Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I should like to express my gratitude to the voters of Wokingham for renewing their confidence in me and returning me to the House. It is particularly comforting that I got more than half the vote at a time when the idea of the alternative vote is in the wind. I am sure that colleagues will think long and hard about that as they look at their own electoral positions as well as the national interest.
During the general election campaign, my electors – I am sure like those in many other constituencies – expressed their deep sorrow that the Equitable Life victims had not yet been compensated. It is extremely good news to see a Conservative pledge -and perhaps it is also a Lib Dem pledge – honoured immediately in the Queen’s Speech. The compensation is the victims’ due, owing to the bad regulation of that business, and the pledge is that it will now be paid more promptly. We look forward to the statement that is to be made.
An even larger number of my electors in Wokingham were extremely worried about the impact of the very large amount of new housing that the former Government and their regional planning authority were imposing on my constituency. I argued long, and I hope clearly, that, were a Conservative Government to be elected, they should sweep away the regional housing targets and the regional planning system. I argued that the unitary Wokingham borough council should be allowed to make more of its own planning decisions, and my hope was that the new Government would allow the council to come to a wiser judgment about how many new homes should be made available.
Some new homes must be made available, but we must avoid building on floodplains or in back gardens. We must avoid the town cramming and all the other unpleasant features of the last 13 years that my electors had come to dislike. Again, therefore, it is very good news that the coalition has come together and that it has promised in this Queen’s Speech that there will be early action to deal with such matters.
Many of my voters were also extremely worried by the lack of progress by the Environment Agency and the relevant ministry in tackling problems of flooding. These problems have been made particularly acute in my constituency by the over-building in inappropriate places that has been determined by Government inspectors in recent years. I have seen the tragic sight of new homes being completely flooded six months after they were built and sold because they were put in the wrong place by a Government inspector who did not seem to understand the nature of a floodplain. I look forward to the planning system helping with that, but I shall also be calling on my colleagues who are now Ministers to see what else we can do to right the wrongs caused by homes being built in places without adequate flood defences.
I wish to concentrate on the central thrust of the Gracious Speech – the issue of the deficit. “There is no money left”: how kind it was of an outgoing Labour Minister to make that clear. What better independent authentication of all that we said in the general election could we want than that note from the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury? He should know, although I do not quite understand his taste in jokes: none of the rest of us thinks that his remark is at all funny. It is poignant and sad, and it sums up the tragic end of the long Labour Government.
From what we have heard so far in this short debate, there are still Labour Members who do not seem to be able to distinguish between the deficit and the debt. We have already heard one say that he does not think that it is right to start paying down £6 billion of the debt this early. However, we are not talking about paying down – or paying off – £6 billion of the debt. We are talking about trying to stop the debt from going up by quite as much. We are talking about a debt that, on the outgoing Labour Government’s figures, is rising by £150 billion or £160 billion a year. So far, we have come up with a welcome but modest proposal to start to reverse the trend that is our ever-climbing deficit.
We meet as a new Parliament in very difficult and dangerous times, and I think that people have high hopes of us. I think that it was good that there was some democratic renewal in the election: more people wanted to vote, and they took the election seriously and wanted to express an opinion. However, Parliament must understand – as those of us who were in the previous one surely do – that we are on probation. It is up to us to prove to the public that this Parliament can be so much better than the last one, and that we can tackle the serious issues in a sensible way.
Of course, there must be robust debate and challenge to the Executive – and I suspect that that must come not only from those on the Opposition Benches. Of course, there will be periods of humour and light-hearted relief, and the speeches made at the start of this debate were notably good and humorous. However, we must restore the trust of the British people and ensure that they feel proud of their Parliament again. To do that, this Parliament must engage more actively with the Executive, thank and reward them when they get something right and make sure that they understand when they get something wrong. We must press and press the Executive until they get things right, for the sake of the wider public good and the wider national interest.
The country has very warm feelings towards the coalition. I welcome the coalition, as it was the only way we could go forward, given the nature of the election result. It is not for us to criticise the electorate for the judgment they made. Each individual made his or her judgment for good reasons, in good conscience. It is up to us to make the best of the result that they have produced. Looking at the arithmetic, even sensible Labour Members would agree that the only conceivable way of offering this country some stable government for a reasonable period was for the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to find how many things they could agree about, and to agree to disagree about the other things and not to highlight them for a period while we offer stable government.
