Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:58 pm on 19th April 2017.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 3:58 pm, 19th April 2017

In the seven years that I have been a Treasury Minister, I have not noticed the convergence programme having an influence on the decisions that we have taken. We have taken decisions to reduce the deficit because we believe that that is in the long-term interests of the United Kingdom, rather than because of any requirements under the EU treaties.

Let me provide a brief overview of the information that we will set out in the UK’s convergence programme. Members should note that this does not represent new information; rather, it captures the Government’s assessment of the UK’s medium-term economic and budgetary position, as we set out in the spring Budget. It is fair to say that in March 2017, we were in a better position economically than many had predicted. Growth in the second half of 2016 was stronger than the OBR had anticipated in the autumn statement. In fact, the UK economy grew faster last year than most other advanced major economies, and employment remains at a record high. So, following a period of robust economic growth, record employment and a falling deficit, we sought to safeguard that economic stability in the Budget. That is particularly important as we prepare our country to leave the European Union.

The OBR forecasts that business investment will remain subdued as we begin the period of negotiation with our EU friends and partners, and it continues to judge that, in the medium term, growth will slow due to weaker growth in consumer demand as a consequence of a rise in inflation. Accordingly, putting the public finances in good order will remain vital for the foreseeable future, and all the more so given that the deficit remains too high and that there is a range of potential risks in the global economy. That is why we are getting ourselves into a position of readiness to handle difficulties of any kind that might come our way. Our fiscal rules, which enable us to do that, strike the right balance between reducing the deficit, maintaining flexibility and investing for the long term.

Overall public sector net borrowing as a percentage of GDP is predicted to fall from 3.8% last year to 2.6% this year. This means that we are forecast to meet our 3% stability and growth pact target this year for the first time in almost a decade. Borrowing is forecast to be 2.9% in 2017-18 and then to fall to 1.9% in 2018-19 before reaching 0.7% in 2021-22, which will be its lowest level in two decades. The economic forecasts are broadly unchanged since the autumn, but the OBR has substantially revised down its short-term forecast for public sector net borrowing. As a consequence, we are within sight of bringing to a halt the increase in the national debt as a proportion of GDP. Debt is forecast to peak at 88.8% of GDP in 2017-18, and then to fall in subsequent years.