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Mr Kevan Jones: Such as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood)?

Stephen Doughty: Indeed, indeed.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor pointed out today, it was Labour that supported, and indeed beat down, successive cuts in the main rate of corporation tax, which fell from 33% in 1997 to 28% in 2010. Given that the rate today is 21%, however, we cannot justify another cut for bigger businesses when so many small and medium-sized businesses are under pressure. We want to see a cut that would benefit 1.5 million businesses throughout the UK, and in Wales we are already leading the way in that regard.

A moment ago, I mentioned the success of the Jobs Growth Wales scheme. I want to highlight that success, because there is a big contrast between it and, say, the failures of the Work programme introduced by this Government. As I said earlier, the Government cut the future jobs fund when they came to office. We in Wales, under a Labour Government, chose a different way, without which far too many young people would otherwise be missing out on opportunities for growth, development and experience. They would be sitting idly at home, rather than being out there developing skills and contributing to the economy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) has recently done some excellent work on youth unemployment and highlighted that 900,000 young people throughout the country receive unemployment benefits for more than a year—a figure that has doubled under the Government. Again, it is a tale of two approaches. Obviously, we want the jobs guarantee to be funded by a bankers bonus tax, learning from the example of schemes in Wales.

I have strongly supported a living wage for some time. I congratulate Cardiff council, which has introduced a living wage and Cardiff university, which took the bold step of introducing the living wage following campaigning by many organisations such as Citizens UK to bring people’s wages up so that they can earn more and cope with the cost of living, and ultimately contribute more to the taxation system and the economy. I am disappointed that the Bill does not make any plans to boost wages such as the Opposition’s proposals to incentivise firms to pay the living wage by giving a 12-month tax rebate of up to £1,000 for every low-paid worker who gets a rise. Increased tax and national insurance contributions raised from employees receiving higher wages would fund that scheme. That is about a race to the top. It is about building people up and getting them off social security and into better paid jobs, rather than the Government’s race to the bottom.

Tax avoidance generated some strong remarks from the Chief Secretary when I mentioned it. This morning, we heard that the Business Secretary has lost taxpayers billions in the Royal Mail fiasco. We need to look increasingly carefully at the Government’s great claims about tax avoidance and how much they will get back in various deals and schemes. I only wish that they had spent as much time in the past three years on measures to stop people avoiding tax as they have on cutting taxes for the richest.

I want to respond to the Chief Secretary’s comments. Despite the Bill’s numerous clauses and instruments on tax avoidance, which, I am sure, will be interesting to

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debate, the amount of uncollected tax rose last year. The Swiss tax deal will raise only a quarter of what the Chancellor claimed when he added it to his autumn statement. Many Opposition Members will treat with scepticism any future big claims about billions that will come from such deals when they are not delivered.

Tax avoidance is significant for the country’s finances and is also regularly raised with me locally. Ordinary taxpayers and businesses throughout the country are concerned about companies and individuals engaging in aggressive tax avoidance and tax avoidance schemes, and about individuals who fritter away this economy’s wealth in tax havens and through other loopholes, rather than contributing.

I will examine the provisions closely and follow the debates with interest. I am unlikely to serve on the Finance Bill Committee this year, although I enjoyed it greatly last year. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] Indeed, it is a shame. We need to continue to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on tax avoidance. Many of our constituents would want us to do that.

The general anti-avoidance rule has been introduced and there are new schemes about accelerating receipts, but will they generate more money for the Exchequer? It is all well and good to introduce them faster—we all want that—but will more money be raised? A recent report in the Financial Times stated that the Office for Budget Responsibility originally hoped that the tax system would collect revenues worth 38.8% of national income in 2014-15, but that figure has been progressively revised down to 37%. We have to treat some of the Government’s claims about tax revenues and receipts with great caution.

This Finance Bill does nothing to tackle the cost of living crisis that many of my constituents are facing. It does very little to support the small and medium-sized businesses that are crying out for help, and it is continuing with out-of-touch policies such as millionaires tax cuts. Instead of learning from the economic and employment successes of the Labour Government in Wales, this Government are continuing to attack and to smear that Government. They would do far better to learn from them.

4.5 pm

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): This Finance Bill represents another step in clearing up the mess left by the previous Government. Most of my constituents know that a standard of living that depends on borrowing from the bank and running up credit card bills will eventually be reduced when people have to start paying off the debts. That is what we had under the previous Government. The Opposition are trying to con the public—

Mr Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Ian Swales: Just a moment; I have only managed a couple of sentences. The Opposition are trying to con the public into believing that the cost of living can remain the same, regardless of the history and of the amount of money that was left behind.

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Mr Jones: I put this question to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury earlier. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Liberal Democrats ever opposed the previous Government’s spending plans? Did they ever say that we should have been spending less?

Ian Swales: Unfortunately, I was not here during the last Parliament, but I have read a great deal of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), now the Business Secretary, said at the time. He was warning of the difficulties many years before they actually arose. I am quite certain that our party was watching the situation carefully, and that it could see what was happening.

There is a growing myth, which was repeated by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who is no longer in his place—[Hon. Members: “He is here.”] My apologies; he is in a different place. That myth has also been repeated in the Opposition’s reasoned amendment, which states that

“working people are £1,600 a year worse off”.

Even the Institute for Fiscal Studies would admit that that is to do with gross income; it is not to do with net income, and it is not the amount by which people are worse off. Even the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) pointed that out in his speech. One reason why people are not worse off by that amount is that there has been a large cut in income tax. That was a high priority for the Liberal Democrats, and I am delighted that in a few days’ time people will have experienced a £700 tax cut since the general election. The Bill includes another £100 for basic rate taxpayers.

Julie Hilling: Would the hon. Gentleman like to mention the 24 tax rises that his Government have introduced, including the massive hike in VAT?

Ian Swales: I will come on to some of those tax rises in a moment. I am just saying that working people are not £1,600 worse off, as the Labour amendment suggests. There is no expert who says that they are.

This Government’s tax cut has reduced inequality. It has been praised by the Living Wage Foundation as reducing the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage, and I am proud that my party has driven it through in this Parliament. It is also good that the Budget shows that there will be real growth in household disposable income from now on.

Sheila Gilmore: Would the hon. Gentleman admit that, for many low-paid workers, the increase in the tax threshold over the past few years has been more than cancelled out by the cuts in tax credits, the freezing of child benefit and other changes? In fact, the Government have given with one hand and taken away with the other.

Ian Swales: Everyone is in a different situation, but it is certainly not true to say that, for more people, the Government have given with one hand and taken away with the other. The hon. Lady should know that.

The Opposition’s reasoned amendment also mentions a “tax cut for millionaires”. This is from a party whose former Business Secretary said that he was

“intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.

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And it showed in what the Labour Government did for 13 years: the top rate of income tax was 5% lower than it is now until 6 April 2010, the very last day Labour Members sat on the Government Benches—until then they cut taxes for millionaires every year they were in power; capital gains tax was 10% lower, meaning that hedge fund managers in the City had a lower tax rate than those cleaning their offices; tax relief was available on pension contributions of £250,000 a year, whereas the current figure is £40,000—the difference is £100,000 in tax; and VAT was 2.5% lower, making a top Ferrari £5,000 cheaper—that is what was actually happening for millionaires.

Mr Kevan Jones: What about Lamborghinis?

Ian Swales: It was the same for Lamborghinis.

Mark Tami: The hon. Gentleman said that he was not here when the previous Government were in office and indeed he was not, but does he recall standing for election when the Liberal Democrats had a poster talking about the “VAT bombshell”? Does he actually remember that?

Ian Swales: I do remember that, but I would make some comments about it. First, at that time we had not seen the note left by the previous Chief Secretary to the Treasury saying that there was no money left. Secondly, and unfortunately, the Liberal Democrats were 269 short of an overall majority at the last election, so we did not have the power to implement our manifesto. Thirdly, VAT is a good, progressive way of raising money from the wealthy. [Hon. Members: “No it is not.”] I suggest hon. Members do the maths and have a look. I suggest that those who doubt that talk to someone on the minimum wage and ask them how much standard rate VAT they think they are paying, given that there is no standard rate VAT on their housing costs, food, energy and utility bills, children’s clothing, public transport, TV licence and insurance. Standard rate VAT is not paid on any of those items.

After the number of enforcement and compliance staff in HMRC was slashed by 10,000 by the previous Government there was such a culture of tax avoidance that six years ago a Radio 1 DJ thought it was fine to pretend to be a second-hand car dealer in order to avoid paying £1 million in tax. I am pleased that this Government are doing something about such avoidance, including in that particular case, and overall it is clear that millionaires had a much better time under the Labour Government.

I now wish to discuss some other items in the Bill, the first of which is the marriage tax allowance. That is the only area where I have sympathy with the Opposition amendment, as the measure was not a Lib Dem priority and it does affect only one part of the community. For example, it gives no benefit to a couple who are both on the minimum wage. We did not win the argument there and it is one area where we might have done things differently. The Opposition amendment then makes a comparison with a 10p tax rate—I would have thought they would not have wanted to remind people about the 10p tax rate and the fact that they doubled taxes on the lowest paid in this country, but by reviving it, they revive those memories. It is pretty irrelevant, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies says, because we can simply raise the minimum threshold by half as much and achieve the same effect, or a very similar one. So that

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proposal is something of a red herring and a grim reminder of how Labour ignored the low paid in the previous Parliament.

The amendment also refers to energy bills, and that reminds me of what we often see from the Opposition: writing the headline first and then filling in the detail afterwards—at least that is how it appears. They say that they want to freeze energy prices and they must be pleased at the recent Scottish and Southern Energy announcement, but they should examine the small print, because they would see that it involves the company cancelling investment. Of course, that was highly predictable when the price freeze was first announced. Everyone from the OECD to uSwitch has rubbished the policy, because the price freeze will also freeze investment and freeze the position of the big six. The idea that it will somehow damage the big six is nonsense because, as all observers say, it will freeze out investment by new players. I have six power station projects live in my constituency right now and I can tell hon. Members that this price freeze announcement is totally spooking the financial investors for those projects. Labour’s policy will lead to lower investment, less competition, more risk to supplies, and, ironically, higher prices. If it wishes to persist with this policy, it needs to produce some independent experts who think it is sensible, but I have not yet found one who does.

Despite the fact that the shadow Business Secretary has put his name to the motion, it does not contain a single word about business, which tells us something about Labour’s stance. It also cements its reputation as an anti-business party and shows that it has learned nothing from the fact that, on its watch, manufacturing halved as a proportion of the national economy.

The Budget is good for business. It has been welcomed by the North East chamber of commerce, the Chemical Industries Association, the Federation of Small Businesses and many others. As a north-east MP, I had a lot of sympathy and empathy with what the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) said.

I welcome the £100 million extra for apprenticeships—the number of which has doubled in my constituency. Despite the unemployment position in the north-east, we have, believe it or not, a skills shortage, so those amounts are especially welcome.

I welcome the support for manufacturing. The doubling of capital allowance to £500,000 will help those who wish to invest. As a joint founder of the all-party group on energy-intensive industries, I especially welcome measures to support those industries. We have been congratulated on them by the steel industry, although it would like to see the measures implemented more quickly. I also welcome the support for low-carbon technology in the Budget.

In the end, we must generate jobs, particularly in areas such as the north-east. Over the past year, unemployment in my constituency has come down 22%, youth unemployment by 31% and long-term unemployment by 14%, and they are all significantly lower than they were in May 2010.

