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The central judgment in the Budget is about the scale and speed of the fiscal adjustment. Whatever the Chancellor does, there are risks. If he shows lack of resolve on the deficit, the Greek experience beckons, as markets lose confidence in our ability to service our debts. The Chancellor was right to emphasise sovereign debt risk in his speech. That is not a fanciful risk, but a clear and present danger for Britain and he was right to flag it up. If we show too much zeal, too early, on the deficit, some people fear that the Japanese experience awaits us-being caught in a heavily indebted deflationary trap.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I voted for the hon. Gentleman to hold his new position and even told his opponent that I had done so, but I am deeply concerned that today he is making the same mistake as the Chancellor. He said that the greatest problem facing economies is sovereign debt, when in fact analysis shows that it is bank indebtedness. Greece has a sovereign debt problem, but other countries of Europe have a problem with bank debt. That is the problem, so we are looking at the wrong target.
Mr Tyrie: I agree that both are extremely important. I do not think I said that the greatest threat is necessarily sovereign debt, although Hansard will show whether I did. I said that I agreed with the Chancellor that it was an extremely grave risk. That is supported by the overwhelming majority of commentators-the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and a large number of independent commentators.
From the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition, I presume that she is more fearful of the recovery being snuffed out by further tightening than of the risk of a downgrade in the bond markets. I shall not form an instant judgment now. I shall want my Committee to take a look at the situation and report to the House. None the less I noted a couple of relevant points. With the benefit of hindsight-looking historically-most fiscal retrenchments in this country have erred on the side of too little, too late, rather than too much, too soon.
My other general comment is that although the Japanese parallel is well worth examining, it should be borne in mind that the Japanese banking system was in a shocking state even by comparison with ours, and it has remained in grave difficulties. The revival of our banking system is crucial if we are to have sustained recovery. In some degree, that answers the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), and agrees with it.
Whether the Chancellor's judgment turns out to be right or wrong, there are a couple of points on which I should like to hear more from him over the coming days and weeks. First, although he must be resolute in his judgment his policy framework could, and I think should, signal that if the facts change, he will change his mind-he hinted at that in his speech. The global economic situation is fluid and fragile, so if we were to find ourselves in another global downturn, possibly triggered by global fiscal contraction, we need to know that he would deploy whatever tools were required to avoid deflation. There must be some risk of that. It is not just a matter
of Governments around the world, and particularly in Europe, beginning to address their deficits after their bail-outs. The banking system, too, will remain under strain. Banks will be subjected to a levy and will be required to secure major increases in capital and liquid assets, both of which will reduce lending. On top of that, there is the risk that household saving might sharply increase at the expense of consumption.
However, looking at things from an international perspective, I am heartened by the global growth forecasts of the IMF, which suggest that global growth for the next two years will be running in excess of 4%. I have not yet had a chance to see what the Office for Budget Responsibility has written in, but I suspect it will probably be in line, which would appear to buttress the Chancellor's judgment that the cuts are sustainable.
My second question to the Chancellor relates to the first: what is the overall macro-economic framework for the Budget judgment? I should like more information about that. In previous squeezes on fiscal policy, it has been reasonable to argue that tight policy has created room for a compensating looser monetary policy through short-term interest rates. This time, however, interest rates are already very low, so the only offset comes in long-term bond rates. Interestingly, the OBR has already published a second estimate for gross debt interest, which takes account of the tighter fiscal policy that has just been announced. On its forecast, the figures show a reduction in central Government gross debt interest of £7 billion over the planning period, so there is a long-term bond yield dividend to be had from the tighter fiscal policy.
In any case, the Chancellor may have spelt out his macro-economic framework in more detail in the Red Book. None of us has yet had a chance to read it, although some people may be taking that opportunity while I am speaking. It would be worth hearing more about the policy framework, because it must leave the Chancellor with enough room to alter course if circumstances change, otherwise credibility could collapse in the face of unforeseen events. The one thing I can predict is that there will be quite a few of those.
Whatever else people conclude about the Budget, it is fair to say that it shows extraordinary political courage by the Chancellor and by the coalition Government. There will be rumblings in the undergrowth in both coalition parties. The vested interest groups will cause enormous trouble, just as they would have done if a Labour Government had been implementing their cuts. It will take sustained resolution by the Prime Minister, his Deputy and the Chancellor to stick to their course. The relationship between No. 10 and No. 11 will be absolutely crucial in the months ahead.
