“The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich.”

The document was called “Built to Last”. That was his test. It is a test that this Budget fails spectacularly. This is the death knell of his project and of his compassionate conservatism. He and the Chancellor have shown their true colours. They promised change, but they have failed on growth, on jobs, on borrowing and on fairness. It is unfair, out of touch, and for the few, not the many—an unfair Budget built on economic failure; an unfair Budget from the same old Tories.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I ask Members who are not staying to clear out quickly. I call Mr Andrew Tyrie.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I remind Mr Tyrie that there is a time limit of 10 minutes.

Mr Tyrie: I hope that my time has not started yet.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I have not started it yet. I am allowing the Chamber to clear. The hon. Gentleman need not worry, because we want to hear what he has to say.

1.49 pm

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I am also available for injury time, if anybody wants to chip in. After the generals, it always falls to me to be the first of the foot soldiers.

The first point that I want to make is about the overall Budget judgment. The issue that overshadows all the others to which the Chancellor referred is that Britain is living beyond its means. We are borrowing £1 for every £4 we spend. That is why the last Chancellor of the Exchequer was right, in his final Budget two years ago, to set out a tough deficit reduction plan, even if his neighbour argued about it all the way. It is also why the current Chancellor was absolutely right today to stick to a clear plan for deficit reduction. Although it is not popular with most Members to say this, I also deeply respect the Liberals for helping to make that plan a cornerstone of coalition policy, despite all the flak they take.

Some have argued that the economy needs a further fiscal boost on top of the deficit that we are already running. It is worth bearing it in mind that the last Chancellor injected a £20 billion boost in 2009, but that sum pales into insignificance compared with the £100 billion of quantitative easing over the past 12 months or the £300 billion of quantitative easing since the crisis began. Even though quantitative easing and fiscal policy are not directly comparable, it is clear that monetary policy has played a huge role in managing the recession.

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The biggest influence on overall macro-economic policy at the moment, therefore, is probably the Bank of England. It is becoming more powerful than ever before, which is why the Treasury Committee will look closely at how much of the latest round of quantitative easing is finding its way into final demand. It is also why strong accountability of the Bank to Parliament is essential. The Treasury Committee is united in the view that the proposals currently in the Financial Services Bill are simply not enough, and we will press on behalf of Parliament for significant improvements on Report.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): At the time of the last general election, the national debt stood at £760 billion. It has now risen to more than £1 trillion for the first time in history and is on track to rise to about £1.5 trillion. What does the Chairman of the Treasury Committee think the impact on interest rates will be by the end of this Parliament?

Mr Tyrie: I think I will ask the Bank of England that question when it comes to see the Committee, but I agree that the issue needs to be taken into consideration.

One measure that was announced yesterday, about which I might just have time to say a few words now that I have some injury time, was credit easing. Yesterday’s announcement on the loan guarantee scheme responded to many constituents’ complaints that they simply cannot get the money they need to run or start up small businesses. We all have constituents in that position, and the scheme will offer some welcome relief. How much relief? I think it will offer only a little, and there is a risk of the banks pocketing most of the money. The Treasury Committee, the Public Accounts Committee— I do not know whether its Chair is in her place—and the National Audit Office all need to play a role in ensuring that the banks do not run off with the money, and that value for money is secured.

None the less, I still think the scheme may turn out to be valuable, for several reasons. First, by announcing it the Chancellor has raised the salience of an important issue and put pressure on the banks not to dismiss requests for loans without examining them properly. Furthermore, it seems to me that the Treasury’s own pessimistic briefing yesterday that the money will go only to existing borrowers is almost certainly mistaken. There is very likely to be some more lending, because banks will benefit from the stronger financial position of firms to which they have lent. Those loans, in turn, will be less risky for the banks, so they should have some more headroom for new lending without altering their risk profile.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to improve lending to small and medium-sized enterprises is a dramatic improvement in the amount of competition in the British banking system?

Mr Tyrie: I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend serves with me on the Treasury Committee, and we have published quite a detailed report on competition in retail banking that has won the support of Vickers and of the Joint Committee on the Draft Financial Services Bill, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and somewhere. [Interruption.] Harpenden, is

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it? My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley)? Anyway, wherever it is, it is somewhere in Hertfordshire.

The loan guarantee scheme was at least announced. I have to tell the Chancellor, who is in his place, that several colleagues on both sides of the House have complained to me about the leaks and briefings in the days prior to the Budget. All I will say at this point is that the Treasury Committee will look at the matter.

The Committee will also publish a preliminary report on the Budget in time for the consideration of the Finance Bill. The timetable proposed by the Government is very tight, but we will do our best. In particular, we will scrutinise what the Chancellor has described—correctly, by the look of things—as a tax-reforming Budget. We will examine whether the main tax measures live up to what it is claimed they will achieve. We will assess them against a number of principles that the Committee believes should guide tax reform, which we set out in a report 14 months ago, “Principles of tax policy”.

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Tyrie: I will give way one more time, but I do not get any overtime for this intervention.

Dame Joan Ruddock: I am most grateful. I hope that when the Committee does its review, it will consider the fact that for an ordinary family with two children, the losses coming this April will amount to £530 and the compensation that the Chancellor boasted of giving will amount to only £220.

Mr Tyrie: We will seek evidence on that point and on all the main measures, and we will publish it as quickly as we can. I thank the right hon. Lady for making that point.

The principles that we set out in our paper a little over a year ago were more or less endorsed by the Chancellor today. They were: does a measure make the tax system more simple, predictable—the Chancellor used that word—stable, fair and coherent, and does it unlock higher economic growth? As last year, we will ask the major accountancy bodies—the chartered accountants, the certified accountants and the Chartered Institute of Taxation—to score each major measure against those principles. We hope the Committee can thereby assist the House in gauging progress towards a simpler, fairer tax system. That is what all our constituents want.

We will also ask those bodies to scrutinise some of the measures that have been announced today—the cap on tax reliefs and its workability; the yield from the 45p rate; the general anti-avoidance provision, about which a number of us have concerns; and the reference to retrospection in the tax system that is associated with that provision, which many have held could damage the yield in the long run. We will also take a look at the Leader of the Opposition’s point that this was a Budget for millionaires, at the expense of the squeezed middle.

A number of colleagues have asked the Committee also to examine measures that were introduced in previous Budgets, to see what the effect of them has been. Have they had the effect of raising more revenue and generating

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more efficiency than was outlined for them when they were introduced? We have not made up our mind about which measures to examine in that respect, but I suspect that in a few years’ time the cut in the top rate of tax announced today will be a prime candidate. We will be able to judge whether Mr Laffer really was out and about.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Tyrie: I might be able to manage just one more intervention.

Sir Robert Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman. In looking at the tax system, will he consider how the constructive engagement between the oil and gas industry in the North sea and the Treasury has led to a change of heart, some certainty on decommissioning and added incentives to encourage further investment and more revenue for the Treasury?

Mr Tyrie: We were a bit concerned about that. The Chancellor announced in either his first or second Budget that he would not alter the framework for the North sea tax regime, and then in his following Budget announced significant changes. That does not do wonders for tax certainty, of course. We need to keep an eye on exactly that sort of thing. We need to move steadily and remorselessly towards a simpler, fairer, clearer, more certain and more reliable tax system. That is what will unlock the huge potential for investment in the private sector; medium-sized and large firms are often sitting on cash piles and have very strong balance sheets.

I am sorry—I have lost my way.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): You’re not the only one.

Mr Tyrie: I will do my best to assist the hon. Gentleman and get back into the groove.

The tax changes that have been announced today should play a crucial role in encouraging economic activity. However, that is only part of what is required to transform the growth potential of the economy. We also need a much wider supply side agenda to be implemented. We need labour market reform. The Chancellor has announced his intentions on planning, and we need simpler regulation. He combined the planning and the regulation points in his speech today.

The decision to tell taxpayers in each statement that they receive how their money is spent and how much tax they pay as individuals is a huge step forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), who is no longer in his place, has been pressing for that for a few years. I argued for it 25 years ago when I was at the Treasury.

Britain is in the early stages of recovery from the biggest boom and bust cycle since the war. The UK has had to absorb the biggest bank failure—RBS—that, as far as I know, the world has ever seen. We are now having to absorb a crisis among our closest trading partners, generated by fundamental flaws in the design of the eurozone. The times are uncertain and confidence is at a premium. Whatever one’s view of the overall Budget judgment, most people agree that confidence is bolstered when Governments do what they say they will do. In the Budget, the Chancellor has done just that.

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2.1 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): There has been much trumpeting and advance spinning of the Budget in recent days, so almost every announcement this afternoon came as no surprise. There are also hidden messages in the Budget: those who are poor and whose income is being squeezed are being asked to work longer; but for those in the top income bracket, the message is, “Let us ease your pain. We’ve reduced your corporation tax bills, lowered your banker’s bonus tax, now let’s cut your income tax rate.”

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Was not another thing sneaked through the Budget quickly and carefully: the more than £1 billion hit that British pensioners will take as a result of the announcement on “simplifying” personal allowances for pensioners?

Ann McKechin: My hon. Friend has cleverly noted that hidden message, to which, I am sure, the Chancellor was keen to avoid drawing attention. However, pensioners are not as daft as he thinks, and I think that they will soon reckon that they are paying for the millionaires’ tax bonus announced today.

There has also been complete radio silence on other matters: women, for example, or children. By any rational definition, the Budget has not only ducked the hard issues, but entrenched the division in our society.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): For 13 years of the Labour Government, the millionaires’ tax rate that the hon. Lady mentioned was at 40%. That was changed only in the last stage, and it is now 45%. Why was it 40% for so long while she was in office?

Ann McKechin: As even the Chancellor would admit, the economy was very different. [Interruption.] We had job growth and we were taking people out of poverty—that was the difference, which the hon. Gentleman seems to have completely failed to realise.

The Chancellor must by now be all too aware of the criticism levelled at his efforts in the past two years. Women were left paying more than 72% of the net cost of the changes in taxes, benefits and tax credits in his June 2010 Budget, and the subsequent comprehensive spending review ushered in yet more of a burden on women and families. Of the £18.3 billion raised through net direct tax, pay and pension changes up to now, £13.2 billion is coming from women. For children, the position is even worse. If we are to reach the target set in the Child Poverty Act 2010, the Government need to reduce the number of children in poverty by 120,000 per annum.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ann McKechin: In a minute. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has told the Government that their current policies will see poverty increasing by 100,000 people a year. What does it say about a country when it allows tax cuts for the richest but at the same time allows more of its children’s lives to be stunted? I will be interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say about that.

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Dr Huppert: The hon. Lady raises the issue about women, which is clearly important. That is why it is disappointing that at the end of the 13 years of the Labour Government, 28% more women were unemployed than at the beginning. Does she accept that, of the 2 million poorly paid people who will be lifted out of income tax, a huge proportion—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make a speech, he should put in for it. He is not going to do it through an intervention.

Ann McKechin: I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman should remember that under this Government, unemployment among women is at its highest for more than 23 years. The Chancellor did not make one mention of what he will do about that scandal.

The Lib Dem part of the Government has made great play of the increase in personal allowances, but more than 70% of that benefits higher and middle earners and fails to benefit those at the lowest levels, who already do not pay income tax. I point out to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) that, funnily enough, the majority of them are women.

While middle earners stand to gain £379 when the threshold reaches £10,000, low earners on housing benefit and council tax benefit will gain only a paltry £57, as the rest will be tapered away. Overturning the perverse reductions in tax credits, which increased child care costs and penalised those trying to work on the lowest income scales, would have helped those in need the most. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) said, pensioners will also bear the burden as the years go on.

