My Question during the Statement on Post Office Court of Appeal Judgment, 27 April 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Minister understand that there has to be compensation, and urgently, and this compensation has to cover not just the Horizon losses but the legal costs and the loss of business and income that people suffered from the damage to their reputation?

Many MPs, including myself, told past Ministers that this was an accounting scandal—it was not a sudden outbreak of mass criminal activity by good public servants. They deserve better, and this Government must now apologise by making sure they get proper compensation.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Mr Paul Scully): Indeed, it is important that the Post Office engages with all the appellants who have had their convictions quashed. As we are getting those answers, we will work to ensure that we can get fair compensation.

My Question during the Urgent Question on the Overseas Development Aid Budget, 26 April 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is the UK now stopping making overseas aid payments through the EU, given the way it has been spending money on a country such as China, which has $3.2 trillion in reserves?

Is this not an opportunity for the UK to express its own moral priorities, and secure better value for money by making more of its own direct choices and payments? Can that include being very generous in response to the current Indian crisis?

The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa (Mr James Cleverly):
My right hon. Friend makes the important point that, having left the European Union, the United Kingdom can now make its own decisions. In many instances—not in all cases—the positions that we take now are similar to those that we took as members of the European Union.

He will note that we have significantly—almost completely—reduced our aid support to China; the only expenditure now is in support of human rights and open societies. As I said in response to an earlier question, we will be focused very much on how we can support our friends around the world in their times of need.

My contribution to the Finance (No. 2) Bill debate, 19 April 2021

Of course, I am not going to vote against this Budget and I wish the Government well with it, but I would like them to pause a little, think through where we are and recognise that they may need to revisit some of these decisions in the months ahead.

My worry is that they are being too tough in their tax measures and too tough on people’s incomes at a time when we need to build confidence and recovery, and they are doing so at a time when it is really impossible for their expert advisers and other economic forecasters to give them a clear steer of what the public finances will look like in two years’ time, let alone in three or four years’ time.

The Government seem to think that their experts can define a given amount of money that will be a shortfall in order to hit their longer-term Government targets, and therefore say that we need to make these tax changes for the next few years in order to fill the alleged black hole. It may be that they are trying to fill a hole that does not exist. It may be that we will have a much better recovery than the forecasters are thinking.

It may be that the economy responds much better over the next two or three years or, indeed, over the next two or three months, as the relaxations kick in.

We can see the difficulty that the official forecasters have if we look at the numbers they gave us as recently as November 2020. Then, the OBR, forecasting the budget deficit—the amount of extra borrowing—for the year 2020-21, said that it would be £394 billion, an enormous amount.

Bear in mind that it was having to forecast for only four months, as two thirds of the year had already gone. When we got the 11-month figures, up to February, recently, we discovered that they had come in at just ÂŁ278 billion and so, subject to what happened in March, it may be that the OBR was the best part of ÂŁ100 billion out on the deficit for the year in question when it tried to forecast, already knowing quite a lot of what had happened. It was, of course, massively too pessimistic. It is great news that we will have borrowed so much less than we feared, although clearly we are still borrowing far too much on an unsustainable basis, which is why we need to promote a strong recovery to get the deficit down.

I therefore say to the Government: let us show a little humility. The experts and advisers are not able to give us anything like accurate figures—I can sympathise with them, because extreme things have happened in response to the pandemic—so are we sure that we need to make these moves over the next three or four years?

There is also a case for showing a bit of humility and thinking ahead about whether we might need to show a bit more flexibility because the Government themselves have rightly said, now that we are out of the European Union and the economic world has been stood on its head, that they want to set out a new framework for guiding the economy.

I encourage them to do that, and I hope it is a framework that promotes growth and considers real issues such as the increase in the number of jobs, the rise in real incomes and the productivity growth that can be achieved.

We need to get away from the Maastricht criteria, which have governed our policy for many years and still seem to be behind the architecture of this Bill. We seem to be driven by the need to get state debt falling as a percentage of our national output by the end of the period that we are talking about today for the tax changes. State debt is now a pretty useless figure to try to target in the way that the Maastricht criteria did.

We now live in this age of monetary experimentation, where great banks such as the Bank of England, as well as the European Central Bank, have bought in very large quantities of state debt—indeed, they still are doing so. Surely, where that happens in a single sovereign country with its own central bank, owned on behalf of the taxpayers by the state, we should treat the debt that we have bought back in rather differently from the debt on which we owe money by way of interest to people outside—some our own citizens, some foreigners—who have been financing the Government.

That makes state debt a very difficult number to use to guide the economy. Of course, the future system must have some control over the build-up of actual interest charges that we have to pay to third parties, but it should concentrate much more on promoting growth.

