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In the north-east, where the public sector accounts for 53 per cent. of GDP, we know only too well that threats of early and deep cuts in public spending would
spell very bad news and threaten the recovery. Although it is true that much has been achieved and improved since 1997, the disparities between the north and south of our country stubbornly remain, much to the frustration of those of us who live in the north. Life in some parts of the south is becoming uncomfortable, with growing congestion and over-population; at the same time, life in parts of the north is made more difficult because the emerging industries and employment opportunities in the south are inaccessible to people, unless they move there and add to its congestion.
Attempts over the years to attract more business to the north have been frustrated by the concentration in London and the south-east of economic and political power, which is a magnet for development. One way to tackle the problem is to bring the north and south closer together by reducing the time it takes to travel between the two. The Labour Government's proposals to develop a high-speed rail network are a welcome contribution to that process. The development of high-speed rail on the continent has shown that the cities that the high-speed network directly serves benefit financially and are advantaged in comparison with those that are not. So if high-speed rail is to contribute to efforts to tackle the north-south divide, surely the areas that are most in need and farthest from the centre of national economic and political influence should be included on the network. It is vital to the north-east of England that the proposed high-speed rail network, not just the proposed spur line, serves the region.
It is disappointing, however, that otherwise forward-thinking and relatively young Transport Ministers find it so difficult to see beyond conventional rail systems. Surely we cannot be contemplating that, by the end of the 21st century, high-speed rail will still consist of hundreds of tonnes of metal trundling along on steel rails. Our continental competitors are ahead of us in the development of high-speed rail, so instead of taking one small step to catch up, why can our Ministers not take one huge leap, boldly go where none has gone before and develop a real high-speed network that is fit for the 21st century? I refer to maglev: a train carried on magnetic levitation-a British invention, by the way-at speeds of up to 300mph. It makes a mockery of current proposals and would really put Britain ahead of the game for once. Indeed, I recommend that Ministers examine UK Ultraspeed's response to the High Speed 2 report, which makes enlightening reading.
Other measures in the Budget are a little less headline-grabbing but important to the social life of many constituents. I note that the Prime Minister recently announced the appointment of a pubs Minister, in recognition of the demise of too many local pubs. I had to point out to the new Minister that working men's and other private non-profit-making members' clubs are also going through bad times, and that legislation such as the Licensing Act 2003, Gambling Act 2005 and the smoking ban, however well-meaning, have had a negative and often damaging effect. As a consequence, clubs are struggling and many have either closed or are under the threat of closure.
Those clubs are more often than not right in the centre and at the heart of our communities. They provide a venue for wedding receptions, funeral receptions, christenings, birthdays and so on, and it is disappointing that the Budget does not give any relief to such valuable
community assets. Indeed, increases in duties will aggravate the problem. I am pleased that the pubs Minister has announced that clubs will be included in his deliberations, and that a new inquiry, chaired by my very good friend, the noble Lord Bilston, will look at how clubs can be helped to survive and thrive. I look forward to its conclusions; it could not have a better or more knowledgeable chairman.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution, this is probably my last speech in a major debate in this House, and I, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), came here after serving 23 years on the shop floor in heavy engineering. My election to Parliament was a source of pride to my parents, who lived through the war years and the years of austerity. My father was a political animal. He took such a close interest in politics, particularly Labour politics, that he was nicknamed Clem, after Clem Attlee-a name that he liked so much he adopted it for the rest of his life. But he never aspired to political office. My parents were proud not just of me but of our country, where people of modest backgrounds as well as professionals and the wealthy can make it to Parliament. It is vital that we retain that characteristic in the years ahead. Too often these days, people become career politicians after leaving university, and they have little or no knowledge of the real world outside this House.
I have had the privilege of representing the heart of Tyneside-the people I grew up with. When I go, owing to boundary changes, Tyne Bridge goes also, so it is probably an appropriate time for me to leave. I hope that I have been able to make my mark, however slight, on this place, and that those who arrive after the election not only find the job as fulfilling as I have, but are able to contribute effectively and passionately on behalf of their constituents. I thank my wife and family for their support over the years. It would not have been possible without that. Finally, I wish my successor and the new Parliament well. Being an MP has been a great privilege. I thank my constituents, my party and my union for giving me that opportunity. I hope that I have lived up to it.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) has just made an eloquent plea on behalf of the north-east. I agree about the importance of people entering this place with experience of real life and real jobs; whatever that experience may be, it is important that this place is not just filled up with professional politicians. However, I want to take him up on one point-that the deficit built up over the recession. It did not: three quarters of it is entirely discretionary and entirely the result of Government spending decisions from about 2002 to 2008, when public spending ran out of control.