I share the concern of the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South about the EU. There was a large inward investment project heading to my constituency last year. We expected it to be signed, but suddenly,

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on 18 September, it was switched to France. I am certain that the uncertainty over our position in the EU was a factor. That was disappointing, but it just shows that all this talk is damaging the economy now and not just in the future.

I am pleased that the Finance Bill includes another round of tax-avoidance measures. The Government have taken many steps in that regard, but there are many more still to take. I welcome the publication a couple of weeks ago of the base erosion and profit shifting paper. I hope the Government will act on that, and look in particular at the shifting of profit through interest payments. Of concern was the fact that the paper mentioned the possible exemption of infrastructure industries from any measures in that regard. In particular, there was a mention of the private finance initiative industry, which ballooned under the previous Government. For example, junctions 1A to 3 of the M4 is 50% owned in Guernsey, 50% of schools in Redcar are owned in Jersey and, most absurdly, the whole of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs offices are owned in Bermuda. The exemption of those companies that have put in place those structures and the suggestion that they are not shifting profits out of the UK needs to be looked at again. At the very least, we should consider how PFI business cases are assessed, as it seems to be the norm to move the profits out of the country.

Labour has very little to say about this Budget. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition had nothing to say. The Opposition do not seem to have a coherent plan, although some of their measures are at least interesting. They appear to be using the same statistician as the leader of the UK Independence party for some of what they do. Although there is a long way to go, this Finance Bill will produce a stronger economy and a fairer society, which is what my party wants to see.

4.19 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Mr Deputy Speaker, I find these financial debates deeply frustrating and often very bad for my blood pressure, particularly when I follow—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We do not want you to collapse—the hon. Lady does not have to speak if it has such a great effect.

Julie Hilling: I assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I will not collapse. I might just get a little excited.

I find speeches such as that just made by the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) exceedingly frustrating. The Government say that they want to build a fairer society, but fairer for who? Their actions certainly are not fair for the 2.5 million people seeking work and the nearly 1 million young people still being left on the scrapheap. The Chancellor says that this is a Budget for makers, doers and savers, but it does nothing for those who are making do and who, far from saving, find themselves deeper and deeper in debt.

The worst thing is the continual ridiculous comment that the global financial crash was caused by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). Powerful though he is, he did not bring

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down the world economy. Labour’s public investment did not cause the global credit crunch. Building new hospitals and schools and recruiting tens of thousands of extra nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers in Britain did not cause the sub-prime mortgage defaults in the USA that started the collapse of financial institutions throughout the world. It was not Labour’s public spending that triggered the world’s economic crisis but the global interdependency of reckless banking that triggered an economic meltdown in Britain and across the globe.

David Rutley: Was not a record structural deficit a major contributing factor as well? The hon. Lady seems to airbrush that out of the equation.

Julie Hilling: The hon. Gentleman should continue to listen to what I have to say, because before the crash we did not have the structural deficit that he is talking about.

Mr Kevan Jones: The hon. Gentleman just referred to a “record structural deficit”, but according to the OBR in 2010 it was 7.7%. In 1998, it was more than 8%.

Julie Hilling: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will come on to some of the details in just a moment.

Before they say that Labour should have done more to regulate the banks, Government Members must show some humility. The Conservatives wanted less regulation. Yes, Labour responded by boosting public spending and borrowing to offset the catastrophic collapse in private sector spending, and the £90 billion spent on the bank bailout plunged the public sector into record annual deficit, but what would they have done? Would they have allowed the banks to collapse and allowed us to go into a depression worse than that in the 1930s? Would they have allowed thousands, if not millions, to lose their houses, their pensions and their jobs? Yes, we bailed out the banks, we cut VAT and income tax and we gave 150,000 businesses more time to pay their tax bills. We put in place measures that helped 300,000 people stay in their homes and we set out how we would halve the deficit over four years once the recovery was in place.

Do Conservative Members agree with those who were on their Front Bench at that time? They opposed the fiscal stimulus and the measures to support the economy and families. They pushed for the deregulation of the mortgage market even as the crisis began and they voted against the Bill that became the Banking (Special Provisions) Act 2008, which would have let Northern Rock fail. Where would families and businesses be now if the Tories had got their way then?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: It is highly questionable that Northern Rock needed to fail if the Bank of England had been willing to act as a classic lender of last resort when there was a liquidity problem rather than a solvency problem.

Julie Hilling: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. At that time our Government needed to act to bail out those banks. He says that the Government need not have acted if the Bank of England had, but the reality is that the Government acted and needed to do so.

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It has been claimed that before the global collapse we were spending too much, so why did the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) pledge in 2007 to match Labour’s spending plan for further three years—to match our spending on investment, jobs and growth?

The level of debt under the Labour Government before the banking crisis was lower than that we inherited from the Tories in 1997. We brought the deficit down, we brought borrowing down and, far from failing to fix the roof when the sun was shining, we invested in repairing the terrible state of our public services. People were dying on hospital trolleys before they were seen, others were waiting a year to get on the waiting list before waiting another year to have their operations, schools were crumbling, the railways were decaying and youth services were disappearing. We repaired all that, and then the bankers behaved totally irresponsibly and brought down the world economy.

Yes, there was a failure by every Government right across the world to recognise the seeds of the banking crisis, but it was not caused by Labour’s overspending, and it was not caused by Labour’s high borrowing or high debt, because none of those things was going on before the banking crisis. If we had not dealt with the crisis as we did, the whole economic and banking system in Britain would have collapsed. If our Prime Minister at the time had not worked with other world leaders to bail out banks and bring forward investment, the world would have been plunged into a depression beyond belief.

We need honesty from Government Members to acknowledge the truth. The Government should acknowledge that the national debt has doubled on their watch to £1,400 billion. They should accept that wages are down by £1,600 a year since May 2010, and that people will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010. The Government should acknowledge that they have introduced 24 tax rises, that energy bills are up by almost £300 since the election, and that even though they inherited a growing economy, they squashed that growth, had three years of flatlining and have overseen the slowest recovery for 100 years.

The Government like to talk proudly about the number of jobs that they claim have been created in the private sector, so I asked them some questions about those jobs. I asked how many of the new jobs created lasted more than 12 months, but they could not tell me because they do not collect those statistics. So I asked them

“how many new jobs created in the private sector in the last 12 months were (a) unpaid workfare or internships, (b) through zero-hour contracts, (c) part-time, (d) part-time working 16 hours or less per week, (e) part-time working eight hours or less per week, (g) paid at the level of the minimum wage and (h) jobs transferred from public sector organisations.”

What a surprise. I was told:

“Information regarding the number of jobs created is not available. As an alternative, estimates relating to the net change in the number of people in employment in the private sector have been provided from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).”—[Official Report, 11 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 460-61W.]

Estimates showed that more than a third of the new jobs that have been created are part-time, and that a third of those are under 16 hours. However, the Government do not collect the figures for those people who are on unpaid Government schemes or internships, even though those are included in the number of new jobs created. They cannot tell with any accuracy the number of

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people on zero-hours contracts or the number on the minimum wage. They also cannot tell me how many of the jobs now designated as being in the private sector are simply jobs transferred from the public sector, even though we know there are a large number of such jobs. The proud boast that over a million new jobs have been created is based on sand. We do not know how many are really new jobs, how many are unpaid, how many are low-paid, how many are zero-hours or how many are temporary. The Government like to think that any job is better than unemployment—a job at any price—but that is causing untold misery to many.

Let me tell the House a story of a man who went to the Allerton food bank. He was absolutely made up that he had got a job in Poundland. In week one, no work was offered; in week two, still no work offered; in week three, still no work offered. At this point he and his family were existing on boiled pasta because that was all they had in their household. Fortunately, somebody directed him to the food bank. People at the food bank helped him and spoke to Poundland, who said, “Well, we can’t finish him because he may get hours next week.” In the end he had to resign from his job and take the hit from the Department for Work and Pensions because he had resigned from a job—a job in which he was never given any hours to work. He had to resign so that he could feed his family.

Zero-hours contracts are a scourge on the unemployed, but instead of cracking down on them, the Government fail to collect statistics. Other sources estimate that a million people are on zero-hours contracts; a million people who do not know whether they can feed their families or pay their rents each week; a million people who cannot get a mortgage or a loan to buy a car; a million people who can make no plans for their future. It is like the bad old days when people had to queue up at the dock gates just to be picked for a day’s work. These workers are paid 40% less than those on permanent contracts, and 20% of them have said that they have had money docked or been penalised in some other way if they were unable to work when they were called for at a moment’s notice. Half the people have said that they have had shifts cancelled at the last minute. The Government should take Labour’s lead and regulate zero-hours contracts, not allow the exponential growth that has occurred under their watch.

Jonathan Edwards: The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill was recently passed in the Welsh Parliament and my party put forward an amendment to prohibit the use of zero-hours contracts in that sector, yet the hon. Lady’s party, the governing party in Wales, voted down that amendment. What is her message to her colleagues in Wales?

Julie Hilling: With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am not a Welsh Member and I am not a Member of the Welsh Assembly, so I do not feel able to comment. However, I wholly believe that what the Labour party says it will do in government is the action that should be taken, and that we need to crack down on zero-hours contracts.

The Government have presided over the destruction of permanent appropriately remunerated jobs with decent terms and conditions, with the creation of insecure, poorly paid private sector jobs.

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At least we have not had the omnishambles of a Budget that we had a few years ago. I am pleased that the Chancellor, albeit secretly, has turned to plan B and is investing in infrastructure. But he is still doing nothing to tackle the cost of living crisis, and he is still ploughing ahead with further unnamed cuts. But we know where some of those cuts are being made. We already know that northern local authorities are bearing the brunt of the cuts in local government spending. Bolton will have lost £100 million from its budget, cutting services to the most vulnerable. Will the Government ever accept that they cannot cut their way to growth; that holding down wages means that more people are reliant on tax credits and many are in poverty?

The proposals on pensions appear to be welcome, but the Budget has done nothing for the 1.6 million pensioners living in poverty. Nor will it do anything for the crisis in social care, which has seen the number of older people receiving support falling by more than a quarter since 2005. Proposals on child care are welcome, but we need action now not in 18 months’ time. I met a woman on Friday in Horwich when I was campaigning for an energy price freeze who told me that she used to work in a nursery, but had to give up her job because she could not afford the child care costs for her own two children.

How on earth can the Government justify sacking tax collectors when the tax gap is somewhere between £35 billion and £120 billion? In 2011-12, before the last round of cuts, 20 million calls to HMRC were not answered. The estimated cost of those calls was £33 million, and the value of customers’ time was estimated at £103 million. Since then, the number of staff has been further reduced. Recent figures show that there were fewer confiscation orders in 2013 than in 2012 and less money was recovered, and only four officials are hunting 124 of the worst tax dodgers. The biggest scandal of all is that the Government say that they reduced the top rate of tax from 50% to 45% because people were avoiding paying their tax. They think that if people are poor they will work harder if their pay is cut. They think that people should pay all their tax, and that will make them better people, getting jobs and working harder. But the rich just have to pay less. They just have to say they will find other means so that they do not have to pay their taxes.

What nonsense. If the poor do not pay their taxes, they are prosecuted. If the rich do not pay their taxes, they get a tax cut. Even sadder, is that in the only full year that people had to pay the 50% tax, when they could not pre-pay or post-pay their tax bills, it brought in £1.1 billion extra. Perhaps I am a little strange, but I think that £1.1 billion is quite a lot of money. It could go some way towards solving some of the problems in our economy and some of the desperate situations my constituents face.

