When it comes to tax cuts, we support the rise in the higher rate threshold and in the personal allowance, but we will look at the detail to make sure the Chancellor is not up to his usual trick of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. When it comes to tax, the

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burden of deficit reduction should be borne by those with the broadest shoulders. Instead, he has chosen to put the heaviest burden on low-paid working people. He is claiming to have found £12 billion in welfare cuts but is aiming to get only half that amount from tax avoidance, and most of that is from our tax avoidance policies.

On welfare, we back measures to get people into work to achieve full employment and thereby get the social security bill down, and in our manifesto we committed to a benefit cap. However, the Chancellor promised to protect the most vulnerable and disabled from his welfare cuts, and if he goes to break those promises, we will oppose him every step of the way.

The Chancellor has now accepted a slowdown in his original pace of cuts. We will look at the details, but we will want to be sure that all this amounts to is not just hitting working families one year later. We have said we support pay restraint in the public sector, but it should be based on a fair process that is not casually disregarded but is fair to those on lower incomes. In 2010, the Chancellor made that promise to the lowest-paid workers in the public sector, and he did not keep it.

On the NHS, people will take Conservative promises with a pinch of salt when they come from a Government who have cut funding for GP services, cancer services and mental health services.

The Chancellor has talked about the surplus, which no one would disagree with when economic circumstances allow. We will look at the detail of the Chancellor’s proposed new fiscal rule, but simply legislating for it has more to do with politics than economics. Anyone can legislate for a surplus; the question is whether it can be delivered, and he has signally failed to keep his promises on that in the past.

The Chancellor claims that this is a Budget for working people, but it does not put working people first; it ducks the big decisions on infrastructure and fails to give businesses the productivity boost they need. In the light of the measures set out in the Budget, let us look at what the Office for Budget Responsibility says about productivity. It says that his Budget will not improve productivity. True to form, what this Chancellor says and what he does are two very different things. That is why it is down to us to ensure that when he says it is fair, it is fair, and that when he comes up with some new proposal, he consults in good faith to make sure it is workable.

Before the Chancellor makes more promises, he has to deliver on those he has already made. He says that he stands up for working people; what he does is make them worse off. He says he has a long-term economic plan; what he does is duck the big infrastructure projects. He talks one nation, but many of the measures announced today will make this country more divided. The hopes of millions of working people are more important than his hopes of being the future Tory leader. This Chancellor is personally ambitious, but when the economic recovery is still fragile, he should be ambitious not just for himself, but for the country.

1.55 pm

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I would like to start by thanking the House of Commons—[Interruption] —or what is left of it, as three-quarters of the House goes to lunch, and quite right too—for being kind

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enough to put me back in my job. I would also like to welcome not only the three returning members of the Select Committee on the Treasury but the seven newly elected members. We will be meeting very soon to examine the Budget.

I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) on her speech. It is an extremely difficult speech to make—probably for anyone to make in the House of Commons—immediately after a Budget that she has not seen. Of course, it is a Budget that I have not seen either. I note that in her speech she did not challenge the central Budget judgment—that is, to tackle the deficit. She did not say the deficit was being reduced at too great a speed. Of course, the Chancellor has announced that the Budget will be balanced in a couple of years, according to OBR forecasts. If the Chancellor succeeds, he will be delivering the pace of deficit reduction that Alistair Darling sought in his March 2010 Budget, so I do not think this was ever a great economic experiment. Like the decision in 1976 fundamentally to change monetary policy after the International Monetary Fund came in, this is something that both parties are beginning, slowly, to agree on.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because there is a party here that does not agree with the consensus that appears to be building up. Today’s Budget will go down as a pivotal moment in the dismantling of the welfare state, with the Government’s own advisers saying that slashing the benefits cap will throw 40,000 more children into poverty. Can he say whether that is a price worth paying, when even the IMF has told the Government that low borrowing costs make austerity unnecessary, with the costs of paying down the deficit in this way outweighing the benefits?

Mr Tyrie: That was a very interesting short speech. The hon. Lady made some important points, which I will not have time to address, with almost all of which I profoundly disagree and with which—this is the point I was trying to make—I think a large proportion of the House now disagrees.

The new Committee has a heap of new things to look at as a result of this Budget: the Green Paper on pensions and savings, the £12 billion of cuts to the welfare bill, the living wage, the new fiscal target, the shake-up of Sunday trading laws, the inheritance tax threshold changes and the avoidance measures, among much else. We will do our very best to report back to the House on these issues, and as soon as we can.

The plain fact, which I think is widely—almost universally—accepted, is that the backdrop for this Budget is dramatically better than it was when the Chancellor stood up and the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham replied exactly five years ago. The Chancellor deserves a great deal of credit for having brought about that transformation in the country’s economic fortunes.

I think, though, that it is worth mentioning a few risks in the economy. The first, which I consider very important and to which the Chancellor alluded, is the euro crisis and the Greek problem, which has the potential

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to turn from a manageable challenge into a major catastrophe. Were Greece to default, the United Kingdom could not take for granted the relatively compressed bond yields that help to keep our debt service costs low. The second is the bursting of the stock market bubble in China. Thirdly, we shall have to adapt to the moment when interest rates start to rise, because it could prove a shock for those who have become too used to the idea that they can remain at an artificially low level.

That is without taking account of quantitative easing—£375 billion of it—which will have to be unwound. I want to put down a marker about QE, on behalf of Parliament. When it is unwound, it may make a profit or a loss, and that profit or loss will need to be examined by the House and the Treasury. It is a matter for us, and not exclusively for the Bank of England. Any losses that are borne by QE do not score against the Bank’s balance sheet; they score against taxpayers. I think it extremely important for the House to be closely involved when big decisions are made about QE.

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest vulnerabilities of the economy is household debt, which is currently greater than the national debt at slightly under £1.5 trillion?

Mr Tyrie: Yes. We have a long way to go before we can fully restore a savings culture in this country. The savings ratio is still unacceptably low, much lower than it has been historically. There is a great deal more to do, and I think that the pensions and savings reform Green Paper will have a role in that.

Since my hon. Friend has—indirectly—raised this issue, let me add that, during the last Parliament, the Treasury Committee briefly examined the question of whether pensions could be treated like individual savings accounts. The idea did not find much favour in the press at the time, but I personally think that it merits careful consideration.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Tyrie: I will give way to the hon. Lady, who is a new member of the Treasury Committee. I welcome her to her new job.

Helen Goodman: I am grateful to the Chair of the Committee.

If we want debt in the personal sector to fall, should we not bear in mind the fact that permanent budget surpluses in the Government sector will make that more difficult?

Mr Tyrie: That is an interesting theoretical point. In fact, it travels under a very fancy name, “Ricardian equivalence”, and a heap of academic theory has been written about it. I greatly look forward to discussing it with the hon. Lady in the Treasury Committee, and I know that the other nine Committee members look forward to our exchanges as well.

The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham talked quite a bit about productivity. As the economy has begun to recover and growth has begun to return, people are saying that it is not the growth that they wanted. They are saying that it is in the wrong part

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of the country, that it is going to the wrong people, or—as we are hearing now—that it is not accompanied by productivity. That has been true so far, but it is important to bear in mind a few points about productivity.

First, we are recovering from the worst recession in economic history. There has been a 6% fall in output. A shock on that scale is huge for the economy to absorb, so of course that means that the recovery will be uneven. What really lies behind the recovery is a massive reallocation of capital as well as labour, across regions, across the labour market and across sectors of the economy, so we might well expect productivity not to move in line with that in previous recessions.

Secondly, in any case, much of the growth in the run-up to the crisis was fuelled by over-leveraged banks lending to over-leveraged households. That was unsustainable. Comparing productivity levels with what they might have been had growth continued at the pre-crisis rate is therefore highly misleading, because it means imagining that the unsustainable productivity levels could have been sustained, and we know that they could not have been. The peak levels of productivity are probably a chimera.

Thirdly, we should bear in mind the fact that lower productivity reflects much more flexibility in the labour market than many people had feared. Most had thought that unemployment would be much higher than it has turned out to be, perhaps 3 million or even 3.5 million. If the labour market had been less flexible, we would have had higher unemployment. We would also have had higher productivity, but I do not think there are many takers for that in the House, particularly now that we know how important it is to secure labour market participation among the young, on social as well as economic grounds.

There are other developments in the labour market that might affect the productivity statistics. For instance, productivity has been held down by rising rates of workforce participation among older people. That is an intended, and welcome, consequence of the Government’s pensions policy, and, to a degree, it represents the policy not only of the coalition Government, but of both Governments before that. So I think that, when all those factors are taken together, the productivity problem is not necessarily as serious as it initially appeared to be. However, I also think it important that the Chancellor’s measures bring about a pick-up.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): One would expect marginal productivity to fall, but the fact is that there are 800,000 fewer people earning more than £20,000 a year than there were five years ago, in 2010. Is that not why the Government have had to borrow more in five years than Labour did in 13? Productivity is a catastrophe.

Mr Tyrie: Responding to that would require me to do a bit of calculation on my feet, but I would guess that if it is part of the reason, it is only a very small part. Far more important has been the much higher level of overall labour participation. Millions of jobs are being created in the economy, which is a remarkable achievement.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con) rose

Mr Tyrie: I give way to my hon. Friend, who is another member of the Treasury Committee.

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Mr Baker: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. He may not have had a chance to look at the financing arithmetic, but I am happy to tell him that since April, the forecast for the total financing is down by £14 billion. Will he join me in welcoming that, and in congratulating the Government on their progress on precisely the issue that was raised by the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies)?

Mr Tyrie: One of the advantages of not having to make a speech immediately after the Leader of the Opposition is that one does at least have a chance to read the Red Book beforehand. I am operating under something of a handicap. However, I look forward very much to reading it.

I shall make only a couple more points, in order not to detain the House for too long. One of them relates to the deficit. During the last Parliament, all economic and financial policy was overshadowed by the need to address that colossal deficit, but the economic and financial policy of this Parliament can and should be about much more, and we heard some of that from the Chancellor. It needs to be about nothing less than the economic revival of Britain in the 21st century. Taken together, this Budget, the forthcoming autumn statement, the spending review, and the Chancellor’s second Budget in eight months’ time will present the biggest opportunity for a generation to achieve that.

The Government have not made their job any easier by tying their hands on tax—as the Budget made clear—and on spending. Moreover, we have just been through an electoral bidding war, and a good deal of ground has been conceded—probably too much, in my view. Almost half of public expenditure is now ring-fenced by pledges to protect or increase spending on health, schools, foreign aid, pensions and child benefit, and that, of course, excludes the defence announcement that we have just heard. While it is understandable on political grounds, it could make economic management considerably more difficult in the years ahead. However, as I mentioned earlier, all sides now agree on the need for deficit reduction, although they disagree to some extent on how it can be accomplished. We heard a little about that from the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham.

Let me say a few words about taxable capacity. Some have suggested that taxes should be higher, rather than spending being cut, in order to keep the deficit reductions at broadly the same rate. It is important to realise, however, that it is not at all clear that by raising tax rates we necessarily get any more money; we might get less. It is salient that over the past 30 years, despite the best efforts of some Governments at times to collect a good deal more revenue, the UK’s tax take has remained stubbornly between 32% and 35% of GDP.

There is a ceiling to how much can in practice be collected in tax, and my guess is that the UK is quite close to that ceiling now. That derives not only from the fact that it is difficult to get taxes from very wealthy individuals—something to which the Chancellor alluded. The fuel protests in 2000 were a timely reminder for the political classes and the bureaucrats who advise them of how difficult it can be to raise taxes. In any case, we live in an age of global tax arbitrage: countries are competing for a slice of an increasingly footloose tax base, particularly in corporate taxation. Along with a number of other

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countries, we have launched an initiative to try to ensure that multinationals pay tax where their profits are earned, and that is a worthy ambition, but I wonder how much extra tax yield can be protected in this way. I note that the attempt to get the increase in yield from Swiss tax avoidance raised much less than was forecast at the time the Chancellor announced it.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman, as Chair of the Select Committee, feel that HMRC is fit for purpose?

