What we really need to do is look at what the Budget means today, tomorrow and, more particularly, for the next few years. All Budgets are a mixture of imperative and choice, and this Budget is no different, but what is most striking about it is the choices it makes. The Tory party has never been an egalitarian party; it has always been an elitist party. It is not just that the Government are a Government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich; what is more telling is just how right wing the

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Liberal Democrats are, given the opportunity—I exempt the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) because he is a decent sort of chap living in a world of his own creation. None the less we cannot get away from the fact that, were it not for the support of the Liberal Democrats, the Government would not get this Budget through tonight, they would not have got their reforms—or deforms—to the national health service through and they could not get through their reforms in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. They would not be able to do anything.

Opposition Front Benchers—I criticise them for this—are a bit addicted to terminology and cliché. We are apparently told to refer to the “Tory-led Government”, but I will not do so because I do not think that that shares the responsibility anywhere near widely enough. This is a Tory-Liberal Government, and were it not for the support of the Liberal party they could not carry through the sort of distortion they have made with this Budget. The Tories are trying to pretend that they are leopards who have changed their spots. Not only that, but they are pretending that they have traded in their spots for presentable and attractive stripes and become vegetarian. I do not believe a bloody word of it. They are what they always have been, which is a party of the privileged with a role to demonstrate to those beneath it that they know their place.

The idea that the Tories are going to simplify the tax system by taking from pensioners has resonance only if we believe that they are taking equally from everybody. To the Liberals who talk about a Robin Hood Budget, I say, “Wake up. Get real.” Robin Hood, incidentally, was a myth, remains a myth and—although I do not wish to upset any colleagues and friends from Nottingham who are here this evening—originally came from Wakefield. The idea of his taking from the rich to give to the poor is, rather like this Government, complete and utter baloney.

I have two points to make in the odd few seconds that I have left. One is on child benefit, and the other is on stamp duty. If the Government had been serious about reforming stamp duty, they would have reformed the whole thing. I am not against people on £2 million paying 7%, and I am not against companies that use their machinery for purchases paying 15%, but the measure is very unfair on those at the bottom of the scale, who have to pay 1% or 3% on the whole cost of valuation. If the Government had been serious about reforming stamp duty, they would have addressed that.

On child benefit, the Government have introduced means testing. They can means-test universal benefits, that is right, but what is next? Winter fuel allowance? Freedom passes? If they undermine universal benefit, they undermine many things that benefit millions of people throughout the country. This Budget, like this Government, is a complete and utter fraud.

7.1 pm

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who is not in his place, on putting growth in the creative industries at the very heart of the Budget. It is a hugely beneficial development.

I will speak very much from a Welsh perspective. The Budget that the Chancellor presented to the House is of course concerned with the UK economy, but since

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devolution and the establishment of Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, differences have emerged. There are differences in our perspective on the Budget and its impact, and I will focus on the three significant announcements on tax, two of which have been wholly welcomed by my constituents, and one, the age-related taxation for pensioners, to which there has been a mixed response. I hope to address that later.

First, and in my view most fundamentally in the Budget, there is the raising of the income tax allowance. When this Government came into power, the threshold was below £7,000, and now it is heading towards £10,000. This year we took a massive step towards that, with an increase of about 14%, which is a huge jump and will make a huge difference. The measure is particularly welcome in Wales and, certainly, in rural Wales, the area that I represent, because that is where wages are comparatively low. The impact of raising the tax-free allowance is rather bigger in low-wage areas than in other areas, so it is to be hugely welcomed, and to be welcomed throughout the House.

The second fundamental step in the Budget is the one we are taking to make Britain open for business. At its heart is the level of corporation tax, and the Government’s strategy throughout this Parliament is to reduce it from 28p to 22p. This year we have accelerated that process with a 2p reduction, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly) said very clearly, that sends out the message that Britain is open for business. It was terrific to see the GlaxoSmithKline announcement coming so soon after the Budget, and of course there are various reasons why it was made, including 1,000 jobs and £500 million of investment, but one narrative that the company used was the competitiveness that this Government want to introduce to British business.

Jonathan Edwards: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me and his party’s own economic commission in Wales that what we really need is differential rates of corporation tax throughout the British state, so that investment is directed at the poorest parts, rather than concentrated down here in the south-east?

Glyn Davies: I do not believe that that is the right way for us to go at this stage. There is an ongoing discussion about the issue in Northern Ireland, but we have not yet reached the stage of devolving taxation. We are talking about the issue, but we will have to see where we get to.

The central part of my speech is about how we can build on the UK Government’s business-friendly approach, and about the way in which the Welsh Government and the Government here can work together to build on it. We can do so in several ways and in a close, constructive partnership.

First, this Budget introduces capital allowances in enterprise zones, work on which has already taken place in Wales, and one area where the measure will be introduced is Deeside, where the Welsh Government have already suggested it might lead to 5,000 new jobs. We want to see that happen and to build on it in other parts of Wales, and by working together we can do so.

Secondly, there is the commitment to pursue railway electrification. Electrification to Cardiff has already been confirmed, and the crucial next step is electrification of the valleys lines, but only if the Welsh Government

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and the Government here work together on that objective will we reach that target. It is absolutely vital that we do so.

Thirdly, there is broadband and the super-connectivity of Cardiff. Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is a hugely vibrant city, and when I was there last weekend, as Wales defeated France and won the Grand Slam, I found the sheer vibrancy of the city something to behold. We need to recognise that we have a wonderful capital city in Cardiff, and we can build on that, but we can do so only by the two Governments working together and building on the business-friendly climate that the Government here have put in place.

Last of all in this part of my speech, on the enterprise loans to small and medium-sized enterprises which are being promoted, the Welsh Government have Finance Wales, and it has many characteristics of a bank. If we combine Finance Wales and the various initiatives being taken at Westminster, we can make a dramatic difference in the development of small and medium-sized enterprises in Wales.

Finally, there is an issue with age-related pensions, and inevitably, if we raise the personal income tax threshold at the massively accelerated rate that we are doing, the two taxes will eventually merge. It is a difficult issue, which we have all had to think about, but the Government have been right to take that step.

7.7 pm

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): During the Minister’s opening speech, I asked him about a community, running along one of the spiral routes in my constituency, which still has dial-up—or wind-up—broadband. If I did not mistake him, I think he advised me to speak to the Scottish Parliament, but I find that a somewhat strange response, because the Red Book mentions a Scottish trunk road, the A82. Coincidentally, that happens to run through the constituency of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander). It is interesting that, if someone is the apologist in Scotland for this Government, they need to get their trunk roads mentioned in the Red Book.

Prior to the Budget and against the background in my constituency of unemployment among women and young people that was falling in 2010, and a dramatic increase in the claimant count of 35% in young people and of about 22% in women in 2012, I conducted a survey to see whether there was any advice that the Government could take on board. It suggests that my constituents are completely out of tune with the Budget, because 93% said that it was a good idea to have a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund employment for young people in Stirling and throughout the UK; 85% agreed with a temporary reduction in VAT on the tourism and hospitality sector, an important industry in my constituency; and 87% supported a one-year reduction in national insurance contributions to give every small firm on my patch the incentive to take on extra workers. There was no mention of the reduction of the 50p rate for those earning £150,000, no mention of a raid on the age allowance for those of state pension age—a measure that has been in place since the 1920s—and certainly no mention of the so-called pie tax.

The latter proposal crystallises the chaotic thinking at the centre of the Government’s financial strategy. It must have sounded like a jolly wheeze—“We’ll tax pies

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and rotisserie chickens and so on”—but I have an image of us all wandering round Tesco doing our shopping with thermometers in our hands to check the ambient temperature of the chicken from the rotisserie. Will the VAT be put on to the chicken when I take it out of the hot cupboard, or will I find when I get to the checkout, having wheeled my trolley around the supermarket, cooling the chicken with the soft winds of Tesco or Sainsbury’s, that it has become a cold chicken, which means that the VAT will not be charged? This does not apply only to supermarkets. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) tells me that yesterday or the day before he went into a bakery shop in Callander in my constituency and got bread rolls. It is a very good bakery shop called Mhor Bread. In future, he might have to ask the person behind the counter, “Can you wait until the bread rolls cool down because I don’t want to pay 20% more for them?”

It is a mish-mash of a policy. However, I will try to give the Government some comfort and save Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs tens of thousands of pounds on the consultation by pointing out that the European Court has already ruled on this issue by saying that where the level of service is minimal, the purchase should be considered as a simple food sale and not be subject to extra tax. I ask the Minister and the Government to abandon this foolish, mish-mash piece of financial thinking. It did not make sense when the Chancellor said it last Wednesday, it does not make sense tonight, and it will not make sense when hundreds and thousands of us roll our trolleys around supermarkets to cool down the chickens.

7.12 pm

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) and, I hope, to support my hon. Friends in introducing an element of reality, bearing in mind the financial situation we face. I pay tribute to the Chancellor and to the Treasury team, and to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), for the way in which he introduced the debate. I shall come to the Budget’s focus on the creative industries shortly.

The starting point of such a debate must be the state of the nation’s finances. We must consider the debt of the nation and the deficit of the nation, as well as the structural deficit and the interest on that debt. As we know, £120 million a day is paid from the public purse to service the nation’s debt. I have heard the groans that come from the Labour Benches when we repeat these figures time after time, but they are still true, and that is the context in which the Chancellor and the Treasury team have to work. It has been said before and needs to be said again that the financial position is unprecedented, and any tax cuts in any Budget have to be funded. It is simply not an option to continue to borrow money time after time as the previous Administration did.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman believes that his Government’s policy is working, why has the Chancellor borrowed a further £147 billion?

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Alun Cairns: I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman asks that question, bearing in mind the scale of the debt that was left, which is the reason for the borrowing. When this Government came into office, a quarter of all spending—a quarter of every teacher’s, doctor’s and nurse’s salary—was being borrowed. Any individual, business or family knows that one cannot continue to spend and spend when the income is not coming in.

There are also economic uncertainties on the European scale, as the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) underlined, as well as global uncertainties. I fail to understand the logic of Labour Members who have called for tax cuts without saying from where they should be funded. We cannot spend our way out of a debt crisis, which would risk the triple A rating that the Government have managed to maintain and increase the interest rates not only paid by individuals and home owners with mortgages, but that the Government have to pay on the scale of the debt that was inherited. In the next five years, almost £700 billion has to be rescheduled, so the risk to the triple A rating cannot be overstated given the cost that could be added to the nation’s inherited borrowing. Those are the parameters within which the Chancellor has had to work.

Let me turn to some of the specifics in the Budget. Initially, Labour Members focused on the reduction of the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p, and one could ask why they have now changed tack to focus on the age-related allowance. Some might say that they missed it previously, or that they know about their record in that regard. Labour Members are the masters of freezing allowances. The personal allowance was frozen in 2000-01, in 2003-04 and in 2010-11, so the arguments they made last week about the age allowance being frozen would apply to taxation for all workers when the rates were frozen at those times.

Labour Members are showing rank inconsistency. I appreciate that it would be wrong of me to call them hypocritical—I would not be able to do that under the rules of this House—but people outside may well draw their own conclusions. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West did not mention the age-related allowance because when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the last Budget of the previous Administration, he froze the age-related allowance. All Labour Members’ criticisms of the Budget could equally be made against themselves and the right hon. Gentleman. [ Interruption. ] I will happily take an intervention if any Labour Member wants to make a point about the freezing of the age-related allowance at that time. I think the silence speaks for itself.

In the time remaining to me, I underline and welcome the pro-growth Budget, the pro-growth approach to the creative industries and the allowances that have been introduced. I only wish that there was more time to underline the strong message that has been sent out to the whole world: “Britain is open for business. Britain is a place to invest and to work, and you will be rewarded.”