May we therefore have just a few words from the Government, accepting that these numbers are very difficult and that the current forecasts are likely to be very wrong? No one can say exactly how wrong they are going to be, because so many things will happen over the next two or three years and nobody has been through a bounce back of the kind of pace that is possible from such a big hole in our economy, created by necessary health measures to cure the pandemic.

We need a policy that is very supportive of more jobs, of higher incomes and of encouraging investment, enterprise, saving and, above all, self-employment and more small business activity.

My worry is that the Government are being a bit mean with people and with small businesses in the name of controlling state debt at a time when we have no idea what the state debt will be in two or three years’ time, and when the state debt number is now very different because of the purchase of state debt by the state itself.

I would hope that the Government recognise that we may need to revisit all this, and I would want them to be on the side of people keeping more of the money they earn and, above all, of a much better deal for small business and the self-employed, where I think they are too tough.

My Question during the Statement on Covid-19, 19 April 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the big reductions, based on the vaccinations, in case and death numbers. Will he briefly update us on better air extraction, cleaning and other measures to control infection in hospitals to reassure the many patients who now need non-covid treatment?

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Mr Matt Hancock): My right hon. Friend has asked about this many times, and he is quite right to, because it is not just about cleaning.

We have learned a lot during the pandemic about the importance of good ventilation, and that is now embedded in infection prevention and control. As cases in hospitals come down, hospitals across the country are separating, as much as is possible, those who might or do have covid from people who are coming to hospital having been tested and knowing that they do not have covid.

That is incredibly important to reassure people that if they are asked to come to hospital by a clinician, it is the best place for them.

My Speech during the Second Reading of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, 23 March 2021

Of course I welcome the idea that we should do everything we can to promote greater science and better technology. Our country has a fine history and tradition of scientific breakthroughs and scientific excellence in our universities and our scientific societies. We also have a fine tradition in technology, with entrepreneurs developing new industrial processes and new products and making great breakthroughs that have benefited humanity widely, and of course we should do everything we can to support that. There may well also be a gap that this body can fill between all the methods we have of backing science and technology, and I wish it every success.

In his introductory remarks, the Minister pointed to the recent great success of universities, companies, medics, scientists and Government in coming together—here and elsewhere, but particularly here—on the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Why did that work? Because there was a very clear, defined task. There was great excellence and expertise already in companies and university science, and the Government helped to bring that together, to pump-prime the process and then to provide very large orders, as did other Governments and health services around the world, to make it worthwhile and to defeat the virus.

Now, we hope that do not have too many of those concentrated needs, but that model worked without ARIA, so this body has to define something a bit different from that. I notice that MPs are already discussing the adequacy or inadequacy of its resources, by which they usually mean money. I do not think it is possible to have any idea of what would be a good and realistic budget for it until talented people have been appointed to run it and have set out what it is trying to do. The first thing the Government need to do, therefore, following the success of this legislation—I am sure it will pass quite easily—is to appoint really great people to lead this organisation who just have that feel, that touch and that intelligence to judge risk, to sense opportunity, to see where the niches are and to define the unique breakthroughs and areas where this body can make a serious contribution. As some have said, a scattergun approach is probably not going to work; trying to do too much across too broad a spread would require a lot of good fortune. This body will need some targeting.

ARIA then has to work out how it commercialises whatever it produces. The UK has had a century or more of plenty of breakthroughs and technical innovations, but in quite a lot of cases we did not go on to commercialise and exploit opportunities, and we allowed others around the world to adapt patents or take the underlying principles and develop their own products, making many more jobs and much more commercial success out of these things than we did. The leaders of this body therefore need to ask how they will commercialise the ideas, how big a role that will play, and at what point they will work with commercial companies that could come in and take advantage.

That leads on to the issue of security. I do not think British taxpayers want to spend more money on blue-sky research and interesting technical ideas only to see them taken away, perhaps resulting in many more products for the Chinese to export back to the United Kingdom. What we want is that integrated approach, where the ideas that the Government have helped to pay for through this body, working with universities and perhaps with companies, can go on to be commercialised and add to the stock of wealth and jobs and make a wider contribution to the human position.

I suggest that the Government link the development of this body to the work that they have started to do, and they need to do much more widely, on national resilience. I am an admirer of what President Biden has set out to do in the United States of America on supply chains. He has a very ambitious programme—a 100-day programme for targeted sectors and a one-year programme for all the sectors of the US economy. It is looking at what America can do better, at where America needs to fill in gaps in her knowledge and understanding of patent, designs and specifications, at where America needs to put in new capacity to avoid shortages or more hostile powers interrupting her production processes by withholding import, and at where the Government machine can use intelligent procurement, appropriate grants and interventions to work with the private sector to have a much better supply chain, creating more jobs and providing national resilience.