Mr Tyrie: Yes I do, and I think it is in better shape than it was. It is important to remember that HMRC is a much-maligned department. Have any of us ever met people who like taxmen and women? They are not the most popular bunch, and they are easy targets. They have certainly made their share of mistakes, but they are being asked to implement a difficult tax code, and they have been doing their best in very difficult circumstances.

Of course we need more supply-side reform: a simpler and less distortive tax system; deregulation; better regulation in some areas; simpler and less distortive taxes on energy; better education and transport systems; and more flexible labour markets. All these are necessary to release the energies of the British people and generate sustained improvements and growth in living standards.

The Chancellor’s decision—although he did not announce it today—to keep the Office of Tax Simplification and put it on a statutory footing is welcome. Fundamental reform of the tax system is long overdue. It is a scandal that Britain has the longest tax code in the world. “Tolley’s Tax Guide”, which seems to double in size every decade, now runs to 11,000 pages. With that length has come complexity. That is a massive burden on business. I draw that point to the attention of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) who asked whether HMRC was fit for purpose.

The OTS recently published a list of 1,140 tax reliefs. A number of those could probably go. What is needed—and what has been needed in western economies, particularly ours, for decades—is fewer reliefs and lower taxes. We would be more likely to get the money in, there would be less scope for avoidance and the tax system would be less distortive of economic activity, and as a result the economy would grow more. This has not been done, however, because each relief has no doubt created its own, often vociferous, lobby group.

This is the first year of a Parliament, and it is in the first year of a Parliament that such special pleading can be faced down with intelligent tax reform. I hope we will see more of that in the next Budget in eight months’ time, building on what has been announced today.

The Chancellor has the opportunity to do some remarkable things in this parliamentary term if he has some good fortune: to balance the books; to reform and simplify the tax system; to complete fundamental reform of banking and the financial system, which he already has under way; to reduce the size of the state at least to the average of the first three years of Gordon Brown’s tenure as Chancellor; and above all to secure Britain’s long-term competitiveness. If he seizes that opportunity,

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it will be of enormous value to the country and his will come to be seen as one of the more remarkable tenures of any Chancellor of the Exchequer.

2.15 pm

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): May I start by making a couple of brief observations? First, the Chancellor got his tone completely wrong when he seemed to suggest that only right-wing politicians understand the value of leaving things for one’s children. That was the wrong approach to take. Secondly, he got the tone wrong when he spoke about benefits paying for people’s lifestyles. I think if someone is aspirational and is striving, and is struggling on unemployment benefit of one form or another trying hard to get a job and to get by, that is not a lifestyle choice. Their lifestyle choice is to work and they should not be denigrated by someone who has never been short of a bob or two.

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

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. There are to be no interventions on this speech as the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) is the SNP Front-Bench spokesperson. May I also advise all Members that I will be aiming for about eight minutes for contributions after this speech?

Stewart Hosie: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Also, the Chancellor promised at the election that he would introduce a tax lock to prohibit any increase in the main rates of income tax, national insurance and VAT and would legislate for that. He is not a stupid man, and I gently say to him that legislating to stop tax rises is just a gimmick and no one is going to buy it.

We welcome the living wage announcement. That is very sensible, but it is worth pointing out that the living wage that was announced is currently lower than the living wage in play in Scotland and in London, so I ask the Chancellor directly to guarantee that the balance between the living wage introduced today and the welfare changes will ensure that nobody in work is worse off. He can nod if he agrees.

The Chancellor said a number of things today about productivity. He repeated these sentiments from the Mansion House speech:

“We don’t export enough; we don’t train enough; we don’t save enough; we don’t invest enough; we don’t manufacture enough; we certainly don’t build enough, and far too much of the economic activity in our nation is concentrated here in the centre of London.”

We would agree with that; indeed, we would probably blame the Government for much of that. He went on to say in that speech, and again paraphrased this today:

“We will tackle each and every one of these weaknesses with the same determination we have brought to tackling the deficit”.

I hope the plans to tackle productivity are rather more successful than the plans to tackle the deficit and the debt and borrowing, where he failed to meet every single one of the targets he set for himself.

The Chancellor also restated the problems the economy faces today, and he is right to focus on the issue of productivity because, as has been said, the UK lags way behind the US, Germany, France and even Italy in GDP per hour worked. Even on a GDP per worker basis, it is

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still uncompetitive, and, as I am sure he knows, the situation in Scotland is broadly similar—with, sadly, both countries sitting boldly near the top of the third quartile of productivity for advanced economies. We all know what could be done if we could increase total factor productivity by even a fraction of 1%.

While I welcome the fact that the Chancellor has identified productivity as the major challenge we face—as did the Chief Secretary in the debate on 17 June—there was little in this Budget actually to fix the problem. There should have been a laser-like focus on innovation, internationalisation and investment in infrastructure and skills, and a solid determination to promote inclusive growth so that no one gets left behind, but there was very little of that. For example, on innovation, although the last autumn statement increased the amount available for research and development tax credits, this Government actually reduced the qualifying expenditure, and there was nothing in today’s statement or in the Red Book on R and D tax credits or any other mechanism to help encourage innovation.

On internationalisation—on exports—we heard warm words but no substance. We need to understand the scale of the problem we face: the deficit in the trade in goods last year was £121 billion; and the deficit on the total trade current account was a record £97.9 billion. We would have expected a series of specific measures in the Budget to tackle that challenge, not least because the contribution to GDP from net trade was forecast to be negative throughout the entire forecast period. As we have found from the Red Book today, it is now actually worse. We would have expected action on that as there are likely to be further obstacles, particularly in our trade to the EU, because of euro depreciation and the difficulties in Greece. But we heard nothing, not even about promoting exports to non-EU locations.

On investment, particularly in infrastructure—this is key—the Chancellor spoke about roads and hypothecating vehicle excise duty, but he did not repeat the claim previously made, not least by the Chief Secretary, that the Government would be investing £100 billion in infrastructure over this Parliament. I was intrigued, because the Red Book from March suggested more than £350 billion of capital investment— annually managed expenditure and departmental expenditure limit—across this Parliament. We have just checked whether that £100 billion figure previously used and ignored today was real, new money or camouflaged a cut. Lo and behold, total capital spend is down every single year in this Parliament. The rhetoric was fantastic and I enjoyed the performance, but the actuality is going to be pretty difficult when local bodies and Parliaments are taking decisions.

Finally, on the issue of inclusive growth, which is essential if we are to narrow the inequality gap and vital for stronger economic growth, how can this Government say with any credibility that they are tackling the issue of inequality, given the scale of welfare cuts proposed today? The cumulative impact on the welfare budget over the five years is approaching £50 billion. In essence, that is £50 billion from the poorest and most vulnerable in the country, and it simply adds to the burden on those already hit by changes to incapacity benefit, reductions to tax credits, the freeze on child benefit, the removal of disability living allowance and the overall benefit cap. Given that 2.3 million children are in poverty—if we

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include housing costs the figure is 3.7 million—perhaps the Chancellor would have been better off listening to the children’s commissioners across the UK when they said that families and children should be protected from the welfare cuts. Instead, he pressed on with the cuts to tax credits, which are damaging for millions throughout the UK and counterproductive to economic growth.

One would have thought that there might, by now, have been better recognition of the economic benefits of an equal society, but having forgone 9% or so of GDP growth between 1990 and 2010 because of rising inequality, it seems the UK Government are prepared to be irrational and counterproductive, and make precisely the same mistakes all over again. Until we can raise wages substantially by increasing investment, productivity, internationalisation and innovation, cutting tax credits simply cuts household income and increases in-work poverty.

Let me turn to the impact on Scotland. As our First Minister said in March, between 2009-10 and 2014-15, Scotland’s overall budget fell by about 11% in real terms, with capital expenditure down by about 34%. That means Scotland’s budget was cut by about £3.5 billion in real terms. The Chancellor said today that the cuts in this Parliament would be much the same, and so we expect, before we see the detailed numbers from the Chief Secretary, that the cuts to Scotland will be of the same quantum as we have seen over the past Parliament—yet more trouble lies ahead because of the indifference of this Chancellor.

Of course, the Chancellor has taken a number of small measures, and I agreed with some and felt he could have gone further on others. Let me deal briefly with the annual investment allowance. I very much welcome the fact that we no longer have a cliff-edge from £500,000 to £25,000, because we asked for that cliff-edge to be removed, but in the past eight years, with six rates, we have gone from £50,000 to £100,000 to £25,000 to £250,000 and to £500,000—a modest extension. The cliff-edge has now been stopped, and that is to be welcomed, but let us be clear that we are still talking about a decrease of £300,000 a year, and six rates in eight years ain’t no way to run a tax system.

May I welcome the freeze on fuel duty levels, not least because in March, April and May there were rises in petrol and diesel prices? The prices in Scotland for both were the highest in the UK, and our prices have been above the average throughout that period. Surely today was the opportunity to put in place a proper fuel duty regulator to provide some certainty in the future. The Chancellor said little about energy today, but this was an opportunity at last to end the connectivity inequity of the £25 KW charge to connect to the grid in the north of Scotland compared with the £5.20 KW subsidy in London. Such a move would at least have counteracted some of the damage done by the ludicrous decision in the last few weeks to remove the onshore wind subsidies.

On tax evasion and avoidance, I welcome what the Chancellor said about finding £5 billion more and the action on offshore trusts, on removing some of the exemptions for foreign-controlled companies and on the non-doms, but would it not have been better to go a little further and to have moved more in the direction of Revenue Scotland, to base the general anti-avoidance principle more on “artificiality” rather than “abuse and artificiality”? Such an approach would make it easier to

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prove where an abuse is taking place simply by dint of the structure being artificial. May I also welcome the move on carry losses—tackling the so-called Mayfair loophole? He is taking action on that and it is long overdue. Let us hope it does bring in the £250 million to £750 million that the UK appears to be sacrificing each year.

Let me say something about the 40p tax threshold. We have made the point in the past that now nearly 5 million people pay that tax rate, which is far too many. I am pleased that the Chancellor has moved modestly today, although if he wants to reach his target of £50,000, he is going to have to move more substantially. I urge caution on that, because it would be wrong to increase that threshold too fast while the same scale of welfare cuts are taking place.

On the Royal Bank of Scotland, I wish to say one thing on the sell-off of the stock: the taxpayer must get their money back at the end—that is important.

On student grants to loans, I have a direct point to make: if the transfer of grants to loans sees a reduction in overall English education spending, we will pay a great deal of attention as to whether that has a knock-on consequence for Scottish funding. We would imagine that that would not be certified as an English vote for English-only Members, Mr Deputy Speaker.

At this Budget’s heart was the change to the fiscal charter rules. We know that under the old rules of achieving the cyclically adjusted current balance by the end of the third year of the rolling, five-year forecast, with the supplementary target of having public sector net debt as a percentage of GDP falling, this Chancellor was preparing to cut more than he needed to run a balanced budget. He made the point today that deficit and debt are falling faster than he planned, and that is a good thing. He then went on to boast about running a £40 billion surplus. That implies substantially more cuts than he needs to make in order to run the economy in balance. We have said before that he had flexibility and he still has that, and we hope he will change his mind.

What we really heard today is a denial of the damage done in the last Parliament and a determination to repeat those mistakes, but this time with an ideological edge. It was less of a plan to boost productivity, which should have been at the heart of this Budget, and more a sermon from the high priest of an austerity cult—I was very careful there, Mr Deputy Speaker. This was not the Budget the country needed and it was not the Budget that those who have suffered most over the past five years should have had to endure. The Chancellor was right in one regard: it was a Conservative Budget, taking from the poor, giving to the rich. The Tories have done it again.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We will now have a maiden speech. Victoria Atkins.

