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Capital Gains Tax (Rates)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:36 pm on 23rd June 2010.

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Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:36 pm, 23rd June 2010

No, I am going to make some progress.

The current context is a fragile recovery, with growth in Europe sluggish. Crucially, however, we cannot assume, as the Government seem to, that it is axiomatic that if we cut back on public expenditure, the private sector will come in and take its place. That is not guaranteed at all. We have seen that in Japan and other countries. Indeed, the private sector often relies on public sector spending in many ways, whether through investment and support or directly, because it supplies goods and services to the public sector.

As I have said, borrowing is too high and we need to get it down. As I said to Mr Evennett, our receipts from income tax and corporation tax fell, as did our stamp duty receipts when the housing market went down, but that would have happened-indeed, it did happen-to every other major economy. We are not talking about something that was confined to the United Kingdom. Of course, as unemployment goes up, social security spending goes up as well. Indeed, it is interesting that if we look at what has happened to other countries across the world, we see that the deficit this year in this country is about the same as it is in the United States. If we look at debt and the IMF comparisons that were published in 2009, we find that our debt was less than that of Japan, Italy, Germany and France, and, looking ahead to 2015, it will still be less than that of the United States, France, Italy and Japan.

The idea that we are talking about a particularly British problem simply does not stack up. It is not true, but it is used as a convenient excuse for what the Conservative party always wanted to do. The truth is that the Conservatives supported our spending plans right up until the end of 2008-Andrew Bridgen might want to consider this point. Indeed, when the now Prime Minister was challenged-I think by some right-wing newspaper-as selling the pass, he said that those spending plans were "tight". That was the word he used. He said:

"This is why we are sticking to Labour's spending totals. Taken alone, these are tight."

That is what he said in 2008, but now the Conservatives turn around and say that what happened would not have happened if they had been in power for the past five years and that things would have been completely different.

Let us be clear: we all want to see borrowing come down, and we need to ensure that that happens. It is also clear that we need to understand the consequences of what we are doing, so that we do not damage our economy or damage the social fabric of this country. However, to suggest that we should not have done anything to support our economy as we went into recession or that we should not have stepped in to prevent the banking system from collapsing-and it was hours from collapsing-is simply nonsense, frankly. Indeed, if we had not done what we did, the cost, in terms of increased borrowing and higher debt, would have been far higher even than it is today, so that argument simply does not stack up.

We need a sensible plan to get borrowing down, but if we get this wrong we will cause major problems, given the scale and speed of the Government's action. Again, the Business Secretary said a few weeks ago that

"it would be foolish to rush in significant cuts now which take the economy down even further, which lead to an even bigger deficit problem".

He was right when he said that, yet the view of the Government of whom he is now a member is rather different. To be fair to the Chancellor, he has been consistent. He has wanted to take this risk for some time, and he is now taking it in great style. Even better, from his point of view, is that he has got the Liberals to front it up. No wonder that, once they are out of this Chamber, Conservative Members are laughing at the very idea of getting the Chief Secretary to the Treasury fronting up the cuts last week in his boss's constituency. That is indeed new politics; I just wonder how long it will last. All I can say is that if things get better, there is no way that the Conservatives will allow the Liberals to front up any good news when it comes.

I am concerned at this time that we run the risk of derailing the recovery, which is why I took a different view. I thought that we should halve borrowing over four years, rather than go further and faster. Looking at the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecasts published yesterday, I am concerned that it has downrated the growth forecast for this year, which it published a week before, from 1.3% down to 1.2%, and that it has downrated growth in 2011 from 2.6% to 2.3%. The OBR therefore recognises that growth is going to be suppressed as a result of what is being done.

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