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In many ways, Bristol is a booming city, with the highest household income outside London and easily the highest productivity of any big conurbation outside the capital, but apprenticeships are important in Bristol South because, as UCAS tells us, it sends fewer of its young people into higher education than any other constituency. Other opportunities are a lifeline to Bristol South’s young people. Apprenticeships and training are the route to a better future for so many people living in our communities. Although Bristol South is not home to a huge number of large companies, very many small and medium-sized enterprises are based there, owned by and employing local residents. I may disagree with the hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), but I am glad he mentioned SMEs. I am particularly interested in the role that they are going to play in the delivery plan for apprenticeships and how the levy is going to work for them.

Last week, three important interventions emerged and caused me concern. First, the co-chair of the Government’s delivery board confirmed that SMEs will not be in the levy system when it launches, and that only firms paying the levy will have access to the new funding system from April 2017. Secondly, at the FE Week annual apprenticeship conference, we heard from the former Business Secretary about concerns that the levy may in fact be a revenue-raising measure, rather than a genuine one. Thirdly, we saw comments from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, which was concerned that the number of young apprentices has flatlined since 2010 and that many of these apprenticeships do not offer people a foundation they can build on.

I would like the Government to guarantee that every penny of the £3 billion this levy is expected to raise will be invested back into improving training and apprenticeships; that SMEs will have their fair share; and that the special and unique opportunities and challenges that SMEs bring to the apprenticeship table will be fully taken into account. How will young people, business, colleges and other training providers in Bristol South be able to access these opportunities? What guarantee can the Government give that my constituency will receive its share?

The Government plan for apprenticeships seems very much at the drawing board stage, so I am inviting firms in my constituency to help. I have issued an open call to SMEs in Bristol South to set out their ambitions for the shape of apprenticeship schemes over the next decade. I am sure the Government agree that the reaction and responses of employers to the levy will make or break the target. Will the Government therefore please accelerate the publication of the action plan, showing how the target will be met, how the levy will work and other fine details of the grand plan, so that I and others can work in Bristol South, alongside employers, colleges and other training providers, to promote and encourage full engagement?

An additional key consideration is the number of Bristol South residents who are not yet ready to take up an apprenticeship, so the detail of the Government’s plans for pre-apprenticeship training is of interest. It is essential we ensure that Bristol residents are not blocked from accessing these valuable opportunities because of a lack of existing skills.

I also have concerns about the realism of the 3 million target by 2020. Do the Government agree that there is a genuine danger that an apparently arbitrary target will

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risk a dangerous trade-off between quantity and quality? I heard of a call to my constituency office this week about a young person in Bristol South who was on an apprenticeship and was being asked to work from 7 am to 7 pm, with very poor support. That highlights the importance, in driving towards the 3 million target, of not ignoring the quality of that experience and support offered to young people. I also fear that post-19 loans will deter people from accessing training for the skills that employers need, which would have a negative effect on my constituency, so I look forward to reassurances on that from the Minister.

Earlier today, the Chancellor said to a Conservative Member—I hope he extends this to others—that where constituency MPs raise the issue of vital services for their constituency, this Government are listening.

In concluding, let me say that for me this is not a party political issue; I make my points in the spirit of co-operation and what is best for the people of Bristol South, who have sent me here to represent their interests. This is key to their ambition and aspiration.

3.58 pm

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Parents in Bedford and Kempston will have wanted a Budget that said, “Yes, we are going to make sure you get a good job. Yes, we are going to make sure you get a decent amount of pay, whatever job you do. Yes, we will make sure you can keep as much of your taxes as possible. And, yes, we will deliver a Budget that will make sure that your children have a better future than you do.” The Chancellor, in his robust performance today, has demonstrated that this Budget can deliver on all those items.

I was shocked to hear the response from the shadow Chancellor, as he seemed to spend 20 minutes of his speech trying to hold the Chancellor to account for something that the Chancellor is not doing. That shows part of the Labour party’s problem: there is no coherence in its approach to this Government. I would therefore like to provide a bit of coherence in my criticism of one aspect of this Budget—the sugar tax. I do so because it is not what it says it is, it will not raise the taxes ascribed to it and it will not achieve the health benefits that were its original vaunted purpose.

It is clear that this is not actually a sugar tax. There will be no tax on sugar in cakes, puddings or confectionary. That might be great for food manufacturers, restaurant owners and chefs, but it is not actually a tax on sugar. It is not even a tax on soft drinks, because sugars in milk-based drinks or fruit juices are not covered either. In fact, it appears to be a tax not on sugar, but on five companies: Coca-Cola, Britvic, AG Barr, Nichols Vimto and Lucozade Ribena Suntory. The Government ought to be careful about having very specific taxes targeted on very specific companies, because they will be open to challenge at the Commission or in the courts.

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it very clear in the Budget that one of the objectives of the so-called sugar tax was to get companies to change their behaviour by making low-sugar drinks rather than full-sugar drinks. I used to drink a lot of full-sugar Vimto, but I now drink no-added-sugar Vimto. Does my hon. Friend accept that that is also one of the aims of the tax?

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Richard Fuller: It is bizarre for the Government to attack one of the sectors of British industry that has done the most to innovate and bring in new products, while ignoring other parts of the industry that have not made the same changes. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the core of the issue is the impact on obesity. Office for National Statistics figures show that obesity among adults doubled between 1993 and 2013. The proportion of obese children in 2013 was 9.5%, which was higher than in 2012, but lower than in 2006-07. The products being targeted originate from way before the current obesity issue. Irn-Bru, which is often described as the national drink of Scotland, was introduced in 1901. Robinsons Barley Water was introduced in 1935, and Coca-Cola in 1886.

The Government are ignoring the advice of Public Health England which, in its October 2015 report, said that it is not possible to compare the impact of price increases achieved by, for example, the introduction of a tax on sugar sweetened drinks, with other factors, such as the demonstrated effects of marketing on children or the impact of in-store promotions on purchasing habits. Nevertheless, the general tone of the available evidence is that restrictions on marketing and promotions may be more effective than fiscal measures.

Neil Parish: Does my hon. Friend not think that it would be better for the Government to work with the companies to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks, rather than bringing in any form of tax? In the end, all we will do is to make it more expensive for poorer people to buy these drinks. That will not necessarily stop them drinking them, whereas if the amount of sugar in them could be reduced, that might have a greater effect on their diet.

Richard Fuller: My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, speaks with enormous sense and knowledge. He is, of course, absolutely right. It is much better to engage the industry than arbitrarily to impose a levy, especially one with such great uncertainty. The OBR states:

“The tax will operate with a specific revenue target of £500 million for the second year of implementation”.

It goes on—here is some real Budget gobbledegook—to say:

“From a pre-behavioural yield of over £900 million, the behavioural responses lower the yield to around £500 million a year. As a new tax likely to prompt a large behavioural response, these estimates are clearly subject to significant uncertainty.”

Well, there we have it—not a clue at all.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): Surely the two-year lead-in for the sugar levy is the right approach because that tells the manufacturers to reformulate. Surely the future and health of our children are more important than anything else.

Richard Fuller: The health of our children is, of course, extremely important, but, as I said, the sector is already innovating. There have been remarkable reductions in the sugar content of soft drinks compared with what has happened in other sectors, in which there has been no change in the amount of sugar that people consume. There are question marks about whether the levy will have the impact on health it is supposed to achieve.

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In Mexico, for example, where a sugar tax was recently introduced, the calorie reduction amounted to six calories a day. This regressive measure goes much against the principles that the Chancellor himself rightly outlined as the overarching ethos of the Budget.

Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this tax, which has many ambiguities, simply indulges our celebrity chefs and gives them more credence than they deserve?

Richard Fuller: I could not be more delighted to have given way to the hon. Lady, because she is quite right. The sugar tax is a passion of TV chef Mr Jamie Oliver, who is just the latest in a line of celebrities—think of people such as Mr Russell Brand and Mr Benedict Cumberbatch—to use their position to influence public policy. To quote TheIndependent, the

“chief beneficiaries of star-studded attempts to raise the profile of a good cause are the celebrity themselves”.

Can we have a new levy on policy pronouncements by well-heeled celebrities who sprinkle their fame to dazzle Ministers into ill-thought-through changes? The levy could pay for the unintended consequences for the public of their brief, highly jaundiced opinions. Emma Thompson’s pronouncements alone should secure the defence budget.

4.5 pm

Philip Boswell (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP): The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Budget and the figures reported by the Office for Budget Responsibility—considered by many to be a contradiction in terms—demonstrate yet again the Chancellor’s inability adequately to manage the economy. He has failed on several key economic indicators and missed the targets the Tories have set for themselves. Notably, debt, deficit and borrowing levels are even worse than he promised last autumn.

Given time constraints, I shall summarily mention a few of the problems with the Budget, before focusing on a concern that has not been adequately covered by others. Page 136 of the OBR forecast shows that inflation is set to rise significantly from its current close-to-zero rate.

John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that a sharp rise in inflation can have a negative impact on working households?

Philip Boswell: Yes, I completely agree. With the sterling depreciation, thanks in part to the uncertainty created by the UK Government’s EU referendum, consumer inflation has started to rise. The OBR has predicted that CPI will rise from 0.7% this year to 1.6% next year. Likewise, RPI is set to rise from 1.7% this year to 3.2% in 2017. Such a spike in inflation can have a negative impact across the economy, as my hon. Friend mentioned, because it means that many households around the country that are already struggling, including in my constituency, will find that the price of necessities rise at a time when they can least afford it.

Exports, which are already weak, will likely see further decline. Total export sales fell from £521 billion in 2013 to £513 billion in 2014, yet the Chancellor has declared an export target of £1 trillion by 2020. It is no surprise, then, that he is already likely to fall short of the target

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by over £300 billion, as was touched on by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), who is no longer in the Chamber.

On business investment, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) and the hon. Member for Hartlepool, there is more bad news with regard to productivity, and research and development. Page 12 of the OBR’s “Economic and fiscal outlook” states that business investment will grow by only 2.6% this year, which is substantially less than the 7.4% predicted just three months ago in the autumn statement. Furthermore, the level of investment in 2019 is predicted to be a staggering 10% lower than predicted in December. So far, not so good.

I move now to an area of concern to myself. Page 27 of the Red Book states that the Government expect to raise £25 billion from the sale of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Given several factors, however, including the current price of oil, I fear that this price might be exaggerated. In focusing on this issue, which I have grave concerns about, I would point out that between 2011 and 2014, RBS arranged £14.3 billion in leveraged loans to the oil and gas industry. In fact, RBS has been a leader among UK banks in arranging these high-risk loans. The falling price of oil has resulted in an increase in the default rates of these loans, however, and many of them have been repackaged into derivatives for sale to investors in the form of collateralised loan obligations—a derivative product starkly similar to the collateralised debt obligations that contributed to the 2007-08 financial crisis. How many of these risky loans RBS still has on its books remains uncertain, hence my concern for that particular £25 billion.

Let me take a minute to highlight what I view as a failure on the part of the Government to address the systemic risk inherent in the financial system and the wider economy in relation to the price of oil and leveraged investment. Alongside RBS, a number of US lenders with a large and active presence in UK markets have a high exposure on energy, due to leveraged lending in the oil and gas sector. For example, JP Morgan currently has $13.8 billion in outstanding debt relating to loans out of the roughly $100 billion in leveraged loans it issued to the oil and gas sector between 2011 and 2014. Wells Fargo arranged $98 billion in leveraged loans to the sector in that same time period, many of which are non-investment grade, and $17.4 billion of which is already outstanding. Alarm bells should be ringing somewhere.

On 15 December 2014, when the price of Brent was at $60 a barrel, the Financial Times predicted that if the price of oil were to continue to fall,

“there is a stark parallel with the US property market collapse that heralded the start of the 2008 global financial crisis—and upended banks along the way.”

