper, it was £149 billion. In the build-up to the election, the Budget deficit was greater than anticipated and the Liberals were against the VAT rise; then, when they found a decrease in the deficit, they were suddenly for the VAT rise. I am perplexed. Can the hon. Gentleman help me understand those figures?
Mr Jones: What I am going to say to the hon. Gentleman in response might come as a bigger shock to him than when he first found out that Father Christmas did not exist.
Mr Jones: The Liberal Democrats do say one thing and do another. As I say, that will come as a great shock to the hon. Gentleman, but let us be honest, anyone who has fought Liberal Democrats in local government is used to them saying one thing and doing another locally, as well as nationally.
Mr Love: Does my hon. Friend agree that the biggest shock of all was the statements made by the Chancellor immediately before the Budget to the effect that he had no plans to raise VAT?
Mr Jones: Yes, we have been asked directly whether this came suddenly as a shock. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) has just raised the very clear point that the actual size of the deficit was smaller than projected. No, this is a coalition deal, as we all know, by the push-me, pull-me coalition. We obviously have two leaders who can hardly be told apart in terms of political objectives, and we have some very unhappy individuals, such as the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George). When he made his speech trying to justify this in the House last week, he looked very uncomfortable. I feel for him; all I would say is that if he feels so unhappy, he should come and join us.
Barry Gardiner: My hon. Friend is making a tremendous speech and I hope he goes on making it for a good deal longer. He talked about the impact of VAT on small businesses, but does he agree that one of the most damaging effects on those businesses in his part of the world will come from the loss of One NorthEast? The very support that businesses in his area require is going to be lost.
Mr Jones: Yes, another myth that people have been peddling is that development agencies like One NorthEast were somehow profiting and spending. I will tell anyone what One NorthEast did in my constituency. It helped out a perfectly viable business in the middle of the recession, which could not get a £2 million loan that it needed to be underwritten. When One NorthEast stepped in, 20 extra jobs were created in that small business and another 50 were safeguarded.
Chris Leslie: Are not small businesses doubly affected because of the cash-flow problems that they may experience? With VAT at 20%, it is difficult to persuade customers to pay up on time. Many businesses may go to the wall, and insolvencies may arise as a result of the VAT change.
Mr Jones: That is a very good point. The Budget offers no help whatsoever for the small businesses to which my hon. Friend referred. However, it is not just small businesses that are affected. Some supermarkets are very wary about the increase because of what they fear will happen to their businesses. The finance director of Tesco has called on the Government to freeze VAT at 17.5% because, he says, the economy is very fragile, saying:
"The recovery is happening but it's fragile and therefore the balance is important".
"is going to be part of the austerity package but it is a question of when you do it. The best thing would be to wait a bit."
Let me also give Sainsbury's a mention. According to Eye Spy MP, the Chief Secretary has been shopping there and buying Quavers. I am not sure whether they were intended to sustain him during tonight's debate. Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury's,
"warned the incoming UK government to refrain from increasing VAT amid speculation it could be an option considered by"
As has been pointed out, the VAT increase will have a real effect on retail business large and small. As for the consumer viewpoint, Mike O'Connor, chief executive of Consumer Focus, has said:
"Thousands of the things we buy every day are going to get more expensive. The VAT rise will hit the poorest consumers hardest as people who earn least already spend proportionately more of their income on VAT and it will be even more important for consumers to shop around for the best bargains."
Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Will not many of the poorest families be doubly hard hit? Not only will they face rising prices as a result of the VAT increase, but at the same time their benefits will be uprated in line with the consumer prices index rather than as previously with the retail prices index.
Mr Jones: There will indeed be a double effect on those families. It is all very well saying that people can shop around, but in my constituency-a rural constituency but, as I said in my maiden speech, one with urban problems-they cannot do that when they have no access to a car and the only option is public transport. Those are the communities who will be hit hardest, and I am sure that they exist in all constituencies. The new hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire, for instance, spoke of the pockets of deprivation in his own constituency. Those rural poor families will be hit harder than most.
Grahame M. Morris: The VAT increase will have an impact not only on small businesses and enterprises, but on working men's clubs. Tonight there was a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on non-profit making clubs, which is very concerned about the increase. Many clubs in our area are operating on the margins, and it will have an immediate impact on their costs because the transport costs are all passed on to them. Has my hon. Friend any thoughts about the impact on such clubs, which provide a real social centre for many people?
Mr Jones: As a member of the Sacriston workmen's club, I have to concur with my hon. Friend. As he knows, following the smoking ban, the change in the way people access alcohol and supermarket price cutting, many such clubs in the north-east of England have been struggling. Many have closed, sadly, in my constituency. We hear a lot about rural pubs, but we hear very little about the Club and Institute Union movement. In many places, including his constituency and mine, those clubs are the centre of the community. Once they have gone, they will not be replaced. The VAT increase will be a severe blow for them at this difficult time, when they are struggling already.
My hon. Friend has been most generous in giving way. Before he moves on from VAT, has he had the opportunity to consider the costs to businesses of reprogramming their tills for the change in VAT? My understanding is that many of the large supermarket
chains find that that process costs them millions of pounds. That is a real cost to the economy that does not seem to be factored in.
Mr Jones: My hon. Friend makes a good point. There will be a cost not only to large businesses but to small businesses. That brings me neatly on to the British Retail Consortium, which has grave concerns about the VAT increase. It recently said that it could cost up to 163,000 jobs and affect some £3.6 billion of spending. Again, in many communities those jobs are vital. This is on top of the very difficult economic climate that businesses are facing. In my constituency, retail-led development is a catalyst for regeneration. If, for example, the new Tesco in Stanley does not go ahead because of these proposals, it will have a knock-on effect on the regeneration of an entire town.
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): On that point, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman protested as much when the previous Government raised VAT on businesses? Did he make that point in the Chamber?
Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman has to realise that these are his Government's proposals. I have the luxury of being in opposition, where I can oppose the Government.
Nadhim Zahawi: For a long time.
Mr Jones: The way the Government are going with this Budget, I am not sure that it will be. The hon. Gentleman will have to get used to the fact that we will question the Government on the proposals because they will have a draconian effect on my constituents in North Durham.
I must refer not just to the retail trade or charities, but to the Conservative grass roots. Tim Montgomerie, on his website ConservativeHome, said:
"First, it hurts the poor most of all and, second, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said they had 'no plans' to increase this tax. At a time when trust in politics is so low we don't need 'plans' to emerge tomorrow."
That was in advance of the announcement that is contained in the Bill.
The other sector that the Bill will have a dramatic effect on is the construction sector. Yesterday, we saw the Building Schools for the Future programme decimated, directly affecting thousands of jobs. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) is back. He mentioned the decimation not only of BSF in his constituency but of other projects that have been put forward. Again, business and construction will have to carry the cost of the VAT increase.
Another sector that will be affected will be charities and the work that they do. I know that under the new Conservative approach, as part of the big society, charities are supposed to be stepping up to the mark, but they will be the ones that will be affected.
Helen Goodman: Has my hon. Friend noticed with respect to charities that the Government have now proposed to let welfare-to-work contracts on such a basis that only large companies with a lot of capital will be able to deliver them to unemployed people, thereby ruling out the voluntary sector from being involved in that worthwhile work?
Mr Jones: Exactly, and if these bodies are then to be burdened by this VAT increase, that will severely affect them.
On the VAT issue, I wish now to discuss an excellent document, which I believe has been sent to all hon. Members, produced by Save the Children and headed "Why the rise in VAT must be cancelled". It makes all the arguments that the excellent Library note makes about the poorest being affected the worst, but it also gives some very good examples. A table on page 3 shows that the essential items to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) was referring are not luxuries but items that a family would require. I am talking about things such as washing machines, electric ovens and hobs and children's bed frames, which will all be affected by this increase. The hon. Member for Solihull said that people should rush out to buy these things now to avoid the VAT increase in January. What she does not understand is that some individuals do not have the disposable income to be able suddenly to go out, shop around and get them. Many of these people rely on credit, so they face a double whammy of credit, usually at a high interest rate, and the effect of the coming VAT increase.
The Liberal Democrats should hang their heads in shame for supporting this Budget and especially these proposals, which are not progressive but will hit the hardest up in our society. I just hope that when it comes to the votes on the VAT increases they have the courage to oppose them; otherwise, they will have an electoral price to pay at the ballot box in local elections and others.
The proposals in the Budget to increase the insurance premium have not been given a lot of attention tonight.
Chris Leslie: It is a stealth tax.
Mr Jones: From a sedentary position, my hon. Friend rightly says that this is a stealth tax, and again, it will affect some of the poorest in our community. Earlier in the debate, we were talking about the level of fuel duty and rural communities where a car is not a luxury but an essential item that enables people to get around. This Budget will increase the insurance premiums for those drivers, with young drivers being particularly affected. Just because of their age, those drivers pay the highest premiums and they will have to pay an extra 1% under this Budget. In some cases, that will stop young drivers being able to get access to insurance.
Helen Goodman: On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that this will inhibit young people from learning to drive? Being able to drive is often an extremely important skill for people to have when looking for a job.
Mr Jones: Well, it is. In a constituency such as mine, driving is an essential tool for young people in getting to work and other places. My fear is that this will lead-
Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but a very large number of private conversations are taking place and there is a substantial hubbub in the Chamber. It is as though, after the first 53 minutes of his speech, the attention of the House has wandered a little. However, I know that a hushed atmosphere will be resumed and the House will want to hang upon his every word.
Mr Jones: What this proposal will lead to-this is my fear-is an increase in the number of uninsured drivers in those communities, and thus to the prospect of many people endangering not only their own lives but those of the people involved in their accidents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) referred to the tax on travel insurance as a stealth tax. It will be a tax on individuals, but it has also been condemned as a tax on the industry, although the industry thought the tax would be higher. It is an example of the Government's negotiation tool of leaking or briefing that something is going to increase by x and then introducing a smaller increase as if somehow that is a great concession. Insurance premium tax will increase from 5%, but the higher rate of IPT for travel insurance will increase from 17.5% to 20%. That will have a direct effect on every constituent who goes on holiday next year. I fear that people will go abroad without proper travel insurance, and the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill in many cases.
Chris Leslie: My hon. Friend is right. Often the taxpayer is lumbered with having to rescue people abroad who have found themselves in precarious situations owing to the lack of proper insurance. Does my hon. Friend agree that this rather mean-spirited holiday tax will have all sorts of unforeseen consequences?
Mr Jones: Yes. For many of my constituents a holiday is one of their largest annual expenditures. So if an extra tax is added there will be a danger that people, especially the young, will not take out proper holiday insurance and the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill on occasions. There is also the distress caused to families.