I hope that the agency will look at what we can do to ensure that we make our weapons and defence requirements, as the new policy suggests that we will do more often. It should look at how we can grow more food and make sure that we have more of our own fish so that we have fewer food miles and more national resilience in the food chain. It should look at a series of industrial areas where we have in the past been very successful to see where we can improve the technology and add to the UK capacity to produce.

My suggestion to Ministers is that the first task is to get really excellent people; the second is to work with them on defining realistic and achievable objectives; and the third is to ensure that the agency is properly resourced—£800 million might be the right amount, but if the agency comes up with really worthwhile things that look as though they will work, we will want to back it with more money. If it was not getting very far, I think a number of MPs who say that they do not mind failure would become rather more critical. This will need quite a lot of ministerial and parliamentary supervision. I wish the agency every success, and I look forward to hearing to more detail about what it is trying to do.

My Question during the Statement on Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, 23 March 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I strongly welcome the emphasis of the statement on making more in Britain, because we cannot be properly defended if we rely on imports for crucial things. Is the UK undertaking a full audit of the designs, intellectual property and rare materials we would need to manufacture all our crucial defence equipment here, were we to face a blockade or other hostile action against our imports? President Biden is currently carrying out such a supply chain analysis for his country.

The Minister for Defence Procurement (Mr Jeremy Quin): As my right hon. Friend will know, the supply chains in defence are vast, but it is an analysis that we are undertaking. We are doing it project by project, making certain that the most crucial are investigated first, but we are doing an analysis of our supply chains, and that is being elevated to the Defence Board, to make certain that we have greater oversight of what goes into our crucial defence kit and equipment.

My contribution to the debate on Leaving the EU: Impact on the UK, 17 March 2021

I welcome the opportunity to debate the many opportunities that Brexit presents. It was always the case that, once we had achieved Brexit, the Government needed to use the freedoms it brings to promote the greater health and prosperity of United Kingdom citizens. We meet today with a success already as a result of these freedoms. The United Kingdom Government decided last year not to join the common vaccine procurement system of the European Union. They went their own way. They had confidence in British science and in British medicine, and they had confidence in great companies based in the United Kingdom and in our great universities.

It is tremendous news that, as a result, the United Kingdom helped pioneer one of the first successful vaccines. The United Kingdom pre-ordered a very large number of vaccines for United Kingdom people on the basis that some of these vaccines would be good and would be available for use, and that put the United Kingdom in the position to vaccinate much earlier, saving more lives than those countries can that were not in the happy position of having early supplies of vaccine. Even our regulators were quicker and more agile. Our regulators gave regulatory approval to the first vaccines some weeks before the European regulator, though the European regulator came to the same view in due course.

I think this is a model for how we can use our freedoms more widely to promote our health and better prosperity. I would draw the Government’s attention to a very important policy initiative from President Biden. They may find it surprising to see me recommending something from a Democrat President, but I think his 24 February Executive order—looking at America’s supply chains, and saying that America can do much better at developing its own technology, putting in its own industrial capacity and creating many better-paid jobs by having more capacity in the United States—is a model we should follow. Indeed, it is the model we have been following with the development of the vaccine, which has led to more good jobs in the United Kingdom and more United Kingdom productive capacity.

The Biden initiative starts with a very rapid—100-day —attempt to fix the need for the United States of America to have a much bigger presence in pharmaceuticals, batteries, rare earths and minerals, and semiconductors. There is then an annual programme, involving all the relevant Departments of Government, of going through the supply chains and asking what can be done to use innovation funding, Government procurement and Government regulation to encourage more onshoring and more exciting technical developments. Of course, a country needs to have strong competition law and not to abuse state aids, but many good things can be done with the massive procurement programmes of the British Government, like those of the American Government, to encourage competitive responses in the United Kingdom and to encourage that increasing capacity.

I hope the Government will do more on both the Northern Ireland border issue, where I think we need to be firm—and I support their recent action—and on the fishing industry, where I think we need more rapid progress to build up our fleet and to take back control of more of our fish. That was the promise and that is clearly the intended journey, but I wish the Government would be firmer, because I do not think that at the moment we have the right deal to promote that industry. If we wish to develop our green policies, as we do, we need to do more at home, cut the food miles, cut the fish miles and have more value added in the United Kingdom.

My speech in response to the Budget, 4 March

I welcome the extension of help to individuals and companies. All the time people cannot go to work or businesses cannot trade and all the time that there are pandemic regulations and social distancing that impede people going about their normal business, it is vital that the Government offer alternative income and support. I am pleased that the Government came up with a big response originally, and it is necessary to carry it on for as long as these restrictive measures remain in place.