It is estimated that the reduction in tax credits on child care from 80% to 70% has pushed tens of thousands of parents out of the labour market, with 44,000 fewer families claiming support in December 2011 than in April that year. We have a Chancellor who thinks that it should be no problem for a cleaner to increase their hours from 16 to 24 hours a week to claim tax credits. Frankly, that is the reaction of someone living in a parallel universe, who fails to listen to those who have to attempt the challenge at a time when overtime and extra hours are almost impossible in most low earning jobs. As the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers reported yesterday, two thirds of those already receiving tax credits who are about to lose them next month already live in poverty: 200,000 couples with children face losing £3,870 per annum and an extra 80,000 children will be pushed into poverty by this one measure. It is immoral, unfair and unjust. I wait to see if anyone on the Government Benches can mount any argument to support such an outrageous measure, given that it completely fails their own core test of making work pay in every case. Even at this late stage, I hope that the Government will see sense and postpone the measure until universal credit is in place. If we are all in it together, why was there no mention of that today? It is a scandal of the Budget.

As the Scottish TUC pointed out in its Budget submission, it is now indisputable that Government policy is hitting wages much harder than profits. Indeed, as I pointed out at last week’s Business, Innovation and

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Skills questions, UK companies are now sitting on the highest ratio of cash reserves of any major western economy. That is not only unfair, but bad economics. We need more of those profits to be converted into real investment, and we need a much greater rise in consumption if we are ever to achieve the necessary higher growth.

The Government’s austerity plan has led to lower tax receipts and further downward revisions of growth, which is exactly the opposite of what we need. The Business Secretary has asked for a report on how to release company cash reserves. I welcome that, but I detect a complete lack of focus or priority in tackling the issue, just as I do in efforts to achieve a coherent industrial policy. Where is the Budget to create jobs? Where is the analysis to explain why, in the past year, female unemployment in Scotland and across the UK has increased by more than 17% , but male employment has increased by only l%? Where is the analysis on the increasing move into involuntary part-time working? Where is the analysis and policy on how to shift jobs into the industrial and manufacturing sectors, and to retrain those who have lost their jobs to enable them once more to hold down secure employment? Answer is there none.

The fact that we now have the highest female unemployment in 23 years was ignored in today’s Budget speech. That is not going to go away, and I fear that the consequences have been heavily underestimated by the Government, economists and our media. Far more women work in the public sector, and increasingly, men enter and compete for traditionally female-dominated work in the private sector. We are told that three quarters of public sector reductions are still to come, with the inevitable contraction of the work force, but there is absolutely no planning on how to create new jobs for the many women who will seek work.

Announcements on infrastructure are welcome, but construction jobs are entirely male dominated. Only about 1% of electricians are female, for example, and we have the lowest proportion of female engineering professionals of any EU nation, at less than 9%. The Government need to use procurement in such a way that will encourage and increase the numbers of women. There is an example for them to follow—the Olympic Delivery Authority has got more than 1,000 women into work in construction jobs—and I want to ensure that that good practice is followed throughout every major Government procurement programme to come.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I agree with the hon. Lady that we need more women in work, and to look after women and take them out of tax, which is what the Government are doing. Nevertheless, she mentions jobs. In her constituency in the last Parliament, unemployment increased by 44%; in this Parliament it has hardly changed. Does she agree that the previous Labour Government’s policies caused massive damage to this country?

Ann McKechin: The hon. Gentleman distorts the employment figures in my constituency and my city, where jobs were growing before this Government started to suppress demand and consumption and to take away huge amounts in benefit. I do not want women out of

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tax; I want them to get better-paid jobs so that they are in a position to pay tax. That is the fundamental problem, and taking people out of tax is an acceptance of it. Far too many people work in jobs that are too low-paid, but we are not doing anything about it.

As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others have repeatedly pointed out, we have a high level of under-employment in this country—4 million to 6 million people are in that category. The Scottish TUC has calculated that more than 0.5 million people, or more than 17%, are either unemployed or under-employed. Tax and benefit changes do nothing to change that long-term lack of demand for jobs.

The Government had the opportunity today to move away from their failed policy of austerity and to focus on stimulus for growth and jobs. They have failed, but the consequences will stay with this country and the communities we represent for many years to come. I am sure that point will depress many hon. Members, and it should depress all hon. Members on both sides of the House.

2.13 pm

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I fully support the Government’s aim. We need to earn our way out of the fiscal crisis, the massive over-borrowing and the large deficits. I also fully support their aim to get more money from taxing the rich, and we need a tax break for everybody else. We need a stimulus to demand and growth in this country and it is welcome that, given the difficult figures before the Chancellor today and the situation he inherited, he has managed to find a way of cutting tax for most people. That will be welcome relief from the relentless pressures on private budgets that hon. Members and their constituents have been experiencing as we try to climb out of the crisis.

It would be helpful to remind the House of the general shape of the five-year programme to try to get the deficit down. We want to get to a position in which we are adding less to the new borrowing. It is not that we are paying off the debt or dealing with the nation’s mortgage and credit card; we are just not flexing them quite as much as before. The Government have said that, over the five-year period of the planned coalition Government, they wish to increase current public spending by £90 billion and tax revenues by £174 billion a year by the fifth year of the programme, compared with the last Labour year. The House can see that, on most normal ways of looking at the situation, the plan is for the heavy lifting of getting the deficit down to be done by a very large increase in tax revenues.

Those tax revenues best roll in if the economy grows reasonably rapidly. The more quickly the economy grows, the easier and less hurtful it is to get money out of people; the less the economy grows, the more the choices become difficult.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman says that the heavy lifting will be done by the rise in tax, but does he accept that there is a ratio of 4:1 in the amount that will come from cuts in public spending and benefits to the amount that will come from tax rises?

Mr Redwood: I have just given the figures—they are taken from past and current Red Books—and the hon. Gentleman must make his judgment. I am giving the

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House my interpretation. Most people who see spending going up by £90 billion and revenue going up by £174 billion will say that the increase in revenue is doing the job of bringing the deficit down. If he compares that with Labour’s plans for even bigger increases in public spending, he can make a case. He may also have in mind—we have debated this in the House before—whether the cuts are real or not. Some programmes will experience real cuts. We know that because there is a much slower rate of growth in cash spending than anything this country has been used to for a very long time.

If debt interest takes too much of the extra money, and if welfare benefits take too much, other things will obviously be squeezed more, which could lead to very unpleasant consequences. That is even more reason why the Government are right to try to get the deficit down, so that we do not keep on increasing the debt at such a huge rate, and why they are right to keep official interest rates low—that helps with the cost of the deficit. It is also why they are right that we need to earn our way out of the situation by getting many more people back into decent jobs, so that they are paid more in work than they are paid on benefit. Surely the whole House can agree on that and share that aspiration.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): We obviously want to get more people into jobs, but will the right hon. Gentleman comment on something the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister’s questions? He said that 600,000 new private sector jobs had been created since the election, but a year ago he said that 500,000 new private sector jobs had been created since the election, and three months before that he said that 500,000 new jobs had been created since the election. Is not the rate of creation of new jobs slowing down massively under this Government?

Mr Redwood: We all know from the output and jobs figures that the economy did not do as well at the end of last year as it had done at other times since the Government were elected, but we also know that the forecasts are that growth will now pick up. I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome that and join me in having a serious debate on what this Parliament can do to make it more likely that my constituents and hers have jobs, and more likely that they are better-paid jobs.

The question whether real public spending is falling or not depends on the rate of inflation in the public sector, so I urge again that we take advantage of the tough times. There is a two-year pay freeze for public sector workers, and the Government say that they are buying things more cheaply throughout the public sector. In addition, there are recessionary conditions in Europe and other parts of the world. If we take advantage of those things, it should mean that we do not have to have big real cuts in spending, because we will have that £90 billion per annum to spend by the fifth year of the strategy.

However, we should focus today on taxation, which is clearly what the Leader of the Opposition wanted to focus on. I do not think he listened to the Budget speech or the numbers he was told, because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it very clear that he had come up with a series of targeted measures to tax the very rich more than if he had not made the changes. That is fine by me, and I would hope it is fine by the

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Labour party, but the Leader of the Opposition seemed to say that it was not fair, because some rich people would still get away with it. However, if we get enough or more out of them overall, is that not worth while? Surely even Labour would accept that if we raise rates too high, the very rich go away—they find ways around paying the tax or do not pay.

Labour in opposition does not take that seriously enough, but the former Chancellor and Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), took it very seriously when he was in office. As Chancellor, he had the option of putting the 40% rate up to 45% or 50%, or the 83% that Labour had when previously in office, but he never chose to do it. I wish he were here today. If he were, I would ask him, “Why not?” I think his answer to Labour groups around the country is, reportedly, that had he raised it above 40%, he would have raised less money in taxation rather than more. Naturally he wanted to get more out of the rich—on that I agree with him entirely—but the way to do that was to keep the rate at a sensible level.

The Opposition should study the figures for tax receipts. If they look in the new Red Book, they will see that self-assessment income tax is plunging this year. That is exactly the problem that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has to tackle. Under Labour, self-assessment taxation at 40%—the then rate—brought in £22.5 billion at its best, before it made a mess of the economy. The forecast for 2010-11 out-turn is £22 billion, and the forecast for the 2011-12 out-turn—soon to be seen—is only £20 billion. That means that the Treasury now expects a 10% reduction in self-assessment income tax receipts, which is where many of the high earners congregate with their complicated tax affairs. Those, then, who think that a 50p rate raises a lot more money have a lot of explaining to do given that we are in the middle of this collapse.

Dame Joan Ruddock: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Redwood: I am sorry but I will not get any more time, so I am afraid I cannot.

If the Opposition study the Red Book, they will also see that when the 45p rate is firmly up and running, there will be a surge in revenues compared with the current bitter experience with 50p. Self-assessment income tax is scheduled to rise to £28.5 billion by the last year of this Parliament, showing that, according to the Treasury’s own model, growth is expected. However, I think we will see a much disrupted experience of tax collection now, because if we give advance warning of a new lower rate, we might have a problem in the year before, but we will have to see—we will watch with great interest.

Overall, however, the House should note that there are difficulties with getting the massive increase in taxation from the country which everyone wants. According to the current receipts table, there has been slippage every year in the current receipts forecast under national accounts taxes compared with the autumn statement. Some of that, of course, is the result of the policy change on lower tax designed to help people—we welcome that very much—but we have to understand that it is very difficult to get as much tax out of the economy as many MPs would seem to like.

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The Government are right to want a Budget for aspiration; they are right to want a Budget that allows us to earn our way out of this situation; and they are right that we need to make it more worthwhile to work. I hope that they will reinforce that message in future Budgets. Since the 1970s, in which time we have had Labour Governments as well as Conservative and coalition Governments, no Government have ever been able to raise more than 38% of the total national income from taxes. I am sure that Labour would like to try it, but actually the record shows that Conservatives have taxed a bit more as a percentage of national income than Labour—normally because they have had to clear up the mess, the debts and the deficits that they have inherited.

There is a natural ceiling on how much we can get out of people in a free economy. When we have a footloose international economy, it is all too easy for the people with talent and money—Labour might not like them—to go somewhere else, spend their money somewhere else and invest in jobs somewhere else. We desperately need every job that we can get, and we desperately need the good will of those with money, talent, entrepreneurial flare and ability. We also need the money of some of those who do not have any of the above—we still want them here and to ensure that they spend their money here.

The Budget therefore has to concentrate on the crucial issues of how we reward aspiration and generate true prosperity. A much greater man than I, I think, said, “You cannot tax a country into prosperity.” This country is not short of taxes. Governments have been incredibly inventive in finding all sorts of ways of taking money off people. They are taxed again and again and again—on income, on spending, on savings, on capital gain. There are endless taxes. We are not short of taxes. We do not need new taxes. We need a growing economy and to persuade people to pay the taxes that we have put in place trying to pay for the public services.