I have concentrated on the deficit and the macro-economic framework, but the Budget will be judged on more than just accountancy. There are a number of other important issues. Does the Budget pave the way for providing better economic performance in the long run? Does it adequately protect the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society? I hope the Treasury Committee will look at that issue. Does it take enough account of both regional and structural imbalances in the economy? What role will Britain play in addressing the large global imbalances that still remain? Those are some of the questions that I very much hope my colleagues on the Treasury Committee will agree should be looked at in the months and years ahead.
I look forward to the formation of the Committee, the first-ever Treasury Committee that will benefit from a democratic mandate. Our task now is to get on with the job. I am open to suggestions from both sides of the House about what exactly we should look at; indeed I am already being inundated with proposals and suggestions, so we shall need to prioritise. Of course, I shall await the views of my Committee colleagues, but it would surprise no one-certainly not me-if we concluded that the central fiscal judgment of the Budget, and both the structure and early output of the new Office for Budget Responsibility, should be high on our agenda.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Today, let us spare a thought for the Liberal Democrats. In April, the great cause célèbre-the only amendment they fought for in Labour's Budget-was deferring the rise in the rate of duty on cider until June. Today, they achieved that ambition; duty was reduced from 10% to just 2%. In April, Liberal Democrat spokespeople loudly claimed to have stopped the wicked Labour Government from raising a few million pounds from west country cider farmers. Today, they sit, quisling apologists, for a Budget containing the most savage cuts and devastating tax increases in a generation.
"We will not have to raise VAT to deliver to our promises. The Conservatives will. Let me repeat that: our plans do not require a rise in VAT".
No wonder that, when the Prime Minister was asked during the election campaign for his favourite political joke, he replied in just two words: "Nick Clegg." The Liberal Democrats have now delivered the tax bombshell for their Conservative masters, precisely targeted at the poor, who spend a far greater proportion of their income on VAT-able items.
Barry Gardiner: I should be very happy to look at the pages of the Red Book in due course, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to challenge the fact, which I have just stated, that the poor spend a greater proportion of their incomes on VATable items, I am sure that he will find not only that he is wrong, but that he is out of sync with other Liberal Democrats-his leader, in fact, and his deputy leader-who have said exactly the same as I have. No wonder that the Liberal leader had to write to his MPs today to insist that he had not sold out on his party's promise to protect those who are on average incomes.
"So if you're on an ordinary income, you have a choice. If you want your taxes to rise: vote Labour or Conservative. If you want your taxes to fall: choose the Liberal Democrats."
The smugness is breathtaking, but nowhere near as breathtaking as the G-forces exerted by the speed of the U-turn that he has performed. His talk of progressive cuts certainly did not go down well in Sheffield, Hallam, where the axing of the Labour Government's £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters has denied his constituency of the manufacturing future and new jobs that local people so badly wanted and that he once said that he believed in.
"The Liberal Democrats did not sign up to the Conservative formula of cutting £4 for every £1 raised in additional revenue and it would be impossible to pursue such a policy without adversely hurting the most vulnerable in society. With this in mind, it seems incomprehensible that we could be contemplating a rise in VAT at this stage. As the Liberal Democrats pointed out before the election, a VAT rise to 20% would cost every person in the country an average of £389, disproportionately hurting the least well-off who would be least able to afford it."
That is Liberal Democrats talking. Frankly, we expect the Conservative party to attack the poorest in society. It was rather refreshing to be told a week last Thursday, by the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), that
"Those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt".-[ Official Report, 10 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 450.]
Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): It is unfortunate that the Deputy Prime Minister is not listening to the comments about Sheffield Forgemasters, and I assume that he was not listening to the Prime Minister's remarks yesterday, when he made disparaging comments about the shareholders of Sheffield Forgemasters and the financial engineering associated with the deal, which has been through the most robust critique by the Treasury. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when the Deputy Prime Minister returns to Sheffield, it would be appropriate for him to apologise on behalf of the Prime Minister for those comments?
Barry Gardiner: I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. The only thing that I find more smug than the comments that have been made was the fact that, during the entirety of oral questions to the Deputy Prime Minister, he refused to answer any of the questions that he would have found difficult to answer. One wonders why they are called oral questions to the Deputy Prime Minister if he is not going to bother to answer them.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): How does my hon. Friend feel that the Budget will impact on the poorest of his constituents in Brent? The impact will be felt by the poorest people across the country, but does he agree that, with this Budget, we have finally seen the Liberal Democrats for what they are: the real wolves in sheep's clothing?