There is a little-known item on MPs' expenses in the Bill. I tried to ask the Chief Secretary a question about it early on, but he ignored it. I know we should not be speaking about our expenses and that many hon. Members cannot mention the IPSA word without using unparliamentary language. I am not going to do that; I actually got some money out of it yesterday.
The proposals in the Finance Bill allow our expenses to be treated as they were before in terms of their tax status. I cannot understand why the deposit that we are to be given for the rental of our second homes in London is taxable. I do not know whether it is a mistake or why that has been excluded. I am sure that if we send a tax bill to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority it will not pay it.
Already we are treated for tax purposes as though we run a small business. Before, we were allowed to claim legitimate expenditure for the filing of tax returns. IPSA has taken that away from us and we now have to pay that cost, which in my case will be something like £600 next year. I would like to see all our expenditure such as that on equipment, on which there is capital depreciation, taken out of tax. That would solve the issue in terms of our being looked at as small businesses.
I rued the day a few years ago when I knocked the door through in my office and found out that I had a tax liability for it of more than £1,000. Do not ask me what I will do with the door in the office when I stand down as a Member of Parliament, but I have paid that tax. I jest, but I seriously suggest that we need to look at this area. Clearly, IPSA and the court of public opinion
said that we could no longer claim for legitimate tax advice. That is fine. I do not need a tax adviser, unlike some hon. Members, to handle my personal tax affairs. So we need to have a look at that point.
Finally-[Hon. Members: "No-more!"]-I come to corporation tax and an issue that has emerged from tonight's debate. The Budget statement said that corporation tax would be reduced over a four-year period, but the Bill reduces it for only one year. What confidence does that give businesses looking to make long-term investments? Are we to have some sort of assurance, or is the Bill to be amended to ensure that corporation tax is reduced to the 24p proposed?
I have never spoken about Northern Ireland affairs, but I thought this one was too good to miss. There is an issue that affects Northern Ireland more than other parts of the country: the possibility of driving corporations south to the Republic of Ireland. The Chief Secretary said how wonderful it is that our corporation tax rate will be among the lowest, but the rate in Ireland is 12.5%. I know that Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are concerned that, even with the decrease, it might be attractive for businesses to move from the north to the south. When the Government look at how to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy, it will be important to take that point on board.
The pain in the Budget will affect many constituents of mine. Thirteen years of Labour Government transformed the infrastructure of North Durham. We have two new hospitals, five new primary care centres and GP surgeries, new dentists and new schools. Not only did that have a beneficial effect on the life chances of many of my constituents, but it put money into the local economy. Now, with yesterday's announcement on Building Schools for the Future, we see that that tap is to be turned off. We are going to go back to the days when I was chair of school governors in Newcastle. Yes, as the Secretary of State for Education said yesterday, education is about good teaching-I passionately believe that-but teachers cannot do that if they have to have a bucket to catch the water leaking through the roof.
The other measure that will have a big impact on my constituents is the freeze in public sector pay-something I feel passionate about. When I was a Minister, I helped not only Labour Members but all Members in standing up and arguing for our servicemen and women. Frankly, the pay freeze announced by this Government is a disgrace. When we have people risking their lives in Afghanistan, to impose a pay freeze on them is a disgrace.
I thank everyone for listening tonight. I shall enjoy the debates on this Finance Bill, because it is right that it gets proper scrutiny and that we explode the myths that are being propounded. That way, when people in my constituency and elsewhere are having their housing benefit cut and they are being evicted, they will know the reasons why. It is more important that we stop some of the more horrendous measures in the Bill happening at all, but if they do happen, we need to be able to lay the blame in the right place. We expect this from the Conservatives. The north-east suffered under the Conservatives for 18 years. What we do not expect is the collaboration that we are seeing from the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, or the pathetic excuses we heard the hon. Member for Solihull give to justify the horrendous measures that are coming my constituents' way and hers as a result of this Budget.
Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At about 4pm today I was rung by a reporter from The Daily Telegraph, Mr Christopher Hope, and asked to comment on the reply to a written question that he said would be answered tomorrow. I assumed that the question had been answered and would be reported in Hansard tomorrow. However, when I checked with the Library, it confirmed that no answer had been received. I have also checked with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who tabled the question. He had checked his pigeon hole at about 4pm, and at that time he had not received a reply. At 7pm, the Library told me that the question had still not been answered.
Is it in order for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government or his agents to give a parliamentary answer to the press before making it available to the hon. Member who asked the question or, indeed, to the whole House? What remedies can we have for those Ministers who have such low regard for this House and its Members?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for advance notice of it. It is, of course, essential that answers are given, first, to the Member concerned, although it sometimes happens that answers go innocently astray. Ministers on the Treasury Bench and the Government Whip have heard the point of order and will no doubt ensure that the Department discovers what took place. When that is ascertained, and it should not take long to do so, I would like to be informed. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting a serious matter on the record.
Just before I call Mr Andrew George, I simply point out to the House that a very large number of Members are still seeking to catch my eye, and I know that Members will regard it as most helpful, with no reference to any particular speech that the House has heard, if I remind it that the Finance Bill is a relatively narrow Bill of, I think, 11 clauses and five schedules. It is approximately 30 pages, and the thrust of it depends upon, and is relevant to, I think, seven resolutions of the House. I thought that that might give it a bit of context and reference.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). If I pick my way through the hyperbole and the political points that he sought to make, I find that there were a number of very telling and important facts and figures. Indeed, it was a thoughtful and constructive contribution in many ways, if a rather encyclopaedic one. When he opened his remarks, he described it as his first speech-his maiden speech-since the general election, but next time he is about to speak, I must remind myself not to be the next speaker.
This debate about the Finance Bill-and I accept your strictures, Mr Speaker-can probably be characterised by the to-ing and fro-ing between Members on the Treasury Bench and Opposition Members. Members on the Treasury Bench have characterised the emergency Budget and the Finance Bill that underlies it as an unavoidable and regrettable necessity, given the public finances and the circumstances in which the country
finds itself. On the other hand, Opposition Members have predictably and quite understandably characterised it as entirely ideologically driven and an example of political opportunism.
In my brief contribution, I want to try to acknowledge that, first, as Members on the Treasury Bench have said, we are all in this together. The nature of today's debate is that we are all in a political mire of tribal point-scoring and translucent evidence, and that has not shown the House or this debate in a good light. We should be trying to get to the nub of the evidence that drives us towards the correct answers; we, as politicians across the political spectrum, are seeking to assist the country. People witnessing the debate will not have been enlightened by many of the contributions because of the tribalism into which the House has fallen. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may well not like that comment.
Having said all that, I should add that there were four beacons of hope in the maiden speeches this evening, made by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and my hon. Friends the Members for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans).
I suppose that I have been implying that I oppose any ideologically driven contribution, but I actually want to make one myself.
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab) rose-
Andrew George: May I make this point about the ideologically driven element of the debate? I strongly endorse an element of it. There is a welcome on the Government Benches, and even on the Opposition Benches, for elements of the Finance Bill and the Budget that preceded it. I am thinking of the rise and ultimately the further ratcheting up of the personal tax allowance, of the triple lock that will ensure that pensioners get a decent annual pension increase and of the closing of the tax loophole that has existed for many years.
The loophole was created by Labour's reduction of capital gains tax to 18%. That has now been increased to just 28%, and we will certainly have an opportunity to debate that issue in the coming weeks. It was an important contribution. Furthermore, a banking levy has been introduced. It is important that the sector that dropped us into the mess should make a significant contribution towards helping us get out of it; I would argue that at this moment its contribution is still not sufficiently significant.
The hon. Member for North Durham's last comments were about public sector pay. In the Budget, we have been seeking to protect the lowest-paid in the public sector.
Andrew George: I shall give way to the right hon. Lady, but I want my contribution to be short.
I fully understand some of the hon. Gentleman's comments about matters of judgment. I also understand that he thought that the £1,000 increase
in the personal tax allowance was important. I have observed him for many years in the House, and he is an honourable person. Will he help Opposition Members to understand why since April and early May, when he was so violently against any increase in value added tax, he has started supporting a regressive increase in that tax? It would help break down some of the barriers that he senses if we could understand the thought process involved and the discussions that drew him into the VAT spider's web.
Andrew George: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that intervention. She has come to the nub of the dilemma in which a number of other hon. Members and I find ourselves. Yes, the VAT increase was not part of the coalition agreement. I presupposed that it would inevitably be regressive and that I would automatically oppose it. The right hon. Lady will be aware that last Monday, I tabled an amendment on the Order Paper that sought to get the Treasury to provide the necessary impact assessment of the 2.5% VAT rise as it applied to families across the income spectrums, to charities and to businesses. There was mention of the rural travelling public as well.
Clive Efford: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Andrew George: I will just make this point, if I may.
There are very significant questions to be asked about this issue. On page 67 of the Red Book, the changes to VAT are described as "progressive". I question whether it is entirely accurate to describe a VAT rise as being, on balance, progressive. [ Interruption. ] I am trying to make a constructive contribution to the debate; I am not taking a tribal view of this issue.
Andrew George: I am going to finish making this point about VAT, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
The best source that most people pray in aid when engaged in Treasury and Finance Bill debates is the Institute for Fiscal Studies, so I looked at the evidence that it has gathered on VAT. The hon. Member for North Durham referred to that in the context of the graph on page 3 of the Library note. The IFS makes it clear that, taking a snapshot in time, those who are engaged in the highest expenditure will be most affected by changes in VAT.
Andrew George: I will take more interventions when I have responded to the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), who asked a very significant question that deserves an answer and is the nub of the point that I wish to make.
The IFS says that not only do the highest spenders pay the most VAT, but that it is in relation to their incomes. Therefore, as the useful graph in the Library note shows, the highest contribution is made by the lowest-income households, which inevitably, under its definition, are those with the highest expenditure in relation to income. The IFS goes on to say that we should look at the impact on lower-income households from the perspective not just of a snapshot in time but across a longer period, if not entirely a lifetime. In other
words, its conclusion is much more equivocal. In view of that, we need to understand to a far greater degree the extent to which the VAT rise is regressive or progressive. I think it is reasonable-
Andrew George: Just let me finish my sentence. When I have made this point, I will give way to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green).
I welcome annex A of the Red Book and congratulate those on the Treasury Benches on introducing it. For the first time, it provides an impact assessment and evidence of the kind that Labour Members must accept that they did not provide in the past. However, I still do not think that it is enough-it is too superficial. I have asked a large number of questions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as hon. Members will know, because I believe that it is important that we understand a great deal more about the impact of the VAT rise on low-income households, charities, businesses and others.
Kate Green: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I hope that my sentences will be a little shorter than his.