7.18 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): This Budget will not deliver on growth and it will not deliver on fairness, and it does not surprise me that it has been met with such a degree of concern and resentment. It has demonstrated missed opportunities, misplaced priorities, and a distinct lack of imagination. Ultimately it may

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hinder, not help, the families and businesses right across Northern Ireland who are struggling at this difficult time.

Now is the time to stimulate growth in our economy, not the time to hand a £42,000 a year tax cut to millionaires through the 45p rate. Aside from that, my party has three primary concerns about the Budget—the refusal to act on fuel prices, the attack on pensioners’ incomes—

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): With the prices of diesel and petrol in Northern Ireland at the highest ever level and rising even higher, as they are across the United Kingdom, does the hon. Lady feel that the Chancellor and the Government have missed an opportunity, for example with the VAT increase, to help those who are under pressure because of fuel prices?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that useful intervention. I agree with him and will come on to that.

The other area that concerns me is the proposal on regional rates of pay. All these measures will hurt low and middle income earners and do nothing to stimulate and grow our economy.

Rather than handing out a massive subsidy to the wealthiest in our society, the Chancellor should have focused on growing the real economy, starting with mitigation measures against record fuel prices. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) stated, the problem of high fuel prices is striking in Northern Ireland where, since the turn of the year, we have had the highest diesel prices in Europe and higher overall prices than in any comparable region in the UK or the south of Ireland. Duty prices must be lowered to mitigate the rising cost of imported fuel. Ultimately, while we rely on such a volatile imported commodity, we will always face such pressures. However, short-term measures are necessary to help those who are in need now. High fuel prices are hurting our people and are hurting our economy by restricting growth.

I will now turn to the so-called “granny tax”. The elderly should not be forced to pay for the systemic problems in our economy—problems that were in part brought about by the same high-salaried workers who have benefited from the Chancellor’s tax cut. The impact of this proposal will be widespread across Northern Ireland, with almost 100,000 people affected and many new pensioners potentially losing more than £200 a year. It represents a further blow to the elderly, who have been particularly affected by inflation, which has effectively wiped out years of savings and pushed up food prices, while high fuel costs have put a severe strain on the affordability of home heating.

Finally, I will address the issue of regional pay that has been put forward for consideration. The Government are saying that people can do the same job in the public sector, but that those who live in the devolved jurisdictions or the northern reaches of England will be paid less. That is a scandal. Public sector workers in what are already the most disadvantaged regions will earn less and those same disadvantaged regions will suffer the loss of spending power that follows. Things may be different in the world of big donations, but in the area of public sector pay for workers doing the same job,

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whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, there should be no premier league. I put the Chancellor on notice that my party will oppose, both in this place and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, regional pay proposals that would further impoverish Northern Ireland and other less well-off regions.

The Budget will not deliver the necessary growth in Northern Ireland and will leave those who are most vulnerable in the current economic conditions, namely the young, the unemployed and the elderly, even more vulnerable. Those people did not get us into this situation and the Budget provides no signal that the Chancellor will steer the economy out of it.

7.24 pm

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): The Budget and the coalition Government will ultimately be judged on how well we recover from the economic mess left to us by the last Labour Government, many of whose Ministers occupy senior positions in the shadow Cabinet. To quote the Prime Minister, the coalition will

“give our country the strong, stable and determined leadership that we need for the long term.”

That is something that I often argue about in this Chamber. There are many ways in which this Chamber divides. In essence, I am a passionate believer in the long-term view, as opposed to the short-term view. There is more to do and more that we can do, but the Budget continues the work that the Government have done in their first two years and shows that we are building the long-term foundations that the economy needs.

That was demonstrated by the World Economic Forum’s most recent competitiveness report, which returned Britain to the top 10. It cites the lack of access to finance as one of the top factors that discourages business. I will make two points about that. I am pleased to see the extension of the enterprise finance guarantee, which will ensure that we get finance for the small and medium-sized businesses that need it the most. Secondly, it is good to see the details of the business finance partnership, which involves co-operation between the public and private sectors in lending directly to mid-sized businesses.

The Budget gives our economy a strong and stable long-term future by addressing the factors that are contrary to growth and that are thus making Britain uncompetitive in an increasingly crowded global marketplace. By reducing the complexity of our tax code and the rates at which businesses are taxed, we are signalling that we are again in a position to build on what Britain does best: creating innovative products that are attractive to consumers on the world stage. The Chancellor has shown the leadership that we need for the long term by aiming to double exports to £l trillion by the end of the decade. We have demonstrated that we are not only rebalancing the economy from public sector growth to private sector growth, but rebalancing our trading position to one that is led by exports rather than imports.

The Government are expanding UK export finance and setting out new plans to help smaller firms in new markets. We are right to concentrate on the BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—because they account for more than 40% of the world’s consumers and because, in recent decades, rising incomes in those countries have created a growing aspirational middle class. It will not be an easy task to get British products into the homes of

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those people. A recent letter to the

Financial Times

illustrates the problems that we face in exporting British products to those developing and expanding markets:

“Last month we had an opportunity to export some of our UK-manufactured products as we were more competitive than a Chinese competitor, only to find that there was a 22 per cent import duty to add to our cost, taking away our advantage. Yet when Chinese goods are brought into the UK there is no duty to pay.”

We are right never to allow protectionist rhetoric to creep into our political system, but we must also continue to challenge protectionism abroad. We must continue to work with our trading partners to negotiate fairer treaties and, where necessary, submit complaints to the World Trade Organisation and similar institutions.

By pushing for the abolition of import duties and the liberation of foreign markets, we are again building the foundations of an export-led recovery, with job creation, sustainable investment and economic growth. It is right that the Budget focuses not just on short-term gains through artificial stimuli, but on proper policy planning to assess the barriers to growth and tackle them head-on.

Many Members have said that there are winners and losers from the Budget. They are right. The winners are common sense, long-termism and opportunity. The losers are those who try to make political capital and who always take the short-term view.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I call Graeme Morrice.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): Hear, hear!

7.27 pm

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell).

Over the past few days, I have been speaking to people in my constituency about the Budget, gauging their opinion and gathering their views. Everybody I spoke to was clear that, once again, the Tories have shown their true colours with a classic Tory Budget under which millions will pay more so that millionaires can pay less. That is evidenced by the facts, as we have heard throughout this debate, with 14,000 millionaires receiving a tax cut worth more than £40,000 a year, while 4.4 million pensioners lose an average of £83 a year.

It is a classic Tory Budget, but with a difference—it was possible only thanks to the support of the Liberal Democrats. Those same Lib Dems publicly opposed any change to the 50p rate of income tax until just a few weeks ago; those same Lib Dems, before the last general election, repeatedly stated their opposition to immediate public spending cuts, only to support a Budget reduction of more than £6 billion within two weeks of forming the coalition; and, lest we forget, those same Lib Dems promised not to raise VAT and then raised it. The Opposition will not forget the sycophantic sight of Lib Dem Members waving their Order Papers in glee last Wednesday at a George Osborne Budget—yes, a George Osborne Budget. I am sure the country will not forget that sickening display at the local elections in six weeks’ time. We can safely say that any lingering uncertainties

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about the Liberal Democrats’ wholesale abandonment of their progressive roots have finally been laid to rest by this Budget. British Liberal Democracy RIP.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Liberal Democrat policy of increasing the personal tax allowance to £10,000 by 2015, which was in our manifesto, is not only being delivered but being delivered quicker than that? It will take 2 million of the poorest people out of paying tax altogether.

Graeme Morrice: I have been told that I am not getting an extra minute, so I will just press on with my speech.

I want to say a few words about the 50p tax rate and about the granny tax, which has angered many people in my constituency, before finishing with the Government’s failure on jobs and growth.

The 50p rate raised about £1 billion in its first year, and its continuation could have been used to cut fuel duty, about which many of my constituents have written to me, to reverse the Government’s damaging cuts to tax credits or to help reduce the deficit. Instead, the Chancellor has chosen to give the richest 1% of earners a huge payout. People on middle and low incomes are already being squeezed by rising fuel, energy and food prices, and now their tax credits and child benefit are being cut. Yet again, the Government have made the wrong choice and proved how totally out of touch they are.

Jim Shannon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Graeme Morrice: Do I get an extra minute, Mr Deputy Speaker?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Yes, but somebody else will end up losing it.

Graeme Morrice: I will give way if the hon. Gentleman is very brief.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman. Does he feel, as I and many people outside the House do, that as the threshold for a single person will be approximately £50,000, which will affect their tax credit, but for two people earning £40,000 each there will be no cut to their—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. If you want to put your name on the speaking list, do so by all means, but interventions have to be short.

Graeme Morrice: I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

The aspect of the Budget that has undoubtedly caused the most anger among my constituents is the decision to freeze the personal allowance of pensioners, which will help subsidise the Chancellor’s bumper tax cut for the rich. Buried in the Budget’s small print, the Government tried to make out that that was a tidying-up exercise, but nobody is fooled by that. The public are clear that it is actually a £3 billion tax raid on pensioners. No wonder it was the only aspect of the Budget that was not leaked in advance. In Scotland, there is a song that goes:

“Yi canny shove yer grannie aff a bus”—

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the reason being, the song explains, that “she’s yer mammy’s mammy”. It seems to me that the Tories are quite happy to forgo a compassionate approach to our collective grandparents by shoving them all off the nation’s bus.

How will the Chancellor’s tough talk about cracking down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, which he says is morally repugnant, be put into action if the resources provided to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs continue to be cut, including 240 processing jobs at Pentland House in my constituency?

Finally, on growth and jobs, it has become increasingly clear that the Government are failing to deliver for business and drive forward growth. The reality simply has not matched up to the rhetoric, with record unemployment and flatlining growth. When even the Business Secretary describes Government initiatives to drive forward growth in key technologies as “rather piecemeal”, we know that they are in deep trouble.

My constituency has an excellent track record of attracting and sustaining innovative high-tech employers, but I know from speaking to some of those companies that they are frustrated by the lack of Government support and strategy. Many of them are doing well overseas and would like to expand and recruit new employees, but the toxic mix of a UK Government who are failing to create a supportive environment for sustained growth and a Scottish Government stoking up economic uncertainty with their obsession with breaking up the UK is making many firms think twice. Labour’s five-point plan for growth offers an alternative vision, and if the Government followed our advice and implemented a £2 billion tax on bank bonuses to fund 100,000 jobs for young people, we would begin to see some progress in tackling the scourge of youth unemployment.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am going to drop the time limit to four minutes, because we have 30 speakers to get in. If some Members wish to withdraw I will leave it at five minutes, but that does not seem to be the case. I am trying to be fair by everybody, and I say to Members who keep intervening that trying to be fair to each other would be very helpful.

7.34 pm

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): This is a Budget that rewards work from a Government who are making work pay, and I want to express on behalf of the small businesses in Malvern and the surrounding cyber valley in my constituency the enthusiasm that exists for taking advantage of the opportunities for growth and the lower taxation rates for small businesses.

Since today’s debate is the technology debate, I point out that in my constituency we have a growing cyber sector. There is an enormous amount of business growth, and it is estimated that 500,000 jobs will be created in the sector over the next decade. Those jobs are great for young people. There is enormous demand among firms in my constituency for teenagers who may have spent a lot of time in their bedrooms on their computers and have become ethical hackers. People in my constituency with those skills are snapped up by

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local businesses. Perhaps that is why the number of unfilled jobcentre vacancies in West Worcestershire rose by 70% last month, which shows that there are a lot of businesses with the confidence to take on an additional employee.

As a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I wish to make a point about the Government’s introduction of universal credit. We have talked a lot in these debates about the top rate of tax, but let us think about the rate that those on the lowest incomes had to pay for 13 years under Labour. Page 95 of the Red Book shows that the marginal deduction rate for a lone parent with one child working more than 10 hours was 100%. We are changing such disincentives to work by moving to universal credit, which will be very powerful in helping those on the lowest incomes into work and out of poverty.

