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I do not want to stoke a new unsustainable boom, but there must be a judgment about whether the recovery is too fast or too slow, too hot or too cold. At present, it is most people's judgment that in the private sector is too cold. It is not going quickly enough, and it is not easy
enough. We need to make it easier for ordinary, run-of-the-mill entrepreneurs to succeed. It should not be necessary to be a complete genius who is prepared to take on all the odds in order to establish a company. We want people to be able to do that who have reasonable skills and do not want to have to fight the jungle all the time.
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I agree with my right hon. Friend. He has heard me speak passionately about start-ups, and I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor provided some incentives for them today, but given the reality of where we are today in the economy, the recovery will be fuelled less by start-ups than by medium-sized businesses that are already exporting to countries such as China and Brazil, where our record is currently abysmal. We export more to Ireland than to those countries. It is those type of companies that have a more mature business that are not investing at present. They are not retrenching, but they are not investing. Banks need to send a message to them that there is money available to them to make that investment and to grow their business from medium to large.
My conclusion on this is that to promote a proper recovery the Government need to have words with their financial regulators to say that at this stage of the cycle they should not be demanding more cash and capital from here. The banks are now perfectly solvent. They are perfectly liquid; they are lending huge sums of money to the Government, and that counts as liquid resources because they hold it in the form of Government bonds and Treasury bills. Job done, therefore, but by all means start to tighten things again in a year or two if we have a really good recovery going on and if credit is beginning to build up.
The economy is still anaemic, however; it is still short of credit. It does not have the oomph behind it that we need, and the answer lies in the banks. So my plea to the Chancellor is that in order to make his strategy successful he needs to do something about the way we approach banks, credit and money supply in this country.
The overall Budget strategy takes the risk of doing rather more by tax and rather less by public spending reductions than the Chancellor himself was suggesting when he first looked at this problem, but I wish it well. It is very important for all of us that it works. Every Member in this House wants their constituents to have more chance of a decent job, more chance of getting off benefit if they are unemployed, and more chance of keeping good-quality schools and hospitals.
We have seen what happens in extreme situations in countries that did not take their deficit seriously. They not only end up with a worse economy; they end up with much bigger slashes in public services because they literally run out of money. The previous Government very helpfully advised us that all the money had gone. We know where it went and who took it. The Red Book today gives a pathway to get back from that, so I hope that we will get behind it and try to make it work.
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op):
It is an honour to represent Nottingham East, having had a few
years out of Parliament from 2005. Although I would encourage Members to treat my contribution today as a maiden speech-following, perhaps, the conventions of treating me gently and with great respect-I suspect that might be twisting the rules on maidens a little bit. I do not know whether one can be a born-again maiden, but I will try to focus today on the measures in the Budget speech.
First, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, John Heppell, who served Nottingham East faithfully for 18 years, not only-and perhaps most infamously-as Parliamentary Private Secretary to John Prescott, but for several years in the Whips Office.
Nottingham East is truly a wonderful constituency, ranging all the way from St Ann's, Sneinton, Mapperley, Sherwood and Carrington to Bakersfield and other parts of the core of Nottingham city, which has some of the poorest parts not only of the city, but of the country as a whole. It is because of my concern about the impact of the Budget on those in my constituency who are among the poorest in the country that I wanted to speak today to signal my deep reservations about the measures announced.
I particularly want to focus on the Chancellor's taxation measures, but there is also the hidden part of the iceberg beneath the waterline: the 80% public spending reductions. That may harm my constituents most of all. We will not know the full ramifications until the spending review in the autumn, of course, but the Chancellor signalled that there could be a 25% reduction in those departmental expenditure limits that are not in the protected areas of health and international development. To take 25% so quickly out of some of the key budgets in the country such as education, transport, housing, police and counter-terrorism will affect key services, and there will undoubtedly be a major effect on our quality of life, in particular on the least well-off.
