Edward Miliband contributions to the Finance Act 2018

Tue 28th November 2017 Budget Resolutions (Commons Chamber)
1st reading: House of Commons
3 interactions (1,096 words)

Budget Resolutions

(1st reading: House of Commons)
Edward Miliband Excerpts
Tuesday 28th November 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2017, 3:50 p.m.

I rise to speak in support of the Budget and, in particular, the key strategic priority it places on the housing market and increasing housing supply. The Chancellor was right to say that we should have a national target for new home completions of 300,000 a year, but that number should not be a mere aspiration; it is an absolute necessity.

For many people in this country, getting on the housing ladder is becoming increasingly difficult. The prices of new homes to buy are rising much faster than people’s earnings. That has been the case for a long time. It is therefore no surprise that the percentage of people who are able to own their own home has declined. We are not looking at investment in the housing market just for homes to purchase. We need to build a lot more units that are affordable to buy and to rent, and we need a much more active strategy to do that. I was pleased that the Government announced that as part of the Budget.

I have supported the proposed development of the Otterpool Park garden town in my constituency, which would create up to 12,000 new homes. Any planning decision involves a degree of difficulty and it is important that we get the local consultation right, but we do need to prioritise building a lot more homes.

Building creates not only new places for people to live, but a considerable number of jobs in the construction sector. Many people who work in construction say that even now, it is difficult to find the people to do the work that is available. Therefore, it was right that a strong priority was placed on training people to work in the construction sector.

I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of the £3 billion resilience fund to be spent over the next two years on preparations for Britain leaving the European Union. My constituency of Folkestone and Hythe contains the channel tunnel. Investing in preparedness to manage cross-border trade is a necessity. Anything that, for whatever reason, slows the progress of road freight in and out of the country will cause congestion and delay. That is bad for the economy and has a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life and the businesses in my constituency and elsewhere in Kent.

For me, a key priority in building the physical resilience we will need is not only to manage the electronic processing of freight as it passes in and out of the country, but to ensure that we have the physical infrastructure to hold lorries if they have to queue before leaving the country or if there is any requirement for customs checks as they arrive. The delivery of the lorry park on the M20 at Stanford West that was envisaged and proposed two years ago as a relief for Operation Stack is a vital piece of national infrastructure. I was disappointed that the Government had to withdraw their planning application to build it because of a judicial review, but I know that it is being looked at again. I see that the Financial Secretary is in his place. I raised this matter with him last week and welcome the letter he sent me to confirm that the ring-fenced budget of £250 million that the Government allocated for the delivery of that lorry park is still there. It is a vital piece of infrastructure and we need to ensure that it is delivered.

On the other spending commitments in the Budget, I welcome the additional £2 billion this year and into next year for the national health service. It is important that that reaches the places that need it most. The Health Secretary is not here, but I believe that greater consideration needs to be given to GP services and primary care in coastal communities, where the often complex, unique and challenging requirements have led to the average number of patients per GP being much higher than the national average. We are struggling to recruit GPs in such areas. I have spoken to the Health Secretary about that issue on numerous occasions and know that it is a priority for him. However, we need to ensure that the extra money for the health service goes to the parts of the country where it will make the biggest difference.

There has been a lot of talk about increasing investment in research and development and about increasing the research and development credit. That is incredibly important for the future of the economy, and I want to touch on artificial intelligence, which will be an important driver of growth in the future, as the Secretary of State set out in his remarks. Effectively, artificial intelligence is the robotic harvesting of the data footprint that we leave as we increasingly conduct our lives online and the designing of new products and technologies around that to meet people’s needs. That throws up a number of ethical issues.

Algorithms that run programmes are private property—they are copyrighted; they are not shared, and many platforms, such as Google and Facebook, fiercely guard the information—but we need to make sure that, when new services are designed based on our data footprint, companies behave ethically and responsibly and that we are able to check they are safeguarding the interests of the people they seek to serve through that technology. That is why the announcement of the creation of the centre for data ethics and innovation is incredibly important. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which I chair, will be looking at the distribution of disinformation and how companies’ algorithms either support or could act against it. There is, however, an important ethical question about the right of third-party organisations to check the work being done. Innovation through AI can, then, transform the economy, but it throws up some ethical issues that we have to get right.

The Government have taken an interest in driverless cars, but driverless cars, though an exciting technology, do not work without a signal to allow them to receive the information they need, which is why the creation of the national 5G network is so important. Without a signal, a driverless car would suddenly stop in the middle of the road. The investment in the 5G network requires investment not just in poles and masts but in fibre infrastructure. A key part of the industrial strategy has to be the move to a full fibre economy as quickly as possible. We simply cannot deliver on massively important new technologies such as 5G for the whole nation without that infrastructure to support it.