Until the Government deal with the cost of living crisis facing so many people in Britain today, they cannot possibly claim to be building a fairer society. It is an utter disgrace that in the sixth richest country in the world people are dependent on food banks and children are going to bed hungry. It is a disgrace that people are living in houses with no heat because they cannot afford the bills. It is a disgrace that long-term unemployment is going up. Yet again the Government seem to miss the point. They leave the poor and the vulnerable to suffer.

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4.35 pm

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): It is a real pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). Listening to her speech, and indeed that of the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), I was reminded, given recent events in Ukraine, of the charge of the Light Brigade in the first Crimean war, which we fought some years ago. They were very game, very determined and, in complete denial of the situation in which they found themselves, carried on regardless. It was fascinating to listen to the shadow Chief Secretary’s amazing negativity about the changes the Government have made. The Government have turned around the very difficult situation that they inherited.

The hon. Member for Bolton West seems to have a somewhat short memory, to put it gently. She was quick to blame the problems on everyone else, but slow to acknowledge any responsibility on the part of the previous Government. It is important to remember that there were problems in the UK’s banks due to the extremely poor and dislocated regulatory system put in place by the previous Prime Minister. There were problems with this country’s finances, and not just since the 2008 recession, because the previous Government ran a structural deficit from 2002 onwards, which left this country massively exposed. They said that they managed the crisis so well, but the UK, as some of us recall, had one of the largest budget deficits in the developed world. They spent the good years introducing more welfare and more spending, rather than controlling welfare and spending and making sure the UK’s finances were in a good state while the sun shone.

Mr Kevan Jones: The hon. Gentleman, who was not a Member in the House at that time, belongs to a party that throughout that whole period was calling for less banking regulation, not more. I know that he is one of the new Members who have been programmed to think that way by Tory central office, but the facts are that the GDP debt in 1997 was 42% and by 2008 it was down to 35%. Those are the facts, irrespective of what Tory central office tells him. He cannot deny the facts.

Charlie Elphicke: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that his Government ran a budget deficit for a very long time. Running a budget deficit is understandable when coming out of recession, but not in a time of economic success. The previous Labour Government’s irresponsibility left this country badly exposed.

Mr Jones: I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman must look at history. The previous Conservative Government ran a budget deficit for about 16 of their 18 years in office. In 1997 the deficit was nearly 8%. He has to look at the facts. The previous Tory Government ran a deficit even in good times.

Charlie Elphicke: Let us talk about those good times. Before the downturn in the ’90s, the national debt was at least 10 points lower than before the latest crisis.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Surely the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) is forgetting that the success of the Labour party in the first two years came because it followed Conservative spending plans.

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Charlie Elphicke: Indeed.

There was Labour’s crash. We hit the wall in 2008 and were left overexposed in a bad place with an economy that had been run very badly for a long time. Then the Labour party has the cheek—

Mr Kevan Jones rose—

Charlie Elphicke: I have given way quite a lot. I think we have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman for a minute. Will he allow me to develop my points?

The Labour party, having learned nothing and forgotten nothing, has the gall to say that when we woke up in spring 2010, with a new Government, everything should immediately have been fine. Recessions are not like that; they continue for some time. It takes time to fix the car after it has been driven into the ditch. The absence of any sense of responsibility from the Labour party for the difficulties that it left and the toxic legacy that the Government inherited is, frankly, extraordinary. Government Ministers have done great work to turn things around and fix things. We cannot hand back the keys to the people who crashed the car when they remain in denial as the Labour party does today.

David Rutley: Was not the real crime of the previous Government that they became completely absorbed in what Lord Turnbull—not Conservative central office—said was complete wishful thinking? Through successive periods of economic growth, the Labour Government lost sight of the fact that there would inevitably be a bust after a boom, and that they would have to prepare for it. They missed that obvious challenge, and we are having to clean up the mess.

Charlie Elphicke: The Labour Government were delusional. I recall them saying for a long time that they had abolished boom and bust. It is great shame that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), the former Prime Minister, is seen so rarely in these parts these days; it would be interesting to hear his take.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: Where is he?

Charlie Elphicke: Since he was bundled out of Downing street, he has been in the attic of Portcullis House but has been in the Chamber very rarely indeed. That is a shame.

One might think that the Labour party, having had four years to reflect, might not only accept full responsibility but try to develop its own economic plan. Saying how dreadful everything is but having no plan to take things forward is no plan to take to the country in a general election.

As I listened to the comments of the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, a question struck me: what does the Labour party have to say to the person who worries about their job, wants their business to succeed and would like their kids to do well? The party is adopting policies that are so anti-business and so unimaginative about any kind of job creation—other than spending the same money 10 times over and claiming that as a new pledge. It has so little to say to the country and about the future; all it can do is sink into a sea of negativity.

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Julie Hilling: This is the sort of speech that raises my blood pressure. Where does the hon. Gentleman believe the recession started? Does he agree that the global economic crash started in America? Does he accept that his party in opposition argued for less financial regulation? What would he have done when the crash came—let the banks go and leave everything else to go into a depression?

Charlie Elphicke: I apologise to the hon. Lady if I have raised her blood pressure. In England, the NHS will look after her very well; it has an increasingly good record.

I turn to where the Labour party has managed to get to. We have set out a clear economic plan, through which we have successfully cut the deficit by a third and cut taxes on average by £705 for hard-working people. We have managed to support business and cut business taxes, which the anti-business Labour party has taken to opposing of late. It says it supports the welfare cap, but in media interviews it wants to exempt this and that benefit from it. We have managed to take firm action to control immigration and we have plans for better skills for our young people, to give them a better future.

Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): Is it not true that we have not only a plan but a long-term plan that is credible and believable and is beginning to show some success? If Labour Members have a plan, perhaps they might tell us about it.

Charlie Elphicke: I completely agree. It is a major problem for Labour Members that they are unable to welcome any positive move. They look around and must surely see that a recovery has been building and the situation is improving, but all they can do is stick their heads in the sand and issue a cry of complete and utter denial.

Some years ago, the Leader of the Opposition said that the Conservative plans would mean the loss of 1 million jobs. Far from that, 30.19 million people are in employment, up by 1.3 million since the election. There are 1.7 million new jobs in business. We have an employment rate that is up since the election and an unemployment rate that is down since the election.

Then Labour Members moved on and sought other ground on which to go around stirring up negativity and spreading apathy, as they do, up and down the land. They thought they might find a more profitable situation in drawing a distinction between full-time and part-time jobs. For a while, as we repaired their damage, that rather seemed to work for them, and they thought there was some profit in it. They glossed over the fact that during the previous Parliament the number of full-time jobs fell by 320,000, because they found that inconvenient and wanted to seize on the problems of people in full-time jobs as the economy recovered. Unfortunately for them, the number of people in full-time employment has been rising. In the past year it increased by 430,000, and there are now more people in full-time employment than there were at the time of the general election. Then, there were 21 million people in full-time employment; today, there are 22.1 million people in full-time employment. This Government have done well not only on jobs but on full-time jobs.

Seeing that that line of attack did not render profit to them, Labour Members then thought they would start talking about long-term unemployment and seize on

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the long-term unemployment figures for young people, which the hon. Member for Bolton West, who would have made a very good cornet at the charge of the Light Brigade, said were going up. Unfortunately for her, that is not the case. During the previous Parliament they did go up, across the country, by 311%, but in the past year they have gone down by 30%. Their whole theory about long-term unemployment does not work.

I congratulate the hard-working people of Birmingham, Ladywood, who saw their long-term unemployment among young people rise by 103% under the previous Labour Government but have seen it fall by 4% since this Government were elected and by 31% in the past year. In my constituency of Dover, the figure went up by 700% under the previous Labour Government. That was a very sad, despairing thing. So much hope was taken away from so many of the young people I represent. I welcome the fact that the figure has fallen by 22% in the past year.

Bit by bit, the Opposition’s case disintegrates—nowhere more so, hon. Members may be interested to learn, than in the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition, who gave such a fascinating response to the Budget the other day. In his constituency, long-term unemployment among young people rose by 1,600%—not under this Government but under the previous Government in which he served as a Cabinet Minister. Since the general election, that figure has fallen by 9%, and it is down by 31% in the past year alone.

The Opposition have no long-term economic plan, just pure negativity. In each negative case they raise, every figure or statistic they snatch at seems to disintegrate in their hands. They would have better spent their time putting forward a true alternative economic vision for this country than seeking to attack a Government who have been trying to fix the problems that this country has had and repair the toxic legacy that they inherited.

I turn now to the cost of living—after all, that is the latest part of the Opposition’s case. They are keen to point out that wage inflation has not kept up with real prices. That has been the case after every single recession, which is why I made the point that in 2010 we were not simply going to get an immediate, overnight repair after Labour’s crash—it was going to take some time. We now stand on the threshold, as the time is fast approaching when wages are likely to outstrip inflation. We have seen the latest figures: inflation is now at 1.7%, down from 2.8% a year ago. Wages have grown 1.4% in the three months to January when compared with a year ago. The moment is therefore approaching when the cost of living argument will face a challenge of its own. What will the Labour party say then? What case will it take to the country, as people see that the Conservatives’ work to repair the country’s finances and the value of work is taking hold?

Of course, Labour has also latched on to the issue of energy prices, but we have seen the Government’s action to undo the hard work done by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in putting green levies on to our electricity bills. Those have been rolled back and we have seen a positive impact and a positive announcement from SSE, which has pledged a freeze until 2016. Again,

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that is positive action from the Government, who understand the challenges that people have faced because of the legacy we were left.

We have seen council tax frozen. We have seen the fuel duty rises planned by the previous Government held back. In this Finance Bill we have seen particular help for the least well-off, with the increased personal allowance. I have long been an advocate for increasing the personal allowance, to take the least well-off out of tax all together. The allowance is rising to £10,500, which is welcome.

It is not just about hard-working people, however. We also need to be concerned about people who are retiring. The work we are seeing on pensions—with a higher flat-rate pension and a move to get people out of the annuity requirement, to give them greater choices about what to do with their hard-earned, hard-saved money—is really attractive as well.

This Finance Bill does a great job in extending the Government’s work on recovery and ensuring that we are set fair for the future. Thankfully, it was not a give away Budget and it is not a give away Finance Bill. It should be, and is, steady as she goes: the work is not yet done. This Government recognise that much has been done but there is much yet to do. This Bill is a key part of the way back for Britain and of the kind of future that we can build, for people who work and for businesses that are growing today, and also for our young people tomorrow.

4.53 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), who offers such insight and entertainment value to the House. He called for optimism, and I hope to paint him a picture of the sunlit uplands of a Britain changing under the next Labour Government, elected next year.

Today is a day of anniversaries that demonstrate the difference in values between this coalition Government and the previous Labour Government—and, indeed, the different values of the next Labour Government. Fifteen years ago today, the national minimum wage came into effect. We had seen people in this country paid less than £1 an hour, with some of the most disgraceful poverty pay to be found in a large developed European country. But of course, last year, this day was the day on which the iniquitous and vile bedroom tax came into force. Anyone who has dealt with constituents—anyone who, as I did last year, has held the hand of a disabled lady with tears in her eyes, who was wondering how any Government could visit such an iniquitous tax on people like her—will recognise the differences in those values and the significance of those two anniversaries.

