Mr Redwood’s Budget Speech, 18 March 2015

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con):

I rise to correct some of the myths emanating from the Opposition, who do not seem to read the figures. I hope they will catch up with the Budget detail from the Red Book now that it is more commonly available. We are talking about a set of plans for a five-year period that demonstrate that the Government think that, given the growth in the economy, they can afford to spend £60 billion a year more by the final year of the forecast period than is currently being spent.

The biggest change announced in this Budget is a very substantial increase in the planned amount of spending for the end of the period, 2019-20, at which time the Chancellor proposes a £38.1 billion increase in total managed expenditure—well up on the figures in the autumn statement. This is good news. It shows that the Chancellor is reflecting the confidence in the economy, the reduced cost of interest charges as the cost of borrowing comes under better control and the lower rate of inflation, which will have a beneficial impact on the cost of providing public services.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman is giving an impression of a growing state, when what is happening in real terms is clear from page 112 of the Red Book—that, as a percentage of GDP, this Chancellor and his party are cutting the state by 13%, which will affect the poorest in society most. That is the legacy of a Tory Government.

Mr Redwood: I am giving the cash numbers, which are clearly set out on page 111. If the hon. Gentleman is patient, I will come on to deal with the argument about real terms and the percentage of the economy.

Let us start with cash. The £60 billion increase in the annual spend at the end of the period is a big increase, and if we can keep inflation of costs down, it could provide a real increase. We had these arguments at the beginning of the last Parliament. When I quoted the cash figures, people said it would amount to a real decline, yet we have had a real increase, with the last two years seeing real increases in total general public spending, as I indicated in a recent intervention and as this Red Book makes very clear. If the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) reads it he will see the real increases in general Government current spending over the last couple of years. Those have been affordable and the lower rate of inflation is helping.

If we look at public spending as a percentage of GDP, we see that, yes, it will fall, but that is extremely good news, because it means people will be able to keep more of the money they earn from their productive activities and as the economy is growing we can have better public services.

One of the cruellest myths being put around by the Opposition at the moment is that if we took public spending to 35% of GDP, we would be cutting it to 1930s levels. That is complete nonsense: for most of the 1930s, public spending as a percentage of GDP was well below 35% in any case, but I recently looked at the numbers and found that, in real terms, public spending this year is nine times the level of real public spending in the early 1930s—nine times in real terms.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): It is statistically worth pointing out that the direction in which we are heading is towards 35.2% of GDP, but that when the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) was Chancellor he was spending about 35.8% or 35.9% of GDP. There is not a huge difference between where we are going and where he was.

Mr Redwood: To make the point, the Chancellor has said that he will spend a little bit more in the last year of the period so that we reach exactly the percentage of GDP that Labour thought appropriate in 2000. We cannot say that because we are spending the same percentage of GDP we have cut spending or that it is down in real terms. If we have a healthy, growing economy, public spending is well up in real terms, as is the general size of the economy. We should welcome that. What we want is growth in the economy, so that we can have affordable growth in the range and quality of public services. That is exactly what this illustrates. I hope that Labour Members will stop trying to con people into believing that if we ended up with 35% of GDP—1% lower than the Chancellor intends—we would somehow have 1930s levels of public services. It is so absurd that I cannot believe that they even dare to repeat such nonsense day by day.

What we want from this Budget, and what I think it helps to deliver, is more growth. It is great news that we now have such good employment figures, which show record highs. It is good news that unemployment is reducing and good news that youth unemployment in particular is reducing.

What has happened over these five years is quite remarkable if we consider two important background points. The first is the state of the banks inherited in 2010. This House has never really understood or grappled with the magnitude of what happened to the banking system under Labour, or the magnitude of the changes between 2008 and today, particularly with respect to RBS and HBOS. If we had asked most economic forecasters what would happen to the UK economy if we took about £1 trillion of assets off the balance sheets of two leading banks, they would probably have forecast that the economy would crash in a remarkable way. What is fantastic for our country is that after the initial crash over which Labour presided in 2008-09, we have managed to get the economy back to growth while mending the banks and going through the extraordinary shrinking on the banking balance sheets. [Interruption.]

I find it remarkable that Labour Members will not listen to what I am saying. They lived through this dreadful experience and their regulators allowed the banks to over-expand their balance sheets, when many of us were saying that it was going too far. [Interruption.] Indeed, we did. We constantly said that regulation was too lax. I remember writing in the report of the economic policy review undertaken by the Conservative Opposition that, while in some areas there was far too much regulation, the regulation of the things that really mattered—cash and capital—was far too lax, and needed to be tightened. However, the Labour Government and their regulators then made the worse mistake of over-tightening in a hurry, and precipitated a major crash. Labour needs to learn from that. Indeed, we all need to learn from it, because we do not want it to happen again. We need to understand why there was such a big crash in output and in people’s living standards and real incomes, and why it took time, between 2008 and 2013, for growth to resume. The reason was that the banking system was so badly damaged that, obviously, it took time to get it back into shape.

