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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:52 pm on 19th March 2015.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 12:52 pm, 19th March 2015

We will come in a moment to my own and my party’s distinctive approach to spending and taxation, which offers a very sensible middle way between the two extremes on offer.

Let me deal with the shadow Chancellor’s carious critiques of Government policy, including whether we have made the numbers add up, inequality and living standards, and the balanced recovery. I will start with his accusation that we have failed to balance the books. The shadow Chancellor is a very clever man, but there is a great deal of intellectual confusion about what Labour is accusing us of. The Government started with the objective of trying to deal with the structural deficit—in jargon, the cyclically adjusted current deficit—within four to five years. We are now spanning that over seven years.

What is the problem? If the Government had pressed ahead dogmatically with the timetable, we would have been accused of being inflexible and causing undue economic harm, and there would have been righteous indignation from Labour. In the event, however, the Chancellor was flexible and responded to changing circumstances, not least the effect on the UK economy of rising world commodity prices and the slowdown in Europe.

The Chancellor is a learned man. He is familiar with Keynes’s “General Theory”—I am sure he had read it several times from cover to cover—and he understands that, in periods of economic slowdown, counter-cyclical stabilisers should be used, which is what we did, alongside the use of monetary policy, to stabilise the economy.

It is greatly to his credit that he did that, and that accounts for the fact that we are taking longer than was planned to deal with the deficit. None the less, having done that, the deficit is clearly now being reduced. We have got to the single point that debt as a share of the economy is starting to decline. There is a strong recovery—the strongest in the G7—and we have extraordinary employment figures, with the largest number of people in employment in history.

On the shadow Chancellor’s reference to the balanced recovery, I want to focus on one important development, namely what is happening with business investment, which is what drives sustainable recovery. Let me cite for the shadow Chancellor an interesting contrast. Between 2000 and 2007, 3% of the contribution to British growth came from business investment. That was a period when the British economy was being driven by consumption, household borrowing and a boom in house prices. There was very little business investment. Since the crisis—since this Government have been in office—30% of growth has been driven by business investment.

It is possible to break that figure down even further as to where that investment came from. In the period of Labour Government running up to the financial crisis, the contribution made to investment by property—overwhelmingly commercial property speculation—was 80%, and 4% of that investment was in the form of plant and equipment, which is why we had rapid de-industrialisation of the kind referred to by Kelvin Hopkins. Under this Government, the share of property investment has fallen to 30%, and 50% of all business investment is now plant and equipment—real factories making things and a revival of manufacturing industry.