We want great public services but we need to understand the language of priorities. I think those priorities are shared across the House. Both Labour and Conservative Members would choose to make health and education their top priorities for public spending. The last Government certainly did that with large sums of money, and this Government are doing it with what money they can find. However, I also hope we would agree—this is more difficult when Labour are in opposition—that we need reform of those public services so that every pound we spend is a pound well spent. We need to increase productivity and quality, and get more for our money, because everyone has to accept that times are hard and the amount of money available will be limited.

The Front-Bench team need to do all they said in the Budget to promote growth; they need to do more to sort out the banks because until we have properly functioning and competitive banks—super-charged to lend against good projects—we will not go as quickly as we would like; and they need to ensure that every pound they spend in the public service is well spent. That is the way to earn our way out of the crisis and into prosperity. We cannot tax our way into prosperity but we can earn our way there.

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2.25 pm

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. As always for the first speakers, the devil will be in the detail—as we pore over the Budget booklets to see what the Chancellor actually said and what it means to ordinary people. It is certainly clear, however, that it is not a Budget for fairness or growth. As the Leader of the Opposition made clear, the cut in the 50p tax rate is a cut for millionaires—not least, of course, for rich bankers.

Several hon. Members rose

Derek Twigg: I have just started. Can hon. Members hang on a second? I am sorry to excite them so much. I am happy to give way to one of them in a minute.

As we heard today, it is also a cut for many in the Cabinet. It is a £40,000-plus tax cut for millionaires—an amazing amount.

Charlie Elphicke: The hon. Gentleman said that this is a tax cut for millionaires. If Labour feels so strongly about this, why has the shadow Chief Secretary just been on the television refusing to commit to scrapping it? Does he regret that and think that she should rethink that position?

Derek Twigg: We are here to discuss the Chancellor’s Budget. He is suggesting that it is a fair Budget that helps particularly low-paid people, but, as we have seen, it helps the richest, not least some on his own Benches. Let us be clear about that.

Again, on personal allowances, we need to look at the detail. Let us consider the cuts to working family tax credits and the loss of child benefit. On the latter, by the way, the Chancellor used the phrase “cliff edge”, but we are still on the cliff edge—it is just a bit more complicated to get to it. That is the big change. Then there is the cost of living—energy prices, food prices and, interestingly, petrol prices. The Chancellor used to attack Labour over petrol prices when we were in government. I remember the fuel tax demonstrations. We have not seen many of them recently but the Chancellor has done nothing to ease the burden. We know what he did for VAT. That is what added to the cost of petrol and fuel for the people of this country. But the Chancellor did nothing. Many of my constituents have written to me asking that the Chancellor do something about it, so they will be bitterly disappointed today.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the Chancellor has done something about fuel duty by cutting the increases proposed by the previous Government?

Derek Twigg: We can go back to the fuel escalator and see who introduced that in the first place. The fact is that the Chancellor put VAT up, and that has been a major problem for people having to pay the extra, but of course the Chancellor has ignored that and done nothing.

The Budget does nothing for growth. We need growth in the economy to provide jobs and investment in businesses around the country. Someone said that all politics is local, and I will return in a minute to the specific issue and how it affects my constituency. Borrowing

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is £158 billion more than planned, and today we see that the February borrowing figures are much higher than expected, despite some of the spin beforehand.

Let me turn to unemployment, which is a crucial issue for my constituents. Unemployment has increased in my constituency, with a significant increase in the latest figures, not least in youth unemployment. Many hundreds of young people are not being given the chance for employment in my constituency, because the Government have no growth policy. Their policies are not having an impact in my constituency in terms of providing the additional jobs and growth that are needed. I have had more and more people come to me personally to ask specifically what the Government are doing—and what I am doing, as well—to help young people who are unemployed. I had a mother come to my surgery a couple of months ago who has two young sons who are unemployed and who are desperately trying to get jobs. It is all very well for the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to talk about how we should clamp down on the benefits system to encourage work, but people cannot find work in many instances. That is an important point that we should bear in mind.

Small businesses have been mentioned already. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions with the Chancellor; indeed, he was even gracious enough to say that he had listened to some of the points that I had made in announcing today’s initiative to help bank lending to small businesses. However, let me give hon. Members two examples of problems in my constituency. One company was unfortunately left with a large debt after the larger contractor it was working for went out of business. The company still had a full order book, but the bank refused to lend it money—a scandalous situation. Another example, which is just as scandalous, is that of a business person in my constituency who needed an overdraft for one day because of a short-term problem. However, the banks refused to grant it.

We shall see whether the Chancellor’s initiative will work in getting banks to give more help to small businesses, but my worry is that although those businesses that are able, much more established and probably in a stronger position may be able to get the money quite easily, the businesses that are struggling—the ones that are riskier to lend to—are the ones that we should be helping in particular. We will wait and see whether the Chancellor’s initiatives today will help those businesses. With the right help, a lot of those businesses can survive and maintain or increase employment. The message that I have been receiving from small businesses in my area is that they have not been getting help from the banks. I hope that the Chancellor’s initiative today will make a positive impact. However, I remain sceptical because of his previous announcements on trying to address the problem. When I mentioned it to the Business Secretary even last week, he said, “Yes, it is a problem.” That was his answer. We need real energy from the Government on helping small businesses. I therefore look forward to seeing whether this initiative works in the way the Chancellor has outlined today, although I remain sceptical.

We heard nothing about local government in the Budget. We have talked about fairness, so let me give some examples of unfairness in the way local government is funded—a crucial area that impacts on jobs, investment, planning and other issues. In Halton, for instance, we will be losing £44 a head in the next financial year

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because of the cuts. That compares with £28 a head for the much more prosperous Cheshire West and the city of Chester, and a loss of £19.32 for Cheshire East. Guess who is one of the MPs in Cheshire East? Surprise, surprise: the Chancellor. The 27th most deprived borough will face the largest cut in local government expenditure among those authorities. I am amazed—although I should not be amazed, really—that the Liberal Democrats are going along with this deliberate attempt by the Tories to push money out to Tory authorities at the expense of the most deprived areas in the country.

Why is this issue important? It is important not just so that local authorities can maintain crucial services such as education, social services, development and so on—many people on low incomes are particularly affected by cuts to those services—but so that local authorities such as Halton can regenerate and attract businesses to their areas. Indeed, Halton borough council has been particularly good at attracting development—it was mentioned the other day in a BBC report—whether in shopping and retail facilities, or development by other businesses, such as Stobart and Tesco, which opened up a chilled warehouse that is a large employer. Halton has been particularly good, including on planning and trying to encourage business.

The Chancellor talked about trying to reform the planning system to ensure that local authorities do more to secure investment and attract businesses to this country, and, of course, to their localities. We have fantastic opportunities in Halton, not only in our retail facilities or the developments by Stobart, but in business development, in areas such as the Heath business park, which is one of the foremost business parks in the region, and Daresbury laboratory, which Labour saved from closure and invested in and, I am pleased to say, whose science and business development the current Government are continuing to invest in. Our local authority has been able to achieve much in difficult times. A lot of that was put in place thanks to investment by the last Government. However, the cuts made by this Government are having a negative impact and will cause councils around the country a great deal of problems.

Interestingly again, there was no mention of the NHS in the Budget. That is no surprise. The Liberal Democrats have now supported the Health and Social Care Bill, which we have heard so much about. I have to say to them that every other month we get new recruits joining the Halton Labour party from their party, because they are fed up with the Liberal Democrats’ support for the policies of this Tory Government. In fact, people can no longer see the difference between Tories and Liberal Democrats, which is why—I am guessing—Liberal Democrats in my constituency are saying that what they are doing is a disgrace.

I want to say a couple of things about infrastructure. I agree with the Government that investment in infrastructure is crucial to give the economy a boost and attract more investment, not least from overseas. With the Olympic games, Crossrail and so forth, we have seen massive investment in London and the south-east. That will of course benefit certain parts of the country, but it will not deliver major benefits to areas in the north-west such as Halton. On the credit side for the Government, they have given the go-ahead to the Mersey Gateway bridge in Halton—a scheme, by the way, that was started under Labour and supported by Labour,

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and signed off by the coalition some 18 months in government. The project will help to provide up to 4,000 to 5,000 jobs in the Merseyside and Cheshire areas. We have all-party support for the scheme, which will be crucial for encouraging investment in my area, as well as the wider Merseyside and Cheshire areas. However, it will also provide hundreds of construction jobs, which will be important, as we have a particular difficulty with the construction industry at the moment.

At the same time, however, the Government are taking the lion’s share of any toll revenue over and above what is projected, as well as any savings on the project, and they are also limiting the discounts that the council can give to local people. It is important that local people, who use the current crossing for free, should get big discounts or pay nothing at all. I have already written to the Government, but we cannot get a proper answer to why they are doing that. Why should they take the lion’s share of any additional income or savings? They should be ploughed back into Halton, so that local people can be given bigger discounts.

My final point is about town centres and shopping centres. I did not hear much from the Government about how they are going to encourage the regeneration of town centres. We had a debate in this place a number of weeks ago, and I did not hear much in that either. For various reasons, areas such as Widnes in my constituency have done well at improving their town centres and developing their shopping and leisure facilities. However, as I mentioned in a previous speech, Runcorn is struggling to regenerate its town centre, for various reasons that I do not have time to go into today. Runcorn has potential, not least the attraction of its waterways, but the Government have had nothing to say about that. What we want to hear from them is what they are going to do, in real monetary terms, to help town centres such as Runcorn.

2.38 pm

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): All Budgets are packages, and all of them are balancing acts, and that is particularly true of a Budget presented by a Chancellor in a coalition Government. It is fairly clear for all to see, in bold primary colours, which are the yellow and which are the blue packages in this particular Budget. What is also clear is the string that binds together this Budget and this coalition Government: reducing our deficit from the position that we inherited, where £1 in every four was being borrowed; restoring our economy to balanced and sustainable growth; restoring and maintaining confidence in the international markets; and bringing about a fair tax system that rewards work and enterprise, and taxes wealth. Labour borrowed us all into the mess that we inherited in 2010, but under the coalition Government, Britain will earn its way back to prosperity.

As Liberal Democrats in the coalition, we wanted three tax changes in this Budget. First, we wanted a fair income tax system that would lift the low-paid out of tax and bring about a tax break for middle earners. Secondly, we wanted a system that would tax accumulated and unearned wealth fairly and effectively. Thirdly, we wanted action to tackle the abuse of the tax system that

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was taking place through aggressive tax avoidance schemes. All three of those objectives have been met by the Chancellor’s Budget.

Two years ago, we were all about to go out on to the streets to start the general election campaign. The Liberal Democrats’ No. 1 priority at the time was to achieve in this Parliament tax-free pay for all our fellow citizens earning less than £10,000. That objective is in the coalition agreement, and significant progress has already been made towards achieving it.

Dame Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman is part of a Government who have voted to reduce the income of the average family with children by £530 from the beginning of next month. There is no measure in the Budget that will make up for that, and frankly, people in my constituency will see it as an insult to their intelligence.

Stephen Williams: The right hon. Lady will hear as I make progress through my speech that working families up and down the country, with or without children, will benefit significantly from the tax changes that the Government are making.

In the current tax year, we have raised the allowance from £6,475 to £7,475, lifting 800,000 people out of the income tax net altogether and providing a £200 tax cut for every basic rate taxpayer.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): Before the hon. Gentleman continues with his party political broadcast, may I ask him to look at his own Government’s Budget? Every single quintile will still be worse off after the Budget. It is in the Red Book. He is wrong.

Stephen Williams: These are extraordinarily difficult times, and none of us has ever shied away from the fact that we are in a tight fiscal squeeze or that there is a tight squeeze on family budgets. That is why it is important that we put more of people’s own money back into their pockets through the tax changes that we are introducing.