I am sure that Labour Members will play endless games suggesting that a Liberal Democrat said one thing and a Conservative said another before the election, but they should move on. It is not interesting. We all know that – we were fighting each other in an election. We still disagree about some fundamental issues – we have been open and honest about that – and that has not suddenly changed. But what we agree about is very important. We agree that this country is in a huge mess. We agree that this country needs stable government to start to turn it round, and we agree that the only conceivable combination that has the numbers to work is the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives working together. We also agree that the prime task is to start to tackle the deficit before it overwhelms us.
Many Labour Members still think that it is wrong to reduce public spending to reduce the deficit. Some of them mistakenly tell us that if we cut public spending – by £6.2 billion, to pluck a recent figure out of the air – it will take £6.2 billion out of the economy and will therefore help to collapse the economy further. The Labour party should understand that every £1 that is spent and borrowed by the Government has to come from the private sector. We are not printing money any more – that was the Labour idea for a year and even they agree that we cannot continue to do that. So every £1 that we need to borrow this year has to come from the private sector – from a company or individual who will lend it to the Government, but if they lend it to the Government, they cannot spend it or use it themselves. So it is not taking money out of the economy: it is just saying that we need a better balance in the economy.
If we do not get a private sector-led recovery, we will not cure the deficit, we will not prop up and develop the public services, and we will not have the increase in the tax revenues that we need to make a success of our large and expensive public sector. The only way out of this deficit crisis is a strong, private sector-led recovery.
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend has spent many years in the private sector. Having also studied efficiency savings in the public sector, does he agree that £6 billion – or 1% – is just a start, and that huge gains could possibly be made, especially in IT projects and the general management of Whitehall?
Mr Redwood: I entirely agree. I have in the past been actively involved in British industry, and 3% per annum efficiency gains is a normal target. It is not done by undermining the product, reducing its quality or providing the customer with a worse service: it is done while giving customers a better service and raising the quality of the product, through technology, training and energising and motivating the work force through reward and incentive. We need to do that in the public sector now, on a large scale, because we have had 10 wasted years in which the Government made no progress and put too much money in without asking for enough back – doing too little for too much. We now need to create a public sector that does more for less in the important areas such as health and education, and does less for less in areas such as ID cards and the authoritarian state that Labour introduced.
We are meeting at a time of grave crisis for our European neighbours in the euro area. As one who campaigned strenuously and volubly against the United Kingdom joining the euro, I take no great pleasure in saying that all the things that we thought could go wrong with the euro are now unfortunately doing so, even without this country. I am very proud of all those who joined us in that campaign and kept sterling out. It is the one thing that the Government most recently ejected from office got right-they managed to stay out of the euro. That was a very sensible judgment on which I always congratulated them and backed them at the time. Had Britain gone into the euro, the state of British public finances and the different nature of the British economy and its founder currency, sterling, would by now have shattered the euro. Our great contribution to euroland unity was keeping our currency out, and I think that I could now find many German and French people and experts who would agree that we have made their problem a lot easier by not being in the euro.
When we used to say, “Beware of Greece! That is why we need to control our deficit”, the previous Government were always keen to tell us, “Oh, but Greece is in a totally different position.” Well they were wrong in this sense: if we do the figures properly, we see that total borrowing in Greece, in relation to its economy, is no bigger than total borrowing by the UK Government in relation to our economy. Colleagues have set out endlessly that the true debt and liability of the state in Britain is £3 trillion, not just under £1 trillion, as the previous Government used to say. Furthermore, our deficit is every bit as big as Greece’s, as we know from the awful figures that we have seen. So in that sense, we are just like Greece, and if the markets have got to the point with Greece where they are saying, “We will not carry on lending you money, because we think that you have over-borrowed”, we could get to that point in the United Kingdom too. It is that argument that has brought several Liberal Democrats round to our way of thinking, which is that we need urgent action. During the election we saw the Greek crisis being enacted at the same time as we were talking to electors, making it clear how dangerous the situation was.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Of course, the right hon. Gentleman has held these views for as long as I have been in the House, but the Prime Minister made it clear, after he met Chancellor Merkel, that it is in this country’s interests that the euro succeeds. It might well be that we do not join in the next five years, but we want it to succeed. Does he agree?
Mr Redwood: Of course, and I said that it came as no pleasure to me to say that unfortunately what we saw as the failings of the euro are now coming true. I was going to deal with the right hon. Gentleman’s point: it is in Britain’s interest to try to tackle the problems with our eurozone friends in a way that does not penalise this country. They are, of course, an important trading bloc in the world and an important market for ourselves.