I want to make the rather controversial statement that despite the bad press on behalf of pensioners on Thursdays, this Government have done more to help pensioners and future pensioners than any other Government in history that I can remember. First, there is the triple lock on the state pension, which will increase pensions every year by the higher of inflation, 2.5% or earnings. That is worth an enormous amount to today’s pensioners—no more 75p increases.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Did my hon. Friend, like me, hear the shadow Chancellor appearing on the Vine show during the week? The first person who came on after he had spoken was a pensioner, who denounced him and his measures.

Harriett Baldwin: My hon. Friend will also have heard in the Budget that we are abolishing the means test, which has been such a disincentive to saving for low-income pensioners, and bringing in a powerful simplification of the state pension. That will be worth much to future pensioners.

The Government are also introducing auto-enrolment, which will bring 5 million additional savers into the occupational pensions market. That is a most important step to strengthen the pensions system, and it has cross-party support.

Most important was what the Budget did not do. It did not make further changes to pension taxation and regulation, such as the amount that people can defer from their salaries to take as future retirement income. That is an important point for the overall stability of the system. Did you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that under the previous Government it was possible to put £250,000 into your pension fund? That was absolutely extraordinary, and I welcome the fact that this Government have lowered that limit substantially so that pensions provide fewer tax reduction opportunities for those on the highest incomes.

Finally, the Government have taken some difficult decisions on overall pensions policy and made some sensible changes that will stabilise the pensions system and make it more sustainable for the future. This is a Budget that rewards work and is good for business, and I urge all hon. Members to walk through the Lobby this evening to support it.

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7.39 pm

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): It is clear from today’s contributions that the Budget impacts in very different ways in different parts of the country. Members in the south, who mainly represent the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats, tell us about the benefits of the Budget, but those benefits are few and far between in my neck of the woods.

On behalf of my constituents, I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition, who last week hit the nail on the head, when, in response to the Chancellor’s Budget statement, he said, “Same old Tories”. He was absolutely right, and that point has been magnified by what we have seen this weekend. It is absolutely the same old Tories. But now there is an added dimension. It is the same old Tories but aided and abetted by their accomplices, their partners in crime, the Liberal Democrats.

In the Chancellor’s millionaires’ Budget, it is clear who will suffer the most—the people of the north, the poorest, and those looking for work. With few jobs available, it will be pensioners, families, the hard-working, the squeezed middle and the working poor who will suffer the most. It was notable that the Chancellor consigned to the dustbin of history the phrase, “We’re all in this together.” He is not saying it any more. Owing to the imbalance in the Budget, it is clear that most of us are in this together, but that the few at the top of society will be exempt from it all.

The regional disparity is all too plain to see. In the three south-east regions— London, the south-east and the eastern region—nearly 195,000 people will benefit from the cut in the top rate of tax. In the north-east, that figure is 5,000, and in Wales, it is 4,000. That is a massive disparity.

The people of the north-east will be forgiven for thinking that the Government have developed exactly the same approach as William the Conqueror—a 21st-century scorched-earth, slash-and-burn policy for the north. In just two years, they have abolished our Minister for the north, our local authorities have taken massively disproportionate cuts and the regional development agency has been abolished. My own authority of Gateshead has lost 1,500 jobs, and 67,000 public sector jobs have gone in my region while only 5,000 new jobs have come in the private sector.

We are clearly not in this together. There is no plan, no investment, not a sausage—not even a Greggs sausage roll. The Government’s plan to add VAT to warmed-up pasties could jeopardise Greggs breakfast club scheme for 65 primary schools in my region, four of which are in my constituency—not to mention knocking £35 million off Greggs’ share value last week. It is obvious that we are not all in this together.

Let us consider regional pay. We do not have a credible policy for growth, and now the Government are offering us regional pay.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it will be people such as police officers, nurses, and fire and other emergency staff who will be most affected by this attack on them in the form of the introduction of regional pay?

Ian Mearns: I could not agree more, and of course there will also be a depressing effect in the private sector. Last weekend, private sector bosses in the north-east came out clearly against regional pay.

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If we are to look at regional pay, can we also look at regionalised utility bills for gas, electricity, telephone, water and vehicle fuel—and, while we are at it, council tax and grocery bills? If the Chancellor or the Prime Minister fancy paying £250,000—shall we say?—to have dinner with the chief executives of Asda, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, perhaps they could ask them to reduce the cost of grocery bills in the regions. Or they could ask the east coast main line to implement regional level funding for fares for people travelling up and down the country to get to work from far-flung fields. And why not go the whole hog and establish regional Parliaments and re-establish our RDA? Let us do things on a regional basis properly and fundamentally, but I really do not think that will happen. The people of the north-east will never forgive the coalition. In particular, they will never forgive the Liberal Democrats for their hand in it. Quite frankly, the Budget is shocking.

There is one last thing. As One North East, our RDA, winds up and prepares to close its doors for the very last time, may I formally, in the House, record the thanks of the people of the north-east for the work of our RDA and, in particular, Alan Clark, the chief executive, Paul Callaghan, the chairman, and his predecessor, Margaret Fay? They did a great job for the north-east.

7.44 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): This is a Budget for long-term growth set out in extremely difficult economic conditions. The lowering of the corporation tax main rate to 24% and of the small profits rate to 20% will give us one the lowest rates of corporation tax in the OECD. Combined with the reduction in the top rate of income tax to 45p, that presents the UK as a lower tax country that rewards enterprise and will attract the sort of investment we saw just last week from Nissan and GlaxoSmithKline.

There has been much talk recently of the need for an industrial strategy. Lord Heseltine wrote in The Times today on this subject. Industrial strategy got a bad name in Britain because of the damage that such policies wreaked in the ’60s and ’70s, but the world is a different place now, and I believe that the risks of getting industrial policy wrong are much reduced. The quality and extent of real-time information on the performance and prospects of different sectors of the economy is far superior to what it was. Multinational companies have replaced nationalised industries. As large employers, they are far more mobile, and the UK is now in competition, for export markets and inward investment, with many more countries falling over themselves to be open for business. The status of Singapore, with its state-of-the-art education system and infrastructure built around the needs of global companies, such as GSK, has shown that it is capable of becoming a science hub for the whole of south-east Asia in less than 20 years. That is an example of what the UK is up against.

I was delighted, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced new finance packages in the Budget to promote trade and exports. Until recently, UK Export Finance, formerly the Export Credits Guarantee Department, was focused on larger companies, mostly in the defence and aerospace sectors. That changed with last year’s relaunch, and the organisation, now known as UK Export Finance, has a brief to support smaller companies. Export insurance policy is being widened to

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cover all products and services, including contract bond support for small and medium-sized enterprises, and it is vital that we now promote awareness of these new services among medium-sized companies in our constituencies.

We are making huge progress in this regard. The west midlands saw the largest increase in the number of exporters in the final quarter of 2011 compared with a year earlier. That followed a number of months in which the west midlands had experienced decreases in the number of exports. The improvement is most welcome. It is excellent that so many local firms are looking to sell to new markets outside the EU. Some 55% of west midlands exports are now going to non-EU countries. That must extend beyond the BRICs, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal), to the next 11 countries, such as Bangladesh and Nigeria, which have huge growth rates. I am delighted that many companies in the west midlands and the black country are taking advantage of those opportunities.

7.48 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): The most significant thing about last week’s Budget is that it did not move the dial on economic growth. The Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed that and said that it has not revised its expectations for growth or employment. On the basic problem facing the country—the need for jobs and growth—the Budget changes precisely nothing. If there was an argument within the Government about a plan for growth, it has been lost. Indeed, the pre-Budget discussion was not about jobs and growth but about which party in the coalition could claim credit for which tax rate they felt related to their own manifesto.

The Treasury Committee recently took evidence from the permanent secretary to the Treasury. He confirmed that regional policy work in the Treasury has been wound up. In fact, the only regional policy the Government have left is to cut public sector pay in the regions. The permanent secretary spoke of “intrinsic scepticism” about policies to drive growth beyond the fiscal measures that we know about. The Budget is the evidence that that scepticism has won through. The Government have hung their flag firmly on deficit reduction alone, abandoning the effort for a convincing plan for growth and jobs alongside it. The Government are persisting with a hit on manufacturing companies, through cuts in investment allowances, to pay for their corporation tax cut. It is not so much the “march of makers” as the levy on the makers to pay for the non-makers. Rhetoric and policy are pulling in two entirely different directions. It is not enough to say that we want to be open for business; the Government have to play their role in helping business to grow and succeed.

If the Budget changed nothing economically, it certainly sent strong political signals. At its heart is a tax cut for those earning over £150,000 a year, paid for by two groups: pensioners, through the freeze in the personal allowance, and also—this has been under-commented on—middle-income earners who are being dragged into the 40% tax bracket, and there are 300,000 of them. Reference has been made to the allowances being frozen before, but Budgets have to be taken in the round. The central message of this Budget is that pensioners and middle-income earners will now pay for a tax cut for

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people earning far more than them—four or five times more. That is what the Government have signalled politically in the Budget.

Let us think a little about the low-paid. The Liberal Democrats have claimed great credit for the increase in the personal allowance. It is true that it will be of help to some of the low-paid, but there is something else, which we should not forget. There are 300 families in my constituency, and hundreds more in constituencies represented in this House, who will be plunged into poverty by cuts to tax credits, of up to £3,800 a year, unless they can find more hours of work. The money that could have ameliorated that change has gone to a tax cut for people earning more than £150,000.

It is claimed that the Budget is fiscally neutral overall. However, although we know what the measures in it cost, we do not know what they will raise. In the end, the real picture might not be a fiscally neutral Budget, but a gross tax give-away to the richest in the country. That shows the political colours of the Government more than anything else.

7.52 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): For me, the most significant figures in the Budget are in tables D.3 and D.4 in the Red Book, which set out receipts and expenditure over the next five years. Total tax receipts are increasing by £153 billion, from £550 billion to £703 billion. At the same time, cash expenditure will rise from £696 billion to £756 billion—a rise of £60 billion. However, of that increase, £17 billion alone will be down to the increase in debt interest. The cost of public pensions is rising by £7 billion, to £15.4 billion, net of contributions, while net expenditure on social security and the state pension will rise by £25 billion. In broad terms, over the next five years we have to raise an extra £150 billion a year in taxes to eliminate the deficit and pay for the increases in interest, social security, pensions and, of course, health.

The only way to raise such additional revenue—which will be an extremely difficult task—and tackle the curse of unemployment is by being completely open for business. The Budget, as this week’s cover of The Economist says, gives that clear sign. We have a reduction in the corporation tax rate, the patent box, above-the-line research and development tax credit reliefs for the creative sector, deregulation and, indeed, better regulation. Is that enough? No, it is not enough. The loan guarantee fund will also be extremely important, but, again, we will have to watch that carefully—not every six months in statements, but every month—to find out whether our businesses are getting the credit they will need for growth. My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) mentioned exports, which are vital. The improvement in the export credit guarantee scheme is important, but it is still a fraction of the help that the Germans give their exporters. There need not be a cost to the Treasury; rather, the money can be recouped through the premiums on the scheme.

I have a number of brief suggestions to make in the last couple of minutes available to me. First, there has been concern about the effect of the reliefs on charities. At present, the tax relief fund for the excess above the standard rate is returned to the taxpayer—in the form of a tax refund—who can then keep it. It should surely be possible to require that this tax refund be paid to a charity; indeed, if it were paid in that way, it could be taken outside the suggested cap. As for the age-related

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allowance, it is important that fair notice be given—as it is with anything to do with retirement, whether changing the retirement age or changing tax arrangements. Although I understand the argument for bringing tax allowances into line over a period, the Government might consider letting personal allowances catch up with the age-related allowance. The additional cost of doing so could be paid for—I believe we must always pay for the things we suggest—by further restrictions on tax relief for higher rate pension contributions.