Those different values are written throughout this Finance Bill. This is not the Finance Bill that this country needed or with which it should have been presented. It is a damp squib of a Finance Bill—a no-change Finance Bill from a bedraggled Government who are increasingly all at sea.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): It is appropriate to remember the anniversary of the minimum wage today of all days, because let us not forget that its introduction was opposed absolutely by the Conservative party. Some people were being paid less than £1 an hour—people living on my street were being paid 70p an hour for doing jobs in the security industry 15 years ago.

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Mr Bain: We remember the tooth-and-nail opposition of the Conservative party to the minimum wage and the lack of support for it from Scottish nationalists—none of whom are present—when the previous Labour Government legislated on it.

The Government are all at sea as to how to reverse the decline in living standards over which they have presided. Under this Prime Minister, living standards have fallen more sharply and for longer than under any Prime Minister since the second world war, including Heath, Thatcher, Wilson, Callaghan, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home and Churchill. If this Government were a football club, the team would be at the bottom of the league, facing relegation at the end of the season, with rising clamours for the manager to be given the sack. Some have even called for the return of the special one to come and lead the blues—no, not José Mourinho, but Boris Johnson—and speculation is rife as to which Government Member will be sent to the subs bench in order to let him get back in the team after the next general election.

Ian Swales: I agree that the minimum wage was one of the great achievements of the previous Government and I think that more should be done to police its implementation even today. However, does the hon. Gentleman share my regret that his Government took more than £1,000 a year in tax and national insurance away from people on the minimum wage? The reduction of £700 a year in their tax bill has given them a real-terms net increase.

Mr Bain: I hope the hon. Gentleman will use his undoubted influence to speak to the Business Secretary, whose Department has presided over a 10% drop in the real value of the minimum wage since 2010. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman wants to build on the success of the minimum wage, he ought to speak to the Secretary of State about how he is going to reverse that trend, because the small rise announced by the Low Pay Commission simply will not do the job. How on earth will there be a £7-an-hour minimum wage by next October? That was the Chancellor’s pledge at the beginning of the year, but it is hard to see it happening, given the remit involved and without this Government taking firm action on enforcing and improving the national minimum wage.

I welcome some aspects of the Bill, such as the tax concessions for participants in the Glasgow grand prix. I believe they will attract a world-class field for that athletics meeting and ensure that those athletes stay on for the Commonwealth games. That will add to the economic growth of my city, Scotland and, indeed, all of the United Kingdom.

I am sure that any hon. Member who has witnessed the scourge of the rise of fixed odds betting terminals on high streets up and down the country will support the increase in machine games duty. Anything that discourages people from spending their hard-earned wages on those machines—I am sure that every hon. Member is aware of this issue—should be welcomed. The Government should be going much further, of course, in regulating the way in which those machines operate. They take a terrible toll on some of the poorest communities in the country, including in my constituency.

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Ultimately, this Finance Bill is soft on the banks and hard on ordinary working families. It fails the national economic interest in three main ways. First, it does nothing to boost growth. According to the OBR, its measures and the Budget that it will enact contribute nothing in terms of an uplift in growth and, in relation to trade and exports, there will be no contribution to growth from net trade over the next five years. The Budget also fails to raise levels of business investment, which are currently among the worst in the EU and the G20.

Secondly, this Finance Bill does not meet the challenge of our times in that it fails to tackle our growing crisis of long-term youth unemployment—up by 50% since 2010—and it takes no measures to deal with under-employment. The Institute for Public Policy Research has today identified that as a growing crisis for our country, with more than 1 million people going to work for low wages and seeking more hours, but unable to get them in this weak economy.

Thirdly, this Finance Bill entrenches the inequities of its predecessors in this Parliament by failing to repeal the hated bedroom tax, which has devastated 2,500 people in my constituency and 600,000 people across the whole country. It fails to reintroduce a 50p rate of income tax for those earning more than £150,000 a year, or to introduce a 10p starting rate of income tax, which would benefit 24 million taxpayers.

All that at a time when the Bill offers banks a further tax concession in the bank levy and when the Government are failing to get to grips with the skills revolution that is needed if we are permanently to earn our way to higher living standards. At an event in London only today, the IPPR has said that Britain’s performance on skills has been worse than that of our leading competitors since the beginning of the economic crisis. If we are to get people into better-paying jobs, fill in our hollowed-out jobs market and repair the losses of jobs in construction and manufacturing, this Government and their Labour successors next year will clearly have to do much more on skills. The lack of any incentives in the Bill to improve skills in the workplace or to improve apprenticeships is a serious omission that does not serve the national interest well.

The conclusion one has to reach on examining the entirety of the Bill—all 295 clauses and 34 schedules—is that it is long on detail, but short on real action. It does nothing to raise the incomes of people in the rest of the country, while it perpetrates a recovery simply for those at the very top of society. If the International Monetary Fund—those well-known crypto-leftists—and President Obama get the point that cutting the gap between rich and poor is vital to having a recovery for every one of us, it is a matter of regret that this Government do not seem to get it.

Ian Swales: The hon. Gentleman is making a point about inequality, but does he not welcome the fact that the Red Book states that

“inequality is at its lowest level since 1986”?

Does he regret that inequality widened under the 13 years of a Labour Government, which is a truly shameful record?

Mr Bain: I hope that when the hon. Gentleman speaks to his constituents in Redcar, he will remind them of the entirety of the record of the previous Government, who of course oversaw a dramatic decline in pensioner poverty

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and a huge fall in child poverty. Those policies did work. The inheritance we were left on both counts in 1997 was a disgrace that should have shamed Conservatives who were Members of that Parliament.

Charlie Elphicke: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Bain: I cannot resist giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

Charlie Elphicke: In fact, in the previous Parliament the relative figures for child poverty rose and the gap between rich and poor rose, but those numbers have reduced since this Government have been in power.

Mr Bain: Over the entire period of the Labour Government, pensioner and child poverty were lower than they were in 1997. If the hon. Gentleman examines the records from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, he will see that that is clearly the case.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Bain: I simply cannot resist giving way to the hon. Gentleman, whose constituency shares part of its name with mine.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: There is a union between those of us who have “North East” in the title of our constituencies, and we always give way to each other politely and gracefully.

We need to be very careful on the issue of inequality, because it turns out that it can be narrowed by having a deep recession. That surely cannot be the object of any Government’s policy. We should therefore look at the figures with care. The same is true of relative poverty—it can be reduced through a recession.

Mr Bain: There is a degree of wisdom in what the hon. Gentleman says. I encourage him to look at the work of the social mobility and child poverty commission, which has come up with some interesting conclusions. It is critical that there is better investment in skills. My constituency was once powered by the railway industry. The economic heart of my constituency is now the college that is across from my constituency office. That is the means by which children in a ward with one of the highest levels of child poverty in Scotland will get the skills that they need to succeed in the jobs that we want to create in a modern economy.

Julie Hilling: Before my hon. Friend moves on from statistics, does he agree that one of the cunning ploys of the Government is to change the way in which they measure things? There are fewer people in poverty because they have shifted the point at which they declare that people are in poverty, and fewer people are waiting in A and E because the measure for waiting times has been shifted.

Mr Bain: My hon. Friend is entirely correct. It is shameful that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has abandoned the child poverty targets of the previous Government and is instead trying to finesse

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them with some unspecified alternatives. Yesterday, he disgracefully called the bedroom tax a success. That will be long remembered by the 600,000 people across the country and their families and friends who see it not as a success, but as an abhorrence that should be scrapped without delay.

Let me deal with some of the specific measures that are set out in the Bill. On the personal income tax allowance, it has been established by the IFS and the Resolution Foundation that four fifths of the benefit go to people in the top half of the income distribution. As I said to the Deputy Prime Minister in questions last week, the sneaky freezing of the work allowance by this Government, which was announced in the autumn statement and confirmed in the Budget and the Finance Bill, means that £600 million will be removed from the post-tax incomes of hundreds of thousands of people on low incomes. That is another example of the Government giving with one hand through the personal tax allowance, but taking two thirds of it away with the other.

The Government have not taken the steps that are needed to enforce the minimum wage and ensure that there is a real wages recovery for people in the lower half of the income scale. Liberal Democrat Members have spoken in this debate about taking people out of tax, but in the next financial year, 1.6 million low-paid people will still pay national insurance contributions and higher VAT. People will not forget that they have not been made better off by this Government’s fiscal policies, but have been made worse off. This is the first Government in over a century who will have to go back to the electorate with that record.

Despite the changes on individual savings accounts, people have seen the savings ratio in this country fall over the past few years by 3%. People have been forced to draw down their savings to make ends meet. The collapse in real wages has been compensated for by the reduction in the savings ratio.

The measures in the Bill will not be enough for an increase in savings. That is not surprising because people would need to earn more than £125,000 a year to get full benefit from the changes to ISAs. The Government should have come forward with more radical measures to increase saving, particularly for low earners—policies such as the Saving Gateway that was introduced by the previous Government and scrapped almost immediately by this Government in 2010.

The Chief Secretary was quick to boast of the effects the Bill will have on income from tax avoidance schemes, but as the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed after the Budget, there are higher up-front taxes payments, although in a sense they are over-balanced by reduced revenues from 2019-20 onwards. The average benefit of the policy is a mere £90 million a year.

The Government should have been far bolder in the Bill in bringing forward more ambitious provisions to tackle avoidance and evasion. Where are the clauses that would have introduced mandatory company-by-company reporting of taxes paid and profits made? Where are the provisions on beneficial ownership of companies? They were promised by the Prime Minister at the G8 summit, but we have seen nothing of their delivery.

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For some of these policies, the IFS has noticed a worrying trend. Yes, the Government have provided extra child care assistance for people through universal credit, but how is that paid for? By £200 million a year cuts to other, unspecified, parts of universal credit. The IFS has said that that is happening across a range of policy areas: permanent giveaways are funded by temporary increases in revenue, but there is no long-term plan about where the money is coming from. With that kind of financial planning, it is unsurprising that the Government are borrowing £190 billion more over this Parliament than they predicted at its beginning.

For business, we welcome the reverse in cuts to capital and investment allowances, but it is stark to consider that the Government’s policy goes up only to 2016. Business needs certainty and does not know what the Government’s plans will be after 2016 for capital and investment allowances. Imagine if we are back in the same position as in 2011 when this Government cut those allowances? I hope that when he responds to the debate, the Exchequer Secretary will offer assurances to business that there will be certainty in investment and capital allowances for the rest of the OBR’s forecast period, because that is certainly not in the Bill.

If we consider the effect of these policies on business investment, the OBR finds that there will be no appreciable increase in investment in the economy as a whole, or by businesses in particular, until 2018. The recovery was supposed to be fuelled by business investment; instead, it is fuelled by consumption, and led by people getting into debt or running down their savings as wages have slumped. That cannot be a balanced recovery in the economic well-being of our country. I also welcome some of the changes made to research and development tax credits, but even after those, this country will have one of the lowest levels of investment in innovation and science, in both public and private terms, of any major developed country. The Bill should have done far more to tackle that record.

Another omission from the Bill is—oddly—the provisions on tax-free child care. They have been much trumpeted by the Government but we do not see them reflected in the Bill, and one can only presume that the Government intend to make them the centrepiece of what will otherwise be a threadbare Queen’s Speech in June. If we consider the details of that policy there are worrying issues. I am pleased that the Government at least did not continue with their stated policy of leaving up to 1 million working poor people on universal credit without any assistance through the tax and benefit system to deal with their child care costs, particular as the child care tax credit was decimated by the Government in 2011.

