Mr Redwood’s contribution to the Budget debate, 21 March

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I fully support the Government’s aim. We need to earn our way out of the fiscal crisis, the massive over-borrowing and the large deficits. I also fully support their aim to get more money from taxing the rich, and we need a tax break for everybody else. We need a stimulus to demand and growth in this country and it is welcome that, given the difficult figures before the Chancellor today and the situation he inherited, he has managed to find a way of cutting tax for most people. That will be welcome relief from the relentless pressures on private budgets that hon. Members and their constituents have been experiencing as we try to climb out of the crisis.

It would be helpful to remind the House of the general shape of the five-year programme to try to get the deficit down. We want to get to a position in which we are adding less to the new borrowing. It is not that we are paying off the debt or dealing with the nation’s mortgage and credit card; we are just not flexing them quite as much as before. The Government have said that, over the five-year period of the planned coalition Government, they wish to increase current public spending by £90 billion and tax revenues by £174 billion a year by the fifth year of the programme, compared with the last Labour year. The House can see that, on most normal ways of looking at the situation, the plan is for the heavy lifting of getting the deficit down to be done by a very large increase in tax revenues.

Those tax revenues best roll in if the economy grows reasonably rapidly. The more quickly the economy grows, the easier and less hurtful it is to get money out of people; the less the economy grows, the more the choices become difficult.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman says that the heavy lifting will be done by the rise in tax, but does he accept that there is a ratio of 4:1 in the amount that will come from cuts in public spending and benefits to the amount that will come from tax rises?

Mr Redwood: I have just given the figures—they are taken from past and current Red Books—and the hon. Gentleman must make his judgment. I am giving the House my interpretation. Most people who see spending going up by £90 billion and revenue going up by £174 billion will say that the increase in revenue is doing the job of bringing the deficit down. If he compares that with Labour’s plans for even bigger increases in public spending, he can make a case. He may also have in mind—we have debated this in the House before—whether the cuts are real or not. Some programmes will experience real cuts. We know that because there is a much slower rate of growth in cash spending than anything this country has been used to for a very long time.

If debt interest takes too much of the extra money, and if welfare benefits take too much, other things will obviously be squeezed more, which could lead to very unpleasant consequences. That is even more reason why the Government are right to try to get the deficit down, so that we do not keep on increasing the debt at such a huge rate, and why they are right to keep official interest rates low—that helps with the cost of the deficit. It is also why they are right that we need to earn our way out of the situation by getting many more people back into decent jobs, so that they are paid more in work than they are paid on benefit. Surely the whole House can agree on that and share that aspiration.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): We obviously want to get more people into jobs, but will the right hon. Gentleman comment on something the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister’s questions? He said that 600,000 new private sector jobs had been created since the election, but a year ago he said that 500,000 new private sector jobs had been created since the election, and three months before that he said that 500,000 new jobs had been created since the election. Is not the rate of creation of new jobs slowing down massively under this Government?

Mr Redwood: We all know from the output and jobs figures that the economy did not do as well at the end of last year as it had done at other times since the Government were elected, but we also know that the forecasts are that growth will now pick up. I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome that and join me in having a serious debate on what this Parliament can do to make it more likely that my constituents and hers have jobs, and more likely that they are better-paid jobs.

The question whether real public spending is falling or not depends on the rate of inflation in the public sector, so I urge again that we take advantage of the tough times. There is a two-year pay freeze for public sector workers, and the Government say that they are buying things more cheaply throughout the public sector. In addition, there are recessionary conditions in Europe and other parts of the world. If we take advantage of those things, it should mean that we do not have to have big real cuts in spending, because we will have that £90 billion per annum to spend by the fifth year of the strategy.

However, we should focus today on taxation, which is clearly what the Leader of the Opposition wanted to focus on. I do not think he listened to the Budget speech or the numbers he was told, because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it very clear that he had come up with a series of targeted measures to tax the very rich more than if he had not made the changes. That is fine by me, and I would hope it is fine by the Labour party, but the Leader of the Opposition seemed to say that it was not fair, because some rich people would still get away with it. However, if we get enough or more out of them overall, is that not worth while? Surely even Labour would accept that if we raise rates too high, the very rich go away—they find ways around paying the tax or do not pay.

Labour in opposition does not take that seriously enough, but the former Chancellor and Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), took it very seriously when he was in office. As Chancellor, he had the option of putting the 40% rate up to 45% or 50%, or the 83% that Labour had when previously in office, but he never chose to do it. I wish he were here today. If he were, I would ask him, “Why not?” I think his answer to Labour groups around the country is, reportedly, that had he raised it above 40%, he would have raised less money in taxation rather than more. Naturally he wanted to get more out of the rich—on that I agree with him entirely—but the way to do that was to keep the rate at a sensible level.