According to the Treasury's own figures, which rely on pretty optimistic growth assumptions, the structural part of the deficit was 9 per cent. last year and 8 per cent. this year, and it will decline to 6 per cent., 4.5 per cent., 3.5 per cent. and 3 per cent. over the next five years. In five years' time, if the growth assumptions in the Treasury's forecast are right, and if it is right about what the structural part of the deficit is-the error on
that could be in both directions-we will be running a deficit of £50 billion a year. That is entirely discretionary. This is money that our children are going to have to pay back. We are borrowing £3,000 a year for every man, woman and child in the country. By the end of the forecasting period in the Red Book, we are talking about a debt of £1.4 trillion. The interest on that alone will cost every man, woman and child in the country £1,100 a year. The idea that deficit financing is a responsible thing to do is simply wrong: it is stealing from the next generation.
In a recession, one expects there to be a budget deficit as a result of natural stabilisers. Taxes fall and benefits for people who are unemployed rise. However, that is only about a third of the deficit-the other two thirds is entirely discretionary. I am afraid that I am one of those people who think it needs to be eliminated an awful lot faster than the Government plan. Holding spending still will not be enough. Even if we had growth of 2.5 per cent. a year, the process would take nine to 10 years.
Mr. Jeremy Browne: I ask this entirely in the spirit of genuine inquiry: does the hon. Gentleman think that this morning's announcement on national insurance by his party's Front Benchers would make the situation that he describes worse, or does he hope that the stimulus effect would mean that it was more than compensated for in economic growth?
I am concerned about the level of gilt sales that we are indulging in. Over the next four years, according to the Red Book, the deficit will be about £570 billion. Maturities are running at about £40 billion a year. For the last year, all the gilts that the Government issued were sold to the Bank of England, so that will have to be undone over the next three or four years. On the Government's own figures, we are looking at selling £920 billion of gilts over the next four to five years. That is not possible without a major increase in interest rates, a major fall in the currency, or both.
Another reason why it is important to eliminate the deficit a lot faster is that the private sector cannot recover with these levels of borrowing and taxation, as well as inefficiencies in the use of people in the public sector. That will lead to a lower pound, higher interest rates, and, perhaps, inflation. We have been running an incredibly loose monetary policy alongside the fiscal policy, although that is partly to do with the problems in the banks.
I got interested in politics in the 1970s because I thought we were getting into terrible trouble on the Government's finances. I came into this place when a Conservative Government were trying to grapple with an inherited deficit of 9 per cent. of gross domestic product, and it looks as though the next Government are going to have to start from a much worse position than that. I fundamentally believe in sound public finance and sound monetary policy. We all know, from our personal life or our business life, that if one is getting into debt and things are not getting any better, the sooner one faces up to the problem and straightens it out, the sooner one's life can get back to normal.
Every business man knows this, and we all know it from our own lives. I am sure that we have all had periods when we have taken on debts that we cannot really afford and interest starts to catch up with us, which begins to mean that we cannot spend money on things we want to spend it on. The sooner one grapples with that problem and resolves it, the sooner one gets back to normal.
Part of the adjustment to this process will fall on the public sector work force, and I am afraid that it will be a very painful time. However, the Government have increased the public sector work force from 5.2 million to 6.1 million during their period in office. The pay bill is a quarter of public spending, and last year it went up by 3.8 per cent. A lot of those people are not productively employed. Let me take just three examples. In 1997, the Arts Council employed 200 people and its overhead was 5 per cent. of its budget. It now employs 765 people, and its overhead is 11 per cent. of its budget. Giving away other people's money has always seemed to me to be one of the easiest things to be tasked with in life, let alone public life. Why the Arts Council needs four times as many people to do the job as it did in 1997 beggars belief.