That brings me to a further suggestion. In the summary of Government receipts, income tax receipts are shown as net of everything except tax credits, yet the reliefs given on income tax are, in effect, a major item of expenditure. We should be explicit in the Government accounts about the cost of such reliefs—whether they are against pension or charitable contributions, or are enterprise reliefs—and not just net them off against income tax.

Finally, I have a couple of caveats. The first is about regional pay, which I suggest should be considered carefully. I am sceptical about its value, but I am willing to listen to the arguments. However, I am extremely sceptical about the value of relaxing Sunday trading rules during the Olympics, and I am firmly opposed to any permanent relaxation. This is not simply a question of keeping Sunday special as a time for families, friends or worship, although I for one consider that to be important; it is also about protecting the interests of those who work in the retail trade. However, in general, I welcome what this Government are doing to make Britain open for business.

7.56 pm

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who made some valid points.

The focus of last week’s Budget should have been on encouraging business and consumer confidence, because the failure of this Government is above all the failure to facilitate demand in our economy. On the contrary, their policy has led to a lack of demand in the following ways and policy areas. The first has been by reducing public expenditure on capital projects, which is especially telling in those parts of the UK that depend significantly on the public sector rather than the private sector for investment. The effect is especially evident in the construction industry, which is still in dire straits because of the lack of demand from either the public sector or the private sector.

In addition—we must not forget this—this Government, of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, have increased taxes on consumer spending by increasing VAT, which has reduced the income going to local businesses. When people spend money, that difference between 17.5% and 20% is taken out of the local economy. It does not go into local businesses; it goes straight to the Exchequer. Again, that is money being taken out of the economy. The Government are also reducing employee confidence, because they repeatedly talk about reducing jobs in the public sector, which diminishes demand—for example, by affecting the decision to move house, which has an impact on the housing economy and developments in the construction sector.

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In all those ways, the Government are cutting demand at the very time we need demand in the economy to facilitate work for our young people. Indeed, we hear a roaring silence from the Government about our young people, who were barely mentioned in the Budget. The problem is that we have seen all this before. In the 1980s, when I was politically forged, I saw all that happening in the north-east, where I was brought up. For example, we saw 3 million unemployed, twice. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry that those on the Government Front Bench find that amusing, but that is what happened. A generation claiming benefits are still suffering the consequences of the Tory Government of the ’80s, and now we are seeing it again. That is why I feel passionate and angry about what this Government are doing—because what those policies did was drive people on to the dole, which at that time was paid for by two things: privatisations and North sea oil. We remember Harold Macmillan saying that the family silver cannot be sold off twice, and privatisation means it has now been sold. North sea oil returns are diminishing, so the Government are simply running out of money because they are not facilitating growth in the economy. One of the major reasons for that is that people and businesses cannot borrow money.

The root cause of this difficulty is the incredible centralisation in the banking sector, to which I referred earlier, which prevents businesses across the country from accessing demand. Again, we go back to the 1980s. Then we saw the demutualisation of great institutions such as the Northern Rock building society. It was based in the north-east where I was brought up, but it ended up a horrific behemoth in the mid-west of America, losing money and going out of business as a result of the American sub-prime mortgage crisis. The result is that a local organisation that had provided homes and jobs for local people was there no more. We need to go back much further than the last Labour Government to understand why all this happened. It happened because of what happened in the 1980s, as I have explained. We need a radical change of course.

8 pm

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I refer the House to my interest in Cobden Partners.

This is a Budget of fiscal conservatism and monetary activism. It is a Budget, above all, of economic expectations, setting out to people that we will reward work, support families, help those looking for work, back business and back aspiration. In the short time available to me, I would like to speak directly to the point of monetary activism, which is one of the Budget’s key pillars. I hope the Government will not take it as a criticism, because the Chancellor has emphasised that the Bank of England is independent and, of course, its policies are symptomatic of those followed all around the world.

Over the past 13 years under new Labour, the money supply expanded from about £700 billion in 1997 to £2.2 trillion in 2010. That was through a massive expansion of bank balance sheets—a huge amount of monetary activism led by central banks, with the Bank of England keeping interest rates too low for too long. That goes to the heart of points that Opposition Members have made. It has redistributed wealth towards the south-east and the first recipients of new money. I would say that it is at the heart of our difficulties. The scatter chart in the

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Red Book shows how the balance between our fiscal position and the bank balance sheet position is interlinked, and has placed us as an outlier.

When many people look at monetary activism, and quantitative easing in particular, they get worried about inflation—and why not? It would, however, be hysterical to worry about hyperinflation at this stage, when the asset purchase facility is at £325 billion—just one seventh of the money supply. I would nevertheless like to sketch out something that troubles me in my darker moments.

Right now, there is not a problem, but a housing bubble became a banking crisis—at least not a problem of inflation—which became a sovereign debt crisis, which has now been turned into an asset bubble in the bond market. The Bank of England has deliberately inflated bond prices in order to suppress long-term interest rates—interest rates that our constituents cannot do without because they are so indebted. The problem is that, as we know, all bubbles burst; the questions are when and what might burst the bond bubble. Inflation expectations might do it. If we were to look at M4 and M4ex from the Bank of England, we would see that there is no reason to doubt its inflation forecast. If we look at my preferred measure of the money supply, however, which is Kaleidic Economics MA, we can see that from July last year, year on year money supply growth was minus 2%; today, money supply is growing by that measure at plus 6%. We should thus be very cautious indeed about the Bank’s forecasts.

If the bond market bubble bursts, there will be pressure on the Bank of England to continue to prop it up. That will lead to further quantitative easing and create an expectation of rising interest rates. That could cause a flight from the bond market into cash; and it could cause the public, as they see QE continuing, to lose faith in cash itself, which could lead them to start spending.

Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give us an idea of when he thinks this bubble might burst—in the near or the distant future?

Steve Baker: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as this is a critical problem. It is a problem of expectations; it about the human mind, which is extremely difficult to predict.

I was saying that, as we go through, we could find that people lose faith in cash. If they do that, they will spend it, and move into real value. Keynesians could end up celebrating an apparent boom, but actually one that is a crack-up of the currency. I sketch these events not to frighten, but to set out a perspective for the House of which we should be aware when we know that the central banks and the Bank of England have deliberately inflated this bond market bubble.

We could end up facing a choice: if prices and wages are accelerating, but less quickly than the money supply, the Bank of England will have to choose whether to supply more money or whether to abandon that monetary inflation and reveal the underlying havoc created by decades of inflationary money. Perhaps new money, instead of real resources, can be used to paper over the cracks. Perhaps expectations can be managed to avoid the bubble bursting. If I were to quote with just a little adaptation something that Hayek wrote in 1932, I would say: “We must not forget that for the last 86 or 88 years, monetary policy all over the world has followed the

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advice of the monetary activists. It is high time that their influence, which has already done harm enough, should be overthrown.”

8.6 pm

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Last Wednesday, the Chancellor began his Budget statement by saying:

“This Budget supports working families and helps those looking for work. It unashamedly backs business, and it is on the side of aspiration—of those who want to do better for themselves and for their families.” —[Official Report, 21 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 793.]

That was a bold statement to make, and, unfortunately, not one borne out by the rest of his speech. As the Chancellor went on, I was thinking of my constituents—those working, the unemployed, families, pensioners, the disabled, young people and those in business—all of whom stood to lose or gain by the Chancellor’s Budget and all of whom had the same aspirations to do better, not just for themselves and their families but for their communities, too.

It was bad news from the start. The Chancellor’s warning of further cuts in welfare of up to £10 billion by 2016 simply means a further attack on some of my most vulnerable constituents, who through no fault of their own have to depend on welfare benefits. For most of them, there is no way out of their current situation, so this means that they will have to face further hardships.

The Chancellor’s proposals for the future of those reaching retirement and for those who have already reached it were no better. He might be proud to announce the largest ever increase in the basic state pension, but that brings little joy to the pensioners in North Tyneside who, because of massive cuts in support to local government finance, will see among other things their rents go up by 9%. For those living in sheltered accommodation, that all but wipes out the pension increase. The Chancellor’s inference that the age-related allowances need to be simplified as pensioners do not understand them is an insult to all older people, and a poor excuse for taking away this allowance. The move has, quite rightly, provoked a public outcry, especially when compared with the new lower level of top-rate tax, which will see the richest l4,000 people benefit by up to £40,000.

There was little in the Budget for the 1 million young people currently unemployed, unless they have the confidence to start up their own business. The news last week that the minimum wage for young people is to be frozen and that the maximum rate is to rise by only 11% shows this Government’s contempt for that safeguard for hard-working people, which was one of the greatest achievements of the Labour Government.

The Chancellor’s announcement that local pay agreements should be introduced for the public sector is a further attack on hard-working people in the north-east. Regional pay will create a two-tier economy between the south-east and the rest of the country. As women make up half the work force in the public sector, they will be disproportionately affected by this move. Since the system was introduced in the Ministry of Justice, it has created inequality and tensions, and it has needed to be reformed. This issue could spark a whole debate in its own right. The fact that an area such as the north-east with more than 300,000 public sector workers would lose £78 million a year if there were a reduction of just

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1% in public sector earnings surely demonstrates that such a move would be unfair and would have disastrous and far-reaching problems for the economy—and especially for the position of women in it.

The media have seized on not only the granny tax but the pasty tax, which, despite its flippant title, will have serious economic consequences for bakers throughout the country. I am pleased that the Minister is to meet me and representatives from Greggs. Let us hope that that is a move in the right direction.

I have presented a very dim view of the Budget, but it will have very dim consequences for the people of the north-east.

8.10 pm

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I believe that this Budget will support the economy of the black country, part of which I represent, and, in particular, the skilled manufacturing and high-tech industries on which so many of my constituents depend for their jobs. I am especially pleased about the Chancellor’s proposals for an above-the-line tax credit for research and development, about which I wrote to him at the end of last year.

We want to create a high-skill economy. Research and development is a crucial area of activity in my constituency, and at local centres of excellence such as the nearby Aston and Wolverhampton science parks. It is a perverse system that ensures that only those who are already in profit can benefit from the relief for R and D. Switching to an above-the-line tax credit in the form of a payable tax credit for large companies, irrespective of their corporation tax position, is critical to the safeguarding of the R and D that we have locally, and to attracting inward investment in R and D.

There was also good news for the large number of my constituents who work in Birmingham. Many local businesses supporting thousands of local jobs will applaud the £10 million that is to be invested in turning Birmingham into a super-connected city with ultra-fast broadband connections and a high-speed wi-fi service. The announcement came the day after BT’s announcement that it would upgrade the exchange at Cradley Heath in my constituency to support fibre broadband, and I know how much that will benefit local technology firms in particular. I hope that, having announced that funding for super-connected cities, the Chancellor will consider extending the next phase of the scheme further to include city regions such as the black country, so that businesses and residents can gain the full economic and social benefits of ultra-fast internet connections.

The Chancellor’s announcement of £150 million of tax increment financing to help local authorities to promote development has the potential to make a massive difference to our local economies. Having been born in Nottingham, gone to university in Birmingham and run my own businesses, I understand the attraction of focusing on the regeneration of our major cities. However, I ask the Chancellor to ensure that the finance that he announced is available to all local authorities, as areas such as the southern black country desperately need access to such funds if they are to transform the local economy and create the jobs that our communities need.

