Greg Hands speech on the conclusion of the Budget debate

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Hands): May I associate myself with the comments made by the Chancellor, Members on both Front Benches and many Back Benchers about the terrible terrorist outrages in Brussels this morning? I remind everybody that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Belgium, as we in this country have done many times before against the scourge of terrorism.

The past four days of this debate have certainly been lively. I want to look back not just four days, but more than six years. Let us cast our minds back to six years ago, in 2010, when the whole world doubted the UK’s ability to pay its way. Now the UK is forecast to grow faster than any other major advanced economy in the world.

Six years ago, we were borrowing 25p out of every £1 that we spent—almost £6,000 per household per annum. Now that figure is down to 10p, and will be 7p next year. Six years ago our deficit was more than 10% of GDP. Now we are three years away from building that surplus. Our economy is a full 12.6% bigger than it was in 2010 when my right hon. Friend delivered his first Budget. Our foreign exchange reserves have doubled, and every day has seen an average of 1,000 jobs created. Inflation is low, poverty and inequality are falling, and wages are rising. Yes, that is due to our long-term economic plan.

We can only have a fair and compassionate society on the back of a strong economy. That is what the British electorate asked us to do in May, and that is what we are doing. We are proud of the jobs created over the past six years, proud of having lifted more than 1 million low-paid people out of income tax, proud of having introduced the national living wage, and proud of our record as a compassionate one-nation Conservative Government.

Let me respond to some of the points raised today, partly because the shadow First Secretary of State failed to mention any of them. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) raised a technical detail and asked, with reference to the tampon tax, what will happen to the money now allocated for that in the Budget. That was a one-year bidding process, and all the organisations will get the money that we announced on Wednesday. The relevant clause for that will be in the Finance Bill, which will be published on Thursday.

Various Conservative Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White), for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, and others, praised the wealth creators and business, and this is very much a Budget for business, wealth creators and enterprise. My hon. Friends the Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), the hon. Members for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), and the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) all mentioned infrastructure spending—albeit with slightly differing views—and individual projects.

The Government remain on course to deliver £100 billion in infrastructure projects this Parliament. The Budget announced more for flood defences, and for transport projects in the north, London and right the way across England. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East raised a point about rough sleeping, and we are committing £110 million extra for that. No allocations have yet been made, but London is very much a focus of that additional money.

When the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) spoke I had to stop and check that I had heard him correctly, because he spoke about a risk “in relation to the price of oil”. I can tell him something about a risk “in relation to the price of oil”, because if Scotland were to have separated on the SNP’s proposed date of this Thursday, it would now be facing a fiscal black hole of £19 billion, largely caused by a 98% collapse in oil revenue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) called this a Budget for savers and the next generation. She is absolutely right, and the Lifetime ISA will apply even to those who do not put in the full £4,000 a year. We have also launched the Help to Save initiative, which will help lower-paid savers who are on universal credit or tax credits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) highlighted our income tax cuts, which deliver on our manifesto commitment—we are accelerating them for the low-paid, the lower-paid and the medium-paid.

We heard opposing speeches on the merits of the soft drinks industry levy from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) and others. My hon. Friend raised a number of technical objections to the levy. We are consulting on the details and are keen to work with the industry on it, but hon. Members should make no mistake: we think it is the right thing to do to help to deal with the UK’s £27 billion per annum obesity problem.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) thanked us on behalf of Northern Ireland for launching funding for the new air ambulance, which I know has been very well received. We are open to ideas on UK city deals coming from Northern Ireland, but I should say to him that the Stormont House agreement committed more than £2.5 billion to the Executive, which I think was very generous.

We heard from many former members of the Labour Treasury team—the shadow shadow Treasury team, as they have been called—including the right hon. Member for Delyn, and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) and for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). All protested at the policies and initiatives launched by the Government. I have two things to say to them. First of all, in all of the last Parliament, I do not recall any of them coming up with a single proposal to save money or cut spending, or to back any tax rise. More interestingly, not one of the shadow shadow Treasury team had a word of praise for their actual shadow Treasury team, which was absolutely compelling evidence of where they are going wrong.