When the next tax year starts in two weeks’ time, the personal allowance will rise again, to £8,105, lifting 1.1 million people out of taxation altogether and providing a tax cut of £330. Also in two weeks’ time, as well as those tax changes, the largest pension increase for a century will have been delivered by this coalition Government.

Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Williams: I cannot give way any more.

In this Budget, our Liberal Democrat priority was to move further and faster towards our goal of £10,000 tax-free pay. Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government are therefore delighted by the confirmation that the rise in the personal allowance of £1,100 will proceed in April 2013. It is the largest rise in the personal allowance for 30 years—that is, in all our working lifetimes. In April 2013, people will be able to earn £9,205 without paying tax, which will lift a further 840,000 people out of tax. Over three years, 2 million British people will have been raised out of income tax. That will help everyone who works part time, the majority of whom are women. The measures will lift young people on the

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minimum wage out of income tax altogether, and 24 million basic rate taxpayers will be better off to the tune of £546. These changes will allow people to keep more of their own money. They will inject spending power into local economies and they will make work pay.

As the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto promised, we have delivered more than £500 into the pockets and purses of Britain as a result of this Budget. It will have been obvious from the fact that my colleagues were waving their Order Papers earlier that we are extremely pleased to have achieved that. Let us contrast it with the last Budget under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), when Labour MPs waved their Order Papers following the abolition of the 10p tax rate. There could not be a greater contrast between the priorities of this coalition Government and those of the last Labour Government.

Charlie Elphicke: Does my hon. Friend agree that this Budget shows how effective partnership working can be in the coalition? Has he seen chart B.1 in the Red Book, which shows that those in the top decile—that is, the most well off—will experience the greatest reduction in income? They are being made to pay, despite Labour’s 1970s class war rhetoric.

Stephen Williams: I shall come to how the Budget will affect the most well off in society shortly.

Our second objective in the Budget was to rebalance the tax system, so that taxes would fall lightly on work and enterprise and more heavily and effectively on wealth. Already, this coalition Government have raised capital gains tax from the historically low rates that we inherited from the last Labour Government, and there have been no changes to inheritance tax. Some people might have wanted to drop the 50p tax rate altogether. However, we all know that 2012 is going be a difficult year for families up and down the country, and Liberal Democrats have been clear that now would not have been the right time to reduce the top rate of tax. I am pleased that the Chancellor has agreed with our position.

By April 2013, our top rate of tax will be in line with that of our competitor states in the European Union and the United States of America, but we will also have effective taxes on wealth in place by then. Stamp duty will be 7% on house sales of more than £2 million. We might not have got a mansion tax in this Budget, but we have certainly got a mansion duty. That mansion duty alone—just that one measure—will raise three times the amount lost through the lowering of the 50p tax rate by 5p.

The third objective that we set in this Budget was to take action on tax avoidance, and I am therefore pleased by the introduction of a 15% charge on personal property that is under corporate ownership. I am pleased that tycoons will have the reliefs that they claim restricted to 25% of their income, and I am particularly pleased that the general anti-avoidance rule for which I have argued for so long is to be introduced by this Government. I see that rule as a kind of electric fence across the tax system: a clear warning to every taxpayer that this is a line that they must not cross.

The Budget makes further changes to rebalance the economy, to restore green growth to the economy and to build on Britain’s strengths in engineering and the creative industries. In 2012, we shall see the launch of the green deal, which was spearheaded by my right hon.

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Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), when he was Secretary of State, and which is now being taken forward by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey). Last weekend, I witnessed the demonstration projects that are already taking place in my constituency under the Bristol Green Doors initiative, which are showing what every householder can do to take advantage of the green deal. Also in 2012, the green investment bank will be making its first investments.

The creative industries are incredibly important to our national economy, and I was pleased that video games were given recognition in the Budget. As a Bristol and west country MP, I was particularly pleased to see the extension of film tax credits to the television industry. The Chancellor mentioned Wallace and Gromit. Despite Wallace’s Lancashire accent, their home is of course Bristol. The films are made in my constituency by Aardman Animations, Europe’s largest animation company. It is incredibly important to the economy of Bristol and is a great British brand that sells millions of pounds of exports all over the world.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what the difference is between the tax breaks introduced by the Chancellor in today’s Budget and the tax breaks introduced by Labour that the same Chancellor scrapped in 2010?

Stephen Williams: The difference, as I understand it, is that these tax breaks are going to be focused on high-end television production, so that we no longer find ourselves in a situation in which “Coronation Street” can claim tax credits, as it did under the last Government. I do not think that there will ever be a risk of “Coronation Street” moving to China, but there was a serious risk that Britain would lose its animation industry to the rest of the world. These measures are right if we are to maintain British talent and innovation in this country, but it is also culturally right that children should watch programmes that have been made with the right regional accents and made around Great Britain.

For Liberal Democrats in this coalition, the headline of this Budget is that we have delivered a tax cut for millions of Britons and effective taxes on the wealth of millionaires. It is a Budget that maintains the confidence that Britain is back on track. It is a Budget that delivers the biggest tax break in a generation for millions of hard-working families. As a Liberal Democrat in this coalition, I am proud of the role my party has played in making Britain a fairer country.

2.50 pm

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): My morning newspaper today said that the coalition parties were inviting me to regard this as a Robin Hood Budget. I enjoyed the stories of Robin Hood when I was younger, but I must have missed the bit where Robin goes back to Nottingham castle and says to the sheriff, “You look a bit hard up. Would you like some of your taxes back?” I must have missed the bit, too, where Robin went to the front door of the cottage, cash in hand, while the rest of the merry men went round the back and made off with the tax credits, the child benefit, the VAT and all the rest of it.

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This Budget does not deliver what the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives say it will deliver. The Government will fail on each of the three main tests that they have to meet today. Of course, just a few minutes after the Budget statement, it is impossible to make a comprehensive assessment of it, but I suspect that the detail of the pensioner tax changes will come as a deeply unpleasant surprise to Government Members who were waving their Order Papers so cheerfully earlier on.

Teresa Pearce: It came as a surprise to me to read through the detail of the impact assessment, which says that in 2013-14, 4.41 million people over 65 will be worse off because of the age allowance, and that 230,000 people will be brought into income tax. I wonder whether the Liberal Democrats will be proud of that.

Mr Denham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend: 4.41 people—4.41 million older people—[Interruption.] Government Members may laugh, but they have just cheered a Budget that is going to make more than 4 million pensioners worse off, because they did not understand what they were cheering.

The Budget has three tests. The first is the immediate action needed to create growth and jobs in the economy, to bring in taxes and to reduce the deficit. The second challenge—even if the Government get the first right, painful times cannot be avoided—is to ensure that the burden of the challenges is shared fairly; in other words, whether we get fairness in tough times. Does the Budget really say, “We’re all in it together,” or does it look after those already better placed to get through the next few years more generously than those who struggle hardest?

There is a third challenge for this Budget. The Institute for Fiscal Studies made presentations to MPs this week. It said that the slowing of growth since this Government were elected meant that even by 2016 the economy would be 3.5% lower than it would otherwise have been and perhaps 12% smaller in comparison with the growth rates of 2008. The Resolution Foundation, also drawing on the Office for Budget of Responsibility, calculates that disposable income for low and middle-income households will fall by 8% between 2008 and 2015. What that means is that our economy will have fallen behind, our incomes will be lower and our capacity to fund public services and social security will have been reduced. I hazard a guess that nothing that has happened today will change that grim picture by any significant degree.

The third question, then, that the public will be asking is how, after all this pain, we will pay our way in an increasingly competitive world? If we cannot compete and cannot create wealth by succeeding in global markets, we will never offer new opportunities and hope to those young people whom The Financial Times described on Saturday as “the jinxed generation”. The world economy will have moved on massively and the challenge of building British companies into those that can succeed in ever-tougher global markets will be harder than ever. If we do not lay the foundations for that success now, it will be harder to start later.

The truth is that on each of those three tests—the immediate future, fairness and laying the foundations for the future—the Chancellor’s speech gave little ground for optimism.

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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Would the right hon. Gentleman add a fourth test to the three that he has set out, which is whether or not this Budget takes us in a more sustainable direction? On that measure, the Chancellor started by saying that oil prices are of great concern, but what he has now done is to give a huge tax break for more oil drilling.

Mr Denham: I am happy to include that test. One of the missed opportunities will turn out to be in the low-carbon economy that will dominate the global economy in the 21st century.

Things have turned out so much worse than in the heady days of the new Chancellor’s optimism when he told us in his first speech that the economy was set to grow steadily; that unemployment would fall year on year; that the deficit would drop like a stone, yet front-line services would be protected; that the private sector would expand magically, more than filling the space left by public services; that the banks would lend; and that the whole tiresome infrastructure of regional investment, job guarantees for young people and a coherent planning system could simply be swept away. Well, the Chancellor, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister and the whole coalition were wrong.

The spending cuts, drawing billions out of the economy, were too far and too fast. The Government’s gloomy talk first unnerved and depressed consumers; then the VAT hike took money from them when we needed them to spend. Now the cuts are really beginning to bite. The Government were so cocksure and complacent that they strung together, purely for cynical political purposes, a series of half-baked, ineffective measures that were more or less abandoned as soon as the last press release had been issued: the national insurance holiday; the regional growth fund that does not pay out any money for months or years; the business growth fund with few investments; the special support for exporters with a handful of users; the Work programme that does not work; Project Merlin; and the youth contract that has not even started two years after the future jobs fund was scrapped. Any right hon. or hon. Member who gets excited by any measures announced in a press release for this Budget should remember what happened to the last lot.

Opportunities were missed—to tax bank bonuses, to fund real jobs for young people, to cut VAT for families, to cut national insurance contributions for small businesses taking on staff, to bring forward infrastructure spending. But what did we get? Just a feasibility study on Monday of this week, two years after the need was first identified. No, the short-term measures have failed, and we have seen no change.

Fairness has been well debated today. Let us remember one point—in April, families with children, taking into account the personal allowances and all the other changes, will be £530 worse off on average. When we look at next year’s personal allowances, I am sure it will also be clear, when the dust has settled and the IFS has done the figures that take into account all the other changes, that those families will still be worse off. Hon. Members should look at the Red Book and see which families are going to pay a higher proportion of their income, and it is those on low incomes.

This Government have been mired in unfairness from the beginning. We should remember that one of their first actions was to cancel changes to pension tax relief,

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which would have brought in £1.6 billion from the very highest earners in this country. We did not hear the Chancellor reminding us of the things he has already done to tilt the system to those best able to get through the next few years. I believe that the Government will pay the price for that.

The truth is that it is not a matter of whether stamp duty brings in more money or whether the anti-avoidance measures—the Government should tackle avoidance in any case—bring in more money. The challenge for this Government and this Budget was to devote every single available penny to raising the incomes of hard-pressed low and middle-income families and to get the economy growing. There was no justification for singling out the highest rate of income tax on earnings over £150,000 a year. The average person in work in my constituency will have to work for seven and a half years to earn £150,000. To single out that higher-earning group and to cut their tax was wrong.

This was not the fairness in tough times that the country needed, but the other failure in the Budget was the failure to lay the foundations for the economy that we need in the future. The truth is that despite the pressure on the public finances, there is no shortage of money to rebuild the economy. UK companies are cash-rich. Sovereign wealth funds are out there. There are pension funds, closer to home, with money to invest.

Charlie Elphicke rose

Mr Denham: I will not give way, because I have only a few minutes left. The problem is that those bodies are not investing, or at least not investing in Britain. The reasons are clear: in the short term, Government mistakes have caused the economy to stagnate, and there is also no certainty—no “compelling vision”, as the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills rightly put it. Some of us thought it was his job to come up with a compelling vision, but he is right that it is not there. There is no predictability.