What about the sustainability of this policy? Where is the provision in the Bill to increase the supply of child care places? As we see child care costs go up for families across the United Kingdom, the cry we hear from constituents is about the lack of affordable places. The Bill could have made progress on that, but the Government simply did not meet the challenge.

I believe that a Finance Bill that concentrated on jobs, child care, a lower starting rate of tax and bringing fairness to our tax system again by introducing a higher 50p rate would have begun the job of securing a recovery for everyone, not just a few at the top. National debt is rising, long-term youth unemployment is doubling, exports and productivity are stagnating, and investment is slumping.

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This is the damp squib Finance Bill of a failing and lethargic coalition slithering its the way out of office. Our country deserves better. Next May, it will get it with a Labour Government.

5.16 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): It is an honour to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain). I anticipate hearing the words of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and I, as the Member for Macclesfield, represent north-east Cheshire.

It is good to see you smiling in your place, Mr Deputy Speaker, because the sea of gloom on the Opposition Benches reminds me of one of Eeyore’s greatest quotes:

“‘It is snowing still,’ said Eeyore gloomily…‘And freezing …However,’ he said, brightening up a little, ‘we haven’t had an earthquake lately.’”

That is the spirit on the Opposition Benches: gloom and despondency. This morning I went to the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce. Opposition Members are out of touch with the mood of the business community and the progress that is being made in the real economy. I ask Opposition Members to get out of the Chamber from time to time, speak to local businesses and get a sense of what is going on and the opportunities out in the real marketplace.

Julie Hilling: I do go and talk to businesses, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman talks to his ordinary constituents: the people seeking work or who are in low-paid work, and those using food banks or those who cannot afford to heat their houses. The Budget is not just about business, but about stopping people living a dreadful life.

David Rutley: That is a good question and I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to respond. Of course I speak to members of the public in Macclesfield and outside my constituency, too.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): It’s a great place.

David Rutley: My hon. Friend says, from a sedentary position, that it is a great place.

These are, of course, challenging times, but things are improving. The reason for having a Budget that is useful and important for business is that it is through business and the private sector that we create jobs to enable people to take care of their needs and those of their families. The hon. Lady will know—as will, no doubt, Mr Deputy Speaker, although he cannot comment—that under the Labour Government 100,000 public sector jobs were created in the north-west over a period when net new jobs in the private sector came to approximately 18,000. Surely, that is completely unsustainable.

Mr Kevan Jones: The neo-cons of the Conservative party think that public service jobs—nurses or cleaners in hospitals—are somehow worth less than private sector jobs. I do not subscribe to that. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the growth in jobs he refers to was achieved through spending that his party agreed to throughout all that time.

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David Rutley: Public sector jobs are vital, but I am talking about the need to get the balance right between private sector jobs and the size of the state. That is what we are seeking to balance. On the comment that he has made repeatedly throughout the course of the debate, I was not in this Chamber prior to the general election.

Mr Jones: The Chancellor was.

David Rutley: That is true, and so were the Prime Minister and others, but I was not. I was working in the world of commerce and had severe reservations, like other Members no doubt, about the policies of the Labour Government. Let us look at the results: the bust that was created after the boom. We are clearing up that mess.

It is a pleasure to speak about the Bill, and a pleasure to speak about the way in which it builds on the Budget. Not only does it make Britain more competitive on the world stage, but, crucially, it reduces the barriers to competition and consumer choice here at home. It is vital to our residents as well as to our businesses. It is a sensible, responsible Bill from a sensible and very responsive Government. It is a Bill for enterprise, intended to rebuild trust in our economy and in our public finances, and also to rebuild the trust that this Government are on the side of the consumer, taxpayer, the saver and, of course, the entrepreneur. That is necessary, because confidence in the economy and in the free-market system can be regained only by increasing the power of choice and market knowledge among consumers. The crisis of confidence—the trauma of trust—that we inherited was a natural reaction to the failures of the Labour Government, and threatened to damage wider belief in prospects throughout the market economy itself.

It was not just a market problem that we faced; it was the problems of yet another Labour Government that we were having to clean up. A great deal of good has already come from the reversal of Labour’s policies on tax, and their disposition to micro-manage and, of course, to mis-spend. This Government have been opening up the economy to transparency and to competition—not least in banking—and putting the consumer and opportunities for new entrants to markets first. It has been a long, hard road, and there is more to follow. The global race is a marathon, not a sprint. We inherited the extraordinary deficit that many Labour Members want to deny, which amounted to 11% of GDP between 2009 and 2010, but will be halved to 5.5% of GDP next year.

Mr Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David Rutley: Of course, if the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a good thing that we have been able to reduce the deficit to 5.5% of GDP.

Mr Jones: If the hon. Gentleman reads the OBR report published in, I think, March 2012, he will see that the figure was 7.7%, not 11%. I think that he should get his facts right rather than constantly regurgitating figures as if they were fact when they are clearly not.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones)—

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) should answer the first intervention before we start on the next. I am sure that we can allow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) to intervene after that.

David Rutley: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I hear a noise coming from North East Somerset, so I will give way at this point.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The problem is this. I think that the hon. Member for Macclesfield rather than his hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset is meant to answer the intervention from the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones).

David Rutley: I will gladly do that. Throughout the debate, the hon. Member for North Durham has persistently made points that have been answered by Government Members, and many of them have been incorrect. He needs to focus on the work that we have done to reduce the deficit, which he clearly has not welcomed.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and grateful, as always, for your splendid ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) is confusing the structural deficit with the actual deficit. The actual deficit was 11%, although the structural deficit may well have been 7%.

David Rutley: I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification.

Mr Kevan Jones: You said “the deficit”.

David Rutley: I did: absolutely. In fact, as Hansard will record, I referred to “the extraordinary deficit” that had been created by the Labour Government.

A budget surplus is now in our sights. We are likely to see it in 2018-19. According to the International Monetary Fund—which is often quoted by Labour Members—the UK is achieving a larger reduction in both the headline and the structural deficits than any other major advanced economy in the world. Unemployment is falling, growth is up, and we have a record number of businesses and a strengthening culture of entrepreneurialism and self-employment. Those are clear results from a Government with a clear sense of direction.

This Bill will doubtless be remembered for years to come for the great work that it is doing to help to promote the interests of savers and pensioners through the reforms that it introduces in clauses 39 to 43, which we will debate in Committee.

Bob Stewart: I think my hon. Friend will agree with me that the Bill will also be remembered because, apparently, it gives £700 more to everyone in the country.

David Rutley: Certainly, very important steps are being taken, such as raising personal allowances, which will help all our constituents who are facing challenging times. However, there are also measures in the Bill that will help businesses to create more work and more wealth, and help us to achieve greater growth and prosperity.

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Returning to clauses 39 to 43, the Chancellor has championed the consumer’s right to take decisions in accordance with their own life circumstances, over and above the procrustean desires of the state. Much has been said about these reforms, and no doubt plenty more will be said in the days and years ahead, but I want to focus today on how other clauses in the Bill are equally supportive of consumers by bolstering competition and lowering barriers to entry for British enterprise—clause 10, on capital allowances, clause 6, on corporation tax, and clause 73, on air passenger duty, to name but a few. Encouraging new entrants—those first-time entrepreneurs, employers and exporters—is vital in increasing choice for consumers and in keeping established businesses on their toes and responsive to their customers. This Government have slashed barriers to entry through deregulation initiatives—an ongoing process that I have been involved with on the Deregulation Bill Committee—and there is also the red tape challenge and the one-in, two-out regulatory arrangements. These are important steps in creating much-needed supply-side reforms.

I hope to contribute further on the Finance Bill Committee—if I can catch the Whip’s eye—because the barriers to small new businesses, new employers and new exporters have been kept far too high in the previous decade or more. We need to get on and finish the job and create a real enterprise pathway. There is little point in trying to address the problem of firms that are too big to fail if we do not also seek to address that of new businesses that are too small to succeed against barriers to entry that have been in place for far too long. This Bill helps us to take significant strides forward. In the words of the British Chambers of Commerce:

“By making a better business environment his top priority, the Chancellor has recognised that successful and confident companies are the key to transforming Britain’s growing economic recovery into one that is felt in homes and on high streets.”

It is the economics of strong, long-term measures for long-term growth.

Ian Swales: The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech. As somebody who represents the north-east corner of north Yorkshire, which is part of the north-east region, I am sure I can join in the north-east theme this afternoon. He talks about the drive to improve businesses. Does he agree that it is only through successful wealth creation that we can provide the public services that Opposition Members—and all of us—want to see?

David Rutley: Absolutely. Real growth and true wealth creation have to come from the private sector: that is how we generate the wealth needed to provide the public services that Members on both sides of the House welcome and want to help our constituents.

The Institute of Directors has described the Budget measures in the Bill as “responsible and imaginative” ones that will

“promote growth, exports and investment”.

It says that

“doubling the annual investment allowance…will bring forward a significant amount of investment…with knock-on effects across the economy”,


“increasing the cash value of Research and Development credits…will benefit many new businesses immediately”.

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That will create the jobs we want to see and tackle the challenges of youth unemployment that Opposition Members have mentioned. Yes, we have had to consolidate the nation’s finances, but we have also signposted clearly the future direction of lower taxes. Although cutting air passenger duty, for example, has not been affordable in recent years, the Bill will very generously cut the two highest rates from 2015. This Government do not shirk from the difficult decisions that need to be taken to restore order to the national balance sheet. It is precisely this approach of taking long-term decisions that has allowed us to double investment allowances to £500,000 and to cut APD, which we have been able to do responsibly and affordably. I hope that business will respond by investing in export potential and taking advantage of lower flight taxes to get out and sell to the world. The barriers are down, and the pathways to achieving export potential are getting clearer. That is a clear priority of Members on this side of the House.

We are moving forward with corporation tax, too. Cutting it to the lowest level in the G20, the Bill will further improve our competitiveness in the international market. The new employment allowance will slash the cost of taking on a first-time employee. These are pro-enterprise, pro-competition measures that will create long-lasting benefits for the economy, for jobseekers and for our consumers. By making it easier and less expensive to deal with the state and to pay its taxes, the Bill also makes it easier for first-time entrepreneurs to become first-time employers and first-time exporters.

The Chancellor has promised to do all he can to boost our export performance. The CBI has noted that the increasing export finance stream announced in the Budget should “strengthen our armoury”, although it also agreed with something that Lord Young and Lord Green have already acknowledged, when it stated:

“The Government must now work much harder to promote these schemes, since many fast-growing firms are unaware of the support available.”

I know that the Government are acutely aware of that fact, but it is critical, now that we have the plans in place, that we do a better job of communicating with SMEs and telling them what support is available.

When customers are free to choose, businesses are required to innovate, to offer better service and to control their prices. When the state stands in the way of that market competition, prices are skewed and, in the longer term, the economy deteriorates. We have only to look across the channel to see where that path could lead—to plan B, as we might say—and to see what that strategy has delivered for France: rising unemployment and a budget deficit higher than had been predicted. We do not need to look across the channel to learn who would bring similar economic woes to Britain; we need only to look across to the other side of the House. Thank goodness that we on this side of the House chose to stick with the right plan. We now want to finish the job.