Is it not the case that in a complex argument, we are beginning to unpick the cumulative effect on lower-income households? It is a combination of a hit on their expenditure-not on their luxury spending but on their essential spending-and a reduction of their income if they rely on safety-net benefits, because of the future link with the consumer prices index, as well as the risk of their falling out of work and having at least a period of unemployment. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is rightly striving to describe that cumulative effect. I very much welcomed his amendment on looking at the impact of the VAT measures on those households.
Andrew George: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, and we will have to compete on sentence lengths in future. Given her experience on the issue, it is worth while to quote once again the Save the Children briefing note that was circulated to the House, as the hon. Member for North Durham did. As the hon. Lady says, there is a cumulative effect, but if any amendments are tabled to the Finance Bill, they will be directly related to VAT and other matters will have to be considered in other ways, not necessarily under the Bill.
The Bill is rather narrowly set, and the Budget mentioned other measures, which must presumably come forward in another Finance Bill that will be presented to us in the autumn, so I assume that there will be a further opportunity for those issues to be examined, because only seven measures are contained in the 11 clauses of this rather narrowly drawn Bill.
I realise that I have just committed myself to another very long sentence with an enormous sub-clause in it, but I said that I would quote from the evidence presented to us by Save the Children, which is important. It states:
"Increasing VAT will simply widen inequalities and entrench the unfairness that exists in the tax system...It is also worth noting that data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, on average, the wealthiest households contain fewer children than poorer and middle income households, meaning that the unfairness of the tax system is weighted against children."
Further to the point about whether the increase will have an impact on low-income households, Save the Children therefore rightly raises another issue. I should like the Treasury Ministers, in response to my questions and those that others will no doubt raise, to elucidate on that a little further.
What we need in this debate and in the further stages of scrutiny that the Bill will necessarily go through is a lot more information. I would describe the situation as a tribal mire in which there is translucent evidence, and that evidence needs to be much clearer.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I admire his mea culpa-is it St Sebastian, the man who stands there with all the arrows? Certainly the hon. Gentleman has portrayed that for us this evening. However, with respect, the issue is not simply VAT. In his opening remarks he said he supported the Budget and the Finance Bill because we are all in this together, but we are not.
No one sitting in this Chamber or within the environs of this Chamber is in danger of losing their home because of the changes that his Government are bringing in with regard to housing benefit, but 303 of my constituents are in danger of losing precisely that. They are not alone in London or the country at large. The hon. Gentleman gave a very good mea culpa on VAT, but the complicity of his party with what the Conservatives are going to do to our country is not absolved, however long his sentence.
Mr Speaker: Order. May I just say to the hon. Lady that I could listen to her, almost without interruption, for some hours, but that shorter interventions would be helpful? It is always a pleasure to listen to her fantastic enunciation.
Andrew George: I think that we are all competing in sentence length-perhaps the hour is causing us to use sub-clauses. [Interruption.] I know that I am not the most articulate Member-I have a speech impediment; please bear with me.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) made a decent point. If she listened carefully to my opening remarks, she would realise that my reference to the "we're all in it together" theme was intended to criticise us all for being in it together by missing the point and making tribal remarks about the other side, but not being in it together with the country at large, which will suffer through some of the Budget measures. She made further points about my keeping narrowly to the subject of VAT. Interventions in my speech have been only about VAT, and I wished to make a brief contribution, which turned out to be much longer than I expected, on VAT. It is important, having commenced on that path, to continue on it and examine that provision in isolation. I know that it cannot be taken in isolation by the families, businesses and charities that it will affect. However, I still believe that it is important to consider it on its own.
The other issues, such as housing benefit, that the hon. Lady mentioned, are not in the Bill. I hope that the House will have a good opportunity to debate public sector spending and benefits, including disability benefit issues, which were announced in the Budget and clearly need to be debated later, with all the facts made available to us. We currently have a translucent position with regard to the evidence before us.
Andrew George: I want to draw my remarks to a close.
Mr Love: You haven't said anything yet.
Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman has obviously not been listening. He is incapable of listening to anything.
We require honest and transparent information from the Treasury to help us reach a conclusion about the VAT measure's other impacts. I hope that Treasury Ministers will revisit the issue, perhaps having undertaken further modelling and commissioned further studies on its impact on low income families, charities and businesses. I hope that they will be prepared to revise their position, if necessary during the Bill's passage.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the rural fuel derogation and the opportunity for that to be introduced. The Chief Secretary promised to go away and make some further inquiries about that. I encourage members of the Treasury Bench to examine that carefully because the impact on rural areas will clearly be significant. The Chief Secretary made a commitment this evening to undertake further studies.
Andrew George: How can I possibly resist?
Mr MacNeil: While awaiting the big answer to why the hon. Gentleman is supporting the VAT increase, I ask him whether he agrees that a rural fuel derogation should be introduced before the VAT increase. After all, the rural fuel derogation is mentioned in the coalition Government's programme, whereas the VAT increase is not. The Government have moved lightning quick on VAT; let us hope that they move as quickly on the rural fuel derogation. Will he support me on that at least?
Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I remain agnostic about the process whereby the goal is achieved, but I wish him well with the aim and share his view, because the issue affects the very rural communities of west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in the same way as it affects the Scottish islands.
Andrew George: I am going to draw my remarks to a close, so I will take no further interventions. My proposal was purely for VAT impact assessments, and through questions to Ministers, I am seeking further information on the impact of the VAT increase.
Mr Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way-the House has been following his remarks with some care. Before the Liberal Democrats gave their consent to the proposals in the Budget, they will have discussed the matter. In the interests of the debate that he is trying to stimulate, was it ever explained in those discussions that an extra £9 billion of tax must be raised by the Budget because its overall effect is to slow the recovery to such a serious extent?
If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will move on. That is part of the debate that he will no doubt continue with Treasury Ministers. If Labour Members wish to avoid a VAT increase such as
that proposed in the Bill, they need to propose alternatives. Those might include a further increase in the banking levy or an increase in capital gains tax, or perhaps VAT increases could apply to luxury goods but not to others, but alternative measures to fill the £13 billion hole in the public sector accounts would be needed.
I hope that future stages of the Bill will provide a more constructive environment in which to debate VAT and other matters.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), and the hon. Members for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) and for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), on their maiden speeches. The description of the blood-red sunsets by the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire showed his passion for his constituency, and my hon. Friend spoke well of his predecessors and his love of his adopted town. The hon. Member for Ipswich, if I may say, spoke very little about his constituency for a maiden speech. It was none the less a maiden speech, and I congratulate him on it.
Nothing sums up the Budget more than the Financial Times headline the morning after: "Well paid breathe collective sigh of relief". The article discusses the impact of capital gains tax, stating:
"Higher earners expecting to bear the brunt of the chancellor's tax rises were breathing a collective sigh of relief yesterday, having been spared major increases to capital gains and income tax in the emergency Budget...Capital gains tax rates of 40 or 50 per cent and further restrictions to pension tax reliefs had been forecast by tax advisers in the weeks after the general election. When a smaller increase in CGT - just for higher-rate taxpayers - and a consultation on allowing pension contributions of £45,000 a year were announced, many were pleasantly surprised."
The director of RBC Wealth Management is quoted in the article. She said:
"Many higher earners will be breathing a sigh of relief."
The Fair Investment Company, an independent financial advice company, made similar exaltations:
"CGT has not been raised up to 50 per cent as speculated and the exemption allowance has not gone down to £2,500 like the Lib Dems proposed, so many higher-rate taxpayers will be breathing a sigh of relief".
We were told that the Lib Dems and the Tories want to raise £1 in tax for every £4 they cut in public expenditure, but where is the mandate for making those cuts? At the general election, the majority of the electorate voted for parties that opposed drastic cuts, including an increase in VAT and the proposed austerity Budget to cut public services.
Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): The hon. Gentleman appears to be lamenting the fact that capital gains tax was not increased by more than proposed in the Budget. At which point during the 13 years of Labour Government, when capital gains tax was decreased from 40% to 18%, did he protest that?
The hon. Gentleman misses the point. The point is what the Liberal Democrats said about capital gains tax before the election and what has happened afterwards. I cannot find any record of anybody saying, "Thank God we have the Liberal Democrats to water down this horrible Tory Budget." No one is saying
that- [ Interruption. ] As much as the Liberal Democrats try to dance on a pinhead over the VAT increases and how they have looked for an investigation into VAT so that they can all cuddle up at night and sleep well knowing that they have not made life awful for poor people-they claim that they have forced the Government into a review-what will they really do about it?
Mr Kevan Jones: In fact, the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) not only did not make excuses for the increase, she tried to justify it.
Clive Efford: What we have heard in several debates is so much hand wringing that I have almost started to feel sorry for the Liberal Democrats. They must be in agony from all the crushed fingers they have from wringing their hands so tightly in trying to explain away the impact of the VAT increase.
Toby Perkins: Was my hon. Friend as surprised as I was that during the Budget debate the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) said:
"Opposition Members have accused us of being ideological about the matter, but how can we be anything else? They are absolutely right, and there is no shame in it"?-[ Official Report, 24 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 515.]
He was clear that it was a Thatcherite Tory Budget that he was proud of. The Liberal Democrats are being used as a sort of human shield to defend a Budget that in other circumstances would have appalled them.
Lorely Burt: That's an old phrase!
Clive Efford: Well, I am sorry, but the hon. Lady will hear it again and again, because it happens to be true.
During the general election the Prime Minister-he was Leader of the Opposition at the time-said to Jeremy Paxman on "Newsnight" on 23 April:
"We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT. Our first budget is all about recognising we need to get spending under control rather than putting up tax".
In his closing remarks in the leaders' debate, he said that he believed that the test of a good society is how it looks after the poorest and most vulnerable in difficult times. Well it did not take him long to fail that test. He promises good times ahead and a clean break. Who for? It is certainly not for the poorest in our communities.
The Deputy Prime Minister-I remind the House that he was the leader of the Liberal Democrats in opposition-said during the election campaign:
"The Conservatives have made a series of uncosted tax promises, tax bribes."
That was referring to Tory promises to recognise marriage in the tax system, limit the national insurance rise, freeze council tax, and raise inheritance tax thresholds. He continued:
"The only way that they are going to deliver their tax promises is by dropping a tax bombshell, a VAT bombshell of £389 a year on every household in this country."
What changed his mind? Was it when the ministerial Prius turned up outside his house or was it before that?
The Liberal Democrats launched their London election manifesto claiming that under them Londoners would save some £700 a year. They said that tax cuts would be paid for by "closing loopholes" and "increasing aviation
pollution taxes". They said their tax reform would be the most radical in a generation-any takers on the Conservative Benches for a radical change from the Liberal Democrats? I think not! Their manifesto also included a pledge
"to put 600 more police on the capital's streets and an extra £520 million a year in London schools."