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One of the local authorities covering my constituency has, to an extent, pre-empted the Chancellor’s announcement. Two weeks ago, the leadership of Conservative-run Dudley council agreed to pursue Dudley’s very own council-led local enterprise zone, centred on the Waterfront and Harts Hill areas in Brierley Hill in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly). The council hopes that the project will create up to 10,000 jobs—particularly high-tech and high-value jobs—and will attract a number of major companies.

It was initiatives of exactly that sort that the Chancellor had in mind when he made his announcement on Wednesday. I hope that he, and Ministers in the Departments for Business, Innovation and Skills and for Communities and Local Government, will do all they can to make it easier for local authorities to use mechanisms such as tax increment financing to stimulate growth and development in our towns.

As the BVCA said last week, the measures announced in the Budget

“should make for a more entrepreneurial economy and for a stronger society.”

Those thoughts will be echoed by the many businesses in Halesowen and Rowley Regis that will be assisted, and by the even greater number of people who will benefit from the new jobs that those businesses will help to create.

8.14 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Given the shortage of time and the fact that some of my colleagues wish to contribute, I will confine my remarks to my constituency interests.

It was good to hear in Budget week that an outsourcing company that had shed 170 Barclaycard staff on Teesside last year would be taking on 580 new workers, and would be recruiting both at Fountain Court in Middlesbrough and at the bank’s contact centre in nearby Thornaby.

The Chancellor mentioned local enterprise partnerships in his speech. That theme has been taken up throughout the Budget debate, notably by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), and tonight by my hon. Friends the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), and for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell).

We in the north-east regret the passing of the regional development agency. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) made a powerful speech on the subject, with which I fully associate myself. However, it has been said of Michelangelo “Had he worked with clay and not marble, who would remember him?” We must work with what we have, and we in the Tees valley must work with our local enterprise partnership and regional growth fund. Tees Valley Unlimited has worked with business to deliver projects that have created and safeguarded more than 1,800 jobs, securing private investment of £138 million. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) spoke of difficulties in the distribution of the regional growth fund, but Tees Valley Unlimited secured more than £68 million for Tees valley companies in rounds 1 and 2 of the fund, and will be hosting a series of business engagement events to promote the fund locally and support company applications. The first will take place in Middlesbrough next month.

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In his speech, the Chancellor declared that the country must confront the lack of airport capacity in the south-east of England. Those in my area are concerned about the future of Durham Tees Valley airport. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) tell the House that he had arranged a meeting between the Minister responsible for aviation—the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers)—and all Tees valley Members of Parliament to discuss how the future of the airport could be assured.

In his speech last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) pointed out that the Chancellor was favouring Mayfair over Middlesbrough. It was nice to be mentioned in dispatches, but I can only buttress my hon. Friend’s point by saying that the Budget should have focused more on growth, long-term business support, and a modern industrial partnership between business and industry.

This Budget does not cast a broad light across the economy; it casts a deeper shadow. In a year’s time, all the confidence that is emanating from the other side of the House will be seen to have been misplaced, and we will suffer accordingly.

8.17 pm

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): My constituents welcome many measures in the Budget, particularly the raising of the personal allowance. The average wage in my city is less than the benefit cap, and it is the very people who were clobbered by Labour’s abolition of the 10p rate who will benefit most from that measure. The news of £100 million for service accommodation improvements and other welfare measures for armed forces personnel in theatre is especially welcome in the home of the Royal Navy. Today, however—with my hat as co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for ageing and older people firmly on—I want to focus on the Budget measures that relate specifically to that demographic.

This April, pensioners will receive the largest ever cash increase in the basic state pension, and the complex means-testing system will be reformed to create a new single-tier system set above the means test for future pensioners. That is great news. Many of us have campaigned for such a reform for a long time. I was a critic of pension credit because of the massive “under-take-up” caused by its obscurity and bureaucracy, as a result of which thousands of pensioners in my city are living in poverty. It is better to have a bigger state pension for all.

The second measure that I welcomed was the move towards a simple single-person allowance regardless of age. Half of those pensioners pay no tax, and a high proportion of those who do, do not make use of this allowance. In that respect, the situation is like that of the flawed pension credit. This move will ultimately mean 150,000 pensioners no longer have to fill in self-assessment forms. The Institute for Fiscal Studies argued that this was reasonable and that pensioners had been protected from benefits cuts and tax increases and had lost considerably less than any other demographic group. I accept that.

What I have found harder to swallow is the inter-generational comparisons drawn in the media. We cannot expect younger generations to bear the burden of the economic crisis into which Labour spent us. That burden has to be shared, of course, but the notion that pensioners’

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incomes are excessive because they exceed those of younger workers is bizarre. Our attitude towards pensioners is critical, not just in how we deal with the current crisis, but in how we inspire younger generations to make provision for their older age. I think we are also sometimes in danger of missing the opportunities that a greater focus on the aspirations of older people could bring. Historically, the Treasury and many other Departments have been guilty of that.

Local authorities, too, have not protected budgets for older people. They have not been focused on unmet need, and they have not been smart about advising people to pre-empt the exhaustion of older people’s assets by helping them to plan for the costs of care.

It is not just in these more obvious areas that older people are disadvantaged, however. Let us consider, for example, the everyday frustrations of ordinary businesses applying for credit in the current straitened times, and then imagine how much more difficult it is for a grey entrepreneur with a brilliant idea for a second career, but who encounters ageism from the local bank manager. Meeting older people’s unmet needs and aspirations will not just benefit today’s senior citizens: it will make a contribution to getting UK plc back on its feet, lessen the burden on the public purse, and lighten the load for younger generations.

So how can we ensure that the Treasury is firmly focused on these opportunities? Earlier this Session, I helped the Grey Pride campaign deliver a petition with 140,000 signatures to Downing street. It asked for a Minister for older people. In my opinion, that should be not another name on the Government payroll, but a new responsibility allocated to a Minister already enjoying the view both from the Treasury and the Cabinet table. I appreciate that the Chancellor has quite enough to do clearing up after his predecessor but one, so I think that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury should assume this additional role. He might relish the savings for the national health service from a reduction in hospital admissions, the increase in capital mobility through targeted equity release schemes, and the substantial additional tax receipts from successful older workers.

We are used to hearing about sending for the men in grey suits, but now is the time for us all to listen more closely to the people with grey, or greying, hair, and there is a delicious irony in the fact that the current Chief Secretary is both the youngest Cabinet Minister and certainly the least grey-haired. I shall propose this for debate at the next Backbench Business Committee meeting.

8.21 pm

Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): It may surprise Members to learn that I shall begin by saying something positive about the Budget. I welcome its announcement of a range of measures—such as improving gift aid—that are designed to encourage more people to give to charities, including those working in the arts. However, I agree with Mark Pemberton, chief executive of the Association of British Orchestras, who has urged that any increase in private donations is not used to replace sustained local and national public investment, especially now that tax reliefs have been capped. At a time when public funding is being slashed, local projects—such as Reeltime, a community music project in my

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constituency—are in a very vulnerable position. The Westminster Government, the devolved Assemblies and local councils must protect and sustain these valuable projects, not view them as easy targets.

That was the good news. Unfortunately, the rest of the Budget was bad news. Last week’s Budget—and, indeed, the plentiful newspaper reports that preceded it—laid out a plan that will burden the many, not the few. On Friday, I was joined by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) during a visit to New Wellwynd church’s lunch club in Airdrie. Many of the people there were senior citizens, and it soon became clear just how angry they were about the Government’s new granny tax. Some 370,000 pensioners in Scotland will be affected by the personal allowance change, while a mere 16,000 will benefit from the removal of the 50p top rate of tax.

Perhaps my constituents would understand such measures if they could see that the Government’s “austerity plan” was actually working. However, it is delivering nothing but pain for hard-working families and vulnerable people across the UK. It is certainly not delivering growth, and the Chancellor is now being forced to borrow £150 billion more than he had planned in his spending review. He might need to arrange a few more dinner parties.

Most importantly, the Government’s plan is not delivering jobs. Young people are facing employment prospects that are as bleak as in the darkest days of Thatcher’s “price worth paying” economic policy. More than 1 million of them are now out of work. Long-term youth unemployment has more than doubled in my constituency in the last year.

It is therefore left to the Labour party to fight for jobs. Our national five-point plan includes a tax on bank bonuses to fund 100,000 jobs for young people, and a tax break for small and medium-sized businesses. That is exactly where our focus should be: on keeping Britain working. Labour’s real jobs guarantee would help 115 young people in my constituency. Locally, it is our Labour council that is the last line of defence against the cuts. North Lanarkshire council has an action plan, which will get 5,000 people back into work over the next three years, and it is already helping local SMEs. This is the action Labour takes when facing a jobs crisis.

This Government, however, take a different path. They take one that is not fair on women, who are disproportionately affected by this Budget; not fair on young people, many of whom are being left to linger without education, employment or training; not fair on families, who are facing a reduction in child benefit and tax credits at a time when the cost of living is spiralling out of control; and not fair on pensioners, who have now been saddled with additional taxation. So who is it fair on? The answer is the Chancellor’s chums and the Prime Minister’s pals—their dining buddies. This Budget, sadly, contained the same old damaging policies from the same old Tories, helping the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

8.25 pm

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Like so many in the country, I had hoped for a Budget that would put jobs and growth first. Instead, again, we have been left with one that puts the few above the

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many, and the millionaires above the millions, and that does nothing for my constituents—those looking for work and those in work whose living standards are being squeezed and, in some cases, slashed. More than 4,000 people are out of work in West Dunbartonshire and, only last week, we had the shock of being named the most difficult local authority area in the whole of the UK in which to find a job, with 31 people chasing every vacancy. This Budget does nothing to help those people.

The Government have taken jobs out of my constituency, through the moves on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and jobcentre staff, and now they want to close our Remploy factory. Not only that, but they are cutting tax credits, housing benefit and opportunities for people to get back to work. Fuel costs and energy prices are rising, and the Government sit on their hands and do nothing. But with so much of the Budget leaked in advance, there was very little news left on Budget day, except for the granny tax. What is the message there? It is work hard, pay your taxes, plan for your retirement and then lose out to this Government.

Instead of recognising that government has a role to play in spreading wealth and economic prosperity to all parts of the United Kingdom, and supporting public sector jobs in constituencies such as West Dunbartonshire, the Chancellor’s plans for regional or localised pay will exacerbate the problem of wealth being concentrated in the south-east of England, with pay being driven up there and down everywhere else. The answer to the problem of low wages is not to help to drive them down.

The Prime Minister visited West Dunbartonshire on Friday. He visited Aggreko, one of six companies in Scotland in the FTSE 100 and a world leader in temporary power generation. I am delighted that he did so, because it is an excellent company, but I am very disappointed that he did not stop for an extra 15 minutes to talk to some of my 4,000 unemployed constituents whom this Government are hurting. If he could give us just a little notice the next time he visits, we will have a whip round and perhaps get access to some of his time.

The Chancellor’s plans are bad for our economic prosperity, and I live in hope that one day the Secretary of State for Scotland, and perhaps the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will do the right thing, stand up for the people they represent and oppose these plans. One of the first things the Labour party did after coming to government in 1997 was to deliver devolution and the Scottish Parliament, which should give Scots protection from the worst excesses of the Tories while ensuring that Scotland remains a strong part of the United Kingdom. What is the Scottish National party doing now that it has a majority in the Scottish Government? I am very disappointed that SNP Members have not been in the Chamber today. There is no doubt that my constituency is suffering; it has the highest number of jobseekers per vacancy and the second highest youth unemployment rate in Scotland, but just in recent weeks we have been excluded from the Scottish Government’s new enterprise zones and allocated exactly no money from their youth unemployment strategy fund. I really hope that my eyes are deceiving me and that the allocation of that grant is not linked to the upcoming Scottish elections. For too long, the SNP has been promising that everything would be fine if Scotland were to separate. The truth is that the SNP is not helping the people of West Dunbartonshire now and will not do so in the future.