I was fortunate to attend the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference this morning. It was a positive start to what I am sure has been an excellent day for chambers of commerce across the country. The theme was “State of the nation—good to great”, highlighting the need for what was called “great growth”— growth that is sustainable and for the long term. It was a timely reminder of the most pressing economic priority

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facing the country. I am proud that this Government are firmly committed to meeting that challenge head on. The Budget and the Finance Bill are both further evidence of that commitment, and that is why I will support the Bill tonight.

5.32 pm

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), who is unfortunately no longer in his place, said that the Budget gave him a feeling of “upbeat optimism”. We have also just heard the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) say that we should all be smiling, as though the Budget were to be the salvation of our nation. The Conservative party will clearly go into the next election using “Happy Days Are Here Again” as its theme tune.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman will recall that “Happy Days Are Here Again” is traditionally a Democrat theme tune. I think it unlikely that the Conservatives would borrow from the left in America.

Mr Jones: I would not put anything past the new Conservative party, although I know that the hon. Gentleman is part of the ancient—even prehistoric—Conservative party. It is clearly part of the Conservative party’s strategy to try to give the impression that we have turned the corner and that the sunlit uplands are now before us. The public are neither so stupid nor so naive as to believe that, however, because they are living the reality of what this Government are doing to this great nation of ours.

Ian Swales rose—

Mr Jones: I will give way to the “Conservative” Member for Redcar (Ian Swales).

Ian Swales: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The North East chamber of commerce said recently that its members’ business outlook was the most positive since 1995. Does he disagree with that? I accept that business is not everything, but surely he can welcome that.

Mr Jones: I have great respect for the North East chamber of commerce, but it represents only a certain section of the business community—it does not represent all the business community—and I have never seen it disagree with any Budget, because, understandably, it likes to keep in with the Government of the day. The “Conservative” Member for Redcar is clear in giving an upbeat assessment of his own constituency, but it is not one that I recognise and neither do many Members representing north-east constituencies.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield said that the Government had a clear sense of direction and the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) said that they had a clear plan, unlike the Opposition. Let us look at this clear plan and sense of direction. The narrative goes as follows, and before any Government Member says differently, these things are not invented by the Opposition; they are what this Government did when they came to power. We should recall that in 2010 our economy was actually growing. Why did it go into recession? It did so

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because of what happened during their first few days, including the measures on investment, which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) mentioned. What the Government did sucked money straight out of the economy, so demand went down. We have had the longest recession and recovery in history. On the Conservative party’s and the Chancellor’s own figures—these are not my figures or the Labour party’s—by now we should have seen 8.4% growth, whereas we have actually seen 3.8% growth. We were supposed to have got rid of the deficit by 2015, but we are actually borrowing another £190 billion more than we were planning to borrow.

That is the Chancellor’s supposedly successful plan. People would think that he would apologise for that, but that is about as likely as the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) walking into the Chamber wearing a pair of Wrangler jeans. The fact is that the Chancellor’s plan has not been working, with the root cause—the Liberal Democrats have been going along with this—being an ideological Conservative party, which is not just about deficit reduction, but is actually about small state Conservatism. The headlines in last week’s Budget were clearly designed around things such as the pension measure, which I will discuss in a moment, but tucked away were another £1 billion of cuts, which the Chancellor made permanent for future years. So that is more pain for Departments across Whitehall and communities across our country.

The Budget headline was clearly on pensions, and much has been said about the freedoms that the measure is going to give. I do not usually agree with the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), but he made some interesting points in his contribution and I share his fear about people’s ability to get proper financial advice about what to do with their pensions. I take his point that we are dealing with relatively small sums in terms of pension pots of £20,000 to £25,000 and the costs of giving that advice would be astronomical. Are we, however, going to avoid the chaos we had—many of us remember seeing it in the 1990s—when the vultures descended on workplace pension schemes, advising people to take money out and put it into all sorts of products, which led to people making bad investment decisions?

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), who is responsible for pensions, says that he is not really bothered if someone wants to go and blow it all on a Lamborghini. Hon. Members might not be surprised to learn that I do not know a great deal about Lamborghinis, but I was a bit disappointed that he did not use an example of a British car, because it would have been a good idea to boost the British economy if he really wanted to give an example of an expensive car. Today, I looked up the cost of the cheapest Lamborghini and found that it is £300,000—that represents quite a big pension pot. The problem arising out of that policy is that the Government have not published the modelling on what the effects will be on the public purse. They need to do that because hidden issues need addressing. It is right to give people choice and freedoms, but the Chancellor did nothing at all to affect the charges, fees and so on that small pension pots are attracting, which can be substantial, not only at the time of buying an annuity, but over the lifetime of the pension. That would be a thing to do.

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I have serious concerns. For example, if a pensioner uses their £300,000 plus to buy a Lamborghini—or possibly a Bentley, which would at least boost jobs in this country rather than in Italy—what do they do when they have no money left? The Pensions Minister says, “Well, that’s fine because it has all been taken care of by the new generous state pension.” He forgets that there are other things. There is no mention, for example, of care costs or of housing benefit. Those things need to be explained. It helps the Chancellor; he has a figure in the Red Book for the amount of tax he will raid out of pensions in the short term. There will clearly be a boost if people spend their money in the economy. I am not usually a great fan of the Association of British Insurers, but a serious issue has been raised about the future of the annuities market. Insurers do not just get in money and sit on it; they invest it, so we are talking about long- term investment that is being taken out of projects and businesses. To make a full assessment of the effects of this move, we need to understand the modelling of the scheme, and that has not been forthcoming. It will be interesting to see whether the Government will produce it.

The other issue is the increase to £15,000 a year in the allowance for individual savings accounts. Like the hon. Member for Macclesfield, I speak to my constituents. It is laughable to suggest that they may have £15,000 lying around to invest each year. I think that most people are in the same position. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) said, people are not investing the money; they are actually spending it to live in their old age. Some 8 million people in this country have no savings whatever, and another 32% have less than £1,000 in savings, so the proposal will not help anyone. It may help some who have £15,000 to invest. Should we welcome that? Possibly, but the idea that it will help most of my constituents, or most of the constituents of my hon. Friends, is frankly not right. On Saturday, when I was out at an event in Chester-le-Street in my constituency, someone said to me, “Who’s got £15,000 lying around to invest in that type of savings plan each year?”

When the Chief Secretary to the Treasury opened the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said that he was suffering from Stockholm syndrome, because he has actually become part of the Conservative party. Indeed, having heard the speech and the comments of the hon. Member for Redcar, I think that he also has a very bad dose of the syndrome.

I asked the Chief Secretary at what point in the previous Labour Government did his party say that spending was too high. I then gave him another chance and asked him whether the Liberal Democrats had called for reduced expenditure in any area—whether it be in the NHS or anywhere else. There was not one single area. At least the Conservatives could say that they ditched the pledge around 2008-09. The Liberal Democrats kept going right into the last general election. To hear the hon. Member for Redcar now, we might think that he had long been there calling for fiscal responsibility and less expenditure. The Liberal Democrats may trumpet it now, but that was not the case back then.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that he was proud that the increase in allowances was straight from the last Liberal Democrat manifesto. It might have been, but the commitment on VAT—he was challenged about what happened to that—went the same way as the

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commitment on tuition fees. Remember the VAT bombshell? It was the first thing they did and the Liberal Democrats could not even claim at that stage that they had been affected by Stockholm syndrome, as they were only in the early days of captivity. And what did they do? They increased VAT. The hon. Member for Redcar says that the increase in VAT is a progressive form of taxation. I am sorry, but it is not. All the indications show that it is a regressive form of tax that hits some of the poorest in our communities, including in Redcar.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Is my hon. Friend aware that in Northern Ireland we have a particular problem with VAT and our land border with the Republic of Ireland? Our VAT is levied at 20% for tourism products and in the Republic of Ireland they have been able to retain it at 9% as of today. They also have air passenger duty at 0% from today.

Mr Jones: I agree. Some particular issues that appertain to Northern Ireland need to reflect the common land border with the Republic of Ireland.

As we have heard several times this afternoon, the Liberal Democrats are trumpeting as a great thing the fact that we have increased the personal allowance. The people who gain from it most are not the poor but those on middle incomes. MPs—quite apart from some Government Members who earn a lot more than their parliamentary salaries and who will gain even more—will gain more than the low paid.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman must bear it in mind that nobody gains more than the £700 and that in the early stages the higher rate taxpayers were not included in the increase in the lower rate threshold. It was clawed back from them, so what he says about MPs is actually not correct.

Mr Jones: I was referring to some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues and I do not know whether he is included, as I did not look up his figures. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), who was in the Chamber earlier, earned £213,000 last year on top of his salary. He will therefore gain from the tax cut that the Government have given him. The Conservative Member with the highest figure earned something like £800,000 a year.

VAT, the cuts to housing benefit, the bedroom tax and the changes to tax credit have all affected those individuals. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East also mentioned national insurance, which affects those who are on very low pay. As for the idea that the increase in the personal allowance is somehow a great gift to the low paid, it is, as somebody said earlier, simply about giving with one hand while taking away with the other.

One missed opportunity in this Budget is that of putting investment into our economy. Clearly, the narrative is about a small state and the Conservative party wants as small a state as possible. The view expressed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield gave the game away and that is, basically, that the only people who create wealth in this country are entrepreneurs and business, that somehow public expenditure is a bad thing and that spending money on services does not create any wealth

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at all. In the early days of this Government, the one thing that sucked more money out of the economy than anything was the cuts to public services and local councils. Councils do not sit on money, they spend it in their local communities. I know that many small businesses, including one small building company in Chester-le-Street, nearly went to the wall because their main contracts were with the local authority.

The hon. Member for Redcar used a comparison with maxing out credit cards, but the idea that the state is like an individual’s personal bank account is complete nonsense. Clearly, if the state invests in infrastructure and other things, we get growth in the economy.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept my apology for interrupting his flow. When I opposed the ten-minute rule Bill earlier today, I had intended to start by referring Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Having read Hansard, it appears that I failed to do so, so I wanted to come to the House at the first opportunity to correct the record and refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. That is my purpose in doing so now; it was not intended to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s flow.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. His courtesy in the House is well known, as in general terms is his interest in the sector concerned. His omission was inadvertent and he has put the record straight at the first opportunity, and I thank him for doing so.

Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman has not broken my flow, but I thank him for the little breather to give my larynx a rest.

If one follows the logic of the hon. Member for Macclesfield, business should not get any subsidies whatever. But we all know that that is complete nonsense. The Government are now increasing investment allowances, but they cut them in 2012. We are now told that this is a great achievement of the Budget, but we are only back to where we were in 2012.

I am seriously concerned that we have a two-speed Britain. We have a housing market that has clearly been stoked in London and the south-east, and we have a stagnant north. The hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) described Hexham, which is a nice constituency, and in the north-east, but he is living in some type of parallel universe if he thinks that the north-east economy is booming. Well-paid jobs in the public and private sectors have been replaced by low-paid zero-hours contracts. Four out of five of the new jobs that have been created are low paid and in the service sector, not in the long-term sectors. Added to that—as a north-east Member the hon. Member for Redcar is voting for this—is a movement of the limited public finance that there is from the north-east and other areas to the south. For example, we have already seen the record level of cuts in public expenditure for councils in the north-east. Durham county council has lost 40% of its budget. Contrary to what the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government says about 40% of a budget somehow

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being saved by cutting down on pot plants or the fripperies, that is not possible. It has to be done by cutting back on services and people.

