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Budget Statement - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 7:30 pm, 18th March 2020

That is excellent news. I do not want anyone to think that I am not in favour of it. We as a country have an enormous opportunity to lead the green energy revolution.

I was grateful for the calm comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and some profound questions about the value of growth itself. The problem is that growth is really the only way to improve the quality of lives of most of our population; the only other way is probably productivity. There is no doubt that this will give us the opportunity to reflect on such things as international supply chains, which have perhaps got too wide and impersonal over the last 30 years. These are the sort of moments when we should reflect on that. He asked specifically about the RPI link on the fuel escalator. The Government are nervous about putting up fuel prices because it is a very regressive tax and hits the less well-off hardest. There is a sensitivity to that; I am sure that it will be kept under review.

The noble Lord, Lord Maude, urged us that the money that we spend should be spent well. My title is Minister for Efficiency so I guess it will land on my lap if we do not spend it well. As other noble Lords have said, the key thing is to get the money out as quickly as possible. He asked about insurance. I think I have something on that which can give clarification. The Chancellor made clear in his Statement that for those businesses that have an appropriate policy that covers pandemics, the Government’s action is sufficient to allow businesses to make a claim against their insurance policy.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked about the strength of the balance sheets for the insurance sector. It is worth remembering that they came through the 2008-10 crash very well, other than AIG, which was not really an insurance company. I would be cautiously optimistic at this stage. She seems to know about the financial sector; it has two layers above it: reinsurance and retrocession insurance above that. At this stage I would be reasonably confident but, again, this is a fast-moving picture.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, if I heard him correctly, asked a question about the difference between the £451 billion and the £600 billion. The difference is depreciation; the net investment is the £451 billion. If he needs more information, he can by all means let me know. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about a commitment for the charitable sector. I entirely agree that charities are often the hidden battalions helping some of the most vulnerable people. If he feels that they are not being given the focus that they should be, again, I hope he will let me know.

The noble Lord, Lord Livermore, asked about the distributional impact of the Budget. He claimed that the poorest came off worst but, in the spending round of 2019, we announced the fastest planned increase in day-to-day departmental spending for 15 years. Of course, it is those at the bottom of our society who benefit the most from our public services.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked about the national infrastructure strategy. Yes, I am afraid it will be delayed. I do not know whether I am allowed to say this—it will definitely not happen now, anyway—but we were going to try to slot it in the middle, between last week’s Budget and the spending review, probably in July.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that, in the Budget, we put some more beef under the IPA—the Infrastructure and Projects Authority—which is the key organisation in ensuring that, we hope, a lot of the spending on infrastructure is done in a controlled and effective way. I think I am running out of time.