My Lords, I am pleased at the array of policies set out in the Budget Statement, and I am confident that when they are implemented, we will continue to build on a growing and confident economy.
Amid the gloom and investment worries over Brexit, we must be careful to look at the facts, not just what we and our colleagues here in London might think. The data from the past quarter shows that our economy remains attractive to overseas investors, with 0.6% growth comparing favourably with 0.2% in the eurozone and 0.4% in France. Brexit is the defining policy of our times, and we must do our best to find a deal that safeguards jobs and investments, but the relentless talking down of the economy by those who would like another vote is simplistic and damaging. Ultimately, the other place voted to defer that decision to the people, and we can only advise when the meaningful vote comes. In the meantime, we ought to focus our energies on the new areas of policy which will be under our sovereign control when the deal is passed.
I was pleased to see the Chancellor pivot back to a more recognisably domestic agenda in his Statement, and there are plenty of policies to praise. One area on which I think that much more could be done is housebuilding. At the end of last month, the Member for West Dorset published a very good piece of work on build-out rates, to which the Chancellor alluded in his speech. Having read it, I think that it gives the Government adequate cover to pursue a significant new package of cross-party reforms designed to free this sclerotic and often monopolistic market.
I was pleased that Help to Buy is soon to come to an end. I spoke recently on how the surplus went mainly to housebuilders and landowners. There was evidence of an inflationary effect for first-time buyers. On the subject of landowners, it was Churchill who said it far better than I could:
“Roads are made, streets are made, railway services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains—and all the while the landlord sits still”.
I was disappointed not to see some more radical measures on hope values in the Budget. The new Housing Minister has shown himself to be an advocate of some groups that are put upon—namely, leaseholders and the opponents of brutalism—but not enough tenacity on tackling some serious blockages. Landowners can demand an inflated and unjustifiable price for their land, even when they do not enhance the value at all. The aforementioned report made clear that action needs to be taken to redistribute the proceeds of building so that those who put in the labour and investment get a fairer share.
I welcome the Chancellor’s plan to make funds available for regeneration of high streets. It would be un-Conservative to try to keep shops open when there is not enough demand to sustain them, which appears to be Labour policy. Turning these spaces into homes will ensure that our high streets remain thriving and happy places, rather than boarded and windy ghost towns. I am happy to endorse the Budget and look forward to seeing its rapid implementation.