The Opposition should study the figures for tax receipts. If they look in the new Red Book, they will see that self-assessment income tax is plunging this year. That is exactly the problem that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has to tackle. Under Labour, self-assessment taxation at 40%—the then rate—brought in £22.5 billion at its best, before it made a mess of the economy. The forecast for 2010-11 out-turn is £22 billion, and the forecast for the 2011-12 out-turn—soon to be seen—is only £20 billion. That means that the Treasury now expects a 10% reduction in self-assessment income tax receipts, which is where many of the high earners congregate with their complicated tax affairs. Those, then, who think that a 50p rate raises a lot more money have a lot of explaining to do given that we are in the middle of this collapse.

Dame Joan Ruddock: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Redwood: I am sorry but I will not get any more time, so I am afraid I cannot.
If the Opposition study the Red Book, they will also see that when the 45p rate is firmly up and running, there will be a surge in revenues compared with the current bitter experience with 50p. Self-assessment income tax is scheduled to rise to £28.5 billion by the last year of this Parliament, showing that, according to the Treasury’s own model, growth is expected. However, I think we will see a much disrupted experience of tax collection now, because if we give advance warning of a new lower rate, we might have a problem in the year before, but we will have to see—we will watch with great interest.

Overall, however, the House should note that there are difficulties with getting the massive increase in taxation from the country which everyone wants. According to the current receipts table, there has been slippage every year in the current receipts forecast under national accounts taxes compared with the autumn statement. Some of that, of course, is the result of the policy change on lower tax designed to help people—we welcome that very much—but we have to understand that it is very difficult to get as much tax out of the economy as many MPs would seem to like.

The Government are right to want a Budget for aspiration; they are right to want a Budget that allows us to earn our way out of this situation; and they are right that we need to make it more worthwhile to work. I hope that they will reinforce that message in future Budgets. Since the 1970s, in which time we have had Labour Governments as well as Conservative and coalition Governments, no Government have ever been able to raise more than 38% of the total national income from taxes. I am sure that Labour would like to try it, but actually the record shows that Conservatives have taxed a bit more as a percentage of national income than Labour—normally because they have had to clear up the mess, the debts and the deficits that they have inherited.

There is a natural ceiling on how much we can get out of people in a free economy. When we have a footloose international economy, it is all too easy for the people with talent and money—Labour might not like them—to go somewhere else, spend their money somewhere else and invest in jobs somewhere else. We desperately need every job that we can get, and we desperately need the good will of those with money, talent, entrepreneurial flare and ability. We also need the money of some of those who do not have any of the above—we still want them here and to ensure that they spend their money here.

The Budget therefore has to concentrate on the crucial issues of how we reward aspiration and generate true prosperity. A much greater man than I, I think, said, “You cannot tax a country into prosperity.” This country is not short of taxes. Governments have been incredibly inventive in finding all sorts of ways of taking money off people. They are taxed again and again and again—on income, on spending, on savings, on capital gain. There are endless taxes. We are not short of taxes. We do not need new taxes. We need a growing economy and to persuade people to pay the taxes that we have put in place trying to pay for the public services.

We want great public services but we need to understand the language of priorities. I think those priorities are shared across the House. Both Labour and Conservative Members would choose to make health and education their top priorities for public spending. The last Government certainly did that with large sums of money, and this Government are doing it with what money they can find. However, I also hope we would agree—this is more difficult when Labour are in opposition—that we need reform of those public services so that every pound we spend is a pound well spent. We need to increase productivity and quality, and get more for our money, because everyone has to accept that times are hard and the amount of money available will be limited.

The Front-Bench team need to do all they said in the Budget to promote growth; they need to do more to sort out the banks because until we have properly functioning and competitive banks—super-charged to lend against good projects—we will not go as quickly as we would like; and they need to ensure that every pound they spend in the public service is well spent. That is the way to earn our way out of the crisis and into prosperity. We cannot tax our way into prosperity but we can earn our way there.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    The Front-Bench team need to do all they said in the Budget to promote growth

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      It got posted before I had a chance to comment!
      The vast bulk of ALL UK businesses are micro or small. EU-wide they make up something like 97% of all businesses.
      We will know when Government of any colour mean what they say when they take a leaf from the USA’s book and give us a Small Business Administration headed up by a Secretary of State with Cabinet rank.
      This should give a start to joined up thinking and cut the silo mentality currently in Whitehall.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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