2.29 pm

Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” Those are wise words for a maiden speech and they sum up the first Conservative Budget since 1996. They are also the words of a former constituent, who was born and bred

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in the village of Somersby. His name was Alfred Lord Tennyson, and I hope that I will live up to those values in this place.

Let me take Members to my constituency. It is beautiful. We go from the rolling hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds—yes, Lincolnshire has hills—across some of the richest agricultural land in the country, to the miles of sweeping sandy beaches where half a million people holiday each year. There is the fine local architecture, including St James’s spire in Louth, which is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year.

This is the land of poetry, heroism and champions. Heroes include Sir John Franklin, who was a Spilsby resident and famous explorer. He travelled the world and perished when he was charting the Northwest Passage.

This part of the world also played a vital part in the second world war. The shadows of RAF bases, such as Binbrook, Manby and Strubby, surround us. The most famous of all is that of Woodhall Spa where Bomber Command was based and where, in 1943, the Lancasters flew on the Dambuster raids. I noted with interest during the Budget that the Chancellor was very generous to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) with his Battle of Britain memorial. I will just mention that the Battle of Britain memorial flight flies from my constituency, so I shall be knocking on his door.

Today, the heroism continues, as fast jet pilots fly Typhoons from RAF Coningsby. They will be delighted at the Chancellor’s announcement that he will meet the NATO commitment of a 2% defence budget, and I am sure that this House will join me in thanking them and their families for their service to our country.

I am often asked whether there are enough women Members in the House of Commons. The good people of Louth made up their minds some time ago, in 1921, when they elected Margaret Wintringham. Mrs Wintringham ran a different campaign from my own, for she took a vow of silence and said not a word on the campaign trail—a difference that several constituents were keen to point out to me during the election—but I did not take her lead. I will not take her lead, and I look forward to being a strong voice for Louth and Horncastle when the time comes.

That brings me to my predecessor, Sir Peter Tapsell. As former Father of the House, he was well used to addressing the serried ranks of these Benches. He was a Member of this House for 54 years, or 19,730 days for the economists among us. He fought 14 general elections and one by-election, served under 10 Prime Ministers and was perhaps the first special adviser in his role as speech writer to Sir Anthony Eden. He also saved the British economy at least once. During one of the sterling crises of the 1960s, the then Labour Chancellor, Jim Callaghan, asked Sir Peter for help. Sir Peter had a think, rang the Sultan of Brunei—as you do—and persuaded him to buy £500 million of gilts, and the next morning the pound was saved. For anyone wondering, Sir Peter has not given me the telephone number of the Sultan of Brunei—sadly.

There is another former Member to whom I must pay tribute and that is my father. He showed me how much good can be done in this place, and made his maiden speech in the Budget debate of a new Conservative Government as well.

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This Budget will be welcomed by my constituents who know that a thriving economy pays for the things that we care about, such as schools, hospitals and defence. They believe that our country must live within its means, and, like the Chancellor, that it must be done fairly. In my previous life, I prosecuted serious organised crime, including tax frauds worth tens and hundreds of millions of pounds. I saw at first hand how fraud and tax evasion have both political and economic ramifications. In one case, the fraud was so large that it threatened to alter another country’s GDP. I therefore welcome continuing efforts to ensure that everyone pays their fair share in tax.

Locally, I will work hard to help the rural and coastal economies in the constituency. There are challenges. The Louth and Horncastle constituency measures 531 square miles, yet there are only a few hundred metres of dual carriageway. It has 157 parishes, but no railway station. My constituency helps to feed the country, but there is fewer than one person per hectare. The small businesses that are the lifeblood of the local economy must not be put at a disadvantage simply because of the vast distances of the Lincolnshire countryside. My constituents are hard-working, resourceful and resilient. There are pockets of genuine deprivation, and my constituents need better roads, better broadband and the implementation of the long-term economic plan for Lincolnshire. They will particularly welcome the announcement regarding the national living wage, as the median salary in my constituency is £480 a week. That is an example of how this Budget and this Government will help my constituents.

Finally, there is one more constituent whom I must mention. Being the Queen’s Champion is an honour held by the Dymoke family of Scrivelsby since 1377. For 450 years, the Champion, clad in full armour, rode into the coronation banquet in Westminster Hall where he threw down his gauntlet to any challengers to the Monarch. Mr Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I had not noticed you had taken the Chair. The people of Louth will not forgive me.

I throw down my gauntlet and promise my constituents that I will be their parliamentary champion in the years ahead.

2.38 pm

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): It is a real pleasure to follow the very accomplished maiden speech of the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). It was a little light, lyrical relief after the Chancellor’s Budget statement. I am sure that the whole House wishes her well in following the many years of her predecessor and of her father in this House.

This was a Budget that was trailed by both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor last week as offering economic stability for the country and security for working people. Today, it was trumpeted by the Chancellor as a big Budget and a new settlement from a one nation Government. But this is a full fat Tory Government. They launch a frontal assault on the finances of many low income families. They change nothing of the structural weaknesses in the British economy. They deny the truth that weak growth has been the central problem of the past five years, and they disguise the fact that there are economic choices that could give us a different debate and a different direction for the future.

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My right hon. and learned Friend, the Leader of the Opposition, said that there is always a temptation to oppose everything, and there is a lot to oppose in this Budget. Let me start by welcoming the action on the non-doms. Let me welcome the commitment fully to fund the Stevens plan for the NHS. Let me welcome the 2% commitment for defence spending; it matches what a Labour Government did in each and every one of our 13 years in power. Let me welcome also the new £9 national minimum wage for those over 25 in 2020, not least because I was on the National Minimum Wage Bill Committee and remember how hard it was fought and how strongly it was opposed by Conservative Members. I welcome their conversion to that cause.

The Chancellor likes to talk about growth figures for 2014. He did so again today in his statement. But one good year of growth does not absolve him from a poor economic record over his five years. Of all the G20 advanced countries in the world, only France, Italy and Japan have grown more slowly than the UK since 2010. The Chancellor has led the slowest economic recovery in Britain for over 100 years. Again, today, we saw the Office for Budget Responsibility revising down this year’s growth forecasts and keeping next year’s stable at a time when GDP per person is still lower than it was before the 2008 global banking crisis and recession hit, with most people still feeling their household finances getting worse, not better.

Why does that matter? Why is that our central problem? Weak growth means that there is less of our national income to go round, and productivity and wages are seriously depressed, which is why we have the worst and widest productivity gap in this country since 1992; the average earner is still £1,000 worse off in real terms than five years ago, and the minimum wage is worth less than it was in 2010. Weak growth means a more fragile economy—we are not saving enough, investing enough or exporting enough—which is why consumer debt is rising and we have the biggest balance of payments gap since records began in 1955.

Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con): Growth in this country is currently running at 3%—the highest of any developed economy. That is hardly weak growth. Yes, it took time to recover from the mess the Labour Government left behind, but this economy is now roaring ahead.

John Healey: The OBR has today revised down the growth forecast for this year. It is not 3% but 2.4%. Over the five years—which is how we should judge the Chancellor, over his term—it has been one of the weakest growth rates in any of the major economies and the weakest recovery in over 100 years.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recall that in May 2010, when the Labour Government left office, the annualised growth rate was back to 1.8%, only a little below what we have now, and then it was wrecked by the incoming Chancellor sucking growth out of the economy?

John Healey: My hon. Friend is right. If the Chancellor had not choked off Labour’s recovery, and the economy had carried on growing for five years at the rate at which it was growing under the last six months of the Labour Government, we would have had £100 billion of extra national income. That is a chunk of the national economy the size of Yorkshire taken out of what we produce as a country, with all the good jobs that go with it.

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Weak growth means a double blow for the debt and deficit, with lower tax receipts and higher borrowing, which is why the Chancellor failed to deal with the deficit during the last Parliament. This year, we learn from the Red Book, in the year he promised to have removed the deficit, it stands at £69.5 billion, with borrowing revised up over the Parliament ahead.

We know from the last Parliament that growth weakened as the coalition halved public investment in infrastructure, reduced Government investment in R and D, slashed vital capital investment in affordable homes and cut further education. What we have heard today risks reinforcing, not rectifying, those failings. Nothing that we have heard today will deal with the central growth challenge. Investment spending brings more benefit than just short-term economic stimulus. It is vital in the long run as a sure-fire way to lock in higher productivity and growth, which is imperative for good jobs for the future. Without investment in roads, in rail, in research, in science, in skills, in energy and in communications, we simply will not create and keep the well-paying jobs we need in Britain. Those are vital for the opportunities that our children will have tomorrow. When the Chancellor fails on public investment, he is failing our children’s future. Just as his overall surplus rule would not work for a family looking for a mortgage to buy a home, a teenager looking to borrow to go to university or a business aiming to expand, it is counterproductive too for a country that needs to invest in its future.

The Chancellor is no fool. The problem is not his intellect; it is his ideology. In this open, global, competitive economy, to get strong, broad-based growth the state needs to play its part. Government can be a force for good, not just in distributing national income, but in creating it too. Public investment in the UK is lower than in the large majority of advanced economies—well below the OECD average and lower even than countries such as Estonia, Latvia and even Greece. At the same time, the cost of borrowing to invest is at a near-historic low, with the Government paying a yield of less than 2% on benchmark, or 10-year, gilts.

Business gets it. Business organisations are crying out for the Government to lead an investment and infrastructure revolution. But just as the Chancellor halved infrastructure investment over the last Parliament, we learned today that public sector net investment this year will be lower than last year, and it will be lower at the end of this Parliament than it was at the end of the last Parliament. Yet there are choices for the Chancellor; there are choices for the country. He could set strong but more balanced fiscal rules to govern the public finances, both to stamp out any deficit on current spending and to recognise that job-creating, growth-generating investment is vital.

Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that over the next five years the Government could double investment spending while freezing rather than cutting departmental spending in real terms, making no further cuts to tax credits or social security payments, and raising no taxes, yet still eliminate the current budget deficit and have debt falling by the end of the Parliament. We should be debating that sort of reasonable settlement today, but this Budget, this Chancellor and this Government are denying the public that debate and those alternatives.

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Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Perhaps I can anticipate something that my right hon. Friend will not welcome in this Budget. Does he agree that, be it in south Yorkshire or north Staffordshire, if one member of a family with children is earning £25,000 and their partner is earning, part-time, £6,000, £7,000 or £8,000, that family is not rich, and if they are living in affordable housing the incentive is for one partner to reduce their hours or even give up work entirely? Does he agree that it is not right—it is an insult—for the Chancellor to say that their rents are being subsidised by other working people?

John Healey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and anticipates my point. What he says signals serious trouble for many people resulting from this Budget.

Just as there are alternatives at the macro level, there are alternatives at the policy level. The Chancellor wants £12 billion in social security cuts. It is the Tories’ choice to hit working and low-income families, when the Chancellor could have cut back even further on the tax reliefs for buy-to-let landlords, which at present cost the taxpayer about £11 billion a year. He could have chosen not to sell the public’s interest in RBS while it still means a £13 billion loss to the taxpayer. The Budget promises pain for many people who can do little to deal with the financial shortfall they will suffer. They are trapped by low wages and high rents. Many are only just coping now, and this is a Budget that will strike fear and desperation into their lives.

I got an email yesterday from Mrs Smith—let us call her Mrs Smith—of Rawmarsh. She says that she is “very worried” about the cuts to tax credits going ahead:

“I struggle as it is. I’m married with three children. I work long hours, and don’t see my family much as it is. I can’t afford to do my nursing as I can’t cut my hours down. I haven’t even taken my children on holiday in eight years”.

