Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:13 pm on 25th March 2013.

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Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Conservative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport 8:13 pm, 25th March 2013

Before I go any further, I should like to declare that I retain an interest in a small communications company, which I set up before I was elected to this place, that gives advice to developers on how to manage planning procedures and the planning system. For the last 20 years, I have been following the whole issue of development and planning.

I very much welcome the Chancellor’s proposals to introduce “help to buy”, which I hope will stimulate our economy as well. To my mind, however, the planning process is not the issue that has created many of the problems for development. We need to unlock credit availability and make mortgages much more available, especially for those first-time buyers who cannot raid the bank of mum and dad.

I am not going to pretend that I am an economist or that I necessarily understand banking regulation or the complexities that go with it, but I think that we cannot ignore the reasons why we are in this mess. To my mind, it was Bill Clinton and the American Administration who, wanting to encourage the less well off, especially among the Afro-Caribbean community in the United States, to buy their own homes, consequently created a sub-prime market in the 1990s. By weakening financial regulation, the US and British Governments created a new class of specialised mortgage lenders that subcontracted their liability. By failing to put up interest rates, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England allowed the housing market to overheat. That is the reason why we created this major crash.

In 2001, when the Labour Government created a budget deficit, they continued to make our problems much more disastrous than they needed to be, and they failed to control public expenditure, adding to our financial woes. In addition, the Bank of England failed to manage our inflation target and our monetary framework. Not only the Treasury, but the Office for Budgetary Responsibility have some way to go because they have failed to get their forecasts right in the process.

As my hon. Friends know, the Bank of England is responsible for managing the inflation target, but it is the Treasury that actually sets that target in the first place. For the last two years, I have been banging on and asking how those criteria have been set, but I have failed to get a reply. Plainly, something has gone very wrong indeed. The Bank of England is consistently failing to hit its inflation target. In producing a Budget, monetary policy cannot be divorced from the economics.

In the years before the credit crunch, monetary conditions were too loose. There was an asset price bubble, house prices rose very sharply and if the banking crises had not erupted, general inflation would have been an even more serious problem. The Bank of England accommodated a serious asset price bubble with a huge and unsustainable level of domestic household debt. People have rightly criticised bank and financial market regulation, but much less attention has been given to defective central banking and overly loose monetary conditions that made possible the household borrowing and financial leverage.

I believe that the time has now come when the role of the central banks should be scrutinised properly. We must learn the lessons, the limitations and the defects of the inflation target regime. There has been a serious lack of transparency in the way the Bank of England conducts monetary policy. The details of its forecasting model, the assumptions it uses and the forecasts it generates have not been publicly available. Its public documents have been disappointing in respect of their clarity and presentation, and I am afraid that the inflation report has failed. I am firmly of the view that we need a proper review of the inflation target, how it is set out and how the central bank conducts its business.