My Lords, I refer the House to the Autumn Statement made by my right honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons, copies of which have been made available in the Printed Paper Office, and the text of which will be printed in full in the Official Report.
The following Statement was made earlier in the House of Commons.
“Britain’s economic plan is working, but the job is not done. We need to secure the economy for the long term, and the biggest risk to that comes from those who would abandon the plan. We seek a responsible recovery, one in which we do not squander the gains we have made, but go on taking the difficult decisions, and one in which we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, but this time spot the debt bubbles before they threaten financial stability. We seek a responsible recovery, in which we do not pretend we can make this nation better off by writing cheques to ourselves, and instead make the hard choices. We need a Government who live within their means, in a country that pays its way in the world.
Three and a half years ago, I set out our long-term economic plan in the emergency Budget. That plan restored stability in a fiscal crisis, but it was also designed to address the deep-seated problems of unsustainable spending, uncompetitive taxes and unreformed public services for which there are no quick fixes. Over the last three years we have stuck to our guns and worked through the plan. We have done so in the face of a sovereign debt crisis abroad, and at home in the face of opposition from those who got Britain into this mess in the first place and have resisted every cut, every reform and every effort to get us out of that mess. We have held our nerve while those who predicted there would be no growth until we turned the spending taps back on have been proved comprehensively wrong.
Thanks to the sacrifice and endeavour of the British people, I can today report the hard evidence that shows our economic plan is working, but I also report the hard truth that the job is not yet done. Yes, the deficit is down, but it is still far too high, and today we take more difficult decisions. Yes, the forecasts show that growth is up, but the same forecasts show growth in productivity is still too low, and today we set out further economic reforms. Yes, jobs are up and unemployment is down, but too many of our young people lack the skills to fill those jobs and the opportunities to acquire them, so now we take bold steps to remove that cap on aspiration. Yes, businesses are expanding, but business taxes are still too high and exports are too low and we must address that. And yes, real household disposable income is rising, but the effects of the financial crash on family budgets and the cost of living are still being felt. So where we can afford to help hard-working families, we will continue to do so. The hard work of the British people is paying off, and we will not squander their efforts. We will secure the economy for the long term, and this Statement sets out how.
Let me turn to the report from the Office for Budget Responsibility. Again, I thank Robert Chote and his team for their rigorous and independent work. The OBR report notes that the Office for National Statistics has reassessed the depth of the great recession. The fall in GDP from peak to trough between 2008 and 2009 was not 6.3% as previously thought, but was instead an even more staggering 7.2%; £112 billion was wiped off our economy—about £3,000 for every household in this country—in one of the sharpest falls in the national income of any economy in the world. That is a reminder of the economic calamity that befell Britain and of the simple fact that our country remains poorer as a result of it. A lot of work still remains to be done to put that right. The data revisions also showed something else: there was no double-dip recession.
Let me turn to the future. At the time of the Budget in March, the OBR forecast that growth this year would be 0.6%. Today, it more than doubles that forecast and the estimate for growth will be 1.4%. Next year, instead of growth of 1.8%, it is now forecasting 2.4%. Faster growth now means that it has revised the following four years to 2.2%, 2.6%, 2.7% and 2.7%, so growth over the forecast period is significantly up. It is still not as strong as we would like it to be, but this is the largest improvement to current year economic forecasts at any Budget or autumn Statement for 14 years. I can report that Britain is currently growing faster than any other major advanced economy: faster than France, which is contracting; faster than Germany; and faster even than America. That contrast itself points to the risks that remain for the UK from abroad, and the weakness of many of our main trading partners.
The first risk the OBR identified to our economic recovery is a recurrence of the damaging instability in the eurozone. Even with the relative calm of recent months, the OBR still forecasts that the euro area as a whole will shrink by 0.4% this year. Its growth forecasts for the US and emerging markets have also been revised down, and world trade has been weaker than it expected in March. While our exports are growing, they are not growing as fast as we would like. That is because we are too dependent on markets in Europe and North America. The Prime Minister’s visit to China this week is the latest step in the Government’s determined plan to increase British exports to the faster growing emerging markets, something our country should have done many years ago. Today, I am doubling to £50 billion the export finance capacity available to support British businesses, expanding the help available to firms in these emerging markets and ensuring that our excellent new Trade Minister, Lord Livingston, has all the firepower he needs.
Let me turn to the forecast for employment. Today in Britain, employment is at an all-time high and the OBR has revised up its forecast for the future. It was expecting jobs to stay flat over the year, but it now expects the total number of jobs to rise by 400,000 this year. This is being felt right across the country. Since 2010, the number of jobs in Carlisle and on the Wirral, and from Selby to south Tyneside, have all grown faster than in London. Meanwhile, the number of people claiming unemployment benefit has fallen by more than 200,000 in the past six months—the largest such fall for 16 years. Unemployment is also lower than in 2010, and is forecast to fall further from 7.6% this year to 7% in 2015, before falling even further to 5.6% by 2018. We have the lowest proportion of workless households for 17 years.
There were those who said it was a ‘fantasy’ to believe that businesses could create jobs more quickly than the public sector would have to lose them. What they should have said was that it would be fantastic if it happened. So I have good news for them. Businesses have already created three jobs for every one lost in the public sector, and the OBR report today forecasts that this will continue, with 3.1 million more jobs being created by businesses by 2019, which, in its words, ‘more than offsets’ the million or so reduction in the public sector headcount. Far from the mass unemployment predicted, we have a record number of people in work, hundreds of thousands fewer on welfare, and unemployment lower than when we came to office, and we will have 2 million more jobs than in 2010—an economic plan that is working and a Government who are seeking a job-rich recovery for all.
Let me turn now to the forecasts for government borrowing and debt. When this Government came into office, the deficit was 11% of GDP. That was the highest level in our peacetime history. One pound in every four was being borrowed, and a former Chancellor and a former Prime Minister have now joined the consensus that spending was too high. The borrowing posed a huge risk to the economic stability and credibility of the United Kingdom, and we have taken many difficult decisions to bring that deficit down—every one contested and opposed.