I would like to finish my earlier point, however. There is a very important difference between the United Kingdom and Greece: whereas when Greece needs to borrow a lot of money, it cannot print the money to do so, and whereas when Greece wants, or has, to repay the money, it cannot devalue the currency to do so, the United Kingdom can do, and has done, both on a heroic scale. The reason we have not yet got into the Greek situation is that the whole of last year’s massive borrowing requirement was simply printed. The money was printed and injected through the banks into the public sector, so that we avoided the market pressures that Greece experienced. Greece could not do that because she shares a currency managed by the European Central Bank. The previous Government presided over a devaluation of the currency of about a quarter, so, although we will obviously not renege on our debts, the previous Government reneged on them by the back door, saying to all the foreign holders of those debts, “You will only get back three quarters of your money or interest.”
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Surely if the Greeks had the drachma, which was valued at much less than the overvalued – from their point of view – euro, they would be able to stimulate the economy, and many of us could perhaps go there in the summer and help them to do it.
Mr Redwood: Indeed, and even in this new possible age of austerity, and even with a September sitting, I am sure that it would be possible to fit in a visit to Greece. That is exactly the kind of help that the Greek economy needs, and it would be much more attractive if they had a devaluing drachma – so that we could buy ouzo rather more cheaply. So my hon. Friend’s point is, of course, absolutely correct.
There are these very important differences, therefore, but the message to Britain has to be that we cannot go on printing and devaluing ad infinitum. There comes a point where the markets pull the rug from under us and say, “This is extreme – you cannot do this anymore.” There comes a point where we will be effectively reneging on our debts, because we will be devaluing the currency in which we are repaying them by so much.
That is why I so strongly welcome the clear response of the coalition Government to put at the top of the Queen’s Speech the need to take action to tackle the deficit, and why I think that they are right to have three phases. We saw the first phase on Monday – the down payment of £5.7 billion net – and we will then have the emergency Budget, which I hope will include some guidance on how we are going to get the deficit down in the medium term. We will then have the really important work, in the autumn, when the Government have had time to do the full-scale public spending review that the previous Government ducked out of and declined to do at the appropriate time. We will then be able see the proper trajectory for spending, which will be important for curbing the deficit.
I want to see the euro stabilised. However, it will be difficult to do that, because it was not wise, as many of us said at the time, to include Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Greece in the euro area. The euro works fine for France, Germany, Benelux and Austria, but it is difficult to get it to work for such a diverse grouping. However, the United Kingdom Government have to allow the euroland members to take more direct power over the euroland economies, because a single currency cannot work unless there is a single budgetary policy and controls over the amount that those countries borrow. They are all borrowing in the same currency. It is like sharing a bank account with the neighbours, where we need to control how much the neighbours spend, otherwise there will be an awful shock when we see how they have flexed the credit card and the overdraft. We need to let those countries have such power, so I hope that the Government will offer advice and assistance.
I would like us to get some powers back for ourselves, at the same time that more powers are being taken for the centre. However, it would be quite wrong of Britain to be obstinate and say that the centre should not have those powers. It is in our interests that the euro should work, and the only way that a currency union can work is if there is centrally controlled budgetary discipline and central agreement on how many euros are printed-some more will probably need to be printed now-in order to get out of this mess and get reflation going in those economies.
However, I am, of course, much more concerned about the prosperity of this country. I am conscious that although we need to control the deficit and take the measures that I and others have often argued for, we are not going to get out of this mess unless we have the strong private sector recovery that I and others are now referring to. I would therefore say to the coalition Government that they need to spend as much time on regulation, tax and other matters that affect the rate of growth of the private sector economy as they spend on curbing the spending problems in the public sector. The two need to go together. It is not a good idea simply to cut the public sector, if we do not create the conditions for strong and good growth in the private sector.
Let us take the sensitive issue of tax. I have been doing a little research on the topic of capital gains tax. I share the Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition Members’ wish to raise more money from capital gains tax. That might come as a shock to many of my parliamentary colleagues, but in this situation we need to tax the rich more. They have more money and we need more money to come into the Treasury; we need to tax the rich more. However, the result of my researches shows that the way to get more money out of capital gains tax is to lower the rate. The figures are quite dramatic, although it is easier to see the effect in the United States of America than in the United Kingdom, because there have not been so many fiddles and changes in the way that capital gains tax is levied there as we have had here. We have had indexation, business relief and all sorts of complications, although the British series, as adjusted, seems to bear out the same case.
