Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the law

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 2:07 pm on 22nd April 2009.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 2:07 pm, 22nd April 2009

I am a director of a couple of companies. I have declared my interests in the Register of Members' Interests.

This is really the Damian McBride memorial Budget. It is a Budget of the spinners, by the spinners, for the spinners. It is a Budget with all the black arts around it. It is a Budget that wants people to believe that it will all be fine in a couple of years' time. It is a Budget built around numbers that are entirely fantasyland economics. It is a Budget which pretends that there will be massive growth in two years' time, and that that growth will miracle away the enormous deficit and the huge debts that will be the Government's only legacy.

This is a Government who, just a few months ago, were in denial that there was even a recession on here in the United Kingdom. This is a Government who would not admit six months ago that they would preside over the worst collapse in any major western economy, as measured by the public finance figures. This is a Government who a year ago, at the time of the then Budget, said that there would be a little drop-off in the growth rate, but that Britain would come sailing through because they were married to Prudence and had abolished boom and bust.

The Government are not married to Prudence, Indeed, the Prime Minister—the former Chancellor—divorced her many years ago. Now they are holding a drink and drugs party on the poor lady's grave, inviting everyone to come along and spend as much borrowed money as possible. I do not think that the current Chancellor has ever met the lady Prudence. It is quite obvious from his figures and his representations today that he does not have a clue about the fact that it is necessary to balance the books at some point. He has no clue about how to balance the books, and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition so powerfully observed, it will take another team of Ministers to deal with the awful job of cleaning up the mess.

Let us look first at the economic forecasts. I am grateful that at last, after it had become obvious to everyone else in the country, the Government have accepted that there will be a very serious downturn this year. After all the lying, weaving and ducking outside this House and the funny figures given inside it, we now discover that even the Government admit that there is going to be the most severe recession since the war—not only the deepest, but also the longest. We now have a Government who admit that there is not about to be an upturn any time soon. According to the new forecast, the magic Ides of July will come and go without us seeing the green shoots, let alone the recovery.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition memorably said, the Government are forecasting a trampoline recovery some time later, with most of the benefits of this improbable gymnastics delayed until after the general election, because they do not want the electorate to be able to compare what actually happens with the ridiculous forecasts they are now coming up with.

Why is it that after 12 years of this Labour Government, who said they were married to Prudence and had learned the lessons of their trip to the International Monetary Fund and of previous economic crashes, we now see this Government in complete disarray, presiding over not just a big increase in debt, not just a whopping increase in debt, not just a colossal increase in debt, but a bigger increase in debt than all previous Governments from time immemorial over a millennium in this country had managed to borrow together? If someone had made that up for a BBC drama, I think that I would have been one of the first people moaning again that the BBC had overdone it and that the plot was preposterous. Yet that is what today's figures tell us; they tell us that the Government are seriously suggesting that they should, and they can, and they will, borrow more money in a couple of years than all previous Governments added together over many centuries, including all the war debt that we still have, inherited from those earlier tragic and difficult times when different rules and priorities clearly applied on a cross-party basis.

How did the Government get into such a dreadful quagmire? There are three main reasons. First, they foolishly, rashly and needlessly committed this country's public accounts to two extremely large banks—banks which, as my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench have again memorably said, were too big to fail and too big to bail. The Government were quite wrong to force those banks, at the fateful weekend in question, into trying to find capital that quickly, and they were quite wrong to say that the taxpayer would stand behind those banks and buy all those new shares at too high a share price, which they forced upon the poor reluctant taxpayer. There were many ways of sorting out and standing behind those banks without putting all that taxpayer cash on the line, and the last thing we needed to do in the parlous financial condition we already found ourselves in was put the taxpayer fully, squarely and completely behind the £3 trillion of liabilities on those two massive bank balance sheets, with all the consequences that followed.

I have not had a chance to read the detailed figures, which were not released to Members of Parliament until immediately after the Chancellor sat down, and of course, the Chancellor did not give us the actual cash figures for his current view of how much those banks are going to lose us. However, he did say in his statement that he now recognises that there will be material losses for the taxpayer. We have heard the figures in the press; as always, we could have learned most of the Budget in advance by listening to the media over the weekend preceding it, and in the days before we in this House are graced with some kind of statement—and then if we really want to know what is going on, we have to go away and read the documents, because they contain at least some of the bad figures that the Government wish to conceal.