Yet the systemic risk inherent to the financial system due to these high-yield loans and the “slice and dice” nature of derivative products relating to these loans that have been sold to investors were not even mentioned in the most recent Bank of England stress test result.

Finally, in the years since the 2007-08 financial maelstrom and ensuing recession, the Tory Government have demonstrated their expectation that the most vulnerable in society should pay the price for the mistakes of the financial institutions. In 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that over 50% of Conservative funding came from the City. We know whose interests

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the Conservatives have at heart. The Budget clearly highlights the fact that this attitude has not changed, as evidenced in the £3.5 billion of new cuts that it introduces. This Budget is not good enough, and if the Chancellor really wants to be head boy, he should heed his report card, which should read “Must do better”.

4.12 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): Let me first condemn the outrage in Brussels today and those who perpetrated it. My sympathies and prayers go out to all the victims and their loved ones.

While some highly respected colleagues are sitting on the Treasury Bench, may I put in a plug for the armed police in Dorset and around the country, and not least in our capital, to receive more money for training? As a former soldier, I know full well the complications of storming buildings and dealing with civilians who are fleeing from bombs, as they were doing in the departure lounge this morning, as well as about the chaos, the blood, the gore, the mess and the noise. To go into a building that has been attacked, armed police need an incredibly high degree of training, otherwise even more problems could be caused.

Richard Fuller: Does my hon. Friend recall the Prime Minister saying after the events in Bataclan that he would support continued funding for the police and particularly for our armed police?

Richard Drax: I do, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments. I am simply expanding on the need for highly specialist training. All kinds of things—images that can change during an attack and different lights—are needed in what will be a highly strategic attack. Our armed police would not be able to stay outside and wait for the Special Air Service to come; they would have to get into the building and save lives, as I am sure they would. I do not doubt for one second their courage or dedication. I am requesting that the Treasury and the Prime Minister look carefully at the moneys available to train our armed police to deal with assaults such as what we saw this morning which, sadly and tragically, are becoming more common.

Speaking of the military, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on resorting to military tactics? It is always said that attack is the best form of defence, and my right hon. Friend’s robust performance in the House today was a very good example of that.

I welcome much of what is in the Budget. I welcome the raising of the tax-free personal allowance, the increase of the higher-rate threshold to £45,000, the freezing of fuel, beer and cider duties, and the expanding of the savings culture. The Chancellor also reduced corporation tax and cut taxes for small businesses, and I want to direct my remarks about those measures to Opposition Members. We heard the shadow Chancellor say that they constituted a tax cut for the rich. May I remind the Opposition that such businesses are the engine room of our country? Many people risk their homes to invest in businesses and struggle for years to make a profit. They then pay for all the people whom we are trying to get into work, while also taking vast risks in making all the goods that we need for the economy to run, and generating the money that we need to spend on, for instance, schools and hospitals.

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The more money those business people keep, the more they can reinvest in their companies. It is not a matter of people jetting off in their 747s. I have visited many businesses, and I am sure that Opposition Members have done the same in their constituencies. I know that small engineering companies are now having to buy equipment that is worth £600,000, £700,000 or £800,000, and that profits are minimal. We need to help such companies for the sake of the future of our country, and the future of those whom we want to get back into work.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) about the sugar tax. I, too, have doubts about it, and I hope that Ministers will think again. I am also concerned about the effects of raising the business rates threshold for small businesses and exempting some businesses altogether. I am sure that someone will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that more and more local authorities, particularly rural authorities like mine, will rely increasingly on business rates, because central Government funding will be reduced to zero. If that is the case, and if businesses are to be exempted from business rates—which I absolutely applaud; do not get me wrong—where will the money come from for small rural councils such as mine? I should be grateful if the Minister could answer that question when he sums up the debate.

Let me now say something about the personal independence payment, and all that has happened in that connection. Like others, I have huge praise for my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). Having been the leader of our party, a lesser man would have gone off into a cave and stayed there, but not this man; he went out and did all that he could do, and has done, for the poorest in our society. He has dedicated so much of his life to that, and I commend him for it.

I want to draw attention to an aspect of the PIP that greatly concerns me. Many constituents come to my surgeries and say that they have been assessed unfairly or lazily—whatever it may be. It is a tick-box culture, and I have never liked the ticking of boxes. In some instances, support has been withdrawn from my constituents while their cases are assessed, although many of them have had doctors’ certificates explaining why they need the money. May I strongly urge the Government to look closely at the assessing system? We need occupational therapists, family members and doctors to contribute to assessments. It is true that that would probably be more expensive, but at least we would get the assessments right, rather than causing huge distress to those who are least able to deal with it by taking away what support they have, and then giving it back to them x months later when a Member of Parliament has become involved.

Finally, let me point out that virtually every departmental budget is now ring-fenced. Which areas can we stop ring-fencing? There must be savings to be made, not least in overseas aid, which I am sure could be spent and targeted in a far better way.

4.18 pm

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Let me begin by associating myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) about the dreadful situation in Brussels.

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This debate has seemed to be more about astronomy than about the Budget, because we have all been talking about black holes. However, there is a clear analogy to be drawn. It will be remembered that Stephen Hawking famously described what he called the “black hole paradox”: the idea that information could simply disappear into a black hole, never to be restored, although all matter contained information that was to be held in perpetuity. What a perfect analogy that is, given that, at this point, we simply have no information about how the Budget will stack up. Our colleagues in local government would rightly be horrified.

Where can we find information about the impact of the Budget? We can find it in our constituencies, and obtain it from the people whom we represent. In the time that I have been granted, I shall offer three areas of information on which we can judge the Chancellor’s work. The first is personal debt; the second is savings; and the third is productivity. Those are three areas in which this Budget signally fails the British people.

It is no accident that personal household debt in this country is going up and up. “Unprecedented” is the term that the Office for Budget Responsibility has used to describe the impact of the Chancellor’s plans on our constituents. Unsecured personal debt is set to reach 3% of GDP and to stay at that level. This is a black hole into which the Chancellor is asking the public to pour their own money to pay for his mistakes. Just how bad is the situation? The Bank of England tells us that people are now borrowing £1 billion a month in this country. In January alone, people put £500 million on their credit cards, and Aviva tells us that the average family debt is now £13,000, up £4,000 from last summer’s level.

Those on the Conservative Benches who are casual about credit miss the point. Not everyone is paying the same level of interest. Some are being charged excessive amounts for the debts that they are getting into to pay for the Chancellor’s mistakes. The hon. Member for South Dorset talked about people putting their houses up to fund their businesses, but many in our communities have long given up on the dream of home ownership as a result of the debt that they are now in. Wages have risen by just 4% in the last few years, but house prices have gone up by 76%. We know that every single penny matters. That is why it is such a problem that people face these levels of debt. This Chancellor is banking on the British habit of borrowing, but that is like putting Wayne Rooney in charge of a stock-take in a Nike shop.

This is not just about people’s borrowing habits. The fact is that we are now a nation that cannot save either. We are saving just 4% of our disposable income, which is half as much as we were saving four years ago. That is the lowest level of personal saving since 1963. Help to Save will do little for the 26 million people in our country who do not even have access to £1,000 for an emergency. On this Government’s watch, they have no rainy day money. Lifetime ISAs are out of reach for those people who have too much month at the end of their money.

We are seeing a situation of rising personal debt, and low or no savings, in which wages are now stalling. This has an impact on our public finances, because it leads to lower tax receipts. They are down £44 billion on the projections made in 2011. That is why we on this side of the House are angry when we see that those who will do well out of the Budget are those who can well afford

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to pay. We know that 80% of the gains from the Budget will go to those in the top half of the income distribution, and that half of that amount will go to the top 20%. Meanwhile, debt is locking our people out of opportunities.

George Kerevan: Is the hon. Lady aware that the very act of running a budget surplus—that is, putting more in than we take out—forces the public accounts into a situation in which private borrowing increases?

Stella Creasy: The hon. Gentleman might not know of my long-held concerns about the way in which this Government are managing the public finances. We do not have time today to talk about PFI debt, or about PF2, which is going to lead to even more problems.

We on this side of the House get the fact that we need to get the deficit down, because every single penny that we pay in interest, and every single penny that we use to pay for the mistakes in this Government’s borrowing, is money that could be invested in our people. It could be invested in the public services that our communities need in order to succeed. That is the point about this Budget. It is not just about the damage that it is doing to people today, or about the debts and destitution that they face now. It is about the narrowing of their horizons tomorrow, too.

We can see the Government signally failing to deal with the productivity gap Britain faces, and the 18% difference between ourselves and our competitors. They are failing to invest in our young people. By the end of this Parliament, China intends to produce 195 million graduates. Not just China is investing in its people; Brazil, Russia and Argentina are as well. Our children will have to compete with graduates from those countries, but our Government are offering them nothing in that regard. We can see the consequences for them in the productivity gap. And when the Government are forcing every school to become an academy, we can see that they are rejecting their own responsibility.

How very different this is from when we sat here a year ago and listened to the Chancellor claim that he was fixing the roof and that Britain would be able to walk tall again. He is a bit like one of those builders we see on the “Watchdog” programme. I would encourage the British people to go to their trading standards officer about him, but the Government have cut that service too. They are left with only one alternative, to look to an alternative party of government—the Labour party—to offer a genuine investment in the future of our young people and a genuine recognition of why fiscal responsibility matters. This is a black hole that is sucking everything out of this country—including, hopefully, the Chancellor’s career.

4.24 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is a pleasure and an honour to follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). As a graduate in physics and maths from the University of Liverpool, I both congratulate and condemn her on managing to get both Stephen Hawking and Wayne Rooney into the same speech.

I want to send my condolences to the families of the victims in Brussels. I was in Brussels shortly after the Paris attacks and the degree of security being implemented demonstrated that the authorities were already on high alert. It is clearly a devastating tragedy.

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The events of the past few days seem to have over-shadowed a remarkably good Budget from the Chancellor. Reducing business taxes to promote growth to enable people to have the dignity of earning a living, rather than a life on benefits, should be applauded on both sides of the Chamber, not condemned. I trust that that will be the Government’s focus over the next four years.

London has done particularly well out of the Budget, but I have not heard many details mentioned in the Chamber. The Chancellor has invested £80 million in Crossrail 2, which will be this country’s single biggest transport operation outside HS2 and something that we clearly need to get on with. I am looking forward to Crossrail 2 enhancing north-west London and my constituency in particular. It will be excellent for everyone involved in transport across London. Transferring business rates powers to the Mayor of London and London councils is remarkably important and will mean that the transport projects that London desperately needs will be funded by the business rates paid by London’s businesses, with that money being appropriately retained. Kick-starting the redevelopment of Old Oak Common will be central to the generation of new homes, new jobs and new businesses and a much better transport infrastructure for London.

Combating rough sleeping across the country is important. Ensuring that people do not experience a second night out is vital, particularly in London. I ask the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), to make it clear when he replies to the debate how much of the money will go to London, because London has the biggest homelessness problem and we all want to see it combated. I recently visited FirmFoundation in my constituency, which does a brilliant job of dealing with single homeless men, but it needs additional resources to assist such men and to enable them to get back into a proper home and get their lives back together again. It desperately wants to know how it can apply for the extra money being made available, so I trust that we will hear more details later.

In contrast to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), I applaud the Chancellor for introducing the sugar tax. Given that behaviours can be driven by taxation, something of which I strongly approve, the Chancellor has missed an opportunity. I welcome the increase in tobacco duty, particularly on rolling tobacco, to encourage people to give up smoking. However, given that the Chancellor has said that the sugar tax will be spent on things to encourage a reduction in obesity, let us drive behaviour by adding additional duties. Just a penny increase on every cigarette smoked in this country would raise £500 million, which could be invested in initiatives such as encouraging people to give up smoking or, even better, not to start in the first place.