Goodness knows it took my Government long enough to take a decision on Heathrow. That decision was then cancelled, and then ruled out. Today in the Budget, we find that Heathrow is back on the agenda. Billions of pounds of business investment cannot take place because of the failure of Governments to take that decision, one way or another. That uncertainty and unpredictability runs through the Government’s business failures. Low-carbon energy manufacturing and services will dominate the 21st-century global economy, but the Chancellor says that he does not like the environmental policies, while the Deputy Prime Minister says that he does. We had illegal flip-flops on feed-in tariffs, which means that a whole group of investors will never come back and invest in green energy again. Those on the Government Benches have no idea that business needs certainty and predictability, not short-term changes.

We have today heard all that stuff about the oil industry. In last year’s Budget, the Government massively increased the risk penalties for investing in the North sea by means of a last-minute political gimmick that changed the tax regime that applied there; again, that meant uncertainty and unpredictability. Despite the Chancellor’s words, there is no serious attempt to identify the technologies and capabilities that will give us the ability to compete in future. The odd speech here and

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the odd announcement and press release there does not match up to the job—not when we look at what our competitors are doing.

Today, we again heard about broadband, but what did the former chief operating officer of BT say about the Government’s broadband strategy in another place just a couple of days ago? He said that it was so weak that this country will be

“frozen out of the next industrial revolution”.

Just because there is a mention in the Red Book about the broadband strategy does not mean that there is one, or that it is good enough, so it is a no on that third test, which is probably the most crucial.

The next few weeks, months and years will be hard for everybody. People in this country are stoic. They will tolerate a lot if they think that the right things are being done to build a future for their children and families, and to give us long-term security. The Government do not have a clue how to create the conditions in which investment will take place, business will grow, and we pay our way and have the jobs and wealth that the people of this country desire. The Budget is unfair, has missed opportunities, and will fail the country.

3.2 pm

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his Budget—measures that continue to lay the foundations of an economy underpinned by enterprise, opportunity and wealth creation. The European and global economies have had a torrid time over the past two years, but the Chancellor has been unwavering in his commitment to bringing our spending and our deficit under control. Unless we do that, we have no chance of creating the future economic success that we all desire. I am delighted that the Chancellor is taking strategic decisions on how our economy should evolve and compete in future.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) completely ignored all the announcements about corporate tax rates. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will cover those rates, and the way that they incentivise business growth.

Stephen Mosley: Corporate tax rates, of course, are one incredibly important area, but there are many others. In my speech, I shall concentrate on some of the issues that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) talked about, to do with investment.

Many people rightly ask, “How will we, in Britain, earn our living in the global marketplace of the future?” Like the Chancellor, I believe that there are sectors in which the UK can take a global lead, in which we have the ability to excel, and that have the potential to generate growth for future generations. The one that I will concentrate on is the digital economy.

The UK’s information technology and telecoms industry makes a gross value added contribution to the British economy of some £81 billion a year. That is around 9% of the total economy—it is a very similar figure to that for the financial services industry. Around one in 20 members of the work force—1.5 million people—are employed in IT and telecoms. There are around 100,000 unfilled job vacancies being advertised, and it is

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estimated that more than 500,000 new IT and telecoms professionals will be needed over the next five years. By exploiting the full potential of the technology industry, we could boost the UK economy by an additional £50 billion over the next seven years.

The Chancellor’s speech gave extremely encouraging signs that investment in information and communications technology is set to continue, but more needs to be done if we are to harness our real potential to make our country a global leader in the digital economy. We have a world-class base from which to grow further, but we require proactive engagement from the Government if we are to speed up growth and increase the economic potential of ICT businesses. We must be much more vigorous in promoting the industry to stimulate wider and sustained economic growth.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, not least because he is my neighbour, and I agree with much of what he has said, but does he not regret that the Government put back the delivery of universal broadband by three years, from 2012 to 2015—two years after it will be delivered in Morocco, which I visited last week?

Stephen Mosley: If the hon. Gentleman, my neighbour, will bear with me for 30 seconds, I will get to broadband.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): That is very fast.

Stephen Mosley: Ultra-fast is, I think, the current term. Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you have been involved with the Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum. We recently arranged a series of meetings with parliamentarians and industry representatives, including the UK chief executive officers of some the world’s leading IT businesses—for example, Facebook, Intel, IBM and Fujitsu, among many others.

The universal message emanating from the meetings was that the UK technology industry must be promoted by Government whenever possible, and that greater care is needed if the UK is to attract, train and retain the highly skilled individuals who will help our economy to grow. Specifically, five key recommendations were made. The first had to do with the broadband issue: the Government must speed up the roll-out of superfast broadband. I totally support that, which is why I am absolutely delighted to welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to investing more than £780 million in broadband infrastructure to make sure that Britain has the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. I am also pleased about the Government’s commitment to start the roll-out of 4G mobile networks, with the spectrum auctions planned for later this year.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that we must reverse the disastrous collapse in the number of graduates coming out of universities with computer science degrees, which took place over the last decade in which the previous Government were in power?

Stephen Mosley: It is funny that my hon. Friend should say that, because our group’s second recommendation was that the Government should increase investment in

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ICT in schools. I was pleased to hear the Chancellor highlight the importance of education in building our skills base, because if any industry hopes to compete and thrive, the fundamental basis is the skills base of the domestic work force. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary recently announced a shake-up in the way that computing is taught in schools. That follows calls from industry and academia, who suggest that ICT in schools is too focused on the use of specific software packages, and not focused on the underlying technologies or on learning the computer programming skills that will help to encourage young people to develop their own products and be on the cutting edge.

Rebalancing the curriculum is a vital step, but there also needs to be greater emphasis on the quality of ICT teaching in schools, along with a concerted effort to champion future careers in the sector. I have already outlined the huge significance of IT for the wider UK economy, yet since 2002 there has been a 33% reduction in applications for computing degree courses. More must be done to encourage our young people into an ICT career if we are to reap all the potential benefits to our economy.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that the Education Secretary has not included ICT as one of the core subjects in the English baccalaureate, and therefore as one of the key areas that our young people need to study?

Stephen Mosley: The English baccalaureate covers the key core skills we want people to learn. ICT is an important skill, but I do not think it should be included in the baccalaureate, which covers maths, English, basic sciences—the basics. IT is a highly skilled area. Some people might be suited to study it, but others might not. Those who have an aptitude for it should pursue it and achieve.

Thirdly, it is imperative that the UK trains and retains world-class individuals. Over the past decade, the UK has become a receiver of technology developed abroad, which has slowed down the development of technology in the UK. The overriding message coming from industry is that the single most important criterion when deciding where to make new investment is whether the skills to support the investment are available in that location. We have the broad skills base in this country to push on and achieve great things, but without the right commitment and investment—such as in ICT apprenticeships—the UK risks being left behind by our global competitors.

Fourthly, we need a strategy to encourage the take-up of new technology by small and medium-sized enterprises, and to encourage their growth and development. Specifically, it was recommended that the Government can assist by encouraging venture capital investment for the longer term. We have a huge wealth of talent in the UK but, in order for our entrepreneurs to grow their ideas into successful long-term businesses, they often have to sell their ideas and businesses abroad. A prime example of that is the once globally dominant UK computer games industry, which is now mainly foreign-owned and seeing future investment disappearing offshore. I was therefore extremely pleased to hear that the Chancellor will focus on that industry. If we want our smaller businesses to flourish, we should be encouraging investment

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to help nurture existing small businesses to become medium-sized businesses, and medium-sized businesses to become large ones.

I pay tribute to the Government for their catapult centre programme. We in the UK have always been on the cutting edge of technology, but our inability to transfer intellectual advances to market has often proved to be a stumbling block. The new catapult centres will help to commercialise the results of research in technology areas where there is potential for multi-billion pound global markets, including the digital economy. That is to be wholeheartedly welcomed.

Finally, the Treasury must emphasise and reiterate the importance of technology to the economy and commit to the long-term opportunities that the sector has to offer. We in the UK are attracting world leaders in new and emerging technologies to our shores. We have the skills base, the flexibility and the economic foundations to encourage more companies to invest here. The Government must champion the technology sector more vigorously if we are to harness its great potential to act as the catalyst for long-term growth in the United Kingdom. I am delighted that, as spelled out in the Budget, the Chancellor and the Government are now grasping that opportunity.

3.13 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): We all recognise that the Chancellor has been confronted with a difficult task in this Budget. He has had to walk a tightrope: if he goes too far one way, our financial credibility is immediately questioned so interest rates have to rise, yet if he goes too far in the other direction, we impair our ability to earn our way out of the recession.

My party does not have any political points to score against the Conservative party, as it is not represented in Northern Ireland, so we simply want the Chancellor and the Government to succeed. That is the basis on which I assess the Budget. Is this Budget likely to achieve the objectives we all want: restored growth and increasing employment?

Some of the Budget’s measures are very welcome. From a Northern Ireland perspective, we welcome the devolution of air passenger duty, which will be included in the Finance Bill. That will enable the Northern Ireland Executive to set its own rate for long-haul direct flights from Northern Ireland, which is essential to our investment strategy and to tourism. We also welcome the reduction in corporation tax as it brings our rate closer to the rate in the Irish Republic, which is our main competitor for foreign direct investment—although those rates are still far apart. We welcome, too, the film and high-end TV tax concessions. We have been seeking to promote that industry in Northern Ireland. The Executive have pushed for that. “Game of Thrones” is now filmed in Northern Ireland, and it has been a big revenue earner. We have also pushed for Belfast to be chosen as one of the broadband cities.

However, although there is clearly much to be welcomed, I am concerned about three aspects of the Budget. First, the Government could spend more money on infrastructure in the United Kingdom. That would enhance economic growth. Such pump-priming by the Government could enable us to draw upon some of the funds—£700 billion in cash—that private companies are currently hoarding.

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After all, does the Chancellor believe his own rhetoric? He says that both the deficit and debt have fallen as a percentage of GDP, that the public sector net debt peak will not be as high as previously anticipated, and that we are on course for deficit reduction. He must therefore know that his credibility in the international money markets is sufficiently high for him to be able to invest in projects that offer a rate of return and that could help to promote economic growth, rather than merely pay unemployment benefits. Either he does not believe his own rhetoric, or else he is deliberately—perhaps for ideological reasons—holding back on what I believe could be an important means of investment.

Secondly, I am concerned about a choice that has been made. At a time when we are preaching austerity to people who are bleeding in that many of them cannot pay their heating bills or their rent or buy food, it is bizarre that the Government should choose to prioritise reducing the top rate of tax for the top 2% of earners in this country. That demonstrates a blatant disregard for the very difficult sacrifices that we are asking people to make.

Let us consider how the money could have been spent. There has been much argument today about whether or not the rich will pay more. The one thing we do know, however, is that it has been calculated that that reduction in the top rate of tax will immediately release £3,010 million to the top 2% of wage earners. The Government are relying on tax exiles flooding into the United Kingdom and beating on the door of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to ask, “May I pay my tax in the United Kingdom now?” The Treasury hide behind the theory of “behavioural assumptions”, but we need only look at the literature to see that there are a lot of assumptions that may, or may not, be realised. The same situation applies for the money that could come from stamp duty and limits on the back claims.

The fact is that this money could have been used in a better way. For example, the Government could have used it to lower fuel duty, but despite the fact that fuel prices are going up, the Government are going to take £800 million more off motorists in the United Kingdom this year.

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I am thoroughly enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech and would not wish to interrupt it for a second, but may I ask him what money he is referring to when he talks about a better way of spending that money? What we know from the Treasury is that our top rate raised very little incremental cash and that reducing it is likely to raise more money from the same people. So what money is he talking about?