As the Chancellor said himself, there was another reason for our problems. In 2011 there was an extremely unpleasant euro crisis, which had an impact on Britain because we live by foreign trade as well as by our domestic activities. We had to shelter ourselves from the worst of that. We are now in the process of orientating our trade much more strongly towards Asia and the Americas, the growing parts of the world, and away from the European area, which is mired in recession and is still experiencing enormous difficulties. It decided to create a single currency without creating a single country to back it and love it, and is having to live with awful strains and stresses as a result.

As we meet today, this Budget is an important event. It is certainly a very important event politically in the United Kingdom. However, a far more important set of events is taking place on the continent, where hectic negotiations are taking place between Greece, Germany and the rest over whether Greece can stay in the euro. It is not easy to see a happy outcome in either direction from those very pained discussions, but are we not glad that we are not having to live with that awful experience in this country, thanks to some of us who urged very strongly that we should stay out of the euro?

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) thinks it is funny that Greece has a youth unemployment rate of 50%, but I do not. I think it is a disgrace. I also do not think it is funny that several countries on the continent have a general unemployment rate of 25%. That is quite unacceptable, and the Labour party would rightly condemn it every day of the week if it were happening here, but it is not happening here because we ran our own economic policy, and we have done a much better job that they did on the continent.

Mr MacNeil: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that most of the problems of the European Central Bank are to do with a fixation on inflation—a fixation that he shares?

Mr Redwood: I have no fixation on inflation, but neither do I think that runaway inflation creates prosperity. It is necessary to manage inflation, and to manage growth, and to have an economy that can expand. I am very pleased that this Budget helps to create and preserve the expansion that is now under way in the United Kingdom. I think it is good news that it contains measures to promote more home ownership and saving, and I think it is good news that it contains measures that will help enterprise and business to promote more jobs, because what we want are more jobs and better-paid jobs.

I was pleased to hear the Chancellor say that most jobs now are full time, and that many are highly skilled. That is what the country needs: more skills, more opportunity, and the chance for individuals to train, work and educate themselves well so that they can get better-paid jobs. That is what we all want in the House. It is sometimes suggested that the Conservatives do not want it, and I find that regrettable. We want it as much as anyone else. We want more jobs, better-paid jobs, and more skilled jobs. We know that we have to earn our money, and we want to create opportunities for people to earn theirs.

The Budget contains some sensible judgments on how much the country can afford in increased public spending. I think that £60 billion is a perfectly good judgment of the amount of extra public spending that will be possible by the end of the next Parliament. It also contains a judgment on how we can finally get rid of the deficit and start to cut the debt. I find it a bit odd that Labour has been telling us that too much was cut in this Parliament, and is now saying that the deficit is too high. I have news for Labour. You have to cut if you want to lower a deficit; it does not just magic away. The question is, how do you get that judgment right?

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): It is possible to deal with a deficit simply by cutting, which is largely what the right hon. Gentleman’s party has done, but it is also possible to deal with it in a more balanced way by cutting where cutting is needed, raising revenue where it is right to do so, and ensuring that there is enough growth to bring in the revenue. That was the fundamental problem with the policies that existed at the beginning of the current Parliament.

Mr Redwood: The right hon. Gentleman has just described the policy of this Government. They put some taxes up, they went for growth—which is now coming through, and is helping to tackle the deficit problem—and they reduced the over-optimistic spending plans of the outgoing Government.
We have been told that it was wrong to cut capital spending. Well, I seem to recall that the only bit of spending that the Labour Government cut in detail before leaving office was the capital budget. They made massive cuts in capital. The Chancellor has restored some of those cuts, but because of the parlous state of the overall finances, he could not restore all of them.

The Budget presents a good package. There is good news on home ownership, good news on employment and good news on growth. A great many myths need to be put back into the dark room, because they are not going to con the British public.

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One Comment

  1. Nick
    Posted March 19, 2015 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Still missing those pension debts numbers. So will you promise to publish like you did at the last election? Just a few months before it becomes yet another breach of what was promised.

    I’ll give you the hint. The debts gone to over 9 trillion pounds.

    You can’t tell the public that you’ve spent all their pension contributions.

    You can’t tell the next generation that they have been born into debt bondage.

    So what’s a deficit when you ignore the real debts when calculating it?

    Reply I did publish them so stop fibbing.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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