I can report today, however, that the effort is paying off. The OBR uses a measure of what it calls ‘underlying public sector net borrowing’, which excludes the impact of the Royal Mail pension scheme and asset purchase facility transfers. I can tell the House that this underlying measure of the deficit, like the other deficit measure, has been revised down substantially since March. From the 11% back in 2010, the underlying deficit now falls to 6.8% this year, instead of the 7.5% the OBR forecast back in March. It then falls to 5.6% next year, then 4.4%, 2.7% and, in 2017-18, 1.2%. By 2018-19, on this measure, the OBR does not expect a deficit at all. Instead, it expects Britain to run a small surplus. These numbers mean that the Government will meet their fiscal mandate to bring the structural current budget into balance and meet it one year early.
Let me turn to the forecasts for cash borrowing on this same underlying basis. At the autumn Statement last year, there were repeated predictions that borrowing would go up. Instead, borrowing is down—and down significantly more than was forecast. In their last year in office, the previous Government borrowed £158 billion. This year, we will borrow £111 billion, which is £9 billion less than was feared in March. That falls next year to £96 billion, then down to £79 billion in 2015-16, £51 billion the year after and £23 billion the year after that. So we are set to borrow £73 billion less over the period than was forecast in March. That means that we are borrowing the equivalent of £2,500 less for every household in this country.
In 2018-19, on this cash measure too, the OBR forecasts that the Government will not have to borrow anything at all. Instead, we will run a small cash surplus. Of course, this will only happen if we go on working through our long-term plan, delivering the reductions in the deficit we plan this year, next year and in the three years after. If we gave up on the plan now, we would be saddled with a deficit still among the highest in Europe, and the government side of the House is not prepared to take that risk.
While the deficit remains, it adds to our national debt every year. The OBR today expects debt this year to come in at 75.5% of GDP, which is £18 billion lower than was forecast in March. It rises to 78.3% next year, before peaking at 80% the next year—5% lower than forecast at the Budget. In 2016-17, it then falls, albeit slightly, to 79.9%; then falls again to 78.4% and then to 75.9%. By 2017-18, debt is over £80 billion lower than forecast in March. The supplementary debt target is for debt to be falling in 2015-16. At the Budget, the OBR forecast debt to be falling in 2017-18. It is now forecast to fall in 2016-17, which is one year earlier.
But let me enter this note of caution. The OBR is clear that this is a cyclical improvement. The forecast for the continuing fall in the structural deficit has not improved. The structural deficit is the borrowing that stays behind even when the economy improves. Thanks to our actions, it has fallen from the 8.7% we inherited to 4.4% today—more than in any other major advanced economy. It goes on falling, but no faster than was previously expected because, as we have always argued, the central task of reforming government and controlling spending does not simply dissolve when growth returns. It supports the case we have made all along that economic growth alone was never going to be enough to repair Britain’s broken public finances. An improving economy does not let us off the hook for taking the difficult decisions to make sure that the Government live within their means.
The single most important economic judgment I make today is this: we will not let up in dealing with our country’s debts; we will not spend the money from lower borrowing; we will not squander the hard-earned gains of the British people. The stability and low mortgage rates, the lower deficit and falling borrowing have been hard won by this country, but let us be clear that they could easily be lost. That is why we must work through our plan to secure the British economy for the long term.
So this autumn Statement is fiscally neutral across the period. Indeed, I can announce today that we will take three new steps to entrench Britain’s commitment to sound public finances. First, we will bring forward next year an updated charter for budget responsibility and ask Parliament to support it. I can say today that both parties of the coalition have agreed that we must ensure that debt continues to fall as a percentage of GDP, including using surpluses in good years, for this purpose. In other words, this time we will fix the roof when the sun is shining.
We will look to see whether the five-year time horizon of the fiscal mandate could be shorter and even more binding now that the public finances are closer to balance, and we will see how fiscal credibility could be further enhanced by a stronger parliamentary commitment to the path of consolidation already agreed for 2016-17 and 2017-18. The answers will be written into an updated charter for budget responsibility, which will be presented to Parliament a year from now and voted upon.
The second step we take today to entrench Britain’s commitment to sound public finances is this: we will cap overall welfare spending. Welfare budgets were completely out of control when we came to office and the number of households where no one had ever worked nearly doubled. We have taken very difficult decisions to bring benefit bills down; we have saved £19 billion a year for the taxpayer. We need to maintain that discipline. The percentage of spending in the UK subject to fixed spending controls is very low by international standards—at just 50%. So from next year, we will introduce a new cap on total welfare spending.
I have had representations that the basic state pension should be included within that cap, but that would mean cutting pensions for those who have worked hard all their lives because the costs on, say, housing benefit for young people had got out of control. That is not fair, so we will not include the state pension, which is better controlled over a longer period. We will also exclude from the cap the most cyclical of benefits for jobseekers. All other benefits—from tax credits to income support to the vast majority of housing benefit—will be included in the cap.
At the beginning of each Parliament, the Chancellor of the day will set the welfare cap for the coming years, and will ask the House of Commons for its support. If the cap is breached, the Chancellor will have to explain why, and hold a vote in the House. The principle is clear: the Government have a responsibility to taxpayers to control their spending on welfare, and Parliament has a responsibility to the country to hold the Government to account for it.
That brings me to our third step. Ultimately, the test of fiscal credibility is whether you are prepared actually to make the difficult decisions that will keep spending under control. Tight discipline means that most departments are now living well within their set budgets. This year they are expected to underspend by £7 billion, which is testimony to good financial management. We can therefore be confident in reducing the contingency reserve by £1 billion this year, and reducing departmental budgets by a similar amount in the next two years. That will save a further £3 billion in total. The protections for the NHS and schools will apply, and the security and intelligence agencies and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will be exempt. The Barnett formula means that over the next two years, the budgets for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will see a net increase. We will not apply those additional savings to local authorities, because we expect them to freeze council tax next year.
This year, Britain becomes the first G8 country to meet our promise to the poorest in the world to spend 0.7% of our national income on development, but we do not have to increase the budget of the Department for International Development further in order to do that. The effectiveness of the British Government’s aid effort in the Philippines, matched by the generosity of the British public, is a reminder of what marks us out as a nation, and we in this country can be very proud of it.
We are also immeasurably proud of the work of Britain’s Armed Forces. As they wind down their operations in Afghanistan, the budget that we spend there is also falling fast, so we can reduce the military special reserve by a further £900 million this year while still funding all operational costs. To reflect our society’s debt of gratitude to our service men and women and their families, I want to make a further £100 million of LIBOR fines available to our brilliant military charities, and to extend that support to those who care for the work of our police, fire and ambulance services. I think the whole House will agree that the terrible events in Glasgow this weekend, and the work that those services are doing right now to cope with the adverse weather conditions, remind us how much we owe to them.