Sammy Wilson: According to the Treasury, the direct impact—the direct static cost—is going to be £3,010 million. That is the figure that the Treasury has put out. Some of that money will be offset by behavioural change, but that is based on assumptions about tax income elasticity and what happens to income. So real money will go back to people who currently are top rate taxpayers. My argument is this: if the Government were going to release that kind of fund, would it not be far better to release it either to bring more low-income families out of tax or to release the hard-pressed motorist from the fuel duty that is going to be imposed on them?

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Ian Lucas: The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case. Is he aware that just 4,000 taxpayers in Northern Ireland earn more than £150,000 a year?

Sammy Wilson: That is so, and I wish to discuss another measure in this Budget that will affect hundreds of thousands of people.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The people of Northern Ireland are grateful to my hon. Friend for the work he does as Finance Minister in Northern Ireland to move its economy forward. Does he agree that people up and down the country are terribly disappointed that the Budget contains no additional measures to reduce the amount of fuel duty and VAT on petrol and diesel, which, in Northern Ireland, is the highest in the entire European Union?

Sammy Wilson: The continuation of the measures that the Government have in the Budget already will take a further £800 million out of motorists’ pockets over the next year.

The final point I wish to discuss is regional pay. Some people may regard what I am about to say as special pleading for Northern Ireland, but may I remind hon. Members that this will have an impact on those who represent constituencies outside London and the south-east of England? This measure will have an impact on all the rest of the United Kingdom. Some have the idea that, because there is currently a difference between private sector and public sector wages—it is important to make the point that the difference is current—wages should be frozen for people in the public sector, so as to stimulate the private sector. I do not quite understand the economics behind that, because freezing wages in the public sector will have a deflationary impact, especially outside the south-east of England, given the prominence of the public sector not only in Northern Ireland, but elsewhere. The areas of the United Kingdom that are currently falling behind, even given the slow rate of economic growth for the country as a whole, will be the parts that will be most punished. This is one of the most divisive measures that I have ever heard about and it does not even address a problem, because there is no evidence for it. We have 3 million people unemployed and we are not recruiting in the public sector, so how on earth are higher wages in the public sector going to prevent private sector employers from being able to find workers? This argument does not work. The impact of the measure will be very detrimental. I hope that we will have an opportunity to re-examine that in much more detail in this House, because I believe it is one of the most pernicious measures floated in this Budget.

There are things that the Government could have done but have not done. There is an unfairness in this Budget; it is an unfairness in respect of not only different income groups, but different regions of the United Kingdom. I am a Unionist and I believe in the value of the Union. I believe that it is important that, as part of the Union, we bear the burden when there is a problem. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) mentioned, that is one of the reasons why, despite the unpopularity that this has probably led to in Northern Ireland, I have made the case that if there is an economic crisis facing the United Kingdom, we cannot ask to be exempt from the burden to be borne. However, it makes it far, far more difficult to say to

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public sector workers that their wages are going to be frozen, to say to the ordinary citizen that they should tighten their belt and to say to people who live in Northern Ireland that they have to go through these hard times when the Government are saying to those who can most afford it, “We are asking you to loosen your belts. We are going to fill your pockets.” That is exactly where the unfairness in this Budget lies.

For that reason, although I want the Government to succeed, I believe that they have not taken the opportunity to inject money into the economy. If they have credibility, they should use it in the financial markets and borrow to invest in infrastructure, rather than paying people to sit on the dole. If the Government want people to face up to the hard economic facts, they should do things fairly and not in a unjust and uneven way. If they want to be the Government for the United Kingdom, let us make sure that some parts of the United Kingdom do not have to bear a bigger burden than others.

3.25 pm

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): I wish to focus primarily on the Budget’s impact on business and growth, but before doing so I wish to touch on one other area: duty stamping on alcohol. The Red Book says that the Treasury will look to move forward with its consultation on duty stamping, and I welcome that important step. The wholesale industry estimates that the revenue lost to the Treasury through the lack of duty stamping on beer alone is about £500 million a year and that the loss might be the same again in respect of wine. We need to consider beer and wine together, because the two products are clearly becoming competitors and we cannot deal with one without looking at the other. Duty stamping on spirits is already in place and it has not affected the sale of spirits or the industry, as spirits sales in this country have increased by 8%. So it is really important to examine this area, in order to plug another hole and get back for the Treasury some of the money that was wasted and spent by the previous Government.

Such an approach will also have a knock-on benefit, as so much of the Budget does, for other Departments and other areas. For example, a benefit to the health industry will result from a lack of the cheap alcohol that can be found in small corner shops in some parts of our country. Such shops do not necessarily buy through the legal market, taking advantage of alcohol for which the duty has not been paid and which is then sold cheaply to young people. We can cut that out, too; this has a big economic impact and a big health impact, and I welcome the move in the Budget.

Jesse Norman: My hon. Friend may not be aware that I have just been granted a Westminster Hall debate next Tuesday on precisely this issue, so I am extremely grateful to him for introducing it in the main Chamber.

Brandon Lewis: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing that debate and I look forward to joining him on Tuesday to discuss the issue in more detail.

No Budget stands alone, and what is important about this one is how it builds on what has been done in the past couple of years, particularly for business. When we consider how we want to move forward in having an economy that grows, with more jobs and more prosperity

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for all, it is important to remember that we need to rebalance our economy and have growth in the private sector. So the moves that have been taken for business are hugely important, and the further lowering of corporation tax and the speeding up of that process is very welcome. It makes it very clear that our door is open for business. When private sector businesses grow, they need more staff and more money. Less is then spent through the welfare state and our whole economy benefits.

The change in the top rate of tax, which gets rid of the 50% rate, is also important. Apart from the economic arguments that have already been rehearsed today, that has a psychological impact. A message goes out to high earners—the people who are business leaders and business owners—that we value the work they do. People who aspire to get to that position see that they can work hard, develop and grow their business, and benefit as well.

Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that as well as giving those people that possible incentive, the change also gives them an incentive to spend more time on the golf course?

Brandon Lewis: That shows a lack of understanding of how the business world and business leaders work.

Andrea Leadsom: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is astonishing that the Opposition do not seem to realise that it is the private sector, wealth generation and incentives that create the income for the Exchequer that enables us to pay for good, sound public services?

Brandon Lewis: I thank my hon. Friend, who makes an important and valid point.

One of the important things that the Government have done is to introduce enterprise zones. I appreciate that I have an interest in that as chairman of the all-party group on enterprise zones and local growth, but they are hugely important. In the New Anglia enterprise zone alone, we are looking at about 2,000 extra jobs in the next couple of years, growing possibly to 15,000 in just one enterprise zone in the East Anglia region that is focused on energy.

It was pleasing to hear the Chancellor explain today that one of the industries on which the Government are focused is energy. There are huge opportunities for growth for this country, with £50 billion of business available to companies along the coastline of East Anglia. We have a whole energy offer and proximity to the energy market that are almost unique. We are most often competing with countries overseas for that business, so it is hugely important to companies to understand that the Government are supportive and want that business to be based here in this country.

The moves on corporation tax and capital allowances for enterprise zones are hugely important. I have a couple of asks, to follow on from Prime Minister’s questions today. I make a plea to the Chancellor and the Treasury to look hard at whether we can extend that capital allowance opportunity to all enterprise zones to provide a supercharged boost as they move forward to growth.

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Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my hope that we can bring corporation tax down again next year? That would really help business. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Brandon Lewis: Absolutely. That is why I welcome the Chancellor’s comment today. The further and the faster we can go on that, the more welcoming we will be for business, and therefore jobs and economic growth.

I have one other suggestion for the Treasury to consider in the years ahead—how we deal with regulation. The changes to planning will be a massive advantage to businesses. One of the attractions of the enterprise zones is how they make planning so much easier by freeing it up. We can do more on regulation. One in, one out is a great aspiration, but it depends on what the one coming in is. There is a strong argument for looking at the billions of pounds a year that business has to spend on dealing with regulations, and targeting a value figure to cut the cost of regulations in this country.

I welcome the Chancellor’s statement about creating certainty for decommissioning, particularly for the oil and gas industry. That will be widely welcomed by the industry and I am sure it will be welcome in Great Yarmouth, as we have a huge number of businesses working in that field, developing and investing massively in our country and offering more jobs and more employment. It further builds on the opportunities for the New Anglia enterprise zone.

To see the benefit for business, we need strong, growing, improving infrastructure. I appreciate the work that the Government have done and the announcement last year of the dualling of the A11, which will open up that corridor of economic growth right through East Anglia, particularly in Suffolk and Norfolk. I make a small plea for something on which the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament are working closely—to open up the spine that the A11 joins, with the full dualling of the A47 from Great Yarmouth through to Peterborough. We will continue to build the case for that and the economic growth that it would bring.

The Budget brings further benefits through the mobile infrastructure fund. The A143 from Great Yarmouth to Haverhill will benefit. The Growing Places fund will put almost £6 million into the New Anglia enterprise zone. Both of those provide more beneficial opportunities for business. As well as unlocking infrastructure growth, we should turn our attention to unlocking growth in the construction industry, which is a huge employer. We need more homes and more infrastructure to be built.

Employees and customers must be able to get from their base to the marketplace, and rail infrastructure can play an enormously important part in that. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) is working hard on some ideas about how to take that forward. He is to be congratulated, and I know he will speak in the House shortly. Through the work being done by the Department for Transport and supported by the Treasury, we have a further opportunity to unlock economic growth. We have just over 2,500 railway stations across the country, many of which we would all like to see regenerated and improved. Dealing with them as real estate rather than just as transport hubs would allow us to unlock up to £27 billion of business for the construction industry.

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It is important that that kind of infrastructure develops and grows so that people can get to the marketplace quicker and businesses can transport their goods, products and customers from their bases to where they need to be faster. Broadband will open up communications and be a hugely important part of that, particularly for areas, such as Norfolk, with rural hinterlands where the transport infrastructure is not as good as we would like it to be. Broadband communication could make up for that deficit, so the target of 2015 is very welcome in Norfolk.

We have huge opportunities for growth. This Budget knits together work done by a number of other Departments and the past few Budgets and presents a real opportunity to encourage business to grow. It sends a strong message to business that this country is not only open for business, but clearly working hard to create the infrastructure and environment in which business and business people can flourish, and I welcome that from the Treasury.

3.35 pm

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): I will start by welcoming a couple of the measures announced today. The Chancellor spoke about backing the creative media sector, which has the potential to be very helpful for the games industry in Dundee. It is just a pity that the old scheme was scrapped and we had to have a hiatus until this one was introduced. We will of course look at the fine print to find out precisely what it does. I also welcome the doubling of council tax relief for serving service personnel, which some of my hon. Friends have campaigned on for many years, and the Chancellor’s comment that he expects to see exports doubled. I hope that when that work is under way the UK Government will work with Scottish Development International, which is already working with nearly 10,000 businesses to internationalise their work.

At face value, the changes to the decommissioning scheme and the new field allowance for the North sea are very welcome. Of course, that is a huge humiliation for the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, whose bright idea it was to increase North sea taxation last year without consulting the industry. However, I have to point out that from 2013-14 onward the decommissioning scheme will actually bring in an additional £1.2 billion to the Exchequer and from 2014-15 onward the new field allowance will bring in £130 million. That might be behavioural change; we will have to see precisely what it means. I also point out, in a gentle aside to the Liberals who have talked about how marvellous the Budget is, that in relation to the squeezed middle the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate of tax will decrease next year to just over £32,000—they have been not so much squeezed as almost halved by the actions of the Government.

