Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill — Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 25th February 2013.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 3:45 pm, 25th February 2013

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. I disagree with the idea that leaving money, as Gladstone would have put it, to fructify in the pockets of the people is withdrawing money from the economy, and that somehow the state would spend that money more effectively.

As to her particular question about whether I accept that all this difficulty was caused by the banking crisis, no, I do not. I think that the banking crisis was caused by the monetary policy being pursued by the previous Government by targeting inflation. The noble Baroness seems surprised by this, but the fundamental causes of the financial crisis were the huge financial surpluses that were being built up-I hesitate to stray too far from the amendment-in China and the Middle East, which kept interest rates low, and an inflation-targeting policy being pursued by the Bank of England that meant that they were very low interest rates. As a result, the banks tried to go for yield. The banks were certainly at fault in devising packages that they thought would reduce risk and give a higher return, and it is certainly true that regulators such as the FSA should have been on to this.

However, the fundamental point is that while Labour were in charge they did nothing about that; indeed, they revelled in it. We were told that they had abolished boom and bust, and that they had come up with a new paradigm. That is why that Labour Government, even at the height of the boom, with huge revenues coming in and house prices and asset prices going through the roof, did nothing except collect the tax. Instead of putting the tax away for a rainy day, what did they do? They spent it on welfare that they could not afford, and when the boom collapsed there was a sudden gap in the market that my right honourable friend is now having to deal with. So let us not rewrite history here; let the Labour Party take responsibility for what it did in government.

The fact is that under both Governments we have been living beyond our means. We have been spending about 10% more than we earn, and we have been saving nothing. We need to save 10%. The consequence of that is that our living standards will fall unless we are able to create growth, and you do not create growth with the state taking more and more from the productive part of the private sector. According to the OECD, close to 50% of our GDP is being spent by the Government. We used to define communist countries as those where more than 50% of the state's production was spent by the Government.

I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that this is not an easy amendment to oppose-of course it is not-but she is absolutely right to do so because it is in the long-term interests of the most vulnerable people in our country that we stick to this policy and do not go further down the road that has brought us to this mess. If we travel down that road, it will mean that the hardship endured by the most vulnerable will be all the greater.