Instead, however, we have seen a cut in Building Schools for the Future and in police numbers, and we are going to see a rise in unemployment as a result of their support for the Budget.
Mrs Moon: Is my hon. Friend, like me, going back to his constituency and finding a high level of concern, fear and anxiety about the future? This is not just about the VAT proposals in the Finance Bill; people are nervous about the future, their budgets and their capacity to spend and have a secure future. People are nervous about, and afraid of, every aspect of the Con-Dem coalition.
Clive Efford: My hon. Friend is right. That applies not just to individuals but to businesses. Many people are expressing concern about the impact of this emergency Budget.
On 8 April, the Deputy Prime Minister said on Sky News:
"We will not have to raise VAT to deliver our promises. The Conservatives will. Let me repeat that: our plans do not require a rise in VAT. The Tory plans do."
Well, we all know it is a Tory plan now, do we not? And we all know who is voting for it.
What are the public to make of this sudden about-face? Who has the moral mandate for this level of tax increase and for taking this proportion of tax to pay for the deficit as opposed to rolling back the state? Where is the mandate for making the poorest pay for this Budget as they will? More importantly, however, where is the contribution from the banks?
Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has given us an interesting list of quotes and dates. Will he point to the date on which his own Front-Bench team ruled out raising VAT during the general election?
Clive Efford: The hon. Gentleman is new to the House-and he might well be new to politics-but I am sure that, if he looks in his history books and reads all the quotes, he will find that most parties going into an election do not rule out such an increase, unlike in the foolish statements made on "Newsnight" by the now Prime Minister and during the general election by the Liberal Democrats.
Now there is trouble at' mill-we have some problems here-because Sir Alan Budd has resigned. Can anyone tell me how a man who only a short while ago described his job as
"the most exciting challenge of my professional life"
can have given up so quickly? This man must have the most exciting job coming up to give up such a prospect already. How have we lost the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility so quickly? Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) can tell me whether there is a revolving door
at the Treasury. We lost the first Chief Secretary to the Treasury and now we have lost the head of the OBR. They are going in and out so quickly that, if they have not got a revolving door, they should put one in pretty quick. It would make it much more efficient for people when leaving their posts so quickly.
What has changed Sir Alan Budd's mind? Has he changed his mind? The Treasury is assuming that growth in the private sector will create 2.5 million jobs in the next five years to compensate for the spending squeeze. Can the Minister tell me when since the second world war the private sector has ever grown that quickly? When has it ever created that many jobs? We have had unprecedented growth over the past 13 years, and it only just created that many jobs in that period. How can these projections point towards the creation of 2.5 million jobs? Perhaps the Liberal Democrats are going to tell us, because they had a cup of tea with the Governor of the Bank of England, after which we saw a miraculous turnaround-perhaps there was something in the tea. Perhaps they can now explain to us what was said that convinced them that miraculous growth in the private sector was going to solve this country's economic problems, as we undergo the most unprecedented assault on the state ever attempted in peacetime.
We have also seen figures leaked from the Treasury. The Government expect between 500,000 and 600,000 jobs to go in the public sector and between 600,000 and 700,000 to disappear in the private sector up to 2015, but how is it that the figures leaked from the Treasury contradicted the figures from the OBR? I am wondering about that, so perhaps someone can give me an answer, because the figures are compiled by the very same people. Treasury officials compile the figures for the OBR, and the leaked figures are from the Treasury. I am therefore a little bit confused, but perhaps somebody can explain that one for me-perhaps the Liberal Democrats have an answer for us, as they are so enthusiastic about the Budget.
The Chancellor has said that some have suggested that there is a choice between dealing with our debts and going for growth, but that this is a false choice, and I agree with him. There is indeed a choice, as Sir Alan Budd also agrees. However, the OBR actually agreed with the figures for growth based on our March Budget and the figures for unemployment; in fact, it considered our figures to be conservative. The March Budget statement was also able to announce that debt had been reduced by £11 billion, which is an important point. The debt had been reduced because there was more income tax, more national insurance, more VAT income and more tax from businesses. A further announcement was made subsequent to the general election, with a further reduction of £5 billion, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill referred in his opening speech for the Opposition.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, on the basis of the growth figures and cutbacks in public spending that he has outlined, the real danger in the Budget is not that we will see a double-dip recession-none of us wants that to happen-but that we will end up repeating the Japanese model, bumping along the bottom in terms of growth and inflation, without seeing a
significant improvement in the position of the economy? That is particularly dangerous at a time when we are making savage cuts in public spending.
Clive Efford: I agree with my hon. Friend. There are plenty of eminent economists saying that this is not the time to draw back the fiscal stimulus.
However, the point that I want to make is that the reduction in the debt that the then Chancellor was able to announce in the March Budget was due to the intervention of the Government. There was less unemployment, we were paying out less in unemployment benefit, and there were more people in work and more businesses; therefore, the tax income was higher than had been predicted, indicating that the way through the recession is not this austere Budget, but continuing with the stimulus until growth is stronger.
However, the worrying thing now is that, following the emergency Budget, businesses are starting to question whether growth is on its way. As the Financial Times has said:
"Britain's...services sector expanded in June...at the slowest rate in 10 months...The Markit/CIPS UK services Purchasing Managers Index...for June was weaker than consensus forecasts among economists, showing a 54.4 headline reading, down from 55.4 in May. Economists had expected a more modest decline...of 55...It was the weakest reading since August 2009...Business expectations went from a reading of 72.1...to 64...The Services PMI is particularly closely watched because it accounts for the greatest share of private sector business output...'Worrying signs for the UK service sector appeared in June as growth slowed in response to another below par increase in new business...Confidence declined to the greatest extent in 14 years of data collection in reaction to the government's austere emergency budget, with concern expressed that the fiscal tightening could push the country back into recession.'"
According to the Financial Times:
"The Purchasing Managers' Index figures came in amid signs that global manufacturing took a hit in June, with China, the US and the eurozone all seeing weaker growth in the sector. The report on exports came as a survey of credit conditions by the UK Bank of England underlined the concern at the prospects for demand in the UK. Credit conditions were expected to deteriorate by the most since the first quarter of 2009, when the recession was at its deepest."
What we are seeing there is the extreme concern in the business sector since the Budget was announced- [Interruption.] I hope the Liberal Democrats are listening to this. The construction sector in particular accounts for 10% of our GDP, and public sector expenditure accounts for 40% of the construction industry. The announcement yesterday-such as it was-from the Secretary of State for Education that he was drastically cutting back on schemes such as Building Schools for the Future will make it even more difficult for the Government to deliver growth in employment and growth in the private sector, because they are rowing in completely the opposite direction.
Mr Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that the VAT rise will have an effect on new house starts in the construction sector, which is very fragile in my constituency and many others? The increase will have a dramatic effect not only on new builds but on the local builders who rely on building extensions and loft conversions.
Clive Efford: It will indeed; my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
The Guardian website on Sunday 4 July stated:
"CBI disappointed by extra £4 billion capital spending cut. Spending on building and infrastructure projects, many of them to support private sector businesses, will fall faster than expected after the chancellor announced £6.2 billion emergency cuts three weeks ago, with £2 billion of the total from capital expenditure projects. The CBI said: 'Capital investment is crucial to driving the economy forward and the government needs to make sure we get back to the long-run average of 2.25% of national income as soon as possible'."
Are you listening on the Liberal Democrat Benches? What they are voting for is just above 1%.
Stephen Williams: I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman's oral press cutting service. I was listening, enraptured, and waiting for him to contradict the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and tell him that VAT is not applied to new builds.
Mr Byrne: Was my hon. Friend alarmed, as I was, that the Finance Bill says nothing about preserving either zero rating or exempt categories for VAT, including for building services, for the rest of this Parliament?
Clive Efford: We have seen so many unexpected changes from the parties opposite, and my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw our attention to the fact that they have been silent on that issue.
I have another question about the Bill. Where does it mention the tax on the banks? When can we expect to see that measure before us? Why is it not part of the Bill? Perhaps the Liberal Democrats would like to intervene on me to tell me when we can expect to see it. We are told that it will be consulted on. If that is the case, is it going to go up or down, or is it going to stay as it is? What is the point of consulting the bankers-I assume that that is whom the Government are going to consult-on something that they would rather did not happen?
The Liberal Democrats told us that they were going to break up the casino banking system. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills wanted the banks to be broken down into smaller banks, separating casino banking from normal banking. Yet we are told that the Chancellor opposes this and has set up a commission to look into it, which will take at least a year, thereby kicking it into the long grass. [Interruption.] I hear a sedentary intervention that we are dealing with the Finance Bill. Yes we are, and this is not in the Finance Bill, but it is an integral part of the Budget. It is therefore legitimate to ask where it is, when it is going to happen and what the consultation will be about, because it impacts on what taxes we raise on the people we represent. [Interruption.] I say to the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who did not make a very good job of defending his position on the increase, that that includes VAT.
On 12 March the Deputy Prime Minister called for a 10% tax on bank profits and a £2 billion job creation scheme to rescue the victims of recession. We keep being told by the Liberal Democrats that they have had an enormous impact on this Budget, so perhaps they could explain the impact they made here. I would have supported and voted for a 10% tax on bankers' profits, instead of for taking people's benefits away from them or for poor families paying VAT increases. After all, where did the financial problems start?
The Deputy Prime Minister kept digging during the general election, and on 20 April accused the bankers of behaving like "Arthur Scargill in pinstripes". He then went on to say:
"The banks have basically been given untrammelled support by Labour and Conservative governments to do exactly what they like, and take massive risks with our livelihoods and our savings. They have been holding a gun to the economy. A progressive liberal like myself is not going to be squeamish about blowing the whistle on a vested interest."
Well, where is it? Where is the whistleblowing on those vested interests?
The Liberal Democrat website-I do not know whether Liberal Democrat Members ever look at it-still says that they are going to bring "fundamental change" to our banking system.
"We will break them up and break them down."
"Until such a time, the taxpayer will have to continue underwriting the banks"-
well, we know that from this Budget.
"To recognise this, we are proposing a new levy on bank profits at a rate of 10%...This levy would be supplementary to corporation tax".
Well, where did that happen? If we look at corporation tax outcomes- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) intervenes from a sedentary position. Would he like to repeat what he just said? I think he said that the Lib Dems did not win. Well, we all know that; that is why we are complaining about what they are doing.
If I look at what the banks are saying about corporation tax, I find that they are rewarded and compensated for the £2 billion levy that the Budget wants to raise. We have some more juicy quotes here; the Lib Dems might want to listen to them. Here is one:
"Bankers were relieved that the chancellor's speech failed to repeat the coalition government's threat to end 'unacceptable bonuses'".