The other issue that I want to mention is something that is not going to go away: seeking justice for Equitable Life policyholders. I had hoped that we would hear something in the Budget about further compensation for both the pre-1992 trapped annuitants and the people who have not received compensation thus far. Let me put the Chancellor on notice that we will continue our campaign until we get justice for those who suffered as a result of that terrible scandal.

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4.29 pm

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my namesake, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I did not agree with everything he said, but I associate myself with his comments about the dreadful events in Brussels today.

I am not sure that I buy everything that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said at the weekend, but he was right when he said on “The Andrew Marr Show” that the Budget was unfair and widely perceived to be so. When the Budget was announced last week, it contained cuts to support for disabled people while giving tax breaks to the wealthy and to large corporations. Although I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the unfairness point, it is a pity that his conscience did not jump into life some years ago so that we could have avoided the suffering that his cuts—or the cuts that he supported—to tax credits, employment and support allowance and other benefits have caused to so many vulnerable people.

The decision to abandon the cuts to PIP are welcome, but we must not forget the distress that was caused to many, many people who have visited our surgeries in recent weeks. Those people were really concerned about how they would manage should the cuts go ahead. I have not finished worrying yet, because we do not know from where the £4.4 billion of cuts will come, never mind the £3.5 billion-worth of efficiency savings that are also mentioned in the Red Book. It is really irresponsible to ask Government Members to go through the Lobby tonight in support of the Budget when they know so little about the detail and where the cuts are going to be made.

The Chancellor said many, many times that this was a Budget for young people and for the future, but it most certainly was not. Where was the step change in new investment for our universities and colleges, allowing Britain to build the knowledge-based economy that the Prime Minister is so keen to talk about and that would provide high value jobs for young people and others? As the organisation Million+ said, universities will have to foot the bill for increased employer contributions to pension schemes without any additional funding, and it is very disappointing that the overall reduction in capital expenditure for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills remains in place until 2020.

Similarly, the National Union of Students has been reminding everyone that the removal of education maintenance allowance, the scrapping of maintenance grants and the repayment hike for student loans have been devastating for many young people. The union, like others, is pleased about doctoral loans and some limited new money for lifelong learning—the individual savings account—and the apprenticeship levy, but, as it says, those measures are too little too late. It says:

“While George Osborne’s promises might sound appealing, his words do not make up for his actions. The government has forced cut after cut onto students who are already struggling to get by. If the chancellor truly wants to help young people, he could start by reversing his own damaging decisions.”

We all know that science funding is extremely important to our economy, so I hope that the Minister will ensure that the materials catapult centre proposed by Durham university gets the go-ahead.

The Budget was also unfair to regions. Once again, the north-east got very little out of it. There was some mention of a future upgrade to the A66 and A69, but

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nothing significant to reverse the continued underinvestment in the region from this and the previous coalition Government. The chamber of commerce said of the autumn statement—it has spoken for many—that it was disappointed by the lack of substance around the northern powerhouse, particularly what it means for the north-east, and it has said the same of this Budget. We all know that north-east councils, along with other authorities in more deprived areas of the country, have had their budgets hit hardest, so how will this northern powerhouse be delivered? As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) said earlier, there was nothing about air passenger duty and how Newcastle airport will be supported to expand. The north-east could benefit from a huge increase in resources to renew our infrastructure, build our green energy sector, grow our automotive businesses and extend our processing sector, but there is nothing to support that, just ridicule for our schools.

4.35 pm

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): I am delighted to contribute to today’s Budget debate and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on continuing to deliver a long-term economic plan that has seen unemployment in my constituency fall by a record 63% since 2010.

I have always been a passionate believer that for those who can work, work is the only real way to get on in life and succeed. This is not just a personal view but one that is shared by people up and down the country, and I am proud to belong to a Government who support a strong work ethic and are helping more families to keep more of what they have worked hard for. As a result of the measures announced in the Budget, in Erewash alone more than 45,000 people received an income tax cut and around 2,000 people were taken out of tax altogether.

Turning to business support, I warmly welcome the huge boost to the midlands engine, which includes £16 million of investment in our world-class aerospace industry, including support for Rolls-Royce, which has just announced that it is to create 350 new jobs locally as it prepares to ramp up the production of the new Trent XWB engine. Locally, SMEs and those who are self-employed stand to gain significantly from changes to small business rate relief and the abolition of class 2 national insurance contributions. These measures not only provide a welcome boost to the Erewash economy, where many of our businesses are small furniture manufacturers or engineering firms, but recognise the fact that those businesses are the real backbone of the British economy.

As chair of the all-party group on adult and childhood obesity and as a member of the Select Committee on Health, I want briefly to address the new sugar levy. The atrocities in Brussels today are a sharp reminder that the first duty of any Government is the protection of their citizens, but we rarely consider that phrase from anything other than a national security point of view. There is no doubt that obesity and the problems that arise from being obese, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, are becoming a serious issue within our society. Responsibility for tackling that lies on many heads—manufacturers, retailers, Governments, educators, health professionals—and, of course, on people taking

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individual and personal responsibility for the matter. By introducing the sugar levy, the Government are accepting their duty to protect the health of our citizens and of generations to come. In that, I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), who is no longer in his place.

I urge drinks manufacturers to step up to the mark and play their part in tackling the obesity crisis by reformulating drinks and recipes over the next two years to reduce added sugars. We cannot tackle the obesity crisis by a sugar levy alone, and I look forward to the Department of Health announcing further measures in the forthcoming weeks and months.

In my view, this is a fiscally responsible Budget for the long term, supporting workers, businesses and our future generations. More importantly, it is a one nation Budget that truly puts the health and wellbeing of our nation first and I commend it to the House.

4.38 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to contribute to such an important debate and to follow so many speeches from my hon. and right hon. Friends. Although I might not have agreed with what the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) said, I commend her focus on jobs and the importance of delivering a high-wage, job-based economy for our country. By contrast, the Chancellor opened with the mix of bluff and bravado, arrogance and malice that has become his trademark, but even so, I was absolutely astonished to hear him refer to social justice. This is a Budget with unfairness at its heart and misery in its veins. The Chancellor’s record of failure—failure to achieve any of his own debt targets, failure to deliver decent wages—

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree with me and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which reported yesterday that since the Chancellor has been in place, the gap between rich and poor has narrowed because most people have got into jobs? That is the way to bring about social justice.

Chi Onwurah: I would thank the hon. Lady for that contribution, but it flies in the face of the lived experience of my constituents, who are on low-wage jobs, cannot make ends meet and find themselves attacked by this Chancellor’s Budget. The Chancellor has failed to deliver for working people. His failure to raise productivity has been trumped in the past few days, in media terms at least, by his failure to deliver a Budget that lasts 48 hours.

The 1,443 PIP claimants in Newcastle will, like me, be pleased at least that that cut proved an ideological attack too far, but it is undoubtedly the case that by demonising and attacking all benefits claimants, the Chancellor hoped to create an atmosphere in which it was acceptable to enrich the better-off on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable among us. It will be some compensation for them that members of the Government are now attacking and reviling each other almost to the same extent as they have attacked and undermined benefits claimants.

I do not want to focus on the 48 hours following the Budget as experienced by the Chancellor. Instead, I want to give three examples of events that I attended in those

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48 hours that highlighted the huge gap at the centre of the Budget, which was a failure to address our future economy and the future of the next generation, as he put it. On Thursday I visited the Big Bang fair organised by EngineeringUK with engineering professional bodies and businesses from across the country, where 70,000 young people discovered or rediscovered the excitement offered by a career in science, technology, engineering and maths. Those are the jobs of the future, the ones I want for my constituents, high-paid—not minimum wage, minimum skill—jobs.

But where were such jobs mentioned in the Budget? Where was the investment in the future to help create those jobs? There were, it is true, tax breaks for those hiring out their assets in the digital economy, but there was nothing for manufacturing or technology. There was no investment in digital infrastructure. There was no more detail on apprenticeships, which we need to ensure that we have the skills of the future. This was a Budget that left behind the technology that we need for our future.

That evening I visited the Creative Newcastle Get Digital summit, celebrating one of the fastest-growing sectors in the north-east, only hundreds of yards from where Stephenson’s Rocket was built. That was the real northern powerhouse, powering our economy into the future. But the Budget offered a few hundred million pounds for investment in north-east transport, against the tens of billions of investment in transport in London. This Budget did not offer any investment in digital infrastructure, and we stand to lose the millions of investment from the European Union, thanks to the referendum and the chaos on the Government Benches over that.

Finally, on Friday morning I visited St Paul’s primary school, where 10 and 11-year-olds were taking on the Pioneer challenge with employers and other schools across the region to promote STEM and entrepreneurship. Those children are the future basis for our economy in the north-east. They are proud Geordies, yet what the Budget did for them was to force the academisation of their school, taking it out of the local authority and the community that it seeks to support and atomising it—in effect, privatising it and taking away responsibility from the local parents and putting it on a desk in Whitehall, which is also where the northern powerhouse is found.

This Budget offered nothing for the future of our young people, for the north-east economy or for our country.

4.44 pm

Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con): I would like to start with fiscal responsibility, as the Chief Secretary is on the Front Bench. Fiscal responsibility is very important —for the sake of our children, if nothing else. I have two-year-old twins, and there is nothing noble, moral or ethical about consistently spending more than we can afford and sending the bill to the next generation. Moreover, as the Chancellor eloquently put it earlier, without fiscal responsibility we cannot deliver the services that are so important.

Clearly, a good start has been made on fixing the deficit left behind in 2010; about half of it has been eliminated. Labour Members are right to point out that there is still more work to do, but it does not seem entirely appropriate for them to give angry lectures on

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the topic, when they have opposed every measure proposed by the Government over the last five years to reduce the deficit. In fact, had we followed their advice during the last Parliament, our national debt would be £900 billion higher than it is today.

During his thoughtful speech, my colleague on the Treasury Committee, the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan), suggested that high spending during the late 1940s and 1950s demonstrated that we could in fact spend money to grow. I am afraid that I dispute that analysis, because that spending spree ended in 1976, when we had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF. Even Denis Healey, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

“You can’t spend your way out of a recession”—

a lesson we would do well to remember.

George Kerevan: My point was to go not into the 1970s, but into the very specific period of the 1950s, when national debt as a share of GDP was significantly higher—twice as high—in many years than it is now. That did not lead to a burden on the generation that was young then—my generation—which is in fact extremely well-off as a result of that spending. I was trying to look at whether borrowing per se disbenefits future generations, and it does not—it depends on how we spend the money.

Chris Philp: I must respectfully disagree with the conclusions of my Treasury Committee colleague. If we look at economic performance in the 1960s and 1970s, we see that the enormous debt overhang, with the state spending too much money, was a drag on the economy and culminated in the 1976 bail-out. That was the natural conclusion of the overspending that started in the 1950s and continued through the post-war consensus period, which ended only in 1979.

The second main criticism levelled at the Budget by Opposition Members is on the issue of fairness. I am afraid I disagree with the comments made over the weekend by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). This is a fair Budget, but let me produce some evidence to substantiate that.

Over the last five years, spending on disability benefits has increased by £3 billion, and it is forecast to increase further. That strikes me as fundamentally fair. We are spending more than we ever have on the NHS and on education—particularly on pupils from low-income backgrounds, via the pupil premium. Moreover, we are introducing the highest-ever national minimum wage—the national living wage—which takes effect in about a week’s time. We have taken millions of people out of income tax entirely, which disproportionately benefits people on low incomes. We have frozen petrol duty once again, which also disproportionately benefits people on low incomes, because things such as petrol duty are inherently regressive.

