Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I would like to remind the House of my declaration of interests: I provide some advice on global economies and investments to an industrial company and an investment company.
I greatly welcome this Budget, because I think it is right that we need to do more to help the promotion of exports, industrial investment, the rebalancing of our economy and continuing the long process of getting the deficit under control. In our exchanges already I have highlighted the fact that debt interest will be higher than the education programme next year, despite the Government’s best endeavours, and that unless we carry on to make good and rapid progress to get the deficit down and eliminate it, that debt burden will build up and future Governments, whoever they may be, will find they are spending more and more money on debt interest and have less and less for the public services that our electorates expect us to provide.
I would like to clear up a common misunderstanding about how that is being done that I think has occurred because of the use of jargon and economists’ language in describing the process. The reduction in the deficit has been described as 80% by spending cuts and 20% by tax rises. That is true if the programme is successfully completed by 2018 and if we measure it as a percentage of GDP at that point, but that is not how most people think about how an excessive deficit is curbed. If we have a large deficit in our own accounts, we have either to find a way of earning more money or to make immediate cuts in the amount of cash that we spend. I think a lot of people outside the House think that, because we inherited a deficit of £160 billion, 80% by spending cuts meant £132 billion-worth of cash cuts in public spending. Of course it does not, and I am very glad that it does not, because that would have done huge damage to important public services.
What the Government have decided to do is limit the rate of increase in public spending and promote a more active economy so that tax revenues eventually catch up, and we are in that long process. The first three years of this Government saw very little growth in the economy, which delayed the reduction in the deficit because we did not get the surge in tax revenues we were hoping for. Now it looks as if there is better news, with faster growth coming through, and so the process can be completed, assuming the economy still recovers.
I had thought we might cut public spending in real terms in the first two or three years, but it appears from the latest figures that there was a small real increase in public spending. In the first three years, current public spending went up by more than inflation, and if we look at the impact on the economy as a whole, it gives the lie to all those who suggest too much was cut too soon, and that that reduced output and was the cause of the delay in growth. If we look at the attribution of growth and decline in activity and incomes, we see that the public sector made a small positive contribution to the economy in every one of the first three years of the coalition Government. I hope that reassures some of those on the Opposition Benches who felt too much was being cut and damage was being done. The good news is that it was not. There will have to be some reductions in some programmes in the years ahead in order to hit the targets, however, because although public spending will continue to rise in cash terms, there will need to be a little bit of a real reduction in the next Parliament; and because some of the programmes need to go up quite a lot—debt interest will go up quite a bit anyway—we will have to make reductions in other programmes, whoever is in office.
Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does he agree that, notwithstanding the austerity he is talking about and the fact that more than 500,000 jobs were lost in the public sector, what is particularly remarkable about these tough times was that 1.7 million jobs were created in the private sector?
Mr Redwood: Yes, that was magnificent news and it shows that the private sector is remarkably resilient despite all that has been thrown at it. That is why we can now look forward to both better living standards and a better public sector: we need all those people to be in work and paying more tax in order to pay for those public services that are much-wanted by our constituents.
I would also like to deal with the argument from the Opposition, which I thought was put in a very exaggerated form by the Labour leader in his response to the Budget, in what was a rather partisan appearance which was out of sympathy with his new style at Prime Minister’s questions. I am not one to condemn partisan debate, as I think sometimes it livens the place up, but it was a very partisan speech by the Leader of the Opposition.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): It was a rant.
Mr Redwood: The Leader of the Opposition’s rant, as my hon. Friend says, had just one basic message: the wrong belief that the Conservatives want tax cuts for the rich and misery for everybody else. What we want is tax cuts for everyone, and what this and the previous Budget offer is tax cuts for everyone.
Let me explain how we have different types of tax cut for people at different levels of income. We take those on the lowest incomes out of tax altogether, so they get a genuine tax cut: they go from paying something to paying no income tax at all. The House is, I think, united on the wisdom of that. At the top end, we cut the rate, and what happens is that the rich and successful people actually pay more tax, not less. That seems to me to be magic, because then everybody is happy—or they should be. Only the very jealous should be miserable, because what we then have is the rich staying here, investing here, creating jobs here, creating more money here and paying more tax because the rate is lower. What is not to like about that proposition?
What is odd is that the Labour party in office, until the last couple of days, knew that and kept the top rate of tax below the level that we inherited and below the level we have now fixed. It is a bit rich that Labour is now complaining that we are light on the rich, given that our tax rates are collecting a lot more tax from the rich and are higher than the rates that Labour imposed. Indeed, we could collect even more tax from the rich if we brought the rates down a bit more, which I hope, come a Conservative Government, we might be able to do. Surely what we want is to maximise the revenue from such people, not to make a political point and drive them abroad, so that we have a society with less money, fewer jobs and less creativity.
I am pleased that the Chancellor made some moves on energy. We need a much bigger and stronger industrial recovery than we have generated so far. The first thing we need to do to have such a recovery is to ignore the advice of the Green MP, and to go for cheap energy. America is going for cheap energy, and it is re-industrialising very quickly. America is now super-competitive against companies in the European Union. A leading chemical major in Germany has recently said that it will put more of its investment abroad, outside the EU altogether, because, in the light of the energy crisis, the gas feed stock is uncompetitive. We need to find that gas and to get it out as quickly as possible. We need to match the United States’ shale revolution if we wish to save our high-energy-using industries and to re-industrialise and give some hope to the northern cities in particular, with their long tradition of industrial activity, because they need much cheaper energy.
We need to do more for savers, and I am delighted by an elaborate and interesting set of measures from the Chancellor on saving. Savers have had a miserable time after the collapse. Rightly, successive Governments and Governors of the Bank of England have kept interest rates on the floor, as they had to do, to try to stimulate activity and to prevent a worse collapse than we experienced in 2008, at the height of the crisis. That has been very bad news for savers. The tax changes will help savers, and the pensioner bond offer, if the rates are around the level we are now looking at, makes sense and would be a bit more attractive and something for pensioner savers to look forward to. I also welcome more flexibility for pensioners generally. Annuities are not good news at the moment, and if people can put that off or have a better choice, that may well be an excellent answer.
This Budget needs to be good for savers, for industry and for exports, and we are going in the right direction. It will help to promote a bit more growth, and only if we get a lot of growth will we get out of this debt bind.