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Finally, I wish to say that this Government are, unfortunately, as blinkered as the Scottish Government when it comes to their plans for broadband. Yet again, they are overlooking areas such as mine, which is not a city and not a rural area; yet again, it is falling between the cracks.

8.29 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I am very grateful for this chance to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I was beginning to lose the power in my legs from sitting for so long.

I get the feeling that a collective amnesia is setting in on the Government side of the Chamber. I thought that after the weekend the realisation would have sunk in that the Chancellor’s Budget took twice as much from pensioners as it did from the rich, but apparently it has not. As a result of the Budget, 4 million pensioners will face a real cut in their income. The rebuttal line I heard yesterday on television programmes from Tory central office was that there is no need to worry because a record increase in pensions is coming along. That piece of spin fails dramatically, however, when one considers that the rise is driven by high inflation. That is why the £5.30 increase will be introduced. That cancels out the benefit and leaves us with 4 million pensioners facing a cut in their income and paying for the cut in the 50p tax rate.

The most difficult part about the Budget is the Chancellor’s lack of humility and stubborn refusal to accept that his economic policy is just plain wrong. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury is here, so I hope that he can take this message back. If we look back at the figures in the March 2011 Budget, we see that the Chancellor said he was going to borrow £146 billion that year and forecast borrowing levels for the next six years. In this Budget he revealed that he is going to borrow £126 billion this year and again put forward his forecast for how much would be needed. All those forecasts were upgraded, which leads us to a situation in which this Government are going to borrow a further £150 billion-plus to feed their economic policies. If that is the Tories’ idea of clearing up a mess, I would not like to see them mucking things up. I must tell hon. Members that in the first draft of this speech the language was slightly different.

The situation brings to mind Winston Churchill’s words, which are particularly appropriate. He said that a politician needs

“the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

Our Chancellor cannot even do that. Last week, he had the brass neck—a Scottish coalfield term—to boast that this year’s borrowing would be £126 billion and would be £1 billion lower than the forecast in autumn 2011. What he failed to tell us was that on the original Budget figures it was £4 billion more than he originally thought he was going to have to borrow. The Tory Budget is a straitjacket for a flawed economic policy. Unemployment is up, borrowing is up and growth is down. We have only to look across the pond to see a different economic model working. The United States of America has taken a different approach to its economic problems and is succeeding with more than double the growth that we expect to see this year.

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I am doing a lot of pruning here to keep within the four minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker, but let me finish with what will be my abiding memory of last week’s Budget—the sight of Liberal Democrats cheering wildly at the Chancellor’s tax cuts. A few weeks ago they sat with their heads bowed and then walked through the Lobby to vote through a Welfare Reform Bill that contained cuts in benefits to cancer patients. They must be very proud. In the words of the American actor, writer and comedian Albert Brooks,

“It is better to be known by six people for something you’re proud of than to be known by 60 million for something you’re not.”

For that reason, I will be voting against the Budget tonight.

8.33 pm

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I would like to address an area that has been eagerly awaited since it was heralded by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—the advice fund. What we actually got was two lines in the Budget, with £20 million for the next two years to help the sector to adapt to the change in the funding environment. Given that a loss of £100 million is anticipated over the next two years, that £20 million does not even cover the 77% reduction in legal aid funding. As the Law Society said, it is a sticking plaster that will not heal the savage wounds caused by these cuts. What the sector needed was sustainable strategic specialist funding. It would have been good if it had been linked to the long-awaited advice review and if real needs had been taken into account; it would have been good if there had been acceptance that early advice saves money—but, no. What we got was a token amount with no strategy and I predict that the number of advice deserts will increase.

The increase in the personal allowance does little for the poorest, who rely on benefits to supplement low-paid work. Council tax benefit and housing benefit claimants will get just £33 a year, for as their income goes up, their benefits go down. Their weekly gain is less than the price of a loaf of bread—63p a week. That is coupled with changes to the working tax credits, whereby some of my constituents will lose £3,870 year. Truly to benefit the poorest and to make work pay, the Government should increase the disregards for council tax benefit and housing benefit and scrap the changes to the working tax credit that will affect thousands of hard-working families.

Moving on to the granny grab and the effect on pensioners, I have to declare an interest: my mum is 83. Every year she calculates her tax, and most years she gets it right and HMRC gets it wrong. I do not know what she felt most insulted by: the freezing of her personal allowance, for which she had saved over a long period of her life, or the excuse that it was a simplification. She asked me to put a comment to the Chancellor that although she may be anniversarily challenged, she is not numerically challenged. As the Chancellor likes simplification, I will tell him what she said. She said, “I might be old, but I’m not stupid.” To do what he did while at the same time reducing the 50p tax rate is the wrong measure at the wrong time.

So much more could have been done in the Budget. The Government could have looked at VAT levels, they could have cut fuel duty—a measure that would have

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helped motorists and the hard-pressed hauliers in my constituency—or they could have looked at jobs for young people. Instead, taxes have been cut for the richest 1% of earners. This Budget has the wrong priorities at the wrong time. It is a Budget of failure, not of success. The biggest failure of all is this out-of-touch Government’s failure to understand the priorities and the struggles of the millions of ordinary people who live in areas such as my Wigan constituency, and instead to prioritise giving rewards to the rich.

8.36 pm

Fiona O’Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate, having been out yesterday in sunny Gillan in my constituency, speaking to voters. Gillan has more than its fair share of millionaires, but the people I met and who needed help were mainly young people searching for work.

I give some credit to the Government for a positive element of the Budget in the form of loans for young people to set themselves up in business, and I hope that many of the enterprising young people in East Lothian take advantage of that. I have concerns, however, because in Scotland to be successful people will need, first, skills and, secondly, support. The reality, however, is that the Scottish National party Government are making swingeing cuts to further education, reducing access and opportunities for young people, and at the same time making cuts to local government, which has responsibility for delivering the business gateway. I hope that the Government will enter into discussions in Scotland to make sure that young people are not saddled with debt and bad experiences of failing—

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Fiona O’Donnell: I will, but I will not take the extra time.

Danny Alexander: I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Lady just said. Does she agree with me that the increasing centralisation of services in Scotland stops councils and communities such as hers and mine taking the action needed to support young people back into work?

Fiona O’Donnell: In my area the greatest inhibition to young people gaining work is the lack of work—the lack of available jobs. That is something for which the Chief Secretary must take some responsibility. The number of young people in my constituency unemployed for more than six months has increased more than 120% in the past year. Although the numbers are small, that is starting to have a real effect in East Lothian, with young people not feeling that they have a future.

Culture, the arts and tourism are also important to our local economy. There is a relevant measure in the Budget. I will not take another intervention, but I hope that the Chief Secretary will respond to my concern about the effect of the removal of exemption from VAT for listed buildings. We have some beautiful villages. Will it be only the rich who can afford to live in a listed building? The churches in many of our villages, which

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are so important to community life, will also be affected by the measure. I hope that we will at least learn the rate at which VAT will be charged on listed buildings.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), I watched the sickening sight of the Lib Dems waving their Order Papers at the announcement of the increase in the threshold for tax on Wednesday. It is as though the Lib Dems can hold on to only one policy at a time, and the almost sadistic parent, the Tory partner in Government, distracted them with this one policy. In the meantime the child, who almost has an obsessive compulsion to focus on this one policy, failed to see the overall impact of the Budget on families in my constituency, who have little to celebrate.

If the Deputy Prime Minister is going to think about who he will invite to dinner, I would like him to invite the 225 families in my constituency who will be worse off because of the change in the rules for entitlement to working tax credit. To think that these families can go out and find those extra hours to keep their entitlement is simply not to understand the real world. At the same time, they are seeing their child benefit frozen. I wonder whether the Chief Secretary can give us some clarification, because it is not a simplification in child benefit for high earners, that is for sure. What will happen in a family when one parent earns £51,000 and one earns £151,000? Which income will be considered? Is it the higher income in every case?

Danny Alexander indicated assent.

Fiona O’Donnell: That is even more unfair. Two parents earning just over the threshold will be disadvantaged compared with two parents earning incredibly high incomes.

The morning before the Budget, I listened to Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. The appeal that was made to the Chancellor was that this should be a Budget which— I believe it was a quote from holy scripture—left those who have much not with too much, and those who have little not with too little. I regret that the Chancellor clearly was not listening to that message and that he has let down the most vulnerable in my constituency.

8.42 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Mr Speaker, can you believe it? I do not mean the fact that the price of my petrol is going up and the price of my pasty is going up. No, I am asking whether you can believe how many or how few are here. Of course, SNP Members are not here yet again. We have a Budget only once a year and there are two Tory Back Benchers and two Liberal Back Benchers. They have probably come in a taxi. Looking at them, you might see Tories and Liberals, but I see Lincoln, Burnley, Redcar and Stafford—I see four Labour gains. Those four hon. Members are enjoying their last days on those green Benches. Why are the rest of them hidden away? I will tell you. It is because there are only two things that resonate in this Budget, and the first is growth.

Last year the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor told us that growth this year would be 2.5%, but they have reduced it to 0.8% in a year. Something tells me, therefore, that the policies are not working. They said last year that the national debt would come down—all the cuts

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were to bring the national debt down—but this year they say the national debt will go up next year, the year after and the year after that. That is the policy that they have put forward. It does not need any more complication. Growth is virtually not happening.

But there is something far worse for our communities. The cuts that we have heard about, the cuts that we have fought against, have hardly begun. The real cuts come next year. This is the Government’s Achilles heel, but it is also ours because it will hurt people across the country, including in my constituency. It will be the market towns, the traditional Tory areas, that take the brunt of the cuts because what that lot are doing, like most Governments, is make cuts and centralise. They are removing jobs from towns such as Retford in my constituency. For the first time those small market towns are taking a disproportionate number of the cuts, with jobs going and the relocation of people in order, allegedly, to save money by putting them in one office. Who is going to spend to support the small businesses that are trying to make a living, or for the potential new small businesses, in those market towns?

That is one Achilles heel, but the Government have another that they have hidden and that has not been exposed: draw-down pensions. Most of the 300,000 pensioners who will be affected do not realise that, because of quantitative easing and the failure to put a counterbalance in the Budget, and because gilts are at an all-time low, draw-down pensions are being hugely cut. Let me give an example from my constituency.

A fairly well-to-do couple who have worked hard over the years have been retired for 14 years on a good pension. Their private pension of £30,000 a year between them has been cut overnight in the past month to £13,000 by the Government Actuary’s Department. That is a 60% cut in their pension. That is what the Government have done, but they have failed to address the problem in the Budget. It is a nightmare for pensioners such as those. Most of the 300,000 draw-down pensioners do not know that this reduction is coming because they are informed of changes on a three-year cycle. I challenge the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on this point. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to sort it out, or are those people going to lose 60% of their pension because of your being in power this year?

Mr Speaker: I am not in power. I call Michael Meacher.

8.46 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): The central aim of this Budget should clearly have been to get growth going again in this country at all costs, and to do it in the fairest way possible. However, the Office for Budget Responsibility has made it clear in its predictions that the Budget will have no material effect on the prospect of stagnant growth. The difference between here and the United States is that the Obama Administration stimulated the economy in exactly the way that Labour did in its last two stimulatory Budgets in 2009-10, and the US economy is now growing and unemployment is falling.

The fact is that there are two ways of cutting the deficit. The Chancellor’s way involves weaker growth, which means lower tax receipts and higher benefit spending. Dragging down aggregate demand—a crucial factor—pulls down growth another notch, and the whole downward

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spiral starts again. There is a real risk of that happening, because only 6% of the benefit cuts have taken effect; 94% are still to come. Indeed, that is exactly what happened when the ridiculous experiment with expansionary fiscal contraction was tried, twice, during the past 100 years of this country’s history. The Geddes Axe in 1923 and the May Committee in 1931 stifled growth, made unemployment rocket and stalled recovery all the way to the second world war.