In America in the early 1980s, there was a period of cutting capital gains tax rates, down to 20%. Capital gains tax revenues hit a massive high in 1986, on the back of the lower, 20% rate. The Americans spent the next part of the 1980s hiking up capital gains tax, from 20% to, I think, 33%, and the revenues collapsed, but they did not get the idea. However, in the ’90s they returned to a more common-sense policy and the revenues picked up again. By the 2000s, the Americans decided that even 20% was a bit high for maximising the revenue, so they took the rate down to 15%, which is where it is now, and revenue surged. The 15% rate seems to be much nearer the optimum, producing far more tax from the rich in the United States than 20, 28 or 34% produced.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): My right hon. Friend is giving a master class in economics that, sadly, the Opposition failed to listen to in all their years of taking us to this current low ebb. Is he sure, however, that when the rates of capital gains tax are lowered, people will not simply manufacture a way of turning income into a capital gain, in order to avoid taxation elsewhere? If that were to happen, the gain might not be entirely real.
Mr Redwood: Those periods were also periods of surging income tax receipts, which demonstrates that this is good for enterprise, profits and jobs. We need more profits, more savings, more investment and more jobs. If we tax things more lightly, we get more of them. If we tax them more heavily, we get less of them. The enthusiasts for high taxes in this House have always said, “We must put up the taxes on petrol to stop people driving so much, and we must put up the taxes on smoking to stop people smoking so much.” So, presumably, putting up the taxes on enterprise will stop people being so enterprising. That must be the logic.
Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I am enjoying my right hon. Friend’s contribution. Did not Margaret Thatcher prove this point when she was Prime Minister? By reducing the level of tax on the top earners, she increased the amount of money that flew into the Exchequer.
Mr Redwood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of the great lady; she was a great Prime Minister. I not sure, however, that that is quite the model we need to persuade those on the Front Bench of a coalition Government. That is why I am drawing on more modern and foreign examples. My right hon. and hon. Friends will understand that we need good friends, because we must win this argument for the sake of our country’s prosperity.
I know a number of people whom I describe as entrepreneurs on strike. They have been very successful in business and they are now in their late 40s and 50s. Many of us would feel that they were still quite young- [ Interruption. ] They are also very energetic, as some of us are. They are on strike at the moment, however. They have loads of money in the bank or in a portfolio, but they do not want to commit it to a new business in Britain because they find the atmosphere here too hostile. They think that there are too many regulations and controls, which they find too burdensome. They also find the tax structure too uncertain. They feel that, if they are going to venture their money and work 12 to 14 hours a day to break in a new company and make it a success, they do not want to be paying 40 to 50% tax after five years if the company is working. They know that the Treasury will not be sending them half their losses if the business has not worked, and they feel that it is easier not to bother. They are saying, “I’ve got enough money, I can live quite comfortably, and I’m on strike.” Hon. Members might dislike strikes, as I do, but we have to work alongside them and with those entrepreneurs. This proves the point that if we want to stop something, we tax it. Please, Government, do not stop enterprise, venturing and new developments.
That brings me to my final main point, colleagues will be pleased to know. It relates to an excellent Bill proposed in the Queen’s Speech, which has been championed by my new friend, the Deputy Prime Minister: the great repeal Bill. I was delighted to learn that this was a Liberal Democrat idea. I cannot remember how many times I have urged that this House introduce a great repeal Bill, but Liberal Democrat ideas are not always wrong and I am delighted to give them ownership of this one, as long as they will do one thing for me. That is that they should work with us to make it a really good repeal Bill.
There are many things that we need to repeal. I shall not go on about them at huge length, because other colleagues wish to speak. I have sent the Deputy Prime Minister 27 proposals for the great repeal Bill, and they are also on that well-known website, johnredwood.com – I hope that I am permitted a commercial in this hallowed Chamber. If colleagues think it a good idea, they too should write to the Deputy Prime Minister with their pet ideas for the great repeal Bill. We do not want Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box with half a dozen perfectly good ideas, and then to say, “Well, we had a consultation, but nobody had anything else that they wanted knocked out.”
I am sure that colleagues have their own ideas, and they should please put them in. If they do not, I do not mind them borrowing all the ones from my website. I do not expect any praise or attribution. They can even put in their letters that they do not like me, or perhaps that they agree with me. They can put in whatever they wish, if they think that it will help to get their message across. We need to bombard the Government with as many ideas as possible while they are listening and trying to construct the great repeal Bill.