This welfare policy fails the head test as well as the heart test. Many of the cuts will punish poor families but not bring down the benefits bill because the Government are not getting to grips with the root causes of those welfare costs. We need a long-term plan now to control housing benefit costs, and we need to switch public spending from paying benefits to building homes on a big scale. In that way, we can build more affordable homes and make the Exchequer a profit in the long term through lower housing benefit bills.

This is a Budget with no compassion and little credibility, a Budget that risks repeating many of the mistakes of the last five years. Over the next five years, it will be our Labour task to prove that there is an alternative, not just as a protest, but as a programme for a different Labour Government from 2020.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Before I call the next speaker, it has been pointed out that a vast number of people are trying to get in to this important debate. I do not want to impose a time limit, but if Members can keep to eight minutes and make very few and very short interventions, I think we can get everybody in. With that in mind, I call John Redwood.

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2.50 pm

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which reveals that I am an investment and business adviser to a couple of companies.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) on her excellent maiden speech, in which she gave us a very good portrait of her constituency. I have noted the need to beware of her arrival when she is in her armour; if she throws her gauntlet around, I think that I will be looking the other way. She will clearly be a champion for her area.

I welcome the emphasis on prosperity in the Budget. I want a party and a Government who drive more prosperity for everyone in our country, and I want that to benefit people on all income levels. I especially want to see more people get into work and find other routes out of low incomes and poverty. The Chancellor is right to say that Britain deserves a pay rise and that we need to reinforce that pay rise as people get it, or reinforce their success in getting into a job and getting a pay packet, with tax cuts. I want tax cuts for all, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made a start on the promises made in our Conservative manifesto.

It is crucial that, as the Chancellor goes about the task of getting rid of unemployment and poverty through supportive policies, people are better off. What I want to do when we get to the detail of the welfare cuts is to see what the impact is, because we need to look at the overall impact. If people are going from unemployment to work, staying in work, getting a pay rise or getting a tax cut, those are all positive things that will make them better off, and we need to make sure that they are not completely offset or badly damaged by the welfare changes he is making. I look forward to those more detailed debates.

The overall picture in the Budget is quite different from the picture of the next five years set out in the outgoing coalition Government Budget. There is nothing surprising about that. We now have the opportunity to think the strategy through, based on the success in getting the recovery this far in the last Parliament, and learning from the coalition’s experience of the difficulties of getting that recovery up to speed and getting productivity to come through as we would like. The Chancellor is right to make adjustments. People need to work smarter to be paid better. We need a pay rise but we have to earn it, and that is the purpose behind many of the measures.

The expenditure proposals in the March Budget were quite tight in the middle years of this Parliament, and the Chancellor seems to have reached that conclusion as well, because the Red Book sets out some quite big spending increases for those middle years. Current spend in 2016-17 will be £15 billion higher than the March forecast, and the 2017-18 current spend will be £25 billion higher. I think that will make things a bit easier. At the time of the March Budget, there was quite a lot of criticism that the numbers were tight, and the changes give us more scope. We have seen some of the benefit already in the defence statement, but there will be other benefits. We have rather more latitude.

By the end of this Parliament, on the plans set out today, we will be spending £69 billion a year more than we were in the last year of the last Parliament. No doubt, there will be arguments about whether or not

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that is a real cut. We had those arguments in the last Parliament, when there was a similar rise in spending. I argued that there would be no overall real cuts and was told I was wrong, but the subsequent figures showed that that is broadly what happened: we avoided overall real cuts, but within that, because health, education, the European Union contributions and overseas aid were priorities, some areas suffered, to balance the figures.

The way the deficit comes down is not through spending cuts, of course; it is through a large increase in tax revenues from a more prosperous and faster growing economy. The figures state that tax revenues will be £168 billion a year higher in the last year of this Parliament than in the last year of the coalition. I would have thought that that is a tax rise to suit all socialists. It is a large increase in taxation, but I am pleased that it will come not by raising the rates—indeed, if we raised rates, we would probably collect less money in many cases—but by growing the economy and by people being better off and so able to afford the taxes. By the end of the Parliament, tax revenues will be some £10 billion a year higher than was forecast as recently as March. That shows the improvement in prospects.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the OBR report, accompanying the Red Book, which states:

“We have revised borrowing up in 2016-17 and more significantly in 2017-18, while the surplus of £5.2 billion in 2018-19 that we forecast in March is now expected to be a deficit of £6.4 billion.”?

Is he comfortable with that?

John Redwood: I am perfectly comfortable with that. It is the direct result of easing the squeeze on spending to which various people objected in the past. The figures show the deficit coming down and being eliminated over the course of this Parliament, which is exactly what ought to be done. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman’s new enthusiasm for that is personal, or whether it is just to tease me, but if it is personal enthusiasm, it is welcome to hear that the Labour party would now like to go faster in deficit reduction in the middle years of this Parliament than will happen under these proposals.

The economic background to the official forecasts shows that the growth figures are still pretty good and we have had a welcome upward revision to figures for the immediate past. We also see a welcome upward revision to the number of people in employment, which is fundamental to the whole strategy. There has been a modest deterioration in the balance of payments, which shows that there is more work to be done. The productivity work will link into that to make us more competitive. We have to earn our living, so we need more competitive products. All that growth and improved revenue is taking place despite higher interest rates—the forecast assumes a modest increase in interest rates compared with past forecasts.

On productivity—working smarter and working better —I welcome the scheme that the Chancellor outlined today. It will mean better roads and spending money on railways more wisely to get extra capacity in the parts of the system where we need it and increased efficiency. There will have to be a lot of work on energy, because we will need cheaper and more energy: as the march of the makers begins and the northern powerhouse cranks

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up, more electricity and more gas will be required. I hope that we will find cheaper ways to produce them than we have under the policies followed in recent years. It is important that we price people back into energy-intensive markets, rather than export all our energy-intensive business to other countries. It is no great win for those who want to cut carbon dioxide emissions if it is poured out of a factory in China rather than one in the United Kingdom. We need to be conscious of the need to be competitive in our energy generation.

We will need more on broadband, and clearly much more on housing, as many people have mentioned recently. I look forward to an investment-led recovery, with much more private sector investment coming in. We need to pay special attention to cheaper energy and to fix the railways, where we are spending too much and getting too little. It is not just a question of big investment programmes; it is a question of managing them better. Above all, we need to make sure that, as we implement the welfare reforms, everyone is better off and gets the benefits of tax cuts and higher wages.

2.59 pm

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Like the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), I congratulate the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) on her maiden speech. She replaces the former Father of the House, who held the attention of the House whenever he spoke. I am sure she will follow in his footsteps and do that, too.

Presenting the Budget today, the Chancellor was smug, self-confident and arrogant. He told us that we were the fastest-growing economy in the world, then proceeded to tell us that we would be on a downward trend for the next year and the year after. That needs to be looked at carefully. He spoke about cutting the deficit. We were told before the 2010 election that this Government and this Chancellor would eliminate the deficit completely by this year, but he has not been able to do so. He says now that he will reduce it by 2020. He reminds me of a good councillor friend of mine, Councillor Barbara Dring, who says that such promises are like pie crust—meant to be broken. The Chancellor has been good at doing that.

The Chancellor spoke about the nation’s finances, but in his speech today, he did not recognise the one serious issue affecting us all—the elephant in the room: the current situation in Greece and what effect the next couple of days of negotiation will have. Negotiations have been going on for a long time and there is no way forward. It would have been right for the Chancellor to tell the people today what his response to that would be.

John Redwood: The Chancellor came to the House this week to make a statement on just that and was very clear. The good news from Britain’s point of view is that Greece is a very small part of the European economy and we are not very linked to it.

Mr Mahmood: I agree, but if the right hon. Gentleman is saying that there will be no effect on our financial institutions or on us as a nation, the people to whom he gives financial advice should have another look at that.

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The Chancellor spoke about the wage freeze in the public sector for at least another four years. This is a real-terms reduction for those very important people who work in our services, particularly people in the national health service, and above all nurses. I have an interest to declare. Over the past four or five years, because of my personal health issues, they were at my service, supporting me through a very difficult time. When I was discharged, the duty nurse that day had worked for almost 11 hours, which she was not contracted to do, so that she could sort out the backlog that existed. For the Chancellor to keep those people at a 1% pay increase while he boasts about other things is a shame.

On apprenticeships and the proposed levy on large employers, if the Chancellor comes to my constituency, I will show him a brand-new centre set up by the Engineering Employers Federation, which I was fortunate enough to open. It has more than 330 full-time first-year students from members of the EEF in the west midlands, who are being properly trained. The issues relating to apprenticeships concern not only how we work with and support larger manufacturers, but how we deal with the smaller manufacturers—the people who have the skills. I know of a small company that is a world leader in submarine valves. It is a fantastic company, but it has had a huge problem trying to take new people on. It has had to keep people on past their retirement, so that they can hand down their skills to younger people. It does excellent work with Birmingham University. It is important for us to have that perspective when we talk about apprentices.

When we talk about apprenticeships in the engineering sector, the question is how companies afford the equipment that goes with that—lathes, millers, computer-controlled lathes and millers, and welding equipment, all of which is extremely costly. The EEF centre has obtained such equipment at huge cost because apprentices must be trained to use it if they are to be employed in the industry. We have had huge success with Jaguar Land Rover in Birmingham and the west midlands, but for us to supply the skills it needs, the Government must look at how we can support people who want to go back to real first-class engineering, which is what we should be engaged in.

The Chancellor has made a 40% cut in funding to adult colleges. We want people post-19 to be able to get apprenticeships, but colleges are having great difficulty operating with such a funding cut. The cut affects not just the post-19 age group, but the 16-to-19 group, because most specialist courses are run for both cohorts working together to provide a critical mass. Cutting the 19-plus funding affects 16 to 19-year-olds as well. Our colleges are at their wits’ end trying to meet those needs.

The Chancellor has made huge cuts to English for speakers of other languages provision. We have many people with the necessary skills, apart from spoken and written English. The more he cuts that provision, the more those people will stay on benefits, rather than working their way off benefits. Most of my colleges are proud to be working on giving people proper skills, but if the cuts continue, it will be difficult for them to do that.

The Chancellor announced that student grants are to be turned into loans. People in my constituency will be put off by more loans being imposed on them. What repayment do we get from those loans? It is all very well

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making such announcements, but the Chancellor has already had to sell the loan book to his friends. They bought it for a pittance before trying to recover some of the money owed. If a project is not working, we try to do something about it. That does not mean adding more to the loan book and selling it off to our friends, getting a better deal for them rather than for the people who need it and the universities.

A university in my constituency, Birmingham City University, decided unilaterally to move out of the constituency and seek a central location. We had a huge facility for the university, and we have had it for a long time. My predecessor, now Lord Rooker, formerly Jeff Rooker, attended that university, as did I, in engineering. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) was also there. It is clearly a great seat of learning, as all these people were able to attend it. The chancellor unilaterally decided to up sticks and move to a different location at huge cost.

The changes to family tax credits will have a huge effect on my constituency and on people trying to make some sort of living by working. This Chancellor has succeeded in doing what his guru might have aspired to do. She took milk from the mouths of children. He has managed to take breakfast, lunch and dinner from the mouths of families and drive them to food banks. This is a Budget for a divided nation. It has given more to those who have more and taken from those who have less. It is a deplorable Budget, and I urge all fair-minded Members to vote against it.

3.9 pm

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood). I enjoyed most of his speech, other than the peroration, with which I disagreed fundamentally.

Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a real pleasure to welcome you to the Chair. This is the first time I have spoken while you are in the Chair since your election to the deputy speakership. I know that the whole House is thrilled to see somebody who chaired the Backbench Business Committee with such distinction taking over as one of the Deputy Speakers.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) on her maiden speech. I hope that she will encourage the Queen’s Champion to return for a coronation banquet in Westminster Hall, which we had until the reign of George IV, but which were abandoned because they became too raucous. It is lucky that proceedings in this House are not abandoned when behaviour becomes too raucous.