If we consult the Treasury’s distributional analysis, we see that the lowest 20% of earners pay just 6% of tax; we would expect that to be 20% if everything was even. They will pay the same in 2019-20 as they paid in 2010, while the top quintile will pay 52%—up from 49% five years ago. The highest earners will therefore pay proportionately more in five years’ time than they did

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five years ago. This analysis excludes the effect of the national minimum wage; if that is included, the skew will go even further. I believe that this Budget is a fair Budget. It protects spending on the most vulnerable, and those with the broadest shoulders are bearing the burden.

Let me turn briefly to business. Before coming here, I spent 15 years setting up and running entrepreneurial businesses. There is a reason why our economy has created 2.4 million jobs in the past five years, and why youth unemployment in my constituency is down by an incredible 62%—it is not an accident. It is because corporation tax has been cut, which has encouraged businesses to invest in creating jobs. I am delighted that the Chancellor is continuing this very successful long-term economic plan—[Interruption.]I see it commands widespread support—with further cuts in corporation tax and capital gains tax to encourage investment. My Treasury Committee colleague suggested that lower corporation tax encouraged share buy-backs, which is a bad thing. I would respectfully suggest that share buy-backs cycle money back into the investor community, who can then reinvest in other opportunities.

I welcome the Government’s action on international tax evasion through the BEPS initiative, although they could forerun that with further moves on transparency and disclosure unilaterally in the UK, as has been suggested. There is a consultation document on giving the Financial Policy Committee further powers to direct buy-to-let mortgage lending, which appears to be very high. I urge the Government to look seriously at those proposals and enact them at the earliest opportunity.

I support this Budget. It is good for business and good for our country—and most of all, it is fair.

4.51 pm

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I am interested in something that the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) said when he mentioned Denis Healey. There was another individual who said, “You never had it so good” in 1959, but by 1963 the economy of this country was in very serious trouble. People should be very careful when they start sloganising like that.

To be charitable about this Budget, the most one can say about it is that it is divisive. Frankly, it puts the burden of the national debt and the national economy on the shoulders of the poorest. Over the past few days—I will not rehearse it now—we have had the fiasco with the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. If the Chancellor had an economic plan, why was he blown off course over the past 48 hours or so? He would not have needed to be blown off course if he knew what his economic plan was. Did he not know the implications of the cuts he was inflicting on the poorest members of our society?

During the general election, the Conservatives bandied about a figure on cuts in benefits—I think it was £12 billion —but when they were pushed to spell out exactly where they would find that sum, they never answered the question. There has been a deception on the British public based on the argument that the country was in an economic mess that they inherited when in fact it was the world economic situation that had deteriorated. If Ministers really want to know about this, they should

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watch the second part of the BBC 2 programme about Obama. The first part was about how Obama dealt with the debt that he inherited—from a conservative Republican, George Bush, by the way. Interestingly, at that stage Obama spent $85 billion on bailing out the motorcar industries, so I have no doubt there was an economic problem.

The Government are preparing the ground for some of these measures by always hinting at the international economic situation, so if we listen to them very closely, we can expect more cuts. It is no economic strategy to continually inflict cuts on the poorer people in society, and on local government and the public services. On the one hand they say they value those in the public services, but on the other they only give them a 1% wage increase. If they really value the nurses and the doctors in this country, then they ought to give them a decent increase.

Equally, in fairness to the Government, I have to say that I certainly welcome the help given to small businesses. That is an important factor, because 3 million or 4 million jobs have been created in this country by small businesses, but sometimes they are picked up by the larger companies. People tend to forget that.

Not enough is being invested in skills, and we must be careful about that. It is one thing to have a target of 200,000 apprentices, but the question is: are those quality apprenticeships? More importantly, we had the recent example of student nurses, whose grants have been cut. A married woman who suddenly wants to study part time will no longer qualify for that grant.

Once again, the Government have placed the burden on local authorities. Over the next few years, Coventry City Council will have to find between £70 million and £90 million for something that has been slipped out in the Budget. Not a lot of people have picked up on this, and it certainly has not been mentioned today, but Government grant will be shifted on to local authorities. When local authorities have to put up council tax to counter that and to deliver public services, the Government may come along and call local authorities prolific spenders, or they may want to cap it three years down the road. These are things that we should be conscious of. In the west midlands, the police budget is 80% funded by Government grant. Can people not see the implications for those services and for local government in terms of jobs? As I have indicated, local government is paying a terrible price, along with the poor of this country.

I will finish by talking about academies. An academy is closing in Woodlands ward in Coventry, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson). I do not want to intrude on his territory, but I intend to start taking the matter up with Ministers, as a route for consultation, and with the local authority.

4.56 pm

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): Since 2008, all developed economies have struggled with low confidence, lack of investment and sluggish growth. How each finance Ministry has responded to that challenge is quite clear from the growth and unemployment rates of our competitor economies.

The long-term economic plan is not just a slogan; it is a plan that we can be proud of. Since 2010 it has delivered for our constituents record levels of employment,

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stable interest rates and low inflation. Those are not just dry, dusty economic terms. They mean that in our constituencies, people have jobs; that we are not seeing mass house repossessions like we did in previous recessions; and that savings have kept their value. We have only to look at countries that are almost on our doorstep, such as Greece, to see that mass unemployment has massive social consequences when Governments lose control of their economies.

Our economy still faces great challenges. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) talked about access to finance and investment, and I want to touch on those measures briefly. Many colleagues have quite rightly pointed out that cutting taxes leaves businesses with spare cash to invest. That leads to more recruitment and more tax take; it is a virtuous circle. I very much welcome the cut in corporation tax, and I disagree with the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) that we do not need to cut it any further because it is already low enough.

I welcome the 10% rate on long-term investment in small cap companies. We need to do more to foster a culture of long-term investment, and the Budget goes some way to addressing that. Access to finance is still a barrier for some businesses. I was glad to see that the British Business Bank will carry on supporting SMEs through the Help to Grow programme from this spring, supporting at least £200 million of lending, and that the enterprise finance guarantee programme will be extended until 2018.

I have long been troubled not only by the brakes on investment but by the barriers to entry that prevent entrepreneurs from starting up in the first place. Business rates are one such barrier, because they are a fixed cost paid by businesses before they even start up. When I have spoken to small businesses in my constituency, they have welcomed the extension of small business rate relief. I also welcome the discussion paper on the revaluation of properties for business rates, because the three-year cycle will fit in a lot better with standard rent reviews.

I welcome most the changes in stamp duty land tax for commercial properties. Again, this tax is a barrier to businesses opening or expanding. In my previous life as a commercial property solicitor, I saw small businesses unable to open or grow because of the stamp duty land tax, or they adopted avoidance behaviours, which did not help anybody.

I want to speak briefly about investment infrastructure in the north, which I feel passionate about. We need more investment, particularly in east-west connections. I respectfully ask Treasury Ministers if there could be some money in the next Budget for the Ribble bridge.

The aim to have £1 trillion of exports by 2020 will boost our economy, and the investment in UK Trade & Investment is most welcome. Yesterday was the festival of Nowruz, when Iranians celebrate their new year. I very much welcome the fact that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Business Secretary will visit Iran in May, and I wish them the best of luck.

The record shows that this Government’s long-term economic plan is working in the face of a difficult global economy. This Budget focuses on investment, and I shall be happy to support it tonight.

Several hon. Members rose

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. There are still a great many Members who wish to speak, so I will have to reduce the limit to four minutes.

5.1 pm

John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP): I give the Chancellor credit for one thing—he is consistent. After all this time, he is still failing: he has failed on key economic indicators; he has missed the targets that he has set; he has failed on his target debt and GDP; he has failed to hit his target on the current account and on public sector net borrowing. The one thing that the Chancellor has achieved is to prove beyond doubt that the Tories’ claim to economic credibility now lies in tatters. The Budget announcement clearly reveals that the Chancellor and the UK Government made the move to a decade of austerity through choice, certainly not through necessity. No matter what further U-turns are announced, his Budget means that society’s poor are in effect still paying for the mistakes of society’s rich. This pursuit of austerity—this Government’s callous actions favouring society’s rich—means, as the Chancellor confirmed this afternoon, that it is always the poor who, in his words, “pay the price.”

Philip Boswell: Since the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found in 2011 that over 50% of Conservative party funding under the current Prime Minister comes from the City of London, does my hon. Friend agree that we can see whose interests the Conservatives truly have at heart?

John Mc Nally: I thank my hon. Friend for that very valuable point. I hope Conservative Members will think deeply about what he has said.

I want to take this opportunity to welcome the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to his new position. I urge him to use his portfolio to protect, support, enable and empower the most vulnerable in society, and return to them some peace of mind. The Chancellor did not provide an answer earlier today when he was asked about the plans for welfare cuts. To my mind, he succeeded only in causing the disabled more stress than they are already experiencing.

Not only have the Government managed to fail on the economic and productivity targets they set themselves, but we can clearly see that the deficit, the debt and the level of borrowing are worse than was promised last autumn. In contrast, the Scottish National party has set out a sensible alternative to austerity, which would return the public finances to a sustainable path, while continuing to invest in public services.

It is worth noting that, after much debate, wrangling and negativity, the UK Government have, in my opinion, seen sense and agreed to introduce a graduated sugar tax on soft drinks in 2018. Let us hope that we see some corporate responsibility among manufacturers and that they will willingly announce reductions in the sugar content of their products.

Health is a subject about which I have been deeply concerned for some time. I spoke during the sugar tax debate in November, when I gave my support to Jamie Oliver, the celebrity who has been mentioned today, and the other MPs present that day who have fought hard to bring this issue into the public domain and bring about change. I met Jamie at a House of Commons debate on

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diabetes, and I agreed with his aim of offering the public clear and reliable information about the sugar that we all consume—indeed, the planned confusion on some labelling reminds me of the Budget that we are discussing. I am grateful for the Government’s U-turn from their position before the debate in November, when they stated that they had

“no plans to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages”.

Philip Boswell: Does my hon. Friend agree that the sugar tax is as much about taking the first step to reduce sugar consumption as about raising awareness?

John Mc Nally: Absolutely. It is the first step in raising awareness throughout the land, and as I said, perhaps more manufacturers should take cognisance of the fact that sugar is causing a lot of problems in this country.

I am delighted that the SNP was joined by the FairFuelUK campaign and The Sun in calling for a freeze on fuel duty. We have successfully pressured the Chancellor not to raise fuel duty—a victory for small businesses, rural communities, and family budgets across Scotland and the UK. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and other MPs—particularly the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff)—for their help to remove VAT on women’s sanitary products. I would like the Chancellor to go further, and I refer him to the gender pricing debate that colleagues and I took part in on 2 February, so that we make the added cost of living for women in the UK a thing of the past.

I am pleased that the Chancellor has followed the example of the Scottish Government and realised that small and medium-sized businesses are a huge driver of economic growth. I welcome the Chancellor undertaking a review of business tax, which is designed to be a road map to a more competitive tax. He will do no better than matching the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting SMEs—a commitment which has meant that spending on economic development in Scotland is more than double the UK average. Over the last quarter, Scotland’s overall employment rate has increased by more than the UK equivalent. Finally, I seek the Chancellor’s reassurance that before Members make arrangements for a summer break, he will announce to the House the date of a corrective Budget.

5.7 pm

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): The Budget builds on the Chancellor’s strong record over the past six years of restoring sanity to the public finances, rebuilding the nation’s economy and securing growth. It is a shame that the shadow Chancellor is no longer in the Chamber, but I am sure that the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury will pass on the message that despite the shadow Chancellor’s mean-spirited comments to the Chancellor, such a feeling is not reciprocated on the Government Benches. Indeed, I am sure that I speak for all Conservative Members when I say that I hope that the shadow Chancellor will remain in his position for many years to come.

The Budget contains many measures that will benefit people and businesses in Dudley South by creating opportunities that are the hallmark of any compassionate society. There are nearly 3,000 small and medium-sized

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employers in Dudley South, many of which will benefit from the permanent increase in small business rate relief thresholds, as well as the increase in thresholds at the higher rate of business rates. As the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) was generous enough to acknowledge, such measures are indisputably good for small businesses. About 2,000 self-employed people in Dudley South will benefit from the abolition of class 2 national insurance contributions as part of an ongoing simplification and modernisation of the taxation system.