Discipline with the public finances means more than just words. It means making difficult decisions, and being prepared to stick to them. It means using surpluses in good years to keep debt falling, so that we fix that roof when the sun is shining. It means capping welfare to keep it under control, and, when we do want to spend more money, it means finding extra ways in which to pay for it. One of the biggest single items of Government spending is the basic state pension. I am proud to be in a Government who have introduced a triple lock that ensures a fair and generous increase in the state pension every year for those who have worked hard all their lives. I can confirm that next April the state pension will rise by a further £2.95 a week. That increase, and the other increases that have been made under this Government, mean that pensioners will be more than £800 better off every year. I can announce that we are also going to offer current pensioners an opportunity to make voluntary national insurance contributions to boost their income in retirement, and that we will extend that opportunity to those who reach pension age before the introduction of the single-tier pension. That will help those who have not built up much entitlement to the additional state pension, especially women and the self-employed.
However, we must also guarantee that the basic state pension is affordable in the future, even as people live longer and our society grows older, and the only way in which to do that is to ensure that the pension age keeps pace with life expectancy. The Pensions Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, puts in place reviews of the pension age every five years. We have set the principle that will underpin those reviews. We think that a fair principle is that, as now, people should expect to spend up to a third of their adult lives in retirement. Based on the latest life expectancy figures, applying that principle would mean an increase in the state pension age to 68 in the mid-2030s and to 69 in the late 2040s. The exact dates will be set by the future statutory reviews and in line with the most up-to-date demographic data, of which the next update is published next week. This is one of those difficult decisions that Governments have to take if they are serious about controlling the public finances. Future taxpayers will be saved around £500 billion. Young people will know that our country can afford to give them a proper pension when they retire. That is this generation fulfilling its obligations for fiscal responsibility to the next generation, not saddling them with the debts and the decisions we were not prepared to deal with ourselves.
Having sound public finances also means making sure that we collect the taxes that are due. Most wealthy people pay their taxes and make a huge contribution to funding our public services; the latest figures show that 30% of all income tax is paid by just 1% of taxpayers. We have given incentives to enterprise and cut punitive tax rates, and this year the rich pay a greater share of the nation’s income taxes than was the case in any year under the last Labour Government. But alongside those paying the most tax are those who try to avoid paying their fair share of tax. So today we set out in detail the largest package of measures to tackle tax avoidance, tax evasion, fraud and error so far this Parliament. Together it will raise over £9 billion over the next five years.
We are going to tackle the growth of intermediaries disguising employment as false self-employment, depriving workforces of basic employment rights such as the minimum wage in a bid to avoid employer national insurance. We will halve the final period exemption for capital gains tax private residence relief. We will end the abuse of dual contracts, offshore oil and gas contracting, derivatives linked to profits and share buy-backs. And we will ensure the tax advantages of partnerships are not abused either. We are introducing a new, limited power that requires people to pay up front their taxes where the scheme they used has already been struck down by the courts. We are going to strengthen Whitehall’s capacity to prevent error and tackle fraud in the benefit and tax credit systems, and expand its efforts to recover money that is owed.
There is one personal tax change we make today which is not about avoidance, but is about fairness. Britain is an open country that welcomes investment from all over the world, including investment in our residential property. But it is not right that those who live in this country pay capital gains tax when they sell a home that is not their primary residence while those who do not live here do not—that is unfair. So from April 2015, we will introduce capital gains tax on future gains made by non-residents who sell residential property here in the UK.
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Having a Government who live within their means is essential to secure the economy for the long term, but it is not sufficient. Britain has to earn its way in the world. Our infrastructure needs to be overhauled. We have to help our businesses compete. Above all, our young people need the skills to succeed in the modern world. This autumn Statement takes the next big steps in all these areas.
Let me start with infrastructure. We are going to be spending more on capital as a proportion of national income on average over this decade than over the whole period of the last Government. That has involved making tough choices about priorities in spending and sticking to them. But that is not the most difficult decision in this area. We have to decide whether we are serious as a country about competing in the modern world and say to people that we need the new roads and the new railways, including the northern hub and High Speed 2. We have to say that we are prepared to push the boundaries of scientific endeavour, including in controversial areas, because Britain has always been a pioneer.
We should say that the country that was the first to extract oil and gas from deep under the sea should not turn its back on new sources of energy such as shale gas because it is all too difficult, and the country with the world’s first civil nuclear programme should not be a country that says we can do this no longer.
Yesterday, my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary and Lord Deighton published the update to the national infrastructure plan. That includes a co-operation agreement with Hitachi on the next nuclear power station in Anglesey and a deal with the insurance industry to invest at least £25 billion in UK infrastructure. We published the strike prices that support long-term investment in offshore wind and prioritise it over onshore wind. Today we go further, with a commitment to invest in quantum technology, and a new tax allowance to encourage investment in shale gas that halves tax rates on early profits. In the week in which Professor Peter Higgs travels to Stockholm to collect his Nobel prize for physics, we commit to build a new centre in his name at Edinburgh University, because science is a personal priority of mine.
Some of the most important infrastructure for British families is housing and we must confront this simple truth: if we want more people to own a home, we have to build more homes. The Office for Budget Responsibility is absolutely right today to draw attention to the weakness of housing supply in this country. The good news is that the latest survey data showed residential construction growing at its fastest rate for a decade. Our hard-won planning reforms are delivering a 35% increase in approvals for new homes, but we need to do more.
This week, we are announcing £1 billion of loans to unblock large housing developments on sites in Manchester and Leeds and across the country. We will increase the housing revenue account borrowing limit by £300 million. Aspiration is not only for people who can afford their own home. We want to regenerate some of our most run-down urban housing estates. Councils will sell off the most expensive social housing, so they can house many more families for the same money. We are going to give working people in social housing a priority right to move if they need to for a job.
Right-to-buy applications have doubled under this Government, and we will expand it more. The very same spirit of aspiration that underpins right to buy is what drives this Government with Help to Buy. It is not enough to build more houses if families who can afford mortgages do not have the large deposits that the banks have demanded. Help to Buy is now helping thousands to own their own home. I can today announce that Aldermore and Virgin, two challenger banks, expect to join the scheme this month.
Help to aspiring families and building more homes: that is what we stand for. We must also avoid the mistakes of the past decade. We want a responsible recovery. That is why I am the first Chancellor to give the Bank of England the responsibility and the power not only to monitor overall debt levels, but to take action to deal with asset bubbles if they threaten our stability.