Deutsche Bank analysts noted the significance of the corporation tax change:
"Taking 2% off the 2012 tax rate for the five banks listed in the UK would increase profit by £1.16bn, that is it should almost offset all of the banks' tax. Overall a good outcome for the banks."
A number of bank analysts calculated that some banks could benefit from the Chancellor's measures. As I have said, Deutsche Bank concluded that it was a "good outcome" for banks, while an analyst at UBS expected Lloyds and HSBC to benefit by 2012 because the cut in their corporation tax bill was larger than the hit that they sustained through the bank levy. HSBC banking analysts concurred:
"We'd expect most domestically-orientated banks, for example Lloyds, to be better off after four years than they were pre-budget".
How has it come about that a party that went through the general election giving all those quotes about how they were going to break the banks up and break them down, and make the bankers pay until the pips squeaked, has come to support a Budget that takes from the bankers with one hand, pays it back with the other and rewards the banks with a tax benefit at the end of it? And at the same time they will be marching through the Lobbies to the drumbeats of the Tories, voting for cuts
in benefits and an increase in VAT, and making the poorest people in our communities pay, when the banks are not paying.
It was all puff and wind from the Liberal Democrats during the election. We have heard it all before, and we are hearing it again. This time, however, they have actually got to vote for something. They are actually in charge and responsible for what they are voting for, and they are going to pay a very heavy price indeed.
Andrew George: What about the 10p tax rate?
Clive Efford: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to intervene. I think he was shouting about the 10p tax rate. There were problems with that, and I will tell the House what they were. I will be quite frank. The 10p tax rate did not direct enough money to the poorest people in our communities. When we hear about the uprating of the lowest tax threshold from the Benches opposite, what we do not hear about is the clawback from the poorest people, who will lose housing benefit and other benefits. We never hear the full story from the Liberal Democrats when they are spinning on a pinhead to try to protect themselves from the charge of having said one thing and done another.
I could go on. The Liberal Democrats are such an easy target that I could be here all night. However, I will end by saying this. It is clear that what is before us tonight is not about the deficit, whatever excuses we hear from the Government Benches. This is an ideological change. Either Members believe that the state should intervene and assist, in particular, the weakest in our communities, or they do not. A stark choice is involved in terms of what Members support in this Bill.
There are 61 million people employed in the public sector. Some 3.9 million work in health, education, defence and social work, and roughly 2 million are employed in other services, including 530,000 civil servants. Those figures are huge, and those people are essential to many of our communities and to our economy. Moreover, 25% of public sector expenditure goes on private sector goods and services. The private sector will find it impossible to fill the gap left by the reduction in the public sector, as those who support the Budget try to claim it will. That 25% that feeds the private sector will be taken away from it when it is trying to grow. Expecting the private sector to grow at a rate that would enable it to fill that gap is just a pipe dream.
In its document "The Jobs Gap", the Work Foundation predicted that the private sector could possibly absorb 500,000 job losses in the public sector, but that any plausible private sector recovery would be overwhelmed if the number approached 1 million. According to the predictions, it will considerably exceed 500,000. The foundation also warned that it was risky to assume that big cuts in public sector payrolls could be effortlessly absorbed by the private sector. There is often a mismatch in skills, which creates a delay in people finding jobs in the private sector, and the recovery tends to come in the most prosperous areas at the expense of the most impoverished. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has estimated that 725,000 jobs will be lost in the public sector alone by 2015, although the number could be lower if the Government succeeded in pushing through pay cuts.
It is clear that these changes go further than is necessary to deal with the deficit. They do little or nothing to recoup money from the banks that have put the country in its present position, and they are clearly unfair on the poorest in our communities. This is the last point that I shall make to the Liberal Democrats. If they fundamentally believe that cutting back the state is what the country should do, they will come back for the national health service. It is not consistent with the measures in the Budget that it is possible to protect the national health service-a public service that intervenes at every level in people's lives-and cut back other aspects of the state.
The Liberal Democrats and the Tories will have to come for the NHS. We only have to look at people such as Mr Daniel Hannan and the speech that he made in America. He was personally invited by the Prime Minister to speak at the Tory party conference, lauds the private sector and wants to cut the NHS and to move to a private health insurance system. Those are the people at the heart of the thinking of the Tory party. I suggest that the Liberal Democrats think very carefully before they vote for the Budget. It is an ideological Budget to cut back the state. They will not be able to defend the NHS once they have gone through the Lobby and voted for this Budget.
Mr Speaker: Order. I think that I should say to the House that, although I cannot possibly predict such matters, it may well be that at some stage I shall be asked to grant a closure. One of the factors in the decision making of the occupant of the Chair faced with such a request is the extent to which contributions continue to be pithy and relate to the terms of the Bill. I say no more than that.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and my hon. Friends the Members for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) on their excellent speeches. I also congratulate the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who has just departed, who spoke with such eloquence about the need for parliamentary reform. His passion brings a tear to the eye of the Leader of the House; of that I have no doubt whatever.
I am saddened by the need for clause 3, on VAT, to be included in the Bill. It is a great shame that it is necessary to take difficult action in relation to taxes because of the extreme black hole left in the public finances. We now find ourselves in a position where debt is 62% of GDP this year-higher than the 54% in 1976, when the International Monetary Fund was last called in. That is the level of seriousness of the debt that we have. The ratio of debt to GDP is predicted to go to 70% in the next three years, even with the tough action taken by the Government.
I for one am relieved, however, particularly because taxes could have been a lot higher. The black hole could have been filled in other ways. We have taken the difficult decisions on public spending, but we on the Government Benches know that if there had not been a change in government, we would have seen not only a
rise in VAT but a possible £20 billion tax increase, with income tax perhaps going to 25p in the pound. That is the size of the black hole that we have been looking at.
I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench on taking the firm action required, because I worry about the least well-off. I worry that the rich-poor divide has widened since 1996-97. I worry that since 2004-05 households in child poverty has risen by 300,000. I welcome the fact that it will be frozen for the next two years. I am concerned that the number of children in overcrowded homes has risen from 980,000 in 2006 to 1,080,000 in 2008, according to Communities and Local Government figures. I am concerned that the housing waiting list has risen from 1 million in 2001 to 1.8 million in 2009, according to CLG figures. I am also concerned that disposable income rose by only 1% a year between 2004-05 and 2008-and that was before the current difficulties hit home.
I, for one, welcome the difficult decisions taken on capital gains tax in clause 2. Personally, I think that that is the right thing to do. I have always taken a more Lawsonian approach. A difficult decision has been made, but it is essential that everyone pays their fair share of tax. I regret that we are not keeping a more ameliorated position for those who own business assets, but I think that those who own country estates, oil paintings or buy-to-let empires should pay a fair share of tax.
We know that that is the right approach to take, because the figures from the past few years show that the level of private rented sector property rose from 10% of housing stock in 2000 to 14% in 2008. Meanwhile, the total social housing stock fell from 4.25 million properties to just 4 million in 2009, according to CLG figures. The level of owner occupation fell from 71% in 2003 to 68% in 2008, according to CLG figures. I regard that with concern, because where people need assistance we should have affordable housing there for them. The number of new affordable houses built also fell under the previous Government. Where people have the requisite funds to buy their own home they should be encouraged and helped to do so. So I commend this Budget to the House.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about housing, how does he feel about his Government's decision to cut the Homes and Communities Agency by £60 million? Some £4.5 million of that cut will have an impact on new homes that were supposed to be built in my constituency. How does he feel about the most recent announcements on housing allowance, which mean that people in my constituency are having to make up a shortfall of £50 a month?
Charlie Elphicke: I point out to the hon. Lady that the number of affordable houses built in 1995-96 was 74,530, whereas the average for the previous Government's entire tenure was just 40,000 affordable homes built each year. Why was that? Last year's figure was 20,000 below what was achieved under the outgoing Conservative Government. As I said, we built 74,000-odd a year, whereas last year the previous Government built 55,000, so I do not think that they have any record to stand on when it comes to affordable housing, except that of a roll of shame. Their record is an absolute disgrace.
What we need is for the UK to grow faster, because the best cure for deprivation is a job. Too many jobs were taken away by the previous Government's galactic economic incompetence, and we need to have change, so I want to make the case for that. Will the UK grow faster with a larger public sector? Will the UK grow faster with even higher taxes, as were planned by the previous Government? Will the UK grow faster with ever more debt, or would that result only in ever-higher interest rates, a weaker currency, an increased country risk and our country's credit rating at risk? I think that the right decisions have been taken, because the UK will grow faster with a lower jobs tax.
Chris Leslie: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman recalls what the so-called "independent" Office for Budget Responsibility said about the downgrading of growth forecasts as a direct result of these Budget measures. What was the OBR's finding? Did it say that growth would increase or decrease as a result of the measures in the Budget?
Charlie Elphicke: The hon. Gentleman will know that the OBR itself said that that was misleading. He will also know that the OBR ruled that the figures set out in the March Budget were a total work of fiction and a disgrace, and it downgraded them. The true downgrade was that of GDP growth by 0.5% to 1% by the OBR when it put right the fiction that had been produced previously, and the misleading about the economics of our nation. The hon. Gentleman does not have a leg to stand on.
This country will grow faster with a lower jobs tax, with lower borrowing and with a low rate of corporation tax, as set out in clause 1. The key point that I want to make is that the fall should be faster, because I want to see a corporation tax rate of just 19% in this nation by the end of this Parliament; that would give us a real revolution. I would like us to have a participation exemption, as exists in the Netherlands, Ireland and other places, to make our nation a European headquarters company of the European time zone. I think that capital gains tax is necessary, but business assets should be taxed lower. That was one of the few things that the former Prime Minister got absolutely right, and it is a great shame that we do not have a differential level, or a higher entrepreneur's relief. Ideally, that would be extended, because we need to encourage more jobs and growth, and an expansion of the private sector.
I particularly welcome the new business national insurance relief, which is extraordinarily important. Obviously, as a representative of Dover, I would say that ideally it should be extended across the nation, especially in deprived areas of the south-east that have benefited from social structural European funds-not just Dover but other parts of east Kent and the south-east. We need to clear away the deprivation and the benefits culture that has grown up in recent years so that we can unlock the potential, the hope and the chances in each and every citizen of our nation. If we get them off benefits and back into work and break the cycle of poverty, we bring hope and unlock that potential. That to me is the most important thing-to give everyone in this country a real crack at opportunity in life. In this Budget and this Finance Bill, difficult and bold decisions have been taken, but they are the right decisions, and I support the Bill.
Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): "Fair" and "unavoidable" are the two adjectives that have been attached to the Budget by the Government parties. It seems to me that the claim to fairness has been exploded, not just by Opposition Members and sometimes by Liberal Democrat Members but by the independent analysts who have established the regressive nature of many of the measures in the Budget. I want to concentrate on the claims that there is no alternative, that the markets are demanding deficit elimination on the scale and at the speed proposed in the Budget and that the Government are simply responding to economic facts.
Government Members talk about political economy as if it is a perfect science. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who is not in his place, suggested that the Office for Budget Responsibility was objective, the corollary being that it was reliable. The Government present the pronouncements of the OBR as gospel, at least when they are convenient for Ministers. They offer technocratic diktats. The Government claim the support of infallible markets and independent institutions. What they deny is that any Budget is inherently a political act as well as an economic one. Listening to the Chancellor deliver his Budget, I got a pretty good idea of what his new politics involved. He thinks that these vital political economy decisions are not a matter for him: he can absolve himself of responsibility. The OBR will provide the figures; the OECD is the supposed authority, the markets the excuses.
The issue of supply-the very reason this House came into existence-will be determined by what Ministers declare to be unavoidable. But political economy is not an exact science. It is a matter of priorities and judgment. It is almost always informed by ideology, self-interest and party interest. How could it be other otherwise when economists rarely agree on anything? Put two economists in a room and you will get three opinions. No, the Budget is deeply political. It embodies the long-held superstitions of the Conservative party, superstitions that come to the fore in times of economic stress-the 1920s, 1930s, 1970s, 1980s, and now again in 2010. However, these superstitions are not fully articulated by Conservative Members. They emerge almost accidentally through their rhetoric, but they are worth examining because they are the real motivation for the coalition Budget.
The first superstition is that debt, no matter what the circumstances, is unnatural and wrong for economic man or woman other than in the short term. This is a superstition since it denies the reality that many households and individuals balance their books only in the long term. They and we often have levels of debt that surpass our annual incomes for many years. Otherwise, no one would be able to afford a mortgage. The fact is that debt is a sensible mechanism for acquiring funds for responsible investments as long as repayments are manageable.
That first superstition encourages a second: states, like households, must not carry debt over the long term.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP):
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Does he accept that debt and the ability to borrow are not simply a function of one's ability to pay, but of the perception of
the exposure to debt and whether, in the long run, that debt will be manageable for borrowers? Our difficulty at present, looking at the evidence elsewhere, is that the markets are nervous about the ability of countries-even ones as stable as ours-to manage in the long run continuing increases in debt and to pay it back.
Gregg McClymont: Keynes famously said that, in the long run, we are all dead. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, there is a serious point there, to which I was just coming.
As I said, the first superstition encourages a second: that states, like households, must not carry debt over the long term. But if that is untrue for households, it is even less relevant for states, because states are different from households. First, nations do not have to balance their payments over a life cycle as an individual does; unlike individuals, states are here for the long term. That is an important point. Secondly, states' ability to borrow is much greater than that of any private citizen. States may borrow much more cheaply than any individual, simply because the amount of economic activity within any state's borders is much greater than the economic activity to which any individual has access. I therefore disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.
More important, states have obligations to the societies they serve in a way that households do not. States can use their ability to borrow to support demand at a time of low private sector activity. Pull away that support for the economy and private sector firms are discouraged from investing, the tax take is reduced and spending and unemployment are pushed up; ultimately, the deficit is made worse. That is the paradox of Government thrift. We learned it in the 1930s. The Liberal Democrats warned us of its dangers up until 7 May. Now, that lesson seems to be totally lost on both elements in the Government.
Government Members claim that the fiscal deficit is crowding out private investment by pushing up interest rates and making investment more expensive. Crowding out is not an insignificant issue and it does have some relevance in conditions of full employment when an economy is at full capacity, but we are nowhere near that point. As the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) pointed out, the private sector has taken a real battering in the past two or three years. Excess capacity is manifest. In my view, there is a much simpler explanation for low private sector investment: the private sector is not investing and banks are not lending because they fear that households will not have the confidence or the ability to buy goods.
What do we use to restore confidence? So far, we have used monetary policy, but it is not clear to me how much further we can take that. Interest rates are already at rock bottom. We cannot reduce them much further if this Budget tips the economy back into recession or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) suggested earlier, it has us bumping along the bottom. At that stage, if the recovery does not take place along the lines the Government that claim it will, the only instruments of monetary policy at our disposal would be further quantitative easing or a further devaluation of the pound to encourage exports. That could be dangerous, encouraging exactly the increased inflation and higher interest rates that Government Members fear. In my opinion, fiscal policy continues to have a role to play.
I mentioned two superstitions that I think underpin the Government's attitude, but there is a third: the idea, repeated over and over, that our national debt is unprecedented historically and exceptional internationally. That is the basis on which the Government claim over and over again that public spending is out of control. They assert again and again that we have left the nation's finances in a mess, and that is the context for the spectre of a sovereign debt crisis.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): Yes.
Gregg McClymont: Indeed, they assent. My own view is that the political rhetoric is at odds with the economic reality, and I shall tell them why. Several colleagues have noted that the average maturity of British sovereign debt is 14 years-
Mr Speaker: Order. I am listening to the speech by the hon. Gentleman with the closest interest, and it certainly has the manner of an economic treatise, which is of some interest, but I am just trying to fathom to which part of the Bill his comments relate. I have not yet found it, but I have a feeling that he is about to demonstrate it to me.
Gregg McClymont: Thank you for that guidance, Mr Speaker. As I suggested at the outset, everything in the Finance Bill depends on a view about confidence in the economy, and I was suggesting that the Government's confidence in their own prescription is misplaced. However, I shall try to follow your advice and move on.
Government debt is still at historically low levels. It is edging towards 70% of GDP, but for 60 of the past 100 years, Government debt was at that level or higher, and that undermines the claims for an historic level of debt. It is true that those debts were incurred fighting two world wars, but the recent and more modest expansion of the national debt also happened in exceptional circumstances. I hope that Government Members will not forget the scale of the crisis that the world economy recently suffered. In 2009, global GDP shrank by 2.4%, the first decline since world war two, and the Budget must be considered in that context of global depression.
The political obsession with debt is dangerous and has distorted the Government's economic priorities as set out in the Bill. Our public deficit is just one of many causes for concern about our future economic performance, and that is why Labour had a plan to restrain public spending when the recovery was secured. Labour led Britain out of recession last year through stronger growth and lower unemployment, supported by an active industrial policy and global co-operation. This Government, by contrast, offer us nothing but scaremongering about the national debt and competitive deflation with our economic partners.
What of job creation? In oral questions last week, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change compared the previous Government's target of 1.2 million new green jobs to the sector targets that Gosplan set in the Soviet Union. The Opposition might have had plans and targets for job creation, but the Government have targets for the destruction of jobs. That is what we learned from the Treasury leak last week, and that is where an obsession with public debt leaves us.
I should like to address one final superstition-that austerity inspires confidence among the bond markets that finance our debts and the consumers who drive demand and growth. That belief suits the Chancellor's purposes admirably, as he and his colleagues have done much to undermine confidence in our economy and public finances. They style themselves as the remedy for a moral panic of their own making but, as I have suggested, there is little hard evidence to support what they say. The hard-headed realists on the Government Benches want to sacrifice real services and real jobs here and now, on the basis of what they think the markets might desire of them later. We may yet find that those gods are as inscrutable as they are insatiable. There is a fine line between confidence based on reduced deficits and confidence based on growth. It suggests that markets that smile on austerity now may punish us for low growth later.
In my opinion, the coalition Government and their policies have had little discernible impact on international confidence in the British economy. More important has been the lack of confidence in the eurozone; relatively speaking, confidence in our economy has grown. But the scaremongering about the public finances has already had a clear negative impact on the confidence of ordinary men, women and businesses, on whom the country's recovery rests.
To conclude, the Budget has little to do with progressive or necessary austerity; it is acutely political in intention. The long-term objective is to reduce the financial burden on those who tend to vote Conservative by reducing the size of the public sector. That is the context in which the Conservative claim that the public deficit is the biggest threat to recovery must be understood. The Budget is profoundly political and not unavoidable. It reflects the superstition, self-interest and party interest of the modern Conservative party. I, for one, will not be supporting it.
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate. I should like first to congratulate my fellow new Members, from all parties, on their maiden speeches. I am also grateful to Opposition Members for their passionate speeches in this debate.
The Bill represents only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the regressive impact of the Government's plans. I want to focus on the effects of the Finance Bill on constituencies such as mine, which falls in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Although we recognise the need to reduce the Budget deficit, the depth and speed of the cuts and some of the tax rises, such as the VAT rise-all under the euphemism of fiscal consolidation-mask an inherently unjust, unfair and unequal Budget, of which the Bill is a significant part. It will hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in our society and leave hard-working families and small businesses around the country in constituencies such as mine high and dry.
The Bill will have a detrimental effect on the life chances of families on modest incomes. It will increase suffering and deprivation. I welcome the increase in capital gains tax, one of the few progressive aspects of the Bill, but for many in constituencies such as mine it is small comfort given that their homes, jobs, local schools and the very services on which they rely to thrive will be devastated. It makes a mockery of the notion that we are all in this together.
I turn now to the impact of the Bill on poverty. Unlike Conservative Governments of the past, the coalition Government have claimed to be progressive. That is how the Bill should be judged, and that is how the country will judge it.
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Does the hon. Lady accept that under the last Government the gap between the richest and the poorest grew? I feel that what she is saying now is a contentious way of suggesting that somehow the Conservative-Liberal coalition is attacking the poorest.
Rushanara Ali: We all know that income inequality rises in periods of boom. It is not acceptable, and personally I would rather that we had been able to do much more. As under previous Governments, income inequality increased. However, social inequality decreased. Like many Opposition and Government Members I worked passionately to reduce poverty and we did reduce child poverty nationally. I regret that we did not manage to achieve comparable reductions in child poverty in London.
The Government's cuts will be judged on the measure of progressivism, and it is a great shame that the Bill is not progressive enough. Using VAT to raise £13 billion is a regressive choice. Save the Children estimates that the poorest families in Britain will face VAT bills of about £1,600 a year. The Treasury's own figures show that the poorest are affected three times as much as others by changes in VAT. Many have argued that that is offset by the exempted expenditure on food and children's clothing, but it is quite the opposite. The poorest 10% of households already spend a higher proportion of their disposable incomes on VAT-about 14% compared with about 5% for the top 10%.
These changes, combined with announcements in the Budget such as those on housing benefit, disability living allowance and other kinds of fixed income, alongside the removal of some £3 billion of support to families, will devastate many of the vulnerable families in constituencies such as mine and many others. Ministers and Government Members have been quick to say that restoring the link between earnings and the basic state pension is an important achievement, but unfortunately some 10,000 pensioners in my constituency will suffer from the VAT rise alone.