For me, the most significant announcement in the Budget last Wednesday was of a new enterprise zone for the Waterfront in my constituency. I had been running a campaign about that since before the general election, so I put on record my personal thanks both to the Chancellor and to the Minister for Communities and Resilience, who has responsibility for devolution, who have taken the time to meet me, to listen to the arguments for the enterprise zone and, more importantly, to understand and act on them.

The enterprise zone will create more than 4,000 net new jobs—[Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) said, it will create significant benefits not only for Dudley borough, but for the wider region, which I happily acknowledge. It will mean a 100% business rate holiday alongside 100% capital allowances on large investment in new plant machinery, which has been extended for eight years. It is a big boost to our local economy and promises to add millions of pounds to local prosperity. I thank Dudley Council and the Black Country local enterprise partnership for all the work they did in making that possible.

The Budget is a big step forward in creating opportunities for all nations and all regions of our country. The black country is well placed to take full advantage, and I will certainly support the Budget this evening.

5.11 pm

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I want to focus my comments on homelessness and the effects on it caused by the Budget and the changes over the past six years, specifically because I attended an event this weekend organised by Rucksack, a charity that gives advice and clothing to homeless people in Grimsby and the surrounding area. It directs rough-sleepers to hostels with spare beds and other organisations that can offer help, such as the YMCA, Salvation Army and Harbour Place, which is a well-known local organisation. They all do fantastic work but, due to the recent surge in homelessness, some local hostels have extensive waiting lists of 15 people who cannot get beds. Rucksack tells me that each of those organisations is substantially overstretched in offering their provision to local people in dire straits. Homelessness is not caused by fluctuations in the economy; it is about people’s support structures.

In my area—I am sure the situation is replicated across the country—there is a critical shortage of appropriate properties for people suffering varying degrees of disability, and their partners, children or people they care for, because of the funding available for adaptations in social housing and private housing for people with disabilities. It is becoming more difficult not only because the funding is decreasing significantly, but because the thresholds that people face to qualify for it are so high.

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It is a test for our society. I heard colleagues say eloquently yesterday that the debate is about whether we are compassionate enough to ensure that help is there for people in their most difficult time. We have failed that test in recent years. The Treasury briefed The Sun before the Budget that the Chancellor was drawing up plans to eradicate homelessness. How typical was that of the Chancellor? There was a great pre-Budget story for the papers, complete with a celebrity endorsement from Richard Gere to catch attention. On the day itself, that grand scheme turned out to be nothing more than a sticking plaster. I defy any Government Minister to stand up and say, with a straight face, that the scheme will get us anywhere near to eradicating homelessness. As the chief executive of Crisis said, the measures do little to tackle the underlying problems.

I am no spreadsheet geek, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had a look at tables 2.1 and 2.2 in the Red Book, which deal with measures in this Budget and those in previous Budgets and autumn statements that are due to come into effect this year. They relate to housing benefit changes, the temporary accommodation funding mechanism and reductions in social housing rents, which have impacts on the ability of housing associations to invest in existing properties or to build new ones. All those things have a significant impact on homelessness and the likely increases in it. The £115 million proposed is therefore a case of giving with one hand and taking significantly away with the other. I know that organisations such as Rucksack and other small charities in my constituency, such as Harbour Place, will say that they are not clear where that £115 million is going to go. It really needs to go to those who need it the most and the organisations that provide direct care and help. Under their welfare reforms, the Government made those under the age of 25 ineligible for housing benefit. That is another cut within this Budget, but I will end there.

5.15 pm

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): A number of measures in this Budget will have a positive impact on smaller businesses, and it is absolutely right that we continue to stimulate growth in the size and number of small and medium-sized enterprises as they have undoubtedly been a key contributor to a strengthening economy, both locally and nationally.

The midlands is vital to our economy, and I am pleased that the Government—

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): Hear, hear.

Chris White: And Opposition Front Benchers are generous enough to recognise it as such.

Some 96,000 more businesses have been formed in the midlands since 2010, which amounts to about 52 a day. The announcement of the midlands engine investment fund, which will see more than £250 million invested in smaller businesses across our region, will be a boost for the local economy and will go some way to ensuring that the progress made in recent years is built upon.

It is worth recognising the tremendous impact that the reform to business rates will have. As the Chancellor outlined on Wednesday, it will mean that 600,000 businesses will pay no business rates at all. The Federation of

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Small Businesses has said that its members welcome this as an “important step”, and I echo that sentiment. The further cut in corporation tax to 17% by 2020, the freeze on fuel duty, and the action on VAT on overseas firms to create a more level playing field are all welcome measures.

We must not lose focus, however, on enterprise policy and the idea of the “march of the makers”, which is particularly relevant. Manufacturing is key to the midlands and an important aspect of rebalancing our economy. As co-chair of the all-party group on manufacturing and a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, I have worked closely with industry to discuss and hear about some of the challenges that it faces. High-value manufacturing catapult centres have been a revelation, and I am pleased that the Government continue to back them, with more than £200 million of investment since 2011 and an increase in financial support in the latest autumn statement. Fostering an environment in which innovation thrives has to be a priority when thinking long-term, and these catapult centres, which bridge the gap between businesses, academia and some of the UK’s world-class research centres, are instrumental in achieving that. However, such action must be matched by a supply of skills, and apprenticeships are of huge significance. In my constituency, Warwick Trident College works with industry—it partners with industry—and is providing hundreds of students with the necessary skills to succeed. Empowering further education colleges to extend the provision of tailored courses should be an important part of the Government’s future apprenticeship agenda.

Another underestimated sector is video games, which contributes a huge amount to our economy, not least in my constituency. There is no doubt about the value of the games industry to the economy: we are talking about £1.4 billion in gross value added, support for 23,900 jobs nationally and the generation of £429 million in tax receipts. We must continue to support this very important sector.

5.19 pm

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): It has been a bad week for the Chancellor. It was his eighth Budget and sixteenth economic statement, so he ought to know better. The Budget unravelled in 24 hours and then it got worse: outrage at PIP cuts as it became clear that the disabled were being sacrificed for the rich; education in chaos as he forced academisation on every school, using our kids in his war against local government; stealth cuts on the NHS and local government, with changes to employer pension contributions; and, to cap it all, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions giving in after six years.

This latest mess only builds on the Chancellor’s catalogue of failure. He is still nowhere near to eliminating the deficit, despite his plans to have done so two years ago. In February, we had the lowest manufacturing output for four years. National debt is up 50% under this Chancellor—up to an eye-watering £1.6 trillion—and he has lurched from one missed target to another. He has blamed everybody and everything except himself. He blamed the Greeks. He blamed the Queen for having a jubilee holiday. He even blamed the snow. He did not

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find any money down the back of the settee this week, unlike the £27 billion he found miraculously before Christmas.

Who pays for the Chancellor’s folly? Who else but the poor, the vulnerable and the sick—those least able to fight back. The Resolution Foundation has him bang to rights. It showed that what the Budget really means is that on average the richest will get a £225 rise, while the poorest might get a measly rise of £10 a year. In fact, it shows that, with other changes and the cuts announced since last year, the richest in our nation can expect to be £235 a year better off, while the poorest will be £375 a year worse off by the end of this Parliament. He is the Robin Hood-in-reverse Chancellor. He has made a career out of making the poorest in our country even poorer.

It is worse than that, however, because in an amazing show of puffed-up pride, the Chancellor stated in his speech that the northern powerhouse is

“the most radical devolution of power in modern British history.”—[Official Report, 16 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 960.]

Has he not heard what is happening in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, where they are running their own affairs, getting extra money and having proper devolution?

Mary Glindon: Does my hon. Friend agree that devolution for the north-east is no deal at all? It is a raw deal, because we cannot even agree between councils what we want. We are just not getting the real democracy we need.

Mr Anderson: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I will come on to the north-east in a moment.

The Chancellor should be aware of what is happening in this city, where £2,000 a head is being spent on transport, while in my part of the world the figure is £5 a head. Where is the fairness in that?

The institutions of devolution were set up properly under a Labour Government who trusted the people with referendums and democratic discussion, but that is unlike what has happened in my part of the world. It is one thing to exaggerate—we all do it in this House, and I am as guilty as anybody else, believe it or not—but last week the Chancellor said from the Dispatch Box that

“powerful elected Mayors have been agreed for Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, Newcastle and Sheffield.”—[Official Report, 16 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 960.]

At least in the case of Newcastle, that is simply untrue. Newcastle is not being offered an elected mayor. That is exactly as it should be, as it is less than four years since the people of that great city rejected a mayor in a referendum by 62% to 38%. What is actually on offer is an elected mayor for the north-east, but that has certainly not been agreed yet. In fact, this morning Gateshead Council, one of seven councils involved, threw that out. Northumberland Council says is will agree to it only with certain additional powers that do not look like being given. Durham County Council has already said it wants a delay and not to be forced to make a decision on Thursday on proposed legislation that has not even gone through this House and will not do so until November.

So did the Chancellor—the great manipulator; the political strategist; the man who does not get out bed in the morning without weighing up the political advantage; the Machiavelli of Downing Street—make a mistake? He might have. If he made a mistake by saying that that

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had been agreed in the north-east, he should come and apologise for it. If he did not make a mistake, however, and if he deliberately tried to mislead the House, he should come back here and tell the truth—that he was deliberately misleading the nation and pretending that the so-called northern powerhouse was up and running in the north-east of England, as it is struggling to do in the rest of England. I have been really chuffed in these past two days to hear the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson)—I never, ever thought I would agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough—share exactly the same concerns as me and my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), and saying very clearly that what is on offer is not fair, not democratic and not open to proper consultation.

The proof is in what the Chancellor said last Wednesday. This is a party political Chancellor who puts his and his party’s interests first. He said last week, in relation to the £20 million for building houses in the south-west:

“it is proof that when the south-west votes blue, their voice is heard loud here in Westminster.”—[Official Report, 16 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 961.]

Unfortunately for those of us who vote red, our voice is never heard, but we are going to keep on shouting at ’em.

5.25 pm

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): During the Chancellor’s opening speech today, I could not help but reflect that he should consider a job swap with his Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who did a much better job of trying to defend the indefensible in the Chamber yesterday. The Chancellor could have improved his performance by saying sorry—sorry to all the disabled people he has frightened over the last few days—but not for the first time for him sorry proved to be the hardest word.

On the basis of the things the Chancellor does say, it is clear he has a habit of saying one thing and then doing quite another. He famously promised in 2010 that he would eliminate the deficit within five years, but it now seems it will take him another full Parliament to achieve that. He said the debt would peak at 70% of GDP in 2013-14 and then fall and that our debt-to-GDP ratio would fall every year, but he has missed those targets.

The borrowing figures out today do not make for good reading for the Chancellor. Public sector net borrowing was higher than expected last month. Last week, the borrowing forecast was lowered to £72.2 billion, but the ONS tells us that borrowing so far this fiscal year, from April 2015 to this February, is already at £70.7 billion, meaning he can only borrow £1.5 billion in March. I very much doubt this is achievable, given that in March 2015 he borrowed £7.4 billion. It is another target that is likely to be missed. He said he would cap welfare spending, but he has well and truly bust his own welfare cap. Last summer, when he launched the productivity plan, he said it would produce “world-beating productivity”. It is a damning indictment of that plan that the OBR has significantly revised down its forecasts of our national productivity.

The combination of all those factors means that as a nation we are ill prepared for the global cocktail of risks that the Chancellor himself has spent the last three months telling us about. His habit of saying one thing

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and doing another is something he has been getting away with for some time, but this year, finally, some on his own side are recoiling. His iteration of that famous phrase, “We’re all in it together”, was too much for the former Work and Pensions Secretary. Taking money from the disabled and cutting capital gains tax for the better-off was more than he could bear—and he is not exactly a soft touch. It comes to something when the Government are deemed too right wing even for him.