I also welcome the fact that the OBR has decided that we will be borrowing £39 billion less in the current year than in its recent November forecast. I think that serves as a reminder or a warning to all those trying to debate the economy based on a set of figures; these are very uncertain times. It is difficult for the official forecasters to come up with accurate figures, and we should be especially suspicious of ideas based on what the deficit might be in a couple of years’ time. This deficit will fall very rapidly.

Assuming the great success of the vaccines continues, and assuming that we can relax and get people back to normal work and normal business within a few weeks or months, we will then see the deficit come down because so much of the deficit has been caused by the special pandemic measures.

The figures confirm that around £250 billion of extra spending in 2020-21 was the direct result of the special pandemic measures, and that there will be another large figure in the first part of 2021-22. We want to see the end of all those special expenditures—because people have better-paid jobs to go back to, businesses are trading successfully, and there is turnover and profit coming back to our small and large businesses—and so much of that expenditure was a poor substitute for being able to do the thing itself.

There was of course some loss of tax revenue, and again, we would expect to see tax revenue rise quite rapidly as soon as people can trade properly again, as soon as there are more transactions in the economy, and as soon as we are making more goods and providing more services to each other, as I am sure we will. So the Chancellor is right to say that the crucial step to getting the economy back to health, the deficit down and the numbers back into shape is to promote a recovery. He is right to want more investment in our economy.

The public sector numbers show public sector investment going up, and it is very important that good projects are chosen that will have a good payback. It is very important, too, that the tax incentives are correctly honed so that we get the boost in private sector investment that we want. The Chancellor is also right not to rush out any new fiscal rules.

We will need a new set of rules in due course, however, and they must be geared to a faster growth policy and a policy about levelling up and investing in great projects around the United Kingdom.

That must be linked to sensible discipline on public finances and, above all, to keeping the good control of inflation that we have had for a number of years now. It is reassuring that the OBR and the Bank of England are very confident that inflation will remain low, which gives us a bit more flexibility, but we need to watch that inflation situation.

I note that the OBR thinks the balance of payments is going to be weak for two or three years, and that provides an opportunity. In the post-Brexit world there are huge opportunities that we can exploit more easily in import substitution. Why do we not, for example, with our great green policies, plant many more trees and make sure there is much more sustainable husbandry of trees so that we replace many of the timber imports?

And while we are about it, can we replace the pelleted timber coming in to produce power at Drax with home-produced sustainable timber? We should also put in sufficient electricity capacity, because if we want an electrical revolution we will need a lot more capacity, and while we are doing that we should get rid of the imported electricity through the interconnector, which we rely on more and more for no particular reason.

We used to be able to have all our own power provided in the UK with a decent margin and I suggest we return to that. We can do a lot more on food and fish, too. I urge the relevant Ministers and Departments to promote food and fish, and also to make sure that the grant schemes and regulations that are now under our control are used to increase our capacity so that we start to substitute many of the items that are coming in.

A recovery needs more orders and more investment in capacity; it requires excitement over new products and services and the restoration of old products and services. That must be the single thing that most motivates all the relevant Ministries and Government policy, because the only way to get this very big deficit down is to have more revenue and less expenditure, and the only legitimate expenditure to cut is all the spending we have been doing as a poor substitute for a decent economy with well-paid jobs and successful businesses.

So I say, let’s go for growth; let’s do everything we can to promote more things being made and grown and sold within the United Kingdom. There are huge opportunities, and that will be good economics.

My question during the Growing Back Better Report, 25 February 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I strongly support the green VAT cuts. Did the Committee examine the future of the petrol and diesel car industry, and especially the future of the diesel engine parts, with all the skilled staff and big assets, if the Government move to an early ban on these new vehicles?

Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question.

The Committee is taking an interest in the impact of a transition from the current economy, with its carbon-intensive sectors, to a net zero economy. We are looking at our future programme and some of the impacts of green jobs, which we are in the middle of an inquiry on now, and we will be addressing specifically the point that he makes about the impact on the motor sector.

In the future, we are interested in some of the impacts of moving from an internal combustion engine source of transport to electrified transport and what that might do across different transport sectors. We will be working with the Transport Committee to ensure that we do not duplicate efforts, but that we are able to look into those matters.

My question during Business of the House, 25 February 2021

Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): As businesses large and small need more orders to power jobs and economic recovery, can we have a debate on Government buying? Can we learn from the great success of buying so many vaccine doses from UK science and facilities, and buy more innovative and competitive goods and services from companies here at home?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Jacob Rees Mogg): My right hon. Friend, as always, raises interesting and important points.

The Government are planning on creating a much simpler and nimbler procurement system, which will open up procurement opportunity to small and medium-sized businesses. However, I hope he will contribute to the Budget debate that is coming up, which will be an opportunity to talk about these matters at greater length.