The Chancellor, unsurprisingly, sought to take credit for his stewardship of the economy, but before he and his friends get carried away let us look at what he actually did. The deficit on the current budget for 2011 was meant to be £104.8 billion, and it was forecast to be £90 billion for 2011-12. Today the forecast for 2011-12 was increased to £98 billion. The net borrowing requirement was forecast to be £145.9 billion for 2010-11 and £122 billion for 2011-12. Today the forecast for 2011-12 was increased

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to £126 billion. The national debt, on the treaty calculation, was due to peak at 87.2% of GDP, or £1.2 trillion, in 2013-14, but today it is now expected to peak at 92.7% of GDP in 2013-14, which is £1.36 trillion.

Therefore, there was not a great deal for the Chancellor to be pleased about. That will, of course, allow him to claim that he is on track to meet his fiscal rules—that the structural current deficit should be in balance in the final year of a rolling five-year programme and that debt is falling as a share of GDP by the end of that period—but both those objectives are highly dependent on GDP growth, which, as we have noted in previous Budgets, is massively dependent, according to the OBR, on quite incredible, unbelievable and unmet rates of business investment.

In 2010 the Government suggested that business investment had to grow between 6.7% and 10.6% a year. By the time we got to the OBR’s fiscal outlook in November 2011 growth in business investment had turned negative for 2011 and the forecasts had been changed to deliver business investment growth from 2012 to 2016 of 7.7% to 12.6% a year. What we expect now, the Government having failed on all their measures so far, is business investment growth of between 6.4% and 10.1% from 2013 onward. I am certain that when we get to the autumn statement and are looking at weaker numbers and next year’s Budget the Chancellor will simply fiddle and make more aggressive the business growth investment figures for future years to pretend he is on target to meet his own rules.

That is why the OBR told us last autumn that the contribution of general Government consumption to UK GDP growth would be negative throughout the spending review period, and according to today’s Budget it still will be. It is also why this coalition’s cuts are hugely damaging not least in Scotland, and the changes over the spending review period that delivered an 11.3% real terms cut to Scotland and a 31.7% cut to the capital budget are barely altered by today’s announcements.

Never letting the facts get in the way of a good attack line, the Chancellor made the point that the UK Government are able to borrow quite cheaply at the moment. What he did not mention, and this was genuinely surprising, was the triple A rating that he normally uses in that argument. I suspect that it is because he has worked out that, although the UK had its triple A rating put under threat in February, it was paying an amount of money in yield on its five-year, 10-year and 30-year bonds, while Japan, which had a net debt twice that of the UK and two double A negative ratings, was paying a fraction of the yield on its bonds.

So, although I am very pleased that the UK is able to borrow at reasonably god terms, I am pleased also that the Chancellor has abandoned his boasts about the triple A rating, stopped fetishising it and is concentrating on what really matters, which is the yield that the UK pays.

Jesse Norman: The hon. Gentleman is slightly understating the case, is he not? The fact is that we are borrowing at extraordinarily low—historically low—nominal yields, and, given the level of inflation, at even lower real yields. That is a result of the deficit reduction strategy that has been followed, and one reason why we should not fret about double or treble A ratings is that the United States itself has been downgraded, as have

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one or two other countries, and their borrowing costs have not necessarily been affected. That is just a rational reaction to events in the capital markets.

Stewart Hosie: One might also make the case that the United States, with a fiscal stimulus programme, is borrowing money at negative real terms percentages. It has engaged in fiscal stimulus, not in the cut-and-burn approach of the UK Government, and, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) says, the US has succeeded where the UK is failing.

Andrea Leadsom: Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that the US economy is not the same as the British economy. The US benefits enormously from being a foreign reserve currency, for example, so the situation is very different, and we cannot simply equate what happened in the US with what happened in the UK.

Stewart Hosie: The hon. Lady is obviously right that we cannot draw a direct comparison, and that is why I would not draw a direct comparison with the yield rates paid in Japan, but the point I was making is that it is wrong for any politician, particularly the Chancellor, to imply that a credit rating agency’s score is in any way related, or correlates directly, to the real yield that a Government pay.

Of all the things that the Chancellor could have done in the Budget but did not, the failure to act on the rising price of fuel was the most disgraceful. The previous Government were awful on fuel. They introduced the fuel duty escalator and opposed the introduction of a fair fuel regulator at every turn, but this Government, notwithstanding the rhetoric before the election, are little better.

Let us understand what this Government’s fair fuel stabiliser actually does. Fuel continues to rise by inflation and will, as confirmed today, when the price of oil is high, rise by inflation-plus—an escalator—when the price is low. A real fuel duty stabiliser would see the duty rate fall when the price rose, precisely because the UK Government already receive a VAT windfall at the pump or a North sea windfall at source in order to pay for it. Given the scale of the North sea windfall in particular, with £70 billion forecast over six years in last year’s Budget, which was £17 billion more than was identified the previous November, the failure to tackle properly the rising cost of fuel genuinely is a disgrace.

This year the forecast revenue for the six years from 2011 onwards is almost £50 billion, but that is based on a price for this year and the next two years of $111, $118 and $112 a barrel. The spot price today is $124.7, so we can safely conclude that, as usual, the UK Government’s assessment of North sea revenues will be understated. There is more than enough money to tackle the rising price of fuel properly, and not as this Government have done.

It has been described as pernicious already today; it is a pernicious measure to be cemented, I think, in future policy—I am talking about the unfairness of the proposal for regional pay. It will be extraordinary if the same person doing the same job in the same office with the same clients is paid differently in different parts of the country. I am very pleased indeed that the measure will not apply to Scottish Government civil servants, although I suspect that there will be huge resistance to the proposal from UK civil servants working outwith London.

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Jake Berry rose—

Stewart Hosie: I give way one last time.

Jake Berry: The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way. Before I came to this place, I worked in a law firm. We had three offices—one in Manchester, one in Liverpool and one in London. We all did the same job, but we were all paid different salaries. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that was wrong?

Stewart Hosie: That was in the private sector. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would say that he would negotiate his own wages or join others in a union to negotiate wages. We are talking about public service. If the hon. Gentleman’s attitude is the same as that of his party’s Front Benchers, he will seem to be saying that a public servant in Dundee or Dudley is not worth the same as a public servant doing the same job in Dartmouth. That would be worrying.

The real actions needed to kick-start the economy were almost wholly absent from today’s statement. The limited action on bank lending was announced yesterday and we have heard many of the promises before. I hope that the national loan guarantee scheme works, but to ensure that it does can we have transparency? Can we disaggregate the numbers so that no sector and no part of the UK is sold short in respect of that additional covered lending?

There was no specific action to get people to work or keep them in their jobs. Nowhere is that issue more important than with young people. The introduction of a national insurance break to help employers take on youngsters who do not meet the criteria for the Work programme would have been very welcome, but that was missing.

Shamefully, there was no action on direct capital investment, the most important thing that any Government can do. I am surprised that those on the Treasury Bench did not listen when the OBR said in 2010 that the impact multiplier for direct investment was 1:1, that for tax cuts it was 1:0.3 and that direct capital investment was three times more important and three times more beneficial at creating GDP growth than tax cuts. The Government even kept the squeeze on the very businesses that we need to create the growth. There was no change to the miserly annual investment allowances and that was a shame.

The Chancellor said that the Budget was fiscally neutral. To pay for his tax cut for the rich, he is squeezing the cash for services for those who need them most. When one considers that the total cost of the fiscal consolidation by 2015-16 will be £155 billion, that year and every year after that, and given a ratio of 4:1 spending cuts over tax increases, we can see where the priorities of the Government lie—not with people, not with jobs and not with growth.

3.48 pm

Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): First, I draw Members’ attention to my directorship and shareholding in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

We have to understand that the coalition Government inherited an extremely difficult situation, with a massive deficit. The situation cannot be dealt with in one or two years; we are talking about a process over several years

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to get the public finances into reasonable order. Of course that would be easier with a benign world economy, but given the eurozone issue and higher fuel prices, there have been a lot of headwinds over the past 12 or 18 months. Nevertheless, the British economy has continued to grow and many jobs are being created, although the outlook is more difficult.

I welcome the fact that today the Chancellor has stuck to his plan—long-term fiscal consolidation. Clearly, there is very limited room for manoeuvre. I despair a little when colleagues are always trying to spend more money because, as we heard from the last Government, the money has run out. We are really talking about marginal changes to the tax system. Early in his speech, the Chancellor said that the Budget was fairly neutral in terms of its impact on the British economy, and that is probably right. Indeed, I am of the school of thought whereby I sometimes think it would almost be better to cancel the Budget and continue with the same policy rather than have to jump up and make lots of announcements and pretend that one is being hyperactive.

There are things in the Budget that I welcome. I certainly welcome the rise in personal allowances. It is vital that we increase incentives to work. Universal credit, when it comes in, will be vital in increasing those incentives, and the benefit cap is also significant. On the other side of the equation, it is important that people on low pay, who pay tax at higher rates than many people abroad, should be taken out of the tax system. We have made progress today, and I hope that we will make further progress in going beyond the £10,000 limit, because we have to get to a position in which people on relatively low wages really feel that there is an incentive to get out there, take a job and make a contribution for their family.

I welcome the Chancellor’s reiteration of his view that we should pay our way in the world by restoring the balance of trade, getting investment in, and trying to improve investment in the manufacturing sector, which has shrunk for too long. We need a good financial services sector, but it is vital that we nurse and increase investments in manufacturing. Recent announcements on the car industry are very welcome and bode well for future export levels.

One of the legacies of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) is that we have one of the longest tax codes in the world. We must simplify it because businesses and individuals spend an awful lot of time trying to deal with its complexities instead of running their businesses and selling their products. I welcome the Chancellor’s proposed tax simplifications, which are vital.

Over the past few months there have been negotiations about the European Union treaty on more fiscal consolidation and co-ordination of tax policy. That gives Britain a great opportunity. If we can get our tax rates below those of our competitors on the continent, we will get a lot more inward investment. I welcome what the Chancellor has done on corporation tax, because we must reduce the rate. Let us not forget that most British companies are owned not by multi-millionaires but by pension funds. This measure means that we will leave more money in businesses and create a better environment for investments and pension funds, and that we will all be richer and more employed.

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I welcome the Chancellor’s acknowledgement of the fact that we need to do more about airport capacity in the south-east. I recognise that there are problems to do with noise at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, but it is not sustainable in the long term to say that we cannot have another runway at any of those airports; we have to have it somewhere. I do not know whether a new magic runway somewhere to the east of London is the answer. If we are to compete in the world economy, we must have routes to the world so that we can sell our exports. Some continental airports, including Schiphol in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and De Gaulle, now have routes to centres that we cannot accommodate within our system. We must have regard to the environmental problems but we must also, as a forward-thinking Government, consider how we can get more airport capacity.

The 45p tax rate has generated a lot of heat, although it is not happening yet. At the end of the day, one should try one’s best to raise money. The existing rate is not raising sufficient sums, and those who pay themselves greater amounts are in a good position to vary what they are paid in ways that give them opportunities to avoid taxes. Today’s approach has been to see capital gains tax and stamp duty on very expensive properties as a more predictable way of raising money than trying to maintain a rate that is not doing the job.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): Given all the hoo-hah about the 50p tax rate, does my hon. Friend find it interesting that in its 4,753 days in government, Labour had a top rate of 50p for only 37 of them?

Mr Syms: Absolutely. Most of our competitors have lower top rates of tax, and that is significant because it means that this is about how we compete with them. If we want to get more manufacturing and jobs in Britain, then it is important to remember that some of the people who are looking to invest in Britain are top-rate taxpayers. It is significant that the stamp duty changes will raise five times as much as would have come in from the 50p top rate of tax.

I welcome what we are doing to encourage the oil and gas industry. It is important that we do more to use those assets. The changes that we made last year were not very helpful. One of the components of GDP that has fallen the most over the past 12 months is oil and gas and quarrying. If we want to maintain the advantages of our oil and gas industry, we need to do far more to extend its life. The tax changes in that area are to be welcomed.