The Government’s retreat is welcome, but with it comes a hole in the Budget and a scorecard that no longer adds up. The scorecard already had the air of surrealism about it. Many people play fantasy football, but it seems the Chancellor plays fantasy Budget. The fiscal forecast for 2019-20 suggests that in one year we will go from a £21.4 billion deficit to a £10.4 billion surplus—never mind that we will never have reduced the deficit by that much in any year since 2010; never mind that the fiscal charter, introduced in October, has already been broken; never mind the retreat from the cuts to PIP.

The Chancellor has reigned over a litany of missed targets—growth down, productivity down, fiscal rules broken, a fantasy scorecard. The resignation of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) puts the attention squarely back where it should be—on the Chancellor’s ability to deliver what he says he will—and it has become clear, especially over the last few days, that he has utterly failed.

5.28 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I am among those whose names are on both amendments today. I congratulate, in particular, the hon. Members for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan), and I acknowledge the good work of Ministers on the important issue raised in amendment (b). I also acknowledge the thoughtful contributions today, including the critiques by the hon. Members for East Lothian (George Kerevan) and for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) on the issues of productivity and public sector investment.

On some of the more local aspects of the Budget, I must decry the fact that Northern Ireland gets very little out of the Budget, although that is not all the fault of Ministers. A lot of it is the fault of a dereliction of initiative and responsibility on the part of our own devolved Executive. They have not made the case for city deals in Northern Ireland. They have certainly refused for a very long time to make the case for a city deal for Derry, pretending instead that city deals were for England, which did not have devolution. That completely ignored the fact that much work on city deals has been done in Scotland and Wales. Some of them are represented in the Budget. I know that the city deals, in terms of the northern powerhouse, are not all necessarily what the Chancellor puffs them up to be, but they are initiatives worth pursuing, and we in Northern Ireland have been left out of them.

As for what is in the Budget for Northern Ireland, I welcome the spending for the air ambulance coming from the LIBOR fines. I and others had lobbied for that. Billed as a big gain for us are the enhanced capital allowances for an enterprise zone in Coleraine—a zone that should have been in Derry, which is the place of the highest unemployment. It is intended that Coleraine

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can benefit from Project Kelvin—a project that was initially meant to benefit Derry in the first place and other places on both sides of the border. This has happened courtesy of a letter from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister to the Chancellor before the 2014 Budget, asking for that enterprise zone so that Coleraine could benefit from Project Kelvin.

As for the wider arguments around PIP, having listened to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and to the Chancellor on both his Budgets, I think we have tuned into the cognitive dissonance game, whereby each gives an account of their motives and purposes on the record that are far removed from my sense of what is really happening and certainly far removed from my constituents’ experience.

I am one of 22 who voted against the introduction of the welfare cap nearly two years ago in March 2014, and I am very glad that I did. We said at the time that while it was being bubble-wrapped as a neutral budgetary tool, it would be a cuts weapon in the hands of the Treasury—and that is exactly what it has been. What we heard from the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at the weekend was essentially that the welfare cap, which he voted for and used to boast about, has become simply a search engine for benefit cuts by the Treasury. We saw that in the summer Budget when the Chancellor revised the welfare cap downwards by £46.5 billion over four years. It is no wonder that we then saw other cuts being pursued.

We need to hear exactly what is going to be done with the welfare cap in future. Is it the case from what we heard from the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions yesterday that the attempt to have further legislative change on welfare is going to be abandoned, or will the welfare cap be used to impose cash-limited administrative decisions on rates, rules, interpretations around criteria and so forth so that the cuts will effectively be stealth cuts? Yes, Parliament will be spared any legislative cuts, but the cuts will still be there by administering the welfare cap ruthlessly.

5.32 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Oh—thank you very much, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.] I have been here so long that I was falling into a general stupor. I am so pleased to have you back in the Chair. It is pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, and I welcome you back.

Over the last couple of days, I have taken some time to think about when a Budget was either as bad or has unravelled as quickly as this one. I thought of this Chancellor’s Budget of 2012, with its pasty tax and caravan tax, and I was reminded today of the failed Budgets of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) in the early ’90s. He raised VAT on fuel, including gas and electricity, and was defeated on it. However, after 24 years in the House, I cannot think of a Budget that has unravelled so quickly, or in such a damaging fashion, as the one proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer today.

We will vote on the Budget at 7 o’clock, when we do not even know—because we have not had an answer from the Chancellor today—from where the £4.4 billion loss of revenue from the appalling cut that he initially

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proposed will come. He said, “Trust me: we will discuss this in the autumn”, but it strikes me that we cannot wait until the autumn, given that we have a vote this evening. I hope that the Chief Secretary will respond to those central points when he winds up the debate.

The Chancellor admitted today that he had made a mistake. He admitted that he had made a U-turn. I put it to the House that this is no mistake, and no U-turn. This is simply the Chancellor who could not get his proposals through the House of Commons. The values that led him to make the choices that he made last week—the values that led him to choose to take money from disabled people in personal independence payments, and the values that led him to cut capital gains and business taxes—were values that he still holds today. If he could have got those measures through the House, he would have done so. His central value is one which ensures that we see a shift from the poor to the rich, that we have a small state, and that members of an out-of-touch elite are managing issues that they know little about, and care little about. I hope that the Chief Secretary, who represents Chelsea and Fulham, will accept that he lives in a bubble that does not relate to the lives of the vast majority of people in the constituencies that we represent.

On my patch, more than 1,200 people would have lost those personal independence payments. The fact is that the Chancellor has changed his mind not because of his desire to make the world better, but because his values would have been defeated, and defeated, dare I say it, by some of his own colleagues who faced the wrath of their constituents.

Time is limited, but I want to say three more things. First, we need to look at spending on infrastructure, including infrastructure in areas like north Wales. The Chancellor announced welcome money for Manchester airport, but we need a rail link to Manchester from north Wales. We need to think about how we can develop the north Wales economy with extra support for the HS2 route from Crewe to north Wales. We need to think about how we can electrify the rail network. That would be positive, valued investment, and we need to make it in a united European Union whose benefits are shared throughout the United Kingdom for all the people of the United Kingdom.

I take just one positive thing from the Chancellor’s Budget today: the Government’s commitment to campaign for a yes vote on 23 June. I look forward to working with them to achieve that yes vote for the good of the United Kingdom, and the good of north Wales.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am afraid that, so that I can try to accommodate the maximum number of Members who have not yet spoken, I must reduce the time limit on Back-Bench speeches to three minutes, with immediate effect.

5.37 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Let me begin like this.

“My husband was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and has not been able to work since. We are now reliant on the ESA he receives. There is nothing more that either of us want than for life to somehow return to normal and for him to be able to return to

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the job he loves. We did not choose these dreadful circumstances—the benefits system is intended to protect those in society as much as possible when things go badly wrong. Forcing people in very difficult circumstances into poverty seems an outrageous way for any government to behave.”

That is a letter from one of my constituents, and she is absolutely correct. More than 9,000 Brent residents rely on ESA to live independently and with dignity. Their income has been cut by £30 per week, and the cut in the PIP would have caused 640,000 disabled people to lose up to a further £3,500 a year by 2020. It is therefore with great relief that many of them will have watched the Government’s U-turn on the proposed £4.4 billion cut. However, disabled people in my constituency have already suffered real hardship under this Government as a result of the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, the benefits uprating policy, the scrapping of disability living allowance, and the 12-month time limit on contributory ESA.

Yesterday the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said in his statement that the Government would not be making further cuts in to the welfare budget, but that gives the Chancellor a serious problem. He has a fiscal charter which enshrines in law that he must achieve a budgetary surplus by 2020. Last Wednesday, he believed that in order to meet that fiscal charter, he had to make £4.4 billion of cuts affecting the most vulnerable people in our society, because he wanted to cut corporation tax and capital gains tax and to raise the higher-rate income tax threshold to benefit the very richest. If he is genuinely not seeking to identify other cuts in services to offset that £4.4 billion, it is essential that we are told how he does propose to balance the books. The choice is simple: he must make further cuts in services, increase taxes, or fail to meet his own fiscal charter.

The inescapable facts of the Chancellor’s record will come back to haunt him. In 2010, he promised to balance the books by 2015. He did not. This year, he has a deficit of £72 billion. He has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 83.7%, and productivity failure means that manufacturing still lags behind its 2008 level. This is the failing Budget of a failing Chancellor who lacked the courage to come to this House and explain its collapse yesterday. That failure branded him a coward. Today he came to the House, but his failure to apologise to the most vulnerable in our society has branded him a nasty coward.

5.40 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): For six years now, we have had Budgets made on the basis of targets and rules announced by the Chancellor, which have then informed the Government’s spending choices. Each time, the Chancellor has set out his targets as an iron necessity, suggesting that any deviation from them meant that those guilty of the deviation could not be trusted with the public finances, yet time after time, the deviation has been his. The traps he has fallen into have been traps of his own making.

The Chancellor began in the last Parliament by telling us that he would eliminate the deficit within five years. He failed to do so. His strategy of austerity was so successful that he announced it would be necessary to carry it on for two Parliaments, rather than just for the intended one. Instead of eliminating the deficit, he

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roughly halved it. That was the same pace of deficit reduction that Labour had asked for, but which he dismissed at the time as irresponsible profligacy.

Then, in this Parliament, there were three rules. First, there was a welfare cap designed to show how tough the Chancellor was on welfare. It lasted barely six months after the election. He was forced to break it, in his U-turn on tax credit cuts in the autumn statement, by the justified anger at his hitting the working poor who were trying to do the right thing by themselves and their families. His second fiscal rule involved a pledge to reduce debt year on year. Another fiscal rule made, another one broken. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s verdict is:

“The Budget measures make little difference to net debt in 2015-16, so we expect that target still to be missed.”

That leaves only his target for a surplus in 2019-20, which the OBR rates his chances of meeting as no better than 50:50.

This was supposed to be a Budget that did not frighten the horses, yet it has fallen apart in a matter of days. Whatever the motivations of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), he has exposed the reality of the approach of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to Budget-making: make up a rule, then pick on the same group of low-income people to pay for it time after time. The right hon. Gentleman has described the measure as “unfair” and “divisive”, but perhaps his most damning statement is that he believes the Chancellor targets the non-pension part of the Department for Work and Pensions budget because it relates largely to a group of people who do not vote Conservative.

The Chancellor says that we are all in this together, but we cannot all be in it together if the Budget is a series of tax giveaways on thresholds for higher earners, capital gains tax cuts and other measures that, in the main, go to the better-off while disabled people are expected to take a £4 billion hit. The cuts to the disabled have been abandoned, at least for now, but the bigger impact involves not just one spending measure. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor prided themselves on fashioning a one nation compassionate Conservatism, but that claim has now been turned to dust by this Chancellor’s Budget. This is not a reformed Conservative party; it is the same old Conservative party, rewarding those it thinks will vote for it and punishing those it thinks will not. It is not just one spending measure that has been killed; it is the whole project of one nation compassionate Conservatism.

5.43 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Most Budgets lose a bit of their lustre as the days wear on, but this one started to disintegrate before it was delivered, during its delivery and, spectacularly, afterwards. First there was the great pension reform that never materialised. Then the pound suffered a rocky period as Mr Memory—not!—tried to forget the deficit and the borrowing, and the fact that growth and exports should by now be seeing the sunny uplands as he had predicted. He then managed to knock down the share value of A.G. Barr, Britvic and Tate & Lyle with his clumsily scrabbled together announcement of the sugar tax. What we have learned over eight Budgets is that this guy has run out

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of excuses and is rapidly running out of friends. He is now correcting previous Budget errors—his errors. We see a cut in capital gains tax, which he increased in 2010, an increase in insurance premiums to pay for his cuts to flood defences, cuts in North sea taxes from the man who ignored advice and increased them in 2011, and a promised cut in business rates for small business, except local authorities were promised such rates only four months ago, which is another £1.7 billion unaccounted for. The Government say that local authorities will be compensated, but will they be only blue authorities as usual?

