Covid-19: Economy - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:27 pm on 4th June 2020.

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Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative 1:27 pm, 4th June 2020

I think that there is a general acceptance that the Chancellor and the Treasury have risen to the challenge posed by the pandemic. I want to make two points.

At the moment, we are borrowing awesome amounts but it is not a unique situation. In 1950, as a result of our efforts in the Second World War, debt was 250% of GDP. That did not prevent Harold Macmillan building 300,000 houses a year in the mid-1950s or, in 1959, winning an election on the slogan “You’ve never had it so good”. In effect, the debt was quarantined—to use an apposite word—and was not repaid for another 60 years. We should do the same today.

There will come a time when tax rises are needed and, when it comes, I hope that we will devise a tax system that is fairer than the one we have at the moment—for example, with the taxation of capital gains and dividends as opposed to wages and salaries—but that point has not yet been reached. Indeed, I think that at the moment there is a case for tax reductions. For example, a temporary reduction in VAT to boost consumption should certainly be considered. I also think that we should relax the social distancing rules, as my noble friend Lord Lamont has suggested.

My final point is that I am very concerned about the post-industrial towns of the north, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I was born in one of them—Preston in Lancashire. They are proud towns with a proud history but they need help. I am referring to the levelling-up agenda, bringing them more skills and more infrastructure. Therefore, when the Minister winds up this debate, I want him, once again, to give a commitment that the levelling-up agenda will remain at the forefront of, and central to, our economic plans.