My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, for his kind words. I also join him in saying to the new Secretary of State: it was a good start. However, perhaps I may lay two issues at his door.
First, the accent in the Pre-Budget Report was on stimulation of the consumer. However, regardless of a VAT reduction, people will not go shopping for big-ticket items when they are out of work. I hope that the Secretary of State's department will maintain a sustained emphasis on keeping people in work and on training immediately those who have to be trained in alternative employment because of inevitable redundancies
Secondly, at the start of today's debate the Secretary of State said that, when we come out of recession,
"there would have to be a rebalancing of the public finances".
The nation is in peril of experiencing long-term detriment to necessary private sector growth, because a shrunken private sector will be working valiantly to pay the extravagant and unfunded public sector pensions to which the Government committed only a few years ago, including continued commitment to a retirement age of 60 for current public sector employees. That is entirely inconsistent with the private sector having to work longer these days for no better pay and certainly less job security. It means that people will have to work longer, in part to pay for those public sector pensions in the long term. I cannot think of anything more economically or socially divisive than employees in our eventually recovering economy having to face that division.
Lastly, I say to the three parties in this House and in the other place that there is a need in the year ahead—one of the most perilous years economically for this nation since the Second World War—for all politicians to strike a better balance. Sadly, at the moment, that is more noticeable by its absence. The taxpayer is a shareholder who wants strong, profitable, dividend-distributing banks. The taxpayer is a borrower who wants interest rate cuts passed on as extra distributable income for the private individual and as cheaper money to help with the rising cost of business. The taxpayer is also a saver who wants greater reward for previous—dare I use the word—prudence. Is that difficult? You bet it is. But balancing different interests and taking very difficult decisions is what people elect Governments to do. When those different interests come together all in one person—the taxpayer—there must be a displayed use of balance. That has been conspicuous by its absence across the political divide. I hope the country gets better in the year ahead.