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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:27 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 2:27 pm, 24th March 2011

I cannot see how it can be ideological to have a public sector that, by the end of this Parliament, will have a share of GDP comparable to what it was when Mr Brown became Prime Minister. Whatever criticisms the Opposition might want to make, ideology has absolutely nothing to do with this.

The comments of the international organisations are reflected in those of the business community. The former head of the CBI has often been quoted on this, because he was critical of the Government. He had some strong criticisms, which we have taken to heart. However, it is worth remembering how he started the speech that is now so frequently quoted. He said:

“This coalition Government has been single-minded—some might even say ruthless—in its approach to spending cuts…That policy is strongly supported by business, on the grounds that sound public finances are an essential foundation for a sound economy.”

I want to deal more specifically with the suggestion that we are cutting too much too soon. The shadow Chancellor has quoted me on this, and he is quite right. I said on “Newsnight”, and I will continue to say, that there is a serious economic debate that we must constantly have on striking the right balance between not choking off recovery and not risking a financial crisis. That is the calculation that we are having to make. Our approach has been vindicated by the evidence, and the evidence is the response of the financial markets. The bond yields, which are important not just as an indicator but because they set the cost of capital for business and investment, are 3.5% for 10-year bonds, which is close to the rates in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, compared with 5.2% in Spain, 7.5% in Portugal, 9% in Ireland and 12% in Greece. That is a fair comparison with what they were a year ago when the Labour party was in power. Since then, the differential has widened by 1.5% in respect of Spain, 3.5% for Portugal and 5% for Greece and Ireland. In real terms, the cost of capital—long-term capital in this country—is now zero. The reason why that matters was summarised many years ago by John Maynard Keynes. Labour Members may revere his memory, as do some of us. During the crisis of the 1930s, Keynes wrote to Roosevelt:

“The turn of the tide in Great Britain is largely attributable to the reduction in the long-term rate of interest.”

That is the basis on which we have to take account of interest rates.