As if that was not bad enough, there is more to come. In the Budget and as part of the process, Durham county council will now lose another £13 million. Gateshead council will lose nearly £8 million. Newcastle city council will lose a further £14 million. South Tyneside will lose £7 million and Northumberland nearly £4.2 million. That will take money out of the economy and redistribute it to those in the south. The cut per dwelling in South Tyneside is £101.50. In Sunderland, it is £90.45. Meanwhile, Wokingham—people will think I have a thing about Wokingham—has an increase of £55, and Surrey an increase of £51. The hon. Member for Redcar, the great champion of the north-east, is voting for these things, redistributing money from the north and north-east to the south of England. That is having an effect on jobs.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield might think that public sector jobs are not important, but I tend to think that they are. When one needs the NHS, people must be there. When home care is needed from a local authority, people must be there. If there is no money and deprivation indices have been removed, not only are those services being removed, but money is being taken from the local economy. That will have an impact on exactly the businesses that the hon. Gentleman argued earlier we should be supporting and growing.

David Rutley: The record will show that I did not say that public servants do not do a useful job, because I think that they do. Where do the interests of the taxpayer fit into the hon. Gentleman’s world, because I have not heard that mentioned in anything he has said? He seems to think that money grows on trees, rather than coming from taxpayers.

Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman’s naive and simplistic approach is that the only way to grow the country’s economy is to sit back and wait for the great entrepreneurial spirits he talks about to grow up, as if by magic, and rescue the economy. Governments have a role to play in generating economies and delivering good, local public services. The idea that Durham county council, or any council, sits on that money is ridiculous; it spends the money in the local community, as do the people who work for it. It should come as no surprise to anyone—it might to him—that taking money out of an area, including the spending power of local authorities, public services and local people, will have an effect on private businesses, whether shops or services, because people do not sit on their money at home; they spend it in their local communities.

David Rutley: Whose money is it? It is not the state’s or the council’s. It is the taxpayers’ money, and there is a responsibility to spend it wisely.

Mr Jones: I totally agree. The hon. Gentleman should look at my record on Newcastle city council, because I always ensured that we got value for money. But there is a big difference between getting good value for money for the taxpayer and his suggestion that local authorities and public services spending money will somehow not have an effect on local economies. It should come as no surprise to anyone that taking money out of people’s

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pay packets, whether in local councils or public services, will have an impact on private sector jobs in local communities.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The point that the hon. Gentleman is missing is that the money that is taken out of the taxpayer’s pay packet is tax in the first place, so this is merely changing the money from being spent in one part of the country to being spent in another; it is not creating new money.

Mr Jones: I disagree. Were we to build a new motorway or railway line, such as HS2—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a great advocate of that vanity project—the increased speed with which people would be able to move around and do business would have an impact, so it cannot be said that that will not have an effect. We come back to the idea that somehow Governments cannot have an impact on what is happening.

Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) raised with the Prime Minister the disproportionate amount of money spent on transport in London, compared with the north-east. Interestingly, the Prime Minister rattled off four transport projects that he claimed this Government had delivered for the north-east. He was very confident about his facts, which did not surprise me, because his public school background means that he can be very confident even when talking complete nonsense—it does not really bother him, because that is the way he has been brought up. He mentioned the Tyne and Wear Metro and the Tyne tunnel—I cannot remember what the third and fourth projects were. They were all agreed by the previous Labour Government. In fact, the Tyne tunnel was finished before this Government came to office. The idea that this Government are somehow leading on those big infrastructure projects, which are desperately needed in the north-east, is ridiculous, because clearly they are not.

Housing is an issue that could be completely missed in the Budget. The way forward is clearly to encourage people to buy their own homes, and I have no problem with that, but if someone is in low-paid work on a zero-hours contract, and possibly having to work two part-time jobs, as many people do, the idea that they will ever get the credit worthiness to own their own home is complete nonsense. What we need, certainly in the north-east and in my constituency, is affordable housing for rent. The easy thing that the Government could do—it would not cost them any money—is give housing associations the borrowing requirements they need against their assets to build houses. The Government could do that, but they are not. Instead, they are creating an artificial bubble in the housing market. Look at the difference between the north-east and the south. Prices in the north-east are still £5,000 lower than in 2008; in London and the south-east, they are 77% higher. Ridiculously, housing is completely unaffordable for most people in London and parts of the south-east, with average house prices of £400,000. Even people with reasonable standards of living find it hard to buy a house.

I turn to youth unemployment, one of the great tragedies of the Government. I fear that there will be a repeat of what we saw in the 1980s—a completely lost generation of young people. They have no opportunity

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for a job, not only in the short term but in the longer term. Why is that important? If someone meets us for the first time, they usually ask us two things: our name and what we do for a living. Some people cannot answer the second question about a fundamental part of who they are. Some say that there are lazy people, but I am sorry—there are hard-working people struggling to make ends meet.

I will give two examples from my constituency. I met someone on a zero-hours contract working in a store, which I will not name, in the Metrocentre—that great cathedral to Thatcherite free market enterprise.

Ian Mearns: In Gateshead.

Mr Jones: In Gateshead. This 17-year-old on a zero-hours contract, who lives in Stanley, told me that he turned up at the Metrocentre one morning only to be told that there was no work and he should go away. He had paid his bus fare to get there, went back home and was then rung up to be asked back for two hours that afternoon. If he said that he could not do that, he would be sanctioned as one who was not trying hard enough. As was said eloquently earlier, for the Government the issue is a job at any cost. That man was getting out of bed every morning to try to work.

I met another young lad in Stanley last week. He had applied for well over 150 jobs and been on umpteen courses. The scandal about the Work programme is that the Government are lining the pockets of private sector suppliers. This lad was desperate. He said he wanted to set up his own business. I am sure that Government Members would think, “Brilliant! This great entrepreneur needs to go forward.” He went to the jobcentre to ask for assistance in getting his driving licence. They told him no, although they could send him on a course to do everything else. That is the trap for some of these young people. There is no hope for them and they feel neglected.

The issue goes further than that. The older generation look at their grandsons and granddaughters and see no hope. We needed hope in the Budget for those young people, but there was none. We need to give them hope. Labour has a commitment to get people into work. The hon. Member for Dover was disparaging about the previous Government’s attempts to do that, but it is important to get people into the ethos of work, because not having that place in the world is difficult. People can get into a cycle and give up hope.

The young people I meet in my constituency are working hard and trying. As I said, some are treated like hired help—paying out of their own pockets to get to work and being told to come back later when there might be hours. That may be the type of society that the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives want, but I do not. The next election must be about a very clear message not only about standards of living but what type of society we want to live in. Do we want to live in a society where people are on zero-hours contracts with uncertainty about whether they are going to get work, and youngsters are not going to improve their life chances as others did? The hon. Member for Macclesfield talked about a global race—well, it is. This Government have a clear policy: a global race to the bottom. This is not the high-skilled and forward-looking country that I want to live in.

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As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) said, if we are the sixth richest country in the world, it is a scandal that people who are not sat idle but going out to work are reliant on charity to live and put food on the table for their children. That makes me very angry. This is not the society I want to live in. The Budget does nothing for those people. In areas such as the north-east—my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) mentioned Northern Ireland—there needs to be a clear plan for getting those regions working again: a new deal that has real investment behind it as regards infrastructure and making sure that young people have the opportunities they need.

Next May, I will make sure that I always remind people of one thing: that not a single one of this coalition Government’s horrendous, horrible policies, with the torture they have inflicted on many thousands of our citizens, as we expect from Tories, could have been introduced without individuals such as the hon. Member for Redcar and other Liberal Democrats who have voted for them all.

6.6 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who always entertains the House with his eloquence. I am sorry that he has been relatively brief today. On previous Finance Bills, he has held forth for over an hour, and I was hoping for something similar.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) started with a list of anniversaries, but he was remiss in not mentioning that today is the anniversary of the death of Eleanor of Aquitaine, which I happen to think is rather more interesting than the anniversaries he was able to provide us with.

It is a great pleasure to support the Government on this Finance Bill. It is worth looking at some of the figures that have been batted back and forth during the debate, some of which seem, to some degree, to have been invented by the Opposition. The real figures show that the Government can be proud of their record. Let me run through them, if I may. They are a mixture from the World Bank and the Red Book. GDP declined by 0.8% in 2008 and by 5.2% in 2009. I think that some people may have missed that downwards revision by the Office for National Statistics. GDP rose by 1.7% in 2010, by 1.1% in 2011, by 0.1% in 2012, and by 1.8% in 2013. The key to those figures is that since this Government have been in office, there has been no triple-dip or double-dip, as was predicted; in fact, the economy has grown because the Government have followed the right policies.

Sheila Gilmore: Did the hon. Gentleman feel that the predictions that the Chancellor gave to this House and the public in 2010 and 2011 were over-optimistic, or did he think they were okay? I seem to recall that the Chancellor was not predicting that level of growth.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Lady is aiming at the wrong target. The Chancellor, in his considerable wisdom, decided to make these forecasts independent and therefore set up the Office for Budget Responsibility. That is how

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we know that we are competent. Indeed, Labour is desperate that the OBR should view its own figures. An independent body was set up to give these forecasts so that there was no legerdemain in what the Chancellor was doing.

Sheila Gilmore: If those were the forecasts of the OBR, based on the position as it saw it in 2010, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it must be the Government’s policies thereafter that have meant that those forecasts have not translated into reality?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: That does not follow. It is like looking at the weather forecast on the BBC and saying that it is the fault of the newsreader if the weather then turns out to be different. The two are not the same. The forecasts were made in good faith, based on what was known of the global economy at the time. But of course, things change and responses are different. The global economy continued to be relatively sluggish, but the figures that have been achieved by the Government are enormously respectable. There has been economic growth pretty much since 2010 and, most importantly, in the past couple of years. Everyone knows that economic policies have a long-term impact. If a Government come to office in May 2010, we cannot expect the figures in June 2010 to be the result of that Government’s policies—there is inevitably a lag. The effects, as we have seen, have been positive; the economy is now growing, and growing increasingly strongly.

The problem that the Government faced when they came to office was severe. The deficit in 2009-10 was 11.2% of GDP, falling to 10% of GDP in 2010-11. That is not the structural deficit but the actual real money deficit. I happen to think that is a much better figure than the structural deficit, which is to some extent speculative, as economists try to work out what is structural and what is not. If we deal with actual fact, the figure was minus 11.2% in the last year of the socialists, falling very slightly to minus 10% in the first year of the coalition.

The reason the deficit was so high was of course in part the global financial crisis, but it was also because Government spending was simply too high. It had reached 47.4% of GDP in 2009-10, when revenue was only 36.2% of GDP. That latter figure for tax revenue ought not to be any surprise. One of the most remarkable things about this series of figures, going right the way back to Harold Wilson’s prime ministership, is that Governments find it incredibly difficult to get much more than 37% of GDP in taxation. It is interesting that, since 2010, although the Government have increased taxation and the tax take has gone up from 36.2% to 37.4%, the amount has not risen as much as was anticipated. The reason is that it is actually very hard to tax much more than 37% from an economy.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): In Scandinavia, tax receipts in previous years have been much higher than 37%.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Indeed they are in France as well, but in our economy there seems to be a resistance at about that level. It is almost unprecedented to get much over 38%. That has been managed in two years out of the past 40. That may tell us something about our

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society, about the willingness to pay tax and the incentives when tax rates are set. A realistic Government therefore need to think of public spending levels of around 37%, which is the level that can actually be afforded through ordinary taxation.

