Economic Growth
Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury
2:30 pm

Photo of Robert Buckland

Robert Buckland (South Swindon, Conservative)

What fiscal steps he plans to take to promote economic growth.

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Danny Alexander (The Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Liberal Democrat)

The Chancellor is at ECOFIN today.

As the experience of many European countries has demonstrated, loss of control of the public finances is catastrophic for growth. That was why, in the autumn statement, we set out plans to maintain the credibility of our fiscal stance while innovatively using the money that we do have to support home buyers, small firms and infrastructure and to tackle youth unemployment.

Photo of Robert Buckland

Robert Buckland (South Swindon, Conservative)

I was pleased to see in the autumn statement the proposed introduction of the new seed enterprise investment scheme, which will encourage investment in small and high-risk early-growth businesses. What other measures does my right hon. Friend propose to take to encourage equity investment and support for growing businesses?

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Danny Alexander (The Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Liberal Democrat)

As my hon. Friend knows, at the Budget last year we announced reforms to the enterprise investment scheme and the venture capital trusts scheme, which are subject to state aid approval. The Government are committed to finding innovative ways to invest in new firms, such as the seed enterprise investment scheme, and we will consider further ideas in the future.

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John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne, Labour)

The economy has flatlined for more than 12 months since the Chancellor’s spending review, unemployment has hit a 17-year high and the national debt has now topped 1 trillion. What has gone wrong?

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Danny Alexander (The Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Liberal Democrat)

I would have thought that the day on which it has been announced that the national debt has broken the 1 trillion mark would provide a good opportunity for the Labour party to apologise for its catastrophic economic mismanagement that led the country into the mess that the coalition Government are cleaning up.

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Andrew Tyrie (Chichester, Conservative)

The Redknapp case and the public interest in it illustrate the need to reform taxation to ensure that top earners pay what is due. The Chief Secretary will not want to comment on an individual case, but what steps are the Government taking, consistent with the Treasury Committee’s report on the principles of tax reform, to ensure that all taxpayers, including top earners, pay the correct amount of tax?

Photo of Danny Alexander

Danny Alexander (The Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Liberal Democrat)

Of course, as the hon. Gentleman says, I cannot and will not comment on ongoing individual cases, but he is right to say that the wealthiest need to pay their fair share. That was why we announced in the spending review an extra 900 million of funding for tackling tax avoidance and evasion, which has helped to set up a new specialist unit, which became operational last year, targeting offshore evasion. High-profile tax evasion cases could become more commonplace in future, and our message to tax dodgers is: “No matter how well known you are, how clever you think your accounts are or how far away you hide your money, we are coming to get you.”

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Rachel Reeves (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Leeds West, Labour)

The Chief Secretary says that the Government’s fiscal plans are working and that only the eurozone has thrown them off course. Tomorrow, we will know by how much the UK economy grew in 2011, so let me ask him a simple question. In its last forecast, did the Office for Budget Responsibility revise up or down its estimate for growth in the eurozone in 2011?

Photo of Danny Alexander

Danny Alexander (The Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Liberal Democrat)

The Office for Budget Responsibility made significant changes to its forecasts for the UK and for other countries. It made a significant change to its forecast for how much damage was done to the UK economy during the time when the hon. Lady’s party was in government, suggesting that our economy is now about 13% smaller than it otherwise would have been.

Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the shadow Chancellor’s now infamous Ken Dixon lecture, when he rightly said that long-term interest rates were

“the simplest measure of monetary and fiscal policy credibility”.

Then, 10-year gilt rates were 4.76%. Yesterday, they were 2.16%. Case closed.

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Rachel Reeves (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Leeds West, Labour)

Given that the Government went to the trouble of setting up the Office for Budget Responsibility, one would expect that the Chief Secretary would read its forecasts. The reality is that it revised up its forecast for growth in the eurozone in 2011 and revised down its forecast for growth in the United Kingdom. The Government like to blame everybody except themselves for the economic troubles. First they blamed the snow, then they blamed the royal wedding, now they are blaming the eurozone. When will they take responsibility for their own actions, which choked off the economic

recovery a year ago by cutting too far and too fast? As a result, they are borrowing an extra 158 billion. That is the cost of this Government’s economic failure.

Photo of Danny Alexander

Danny Alexander (The Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Liberal Democrat)

Once again, the hon. Lady is wrong in her economic policy pronouncements. The Office for Budget Responsibility has the UK growing more slowly this year, but faster than countries in the eurozone in the next few years. That is a testament to the Government’s economic policies. If she wants to know who is at least partly responsible for the mess that the country is in, she should just look immediately to her left. It has come to something when Katie Price’s tweets make more sense about the economy than Labour Front Benchers.

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Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute, Liberal Democrat)

The economy in our islands will be greatly helped by the reduction in fuel duty that the Government are introducing. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress towards introducing that fuel duty discount?

Photo of Danny Alexander

Danny Alexander (The Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Liberal Democrat)

I am grateful for the opportunity to do that. The fuel duty discount will come into force for customers, including on the islands in my hon. Friend’s constituency, from 1 March. That will reduce the cost of fuel by 5p a litre in the most remote island communities, reflecting the fact that they have the highest cost. The scheme has been open to retailers to register for it since 1 January, and I am pleased to report that almost every retailer has already signed up.