The VAT increase will reduce consumption. It will hit small businesses, including almost 4,500 in my constituency, very hard. I do not accept the argument that it will be good for the economy. About 70% of those businesses in my constituency have fewer than four members of staff working for them, and there is no doubt that a reduction in consumption will affect them negatively.
The Conservatives have been out of power for 13 years, and the first thing they now do is raise VAT. What does that say about their idea of progressivism? Those of us who were brought up in modest income households, like many millions of people in this country, have not forgotten the pain and suffering inflicted on families through VAT hikes in the past, and I simply do not accept that this is the right path now. I appeal to Liberal Democrat friends and to true compassionate Conservatives -I hope there are still a few left-who know in their
heart of hearts that this VAT increase is bad for the British economy, does nothing to create fairness and social justice and does nothing to protect the most vulnerable in our country to think again and to vote with us.
People on modest incomes in constituencies such as mine will have to make terrible choices between heating or feeding and clothing their families, or between new pairs of shoes for their children and taking the bus to work. Sadly, those are the kinds of choices that some people will be forced to make because they are already on low incomes, struggling to cope in this difficult economic climate. We know that in periods of recession people turn to loan sharks because they find it difficult to get other loans, and end up heavily indebted and trapped. We also know that despite efforts by the previous Government, many of the poorest people in this country still suffer from being in a poverty trap. Despite those efforts, child poverty still has not been reduced by as much as we would have liked. I believe that this Budget, particularly the VAT increase, will continue to damage vulnerable families. In Tower Hamlets, in constituencies such as mine, the Budget cuts have already amounted to about £9 million, and a further £55 million of cuts are proposed over the next three years.
Although I welcome the bankers levy, where is the justice and fairness in raising just £2 billion, with no provision being made to tax bonuses? We may contrast that with the £6 billion of bankers' bonuses and with the billions of pounds of public service cuts for ordinary families and workers, and it just does not seem adequate. I am not saying that the public do not want to see the deficit cut, but where is the justice in such a comparatively small levy compared with what the public have to pay?
Toby Perkins: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does she share my view that any Budget that is supposed to have us all in it together but leaves the bankers and the super-rich feeling tremendously relieved and the most deprived people in our communities horrified by what they are facing cannot possibly achieve any measure of fairness?
Rushanara Ali: I agree completely. My constituency is situated between the City and Canary Wharf, and although I and many people in my constituency are grateful for the contribution that responsible bankers make through local community work and so on, the reality is that a small but significant minority have brought the economy almost to a standstill. That is not acceptable, and bankers ought to be asked to make a bigger contribution than ordinary members of the public.
Over the past decade, constituencies such as mine have struggled to get to a position in which people can reach their aspirations, and unemployment was high even during the boom period, particularly among graduates. In the current climate the situation is ever more difficult. I do not believe that punishing ordinary families and people who are struggling to make ends meet is the way forward, or that it will help to create the big society that members of the Conservative party claim to want to create. It does not highlight compassionate conservatism. We heard a lot about that before the election, but I see no sign of it. I hope that some of our friends on the other side of the Chamber will reconsider the matter and think about how they can support families in this difficult climate.
Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to participate in this debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
One thing that is certain is that all parties agree that the deficit exists; we disagree only about how we would seek to reduce it, and how quickly or otherwise. Having now seen the detail of the Budget, and having like other Members been drip-fed even more bad news on a daily basis, I feel that the Budget and the subsequent cuts represent a most draconian, vicious and bitter attack on the hard-working people of the UK.
This has been described as the worst Budget in living memory, and I must say that I agree with that sentiment. This unprecedented attack by the coalition-the Tories and the Liberal Democrats-seems to be relished by many on their Benches. There appears to be something of a perverse glee among many of them when they see this attack on the people of this country. Only the wealthy and the well-off seem to have escaped the far-reaching measures forced upon the nation by the slash-and-burn, patched-up coalition Government.
If I may, I wish to introduce a more human side to the debate on the Finance Bill and the Budget. Tonight we have heard a million and one different figures, and I am sure that most of them are accurate, but we have not heard too much about the human side and the impact that the figures in the Bill will have on ordinary working people. In my constituency, 53% of the people work in the public sector-the highest proportion in the country. We should not treat those people as social outcasts, yet that appears to be happening. We have people in integral employment in the public sector-doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, paramedics, prison officers, teachers, lecturers, classroom assistants, council workers, refuse collectors, street cleaners, chief executives and administrators among many more. Those are all valued occupations-essential jobs for the economy, including that in my constituency.
Let us consider the police. Today, they have been on the front line, chasing an armed murderer only 10 miles from where I live. We should be proud of those police officers and not look to cut their numbers. Today, they are protecting the public; tomorrow, they could face unemployment because of the cuts. Let us consider the firemen. They are the only ones running towards an explosion, or towards a fire in which people are trapped, while the general public run away. We should be proud of them. They are on the front line today, but they face unemployment tomorrow.
We must stop treating people as mere statistics. They are real people, with real lives. They have real families and real mortgages and, like many of us, they have aims and ambitions. Most of them chose a career path when they left school of serving their communities in the public sector. Should they be punished for that through the Bill and the Budget? They should not. They never expected to be unreasonably attacked through Government policy.
Why on earth the Government have attempted to divide public and private sector workers, driving a wedge between them as if they are different sorts of people, in different classes, and creating some second-class citizens is beyond me, unless it is a case of divide and rule. They have not only imposed a two-year pay freeze, but attacked pensions. "Pay more while you work, get less when you retire" seems to be the policy.
Let us consider the figures from my constituency. An average public sector worker in the NHS in Wansbeck can expect a pension of some £6,000 per annum. A local authority worker can expect a pension of £4,000 per annum. That is frankly disgraceful and unacceptable. It is also unashamed vindictiveness towards hard-working people.
The attack on the hard-working people of the public and private sectors through an attempt to dilute safety and health legislation is also worrying. Some on the other side of the House claim that it is burdensome, yet we have some of the best safety and health legislation in the world. When Lord Young of Graffham is being asked to reform safety and health laws and clearly states-
Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is addressing the House with great force and eloquence. A few moments ago, I was waiting for a specific reference to the Bill and he made it, for which the House was indebted to him. However, he is now talking about health and safety and wider reviews, and there is the difficulty that those matters do not appertain to the Bill, to which I know he will now revert with his customary force and eloquence.
Ian Lavery: Thank you very much for that, Mr Speaker -I understand. Whether or not health and safety and other such issues are part of the Bill or the Budget, they are integral to the people whom we represent.
To top it all off, those hard-working people are expected to accept the reduction in their pensions and pay cuts without any voice. It is reported that the Government are looking to tighten what are already the worst anti-trade union laws in the western world, to prevent people from having the democratic right to oppose the cuts in the Bill and the Budget. With pay cuts, pension cuts, benefit cuts, employment rights eroded, and health and safety laws diluted, their futures are in tatters. Who says that we are in this together? I invite the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to visit my constituency, to explain to the people of Wansbeck, including the 53% who may lose their jobs, how on earth we are in this together. What about the young and the future jobs fund and university places? What about the lack of job opportunities and the abolition of the regional development agencies? With the cutting of benefits, what future do the young people have as a result of the Bill?
Disabled people will be affected. What about the tax on disabled benefits? In my constituency, benefits for disablement and incapacity, including disability living allowance, are extremely important, because Wansbeck is a heavily industrialised area. The child trust funds are to be abolished-
Mr Speaker: Order. I am genuinely trying to be helpful to individual Members and to the House. It is open to the hon. Gentleman, and to other hon. Members who speak, to say something about corporation tax, capital gains tax, value added tax, insurance premium tax, income tax, etc.
Thanks for that, Mr Speaker. Every Member who has sat in the Chamber for as long as I have today is probably as fed up as I am about VAT and everything else. I accept everything you say, Mr Speaker, but I must say that I am just trying to change things, because we are talking about the cuts and the impact
they will have on ordinary people. That is the only thing I am trying to get across. I understand quite clearly that I am probably stretching the limits of the debate-
Mr Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I know he is doing his best to heed my advice-not altogether successfully-but from his last sentence, I suggest that he could delete the word "probably". He was not following my advice, but I know that he will now do so. There are other matters to address if he wishes to do so.
Ian Lavery: Once again, Mr Speaker, thank you very much for your indulgence. I conclude not by mentioning VAT or anything of that nature, but by suggesting once again that it is not fair to say that we are in this together, because we certainly are not.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): In considering the Bill, we need to address three basic questions. First, does it raise the right amount of money? Secondly, will it promote growth? Thirdly, is it fair? Table 1.1 on page 15 of the Red Book is particularly useful. It lays the policy that the new coalition Government inherited alongside their own tax and spending increases. One of the most interesting things that it shows is that over the five-year period, the extra spending reductions required are £112 billion, and the extra tax increases required are £33 billion.
The policy that the Government inherited of halving the budget deficit over four years was set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) in March, and the detail of how that would be done was repeated today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne).
One of the key issues that we have not considered so far tonight is whether we should be more concerned about the size of the deficit or the size of the debt. Government Members continually stress the importance of the deficit, but the main reason that the deficit is significant is because it contributes to the debt. Page 23 of the Red Book contains chart 1.3, "Consolidation in the cyclically-adjusted current budget", and chart 1.4, "Public sector net debt". They show the tremendous difference that will be made by the policies being pursued by the coalition Government. The policies that my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West laid out would have produced a debt to GDP ratio in 2014 of 75%-a high number and not where we would like to be in the long term. But for all the pain and agony that the coalition Government will impose on the country the net impact will be to reduce the debt to GDP ratio by 5% to 70%-just a 5% reduction. It is not even a 5% reduction now, but in 2014. We are being asked to believe that the markets will take a very different view of this small difference in four years' time. That is the altar on which we are told we should smash our public services. That is why Labour Members regard this as a deeply ideological Budget.
David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con):
I have been sat here now for an hour and a half listening to this passionate debate and one thing has come across
loud and clear. The hon. Lady just gave figures for four years down the line. Does that not give you an indication of the amount of debt your party left this country in?
Mr Speaker: Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I do not have a party? Some people have known that for some time.
Helen Goodman: In order to achieve that difference in the debt to GDP ratio four years hence, we will see cuts of 25% across most Departments, four times greater than those that Geoffrey Howe tried to impose on the country in the early 1980s. Even so, the tax burden will also rise by £33 billion. We have to question the judgment of a Government who are taking that amount of money out of the British economy.