We have gathered, however, that the debate is between the Chancellor and the IMF. We learn that the Chancellor thinks that the Government are going to lose £60 billion on the banks. I will be delighted if they lose only £60 billion on the banks, as I have always forecast that they will lose a lot more than that—but let us just think about this: that is £60 billion of needless losses subsidising rich bankers and foolish banks. Why do a Labour Government want to do that? Do they not realise that that is £1,000 for every man, woman and child in the country? What could my constituents do with £1,000 per head extra this year? Would it not have been better to have given them the money so they could have sorted their own lives out and bought a few more things to create some demand, rather than to tip that £60 billion down the drain by making the taxpayer stand behind the banks and pay for those losses?

The IMF, however, says it thinks the losses will be £200 billion, and I fear that it is nearer the mark. We understand that some of the very expensive spin doctors and Treasury officials employed at our expense have thought it a productive use of their time to try to get the IMF to calculate its figures again—in other words, "If there's a problem, let's try to spin our way out of it." I urge the IMF not to be too lenient with these Ministers and this Treasury, because I fear the losses are, as the IMF has said, going to be all too large. It shows the Government's priorities that when they nationalise the banks, they will not accept that there is any possibility of loss at all, when they have the autumn statement they leave all the figures on the banks out of the borrowing because the borrowing looks too awful with the banking figures included, and when they finally get to the Budget they realise that none of the commentators and City experts are going to buy the idea that there will be no losses on those banks, so they come up with a figure rather smaller than those of the serious commentators and hope to get away with it, and when no less a body than the IMF rumbles them, they send the spin doctors out to deal with it and try to get the figures massaged in the right direction.

That is the first reason why we are so colossally in debt and so hugely at risk. Never before have a British Government been stupid enough to nationalise banks that in aggregate are bigger than the national income. Never before has a group of Ministers blundered into such a colossal and risky financial commitment as this group of Ministers has. Given the questions I have asked over the months about this, I feel that when they took the decision they had no idea how big the thing they were taking on was, and they certainly had no idea that only £1 in every £7 on the RBS £2 trillion balance sheet was a loan to a British person or British company. Like them, I want to make sure that British companies and British people do not suffer because of the awful credit crunch. Of course I wish to see the creditors protected, and of course I wish to see lending resume at sensible levels in this country, but only £1 in every £7 on the RBS balance sheet was doing any of those things, yet this Government had to blunder into backing the whole balance sheet, and who knows how much they will lose.

How much do the Government reckon they will lose on the £500 billion casino bank within RBS that they have bought? What action have they taken to protect the taxpayer interest? Have they instructed those bankers to close down the dangerous positions? Have they asked them to calculate the losses and take the ones that could get bigger? Have they agreed with them that they will net out a lot of the positions so we can begin to see what we have got and start to reduce the total risk for the taxpayer? I do not think they have done any of these things. I do not think they have got a clue; I do not think that they care. They thought it was a great idea to nationalise a bank. They thought that would give them control over the economy. They will learn the hard way that they do not control the banks—the banks now control them.

The second reason why we are so deeply in debt—and, even worse, a reason why we will get increasingly into debt under this Government—is the very violent boom-bust cycle that they have unleashed upon our poor economy. This is a boom-bust cycle that was made particularly violent in Britain by wrong policy here in Britain. This is the Government who, when it was becoming obvious to many outside critics that a huge credit explosion was under way, instead of calming the flames by taking some of the material off the bonfire, decided to stoke it some more. This is the Government who, instead of saying to the private sector, "You're overdoing the off-balance-sheet borrowing, boys and girls," went out and said, "Do more off-balance-sheet borrowing. We'll show you how to do it. We're going to finance most of our public projects on the never-never on an off-balance-sheet basis so that people don't realise that we're building up extra public debt, don't know that we have broken all our own rules, and don't know that we are doing this on the never-never in the hope that some future Conservative Government are better at running the public books and are able to pay the interest and the debts off."