In the national health service, most of the increase in numbers has been in health professionals. Of 290,000 employees, 172,000 have been health professionals, but 120,000-40 per cent.-have been management and support staff. The Office for National Statistics has just reported that productivity is falling in the NHS. That is not surprising, because one cannot throw at it the amounts of money that the Government have and get value for money from it. The NHS can make massive efficiency and productivity savings over the next few years on the basis of the very generous settlements that the Government have given it. As for schools, there have been 41,000 more teachers but 90,000 more support staff. There is a huge increase in bureaucracy from which we can make savings. These people will move into the private sector as it starts to recover when the Government get out of the mess that they are in.
That will require a little bit of boosting on the supply side. I should like to make a couple of suggestions about how the unemployment that will inevitably be created gets picked up in the private sector more quickly than it might otherwise be. If I were Chancellor, I would have, for two years, 100 per cent. capital allowances and zero capital gains tax on business investment made during that period to try to bring forward business investment that will create jobs. That would mean a very significant tax incentive. The Government have gone a little way towards it, because they have reduced capital gains tax rates a lot over the past few years, but a temporary measure like that would do what is needed.
My other plea is that when public spending is cut, as it inevitably will be, we try to protect a couple of areas of the capital budget. The Government make two contributions to the productivity of the nation: in transport and in education. Although there has been a lot of investment in some aspects of transport, the investment in roads has been appalling under this Government. Many business men say that what they would like is not all the Government's programmes but a better road to the docks from wherever their factory happens to be. On higher and further education, raising the skills of people in the work force makes them more employable
and more productive, and I would like that aspect to be protected. Other areas of capital spending will inevitably come under pressure, but they are always the easiest things to cut.
The banks have been one of the causes of the problems we have been experiencing, but, remarkably, they seem to fail completely to appreciate how unpopular they are, the problems they have caused or the need for any adjustment in how they are regulated and how they behave. They have gone back, remarkably quickly, to what seem to me to be their bad old ways. It is absolutely right for the Government, as the guarantor of retail deposits and the lender of last resort in terms of system risk, to say, "We're never going to have this happen again." I think Members in all parts of the House are agreed about that. We have heard all sorts of ideas: Adair Turner has talked about micro-regulation by the Financial Services Authority; David Walker has talked about the reform of bank boards and moving regulation into the Bank of England, which is probably a good idea. We have heard about counter-cyclical capital ratios, micro-prudential regulation, and watching liquidity. I am sure that all those ideas have something to contribute. However, if the new regulatory framework is to work, it will have to involve some international co-ordination; otherwise, people will just go into regulatory arbitrage, as they did before.
I would like to suggest something much more simple. The net assets and liabilities of the banking sector mirror the net assets and liabilities of the non-financial part of the economy. If bank balance sheets are growing at 10 per cent. a year but the economy is clearly not growing that fast, that tells us that there is a problem. That is mirrored, in turn, by the money supply. Throughout most of the previous decade, the economy was growing at about 3 per cent. a year and the money supply was growing at 10 per cent. That was a big red flag showing that there was a problem. One would not need to be a super-clever regulator to realise that banks were expanding their lending too fast and probably lending a lot of money to people who could not pay it back.
Ultimately, in all such banking crises, there is one problem-the banks made bad loans, and they will not get that money back. In this case, they got it so badly wrong that the taxpayer had to step in to help them out. The industry is too big-it is worth four and a half times our gross domestic product. By that I mean that the banks' balance sheets are too big, not that the financial services industry is too big. We must remember that for every fat cat banker with a £10 million bonus, there are probably 50,000 people working in fairly ordinary jobs in call centres or offices, processing transactions, in sales and marketing, or whatever. A very large number of people are employed in an industry that is a very important one for us internationally.
I should like to make a couple of suggestions of my own. The Americans have suggested bringing back the Glass-Steagall division between investment banking and commercial banking-the casino and the utility. I find that a pretty attractive idea, although I worry, on the other side, that big companies need banks that can do a lot of things for them. If we are not to go the whole hog, I do not see why we cannot put banks into silos. The bank could run its mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance business in one silo, with a certain amount of capital committed to it but not putting
deposits at risk. If it wanted to run a proprietary trading operation-frankly, I do not believe it should, because it would basically be betting against its customers-that should be in a separate silo. The only thing that the Government should guarantee is the retail deposits in a separate subsidiary of the banking group, and we should regulate very tightly what it did with that money. If a bank wanted to run its own internal hedge fund and lost money on that, it would lose a certain amount of capital, but it would not put the rest of the business at risk, as Lehman Brothers did.