What are we left with? We have the abolition of class 2 national insurance contributions, which on the surface will help the self-employed, although we need an assurance that it is not a cunning ploy to make them ineligible for employment and support allowance and another hidden welfare cut. Personal allowances will be raised, which is good for the top half of earners. There are also some new capital projects. The Chancellor is cutting corporation tax, which helps the service sector, but there is no sign of the rebalancing of the economy that he promised. There is nothing for manufacturing on capital allowances, and, of course, 9% of the catapult innovation resources is going to the Midlands and 46% to London. There is not a hint of support for the WASPI campaign. We have seen a legacy of 14% council tax increases, meaning an average of £162 for Birmingham households, to pay for his cuts to the police and social care. That is his plan for Birmingham.

In the fall-out of the Budget, we have been told that there are no new plans to attack the disabled. However, in a little-noted item, the Department for Work and Pensions is to receive £22 million to hire more staff to defeat disabled people’s claims at PIP tribunals. Maybe there will be more cuts for the disabled after all. The Chancellor has failed. He has broken every promise. He is finished.

5.46 pm

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

The words of Benjamin Franklin are as resonant and appropriate today as they were when he uttered them, especially in relation to this Government and their mismanagement of the public finances. The Government are failing to prepare our country by implementing, by their own parliamentarians’ admissions, short-termist policies that risk failure in the long term. They continue to unravel the fabric of our society by pursuing their relentless austerity agenda.

As we come to the end of the Budget debate, there is much to reflect on, particularly after a weekend of turmoil for the “party of Government”. As the Tory party tears itself apart over Europe and its horrible benefits cuts, the most-affected people of our nations have a painful wait to find out how they will be affected by the Tory cuts. The IFS has warned that British voters should “all be worried” about the risk of job cuts and lower wages amid growing concerns of another economic downturn. The Chancellor’s cuts have even been criticised by his own leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson. That the

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party of Government has the temerity to self-style itself the party of working people is an absolute joke. It has a target to increase the number of disabled people working, yet it cuts employment and support allowance and other supports that enable people with disabilities to find employment.

It is good to see that the Chancellor is taking a lead from the SNP Government in Scotland by cutting business rates, showing that while the Government often lag behind in reacting, they occasionally listen and do the right thing. However, it is important that the system is easy for business to understand and navigate. I have already heard some businesspeople raising concerns about the complexities of working out the rates reduction. Similarly, support for the oil and gas industry is welcome, but the time taken to reach the decision was woeful. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and investor confidence is faltering. Quite frankly, it is too little, too late. Both the SNP and the industry have called for a proper strategic review of the tax regime for the North sea and our wait continues.

The apprenticeship levy is allegedly designed to help the next generation to get into work, but we are still waiting for clarity on how it will be implemented. I have raised the double-charging of industries such as oil and gas, but we continue to wait for a response.

The Guardian reported after the Budget that IPSE chief executive Chris Bryce described the move to abolish class 2 national insurance contributions as a

“long overdue and welcome step.”

However, he also said:

“The Government missed the perfect opportunity to back self-employed mums by giving them the same maternity pay as employees. This measure was recommended in the recent self-employment review.”

The Chancellor has failed to achieve his own targets on debt, the deficit, trade and exports and has stubbornly failed to listen to calls to invest in the economy.

5.49 pm

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): I think we can all agree that this has been a pretty disastrous Budget, and that was the case even before the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) revealed the Government’s extraordinary mendacity in their pursuit of policies for political purposes rather than for the national economic interest. What is worse, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) said, they are hammering the working-age poor because they do not vote Conservative.

Even on the Chancellor’s own terms, it is a shocking state of affairs. He has breached two of his three fiscal rules. Indeed, this Budget might end the period of fiscal rules that we have enjoyed for the past two decades. He has failed to meet his commitments to get debt falling as a share of GDP each year and he has failed to cap welfare spending. He tried to sweeten that with a spoonful of sucrose replacement, but we all saw through it.

The Chancellor is on track to meet only his third target, because he is deploying all sorts of fiscal shenanigans. He is rescheduling capital investment and shifting a one-off boost to corporation tax receipts. We also have to find £3.5 billion in unprotected spending.

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The Chancellor is now set to borrow £38 billion more over the course of this Parliament than he planned just four months ago. Worst of all, this Parliament of productivity has stalled at the first outing. The OBR is clear on the collapse of productivity, even over the past six months.

Where I do agree with the Government is on the risk posed to our economy by fears of Brexit. The latest evidence from the CBI spells out the immediate costs to the British economy. Why, at a time of such fragile economic growth, would we knowingly want to turn our back on one of the most successful single markets in the world?

The key issue that we look at today is the morality of this Budget. To balance the books, the Prime Minister has chosen to focus on the weakest and most vulnerable in society. As the IFS has reported, the Government’s tax and benefit changes have

“resulted in significant losses for those of working age in the bottom half of the income distribution.”

Then came the hit on the disabled, with the assault on PIP, now thankfully reversed. But who gained from all that? Well, it was those paying capital gains tax. Half went to 35,000 individuals with incomes of £100,000 a year or more. It is a totally shocking result. According to the Resolution Foundation, the poorest 30% of households are set to lose around £565 by 2020, while the richest 30% of households are set to gain around £280. That is the morality of the Conservative party, and that is why we will be voting against the Budget tonight.

5.52 pm

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): Last week, the Chancellor told us that he would put stability first, choose the long term and deliver real opportunity and social mobility. I am afraid that this Government have not appeared very stable since that statement and, far from being long term, the Budget that was delivered only last week appears to have been abandoned before we have even come to vote on it.

I suppose there was some opportunity and social mobility, even if it was limited to the Department for Work and Pensions. The former Secretary of State revealed the simple truth in his resignation letter: this is a Chancellor who puts his career before the country. Even by his own fiscal rules, he has failed, and blaming Labour will just not wash. This was a Budget not for the long-term interests of the country, but for the short-term interests of his ambition to lead the country—an ambition that seems to have unravelled almost as fast as his Budget.

As remarkable as it is to watch what has unfolded on the Government Benches, my concern is what is happening for my constituents in Ashton-under-Lyne. My constituent, Marie, has worked all her life, but then, unfortunately, developed hymphoedema as a secondary of breast cancer. She should be entitled to a dignified life while managing her condition, and this Budget has sought to deny her that.

One borough that sits in my constituency is Oldham, and under this Government, Oldham is now the most deprived town in England, according to the latest figures of the Office for National Statistics. Since 2010, more than half of the council’s income has been taken away. Real jobs are lost, real services are withdrawn and the

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most vulnerable suffer the worst. Our local economy and businesses suffer. Meanwhile, councils such as Surrey, given minimal cuts to local government finance in the first place, now receive a sweetener of nearly £12 million on top. Guess what the two local authorities serving my constituency, Oldham and Tameside, received: a big fat zero. Of course, the Chancellor has revealed exactly why that is the case; people in my constituency do not vote for the Conservatives.

Cuts to ESA to fund tax cuts, proposed cuts for the working poor through tax credits and universal credit—if the cruelty was not bad enough, the incompetence is now becoming obvious as well. In the last Parliament, we saw plans to tax everything from caravans to pasties proposed and abandoned and this year the Chancellor becomes the first Chancellor in history to have to accept not one but two amendments to his own Budget resolution just days after he tabled it. Mr Speaker, I do not need three minutes to tell you about this Chancellor. I have three words, and they are “Not good enough”.

5.55 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): What a shambles from the Wizard of Osborne, with the revelation that the tin man, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has a heart. I do not really believe it myself—I believe that he is thinking of jobs after Brexit with the Mayor of London, but other people will have other views. Of course, we now have a new Secretary of State, the former Welsh Secretary, who has just done a U-turn on the Wales Bill and has now done a U-turn on disability payments. I never thought that crabs did anything other than move sideways, but there we are. He was cheering away at the Budget a few days ago, but apparently now he does not agree with it.

As usual, the Wizard of Osborne has blamed Labour, but let us not forget that in the 10 years to 2008 the economy grew under Labour by 40%, some 4% a year, whereas that figure is now about 2%. We left debt as a share of GDP at 55% and it is now 83%. Why is that? Because of economic failure and slow productivity growth. Why is that? Because we have low investment in research and development and in infrastructure compared with the rest of the developed world. In particular, that is focused on London and the south-east and not in the north, in Wales or elsewhere.

I welcome the sugar tax, which I have been fighting for and which is a good idea—taxing something bad to invest in something good while costing the health service less. Similarly, I would have liked the Chancellor to take bold steps on air pollution, as 40,000 people a year are dying from diesel pollution, costing £20 billion a year, but of course he did not have the guts to re-tilt the fiscal structure for taxes and incentives to promote a sustainable green transport system. Instead, we have this epidemic of pregnant women having their babies’ mental health affected, children losing their lung capacity and so on. It is time that the Chancellor took that seriously.

I welcome the reduction in the Severn bridge toll, but that could have been reduced to a quarter of the price to cover operational costs as opposed to half the price, as the Government will continue to make a large margin of profit by basically putting a tax on trade with Wales. I welcome the news that there might be a new city deal for

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Swansea and the fact that the Chancellor is still trying to support the EU. The reality is that if we do have Brexit, as IDS and others want, we will be turning our backs on a large market. The argument that we are essentially net importers does not follow because, in essence, that applies only to Germany and Spain.

Finally, I should mention the other stealth tax from employers’ contributions on pensions, which is a back-door cut for the Welsh Government that I resist. In a nutshell, this is a sheriff of Nottingham Budget that I resist.

5.58 pm

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): This was a Budget about words, not wisdom. I want to focus on that because we have now had six years of the Chancellor presiding over a very worrying economic picture while using a narrative to disguise the fragile place into which he has put our economy. It is also a Budget that exposed the worst aspects of the cruel, callous and uncaring Conservatives, crushing disabled people and some of the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged groups in our society. Those actions over the past six years have worried me as the weaknesses in the structure of the economy have not been addressed and the economy has been used to deliver a political agenda, not productivity and not fiscal security.

This is leading to a risk shift, increasingly away from Government to local communities and individuals—those who cannot weather the storm. Politicians can use any words they want, but what lingers behind those words is what matters. Apprenticeships are not apprenticeships any more, the living wage is not a living wage, and affordable housing is unaffordable. Remember the phrase “long-term economic plan”? I will let hon. Members work that one out for themselves.

I know the impact of all this in my local community and on my local economy. York has a low-wage, insecure and high cost of living economy where housing is now inaccessible. We heard about the next generation being better off. With the debts that young people now carry and the difficulty in accessing housing, I was interested in the lifetime ISA, which will mean that the people who are least worse off will get £1,000, while those struggling with tax credit cuts and increased in-work poverty will feel the pinch.

I hang my head in shame at the way that disabled people are treated in the Budget. No compassion there. That takes me back to the economic picture which I worry so much about. The Chancellor has borrowed more than all Labour Chancellors put together throughout history, and wants to borrow even more now. The question is what he will do with that money. We know from our economic experts how to invest that money to lead not to a growing debt, but to growing productivity. When the Chancellor has had to cut his own growth targets twice in the past six months, from 2.4% to 2.2% and now to 2%, he is admitting that his economic plan is not working. He did not clear the deficit in the previous Parliament, and it seems that with this omnishambles Budget he will not do so in this Parliament either.

