Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I remind the House that in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests I have declared that I offer business advice to an industrial and an investment company.
In this debate, the Labour Treasury spokesman wanted to talk the economy into a double dip. He was trying to create a mood of gloom and doom. He rejected the independent forecasts provided in conjunction with the Budget and the many independent forecasts put together by people outside the House, and sometimes outside the country, which all say that a recovery is expected for the British economy over the next five years and that that recovery will be led by investments and exports.
Obviously, the scepticism among those on the Opposition Benches arises because Labour Members have not understood one fundamental thing. The economy was so badly damaged and devastated by what happened in 2008-09 that it can indeed, I am pleased to tell the House, have a recovery based on higher exports, higher manufacturing output and higher service sector output-because the outputs were so badly hit in ’08-’09. That does not mean that we will go into a new utopia or suddenly into overdrive with superbly high growth rates; it means that we will start recovering from a disastrous banking crisis and recession, which some of us felt were made far worse by the policies and antics of the Labour party when it was in office.
To try to buttress its double-dip case, the Labour party is now saying that the true Treasury forecast says that, far from there being a drop in unemployment, there will be 1.3 million job losses and that somehow my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury are trying to conceal that. As I understand it, the leak to The Guardian was misjudged because it was a working paper with lots of errors in it. The proper expression of Treasury opinion was passed to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is manned by people of independent judgment who could ask the Treasury for all the details that they wanted about its workings, and could use the Treasury’s own models. They came to the perfectly sensible conclusion, shared by most other forecasters, that there will be nothing like that degree of job loss and that unemployment will indeed fall over the period of the forecast.
Kelvin Hopkins: The right hon. Gentleman has paid a glowing tribute to the Treasury. Was it not the Treasury that advised the 1979 Conservative Government, who drove us into a massive recession, with 3 million unemployed? Was it not the Treasury that advised the then Conservative Government to go into the exchange rate mechanism and cause 2 million to be unemployed? Did not the Treasury get things wrong time and again? Is the right hon. Gentleman not praying in aid an organisation that has demonstrated its failure over and over again?
Mr Redwood: The hon. Gentleman is making my case for me; I am saying that the 1.3 million forecast figure was an error, and that it will be seen as such. He rightly says that the Treasury can make mistakes. On this occasion, we are pleased to say that an independent judge outside is reviewing all the facts and figures and the working papers and coming up with a forecast that reflects the views of many more people outside the Treasury.
Owen Smith: Given the right hon. Gentleman’s admission that the OBR’s forecast on job losses may be wrong- [Interruption.] Well, if he was not implying that, that is what I took him to be implying. Irrespective of that, I want to ask about the OBR forecast’s and the leaked Treasury document’s anticipation of increases in private sector jobs over the next five years. Given the right hon. Gentleman’s long experience of economic matters, will he comment on the plausibility of that suggestion, given that during no period in the past 40 years has that volume of private sector jobs been created, apart from in the early 1980s-and then only through the fiction of the privatisations.
Mr Redwood: The point that I have been making for the Labour party’s benefit is that I think it is possible to get a reasonable private sector-led recovery from here, because the private sector was so gravely damaged and battered, and the figures were so awful, in ’08-’09. We are talking about rates of change from a very low base, so it is quite possible for things to get going.
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Mr Redwood: I should like to finish my point.
At the moment, there are worries, reflected in the comments made by the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, that the clouds may be gathering again in the international community, and we need to watch that. I suggest to those on the Treasury Bench that we need to do more work on ensuring that our banks are capable of lending in sufficient quantities so that all the private sector projects we need and all the private capital we need for the public projects as well can go forward as rapidly as possible.
We can encourage that to happen in many ways. An important part of the policy is that when we get some control over public spending and the public deficit, to instil confidence in the markets, we use those markets for a well financed private sector-led recovery, so that we can surprise on the upside in comparison with the fairly cautious figures given by the OBR. I am certainly not challenging the OBR figures, which are the best available at the moment. I would like to think that we could improve on them over the five years. If we do more about how the banks work and are regulated, so that we can accept that they have enough cash and capital for this stage of the cycle, and if we allow them to get on with the job of lending more money to businesses and worthwhile public projects, we can make progress.
We can also make a lot more progress in the public sector in respect of the public spending plans published in the Budget. Those public sector spending plans show public spending going up every year in cash terms over the five years to which the Finance Bill relates and is trying to finance. The increases are not very big, so if there were lots of wage increases and a lot of price inflation for the things bought by the public sector, and if there were the explosion in benefit claims that Labour is wrongly forecasting, there would of course be a big squeeze on much valued public services. We Government Members do not wish to see that any more than Labour Members do, and I wish that they would not keep pretending that somehow we want to cut the services, because we do not.
Grahame M. Morris: Two simple decisions arose from the Budget: the new £464 million hospital north of the Tees and the £500 million Building Schools for the Future projects in County Durham were cancelled. All would have been built by the private sector. How will those cancellations assist the growth in the private sector, particularly in respect of jobs in my constituency?
