Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 26th March 2012.

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Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Labour, Edinburgh South West 5:57 pm, 26th March 2012

Inevitably, there is some forestalling and there will be an awful lot more of it this year when people realise that they will pay a lesser tax rate next year. The hon. Lady makes a point, but perhaps not the one she intended.

The real problem we face as a country is the lack of future growth. I am concerned about that, because our borrowing levels are still high. The Chancellor is still having to borrow £150 billion more than he set out to borrow in his first Budget, in 2010, and his room for manoeuvre is very slight. He has given away about £2 billion this year. He says that he is going to get that back in two years’ time, but £1.5 billion of it is coming out of the reserve. That is not normally what we would expect a Chancellor to be doing if he is saying that he is conducting his finances in a prudent manner.

Of course, a lot of what the Chancellor is saying is dependent on cuts still to be specified—he used to criticise us when we did not specify these things. An awful lot more cuts are yet to be implemented and yet to be specified. When the Budget figures show that borrowing will be only £1 billion less than the Government thought, it is easy to see that we are right on the margins at the moment and that, unless we get growth going, the chances are that that borrowing will increase, not decrease. The need to get growth going is paramount.

We are already on plan B, in that what the Chancellor announced in his autumn statement last year was rather different from the course he set out on 12 months earlier. We are also relying heavily now on monetary policy—on quantitative easing and the Bank of England continuing low interest rates—to try to bring about a recovery. I welcome some of the things that the Government have done, but it is sobering to read the OBR analysis that the Budget will have a limited effect on growth. The best it can say is that the cutting of corporation tax will get us 0.1% of growth, which shows how much more the Government have to do.

I do welcome some of the measures the Government announced. Of course we are in favour of the patent box, which we introduced. It is very impressive that GlaxoSmithKline was, within hours, suddenly able to decide that it would open new factories and new production. It is just a pity that some of the new investment will take three or four years, if not longer, to be put in place. I also certainly welcome what was done for the creative industries. The deputy leader of the Labour party, who spoke for us earlier, made the point that I introduced a number of these proposals in 2010. They were rubbished by the coalition in 2011, but they are back again in 2012, and I wholeheartedly support them. I am also glad that the Green investment bank is coming to Edinburgh, and I hope that it will be up and running fairly quickly.

Turning to the other end of the country, the Government’s recognition that they have to look again at airport capacity in the south-east of England is welcome. It is a difficult issue, it is 10 years since we looked at it and we need to get a move on with it. However, a lot of the measures that have been announced are small or will not be implemented for a long time. Public investment is set to drop. I hope that the private sector comes in on infrastructure and so on, but unless we do more we are simply not going to get the investment we need.

Lastly, I wish to discuss the cloud hanging over us all—Europe. At the moment, we have something of a lull, as it has gone out of the headlines, but the problems have not gone away. We should all be grateful for what the European Central Bank has done, as it almost certainly prevented at least one, if not two, banks in continental Europe from getting into trouble earlier this year. However, the deep-seated problems that Spain has, that Italy has and that Greece has have not gone away. I hope that we will use whatever influence we have to try to engage with the eurozone, so that, for once, they get ahead of the game, because until that happens, that situation will hold back our prospects of growth even more.