Another issue is whether the Budget will promote growth. It is clear that in overall terms it will not do so. That is clear from the revisions to the forecasts made by the OBR, which show that growth is down and unemployment is up. Given the huge cuts proposed in the public sector-we heard about the first slice yesterday to the Building Schools for the Future programme-not only will the number of public sector jobs be reduced, but the knock-on effect will be significant increases in job losses in the private sector. The Government's contention that 2 million private sector jobs can be created is just not credible. That is far more than was achieved in the 1990s when interest rates were cut aggressively and the pound depreciated by 25%. In those years, it took seven years for employment to grow by 1 million. Obviously, interest rates cannot be cut aggressively in the current situation, and it is highly unlikely we will see a depreciation of the pound against the euro, given that the European economies-our largest market-are in the state they are in. Under the Labour Government, 2.5 million jobs were created over 13 years, but that included extra jobs in the public sector, a housing boom and huge increases in financial services. The Government are now putting forward a prospectus that is simply not tenable. The argument that we have to attend to the level of the deficit because private sector investment is being crowded out by the public sector is also not credible, given that the economy has 4% spare capacity.
I turn to the measures in the Bill. On corporation tax, the coalition Government are cutting the rates-this is a long-standing pattern with the Tories-while cutting the allowances. What will that do for growth? How will that enable the economy to be rebalanced in the way the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills says is so important? Cutting allowances for investment is bad for manufacturing. The small and medium-sized firms in my constituency, where there is a lot of engineering and small manufacturing, provide several examples demonstrating what the problems are. Over the past month, I have visited two firms that make packaging, which means they supply the retail industry. Obviously, if shops are not doing very well, those firms are not doing very well. Clearly, they need a lot of big machinery to make the packaging, and if they are to continue to have the new, up-to-date machinery to do that, they need investment allowances.
Not so long ago, I visited a building and joinery firm that also has a lot of expensive machinery that it needs to keep up to date, and it also needs these investment
allowances. Its contracts are largely dependent on the public sector and on schools and police stations being refurbished, so these cuts in the public sector will have huge knock-on effects in the private sector. Let us take a final example: a chemicals firm making sealant for aircraft. How will it fare with cuts to the defence budget, which is one of the budgets not being protected? Once again we have a complete picture that is totally incoherent. What the Government offer in practice and what they say they want to achieve are two completely different things.
Many hon. Members have commented on the unfairness of the low level of the bank levy and on the fact that the banks will gain more from the corporation tax cuts than they will lose from the increase in the bank levy. However, no one has asked why the bank levy is only being introduced from 1 January 2011. I would like Treasury Ministers to explain why there is a delay in the introduction of the bank levy. Surely that gives the banks a lot of time to move their assets around and avoid this tax, at which, as we all know, the financial services are particularly adept.
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke) indicated dissent.
Helen Goodman: The Minister shakes his head. They clearly do not know the answer.
The Conservative-Liberal coalition cannot agree on its environmental policy either, which is presumably why, rather than acting on environmental taxes, we now have yet another commission to look into the climate change levy. Once again, therefore, a potentially progressive measure is being put on the backburner. We do not know when it will happen. We do not know when we will see progress on it.
Many hon. Members have spoken about the unfairness of VAT. The Government claim that they had no choice, but of course they had a choice, and they have made it. Their choice has been to change the national insurance regime and replace the increase in national insurance with an increase in VAT. However, one of the things that the Government will not admit is that VAT is also a tax on jobs. VAT also drives a wedge between the cost on employers for the goods and service that employees buy, and what they pay for them, so the notion that we can have an increase in VAT without seeing an impact on the number of jobs in the economy is yet another fantasy.
The Government have not explained what they are doing about the lower rate of VAT, on essentials, and many Opposition Members would like some clarification on that.
The third and final issue that I would like to discuss is fairness in the income tax and benefits system. The Liberal Democrats say that raising the personal allowance is their major attempt to be fair to poor people. The attempt is being made, but it has not produced the upshot that the Liberal Democrats are looking for. Rather, it has failed, because they have not taken account of the interaction with the tax credit reductions and the cuts in welfare benefits.
The distribution figures on page 66 of the Red Book purport to show what the position in the Budget is. However, a day or so later, we all discovered that chart
A2, entitled "Impact of all measures as a per cent of net income by income distribution", in fact included not just the measures taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in announcing his June Budget, but the measures taken previously by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West, which were jumbled up with them. When those figures were stripped out and separated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, we could see that the distributional impacts were totally different. Whereas my right hon. Friend's Budget took less than 0.5% from the poorest and almost 7% from the richest, the June Budget took 2.5% from the poorest and 0.5% from the richest, so the claim of fairness is completely fraudulent.
Ms Angela Eagle: Has my hon. Friend also noticed that, mysteriously, the tables in the Red Book to which she has referred stop in the financial year 2012-13, which as it happens-I am sure that this is purely coincidental-is just before all the cuts in the public sector happen?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The major cuts in benefits-in housing benefits, tax credits and benefits affecting families-come in the two final years.
The other thing that Members on the Government Benches simply do not seem to understand is the impact of the changes on work incentives. The Government say that they want to promote a climate for growth. One would think that if they were trying to promote a climate for growth, they would improve work incentives. The Government are about to test to destruction the theory that simply cutting benefits will improve work incentives. That is illustrated in another table in the Red Book-the Red Book is, I have to say, a rather useful document-which shows the changes in the marginal deduction rates. That table shows that almost 100,000 people will see increases in their marginal deduction rates as a result of the Budget-that is, a worsening of their incentives.
The level of transparency in the document is totally inadequate, and it has been extremely difficult to get information out of the Government. However, in conclusion, I would like to ask: what is the balance of risk that the British economy now faces? Is it spiralling inflation or is it deflation? The choice that the Government have made is far more likely to push us towards deflation.
Before he sat down, the Chancellor or the Exchequer said that the richest should pay the most and that the vulnerable would be protected in the Budget. The Government have failed every test. They have not been fair, they have not promoted growth, they are raising far too much money and this Budget will fail the nation.
Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker. I am constantly amazed by this Chamber. I had had ambitions to speak in this debate today, but I now discover that it is tomorrow-[Hon. Members: "No, it's still today."] Of course it is not tomorrow; it is still today. That is another surprise. I shall keep my remarks characteristically short.
We have been looking at two opposing risks in the debate today. The one that has been mentioned most by those on the Government Benches is that we would find
ourselves in a debt crisis as a result of a lack of confidence in the cuts that we are making. I might have a different view from those on the Government Benches. The other risk is that we will cut too deeply and take out investment that would otherwise go into growing our economy. To remove the bulk of the structural deficit, as the Government have chosen to do, reflects one of those positions very strongly. However, it does not reflect the fact that we must walk a path between those two risks. We must find a way.
I was pleased to stand for Parliament on a manifesto commitment to reduce the deficit by half over four years of the next Parliament. That struck me as a good route to take between those two risks. To go further than that, as the Government are choosing to do, is ideological. We all have different ideologies-I understand that-but at a time when risk is such an important aspect of the debate, not to recognise that fact is deeply worrying. Today, we have been talking about VAT, capital gains tax and insurance tax. There is one other tax that I would like to talk about tonight.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes the good point that those on the Government Benches are offering an alternative view on the Finance Bill. However, we have not heard very much from them for a considerable period of time. Does he think that they have run out of arguments to defend their position, or that we are actually winning the arguments and that they will vote with us in opposing the Bill's Second Reading tonight?
Gavin Shuker: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
I represent the east of England in my constituency of Luton South, and there is another tax that will have profound implications for my constituents. It is the change in national insurance. I am one of only two Opposition MPs representing the east of England and, as of Budget day, I represent part of what the Government now call the greater south-east. I am sure that hon. Members can imagine how delighted I was to receive that accolade but, having never heard of the greater south-east, and given that I live there, I decided that I should find out more about it.
I learned that, contrary to the coalition's view that our area is so affluent that, even in the most serious downturn of the past 60 years, it needs no Government support, it houses some of the most deprived wards in our country. It should be recognised, as some on the Government Benches have chosen to do tonight, that the inequality within regions can be as great as the inequality between regions. For example, the Dallow ward in my constituency stands in stark contrast to Elstree, one of the most affluent wards in the country, through which I pass every day on my commute to Parliament. Both are in the greater south-east.
I have also learned that, of all the regions in this country, the greater south-east is the most likely to have vital infrastructure projects shelved. Given the VAT rise and the other measures in the Bill, this will have a really profound effect on the inhabitants of the region. Investment in infrastructure is a far better way of kick-starting economies than cheap, short fixes and making cost
savings. Indeed, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility accepts that growth projections must be downgraded as a result of the coalition's plans.
Most importantly for the people living in my constituency, I have learned that if an entrepreneur wanted to start a new business in the greater south-east, they would find themselves some £50,000 worse off than if they had started their business elsewhere. Let us be clear about the impact. For my constituents in Luton South, that means that moving just two stops up the train line or two junctions up the M1 would effectively give them a £50,000 golden hello for starting up. This Government would deprive our region and our town of new jobs and businesses, and fresh opportunities for growth.
Rising unemployment often hits the poorest and the youngest hardest. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) spoke passionately about his experiences of growing up at a time when he faced a double whammy of weak growth and spending cuts, along with increased taxation, and he pointed at the profound effects on the local economy-not just in the short term, but in the long term as well. All things being equal, who would not want to establish their business within a few miles of their own home? Who would not want to employ people from within their own community?
These plans are a missile aimed at the heart of the recovery in the east and in Luton South. As glamorous as "the greater south-east" sounds, I simply have to tell Government Members that the continued membership of this region simply does not serve our constituents. Given a choice, I would like to continue to be a Member representing the east of England.
Dr Thérèse Coffey: Speaking as a fellow Member from the east of England, and one representing Suffolk Coastal, I am finding it difficult to understand the hon. Gentleman's argument that we are disincentivising the growth of employment, given that we have reduced the threshold for employers' national insurance. Surely that provides an incentive, not a disincentive. I would appreciate some further clarification on why we are disincentivising employment.
Gavin Shuker: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I do not want to give a geography lesson here, but the point I am making is that there is disparity within a region, as some areas are more affluent than others. That applies locally as well as regionally, and some parts of regions are much closer to other regions. For example, in Luton South, we have a particular issue about bordering an area that will not be affected by the £50,000 incentive I mentioned for starting a business.
Mr Speaker: Order. Before he continues, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that the issue of regional similarities-or, indeed, for that matter, disparities-is a matter of interest, but it is not relevant to the matters in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is rightly passionate about his own area, but I know that he will want to relate his remarks to the Bill. He has a considerable choice between corporation tax, capital gains tax, value added tax, insurance premium tax, pensions, income tax and no fewer than five schedules, the second of which has five parts. I think that that will keep him happy.
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