Overall, the strategy has to be “steady as you go”. We have to increase the incentives to work. The main aim is to leave latitude for the Bank of England. As the Chairman of the Treasury Committee said, low interest rates and, certainly in the short term, quantitative easing will have more of a direct impact on the economy than anything that the Chancellor could have done fiscally today. If we have increased the incentives for lower-paid people to take work, if we have stuck to the plan, if we have given confidence to the markets, if we have made a number of announcements that will help the economy, such as those about broadband and investments, it is a job well done. I welcome the Budget.

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3.55 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): As usual, the hon. Members who speak later in the debate will have the advantage of having been able to study the Budget more as it starts to unravel. I will make some initial comments about what is clear so far from the Chancellor’s speech. I think that it is hugely discourteous to the House of Commons that almost everything that was announced in the Budget has appeared in the papers and on other media in the past few days.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that this is a Budget for growth in areas such as Hull, which I represent, nor that it is fair for people in my constituency. On 23 June 2010, after the first coalition Budget, I said in the House that

“wealth creation and enterprise will suffer in Yorkshire.”—[Official Report, 23 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 326.]

It did suffer. On 23 March 2011, after the second coalition Budget, I said:

“this is not a fair Budget; neither is it a Budget for growth.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 1024.]

It was not a Budget for growth. The growth that was starting to return under Labour in 2010 was snuffed out by 2011. We have now had a year of flatlining. In Yorkshire and the Humber, 40,000 private jobs have gone in a year. We are supposed to be gaining private sector jobs, not losing them. Private sector jobs were supposed to replace the public service jobs that are being slashed, to create the growth that is needed to cut the deficit. We all, of course, want to see that.

Just outside Hull, there are 845 long-standing, skilled employees at BAE Systems, working in the strategically vital defence manufacturing industry, who will probably lose their jobs this year because of BAE’s decision. Taxpayers will have to meet costs of up to £100 million because of those redundancies. Those skilled jobs will be exported to countries that have Governments who are willing to nurture their industries for the long term. It is worrying that the defence White Paper, which was produced just a few weeks ago, indicated that the British Government would not necessarily buy defence equipment from British companies, but they certainly want other Governments to buy from British companies. What kind of message does that send out to support exports?

Hull’s future is as a national hub for green technology. Thanks to the local efforts of businesses, councils and others, Siemens will we hope be bringing offshore wind turbine manufacturing to Hull shortly. That would open up a wealth of opportunities for the city and the sub-region. Hull would have been an ideal location for the green investment bank, but unfortunately that has gone to Scotland. In one sense, squandering the chances to attract new jobs in sunrise industries to Hull is more damaging than losing existing local jobs. Recently, 100 jobs were under threat at Warmsure in Hull because of the Government’s decision in the solar feed-in tariff debacle. We know that there is strong overseas competition in renewables. We cannot afford to export jobs in these growth industries. We need to export our products, not our jobs. I was concerned that the Chancellor did not give a clear message today about the Government’s commitment to renewables.

Hidden in the Budget is the announcement that VAT will be charged on caravans. That will have a real impact on the economy in Hull, because we manufacture a

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great deal of this country’s caravans. I understand that it could reduce demand by almost 30%, which would be another hammer blow.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): My hon. Friend may not know that only two weeks ago, I opened a new caravan park in my constituency in north Wales with caravans supplied by manufacturers in Hull. The proposed VAT on caravans will have a dramatic impact, and as she has just said, it will reduce demand by 30%. Is it good practice to reduce demand for the manufacturing industry in the UK through a tax that will damage our economy?

Diana Johnson: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point and indicates, again, that this is not a Budget for growth—the very opposite, it seems.

The latest official statistics show that there are 5,447 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Hull chasing 177 vacancies. That is 30.8 people after each job, which is the 10th worst rate in the country. The overall claimant count across Hull was up by 12.4% in the latest period. Kingston upon Hull North’s long-term youth unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds has gone up by 155% in the year to February, which is shocking. Hull needs a determined focus on specialist vocational education and training, to equip our youngsters to get the jobs in green industry that could be important to the economy of Hull and the region.

Engineering qualifications are very important, and I was disappointed that the Secretary of State scrapped the diplomas scheme, particularly for engineering diplomas. As I asked the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley), why is information and communications technology not part of the English baccalaureate to show how important ICT skills are for our future?

The Government have talked a lot about rebalancing the economy, but people in the north who are seeking work—the north’s jobless—are being told to move to the south for work, and those in the south who are looking for affordable homes are being told to move to the north. Is that rebalancing the economy? The Government have to think again. They should ensure that there are enough jobs and homes in each region to make the whole country work together effectively.

I wish to focus on some of the key announcements in today’s Budget, starting with the raising of the personal allowance to £9,000 next April. Citizens Advice has already put out a quote on the matter, stating:

“Raising the personal tax allowance is an empty gesture to struggling families on low wages.”

That blows a hole in the argument that the Liberal Democrats try to put forward about the Budget promoting fairness.

Like cuts to income tax rates, raising the personal allowance could be part of a plan to boost demand and growth, provided that it was part of a group of measures such as those outlined in Labour’s five-point plan. In a time of scarcity, the Government’s plan, costing about £3.3 billion, is an inefficient way of helping the poorest in our society. It is clear that middle and upper earners will benefit most from the change. I understand that they will get about an additional £175 each year.

We must consider that against the losses that individuals and families will experience. For instance, the average family is due to lose £530 from 1 April because of the

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changes to VAT and benefits, including child benefit freezes. This April’s changes to the working tax credit requiring couples working part time to do a 24-hour week rather than a 16-hour week, at a time when a lot of people’s hours are being cut and jobs are disappearing, will affect 212,000 families across the country, including nearly 450 in my constituency. They will lose nearly £4,000 a year, and they are families that are struggling just to get by. What help was announced for those families? There was nothing. If the Government were serious about fairness, they could have done something about that.

Research by the Child Poverty Action Group shows that two thirds of the families who are about to lose tax credits are already in poverty, so I dread to think what will happen to them now. They are punished for doing the right thing and for trying to hold down a job at a time when it is so difficult to get a job or to get further hours of work.

To make matters worse, the coalition is now moving ahead with regional pay in the public sector, with the Liberal Democrats’ support. That is not surprising, because the Liberal Democrats have often advocated a regional minimum wage. Regional pay is more evidence-free policy making by this Government, based on free market dogma. There is no real evidence that national public sector pay crowds out the local private sector. Indeed, public sector workers, living and spending locally, are a vital part of supporting the private sector in Hull’s local economy. We already have London weighting to help workers with the extra costs of living in the south, so there is no reason for different pay rates between the regions.

Local or regional public sector pay could drive down wages in some of the poorest areas, taking billions more out of local economies and accelerating the growing north-south divide. So much for rebalancing the economy.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a pertinent point, but in some parts of the public sector will not the opposite be the case, so that, for example, hospitals, desperate to recruit the best clinicians, will end up paying more to compete with hospitals in London and the south?

Diana Johnson: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an important point. We know that the NHS is in for a torrid time in the months and years ahead, and he has identified another problem that it has to tackle.

The combination of regional pay and the unfairness in the Budget contradicts the coalition’s rhetoric about making work pay and rebalancing the economy, sucking even more money out of areas such as Hull and the north in favour of the wealthier areas, mostly in London and the south-east.

I am also worried that regional pay could mean that some of the brightest and best, for example, teachers—we need the brightest and best teachers in areas such as Hull—will not come to Hull if the pay is not the same as in some other parts of the country.

Let me comment on the Liberal Democrats’ spin to the effect that this is a Robin Hood Budget. It joins the long list of broken Liberal Democrat promises. We had the abolition of tuition fees, which were then tripled,

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and education maintenance allowance was axed. The Liberal Democrats promised 3,000 more police but we are getting 16,000 fewer. They promised opposition to VAT, but we how have higher VAT. They seem to have dropped the armed forces pay increase and many more of the opportunist promises they made before 2010, when they had full knowledge of the deficit that would face them. The tycoon tax is just the latest Lib Dem slogan. Increased stamp duty is all very well, but it hits only the minority who sell the property in any year. It needs to be matched by a clampdown on general stamp duty avoidance.

The other major announcement is to cut the top rate of tax. [Interruption.] The Liberal Democrats have no defence on that.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What did you do in 13 years?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The right hon. Gentleman will not shout across the Chamber at somebody who is speaking. If he wishes to intervene, he should do it in the normal way. That applies to all hon. Members.

Diana Johnson: The other major announcement is the top rate of income tax reducing from 50p to 45p for those earning more than £150,000. To do that, given the current state of public finances and the economic situation, is simply wrong and unfair. I do not understand why the Liberal Democrats have agreed to that when it will deliver a £40,000 windfall to 14,000 people. That helps the wealthiest, which always seems affordable to the Government. Boardroom pay rose by 49% last year; the bonus season is running riot—we are not all in this together. It is austerity for the many and wealth for the few.

4.8 pm

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): Several speeches have reminded me of Herbert Asquith speaking on the Licensing Bill in 1907, when he gave an eloquent speech for about an hour and a quarter and was then asked for a summary of his notes, which consisted of one page with the words, “Not so many pubs.” In other words, we have had an enormous amount of words but not much content; a lot of

“sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

I welcome the Budget on three grounds. First, I welcome it for my county of Herefordshire. Many of its provisions are extremely good. We have 100% council tax relief for servicemen and women, which will make a great difference to many of my constituents. We have a commitment to infrastructure, which we need in our rural areas. We have support for smaller cities and broadband, of which we hope to take advantage, and we have tax simplification for small businesses. All that is extremely welcome.

I also welcome the Budget from the standpoint of the nation as a whole. It has so many things to recommend it. I think of the expansion of support for exports; the northern hub, which will start to fill the gap created by the amazing lack of infrastructure linking northern cities; the integration of the tax and national insurance

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systems; and the new tax statement, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) is greatly to be thanked. I also think of the Treasury’s work on its new review of employee ownership. That would be an important repopulation of our system and a move away from the crony capitalism of the past decade.

Debbie Abrahams: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the Chancellor that “aggressive tax avoidance” is “morally repugnant”? If he does, why does he believe the Chancellor failed to mention how he will address the tax avoidance of private health care companies—the same companies that have been lobbying in favour of the Health and Social Care Bill?

Jesse Norman: The answer is that a general anti-avoidance rule is what it is. If there is avoidance by health care companies, I hope they will be captured by the rule, in just the same way that I hope the rule extends to include the tax affairs of Ken Livingstone as he runs for the London mayoralty.

Finally, I welcome the lower corporate tax rise, and most of all the rise in the income tax threshold. This is an extraordinarily important moment in British history, in which we begin to roll back the ever-pervasive state created under the previous Government, and in which people are given freedom and control over their economic affairs. I greatly welcome that.

The Budget continues a path of renewal that was begun two years ago. We must never forget that this country lost ground during the so-called boom years of the late 1990s and 2000s. When we adjust the gross domestic product per capita numbers, we see that, in fact, they overstate the country’s success, which relied on immigration, a boom in house prices and a boom in personal indebtedness. When those booms collapsed, so too did our economy.

We lived under the illusion of growth. We thought we were doing better than other European countries, but in fact we were not. We were having our breakfast, lunch and dinner eaten in front of us by Brazil, Russia, India and China and other emerging countries. That was also a time in which a culture of crony capitalism took over this nation. The effect of uniquely targeting inflation gave support to those asset bubbles, which in turn created an economy that was reliant on revenues from the financial sector and fed into the lack of balance, which the Government and this Budget are doing much to address.

On local grounds, speaking for Herefordshire, on national grounds, speaking for the country as a whole, and on historical grounds, as this country continues a transition from cleaning up the mess to rebuilding and renewal, I welcome this Budget.