Mr Redwood’s contribution to the Budget Debate, 8 July 2015

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which reveals that I am an investment and business adviser to a couple of companies.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) on her excellent maiden speech, in which she gave us a very good portrait of her constituency. I have noted the need to beware of her arrival when she is in her armour; if she throws her gauntlet around, I think that I will be looking the other way. She will clearly be a champion for her area.

I welcome the emphasis on prosperity in the Budget. I want a party and a Government who drive more prosperity for everyone in our country, and I want that to benefit people on all income levels. I especially want to see more people get into work and find other routes out of low incomes and poverty. The Chancellor is right to say that Britain deserves a pay rise and that we need to reinforce that pay rise as people get it, or reinforce their success in getting into a job and getting a pay packet, with tax cuts. I want tax cuts for all, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made a start on the promises made in our Conservative manifesto.

It is crucial that, as the Chancellor goes about the task of getting rid of unemployment and poverty through supportive policies, people are better off. What I want to do when we get to the detail of the welfare cuts is to see what the impact is, because we need to look at the overall impact. If people are going from unemployment to work, staying in work, getting a pay rise or getting a tax cut, those are all positive things that will make them better off, and we need to make sure that they are not completely offset or badly damaged by the welfare changes he is making. I look forward to those more detailed debates.

The overall picture in the Budget is quite different from the picture of the next five years set out in the outgoing coalition Government Budget. There is nothing surprising about that. We now have the opportunity to think the strategy through, based on the success in getting the recovery this far in the last Parliament, and learning from the coalition’s experience of the difficulties of getting that recovery up to speed and getting productivity to come through as we would like. The Chancellor is right to make adjustments. People need to work smarter to be paid better. We need a pay rise but we have to earn it, and that is the purpose behind many of the measures.

The expenditure proposals in the March Budget were quite tight in the middle years of this Parliament, and the Chancellor seems to have reached that conclusion as well, because the Red Book sets out some quite big spending increases for those middle years. Current spend in 2016-17 will be £15 billion higher than the March forecast, and the 2017-18 current spend will be £25 billion higher. I think that will make things a bit easier. At the time of the March Budget, there was quite a lot of criticism that the numbers were tight, and the changes give us more scope. We have seen some of the benefit already in the defence statement, but there will be other benefits. We have rather more latitude.

By the end of this Parliament, on the plans set out today, we will be spending £69 billion a year more than we were in the last year of the last Parliament. No doubt, there will be arguments about whether or not that is a real cut. We had those arguments in the last Parliament, when there was a similar rise in spending. I argued that there would be no overall real cuts and was told I was wrong, but the subsequent figures showed that that is broadly what happened: we avoided overall real cuts, but within that, because health, education, the European Union contributions and overseas aid were priorities, some areas suffered, to balance the figures.

The way the deficit comes down is not through spending cuts, of course; it is through a large increase in tax revenues from a more prosperous and faster growing economy. The figures state that tax revenues will be £168 billion a year higher in the last year of this Parliament than in the last year of the coalition. I would have thought that that is a tax rise to suit all socialists. It is a large increase in taxation, but I am pleased that it will come not by raising the rates—indeed, if we raised rates, we would probably collect less money in many cases—but by growing the economy and by people being better off and so able to afford the taxes. By the end of the Parliament, tax revenues will be some £10 billion a year higher than was forecast as recently as March. That shows the improvement in prospects.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the OBR report, accompanying the Red Book, which states:

“We have revised borrowing up in 2016-17 and more significantly in 2017-18, while the surplus of £5.2 billion in 2018-19 that we forecast in March is now expected to be a deficit of £6.4 billion.”

Is he comfortable with that?

John Redwood: I am perfectly comfortable with that. It is the direct result of easing the squeeze on spending to which various people objected in the past. The figures show the deficit coming down and being eliminated over the course of this Parliament, which is exactly what ought to be done. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman’s new enthusiasm for that is personal, or whether it is just to tease me, but if it is personal enthusiasm, it is welcome to hear that the Labour party would now like to go faster in deficit reduction in the middle years of this Parliament than will happen under these proposals.

The economic background to the official forecasts shows that the growth figures are still pretty good and we have had a welcome upward revision to figures for the immediate past. We also see a welcome upward revision to the number of people in employment, which is fundamental to the whole strategy. There has been a modest deterioration in the balance of payments, which shows that there is more work to be done.

The productivity work will link into that to make us more competitive. We have to earn our living, so we need more competitive products. All that growth and improved revenue is taking place despite higher interest rates—the forecast assumes a modest increase in interest rates compared with past forecasts.

On productivity—working smarter and working better —I welcome the scheme that the Chancellor outlined today. It will mean better roads and spending money on railways more wisely to get extra capacity in the parts of the system where we need it and increased efficiency. There will have to be a lot of work on energy, because we will need cheaper and more energy: as the march of the makers begins and the northern powerhouse cranks up, more electricity and more gas will be required. I hope that we will find cheaper ways to produce them than we have under the policies followed in recent years. It is important that we price people back into energy-intensive markets, rather than export all our energy-intensive business to other countries. It is no great win for those who want to cut carbon dioxide emissions if it is poured out of a factory in China rather than one in the United Kingdom. We need to be conscious of the need to be competitive in our energy generation.

We will need more on broadband, and clearly much more on housing, as many people have mentioned recently. I look forward to an investment-led recovery, with much more private sector investment coming in. We need to pay special attention to cheaper energy and to fix the railways, where we are spending too much and getting too little. It is not just a question of big investment programmes; it is a question of managing them better. Above all, we need to make sure that, as we implement the welfare reforms, everyone is better off and gets the benefits of tax cuts and higher wages.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. 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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