We want a functioning, stable housing market. The OBR’s latest house price forecast today, while higher, still has real house prices 3.1% lower in 2018 than at their peak in 2007. Together with Governor Carney, I acted last week to focus the funding for lending scheme away from mortgages on to small business lending, where its support is still needed. It is precisely because the authorities can act in this targeted and pre-emptive way, and because our public finances are under control, that the Bank can keep overall interest rates lower for longer and support the rest of the economy.
Investing in the physical infrastructure of our country is critical to our future. But in this global economy, it is better education and skills that hold the key to long-term national success. This week’s programme for international student assessment—PISA—scores show how much ground this country has to make up. My right honourable friend the Education Secretary is doing more to transform school standards and raise the aspirations of pupils from the poorest families than anyone who has done that job before him. His expansion of free schools and academies has the full backing of this Chancellor.
We also know that children do better at school when they have a proper meal inside them. This autumn Statement has found the financial resources to fund the expansion of free school meals to all schoolchildren in reception, year 1 and year 2, announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and supported by me.
But today we also focus on what happens when our young people leave school—and we do more to help them. First, we will not abandon those who leave school with few or no qualifications. At present, Jobcentre Plus does almost nothing to help 16 and 17 year-olds who are not in work or education. We will change that and will now fund the jobcentres to support these very young adults to find an apprenticeship or a traineeship.
Without basic maths or English, there is a limited chance any young person will be able to stay off welfare, so we are taking a new approach. Starting in some areas at first, anyone aged 18 to 21 signing on without those basic skills will be required to undertake training from day one or lose their benefits. If they are still unemployed after six months, they will have to start a traineeship, take work experience or do a community work placement—and if they do not turn up, they will lose their benefits.
A culture of worklessness becomes entrenched when young people can leave school and go straight on to the dole with nothing expected in return. That option is coming to an end in our welfare system.
The second reform is to apprenticeships. We have doubled the number of apprenticeships and now we will transform the way they are provided by funding employers directly through HMRC. I can tell the House there will now be an additional 20,000 higher apprenticeships over the next two years. I can also announce a big expansion of start-up loans, through which a new generation of entrepreneurs is being created: 50,000 more people will be helped to fulfil their aspiration to start their own business. We are extending the new enterprise allowance, too.
This year is also the 50th anniversary of the Robbins report, which challenged the nonsense that university was suitable only for a small few. In 1963, Robbins said:
‘Courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so’.
That was true then, and I believe it should remain true today. Our reforms to student loans, difficult as they were, have put our universities on a secure footing. Some predicted that applications from students from poor backgrounds would fall. Instead, I can report that this year we have had the highest ever proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university.
But there is still a cap on aspiration. Each year, about 60,000 young people who have worked hard at school, got the results, want to go on learning and want to take out a loan to pay for it are prevented from doing so because of an arbitrary cap. That makes no sense when we have a lower proportion of people going to university than even the United States, let alone countries such as South Korea. Access to higher education is a basic tenet of economic success in the global race, so today I can announce that next year we will provide 30,000 more student places, and the year after we will abolish the cap on student numbers altogether.
Extra funding will be provided to science, technology, and engineering courses. The new loans will be financed by selling the old student loan book, allowing thousands more to achieve their potential.
Education underpins opportunity. It is business that provides those opportunities and the best way to help business is by lowering the burden of tax. KPMG’s report last week confirmed for the second year running that Britain has the most competitive business tax system in the world. Some in this House suggest that our response to this good news should be to increase corporation tax from 20%. Today, we publish the first of our studies into the dynamic effects of tax changes that shows that our corporation tax cuts increase investment and raise productivity—so much so that more than half the cost of the tax cut to the Treasury will be recovered because of higher growth. Putting up corporation tax hits investment, cuts productivity, costs jobs and raises much less. We thank the honourable Members for their submission, but we think it would be economic madness to pursue it.
Quite the reverse, today we take further steps to make our business taxes yet more competitive. The Budget announcement that we would abolish stamp duty on AIM shares was applauded around the world. Today, we also abolish stamp duty for shares purchased in exchange traded funds to encourage those funds to locate in the UK. We are making our successful film tax relief even more generous, and looking to extend the principle, including to regional theatre. We set out major reforms to encourage employee ownership of the kind that makes John Lewis such a success. And from April, we will be one of the first countries in the world to introduce a new tax relief for investment in social enterprises and new social impact bonds. I want to thank Sir Ronnie Cohen and my honourable friend the Charities Minister for all their help in putting this innovative scheme together.
Business rates impose a heavy burden on businesses of all sizes. Today, we will help ease that burden—and here is how. The last Government wanted to halve small business rates relief—a relief that helps cut rates bills for half a million companies and means a third of a million of the smallest businesses pay no rates at all. If we had followed that plan, small businesses would have faced a rate increase of up to £3,375. So we have rejected that plan. Instead, we have extended that rate relief scheme year after year. It was due to expire next April. We will now extend it for another whole year. We have also listened to the small business groups and will relax the rules that discourage these firms from expanding and opening extra premises.
But that does not go far enough. All businesses are expecting rates to rise by 3.2% next year. Instead, I will cap the inflation increase in business rates for all premises at 2% from next April. We will also allow businesses to pay their rates in 12 monthly instalments. We will clear almost all the backlog of valuation appeals by July 2015, with reform of business rates on the agenda for 2017 revaluation.
There is one group of businesses that has found the recession especially hard, as it has coincided with a rising challenge from the internet that is only getting stronger. These are our local retailers—the shops, the pubs and the cafés that make up our high streets across Britain. With Small Business Saturday this weekend, I want the Government to do all we can to help them. We are already changing the planning rules to help town centres compete. To get the vacant shops that blight too many town centres to open again, I am introducing a new reoccupation relief that will halve the rates for new occupants.
But we can do more, and I want to thank my honourable friends the Members for Wolverhampton South West, Nuneaton, Hastings and Rye and many others for their campaign. Like them, I also want to help those who have struggled hard on our high streets—often working long hours for not enough in return. So I can announce today that for the next two years every retail premise in England with a rateable value of up to £50,000 will get a discount on their business rates. This discount will be worth £1,000 off their bills.
This is what we offer: business rates capped; for the smallest firms, no rates at all; and help for the high street, with £1,000 off for small shops, pubs, cafés and restaurants across our country. The people in these businesses epitomise the hard-working values this Government support, and we are backing British businesses all the way.