Kelvin Hopkins: Does the hon. Gentleman know how much of that situation is due to the abolition of exchange controls when Mrs Thatcher first came to office, and the fact that we now have an enormous tax gap because of tax avoidance and tax evasion, much of it overseas?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The calculation from the removal of exchange controls is not one that I know or would be able to make. The effect of their removal has been to create a much larger economy for the United Kingdom, so we are talking about 37% of a larger pie rather than getting a higher rate in a closed economy. However, it is worth bearing in mind that in the years before exchange controls were lifted in 1979 we still were not getting a tax take of more than 38% of the economy. The series goes back longer than the abolition of exchange controls.

I part company from the Government to some degree on the question of tax avoidance and tax evasion. It is measurably important not to elide the two. Tax avoidance is perfectly legal—indeed, the Government come up with schemes in every Budget to encourage it. One example is saving for pensions—that is tax avoidance on people’s income. ISAs are a form of tax avoidance, as is duty free. In the Budget and the Finance Bill there are schemes for investing in films and television programmes that actively encourage tax avoidance. Such schemes become part of Government policy for growing the economy.

Governments then get very upset when people use the tax avoidance schemes, which the Government themselves have put into legislation, for purposes that the Government had not thought of. That strikes me as a fault of the legislative process and an incompetence of the legislators—I am sorry to say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is our fault—for allowing such loopholes. It is not the fault of the taxpayer for using them. Any sensible, intelligent taxpayer will pay the minimum amount of tax that is legally required. To elide avoidance and evasion is, I think, against the rule of law: it undermines the rule of law by pretending that something that is innocent is nefarious.

It is important to crack down on tax evasion, which is rank criminality, but the Government should not take excessive measures against that which is legal. Instead, they should write simple tax law because, to go back to the point I was making, Governments manage regularly to raise 37% of GDP in taxation almost regardless of the taxes they levy—they change a tax here and a tax there, but still get roughly 37% of GDP. Simple tax laws can probably get us to that level without the need for complex anti-avoidance legislation that undermines the rule of law. That is the one part of the Bill about which I have my doubts.

Ian Swales: The hon. Gentleman is making a characteristically fascinating speech. Does he agree that the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance needs to be made very clear? For example, those who pretend to be second-hand car dealers in order to avoid tax are actually evading tax.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg: Without being too hard on that specific case, I am clear that some of the cases reported as tax avoidance were tax evasion, and HMRC has taken on some of them successfully. I absolutely agree that it is right for HMRC to challenge schemes to see whether they are, in fact, evasion. Most of the schemes that gave extraordinary results seemed to be evasion rather than avoidance, but we must remember that, day by day, honest people avoid tax that they are not required by law to pay.

Kelvin Hopkins: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way yet again. The big losses from tax avoidance and evasion are to do with the corporates. The cosy relationship in recent years between HMRC and some of the corporates, particularly Vodafone, is appalling. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like to talk about that.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The thing about corporation tax is that a lot of corporations can be taxed almost anywhere in the world. That is why I think the Government are absolutely right to bring down the rate of corporation tax. It will help businesses to be headquartered in the United Kingdom, which is good for the UK in terms of employment and, indeed, tax revenues, by which I mean not just corporation tax revenues, but the other tax revenues paid by companies, namely business rates and employer national insurance contributions, as well as the taxes paid by their employees. We get a larger, more successful economy if we are relatively generous to corporates.

Northern Ireland Members have spoken of the particular circumstances there and the competition Northern Ireland faces from the Republic of Ireland. That is a very good case of tax competition between neighbours and it can be seen very bluntly in Northern Ireland because of the land border. We see less of it on the mainland of the United Kingdom because we do not cross borders quite so easily and we do not necessarily focus on it as much as we should. I think that the Government are absolutely right on corporation tax and that they should continue down that line.

The Government have also been right on the raising of thresholds and I hope they will continue with it. It makes sense, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) has said, because it is not logical for people on the minimum wage to be paying taxes. There is no point in taxing people who are low earners merely to pay them benefits with their own money. Although it was a Lib Dem policy in the last election and they deserve credit for that, it was suggested earlier by Lord Saatchi and Peter Warburton in a booklet they produced for the Centre for Policy Studies. The Conservative antecedents of the policy are pretty good and solid. It is a Tory policy in origin and it ought to continue.

The aim of the Government in the long run should be that people on the minimum wage should pay neither tax nor national insurance. In that way, the amount of benefits that needs to be paid to them will be very significantly reduced, as will the administrative burden. Roughly speaking, tax collection costs 1% of the amount collected, and benefit payments cost about 2% of the benefits paid out, so if we tax people to pay them benefits, the

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overall cost will probably be about 1.5% of the total amount paid and received. The policy is very good and welcome.

Another policy that must be welcomed is the change to pensions. Questions about pension funds came up when my right hon. Friend Chief Secretary to the Treasury spoke. What the Government are doing is very simple: they are allowing people to keep their own money. That is not very popular among Labour Members, who seem to have the view that it is the Government’s money and should be distributed as they, rather than individuals, wish. Conservative Members and, indeed, Liberal Democrats who still have some residual liberal attachment believe that the money belongs to the individual taxpayer.

The policy has a very clear advantage for the tax authorities, because it clarifies the idea that pension saving is nothing but a tax avoidance boondoggle. It is about taxing people once, rather than twice. People are taxed when they withdraw the money from their pension fund, with a 25% exemption, rather than taxed when they put it in. It is worth bearing in mind that if that was at any point reversed, the withdrawal would be taxed as a capital gain rather than as income, and the rates that applied might be very different from those that currently apply to withdrawals from pension funds. Any Government who intend at any point—whether at the higher or the lower rate—to withdraw the benefits of saving through a pension fund should consider the ultimate pay-out, and how the policy is a fair means of taxing people and ensuring that they are not taxed more than once.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) said, this was a “steady as she goes” Budget. It is very impressive. The Government have not gone for cheap gimmicks, as parties sometimes do before elections; they have gone for continuing the work, which they started in 2010, of getting the country back on track. They are doing so in a way that benefits the least well-off in society the most. It is absolutely striking that the real incomes of every decile other than the highest-paid decile will rise by more than prices this year, as they did last year.

That Government achievement is helping where help is most needed: it is helping business to allow it to invest; doing more to help exporters; helping to rebalance the economy for the long term; and—gloriously, splendidly and rejoicingly—it is doing something to ensure that people have their own money. What a fine Conservative principle that is. We believe that the individuals and their families who build up society have the greatest wisdom about how they spend their money, not the tax authorities that dish it out. What is being done with pensions is the clearest statement of that. Yes, if people buy Lamborghinis, Bentleys or Porsches, they will spend it unwisely—

Mr Kevan Jones: Buy British.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: None of them is British, unless people buy Aston Martins. We could say, “Let us all buy Aston Martins with our pension funds to save the British car industry.” If we decided to do so, we would at least be spending our own money to support Britain. If we ended up sleeping in the Aston Martin, we would have nobody but ourselves to blame; it would not be the

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nanny state, the socialist state or the “Let’s tell you what to do” state that had taken charge. For that, we should rejoice at the Budget and the Bill.

6.23 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): I cannot help but feel that the speech by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) was very much in the vein of Marie Antoinette—“Let them eat cake.” Many people find it positive that we redistribute money and help those who need assistance in our society, but the logic of his argument is that we should revert to a position in which it does not matter if some people cannot afford education or to have a decent roof over their head, because they are still looking after their own money, even if the amount is very limited. That might be because of their health, because of their disability or because the opportunities that they have grown up with are not as great as those of others. In his view, that is fine and we should go back to that kind of society. I, for one, do not want to do so.

We were told that this was a Budget for savers. The problem is that, for many people in this country, the figures that were talked about are fantasy. They will never be in a position to benefit. We have to care about that. A study by HSBC in October 2013 stated that 25% of households had no savings. That was up from 19% in a similar survey that it carried out 2012. It also stated that 10% of households had less than £250. That means that 8.8 million households—not individuals, but households—to all intents and purposes have no savings.

One of the first things that the Government did on coming to office was to abolish plans for the Saving Gateway, which had been put in place by the previous Government, and abolish child trust funds. One of the first Public Bill Committees that I served on took away those things, which were there to encourage and assist people who did not have a great deal of disposable income to save. Clearly, those savers are of no interest to the Government. The people who will benefit from the increase in tax-free saving through ISAs are in a minority in this country.

I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said about the tax threshold. There is an illogicality in taxing people who are on the minimum wage. The problem is that the increase in the tax threshold has not benefited people in that situation. It has gone right past many taxpayers and it has cost a great deal. We are lectured endlessly about there not being enough money and about tough choices having to be made, but £10 billion has been spent to date—not including the further increase in this Budget—on raising the tax threshold. That is tax that is forgone. Three quarters of the benefit has gone to people with above-average earnings, not those on low earnings.

The 17% of the population who are already beneath the tax threshold are gaining nothing. Government Members have said that everyone is gaining £700 from this Budget. Obviously, that does not include the 4.5 million people who make up that 17%. Clearly, those people do not count. Far from gaining from the Budget, those people will be losing.

There are alternatives to raising the tax threshold. If the Government’s aim is to help low-paid workers, which is what Government Members say, why did they decide to cut tax credits by so much? My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) spoke

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about universal credit work allowances. It has been suggested that one way to help low-paid workers would be to increase the taper on the replacement for tax credits for people on universal credit who are in work. However, the Government decided when they first invented universal credit that the work allowances would be cut back. That means that people will lose their credits much more quickly than would otherwise have been the case. That will happen without the further changes to the universal credit rates and tapers that are clearly intended by the Government, who want to fund the extra help with child care for low-paid families from other low-paid people. We are told that that will be funded out of universal credit.

The problem with universal credit is that we are not sure that we will ever see it. We certainly will not see it for a considerable time. Universal credit, which was meant to make work pay for everyone and was the answer to so many problems, currently covers about 3,500 individuals in the whole country. It was supposed to roll out to all new applicants for all sorts of benefits in October last year, but the event horizon keeps moving away. Given that, perhaps the Government would like to rethink some of their thinking on credits. To say to low-paid parents that at some point 85% of their child care costs will be met “under universal credit”—those are the words that are always said—is not a great help if we do not know when it will come in. For those people it will certainly not be 2014, 2015 or 2016, and for many probably not even 2017. In the last timetable we were told that some people would not be included even by 2017, and given that no timetable from the DWP has come anywhere near being introduced, it is perhaps not surprising if I am somewhat sceptical. Perhaps help with 85% of child care costs for low-paid families could be introduced now, rather than wait for universal credit.

We hear a lot about jobs and how many more there are, but I wish to raise a point that I have made several times recently: despite those jobs, the level of unemployment remains stubbornly high in this country and it is time the Government did something about it. Some 2.3 million people are still unemployed, and in the Chancellor’s speech last week he said that 169,000 was the reduction over 2010. When I said, “Only 169,000?” there was a kind of outcry from the Conservative Benches: “Only? Isn’t that important?” Of course it is important, but it is not anywhere near the number of new jobs that we are constantly told have been created.

What exactly is going on? Are we not worried about the 2.3 million people who remain unemployed, many of whom do not appear to be on benefits? The argument that benefits are so comfortable and that is why people are not working does not appear to apply because 58% of those unemployed people are not on the JSA count. Every time some of us ask questions, Government Members—particularly Ministers—produce figures and say, “Unemployment in your constituency has gone down by this, that or the other”, but they are giving the claimant count not full unemployment figures. It is important to have policies in place to help with unemployment.