Mr Redwood: As the hon. Gentleman should be aware, the outgoing Government’s capital spending plans have not been changed by this Government. We have to accept the previous Government’s plans for a modest increase in the capital stock of the state over a period of great stress in the budgets. But the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme and its replacement with a programme that gives better value for money is exactly what we want. The trouble with Building Schools for the Future was that there were three years of delay and £10 million of consultancy costs before bricks and mortar or steel and glass could even start to be laid.
What my right hon. and hon. Friends rightly want to do is cut out all that nonsense, stop wasting all the money on the documentation, delays, consultancies and all the rest of it, and have a more straightforward approach, so that a bigger proportion of the inherited capital expenditure budget can be spent on bricks and mortar and bricklayers’ wages, as the hon. Gentleman wants.
Owen Smith: Is the right hon. Gentleman worried in any way by the remarks, made during the radio discussion that he took part in this morning, about the £50 billion of contracts that would be taken out of the construction industry as a result of the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme? Will that not have a detrimental impact on the economy-specifically, on jobs in construction?
Mr Redwood: Once again, the hon. Gentleman is not listening. I was explaining that the coalition Government have made no change to the capital expenditure line that they inherited from the outgoing Government. What they will do is get more bang for the buck-to get more spending on construction, relative to the total investment line in the Budget. On the radio this morning, I was able to satisfy the other people in the discussion; the independent forecaster’s overall forecasts for the economy say that investment is going to rise. There will be an overall increase in investment because more homes will be built over the next five years than the pathetically low figure that was reached under Labour. There will be more investment in housing improvement, and more investment by the private sector. That more than offsets the decline in the investment programme in the public sector inherited from Labour.
Mr Meacher: The right hon. Gentleman’s fantasy that there will be a continuation of or an increase in capital investment is completely belied by the OBR forecast on page 90 of the Treasury Red Book, which shows that net investment will fall from £49 billion in the current year to £21 billion in 2014-15. That is a colossal drop.
Mr Redwood: Those are Labour’s figures for the public sector. I have just told the House that I am talking about total investment across the economy. Overall, the right hon. Gentleman will find in the Red Book that it is anticipated that the rises in investment elsewhere will more than offset Labour’s cuts in the capital programme, which we have decided to live with. I should also tell him that he is quoting the net line when he should be quoting the gross line. In other words, he is knocking off the depreciation, whereas we are interested in the total spend-the gross line, which is much higher than the figures that he has inadvertently, I think, given the House in error.
Mr Meacher: How can the right hon. Gentleman believe that private investment will remotely compensate for this enormous fall in public sector net investment, given that household consumption is falling, particularly with the increase in VAT, the banks are not lending, and export markets are fading because of the situation in the eurozone? Why should the private sector invest in those circumstances?
Mr Redwood: That is what I have been explaining to the right hon. Gentleman. We are in this position because everything has been so awful. The private sector has just been through a couple of years when it has invested practically nothing because companies could not get any money and were not making much profit. Now, profit margins are growing, there is a bit more money around and they are getting more confident for the future.
It would be much better if Labour Members got behind their voters and constituents, who want the jobs that we wish to see created, got behind the recovery that everybody else is forecasting, and started to live in the real world. They presided over the collapse. Throughout their years in office, manufacturing fell, whereas in the Tory years before that, manufacturing rose. We want to get manufacturing rising again. From that point of view, the one good thing that they did was to preside over a collapse in the value of the pound. They probably allowed it to collapse a bit too much, and it is beginning to rise again under the new Government. That gives those in manufacturing a huge opportunity to make better profit margins, to invest more money, and to produce more. That is exactly what they are beginning to do, and there will be a beneficial effect.
Owen Smith: In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman suggests about manufacturing, is he not worried when he sees the prediction in the Deloitte manufacturing index that over the next five years our manufacturing will decline, not grow, and that we will shift from our admittedly low position of 17th on that index to 20th?
Mr Redwood: A shift in the relative position predicted by someone else does not necessarily mean that manufacturing is going to decline. The figures in the official forecast, and I think in most sensible forecasts outside, show that manufacturing will recover from the very low base that it reached in 2009-10. That is what is needed, and we need to have policies that do just that.
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Mr Redwood: I am going to conclude, because many people wish to participate in this debate. Labour Members may want to be here until 3 o’clock in the morning, but they never used to when they were in the dock and did not allow us the time to debate these things properly.
The Budget is a necessary evil to clear up the mess inherited from the previous Government. This is a necessary task to instil confidence and to avoid interest rates going through the roof. Labour Members should look at what has happened in Ireland. Ireland had extremely big cuts-bigger, I am pleased to say, than those in this Budget. In the last quarter, the Irish economy started to grow extremely well, which is exactly what Labour Members are predicting cannot happen if one starts to get control of public spending.
I urge the Government and the whole public sector to work strongly together to ensure that these modest increases in cash spending translate into maintained and improved public services, as they can if we take the right action over pay rates, efficiency levels, improved process, investment in technology and so forth. I hope that we will get the banks working better by creating a more competitive environment so that we can then have the investment we need in the private sector to fill the gap and create the jobs. This is a doable task and a feasible profile, and it is backed by the independent forecaster. We need to be very sure that we are going to pump everything into that task, because recovery is what we all want.