I congratulate the Chancellor on his Budget. Turning to the Red Book, I want to start with something that will be particularly welcome in Somerset: the small cider exemption. That will allow producers to continue to provide 1,500 gallons of cider a year without coming under the auspices of the tax authorities. Our friends in Europe are having a go at the good people of Somerset and trying to tax that small quantity of cider, so I am reassured and relieved that the Chancellor has the best interests of my fellow county-men at heart.

The key to this Budget, I think, are the changes in corporation tax and the approach to make companies more competitive, which will give them the opportunity

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to pay people more and help get them out of the trap of welfare. That moral imperative underlies the whole tone of the Budget, making it not only economically prudent but morally right. That is quite a strong claim to be able to make for a Budget, because economics and morality do not invariably mix.

If we look at what is happening on the corporate side, we see that the Chancellor made the very important decision two or three years ago that examining corporation tax changes would be done on a dynamic basis. That meant that the increase in revenue, and in employment, that would result from reducing rates could be taken into account, in contrast to the historically flat approach taken by the Treasury, which assumed that other things would remain broadly equal—the ceteris paribus of economists, which always tends to be neither ceteris nor paribus. That approach has allowed him to reduce corporation tax, which has led to a much stronger underlying economic performance.

However, the quid pro quo that the Budget is asking for is that some of that extra profit should be devoted to increasing the wages of some of the poorest people in society. That is the moral underpinning of what the Chancellor is doing. Even better, people who then work will keep the fruits of their labour. Therefore, raising thresholds is a fundamentally good thing to do.

My noble Friend Lord Saatchi, along with another friend of mine, Peter Warburton, produced a book for the Centre for Policy Studies 10 or 15 years ago, in which they argued, “Stop poor people paying taxes.” It is idiotic to make people pay high levels of tax and then feed them back their own money through the benefits system. The more we can stop that, the more efficient the economic system will be. These corporate changes are crucial. They will help to grow the economy, boost employment and take poor people out of poverty and into solid earning work, where they will not pay tax until they are prosperous.

I think that there is more to do. I hope that the Treasury will examine national insurance further. Raising the threshold from £2,000 to £3,000 is certainly welcome, but national insurance still clicks in at much too low a level. In order to continue the process of ensuring that work pays and that people can keep the fruits of their labour, national insurance is the next challenge. Income tax will be done by the end of this Parliament, but the question of national insurance is still there.

In that context, what the Chancellor is doing about banks is very much to be welcomed. It was quite right that banks were punished, post-2008, for their manifold sins. That had to be done; the revenue was needed and society wanted to show its disapproval of the way in which some banks had behaved. But that has to come to an end eventually. We need a banking industry that is there to help businesses and individuals to prosper. Bringing down the bank levy and focusing it on UK assets will begin to do that, although whether the extra bit of corporation tax will ultimately prove necessary is another matter. Removing from the banks their pariah status is something we need to do eventually, but without forgiving them for all the flaws that they put upon themselves in the past.

Then there is the issue of welfare, which ties in with all this. The proposals will allow people on welfare to have a better chance of getting employment and being paid more, but with some benefits being reduced. Again,

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I think that is the right thing to do and the fair thing to do. The reason it is fair is that people who are in work ought to be better off than those who are dependent on out-of-work benefits. It is absolutely proper to defend the elderly and the disabled, because in a civilised society they deserve support, but those who can work ought to be given every financial incentive to do so. That is fair on those paying the taxes that pay for the benefits. The move to ensure that work always pays, and pays more, and that the lifestyle of those in work will be better than those who are not in work, is a good and moral imperative. With those underpinnings, and with economic sense and proper justification for fairness and good, I commend the Budget to the House.

3.16 pm

Philip Boswell (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). I wonder whether he attended any of the banquets he spoke of with previous champions.

Just a few weeks into this parliamentary term, I had the pleasure of discussing with a right hon. Member of the Conservative party how the Scottish National party Members were being received by other Members of the House. He advised somewhat humorously, “Labour loathe you.” Naturally, I went on to inquire how his Conservative colleagues felt. With a wry smile he said, “We loathe you less.” I therefore take this opportunity to commend my SNP colleagues for a most auspicious start to our collective parliamentary careers.

On a more serious note, I hope the message that SNP Members have sent—that we are here to work constructively and positively with any progressive Member of this House for the betterment of all within these islands—is being received. Although we work first and foremost for our constituents, we are also aware that the social democracy practised in Scotland would be of great benefit to the majority of the people of England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and we actively seek to create an effective and cohesive opposition along those lines.

I am honoured to have been elected to represent the people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. It is a burgh constituency, and although many have claimed theirs to be the most beautiful in the land, and although we have no shortage of beauty spots, such as Drumpellier country park and the under-siege Douglas glen, I cannot make that claim for my constituency, given the decades of neglect that our once heavily industrialised heartland has suffered. Rather, what we most value is our people. Our people are resilient, honest and resourceful, although far too many of us have had no choice but to leave to find work elsewhere in these lands. It has been that way for decades, and we deserve better.

I am happy to inform the House that my predecessor is well. Having dined with him only last week, I will pass on the message that he sends his

“warmest regards to all Members of both Houses of Parliament past and present”.

That is from Tom Clarke, and it is befitting of a gentleman, as I am sure all Members agree. I am sure that they will all join me in wishing Tom all the very best in whatever future endeavours he takes up.

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In voting so emphatically for the SNP, Scotland has voted for anti-austerity; free education; an NHS protected from privatisation; balanced books—something you ought to try down here one of these years—an anti-nuclear stance; and an inclusive, tolerant society that has social and economic justice at its heart, instead of the right-wing neo-liberalism we see from the two main establishment parties of this House. This failure is serious, harsh and oft-times leads to absolute despair. With the additional cuts announced today, I fear for the wellbeing of many of my constituents and those of many other Members. Dark times are indeed ahead, especially as these cuts will see the further decimation of an already overstretched and struggling social security system.

That darkness can often lead to the loss of all hope and ultimately to something much more sinister, suicide. It came as a real, hard shock to me to learn that suicide is the biggest cause of death in Scotland for people aged 14 to 35, with three times as many young men taking their own lives as women, usually by very violent means. When we on the SNP Benches plead with the Government to stay the hand that cuts, it is not just because it does not work and never has; it is also to protect those who will suffer most, the vulnerable in our society. How terrible that suffering is when a loved one is so stretched that they are driven to take their own life. Thankfully, there are good folk around, particularly one Anne Rowan who has set up Chris’s House in my home constituency town of Coatbridge. Chris stands for the Centre for Help Respite Intervention Surrounding Suicide, and Chris’s House is a 24-hour service dedicated to engaging with people in distress, the first to be set up in Scotland, so that there will always be hope. It is a new charity I am proud and humble to be patron of.

What of hope? What is the difference between aspiration and hope? I hear many in these Chambers use the words “aspiration” and “aspirational”. When we compare the modern definitions, the none too subtle difference is clear. Aspirational means:

“Having or characterised by aspirations to achieve social prestige and material success”,

versus hope, which means:

“Grounds for believing that something good may happen.”

People have hope for the future not just for themselves but for others. In Scotland, although we are not without aspiration, it is with hope that we look to the future for all those who live and work in Scotland. We, the 56, have been sent south with a unique mandate to do our best by those who believe more in hope for all than in material aspiration exclusively for the few.

What we now see in Scotland is a people awakened to politics. Glib soundbites no longer cut it, as all the establishment parties should now realise. The now infamous promise of home rule, near-federalism and devo to the max was pivotal in giving this House one more chance to give Scotland the powers it voted for and to get it right. Perhaps it is presumptuous of me to believe that this House understands Scotland and its people. Of course, we ourselves have been wrestling with the idea of the Caledonian antisyzygy since the early 1900s. This very Scottish dichotomy needs at least to be considered, if not fully understood, if Members want to understand what we, the people of Scotland, are, what we believe in and what we voted for.

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A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Scotland—I see he is no longer in his place—stated that there was “no empirical evidence” that the now infamous vow affected the vote in the Scottish referendum last year. I direct him to Lord Ashcroft's exit poll on the question about the “most important reasons” for voting no by percentage of no voters, which shows that 25% of no voters—14% of the electorate—stated that the main reason was:

“A NO vote would still mean extra powers for the Scottish Parliament together with the security of remaining part of the UK, giving the best of both worlds”.

I am, of course, happy to furnish the Secretary of State with this empirical evidence that was so hard to find.

This darkness of cuts and social deprivation can be found mostly in the lives of the poor souls affected but also in the soulless lives of those who would impose such evils on the most vulnerable in our society. Where is the empathy? What matters—materialism or people? Members of this House would be wise to take heed of the words of Scotland's national bard and to understand that people come before profit. After all:

“The rank is but the guinea’s stamp

The man’s the gowd for a’ that”.

That is something that we would all do well to remember in both Houses of this Parliament. Slàinte, Madam Deputy Speaker.

3.24 pm

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) on a superb maiden speech. To secure a swing of just under 40% over a well-established incumbent was a remarkable achievement and I am sure that he will make a superb representative of that constituency.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) for her maiden speech. She will also be an impressive Member of this Chamber. She took over from a near neighbour of mine, Sir Peter Tapsell, who was a terrific Father of the House and someone with whom I worked closely on local issues. I remember on one occasion we were dealing with local hospitals, and at the end of a meeting of local MPs I said to him that I would probably do a press release and speak to Radio Norfolk. I said, “Sir Peter, are you going to talk to Radio Lincolnshire?” He said, “Don’t be so ridiculous. I’ve never spoken to local radio in my life and I do not plan to start now.” I believe that the new Member for that constituency will probably take a more modern view of the media.

This Budget will help secure our ongoing recovery and prosperity. It will also be pivotal in getting our finances on to a more sustainable footing. As far as the welfare reforms are concerned, I thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a telling point when he explained to the House that we have 1% of the world’s population, 4% of its GDP but 7% of the world’s welfare. I absolutely believe that he was right to home in on the tax credit regime, which I believe has reached a point at which it lacks credibility in any way, shape or form, particularly as far as child tax credits are concerned. They have no work requirement at all and in fact make work less attractive. The maximum amount received is received

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by those who do not work at all, so action had to be taken. Furthermore, tax credits overall impose ridiculously high marginal tax rates on recipients who earn more and have their credits withdrawn. We want a system that encourages people to go to work, rather than the reverse.

We will have to do a lot of work to explain the case, but if we weigh the changes to the welfare system and the reductions in the welfare budget against the extra measures to get people into work, the help that we will give people who are already in work, such as the new national minimum wage, which I welcome, the reduction in corporation tax, the new tax threshold and the measures to help small businesses, as well as the tax evasion measures announced by the Chancellor, we can explain that these were essential changes in the interests of Britain’s maintaining its growth and prosperity. Above all, they will help those people who are in work and encourage more people to get into work, providing a big incentive at a time when jobs are becoming ever more available.

On tax more generally, I certainly welcome the changes to corporation tax and I greatly welcome the increase in the basic tax threshold and the target of £12,500, as well as the increase in the 40% threshold. That is incredibly important, but we cannot be in any way complacent about taxes. If we look at higher rates of tax elsewhere in the world, we will see that this country’s top rate of 45% does not compare favourably with the global average of 31%. It is 41.6% across the OECD, 31.8% across Europe and 37% across the European Union, and in the US it is 39%, so we compare very unfavourably with all those countries. In fact, the only countries in the world with a higher high tax rate than us are the Nordics, a few small economies such as Austria and Belgium, and a few unknown economies such as Aruba and Saint Martin, with great respect to the Dutch and the French. I say to the Exchequer Secretary that more work needs to be done as we get the economy under control, as growth progresses and, above all else, as we start to live within our means. We must look at the competitive position of Britain, and our high rate tax is a very important part of that.