It is because we have faced up to the facts and because we have taken the difficult decisions that our economy is fundamentally stronger, more resilient and better able to protect our families and households in uncertain times. Uncertain times are what we must currently deal with. Growth worldwide is slowing, commodity prices have fallen and productivity growth has been sluggish, particularly in the most advanced economies. The middle east remains unstable and global markets have experienced worrying turbulence. The UK is immune from none of that. Responsible government means preparing our economy for the challenges that lie ahead. It means ensuring that we never again find ourselves in the position we found ourselves in six years ago. It means that, when problems come up, we deal with them in full and early on.

Rachel Reeves (Labour): Many Labour Members have asked about the £4.4 billion black hole. Will the Chief Secretary to the Treasury please confirm whether that £4.4 billion will be plugged by further cuts to welfare, tax increases, spending cuts or more borrowing? It has to be one. Which is it?

Greg Hands: It is always good to hear from the shadow shadow Treasury team. I can tell the hon. Lady that more will be outlined in the course of this year in the autumn statement. However, we remain on course—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Members are becoming a little over-excitable. The Chief Secretary must be heard.

Greg Hands: We remain on course to deliver our budget surplus in 2019-20, which is far more than Labour ever achieved. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would have found the opportunity to congratulate the Government on the new commitment to flood defences in Leeds, which she did not mention.

I will be working to find a further £3.5 billion of efficiencies by 2019-20 so that we deliver that surplus by the end of this Parliament. That means that we keep our economy on course, and we refuse to pass on the burden to our children and grandchildren.

At the same time, we will continue to reward aspiration, back growth, invest in education and help people get on in life—because this is a Budget that backs Britain’s businesses. It cuts the burden of business rates by £6.7 billion over the next five years, taking 600,000 of our smallest firms out of business rates altogether. It cuts the rate of corporation tax even further, to 17% in 2020, giving us the most competitive rate in the G7 and benefiting more than 1 million businesses. Through a £1 billion North sea oil and gas package, it is a Budget that helps Britain’s largest industry succeed in difficult economic times; through cuts to both the higher and basic rates of capital gains tax, it encourages investment—the lifeblood of Britain’s businesses; and, through the abolition of class 2 national insurance contributions, it creates a simpler tax system and a tax cut of more than £130 for the 3 million-plus self-employed people in Britain—this Government stand squarely behind them.

This is a Budget that puts cash into people’s pockets. It raises the tax-free personal allowance to £11,500 from next year, and the higher rate threshold to £45,000. We recognise that money should be in savings accounts as well as in pockets, so this is also the Budget that creates the lifetime ISA, helping people to buy their first home or save for their retirement. This is a Budget that freezes fuel duty, helping people every time they fill up their tank. It is a Budget that supports responsible drinkers; helps the nation’s pubs and gives a further boost to the Scotch whisky industry.

I recall seeing on the morning of the Budget the Scottish National party’s lead spokesman saying that he had three asks in this Budget, and he listed them on Twitter. They were to freeze fuel duty, to keep down duty on Scotch and to have a fiscal package for oil and gas. We have met all three of his asks and much more, and this is a very good Budget for Scotland, too.

It is a Budget that strengthens our tax base, through reforming the tax system so that it is in line with the realities of global, 21st-century economics. As I said, in this Budget we take action on the scourge of obesity, which, as well as providing unsustainable pressures on the NHS, ruins people’s health and quality of life, and costs the country about £27 billion a year.

Catherine McKinnell rose—

Greg Hands: I do not have time to give way. Because we continue to get the public finances under control, our Budget—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but all the Labour MPs elected in 2010 and 2015 do not remember the last Labour Government, and that is part of their problem. Because we get the public finances under control, our Budget gives this country a stable base from which to support those in need of support. That is a point that too many on the Opposition Benches still do not get: there can only be true social justice on the back of a functioning economy. Had we not taken action in 2010, borrowing would have been £930 billion more by the end of the decade than it is now forecast to be. On a serious point, one more downturn and we could have lost control altogether in this country, and when that happens it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who are hit the hardest. So we say: never again. That is why we take action now, so we do not pay later.

To conclude, I am sure that some on the Opposition Benches will vote against the Budget tonight, but they will be voting against more money going to our schools. They will be voting against 600,000 small businesses being taken out of paying business rates altogether. They will be voting against support for our North sea oil and gas industry. They will be voting against increases for children’s healthcare. They will be voting against helping working people save for their future. They will be voting against lower taxes for the lowest paid. They will be voting against a better future for Britain.

I say that Members should vote for this Budget. Stability, security, prosperity is what the electorate asked us to provide last May and it is that which this Budget provides, and I ask the House to support it tonight.