The alternative is a jobs and growth strategy, which many Labour Members are continually emphasising. Such a strategy would put the unemployed directly back to work, reduce benefit spending and have a direct impact on growth in a way that quantitative easing and credit easing will never do. The only argument that the Chancellor has used against that proposal is that the bond markets would never stand for a rise in expenditure that increased the deficit.

In this Budget, however, it is simply not fiscally neutral to give away £3 billion to the super-rich, when there is not a shred of evidence to support the Treasury myth that tax avoiders will meekly come flooding back home from Bermuda and Monaco to pay their taxes because of a 5p cut. The Chancellor has chosen to give away another £1.5 billion to big business through the 2% cut in corporation tax, although the businesses are already sitting on an unprecedented stash of £700 billion. That equates to half of Britain’s GDP, which they are not spending. Why? Because there is no growth, and no demand in the economy. That £4.5 billion that the Chancellor has wasted on his super-rich friends and businesses could have been used instead, without any disturbance to the bond markets, to generate 250,000 jobs. That could have begun to mark the beginning of the turnaround of the British economy, which everyone, including the City, is now desperate to achieve.

I want to say one last thing about fairness. Before the election the current Chancellor said that he would not dream of cutting the 50p rate of tax if he expected people to accept a pay freeze in order to protect their jobs, but after the election the façade was dropped. It is not just the common or garden rich earning merely £3,000 a week who will be getting it; it goes right the way up to Bob Diamond on £300,000 a week.

8.50 pm

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): The preamble to the Budget was brilliantly set out by the Business Secretary, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), when he suggested that the Government have no “compelling vision” and no plans for a strategy for growth. Last week, in a remarkable sign of joined-up government, the Chancellor sought to lay out the absence of a compelling vision. We know from the growth projections set out by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which has an unfortunate habit of being optimistic, that this is the slowest economic recovery on record. In terms of recovering our pre-crash levels of output, it is slower even than the great depression of the 1930s.

We have heard much about the Budget being fiscally neutral, but I suggest that it is also a growth-neutral Budget, for we have a clear post-Budget forecast, also provided by the OBR. Its verdict is a paltry revision upward of 1%—[Hon. Members: “0.1%”] That is even worse—one tenth. The contrast with countries taking the challenge of recession seriously could not be starker.

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In America, employment and business confidence is up, with the economy growing at twice the rate of our own, thanks to the interventions of the Obama Government. We know that the Prime Minister likes to be tucked up tight on Air Force One, but I suggest that he should also ask for a bedtime story from the President on how to grow an economy out of recession.

Instead, we have the fiscal stimulus of a cut in the 50p top rate of tax, based on some dodgy assumptions about economic behaviour and incentives. While millionaires and dining companions of the Prime Minister will get a £40,000 tax cut—“Bosh”, as Mr Peter Cruddas might put it—hard-pressed families will be pushed into poverty. In Stoke-on-Trent there are 1,220 hard-working families who, in less than a fortnight, stand to lose all their working tax credit if they cannot extend their hours from 16 to 24, and that is before we get on to the raid on pensioners. Like the previous Labour Chancellor, I am not wedded to the 50p tax rate. Governments generally should not be in the business of taking half the earnings of their citizens, but now is not the time to make this cut. It is the wrong choice at the wrong moment.

The Budget also fails to help our manufacturing base. What manufacturers in my constituency need now is support for investment, capital allowances for energy-efficient technologies and support for co-fund technology demonstrators. We are still waiting for details from the autumn statement on the package of measures for energy-intensive industries. We must ensure that our leading manufacturers, such as ceramics firms in my constituency, are not driven out of the UK.

I have a few last points. First, I welcome the decision on place-of-consumption reforms for internet gambling. This is big news for Stoke-on-Trent and we are happy to host Bet365.com, which pays its taxes in the UK rather than going offshore. However, there is no need for this reform to wait until December 2014; it should come in earlier. On the negative side, the decision to remove the zero rate of VAT on approved alterations to listed buildings is a real error. When that is combined with forthcoming planning reforms, it speaks of a Government with little feel for the natural and historic environment of this country. What we needed was a pro-growth plan, not a growth-neutral Budget, and the Government failed to deliver it.

8.54 pm

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): This Budget is based on the old Tory adage, “If you want to make the rich work harder, pay them more; if you want to make the poor work harder, pay them less”, with the added twist of clobbering the old at the same time. But its real disgrace is the way in which the Liberal Democrats rolled over and agreed to the cut in the 50p tax rate.

When The Daily Telegraph 500 first wrote their infamous plea for a cut in that rate—

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Paul Blomfield: No, I will not give way—any more than the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) did when I tried to intervene on him on that point.

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When that letter was written, Lord Newby, the Liberal Democrat tax spokesperson, was quick to reject the appeal, but unfortunately the orange book clique that now runs the party won the day, and we should not be surprised. Back in March 2010, before the general election, the now Deputy Prime Minister boasted to The Spectator that his politics were defined by his belief in “freedom from tax” and in a smaller state.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Paul Blomfield: No, I will not give way.

What happened to the party of Paddy Ashdown, whom I remember celebrating taxation as

“the subscription we pay to live in a civilised society”?

The Liberal Democrats are hiding their shame for backing the tax handout for the rich behind the fig leaf of the rise in the tax threshold. They claim, as the right hon. Member for Bath did earlier, that it helps the poorest—

Ian Swales: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Paul Blomfield: No, I will not give way. The Liberal Democrats would not give way to me on this point earlier.

The Liberal Democrats claim that the rise in the tax threshold is a progressive measure that helps the poorest; the truth is that it is not and never has been. We were reminded by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) at Prime Minister’s questions last week that the cause was originally championed from the right of the Conservative party by Norman Tebbit, but it was rejected even by the Thatcher Government as unjustifiable. It gives the same cash benefit to somebody earning £10,000 as to somebody earning £100,000—[ Interruption . ]Members should listen to this point. It gives a tax handout to, for example,every Member of this House. We, frankly, are not among those most in need; at this time, people such as us and those who earn more do not need a payout. The cruellest trick is to pretend that it is a progressive measure.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies looked at the impact of lifting the personal allowance and stated, first, that

“the poorest third of adults do not benefit at all”;

secondly, for families, that

“the highest average gain occurs in the second-richest tenth of the income distribution”;

and concluded that the assertion that increasing the personal allowance is progressive

“is not true if one considers the gains across all families”.

This Budget fails the test of fairness, it fails the test of growing the economy and it should fail to win the support of this House.

8.57 pm

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Last week’s Budget did little to address the current issues of a flatlining economy and rising unemployment. In my constituency long-term youth unemployment has increased by 137% in the past six months, with 13 people chasing every job, and there is the highest unemployment rate for women in 17 years. Housing repossessions have increased by 10%, with more than 300 mortgage and landlord repossession claims this year. Those are the tragic consequences of that devastating economic policy and ideologically driven cuts.

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The Chancellor put a positive spin on a worsening economic and fiscal forecast, when in reality he is meeting his borrowing forecast this year only because the £5 billion lost in tax receipts has been offset by a more than £6 billion under-spend in Government. He failed to disclose last week that, at a time when nursing posts are being cut, waiting times are increasing and there is an unprecedented top-down reorganisation costing billions of pounds, that figure includes £500 million being clawed back from the NHS.

According to independent analysis, the Budget includes £900 million less for the NHS than the 2010-11 comprehensive spending review, with £500 million being used on the deficit reduction programme. With increases in debt interest, rising public sector pension costs and social security payments, it is estimated that annual management expenditure will grow by 1.8% a year in real terms, leaving the total pot for public services falling by 3.8% a year in real terms in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The Chancellor appears to be storing up further pain for an already beleaguered public sector while failing to address the real issues of the financial sector, and he has also failed small businesses. Instead of cutting corporation tax, which benefits the largest companies, in the hope—and it is just a hope—that that will lead to business investment, why did he not delay the rise in business rates? His latest scheme to boost credit to small businesses whereby banks pay a fee to the Treasury to access £20 billion-worth of funding at a low rate, in turn passing it on to SMEs for cheaper loans, suffers from serious design flaws. First, the £20 billion is to be released over two years. Secondly, the scheme has no targets. The previous attempt to boost lending to small business, Project Merlin, under which the UK’s five biggest banks agreed to make £76 billion of credit available, did not achieve the Government’s goals, even though it had targets attached, and the new plan is not compulsory. HSBC has already said that it will not be taking part. The scheme’s biggest flaw is that it does not address the real problems facing businesses. It will not be available to SMEs that have already been refused finance.

I want to record my dismay at the Chancellor’s priority of cutting from 50% to 45% the highest income tax rate for those on incomes of over £150,000. His explanation for doing so was that, because people were so successful in avoiding paying this tax, HMRC had recouped less than anticipated. In other words, he was saying, “Let’s not bother with collecting the tax at this level; let’s reward these people’s behaviour by cutting the rate by 5% and just hope that they see the light.” The Chancellor may say in response that he is clamping down on stamp duty avoidance. However, his commitment to address what he refers to as “morally repugnant” tax avoidance rings hollow given that on the day before the Budget he did a deal with Switzerland to block the EU savings tax directive, which is specifically designed to help to deal with tax evasion. Through that bilateral deal, the Chancellor has, in effect, set up a tax loophole that any dodgy accountant would be proud of in allowing people to carry on evading paying their tax.

9.1 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): In my constituency at the weekend, I found that the thing that really stuck in the craw of my constituents was not that the Government had avoided making choices but that they had made the wrong choices, on the wrong

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things, in a really unfair way. Last week, Government Members were not waving their Order Papers in support of a Budget that redistributed from the have-a-lots to the have-nots. The have-a-lots did very well out of it, as we know from the changes to the top rate of tax. To the extent that there was any redistribution to the have-nots, it was from the have-a-bits, and when that happened, the have-nots got hit anyway by the fact that the VAT increase is still in place and by the cuts in services that will be taking place in the coming years. Government Members might think that they avoided a cliff edge in relation to child benefit, but I rather suspect that over the coming months and years they will witness a slow-motion car crash as the anomalies and inequities become clearer.

On growth and innovation, the Government did not get it all wrong; they have done some useful stuff in relation to the creative industries. I am pleased that they have listened to the motor manufacturers and others who have been calling for an R and D tax credit above the line and for that to be expanded. The Government have got that right, and I welcome that; I just hope that they get on and do it quickly. However, they could be doing so much more to stimulate innovation and growth. I do not share the view of Mr Peter Cruddas, who thinks that the way to make one’s business awesome is to give £250,000 to the Conservative party and allow the party to trouser it. There are other ways to do it, such as making more significant changes to credit or getting demand up. Government Members need to think again about whether blanket cuts in corporate tax are going to add to growth, because that treats businesses that make things and innovate in exactly the same way as businesses that only make profits. Just saying that the bank levy has gone up does not address that fundamental problem.

I take it with a pinch of salt, therefore, when the Chancellor boasts that the corporation tax changes leave our corporation tax rate 8% lower than Germany’s. We have a lot to learn from what Germany has done over many years. It has networked industrial and finance capital, and has had consistently higher investment and consistently higher rates of growth. That will happen in the future as well. When the Chancellor boasts of protecting the science budget, I want to know why Britain cannot ensure that there is a 10% increase in the science budget, as Germany will in the years ahead.

The director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering has said that

“simply reversing cuts isn’t going to be a game-changer for the UK. We need to be far more ambitious if we’re serious about having a high-tech future.”

I am serious about that, as are Opposition Members. The Budget, frankly, is not serious about that.