I certainly welcome what the Chancellor had to say about trying to make tax more simple. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) has pointed out that Tolley’s tax guide is, for the first time in a long time, going to get slightly smaller after this Budget than it has after previous Budgets.

The Chancellor referred to Britain’s productivity challenges, and many people have described our productivity puzzle. It is staggering that on average the UK produces 30% per hour less than workers in Germany, the US and France. The key to that is to look not only at those areas that the Chancellor has made clear that the Government are looking at, including education, skills and training, but at technology and research and development.

In what was an excellent speech until its last few minutes, the SNP’s economic affairs spokesman, the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), referred to some of the changes needed to sort out the productivity puzzle, one of which relates to technology. As a nation, we must spend more on technology and R and D. In Germany, there are 1,034 R and D staff for every 100,000 people. In this country the figure is 800. We need to be

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aware of that and do more. Perhaps we should look again at the R and D credits referred to by the hon. Gentleman.

Infrastructure is another key part of increasing our productivity. I welcome what the Chancellor said about infrastructure spending, particularly his commitment to maintaining expenditure on trunk roads. The reform of vehicle excise duty and the launch of a new roads fund will help guarantee that. I say to the Exchequer Secretary that in East Anglia we are really keen for the dualling of the A47 to be brought forward, and for the different programmes and schemes on that essential east-west trunk road to be given maximum priority.

On exports and trade, we are a great mercantile nation and we have always taken a lead in opening up new markets in the world. In fact, we were the first country to liberalise our own trade. Of course, in the 18th and 19th centuries we not only liberalised our own trade, but sent the Royal Navy to force others to do the same, even if they did not want to co-operate. It is absolutely essential that we do more to liberalise world trade.

In our renegotiations with the EU we should be not just asking what more the EU can do for Britain in terms of the repatriation of various competences—that is essential—but telling the EU that, in certain areas of activity, it could do more to help wealth creation, productivity and growth across Europe. It is essential that the EU completes the free trade agreements with the US and China as a matter of priority, because if we do not do that, there will be no significant improvement in either the EU’s or our wider trade. Trade has slowed down, so it is absolutely essential that it is given a kick-start.

In conclusion, this is a very bold Budget and a number of very imaginative and impressive measures have been announced, particularly with regard to wealth creation and small and medium-sized enterprises. Obviously, it is the first Conservative Budget for 20 years, as a number of my colleagues have pointed out. It spelled out above all else that Britain must now be really serious about living within our means. I ask right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who are challenging our welfare alterations and changes what they would do about the ongoing budget deficit. According to our plans, the deficit will come down and we will reach a budget balance by 2019-20. If they are not prepared to support us in making those changes, we will not hit such a target. In a world where—

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Bellingham: I will not give way, because I am concluding.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester pointed out, dark clouds are blowing in over China and Greece. The parallels between China and Wall Street in 1929 are incredibly scary. In Greece, the oxi to austerity has already triggered a bond rout, to which Britain—with only 1%—is not overexposed. On the other hand, our much larger exposure to other economies on the periphery in relation to our banks’ capital buffers is hugely more

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worrying. Above all, the UK must continue to manage the economy prudently, and this Budget is a vital step in that direction.

3.35 pm

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): May I start with an unusual and perhaps uncharacteristic thank you to the Chancellor, on one issue only? I thank him for his commitment to a memorial to the victims of the Tunisia bombing. Three of the victims—Adrian and Patrick Evans and Joel Richards—are constituents of mine, not, as the Prime Minister said earlier, of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz).

I congratulate the two maiden speakers, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) and the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell); I hope my pronunciation is correct. The quality of their speeches demonstrated that they will be very valuable additions to the House, and I look forward to listening to them on many occasions.

On the substance of the Budget statement, I could not help but remember the last one we had in March, less than four months ago. The Chancellor told us in his introduction that

“Britain is walking tall again”,

and he concluded that it was

“the Budget for Britain, the come-back country.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 765, 779.]

I did not realise at the time that the March Budget was designed just to win the election, and that he would be coming back to deal with the unpopular decisions that it had so obviously evaded. I know that many Members will want to analyse and discuss the impact of this Budget in this and subsequent debates, but I want to concentrate on the central economic issues that it has failed to address.

After five years under his supervision, the economy that the Chancellor has produced is one in which productivity has been reduced, our trade deficit with the rest of the world has grown, our investment has been far lower than what is necessary to sustain the level of growth needed to eliminate the public sector deficit, our living standards have dropped and tax receipts have fallen as a result. That is why we are in a pickle today, and why this Budget is in this form. Our regret is that, in dealing with that, we have more of the same: an attack on the living standards of some of the most vulnerable in our country.

The greatest failure has been in productivity. Amazingly, that issue was not even mentioned in the March Budget. The level of output per worker is the key to expanding our economy, delivering growth rates, and providing increasing standards of living and the tax receipts necessary to eliminate the public sector deficit.

James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the education and training of the workers whom he describes as underperforming in relation to productivity happened almost exclusively when the party that he supports was in government?

Mr Bailey: No, I do not. I will address that issue in a moment.

Before the recession, productivity averaged 2% per annum. It fell in the immediate aftermath of the recession, as it does after all recessions. Most significantly, as the economy has seemed to grow out of recession, productivity

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has not improved. That is virtually unique in our economic history. If productivity had continued to grow at the average level of the 10 years before the recession, we would not have had to introduce this Budget today, with all the restrictions and cuts that underpin it.

What the Chancellor has done—again, this is almost unique in our economic history—is to initiate an economic recovery that has failed to drive up living standards, failed to generate tax revenues and failed to pay off the public sector deficit. In its March assessment, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that productivity would return to normal and estimated that, if it did so, the public sector deficit would be eliminated by 2018-19. Unfortunately, its forecast on productivity has, even as of this moment, been proved incorrect and has been downgraded by the Bank of England. If productivity stayed at its current weak rate, the deficit would increase as a proportion of GDP by 2019-20.

To achieve all the objectives the Chancellor says this Budget will achieve, there has to be a significant increase in productivity. It is therefore perfectly valid to measure the policy initiatives in the Budget against the likelihood that they will deliver that increase in productivity. Will they strengthen the sinews of the economy in the way that is necessary to enable the increased number of people in work to increase their output in order to sustain the level of economic growth that would eliminate the deficit? Those sinews are research and development—I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) on that—as well as investment, skills and infrastructure. The hon. Gentleman spoke about how we lag behind. If we are to compete against other countries that are investing far more than us, we will have to raise our level of performance. Nothing in the Budget demonstrated that we would do so.

On private sector investment and business investment, I do not see any improvement in the availability of the much-needed funding for small businesses to expand production. The focus on corporation tax, while not unwelcome, overlooks the fact that for many businesses, things such as capital allowances are far more important in encouraging them to invest than a reduced headline figure of corporation tax.

A number of comments have been made about infrastructure. The Chancellor announced a whole series of measures, just as he has done for as long as I can remember. In the end, we must judge him on performance. What we want is a lot fewer launches and far more starts of infrastructure investment. Government investment in infrastructure is 1.5% of GDP. That is less than the 3.5% that is recommended by the OECD, and it is even scheduled to fall to 1.4%. Private and Government investment in infrastructure is still considerably lower than the pre-recession level. The cancellation of the projects on the midland main line and the trans-Pennine line demonstrate that this is a Government who talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): The Red Book describes the midlands as the “engine for growth”. When the Chancellor visited the midlands before the election, he gave a cast-iron commitment to the electrification of the midland main line. Is it not hugely disappointing that there was no progress on that electrification in today’s statement?

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Mr Bailey: Absolutely, and what the Chancellor said before the election, and what he does afterwards, is always revealing. For all the announcements, there is no indication of what the Chancellor will spend through this Government on investment in public sector infrastructure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) mentioned most of the issues that I wish to raise, so I will make only brief remarks on those topics. The Government have increased the number of apprenticeships, but often they have been poorly focused. After all the investment, companies are still complaining that they cannot get the sorts of apprentices they want. The measures that the Chancellor announced may or may not improve that, but to attack funding for further education colleges, which are the most strategically placed to address the skills problem that the Chancellor says he is trying to solve, is counterproductive and likely to be self-destructive.

In conclusion, productivity is key to eliminating the deficit, raising standards and getting the sort of economy that we need to compete in the world. It is reasonable to judge this Budget on its ability to do something about that, and on that basis and measurement I think it fails miserably.

3.46 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. It is an even greater pleasure to speak with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I welcome you to it. I also express my support for those who have given their maiden speeches today. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) gave a fantastic speech, and I also congratulate the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) on his splendid speech. No doubt he will be a great champion for his constituents.

Let me start where I finished at the end of my speech after the last Budget in March, when I noted that a lot had been done and that there was a lot more to do. I hoped that the voters of Macclesfield and across the country would vote for the Conservatives to carry on and do that important work. The good news from my perspective and that of Conservative Members is that voters delivered an historic victory for us. It is now down to us to deliver the long-term economic plan that those voters want us to deliver.

This Budget certainly delivers: spending is being controlled, the deficit is being reduced, taxes are being cut, and we are ensuring that work pays, as it must. Yet again we have a record overall employment rate—now at 73.4%—including a record employment rate for women at 68.6%. Two million extra jobs have been created under this Government. Our unemployment rate is half that of France—the socialist alternative that the Labour party presented as the blueprint for its plan B. We stuck with plan A, and—this is difficult for Labour Members to believe—the electorate stuck with us.

This Budget again shows the positive approach of Conservative Members. We are moving the British economy forward with more jobs and ever-greater success in creating the right economic conditions for balanced growth. Our GDP growth is leading the way in the developed world. Household spending is increasing, which I welcome. Even more welcome is the increase in

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business investment, which is up by 5.7% over the same year. Gross fixed capital formation in quarter 1 of 2015 was at its highest level ever recorded since the sequence was developed in 1997.

The right balance of policy measures is being put in place, from deregulation and incentives to work, to help to set up and grow a business and tax allowances for capital investment. All those things are creating the foundations for sustainable economic growth—something that the Labour party should learn more about.

There are now 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK. In Macclesfield, we have one of the highest levels of self-employment anywhere in the country. Those self-employed people are being supported and encouraged by the Government. I have worked with the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and Demos to highlight the issues around self-employment. I am greatly encouraged that the Prime Minister recently announced—with Julie Deane, the founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company—that there will be a full review of self-employment under this Government. Many of the self-employed are first-time entrepreneurs. I hope they can be encouraged to go on to become first-time employers and first-time exporters, further boosting the enterprise culture that we on the Conservative Benches cherish and want to foster. The enterprise Bill will help us to go further in that direction.

We are making progress and we are continuing to make progress. We want to do so by trusting businesses, trusting local enterprise partnerships and trusting local civic renewal. In the north-west, we look to Manchester to see what lead it is taking. Sir Howard Bernstein, of Manchester City Council, recently called for

“giving…the local control and might that a powerhouse needs.”

It is the northern powerhouse, in which the Chancellor has invested so much time, on which I would like to address the remainder of my remarks.

It has been a long journey from the great recession, but at the end of the tunnel we can see the northern lights of the northern powerhouse ahead of us. The lights are so bright, in fact, they have attracted the so-called prince of darkness himself. Peter Mandelson, no less, put himself forward as a prospective chancellor of the University of Manchester. These are not my words, but Lord Mandelson’s:

“something very exciting is happening in this region as part of the Northern Powerhouse”

and

“the Labour Party, I’m afraid, has a long way to catch up.”

I wonder whether the Labour party is in the mood to listen to him. I do not think so, judging by the comments made today.

We are making great strides in the north-west, particularly in terms of gross value added per head, which has grown by an annual 3.4% according to the Office for National Statistics, a record unsurpassed by other regions in the country. On a sub-regional basis, Cheshire is the only county in the north of England to have higher GVA per hour than the UK average, outperforming such sub-regions as what might be called “Greater Bristol”.