I am worried, and I am most worried about the people I represent. In six years of low productivity, their

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insecurity and risks are rising, the local economy in York is totally inequitable—a two-speed economy, as it is known, speeding up for those who are well off—

Mr Speaker: Order.

6.2 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I would like to focus my speech on the announcements in the Budget that all schools will be forced to become academies by 2020. This will lead to a fundamental shift in the way education is managed in this country, turning education into a business. I am concerned that, like most businesses, it will benefit the richer, and leave behind those who most need educational reform. This is a concern echoed by the public. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to hold a public inquiry and a referendum on turning all schools into academies.

I have a history of campaigning against forced academisation. Before becoming an MP, I campaigned against forced academisation in Haringey. The experience taught me how much community support there is for the state sector in Britain, and how much people care about their schools having the right priorities for their children. Forced academisation is a costly exercise. The timing of this move appears highly questionable. At a time when councils, especially Labour-run councils, are having their budgets cut by 79%, and when they are having to make severe cuts to valuable front-line services, money spent on forced academisation seems like a political exercise, rather than money well spent.

Roy Perry, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, stated:

“With mixed evidence about academisation improving standards and when public spending is facing significant cuts imposing academisation on schools regardless of local opinion cannot be an appropriate use of public money.”

This policy was not in the Conservative manifesto. There needs to be proper debate and scrutiny, looking into the cost and how the policy will affect local communities.

Academies do not solve the big problems facing our schools—problems of a shortage of teachers, a shortage of head teachers, and increasing class sizes. Until we look at all those aspects, we should not proceed with academisation.

6.4 pm

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): Is this a Budget where those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden, or is it one that cuts support for those who are already struggling, such as the parents and carers of people with learning disabilities whom I met in Hounslow yesterday, who are bearing the brunt of service and benefit cuts? The Resolution Foundation has shown that the poorest 30% of households are set to lose around £565 per annum by 2020, while the richest 30% are set to gain around £280. Is it not right to suggest, as the former Work and Pensions Secretary did, that we are not all in it together?

On housing, the lifetime ISA will, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, actually increase home prices, and it has added 0.3% in its Budget book to the level that house prices will reach by 2021. That proves that the Government plan to use taxpayers’ money to

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further inflate house prices out of the reach of young people, rather than to build affordable homes for rent that help people on low incomes to have a permanent home over their heads.

Let me move on to the topic of today’s budget debate: business and the economy. First, investment in infrastructure is essential for future growth, but business investment is falling, and the Government are set to spend just over half the level spent by the Government of 2010. Britain is set to slip yet further down the international rankings on infrastructure investments.

Secondly, are not skills a crucial element of our economic infrastructure? There is nothing in the Budget to help West Thames College, which, like all further education colleges, faces a 21% funding cut, resulting in a cut in courses and in the number of students being trained. There is nothing to provide the essential step change in skills that the UK economy needs.

Finally, on the 19% gender pay gap, the Women and Equalities Committee concluded today that not using women’s skills fully costs the UK economy £36 billion or 2% of GDP. There is nothing in the Red Book to address that, and nor is there anything to address the fact that 81% of the Budget cuts have fallen on women.

So, is this a Budget from a Chancellor with a track record of growth and stability, or is it a Budget that yet again has to revise his figures on growth, productivity and exports downwards? I conclude by using words from the former Work and Pensions Secretary and by asking what the Chancellor cares more about—the “fiscal self imposed restraints” or the “national economic interest”.

6.7 pm

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): May I put on record my condolences to the people of Brussels and Belgium? My home town has been twinned with the town of Mons for more than 50 years, and the current Mayor of Mons—Elio Di Rupo—is the former Prime Minister of Belgium. I would therefore like to make sure my views are recorded.

Anything I say about the Chancellor in relation to the Budget will be as nothing compared with the thrashing he received over the weekend from his colleagues and particularly from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) or, conversely, with the assault that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green received in retaliation. It was the nasty party in full flow, arguing among themselves for all to see. If Conservative Members do that to themselves, hon. Members can imagine how easy it is for them to do the same to disabled people.

Before our very eyes, the acrid smoke from the smoke-and-mirrors Budget is starting to choke the Chancellor, and the mirrors have cracked. As for compassionate Conservatives, they would not know a good samaritan if he crossed the road to help them—by their standards, they would expect to be mugged. Expecting the country, at this point in the whole unfolding charade, to believe that a mass damascene conversion has taken place among Conservative Members is stretching credulity to its limits.

The Chancellor is fond of talking about cocktails: the problems faced by the economy are the result of a cocktail of external pressures—oil prices, the squeeze in China, the instability in the middle east—that have little

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to do with him. In my view, what we have seen is more cock-up than cocktail. According to the Chancellor, that has nothing to do with the fact that, as John Humphrys pointed out on the “Today” programme, he has missed virtually every target he has set himself.

Labour Members would be impressed by the conversions we have seen if we did not smell a rat. At the end of the day, however, we all remember the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green punching the air at the autumn statement and trying to claim that the Chancellor was Mr Christmas. Evidently the Chancellor had laid his hands on another £27 billion, and of course Conservative Members were all cheering and chinking glasses. Well, the chinking of glasses is often followed by a hangover, and the hangover is on its way. The Government are going to have to deal with the hangover, because they cannot and must not—and we will not tolerate it—make people in the most vulnerable positions the fall guys for the arrogance, the incompetence and the brass neck of this Chancellor.

6.10 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): It was striking how little the Chancellor had to say about science and innovation in the Budget. Nearly 60,000 people are employed in the Cambridge cluster, and Cambridge is home to over 1,500 tech companies with a combined annual revenue of about £13 billion. This Government’s record on science is erratic. Investment in research and development is only at 0.49% of GDP—below the OECD average of 0.67% and well below the EU target of 3%. That means that the UK comes last in the EU 27 and eighth in the G8 in terms of R and D spending as a proportion of GDP. The annual funding shortfalls resulting from the 2010 flat-cash settlement for the resource science budget meant a £1 billion loss to the UK research base over the lifetime of the previous Parliament.

There was some relief when the Government committed to protecting the science resource budget in real terms over the course of this Parliament, but £1.5 billion of this funding has been reserved for a new global challenges fund—a new funding commitment tucked within existing science resource funding. I would welcome clarification of how this will impact on current scientific research. It should be noted that funding for innovation and wider research sits outside the ring-fenced science budget. This funding supports companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, in translating their research into products.

Like many others, I was very disappointed by the Government’s decision to bin research grants for companies and replace them with loans. This will have a significant impact on key early-stage enterprises, which have explained that they will struggle to secure investment if they have a hefty loan on the books. Sadly, the Government did not listen. They should, because, as I have said on previous occasions, Cambridge’s future success is not assured. Last week, new data from the Office for National Statistics showed that house prices in Cambridge have risen faster since 2010 than anywhere else in the country. If people cannot live in the city, they are then forced to live outside, and that is why local transport matters so much.

I turn to the devolution deal—so-called. Let us be clear: Cambridge and the area around us need the freedoms to make the investments needed to tackle the

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housing and transport challenges we face. That was why Cambridgeshire councils, business and universities came together to create the Case for Cambridge—a thoughtful and sensible set of proposals put to Government last year. However, instead of responding positively to that locally agreed and developed proposal, the Government came back very late in the day with a completely different solution, and basically said, “You’ve got three weeks to take it or leave it.” Unsurprisingly, the reaction has been furious. The local enterprise partnership has rejected it, individual business leaders have rejected it, the city council has rejected it, and today Cambridgeshire County Council rejected it. This is no way to deal with the huge and urgent challenge that faces one of the most successful parts of the country: it puts that very success at risk. I hope that those involved in this process—ultimately it is Treasury-led—will reflect on what has happened and reopen discussions in good faith with Cambridgeshire. Cambridgeshire needs a deal, but it needs a deal for Cambridgeshire, not for the Treasury.

6.13 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Today we have heard contributions from 30 Opposition Members and only 14 Government Members—the Government ran out of contributors quite a while ago.

The Chancellor has had to be dragged back to the Chamber today to explain what on earth has happened to his Budget which, after all, is still only six days old and already contains three U-turns. He put in a bravura performance, but there was not a windmill that he did not tilt at or a straw man that he did not set up. Even then, he had the gall to claim that he supports the vulnerable. At the end of all that sound and fury, however, his Budget was still a mess, and the idea of one-nation Conservatism is still a national joke.

What we actually got was a botched Budget that has disastrously unravelled in just a few short days. It was a Budget created by a Chancellor far more concerned with advancing his own interests than advancing the national interest. We all knew that this was a Budget that had to be seen through the lens of the Chancellor’s own long-cherished ambition to become leader of the Tory party and Prime Minister, and that the chief interest the Chancellor was promoting was his own. In an effort to curry favour with his own side, he announced increases in tax thresholds and cuts to capital gains tax, and he decided that cuts to disability benefits would pay for them.

The Chancellor has presented a catastrophic Budget—omnishambles does not do it justice. The Prime Minister had ordered him to produce a “safety first” budget; instead, he has succeeded in producing a Budget that has torn the Cabinet apart. Despite his performance today, we see a Chancellor at bay, on the run from attacks in his own party. He has completely lost control of his own Budget. He is now so weakened that he is accepting amendments on the tampon tax and solar panels because he knows he would lose the votes, and he dare not let that happen. He has had to reappear in the Chamber today to explain where it all went wrong.

It took less than 24 hours for the Chancellor’s triumph of Wednesday to turn into chaos at the weekend. We have seen a Government in complete and utter disarray

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and a Chancellor who has only succeeded in shredding his own reputation. Today, we see the utter collapse of his authority. His popularity has halved since the election, and two thirds of people who voted Conservative last May do not think that he is up to the job of being Prime Minister.

The Chancellor’s Budget was rightly savaged as deeply unfair by his then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). Back Benchers’ outrage grew as they realised that the huge cuts to disability support were being used to fund a tax giveaway for the well-off. We then had Panic Friday, as the Prime Minister realised that his party was in revolt and ordered a hasty retreat on the Chancellor’s biggest revenue raiser in the Red Book. Then came a dramatic Cabinet resignation by the Work and Pensions Secretary, who had reached the end of his tether. On Manic Monday, the cowardly Chancellor went missing, sending out his hapless junior to cover for him.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary made clear his opposition in his devastating resignation letter, in which he said that cuts to disability benefits were

“not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers.”

That was this Chancellor’s choice. The former Work and Pensions Secretary called the disability cuts that the Chancellor presented last week “morally indefensible”. The former Work and Pensions Secretary has questioned the entire moral basis of the last six years of Conservative government, and weak assertions from Conservative Members that they are really, really compassionate are revealed for what they really, really are: hollow nonsense. The former Work and Pensions Secretary was also clear that he thought that the Chancellor’s welfare cap was unsustainable, and he questioned the motives of his erstwhile Cabinet colleagues, slamming the Chancellor’s indefensible Budget. He said

“they’re losing sight of the direction of the travel that they should be in”


“it is in danger of drifting in a direction that divides society rather than unites it. And that I think is unfair.”

It is still unclear in what form this Budget statement will survive, but it now contains an abandoned £4.4 billion of disability benefit cuts and an unspecified £3.5 billion cut in public expenditure. This is a Budget that continues to disintegrate before our very eyes. The Chancellor has given us a Budget that is an economic failure, a moral failure and a political failure. The OBR forecast accompanying the Budget formed a sharply deteriorating backdrop, caused mainly by his own failures at home. Productivity has been revised down and down. Growth has been revised down and down. Earnings have been revised down and are still lower in real terms than they were when the Chancellor took office. It is the same for business investment, which was downgraded by two thirds this year alone. That is not the forecast that most concerns the Chancellor, however. I do not know if you are a betting man, Mr Speaker, but over the weekend the odds on the Chancellor moving next door to No. 10 have slipped from a healthy 2:1 to a distant 4:1. He is on the slide—and fast.