We have to stop people gambling. In insurance, one cannot have a reinsurance contract without having an insurance contract in the first place-one cannot insure something in which one does not have an interest. It ought to be the same with credit default swaps and associated derivatives. There are trillions of them floating on a tiny amount of real transactions, and they ought to be restricted to the amount of the real transactions.
The big point that I wish to make is that the ethics and morality of the banking business need to change. When the closed shop of English gentlemen who ran the City for a couple of hundred years was broken up 30 years ago, we got an eat-what-you-kill philosophy from the Americans instead. It is pernicious, because it encourages an individual to take a very short-term view of what he or she does, in the interests of maximising his or her own bonus. Nobody is looking after the firm or much concerned about the customer. Bankers need to start thinking about the purpose of what they do, and they need to reintroduce strong ethics to it. They need to deal with conflicts of interest over proprietary trading, and they must put the good of the customer and the organisation that they work for much higher up their agenda.
I believe that the idea of a transaction tax on banks is terrible, as it would just get passed on to customers. However, the idea of taxing the banks' profits a bit more might be good. The reason why they are making so much money at the moment is that they can borrow it from the Bank of England for next to nothing. The argument for a windfall tax on the banks is pretty overwhelming, and if my party is in charge of these affairs in a couple of months' time, as I hope it will be, I hope that it will take that on board.
I came into this place when a Conservative Government were trying to sort out the terrible fiscal and monetary mess that a Labour Government had led us into, and I fear that I am leaving when the same thing is about to happen. In between, there was a period of pretty sound finance both under our party and under the current Government for their first five, six or seven years. I fundamentally and fervently believe that it is the job of the Government to run their finances soundly; otherwise, they are mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren, which is at worst immoral and at best not very intelligent.
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I came into the House 18 years ago frustrated by a Government who had sold the pass on manufacturing in favour of a dangerous flirtation with speculative and deregulated finance. So, a lot has changed in those 18 years.
We are where we are because of the mess that speculative and deregulated finance has taken the UK and global economy into. We currently hover somewhere between recession and recovery; with the good news being that unemployment is falling and the bad news being that employment is also falling. The fear is that, at the coming election, the public could be faced with a choice between the Tories, who would take Britain into a double-dip recession, and a Labour programme that could offer the prospects of jobless growth and kinder cuts. The House and the country need a bigger vision to be put on offer at the general election.
I remind the House that it was not public services that took the UK into the economic crisis; it was bankers and speculators who played around with the casino economy at the expense of the real economy. As a Parliament, we have failed to remain focused on that. Instead, we have allowed the debate to be shifted into a narrow argument about whose cuts will be the gentlest. I agree with the Treasury Committee that Parliament and the Government have missed a huge opportunity in failing to take up the prospect of breaking up the banks in the way that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) has outlined; by separating the retail, high-street functions of banks that deal with the receipt of our wages and savings from the banks that want to go into the more speculative parts of the casino economy. If they are going to gamble, let them gamble, but they cannot be underwritten by a public bail-out that has to be paid for at the expense of public services. We are asking the wrong people to pay the price of the crisis that we have been thrown into.
I happen to believe in the value of a tax on speculative transfers, which would not necessarily be a tax on high-street banking. The idea was first introduced by the economist James Tobin in 1985. The great advantage of a 0.05 per cent transactions tax is that it would not harm long-term, serious investment in any way, but it would do tax damage to those who move money around by the hour, minute, second and microsecond. We ought to take a punitive tax view of such destruction of the real economy.
The House needs to ask itself what has been achieved for the country by the £185 billion bail-out of the banks. The reality is that, in the current recession, there has been a contraction in the economy of £80 billion, £46 billion of which has been a cut in investment. It is right for us to ask ourselves whether throwing that quantum of money into bailing out the banks has done harm or good to the real economy.
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