And we are backing British families. Next April, the personal allowance will reach £10,000. This Government are delivering an income tax cut worth up to £700 a year to over 25 million hard-working people. Under the last Government, council tax doubled. We are now helping councils freeze it for the whole of this Parliament. Tax-free childcare is being introduced and free school meals are on their way. But there is more we are doing to help.
This autumn Statement confirms that from April 2015 we will introduce a new transferable tax allowance for married couples. Available to all basic rate taxpayers, it enables people to transfer £1,000 of their personal allowance to their wife, husband or civil partner. It is just a start. And I confirm today that we will introduce a new uprating mechanism that ensures the new married couples tax allowance is automatically increased in proportion to the personal allowance. Four million families will benefit, many of them among the poorest working families in our country. This measure, along with the others we take today, ensures that across this Parliament our policies are progressive, showing that we are all in this together, with the very rich paying the most.
We are also helping families with their energy bills, not with a transparent con by pretending that we can control the world oil price, but instead by focusing on the thing that Government can and should control—the levies and charges that previous Energy Secretaries piled on bills. This week we deliver on the promise made by the Prime Minister to roll back those levies. The result: an average of £50 off family bills. We are doing this in a way that supports the lowest income families, reduces carbon, supports investment in our energy infrastructure and, as the document shows, does not add a penny to the tax bills that families pay. My political philosophy is clear: instead of penalising people with more taxes and more regulation, give them incentives by reducing their taxes and their bills. As I have often said, going green does not have to cost the earth.
That brings me on to fuel duty. We inherited from the previous Government the hated fuel duty escalator that would have inflicted hardship on families and small firms alike. Instead of those rises, we abolished the escalator, and we have cut and then frozen fuel duty. I have had further representations from many honourable friends, from the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, to the Member for Argyll and Bute, and of course the Member for Harlow, who is a champion of the people he represents.
I said earlier this autumn that if we could find the money, I would like to go on freezing duty. Today I can report that because we have taken difficult decisions to control the public finances, I can deliver on that promise. Next year’s fuel duty rise will be cancelled. Instead of petrol taxes going up by 2p a litre, they will stay frozen. That means that, compared with the previous Government’s plans, petrol will be 20p a litre less. That is £11 less every time you fill up—a saving for drivers over this Parliament of £680, and double that for a small business with a van.
Cancelling fuel duty rises has been a major priority of the Government—a £22 billion demonstration that we are on the side of hard-working people in this country. A married couples allowance; £50 off energy bills. We are helping those who drive a car and we are helping those who get the train, too. Fares next January were going to go up by 1% above inflation. We are going to keep average fares flat in real terms.
We on the government Benches know that there is one thing more than any other that has supported families through these difficult times, and that is being in work. At the heart of our economic plan is support for the creation of more jobs. That is why we opposed the last Government’s plan to increase the jobs tax. That is why we reversed the most damaging part of that increase in the very first Budget after we came to office. That is also why in the last Budget I introduced the employment allowance, which eliminates the jobs tax for half a million small businesses. And that is why we will go further still. We are going to abolish the jobs tax on young people under the age of 21. Employer national insurance contributions will be removed altogether on a million and a half jobs for young people. We are not going to leave young people behind as the economy grows. We are going to have a responsible recovery for all.
The cost for a business of employing a young person on a salary of £12,000 will fall by over £500. For someone on £16,000, that is over £1,000 off. I want to commend my honourable friends for Braintree and Carlisle and the Million Jobs campaign for highlighting this issue. The change requires legislation. It will come into force in April 2015, and it will not apply beyond the upper earnings limit.
This country is working through its long-term plan: bringing down the deficit and dealing with the debt; spending less on welfare and making the big decisions on infrastructure; living within our means and cutting tax on business; making work pay and letting people keep more of what they earn; and with confidence in the next generation, as they make their way in education and in the workplace. This Statement shows that the plan is working. It is a long-term plan for a grown-up country. But the job is not done. By doing the right thing, we are heading in the right direction. Britain is moving again. Let us keep going.”
My Lords, it is a pleasure to address the issues raised in the Autumn Statement in our usual atmosphere of calmness and courtesy—a rather sharp contrast with the wall of noise that greeted my counterpart, the shadow Chancellor, in the other place. This is an occasion for asking questions so I am sure that I am not going to be able to generate such excitement on the government Benches, but I hope that the Minister will answer my questions.
The Chancellor did not mention the concept of productivity, made no acknowledgment of the weakness of our balance of payments position in recent years despite the significant devaluation of the currency that we have experienced, and showed no real appreciation of the fact that real wages are still falling, among those who are employed. It is therefore proper to ask the Minister whether he is assured that the much vaunted growth figures quoted in the Statement are not based upon a somewhat insubstantial platform. Do these figures also not reflect a bounce back from a very low base indeed? The House will appreciate that even if growth reaches the figures that the Chancellor quoted, with his customary optimism, after three years of this economy flatlining, growth by 2015 will be only half the growth that in 2010 the Chancellor indicated to the nation that he hoped to achieve by the time that this Parliament had concluded.
The Minister who will respond to this Statement speaks and acts significantly on the issues of infrastructure in the economy. Will he comment on the fact that infrastructure output has fallen by 15% since 2010, and that so much which is promised remains unfulfilled? In 2010 the Chancellor also said that he was setting out to balance the books by 2015. It is clear that in 2015 we shall still have a deficit of £80 billion. That reflects the amount of borrowing that he had to do in the lean, flatlining years when no growth occurred. Will the Government persist in seeking to deny that we are in the middle of an acute cost of living crisis?
The Government are of course so wedded to the free market that they are quite unable to recognise the challenge presented by the Opposition on energy prices. After all, their belief in the market means that they cannot even recognise a standard textbook analysis of the creation of cartels, which is what the six main energy companies represent, and how that leads to excess profits. It is noticeable that the Government’s gesture in attempting to moderate the level of energy prices during this winter does not cost the cartel anything at all. It is the taxpayer who is going to meet the deficit that will occur due to the companies charging quite so much, and prices will still rise, going up by £70 in this period. For an awful lot of people in the country, £70 is a very significant sum for fuel. After all, we pay £100 to pensioners in the winter fuel allowance because we recognise the acute need that pensioners have to keep their homes warm. However, we expect all the rest of the population, whatever their incomes, to withstand an increased charge of £70.
