Balanced Budget Rule — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:17 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary 4:17 pm, 23rd January 2019

Thank you, Mr McCabe—it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. When I saw that so few colleagues from both sides of the House had attended this debate, I thought that my hon. Friend Lee Rowley had rather made his point without having had to get to his feet. Of course, he continued with his speech for an hour, in three parts—a structure that all the best screenwriters tell people to use. He made some important points, and I do not demur from many, if any, of them.

Like my hon. Friend, I came to this House with the conviction that this country must live within its means, that it is the responsibility of our generation to be more fiscally responsible than those who came before us, that it is a moral imperative to do so, and that we must not leave the country in a weaker state, saddled with debt for the next generation to cope with. That is the task that the Chancellor, like his predecessor before him, and all of us at the Treasury have to take forward.

As my hon. Friend eloquently said, that task will also preserve what we care about in this country’s democracy. This is not unique to the United Kingdom; it is a feature of almost all liberal democracies that, unchecked, the constant desire of politicians to promise more and more and to borrow more and more may turn out to be one of those democracies’ gravest weaknesses. We want to leave the next generation a strong country, not one that is saddled with debt. The latter course would leave our economy, as my hon. Friend said clearly, at an unacceptable level of risk were there another macro- economic shock, which inevitably there will be. The Office for Budget Responsibility sensibly predicts that there is a 50% chance of one within the next five years.

As my hon. Friend also said, that latter course would leave us in an unacceptable position in terms of our competitiveness, our ability to invest in public services and in the economic infrastructure that will drive the economy forward, and our ability to reduce taxes—all of which we want to do.