I want to challenge some of the Conservatives' spin and assumptions. I understand where they are coming from. They had to set out the context as best they could to try to soften up the public before they wielded the axe, but I am not convinced that it has worked on this occasion. The notion that the condition that we are in is all the fault of the previous Labour Government is really stretching things too far. Even the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), who is not at the wetter end of the Conservative party, had to acknowledge that the banks were the root cause of the credit crunch and that it was a global credit crunch that started in America and spread around the world. Yes, the regulators failed, but regulators failed worldwide. He might well be like Mystic Meg in his understanding of the sorts of problems likely to range from the regulation of derivatives all the way through to the gearing ratios that the banks pursued, but the truth is that the then Government had no choice but to take steps to save the banking industry, otherwise the cash machines would not have been working; Had he been in government, he would have done exactly the same thing. It is important to put that on the record.
Mr Redwood: The hon. Gentleman should really point out that Australia, China, India and Canada have had much better success at getting their banks and economies through without the kind of crisis that we have had.
The notion that the debt is solely Government-authored debt has to be rebutted. The problem was not so much about excessive public spending as about tax receipts being drastically reduced because of the recession that came as a consequence of the credit crunch. That is the reality of the situation. The Conservatives try to promulgate the notion that the situation is far worse than expected, but the statistics show that the borrowing requirement is not as difficult as it was a few months ago and that the receipts we now gain from revenues are recovering better than expected.
The notion that debt is out of control was rebutted quite well in today's edition of The Independent by Sean O'Grady, the economics editor, who illustrated very well that Britain is not Greece. The right hon. Member for Wokingham talked about the difference between euroland and our particular predicament. Although we have difficulties, we also have our own currency and some flexibility. We are not trapped in that currency zone, we have a more diversified economy than others in those areas and our debt has a longer maturity-it is not as short as in other countries. Our national debt might, unfortunately, peak at around the 75% mark, but that is very far from the levels that other countries are talking about.
There is a concentration solely on deficit, rather than on debt, but debt should be the issue at hand as that is the best way of comparing, historically, where we are. At the end of the second world war, Britain had a debt ratio of about 262% of gross domestic product, but the Labour Administration were able to establish a welfare state even with those levels. There is this notion that we are in a dreadful predicament, but the Conservatives have to concoct that urgency and talk about emergencies. There is absolutely no consensus either in the House or among economists more generally that the severity and the austerity that the Government have introduced in the Budget is on a necessary scale.
Nadhim Zahawi: The hon. Gentleman speaks as though his Government were not going to introduce any cuts. Is he telling the House that if Labour were on the Government side, they would do nothing about this? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) has mentioned, Labour suggested during the election that there would be cuts of £40 billion but gave no further detail. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that everything was rosy in the garden before and that we should continue as we were?
No, we have to be mature and grown-up about these issues. It is important to recognise that the best way to address our deficit is to have a pro-growth strategy, because it will be through growth that we generate receipts, so that we can make improvements. If we have to restrain public expenditure, doing so in such a short space of time, with such severity, is an exceptionally
risky strategy. In Sweden, and even in Canada-countries the Conservatives keep citing-such changes were made over 10 or 15 years. Yes, they rebalanced and consolidated, but for the Government to do so with such fervour betrays what is really going on in the Conservative party. Ideologically, the Conservatives secretly enjoy the cutting back of public expenditure. They hate state expenditure-they absolutely loathe it. They take a certain kind of masochistic relish in scaling back public expenditure.
Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is not just one school of economic thinking but at least three? Keynesianism, monetarism and the Austrian school have very different ideas about the rate at which we should cut and about how the economy would recover. Will he at least recognise that in academia there are real differences in economic thinking?
Chris Leslie: I could not agree more. That level of maturity is refreshing, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that there was consensus that the measures had to be taken in a particular way shows how the hon. Gentleman departs from his Front-Bench colleagues. I hope he will have the foresight to listen to the differences of opinion and recognise the possibility that austere and harsh public expenditure reductions, as well as some of the tax increases, could have a harmful effect on the economy. We do not know about the individual measures, but we have already heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the effect on unemployment, as shown in the forecasts from the so-called Office for Budget Responsibility, appointed while the Conservatives were in opposition.
Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman is making some good points, but he takes his argument a little too far when he describes Government Members as economic masochists who enjoy the process. At the end of the day, their constituents will not thank them for unnecessary cuts. There is a good argument to be made, but does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the extent to which he is taking it may diminish his case?