The Government shy away from any interference with the market. However, I am a fair man and therefore the House would expect me to acknowledge those occasions when the Government do interfere—for example, the gesture with regard to payday loans, but that is a straight reflection of the pressure that had been generated from my party and in this House on the issue, and of course the Government’s response has been woefully inadequate.
The crucial thing I want the Minister to address is the constant failure of wages to match prices, which is making working people poorer. It may be that the Minister is not that familiar with those people who find themselves poor at present. He is likely to meet an awful lot of people—his friends certainly have many associates among the banks—in the banking fraternity, at the highest levels, who are of course not feeling the pinch at all. Hedge funds, too, are not noticeably short of returns. That is to say nothing of the growth of high salaries right throughout British commerce and industry, while wage levels stay stagnant. It is only accidental that some of those groups have a profound interest in sustaining and supporting the Conservative Party both between elections and at election time. We are not seeking to be too controversial today so the Government need not comment on that particular point, but I want the Minister to respond on the issue of falling wages.
It is quite clear that the Government are committed to a position. The Chancellor waxed with some strength over the fact that there will be a cap on welfare and very severe constraints on public expenditure, and gave the briefest outline of what that would mean. We all know what it means: five more long and hard years. We also know who is going to bear the costs of those five long and hard years—those who have done it since the coalition came into office in 2010.
The other obvious question is: if the Government are so wedded to free markets, do they consider that the free market worked well in the banking crisis of 2007-08? That was not a failure of anything except the free market. I notice some excitement on the government Bench, because they have worked out that in 2007-08 Labour was in power. That is certainly so, but we were not in power when the Big Bang freed up the City to create the successive market mechanism, and whenever there were suggestions of anything to do with regulation we know on which side the Conservative Opposition were. Of course, they have shown themselves to be exactly the same in the energy debate.
Will the Minister confirm that the Chancellor envisages—if, by some mischance, this Government, or a Conservative version of them, were retained in office—aiming for the size of the state in public expenditure to go back to the levels of 1948? To contemplate that in a modern society merely demonstrates that ideology dictates this Government’s economic policies, not the welfare of the nation.
I will. My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his measured response and forensic questioning, which I shall do my very best to address in an entirely constructive fashion.
However, I want to set a bit of reality and context to the discussion about the economy. Clearly, there was lots of good news to report and we as a nation, across the parties, should welcome the recovery of the economy that we have seen in recent months. Growth is up: the OBR has just restated that the growth forecast for 2013 is up from 0.6% to 1.4%. For 2014 the forecast has been increased from 1.8% to 2.4%. The deficit is down. As a percentage of GDP in 2010 it was 11%; it will be 6.8% this year and will be at a small surplus in 2018-19.
The noble Lord makes much of the fact that some of the original projections in 2010 envisaged those targets being reached earlier. Of course, the two principal reasons that they were not were, first, that the depth of the crisis in 2008-10 proved to be much, much greater, with over 7% taken out of GDP, as we have just discovered. Secondly, the external circumstances surrounding the economy in the past three years, in particular the fact that the euro region was on the verge of having its currency broken up, put a damper on the economy. To find ourselves in this economic situation today, despite those prevailing winds, is a testimony to the strength of this Government’s economic strategy.
Surprise, surprise, there was no mention of employment, which sits at record levels, with the lowest proportion of workless households for the past 17 years and the creation of 1.4 million new private sector jobs. There were some interesting announcements in the Autumn Statement today, particularly around trying to help young people into those job opportunities: namely, the scrapping of national insurance contributions for under-21s and specific measures for Jobcentre Plus to deal with 16 and 17 year-olds, which are addressing something absolutely critical for the nation.
On inflation, let us talk a little about real wages. Of course, the reason that people are feeling the squeeze is the result of the significant collapse in the economy in 2008-10, from which we are trying to recover. That is the problem; that is why real wages fell sharply. Above-target inflation occurred through 2011-12 because of external influences, principally commodity prices and the oil price.
The good news is that inflation is now slowing down. It was at 2.2% in the previous quarter. The OBR says that we will hit our 2% target by 2016. So we see inflation coming down and earnings recovering.
But earnings do not tell the whole story. Total, real household disposable incomes have increased by 3.9% since the crisis, and that has been supported by government policy—for example, the increase in the personal allowance to £10,000, which will be coming through next year—as well as those strong employment levels.
Of course, the critical thing in this argument is that the only way to improve living standards is to grow the economy. There cannot be a cost-of-living strategy without an economic strategy. We have heard nothing from the Opposition about an economic strategy, which is not surprising because the one they were professing has been demonstrated to be a complete failure. The numbers I have just gone through show very clearly that you can have both a reduction in the deficit and a recovery in economic growth. It was the axiom of the opposition strategy that that just was not possible. The facts have demonstrated that it is.
I absolutely accept that there is still a lot to do. We are not at all complacent about the situation. It was a very deep recession. We are recovering from it effectively but still relatively slowly. Although on an international basis we are one of the strongest performing economies at the moment, there is still an enormous amount to do. Our deficit level is still far too high. Of course, the level of debt created by the accumulation of borrowing in order to finance the deficit leaves us in an exposed and unsustainable position unless we continue to bring it down. That is why the overall message in this Autumn Statement is the commitment to fiscal neutrality, even though the temptation to indulge in giveaways could, at the political level, be strong.
I admire the Chancellor’s discipline. Taking a grip of the long-term risks around pension costs is absolutely the right thing to do, to match pensions to longevity. Putting a constraint on the absolute size of the welfare bill—the part of our spending that was most out of control, among the many out-of-control elements of the previous regime—so that the Chancellor will have to come back to Parliament to be scrutinised if that significant part of our spending gets out of whack, is a very disciplined part of the equation. We will also continue to see a reduction in government spending at the margin—continuing to capture the underspends that we will see this year, which are a function of prudent financial management, but ensuring that year after year we continue with that efficiency drive to ensure that the state delivers its services in a reformed and efficient way.
The noble Lord said that the Chancellor mentioned neither productivity nor exports. With respect, that is not correct. He did refer to productivity and said that it is expected to increase in 2014-15 and 2015-16 as the economy recovers, which is in the OBR independent report, and that this will drive the cost-of-living recovery. He also talked about exports. If one looks at the balance of the recovery, it is consumer-led. Everybody accepts that. It is not surprising that it is consumer-led. Consumption is by far the biggest part of the economy. The OBR’s estimate is that business investment will recover strongly next year and the year after. Of course, everything that the Government are doing on the supply side of the economy is focused on supporting that.