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We in the north-west accept there is a long way to go if we want to be the economic equal of the southern powerhouse, London. As Sir Howard Bernstein has said, there is an £8.2 billion productivity gap between Greater Manchester and the rest of Great Britain on a per capita basis. Correcting that gap, as our policies are designed to do, matters for Britain. It matters to the market towns around Greater Manchester, too, the most important of which is, of course, Macclesfield.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Maiden speech!

David Rutley: It is well beyond that, thank you. [Laughter.]

These towns play a key role in the future productivity of the north-west.

I want to focus on science. On 10 June, the Prime Minister said that we needed to increase our productivity

“by encouraging entrepreneurship, by making sure we invest in success”—

and, I wish to emphasise this bit—

“by investing in science—these are the things that we have been doing as part of a long-term economic plan, mostly opposed by the Labour party. ”—[Official Report, 10 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 1187.]

Science, and in particular life science, is critical in our part of the world. Alderley Park, now owned by Manchester Science Partnerships, is key. AstraZeneca’s Macclesfield site alone accounts for 1% of UK goods exported; a driving force behind high-value, high-wage growth in Macclesfield, north-east Cheshire and south Manchester.

To play our part in future success across the north, we need to ensure that the Chancellor’s ambitions for science in Greater Manchester and beyond are fulfilled. Manchester has been selected as Europe’s city of science for 2016. There is plenty to showcase to academics and investors, not least Jodrell Bank Observatory, which is in part in the Macclesfield constituency. I am delighted that it has secured the Square Kilometre Array telescope project, and an additional £12 million of lottery funding to recognise the important and unique science heritage of the site.

In his speech on 14 May, the Chancellor said that Manchester was not yet as great as the sum of its parts, and the “Exploiting the Excellence” report by the very good North West Business Leadership Team supports that view. I am delighted that having recognised the problem, which Labour failed to recognise and act on, he is determined to do something about it. The Budget puts in place the conditions and key ingredients necessary for the northern powerhouse to evolve: leveraged investment in infrastructure, increased investment in science and other key industry sectors and a transfer of power away from Whitehall to the northern powerhouse itself. This is an important combination of factors and will have a multiplier effect.

In fact, we are seeing that already, with the promise of additional investment in the northern rail hub, HS2, HS3 and now the proposed £1 billion investment and 10-year transformation in Manchester’s international airport. Today, we also welcome the establishment of Transport for the North, a statutory body, and the £30 million of additional funding made available to assist with its duty of delivering a long-term transport strategy for the north. That is exactly what we need.

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It is not just about the north or north-west, however; there are now devolution deals across the country, including in the Leeds city region, West Yorkshire, the Sheffield city region and Liverpool. Of course, success breeds success, and there are now reports of a powerhouse in the midlands too—the “midlands motor” or perhaps the “Mercian dynamo”. Whatever it ends up being called, I wish it every success.

I wish the Budget every success as well, because it is working to balance the books, to rebalance the tax burden, to rebalance the economy towards the enterprise economy we hold so dear and to rebalance our economic geography. I back that balance and I back this Budget.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Quite a number of people have dropped out of the debate, so the limit, which is not a fixed limit, is now more or less 12 minutes—[Interruption.] Members do not have to speak that long, but the limit is roughly 12 minutes. I call Sammy Wilson.

3.56 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I think this is the first time I have spoken while you have been in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and given your generosity, I am glad you have taken the Chair. I wish you all the best for the future and look forward to your future generosity—and that is the end of my crawling.

I congratulate the two Members who have made their maiden speeches today, but I say to the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) that he need not have this Jimmy-no-friends paranoia about this place. We in the DUP are the cousins of Scottish Members. Only 20 miles of water separates my constituency from Scotland, and although we do not share their desire to break up the Union, nevertheless we regard them as cousins, so he should not feel loathed by everyone in the House.

We welcome many of the aspirations in the Budget. We welcome the Government’s commitment to growth and balanced growth across the United Kingdom. We welcome the measure designed to increase productivity, because that is one way to raise living standards for those in work. We welcome the commitment to making work pay, because I do not want my constituents confined to a life of no work without the dignity and esteem it gives them. It is important, therefore, that we make work pay and get people into jobs. Also, given the threats to the United Kingdom, and indeed the world in many theatres of war, and given the demands we make upon our armed forces, we also welcome the 2% commitment on defence spending.

I have a number of concerns, however, about the Budget. While I hope the Chancellor is right in his growth forecasts, he himself raised several warnings about the situation in Europe and Greece and the potential impact on a major export market and about the situation in China. Yet despite that, part of the growth forecast in the Budget is based on exports growing on average over the next five years by seven times more than they grew this year. If that is one of the components of economic growth, we have to say that there is a huge risk factor.

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The Budget is also based on consumer spending being the main driver of growth. Of course, consumer spending is the main part of GDP, but, against a period of wages not growing and so on, that increase in consumer spending can be achieved only through increased borrowing, and we have seen in the past the impact on the economy of unsustainable domestic and private borrowing.

So there are warning signs, and even when it comes to some of the incentives for industry to grow—a number of Members have mentioned this today—there is no great mention of what we do about energy prices. It really does not matter whether we are talking about what people would call old industries—whether steel manufacturing or whatever—or even the modern data-processing industries, all of them are huge energy consumers. Yet the environmental taxes, which are one of the things that have been driving up energy prices, are set to grow over the next five years by three times, from £5.6 billion to £16.1 billion. There are therefore a number of factors in this Budget that cause concerns about the Chancellor’s predictions.

There is another concern I have. I welcome the fact that the Government believe that

“the only way to secure a truly national recovery is through a fundamental rebalancing of the British economy based on investment across the regions…driven by the private sector, and further devolution to increase local decision making.”

That is a great sentiment, but for Northern Ireland I see nothing new here. The Chancellor has said that he is committed to the delivery of the Stormont House agreement. The Stormont House agreement is now nearly nine months old. It has not been delivered on—I have to say, that is not the fault of the Government, but the fault of the Social Democratic and Labour party and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland—but if that is what the Chancellor is relying on, then there is nothing new in this Budget. Indeed, the growth in Government investment, which is one of the potential drivers, is set to fall by 50% over the period of this Budget. Already we know that in Northern Ireland that means there will be a cut in capital expenditure for this year and subsequent years, the details and timing of which the Treasury is still to tell us, including in negotiations with the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland. So there are worrying factors about this Budget.

The other issue I suppose I have some concern about is the proposed change in tax credits. It is one thing to say that we want to shift the burden of paying for workers from the state to employers—and that is good—but there is no point in saying that we will make the state reductions immediate, but then rely on employers to fill the gap in the longer term. All that does is leave people poorer. Given that we are usually talking about the low paid or unemployed, there is another downward factor. Taking £1 off them probably has a downward multiplier of about fives times, because they tend to spend all their money on things that are produced locally and in local shops. They do not spend it on expensive imported luxury goods, so this change could have a downward effect on the local economy. I would like to hear from the Chancellor what assessment he has made of the impact the change is likely to have in the short term. In the long term it may well shift the burden to employers, but in the short term I suspect it will shift it to the worker. That is morally not right, and it is economically not right either.

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I welcome the decrease in corporation tax rates. Once we get around to delivering on that part of the Stormont House agreement in Northern Ireland, it may well make the delivery of the corporation tax reduction that we have proposed in the Northern Ireland Assembly that much cheaper. Indeed, it may even enable us to lower the tax to 10%, and thus to become more competitive with our neighbours in the Irish Republic.

I am, however, very concerned about the welfare reform changes. We do not disagree with all of them, but we disagree with some of them fundamentally. While we support a reduction in the cap, I think that Members representing the north of England, Scotland and Wales ought to be concerned about the proposal to operate a different cap in areas outside London. I believe that it is the first step towards a regionalisation of benefits that would be detrimental to many of us who represent poorer regions of the United Kingdom. Once that foot is in the door, the door will be pushed further. Had there been a universal reduction in the cap, along with the rationale that the Government have given, we might have considered supporting it, as we did in the last Parliament, but we certainly cannot support this.

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, at about the time of the referendum in Scotland, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions gave a guarantee that there would be no different regional rate?

Sammy Wilson: I was not aware of that commitment, but I do see the danger in the proposal that is before us today. Even some Conservative Members who represent less well-off areas that are heavily dependent on welfare payments ought to be concerned about it.

I want to send a message to people in Northern Ireland, and also to the Chancellor. I believe that the additional welfare reform changes which must be implemented at Stormont will continue to be resisted by Sinn Féin and the SDLP, which, unfortunately, have a blocking mechanism. That may bring an end to the Stormont Assembly, because we will be left with an unsustainable budget. There will probably be another gap of £300 million to £400 million. My message to the Government is this: they cannot continue to pussyfoot around with those who refuse to do the job that they are meant to do in Northern Ireland, which is to introduce legislation which, in any case, they promised to introduce more than seven months ago. The Labour party agrees with us about that, and so does the Conservative party. If no action is taken, I believe that it will be essential for the Government to step in and save the devolved Assembly.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): My hon. Friend has raised an important point. Is not the irony that those who shout loudest about resisting welfare cuts are those who are inflicting more pain on vulnerable people by taking money out of other budgets? Moreover, members of Sinn Féin are not here to take their seats, represent their people, and vote against measures where it matters. It all amounts to no more than hot air.

Sammy Wilson: That is the final point that I was going to make. There are those who complain that we are in the pockets of the Tories, but we actually come here to raise our concerns. We will be here to exercise

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our votes while those who are putting the institutions in Northern Ireland in jeopardy are absent, silent, powerless and ineffective on behalf of the vulnerable in Northern Ireland.

We accept the good parts of the Budget, and we will support the Government on those, but we will, of course, argue against the parts that cause us concern and that will, in our opinion, have a detrimental impact in Northern Ireland.

4.9 pm

Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I welcome today’s Budget. The coalition Government inherited an awful economic legacy in 2010—the largest recession, a banking system still in a pretty bad state, a general fear that unemployment was going to shoot through the roof—and at about the time they started to get on with the job of tackling it, the eurozone started to blow up and get into difficulty, and clearly that is still a problem today.

The Government took the right decisions in 2010. First, they nursed back the real economy, so jobs could be created, people could keep their homes, and businesses could invest. Their second priority was to reduce the deficit, which they did at a slower rate than originally intended mainly to help the real economy recover, but they still managed to halve the deficit over that period. They used as the crutch a rise in the national debt, which was a sensible policy decision, as we could then borrow money at very low rates and we started off historically, as we normally do in the UK, with a very low debt. As a result, 2 million jobs were created, investment started to increase and the British economy started to recover.

The public finances have moved in the right direction, but we still have a very large national debt; it is not large by continental standards, but it is by British standards. It is right that in this Budget we start to close the gap still further, from just under 5% down to a balanced budget and we top off the national debt and start to reduce it. I am pleased that the Chancellor has set out a plan to both balance the budget and start reducing the national debt, from about 80% of GDP back down to 70% and all points lower. That is good news.

We have been through a difficult period, but our hard work over the past five years as part of the coalition has clearly paid off, because we now have rising tax revenues and an economy that is starting to perform.

Tax credits are probably one reason why unemployment did not rise as much as might have been expected, because to some extent the subsidy of employment helped employers keep people on and meant people stayed in work, but the fact that we are spending so much on welfare shows there is clearly a welfare issue. At a time when we have falling unemployment and rising pay levels—they are now starting to pick up—it is perfectly sensible that we should try and float people off tax credits. I take on board the points Members have made and we will have to look at the detail carefully, but if we can reduce tax credits at a time when people’s pay is going up, the national debt and the national deficit can be reduced and people will become less state-dependent. It is right and proper that, if profits go up and corporation tax is cut, employers take the strain now and the taxpayer does not have to, because there is a limit to what we can do in terms of national borrowing.