Chris Leslie: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right. Judging from the Conservatives' reaction-the papers waved in the air when the Chancellor sat down-the enjoyment they took in those harsh- [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) calls out, "Pathetic", but why else would they cheer with such fervour?
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I too welcome the chance to have a grown-up and sensible discussion, but could the hon. Gentleman not do the Tory cuts thing every time we come into the Chamber? Even my seven-year-old finds it rather childish. Of course the Budget will be tough to justify in our constituencies; no one wants to talk to their constituents about public spending reductions, particularly ones that we did not put on the statute book. We have to deal with a legacy problem and I waved my Order Paper because for the first time in 13 years we had a Budget designed not to win votes but to get Britain back on track.
Chris Leslie: The hon. Lady will have to forgive me, but sometimes I get the impression that sign language is the only one she might understand. Cutting back budgets is exactly what she has been doing and she will be voting for it with relish.
Chris Leslie: It is important that we start to look at the measures in the Budget. They did not deal with the waste and inefficiency the Government promised to find. The Government said that waste and inefficiency would form the totality of their public spending reductions. They said they would not hit front-line services. The fallacy of those claims is beginning to show.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the concerns is that Government Members say that the Budget is about fairness, yet a good degree of the suffering that will be inflicted on people as a result of the cuts will be felt hardest by those who are least able to bear it? In particular, areas such as Merseyside will bear the brunt.
Chris Leslie: Absolutely, and the local and regional impact of many of the announcements will become clear over the next few days. It is very difficult to assess the full extent of the impact on our constituents only a matter of hours after the Budget has been delivered, but I shall pick out some of the most pernicious measures announced. Putting up VAT to 20% is undoubtedly one of the most regressive tax decisions ever made by a Government in this country-20% indirect taxation, hitting those people who need to buy some of life's necessities. Yes, indeed, some things may still be zero-rated, although people should watch this space on that one, because the Liberal Democrats in particular promised that they had no plans to increase VAT-that was a secret tax bombshell-but they then introduced a tax bombshell of that scale.
Chris Leslie: I am answering the hon. Gentleman's question. There are significant revenue-generating measures, particularly in respect of the wealthiest in society, that should have been taken. The fact is that he will vote to take £12 billion in VAT-three letters that will be tattooed for ever on to the face of his constituency-annually from people, including his constituents, yet the Government have only managed to take £1 billion in revenue from the banking levy. That ratio says it all.
Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab):
Does my hon. Friend agree that increasing VAT will also have a significant impact on places such as Nottingham, where large numbers of people are employed in the
retail sector, and that it will affect retail jobs? Is he aware that the Centre for Retail Research estimated that increasing VAT to 20% would lead to a reduction of 47,000 retail jobs and 10,000 stores closing?
Chris Leslie: I sincerely hope that that does not happen, but I worry that my hon. Friend may well indeed be right. The Government have tried their best to stagger the arrangement by delaying the introduction of the VAT rise, but they had better hope that the recovery is well under way by the time that the increase comes in-I think, in January-because, if there are still difficulties in our economy and they wallop up VAT by such a large amount, we risk a double-dip recession, which would particularly hit those who are in greatest need.
I want to talk about the most pernicious parts of the Budget which affect child poverty and even infant mortality: for instance, the scrapping of the health in pregnancy grant-just stating its name makes me incredulous that the Government have chosen it-in this financial year, from January onwards, coupled with the restriction of the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child from April 2011. I shall be very interested to see whether Government Members will walk through the Lobby with their heads held high to vote on those measures in respect of pregnant women in the greatest need. Coupled with the freezing of child benefit for three years, the shunting of lone parents off income support from next year-something that is also hidden away in the Budget-the abolition of the child trust fund and a couple of other things that the Chancellor spoke about very quickly in his statement, such as reversing the child tax credit supplement for one and two-year-olds and removing the baby element of the child tax credit from next year, which will cost young new families across the country £295 million, that is a phenomenal tax essentially on those who are in greatest need. Taken together, that seems to be one of the most despicable series of changes in the Budget.
Gavin Barwell: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in taking interventions. Has he had the chance to look at chart A6 on page 70 of the Red Book, which shows the combined effect of the freeze in child benefits and the indexation increase in child tax credit? It demonstrates that the two changes are extremely progressive when taken together and not regressive, as he tries to argue.
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