The Chancellor absolutely said that exports were disappointing. The reason they are disappointing is that the markets into which we export, predominantly the European Union and the US, have been relatively weak through the period, which is why our efforts have been so focused on developing export markets in the faster-growing developing economies; hence the Prime Minister’s recent trip to China, for example. We are absolutely in tune with the requirement to improve the net trade balance.
I also draw noble Lords’ attention to the fact that at the heart of living standards recovery is the improvement in productivity that will come with the growth in the economy, but in the mean time this Government have been very attentive to supporting hard-working individuals, whether it is through the £50 improvement to energy bills, the freeze on fuel duty, the married couple’s allowance, free school meals for the up-to-seven year-olds and freezing rail fares in real terms. Those are just some of the examples of the measures.
There have been very targeted efforts to ease the burden on those who are feeling it most, including the most consistent and effective attack on tax avoidance that this country has ever seen, which is yielding considerable savings to the Exchequer that can be deployed against some of these targeted cost-of-living measures.
On the question of free markets, I am proud of the work that we did all together in this House to come up with the right answer on payday loans. I make no apologies for that. It was a really good example of the work that this House can do on a collaborative basis, and a specific example of the general work we are doing on banking reform.
It is hard to know where to start on the 2007-08 banking crisis. It was the regulatory regime that was the great revolutionary change of the previous Government; taking control away from the Bank of England, which meant that the regulatory system was quite unable to cope with what was happening. This of course led us, with the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, to completely change the regulatory framework.
My Lords, I very much welcome many aspects of the very imaginative Autumn Statement. Regretfully, I have to deplore once again the fact that many aspects of it were leaked in advance. I would have thought that the Treasury would have learnt the lesson from a previous Budget experience that this is not a good way of handling public relations—and is very discourteous indeed to Parliament. Parliament has the right to hear these matters first.
The good news, certainly, as my noble friend has just said, is that the economy is recovering faster than expected. Perhaps I might comment on why this has happened. There are, I think, two particular aspects. The first is that the deficit has not been cut as fast as we hoped and that consequently, the economy has picked up a little more, because of the effect on aggregate demand. None the less, I welcome the fact that the Chancellor has now set out a very firm timetable for getting down not only the underlying cyclical deficit but also the structural deficit. This is something to be welcomed. Up to now, we have rejoiced in the fact that we have cut the deficit by a third, but we are still continuing to borrow at two-thirds of the appalling rate that we inherited from the previous Government. It is very important that my noble friend agrees that that should be tackled.
The second reason, which gives more cause for concern, is the substantial reduction in saving—apparently the biggest fall in saving for 40 years. People have been using their savings, which has accelerated the growth of the economy, which may lead to concern. Given his particular responsibility for infrastructure, does my noble friend agree that it is absolutely crucial that we get savings up? The finance has to be provided for the infrastructure that the Government envisage.
In that context, I will ask one particular point. We seem to have got away from financing infrastructure in the usual way: that is, by allowing capital to be provided by whoever is launching the operation and then working it up in the usual way. Instead of that, we have been allowing monopolistic enterprises in particular to increase the prices on existing consumers. That has been the way in which we have been financing, for example, the railways and energy. Will he look particularly at whether this is the right way to proceed—because we are also then depending very largely on foreign investment rather than our own domestic savings and ownership?
I thank my noble friend for those incisive observations. He is absolutely right to say that the deficit was reduced in a measured fashion, which is part of the reason why the economy has been able to recover so quickly. He is also absolutely right that there is still a structural deficit, so we cannot simply allow for the natural recovery through the economic cycle to take care of our borrowing problem; we must continue to drive savings through the system. On the fall in consumer savings, again, my noble friend is absolutely right that it is a sign of a healthy economy to have a strong savings rate. On consumer behaviour, it is not surprising that, after a few years of belt-tightening, there has been a desire to begin spending again.
On the overall economy, as I mentioned, the recovery in business investment is the single most important change in the recovery of the economy over the next year. We anticipate that the recovery in consumer demand will give business the confidence it needs to increase its level of investment, which is what should sustain the recovery.
On infrastructure, my noble friend is correct. Essentially, there are two ways to finance it: directly from taxpayers or indirectly through the private sector and into the utilities, which then recover the investment through consumers paying. Of course, that is governed by independent regulators, who set the prices in those industries. It is absolutely part of our national infrastructure plan continually to assess the balance between the interests of the investing institutions and consumers’ affordability over the longer term.
My Lords, notwithstanding the verbal fisticuffs in another place, I am sure that no one in your Lordships’ House thinks that the Autumn
Statement does not contain a lot of good news. Perhaps I could ask the Minister one or two, or three or four questions.
I assume that the Minister will agree that our two parties going into coalition government in 2010 was essential to restore the economy to the point where we could have the Autumn Statement today, and that, without that coalition being formed, that would not have happened. Touching on the coalition, I am well aware, as are all noble Lords, that coalitions mean trade-offs. One of them is the married tax allowance. It is obviously above the Minister’s pay grade to say whether it is time to change it, but if the object is to save marriages, would it not have been better to spend the money on organisations that help them, rather than to introduce that to satisfy the Tory right-wing?
Has there been any progress on the tax fairness proposals that David Cameron announced at the G8, with negotiations on international co-operation? The Minister touched on tax avoidance. How much have tax evasion and aggressive avoidance been affected? How much is currently raised annually from the Government’s measures? Does he agree that, although the plan announced yesterday indicates that only 1% of our GDP will be spent on infrastructure—much less than our colleagues—there is an opportunity to increase that as the economy recovers?
Finally, on a cheekier point to which I think I know the answer, bearing in mind that, as the Minister rightly says, more jobs have been created here in this country than before, have he or his colleagues had an apology from the Labour Party for saying that this would not work?
On the effectiveness of the coalition partnership, I launched the national infrastructure plan yesterday with my right honourable friend Danny Alexander, and I can say that the harmony in the Treasury could not be stronger. My noble friend is correct to say that the marriage tax allowance question is way beyond my pay grade. On the G8, I can confirm that the initiatives outlined by the Prime Minister, where we have taken global leadership to address issues of tax information exchange and publicising beneficial ownership, continued to be followed through very effectively, with us setting an example.