Barry Gardiner: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very clear that the Liberal Democrats vary not just what they say from doorstep to doorstep, but what they say before the election from what they do after the election, and many of us have bitter experience of that.
Today, it was interesting to hear the Chancellor say that council taxes will be frozen. I thought to myself, "Yes, I've heard that mantra before." My hon. Friend
prompts me. That is exactly what the Liberal Democrats promised in the run-up to the 2006 local elections in Brent. Strangely, after that local election, they went into a coalition with the Conservatives, who had promised not just a freeze on council tax but a reduction in council tax. When they got into power, what did they do? They raised council tax for three years in a row.
Moreover, before the election, the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), was photographed with the elderly-I have a copy of it here-and appeared on a leaflet that said, "Free Personal Care for the elderly say Lib Dems", but when they got into office on Brent council, they raised the personal care charges from £5 an hour to £16.50 an hour.
When the Chancellor talked today about how the Government would freeze council tax, I thought, "Yes, I know how they will manage to do that." All the charges that councils make people, such as elderly residents in Brent, pay will be bumped up. The increase will be imposed not on council tax, but on those who have the very least ability to pay-the most vulnerable people in our community.
Last week, I was invited to the Brent Teachers Association meeting to debate the future of education in the borough with the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central. As she had promised in her election literature an extra £2.5 billion towards education and smaller class sizes, but subsequently approved a £1.88 million cut to the borough's education area-based grant, I was looking forward to that debate. However, I understand that, half an hour before the start of it, her office phoned to indicate that she was indisposed and could not attend. If I had been in her position, I would have been indisposed and unable to attend, too. To cut one's education department in the borough, having promised such a vast increase in the education spending, is typical of how the Liberal Democrats have proceeded around the country, and we now see that what they do in national government is absolutely no different. The disillusion of those who believed the Liberal Democrat promises before the election can be only further deepened by the Budget statement that they have heard today.
Jo Swinson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for rethinking and giving way. I am listening to what he is saying with great care, but I wonder whether he is going to tell us-I am yet to hear about this from any Labour politician-where he would like any of the £44 billion of cuts that the Labour Government decided were required to fall.
Barry Gardiner: The hon. Lady has been a Member for a number of years. She will remember the answer that she and her colleagues gave when they sat on the Opposition Benches and Labour Members asked them exactly that sort of question: "You're in government. It is you who provide the answers and we who ask the questions."
People were told, "Vote blue, go green." Vote blue, go green? Go green with frustration? Go green with fury? Where was that-did I miss it? Was there anything in the Budget about going green? I heard a mention of an investigation into whether there should be a per-passenger or per-plane duty, but that hardly constitutes vote blue, go green. There are many things that a really progressive Government could be doing to improve the way in which the environment is treated in this country.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are a great many such things-fairness in transmission charges to the grid, for example, and access to the fossil fuel levy-so perhaps he will explain why, over 13 years, his party did not do them either.
Barry Gardiner: I am happy to give an answer to the hon. Gentleman. We introduced the first legislation on climate change anywhere in the world. We put in place carbon budgets and feed-in tariffs. We ensured that we set a reduction target for 2050 of not just 50% but at least 80%, with interim budgets that can be examined every year, so that Parliament can hold the Government to account. The Labour Government achieved substantial things on the environment, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we did not do enough. I often spoke from the Government Benches to ask my own Ministers to go further. In addition, the system of renewables obligation certificates is a good deal more generous in Scotland than in England. However, does the Budget address the environment? Not one whit; we heard only a mention of an investigation into duty for planes rather than passengers.
"Legislation will be in the Finance Bill introduced in the autumn for an enhanced capital allowance for zero-carbon goods vehicles."
The Budget is a dreadful missed opportunity. It should have ensured that we can resolve the problems with our public finances and pull the country through the recession. It should have achieved that in a staged and phased way. The Government tried to paint a dichotomy between those who appreciated that this had to be done-that this was the inevitable Budget-and, as they put it, those on the other side who said, "No, no. Hold back." However, it was never like that. Labour Members said that this must be done, but more progressively and slowly. We said that we must not jeopardise the recovery now by taking a macho posture that goes too far, that chokes off recovery and that will ultimately be self-defeating.
If the Opposition's policies had been followed, we could have pulled the country through the recession and reduced the structural deficit to half its present level, as has been shown by today's predictions and forecasts. However, the Government have decided to go for machismo over prudence-they will pay the price for it.
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