As an adjunct to that, I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital has talked about whether there should be a universal service obligation for 3G mobile signal. In many parts of the country, including Elham valley in my constituency, the 3G signal is weak. Ofcom will shortly be publishing a study on the real level of service delivery by mobile phone operators and whether it falls below the requirement stated in their licences. If it does, there will have to be some further inducement to act to make sure that basic coverage is better than it is. In the longer term, however, we need investment in a 5G network.

Finally, the joint working between the Government, the CBI and the TUC on retraining is crucial. Technology means that people’s jobs will change faster and faster throughout their lives, and people need the ability to retrain throughout their working careers to take advantage of this.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2017, 3:57 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), who made some important remarks about Brexit and the risks we face.

I want to start my remarks about the Budget with the words of the Prime Minister at the Conservative party conference in 2016. She said this about the EU referendum:

“It was about a sense – deep, profound and let’s face it often justified – that many people have today that the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them. It was a vote not just to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union, but to call for a change in the way our country works – and the people for whom it works – forever.”

I agree. The referendum told us that the status quo was not good enough—in fact, was not nearly good enough. Surely, then, the test of the Budget is whether someone listening to it and seeing its contents would conclude that this was a Government determined to live up to her words.

One or two policies in the Budget look somewhat familiar. The energy price cap used to be part of a Marxist universe; now it is Government policy. The “use it or lose it” policy on land banking was described by the Foreign Secretary—an eminent person—as “Mugabe-style” land expropriation; now it is on the way to becoming Government policy under the wise counsel of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin)—an unlikely authoritarian Marxist.

On the fundamentals, however, on the underlying economic strategy, I am afraid it is not change, but more of the same. I want to highlight two issues: the refusal to address deep inequality in our country and the continuation of austerity. We all know about the cost-of-living crisis—it is not contested any more, although the Secretary of State did not really talk about it. I will give people just one fact: on the path suggested by the OBR, the average worker will not get back to 2008 earnings until 2025. That is the scale of the challenge we face. Are the Government making things better or worse when it comes to this and the gulf in living standards between the top and bottom? I am afraid they are making it worse. According to the Resolution Foundation, tax and benefit changes since 2015, including those in the pipeline, mean:

“The poorest third of households will lose an average of £715 a year compared to average gains among the richest third of households of £185 a year.”

The Prime Minister apparently believes that the message from the Brexit result was that people felt that the country worked for a privileged few but not for most. The Budget, however, makes the position worse rather than better.

I should love to hear from whoever winds up the debate what Ministers’ defence of these distributional figures is, because this is discretionary Government policy. It is a political choice, not an economic necessity. We need only look at what is happening to corporation tax to understand that. Corporation tax has been cut by more than £10 billion since 2010—and, by the way, businesses have not even been asking for those cuts. The Chancellor could have pointed out that the current rate of 19% was the lowest in the G7 by some distance, and that there were other priorities, but no: he is going to spend billions more pounds on cutting corporation tax to 17%. It seems that he can afford to spend those billions, but he cannot afford to keep benefits at the same level and has to cut them. That is the political choice of this Budget.

Let me turn from the issue of distribution to the issue of debt and the deficit, which the Secretary of State talked about. I am old enough to remember when the Government said that they would balance the budget by 2015. In fact, that was not so long ago: it was in 2010. I am also old enough to remember the 2015 election campaign, when I was told that if we did not balance the budget by 2018, catastrophe would follow. What does Robert Chote, the director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, say? He says:

“If the deficit is to continue falling at the average rate expected beyond the end of this spending review, then it won’t reach balance until 2030-31.”

What an extraordinary failure! A deficit promise is to be kept not five years late, not 10 years late, but 16 years late, and the Government have the cheek to go on about the deficit. They have failed to deliver on the promises that they made, but they are pulling off a remarkable feat: they are both failing on those deficit promises and cutting spending. The Secretary of State did not mention that. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, there will be day-to-day departmental cuts of £10 billion per capita by 2022, with welfare cuts on top. If ever we needed proof that austerity had failed, that would be it. The Government are not meeting their deficit promises, and they are carrying on with the cuts.

There is a deeper point, however. The Prime Minister’s words were right. People were not just voting on immigration in Europe, although of course they were doing that; they were also voting for a big change of direction. Continued austerity, continued spending cuts and worsening inequality constitute not a change in direction, but more of the same. We know what the Government should have done. They should have realised that cutting taxes for the richest, and the largest corporations, is not the way to ensure that a country succeeds. They should have put an end to austerity and cuts in public spending, and they should have recognised, more than they did, the cruelty and pain caused by welfare cuts that we all see, as constituency Members—including what is happening with universal credit.

I do not know what the precise Brexit settlement will be, but it is already clear from last year’s autumn statement that the impact on the economy and public finances will make it harder—let us be frank about this—to deliver the fairer society that was one important part of the mandate of the referendum, which makes it all the more important for us to have a Government who are committed to action to bring that about. On that score, and by the standards that the Prime Minister set herself, the Budget fails. It proves to me, yet again, that this Government cannot bring the change for which the people voted in the referendum.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

Order. I must now reduce the speaking limit to four minutes.