On the national infrastructure plan, it is clear to me that infrastructure is a very important driver of growth, and the bigger proportion of public spending we can devote to it, the healthier the long-term outcome. The measure, therefore, that my honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put in place to keep the proportion of capital expenditure to national income at a constant level is absolutely to be welcomed as a protection in that respect.
My Lords, these are time-limited questions, so the briefer individual Lords can be in making their contributions, the more Members of your Lordships’ House will be able to participate.
My Lords, whenever a bishop speaks on economics I must emphasise that we preface it with St Paul’s statement: “I speak as a fool”.
I fundamentally support the Government’s strategy of getting the deficit down. My question is about the cap and how that is going to operate. Somewhere in the Statement it says that 30% of tax is now collected from 1% of taxpayers. That is a signal of how disparities of wealth have grown in our society. It really behoves us to protect the weakest. My worry is that I see a sort of American scenario of a cap being introduced and benefits not being paid because the cap is there. How will this work, when social security benefits can rise and fall with events which nobody can control? It worries me that introducing another cap of an absolute sort without reference to other realities could end up almost undergirding the underclass, which I am afraid is a developing feature of our society. Can the Minister say a bit more on how this cap is going to work?
The cap is essentially a fiscal discipline to ensure that a very large part of our budget, which in the past has had no controls around it—and no opportunity to explain what is going on—is properly scrutinised. In the circumstances where there is justification for changing the cap, that will be done under the scrutiny of Parliament. The Chancellor has not introduced what the level of the cap should be but merely an operational measure to make sure that it is properly controlled, just as other parts of the budget are, and indeed so that all the questions and issues around the appropriate level of support for vulnerable members of society can be tackled independently. Those measures should be effectively targeted and that is also part of our welfare-reform programme.
I thank the noble Lord for that question. I will have to write back to him. I am not sure what the long-term budgetary arrangement is. The usual thing is that it is not specifically in the book. It is expected to be absorbed when we come to do the specific budgets in those years. I am sure the expectation is that it will continue, and that the money will be found for it when we do the budget for that year.
My Lords, I particularly welcome the measures taken to reduce the tax on employing young people, which will be welcome all around the country. But will the Minister say a little more about the £25 billion that is supposed to be coming in for infrastructure from the insurance companies? I do not think this has been referred to at all in the exchange that has taken place so far on infrastructure. How far does he think it can help in speeding up the infrastructure work? That seems to me, as the years go by, to take longer and longer, partly because the projects are very big. What we really need is not just a large amount of infrastructure work propped with finance but that it takes effect quickly rather than slowly.
I absolutely agree that one of the principal challenges for our infrastructure ambitions is accelerating the delivery of the projects which we know are important but which take time to define, to get through planning, to be organised and generally to deliver. In a nutshell, what the Government are trying to do within the national infrastructure plan is to work away at the constraints on delivering this plan more effectively. Financing is one of those, which is why we welcome the announcement from those six insurance companies. It is an interesting example of joined-up government working, because the Treasury negotiated successfully with the European Union on the solvency question. That enabled the insurance companies to be comfortable in committing to this kind of asset, because the capital treatment in Brussels is now much more sensible.
My Lords, page 1 of the Statement makes reference to the introduction of universal credit. Part of the news that we had today was confirmation that that programme is in disarray and will not be delivered on time. Can the Minister say how much public expenditure has been wasted on that to date and what the estimates are of future write-offs of abortive expenditure? If the Minister is not able to give us the figures today, will he promise to write to us and let us have that information? The Minister referred also to tax avoidance. The introduction of capital gains tax on disposals of residential property by non-residents is to be welcomed, but, from a Government who do not hesitate to legislate retrospectively for benefit claimants, why will that not be introduced until April 2015, when it is clear that the wise will forestall that tax by upping valuations in the interim?
On universal credit, I can tell your Lordships from a personal point of view that the individual whom we have brought in to manage that programme, Howard Shiplee, worked on the Olympic Games and delivering the Olympic park, so we have got the right people focused on getting the delivery of universal credit absolutely right. Our current planning assumption is that universal credit will be available in each part of Great Britain during 2016, with new claims to the benefits that it replaces having been closed down and the majority of the remaining caseload moving to universal credit in 2017. I do not have the particular numbers on how much it has cost, but I will work with DWP and provide the noble Lord with a response to that question. On capital gains tax for non-residents, we are introducing it in the normal way. The efficacy with which we have approached closing down these loopholes puts the previous Government to shame.
The Statement recognises that we have a cyclical recovery and that in order to turn that into a sustainable, long-term recovery, we need investment—we have had a number of discussions on that—and an improvement in productivity. The Statement references a report, presumably prepared by the Treasury, showing that the policy pursued by this Government and their predecessor to reduce corporation tax has increased investment and raised productivity. In the light of this, is it not strange that the Government have so comprehensively rejected the recommendation of a report prepared by the Economic Affairs Committee of this House and enthusiastically endorsed by all sides in a recent debate that we take measures to ensure that all companies pay corporation tax, particularly those international companies which currently do not, and that UK companies using complex and—frankly—dodgy procedures not to pay tax here should all be required to pay tax? As a result of that, the tax rate to both large and small companies could be substantially reduced, to the benefit of productivity, and the Treasury would be no worse off.
I thank the noble Lord for his analysis of our need for investment. We also talked about productivity. The review that the noble Lord referred to that the Treasury did on corporation tax is what we describe as dynamic modelling, which means understanding the long-term effects of the tax cuts and demonstrating that the increase in income that flows afterwards pays for the majority of them. The way that we are dealing with making sure that overseas companies pay their fair share is through the OECD and taking leadership internationally. I think that is the only way that you can do it. You have to be able to deal with these international companies on a global basis, otherwise it is impossible to close them down, so that is probably the right way to approach it. The general trend of getting people to pay less tax and making sure that everybody pays that tax is the right strategy, and one that is working well for this country.
My Lords, I was not here at the beginning so I merely repeat something that has been said by somebody else. I do not believe the Minister answered the question from my noble friend Lord McFall about the OBR. Perhaps I could repeat the question. I believe my noble friend asked why the OBR was predicting that the economic situation would get worse in the years ahead.
The short answer is that you would probably need to ask it. As a former economist I can take this lightly, but in the short term, where I would rely much more on their forecast, the recovery is strong. In the longer term, if you look at the way the OBR handles it, it shows a fan of growth forecasts which comprehends just about every single possibility in the longer term.