David Gauke winds up the debate on last week's Budget.
This is a Budget that demonstrates the Government’s determination to face up to our long-term challenges. This is a Budget that recognises that the only sustainable way to improve living standards is to improve our productivity. This is a Budget that recognises that sustainable public finances are not an impediment to prosperity but a necessary precondition.
I would like to thank my hon. Friends who participated in the debate: my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), for Telford (Lucy Allan), for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White), for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately).
May I say a particular word of congratulation to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell)? I apologise for having missed his speech, but I have heard from a number of people that it was excellent, and it proves that, in terms of his attributes as a Member of Parliament, it is not only because he is not Paul Nuttall that he will be welcome in this place.
I could probably summarise the other contributions from the Opposition Benches as saying that we are not spending enough, we are taxing too much and we are borrowing too much. Thankfully, it is not my job to reconcile all of that, and I wish the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) the best of luck—he can say it is fiscal rectitude if he likes.
An important part of this Budget has been ensuring that this country has the skills we need to grow in the 21st century. We have to face up to the fact that tomorrow’s labour market is going to look very different from today’s. One study, for example, estimates that over a third of all jobs in the UK are at high risk of replacement in the next one to two decades, as technology and society advance. Economic, social and technological change can make certain jobs or institutions obsolete: lamplighters, handloom weavers and the Hansom Cab Company—I suppose we could add the Labour party to that list.
The job of the Government is not to stand in the way of those changes, preserving the old by stifling the new; instead, our role is to prepare the country and its people to adapt to the changes ahead, and that is what this Budget was all about: giving young people the skills they will need to get ahead in tomorrow’s world. That includes expanding the programme of free schools, investing more in schools maintenance, reforming technical education, and increasing teaching hours for further education students.
Alongside that, we also took steps to help people with the opportunities to upskill and reskill throughout their working lives, as well as to help our top researchers to develop so that our brightest can become the world’s best. We are taking forward an ambitious plan to improve education across the board for people of all backgrounds and of all ages, because that, alongside our investment in the country’s underlying infrastructure, is what will count in turning the tide on Britain’s long-standing productivity problem. Only by doing that can we increase living standards and fund world-class public services.
But as we prepare a bright future for the 21st century, we do so responsibly. This was a Budget that protected and improved our health and social services, and a Budget that invested in reform for the benefit of the next generation of workers and businesses alike, but a Budget that did so by funding all the new spending commitments it made, because, unlike Labour, we do not believe in spending and promising what we cannot deliver. That means having a tax base that is capable of funding the public services we provide, and doing so in a way that is fair.
We have heard a lot about the change we made to national insurance for the self-employed, and we are listening to hon. Members’ concerns. I think we all have to recognise that the difference between the benefits received by the employed and the self-employed have narrowed but the gap in contributions has not. This means that the employed pay a lot more for the same benefits. As self-employment grows in our economy—a welcome trend—that should not place a pressure on funding public services and deficit reduction. A Government addressing long-term challenges have to address this point, not ignore it.
This is a Budget that keeps Britain working—one that invests in our people, infrastructure and public services but does so responsibly, continuing to steer the country’s course away from Labour’s “spend what you can borrow” approach to our “spend what you can afford”. In doing so, we are once again demonstrating that we are the party that is delivering for this generation but not at the expense of the next generation. That is why the House should support the Budget in the Lobby tonight.