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I think that the outlook is pretty good. Chancellors always do too much and always mess about with too many taxes and, like his predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) has a habit of doing that. Our tax code is far too large and there is a very good argument for tax simplification, but nevertheless the priorities that the Chancellor has set in his Budget are right: increase incentives to work; increase incentives to invest; and increase incentives to save.

There has been some criticism of the northern powerhouse proposal, but, as somebody from the soft south, I think that it is vital that we balance our economy. The parts of our nation that generated the industrial revolution have some first-class universities and a great resource of people, and we should use that to balance against London, because London’s economic impact on the UK is too great. If we can do that, it will lead to much more sustainable growth rates. We do not want to get into a situation where just at the point when parts of the north start to feel things are improving a little bit, London starts overheating and suddenly economic policy goes into reverse. For a one nation Chancellor with a policy of trying to get growth in all the regions, that has got to be right. I therefore welcome what the Chancellor is doing to try to have a more balanced approach to our economic growth in the UK.

I also welcome what the Chancellor has said about inheritance tax. It always seems to most of my constituents, who have paid an array of taxes over their lifetime, that when they die the state will jump in and take their house, which may be an expensive one, rather than letting it go to their children. These days, it is not difficult, particularly in London, to have a house worth £1 million—it does not have to be very big. As we have often seen, someone’s castle in Scotland can be worth less than an ordinary terraced house in London. The issue has to be addressed, and I am glad the Chancellor has done that.

It is good that we have addressed corporation tax and are continuing to bring it down. Southern Ireland has clearly benefited from very low tax rates, and making ourselves tax competitive is the most effective way to stop major corporations landing profits in other low-tax areas, because the incentives for doing so are much reduced.

I understand the concerns about productivity. Education, training, apprenticeships and investments in science will all make a difference. Ultimately, as wages go up and as the cost of employment goes up, employers will start to invest in many areas which will start to put productivity up. One reason why our productivity is lower is that the two sectors where we were the most productive—North sea oil and gas, and the financial sector—have taken a knock over the past few years. I am a sceptic about some of these things. There are things we can count, such as unemployment, but other things are formulae made up by statisticians, and I do not think they always get it right. An economy such as the British economy, growing at this rate and with relatively full employment, is a good place to be. I do not think that we need to worry too much about some of these things, which I am sure economics will put right as the economy goes forward.

In 2010, the right choices were made and today’s Budget has continued to do the job we started then. As a consequence, we will end up with a stronger, more employed, more flexible and more successful economy. Of course, some challenges remain—we see the challenge of Greece. Although I do not think that Greece will

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affect us, we must remember that French banks have loaned heavily to the Greeks and that very big figures are involved that could have an impact on the European banking system.

There are problems now in China, as its economic model is not as fit for purpose as it was. The BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—have gone into reverse. If we look around the world, we see that the countries that are often written off are those that are still doing pretty well: the United States, Canada and Britain. In Europe, the Germans and the Dutch still have formidable economies. We have to stick with the policy we have, as it is the right policy. Not only is it a good long-term economic policy, but its resilience has meant that, despite all the storms and the difficulties of the world economy, Britain has managed to make progress.

Clearly, we have a trade deficit—that was one of our biggest difficulties to worry about—but it is not surprising, given that 50% of our exports go to an area that has had recurring financial problems, that it is difficult for us to export. We should not get too upset about that, as it will sort itself out. If the Greeks’ problems blow up, things may well sort themselves out in the right ways, because people will actually have to take actions to make a more sustainable European Union and euro.

I therefore fully support what the Chancellor is trying to do. We have made progress. There is more progress to be made, but I am proud of what the Government have done. Clearly, we have to look at a lot of detailed things, but over the next five years, Britain should continue to make progress and show the world that it has a lot of good things going for it. The British economy is growing in size and influence, and its people will benefit from that.


4.18 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I pay tribute to the two Members who have made their maiden speeches today, the hon. Members for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell). I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle when I say that we are all going to miss Sir Peter Tapsell and his view of history. I hope that all his recordings have been kept for posterity so that we can understand what a catastrophic mistake we made in Afghanistan—I agree with Sir Peter Tapsell on that.

The Budget we have just received today is the first Tory Budget for a very long time, but I have been here long enough to remember the last one. It is as though this is the land that time forgot, because this Budget is exactly the same. It has exactly the same narrative of cutting taxation for the very richest, making life worse for the very poorest and selling off state assets to pay for it all along the way.

It is time for the Conservatives’ strategy to be significantly challenged, and there are a number of points on which I wish to challenge them. The first is the Chancellor’s really strange statistic that Britain spends 7% of the world’s welfare budget, which is, he said, way above the average of every other country. He may be unaware of it, but many countries in the world have no welfare budget of any sort. In large swaths of Africa and Latin America, there is no public assistance for people in poverty or desperation. It is a ludicrous statistic plucked out of the air and used to justify a quite appalling attack on many of the poorest people in this country.

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I long for the day when a Chancellor of the Exchequer introduces a Budget, in a way that very few have done in the past, and says, “The priority is to have an expanding and sustainable economy with sustainable jobs in an environmentally friendly way and to eliminate poverty and destitution at the same time.” We had none of that. We had all this anti-benefit narrative as though nobody was sleeping on the streets of Britain, as though the number of children growing up in desperate poverty was not increasing day after day, and as though there were no young people who are unable to do their homework because their bedrooms are too crowded with their siblings.

Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is extremely kind to give way. [Interruption.] Yes, I wish him extremely well with his Labour leadership bid. I would be happy to support him were I a member of the party. Will he join me in welcoming the fact that the number of children in relative poverty declined by 300,000 over the past five years?

Jeremy Corbyn: I welcome the fact that the Chancellor has changed the method of calculating poverty to produce the statistics that he wanted in the first place. He is doing extremely well on statistical changes, and I admire his gymnastics in that regard.

This Budget, with its benefit changes, is essentially an attack on the poorest and on young people. What do the Conservatives and the Chancellor have against young people? We start off with a third child onward policy. What is that about? If the Chancellor is saying that children deserve to be supported through child benefit—I guess we all agree on that—why does it stop after the second child? If a family happens to have four or five children—some of us come from families of three, four or five children—is he saying that the third, fourth and fifth children are less valuable than the first and second? What has been suggested is outrageous.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that this Budget is particularly bad for Londoners? Two thirds of Londoners on tax credits are actually working, so, far from encouraging people to go back to work, this Budget is a particularly cruel attack on working Londoners.

Jeremy Corbyn: Indeed; my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Although London has very high property prices and a number of extremely wealthy people—it is the centre for some of the world’s wealthiest people—it also has appalling levels of poverty. Some of those people in desperate poverty are being forced out of London by a combination of the high rents and the benefit cap, and the proposal now is to reduce the benefit cap. I am not pleased that we have to spend £25,000 or more on supporting some families, but from the way that this statistic is presented by the Chancellor, one would imagine that the entirety of that £25,000 went immediately to that family. Well, it does not; it goes straight into the pockets of a private landlord, just as the in-work benefit often goes to subsidise low wages. I am pleased that we are getting something approaching a living wage, though it is not very different from what the minimum wage would have been by that time anyway. We must look very carefully at the issues surrounding this Budget.

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There are also other problems for young people, such as cuts in benefit, their inability to access housing or to get a reasonable level of room rate if they are single, the continuation of the low wage rates and the conversion of all grants into loans for those from poorer backgrounds who were hoping, planning and aiming to go to university. What is it that the Conservative party has against the young people of this country? I find it very strange.

I represent a constituency that, in housing terms, has about 40% council tenancies, about 30% social private rents and about 30% owner-occupation. Because of the benefit cap and the very high rents in the private rented sector, many people are being forced out of the community. The same thing is happening all across central London. Those who say that it does not matter because they do not represent a London constituency should think on: this principle could apply everywhere else. The Chancellor’s proposals on housing are very interesting.

Chris Philp: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jeremy Corbyn: No, I will not give way a second time.

First, the Chancellor does nothing to address the housing shortage—not the lack of council housing being built, not the lack of sufficient housing association properties being built, and not the lack of sufficient places being built for reasonable sale. The Chancellor’s solution is to force councils into right to buy, with a discount of up to £100,000—£100,000!—so that the councils are forced to sell off what is called high-value property because such property should not be owned by local authorities. The council in my borough is, to its credit, building homes. It has just completed a development of 25 new flats, but if the Chancellor’s proposals go ahead, we will have the ludicrous situation whereby nobody on the borough’s housing waiting list—nobody in housing stress—will get one because they will be sold on the open market to anyone who is able to buy them. What does that say to those people in desperate housing need who want to maintain communities in London or any other part of the country?

There is also the sale of housing association properties. Housing associations are quasi-independent, and their properties are not the Government’s to sell. I am concerned about the financial model of housing associations, which has gone down and down from having almost 100% public investment in the construction of new properties at the time of their foundation, so that they have effectively become building companies using private finance. There is no problem in borrowing private finance to build, but there is a problem if the rent model or building for sale at the end of the process does nothing to address the housing needs of the most desperate people in this country. What we are doing by stealth is privatising housing associations by forcing them to sell off their properties.

What happens to young people who cannot afford to buy—who have no bank of Mum and Dad—and who cannot afford to rent? Where do they end up living? Why is the age at which people here are able to leave home and live independently the highest in Europe, and why is it getting higher and higher? This Budget offers nothing to those people in housing stress.

The Chancellor is very keen on regulating local authorities, by increasing the rents for those on higher earnings and decreasing them for others, with no remarks

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about compensating the housing revenue account for the income lost, but he says nothing about regulating the private rented sector and tackling the astronomical rents being charged in some parts of London. In my constituency, it costs at least £350 a week to rent a two-bedroom flat; a house costs between £500 and £1,000 to rent. It is completely off the scale in terms of what most people can even begin to think about being able to afford.

Levels of tax evasion in Britain are high, and I am pleased that the Chancellor is prepared to address the issue, but why have the 15-year rule for non-doms? Why not abolish the non-dom status altogether? Why not, as part of the EU negotiations, consider the tax-evading loopholes that exist all over Europe? We have islands around our shores where tax rates are remarkably low. Switzerland manages to charge remarkably low rates of corporation tax, as do Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Monaco. Should we not be looking to close all those loopholes? Instead, the Chancellor proposes yet another cut in corporation tax and says that the way forward is to continue the race to the bottom in lowering corporation tax.

The Budget reflects the long journey from the Prime Minister’s hug a husky days and the promise of being the greenest Government ever to the sale of the Green Investment Bank to the private sector—with what sort of requirements for its future performance, I know not, because nothing is made clear in the Red Book—and the cancellation of at least two major rail electrification projects, which were trumpeted before the election and used as part of an election-winning strategy to show that the Conservatives had really got it on railways and really wanted the railways to expand. Instead, they have cancelled the electrification of the midland main line and the Manchester to Leeds line. Is the western region electrification safe? There are many other projects one begins to worry about because of those announcements.

At the same time, the Government are investing a huge amount of money in road building. It is as if the whole transport strategy has been turned on its head, so that instead of going for the more environmentally sustainable rail transport, particularly for freight, we are once again on a road-building binge in a country that is already polluted and has too many vehicles on the roads. Surely we should be trying to rebalance our economy in favour of sustainable transport. I am not saying that we have to get rid of all cars—obviously not—but our transport policies have to be more sustainable.

Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP): On the subject of the Budget’s green credentials, the Red Book also sets out that renewable energy will be subject to the climate change levy. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is utterly perverse from the point of view of reducing carbon emissions?

Jeremy Corbyn: Well, indeed. I hope there will be sufficient opportunity to question the Chancellor on the whole environmental strategy behind this Budget, because I really wonder if there is one at all. We live in an era when climate change is a serious problem around the world. Air pollution is a very serious problem, particularly in India and China, but it is also a growing problem in London and other cities. Surely we need to think hard about the health effects and the role that a financial strategy can play in improving our environmental standards.