9.5 pm

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Let me be clear from the outset that this is a Budget from a Government who are intent on dividing Britain, pitting the private sector against the public sector and one part of the country against another.

However, I congratulate the Chancellor on one thing: he did not divide the press on the Budget. Remarkably, he united the press in universal condemnation of its unfairness. At a time when my constituents are seeing their living standards decline, it beggars belief that the

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Government are prioritising a tax cut for the richest people in our country. Some 14,000 millionaires will be more than £40,000 better off. I wonder whether it is really a coincidence that many of those in the Conservatives’ “premier league” Downing street dining club have done so well out of the Budget.

I want to tackle head-on the arguments that the Chancellor has made to justify the tax cut for the wealthiest. I do not think that the tax rate should be set in stone, but any decision to change it should be based on the evidence, not on ideology.

Ian Swales: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Emma Reynolds: No.

As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said, it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of the 50p tax rate on the basis of one year alone. Many high-income earners brought forward a lot of their income to avoid the higher tax burden. Having pored over the document by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on the effect of the 50p tax rate, I can tell Government Members that it is a really good read. The conclusion is that the behavioural responses to the 50p tax rate are highly uncertain and hard to assess. When changing the tax rate, the taxable income elasticity is particularly difficult to estimate. The evidence that Government Members posit with such confidence simply is not there.

The Chancellor claims that the rich will pay five times more than they do at the moment. However, the much-trumpeted increase in stamp duty and the new revenue from behavioural change will fall short of that. He is not only living on a different planet; he is living in a different universe. If the Government are serious about shifting the tax burden from income to wealth, that is something that we will look at. However, if they are serious about it, why did the Chancellor not introduce something systematic? Indeed, why did the Liberal Democrats not push harder for a mansion tax?

The last fantastical claim by the Chancellor is that top earners will suddenly unleash jobs and growth in our country because of the tax change. That is patently absurd. It is an ideological double standard to claim that to incentivise the rich to work harder we have to make them richer, but to incentivise the poor to work harder we have to make them poorer. [ Interruption. ] If the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) wants to go back to the Foreign Office, it would make it better for all of us.

The Budget not only fails the fairness test, but fails to tackle the unemployment crisis that my constituents and millions of people across the country are facing. When we left office, unemployment was falling. Now, tragically, youth unemployment is at an all-time high with more than 1 million young people unemployed. European Governments in Austria and Finland have brought in a youth guarantee fund like that proposed by the Opposition.

The Budget has failed the fairness test and will create a divided Britain. The mask of compassionate conservatism has definitely slipped off. The Budget brings into sharp relief what we have known all along—it is the same old policies and the same old Tories.

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9.9 pm

Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): I want to use the brief time that I have to talk about the effect that regional pay will have on my constituency in the north-east.

Regional pay fixes the wrong problem and addresses the symptom, not the cause, of some of the problems in our region. The pay gap in the north-east is not the result of a thriving public sector but the legacy of industrial decline and the loss of high-wage jobs in recent decades. The biggest employer in Middlesbrough now is not the steel industry or the chemical industry but the university, which is investing in skills and the future of our young people. That is the right balance for us at the moment. We need to improve skills and build new enterprise, and we cannot do that by cutting public sector pay.

What the Government are doing is classic policy wonkery. They have found an idea from a think-tank and are going to implement it with no research, no investigation and no long-term consideration of its impact.

Jonathan Edwards: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs Chapman: I am afraid I will not.

The Government have managed to do something quite staggering in the north-east—they have united our business community with the trade unions in Darlington and across the region. James Ramsbotham, the head of the north-east chamber of commerce, agrees with the trade unions and says of regional pay:

“The major issue with this is that the Government should be working towards making the economy more equal across the regions and not entrenching further disparity by reducing spending power in the North East.”

He hits the nail on the head. The fact is, regional or localised pay just will not work. It will not even fix the problem that the Government think they have identified. Why would a private sector company benefit from cuts to the pay of public sector workers in the north-east, who are their customers and the people from whom they gain their income? Where will the money come from to level up private sector pay to the level of the public sector? I notice that the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales), who was so desperate to intervene earlier, is in his place and is now not attempting to intervene. I wonder whether he will vote to lower his constituents’ pay when he gets the opportunity.

Regional pay will take between £500 million and £1 billion out of the north-east each year. It fixes the wrong problem. The private sector does need to grow, with new enterprises, investments and skills, but regional pay will cause new problems. We already have recruitment difficulties in the north-east for senior public sector posts, and we have lost health services in Darlington because we have been unable to recruit consultants with the right skills mix for the town. That situation will only be made worse.

A graduate doctor coming out of university with considerable debts will want to maximise their income and locate themselves where they can earn the most money and get their debts paid off as quickly as they can. That will probably not be in my constituency in future. The mobility of public sector workers is often regarded as a problem. How will regional pay improve it?

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This Budget provides tax cuts for the rich and pay cuts for the north, and it will cost more in tax credits and benefits to supplement the incomes of many workers in the public sector who are not well paid. Regional pay is also a bureaucratic nightmare, as the very policy think-tank that came up with it recognises. In the north-east, average pay is £19,000 a year. Just how low do the Government want it to be?

9.13 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): We had a culture-themed—if not cultured—introduction to the debate, and this is a remake Budget. It is certainly not “Chariots of Fire”, more “Upstairs Downstairs”. Upstairs, a £3 billion handout and the tax level down to 45% from 50% for those earning more than £150,000 per annum. That is £10,000 for 300,000 people and £40,000 for 14,000 millionaires. What does that buy? I refer Members to the fees for the Conservative party donor club. It is £10,000 for basic entry, but for £50,000 people can get a seat at the captain’s table. They get to meet the Prime Minister himself. I do not know why people were being asked for £250,000, because those figures were in the statement from Tory party headquarters.

Downstairs, there is the highest unemployment for 17 years. As for the working poor—they are what downstairs is all about—many, many people will lose more in benefits than is offset by the rise in the basic tax allowance. Then there are the changes in housing benefit such as the bedroom tax—a cut of up to 25% for having more than one bedroom. I know a widow who has been waiting eight years for a smaller house near her family. She has two extra bedrooms and so faces a 25% cut in her housing benefit because of this Government.

Then there are tax credits. I was on the Committee that debated the Tax Credits Up-rating Regulations 2012 on 8 March. Section 4 provides that if an income falls by £2,500, no increase in tax credits will be paid. So if someone is on short time or their company has problems and they lose £2,500, they will get nothing extra. That means poverty for many people and will leave them unable to feed themselves and their children. There is also a general tax credit cut of £3,700 for most people and child benefit cuts for middle-income families. There is also the threat of regional pay for public servants.

That is all in this Budget package. Not content with attacking working people, the Government have also introduced the gran and grandad tax—not just granny tax—through cutting £3 billion of support in tax allowances for over-65-year-old citizens. That is what they are—citizens who have paid into this country for all that time. I am talking about 370,000 Scottish pensioners. It will not just be a Tory wipe-out at the next election; it will be a Liberal Democrat and Tory wipe-out in Scotland next time round.

And of course there was a sleight of hand. There have been £500 million in NHS efficiency savings. Is that going back into the NHS to pay for increased services? No. It has been taken by the Treasury. That will mean a £50 million cut in the Scottish budget because of the Barnett formula and the £500 million reduction in spending on the NHS in England.

These attacks are not justified by any benefits to the economy. The Government admitted that they will have to borrow £150 billion more because of the rising level

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of unemployment and the failure of the economy to grow. On the Budget prescriptions, credit easing has been running for six months and not one single business has taken up the credit easing that is now the Budget’s panacea for businesses.

What about operation Merlin? Some £10 billion less than was borrowed before has actually been borrowed in the last year by small businesses. I have found in my constituency that banks are foreclosing on deals they have already made with small business to get some of their debts back.

The Budget will not stop the crash. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that business investment will fall by 6.8% this year and by a further 2.5% next year. This might, in fact, be a remake of “Titanic” rather than just “Upstairs Downstairs”.

9.17 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Any speech on the Budget must begin by reminding Members of what was not mentioned in last Wednesday’s statement: the fact that real economic decisions were made years ago, when the London parties began to introduce major cuts and participate in their own Dutch auction in the run-up to the 2010 general election.

The Chancellor has argued that it is possible to achieve something called “expansionary financial contraction”, under which the economy grows while Government spending is cut. The poster boys for such a strategy are rare. Commentators have pointed to Canada in the 1990s and the Republic of Ireland before that. What these examples had in common, however, was that their fiscal contraction came at the same time as others were enjoying growth. Our major trading partner, the EU, is in some difficulty, and therefore this is a very risky strategy. If we need any proof of that, let us remember that when the coalition in London began in 2010 expected growth for this year, according to the then newly founded OBR, was 2.8%. On Wednesday, however, the OBR said that growth this year would only be 0.8%. And all this with 90% of the cuts still to come!

Our solution, right from the start of the crisis, was to call for infrastructure spending on roads, hospitals, homes and schools to get people into jobs now and help us in the future. Low interest rates mean that borrowing is as cheap as we are ever likely to see, and that should be used to invest. We welcomed the announcement in the autumn statement of the national infrastructure plan, which included several elements of what we included in our build for Wales programme. I note, however, from the announcement on Wednesday, that the purported figure of £25 billion in the pot to be raised on pension funds has been knocked down slightly.

Something that is likely to hit the Welsh economy in particular is the continued progress of plans towards regional pay for public sector workers. Major employers, such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions, will apparently be in a position to make such a choice later this year. We saw from the pay bands introduced in the Courts Service by Labour in 2007 that Wales and other low-wage economies in the British state are likely to be hit. Although I fully agree that the private sector needs to be helped in Wales, I do not think we will do that by cutting public sector pay.

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It was disappointing that the Chancellor once again ignored our calls for a meaningful fuel duty regulator to stop price hikes at the pump. Working families and rural families spend more of their disposable income on travel, so we need to give them all the help that we can, while at the same time developing greener travel alternatives. Sadly, much of what I would have liked to see in the Budget is not there—ideas to create jobs through investment, a windfall tax on energy profits to improve housing and a U-turn on the major cuts. I would also like savings to be made by ending the higher rate relief on pensions, and a Twm Siôn Cati tax on international currency transactions should raise about £16 billion, which we could invest. I would predominantly like to see the Treasury scrap the unjust housing revenue account subsidy scheme in Wales—the only part of the British state where it operates—which means £80 million being taken from the poorest communities in Wales.

The last three decades have shown that the alternative to the austerity cuts will not come by changing the colour of the Government down here in London. The only hope for the people of Wales is for us to break the economic cycle and take on greater responsibility for our own future—to develop our economy, invest where we think is right and fight for a better Wales.

9.20 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Time is short, so I shall not repeat what my hon. Friends have said about the disgraceful robbing of pensioners to pay for a tax cut for the rich or the terrifying lack of a growth strategy to help the unemployed, or about how Government Members have avoided saying that raising the personal allowance is costing a lot of money, much of which will benefit those higher up the pay scales, whereas tax credits, which they are cutting, target money much more effectively on lower-income households.

I will therefore turn straight to my concern about the imposition of VAT on approved alterations to listed buildings, which unfortunately the right hon. Member for the historic city of Bath (Mr Foster) left until last in his speech, which meant that he ran out of time. On Friday, together with other members of the Llanelli Railway Goods Shed Trust, I met the team of architects that will conduct a feasibility study on ways to bring that historic listed building back into use and give it a new lease of life, while on Saturday I joined the Friends of Cwrt Farm to help clear ivy off the walls of that historic building. Both groups are worried about the potential VAT changes, which will affect the preservation of our historic buildings. They are concerned about the change in the Budget—described by the Chancellor as just closing a loophole—to abolish zero rated VAT on approved alterations to listed buildings and instead make such alterations subject to the full VAT rate of 20%.