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

I have tried to answer. We are meeting our fiscal rules, as the OBR states—in fact, we are meeting them three years early. That has given us room in the Budget to invest at record levels, with £20.5 billion a year for the NHS, for example—its largest injection—and reserve headroom in the event of fiscal shock. However, the hon. Gentleman is arguing for £500 billion of additional public spending. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham said, that makes no sense whatever.

In the little time I have left, let me answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire about how we can create better architecture to ensure that we and future Governments can be more fiscally responsible. We have done so in a number of ways. Our greatest step was the creation of the OBR, an institution that is now maturing and respected and will be retained on a cross-party basis in the future. It has enabled commentators and Members to have greater confidence in the figures—of course, there may be more that could be done in that respect. This year, we will institute the first zero-based spending review, which will look at all Government spending. We have taken account of the parallel with Chile, which has adopted that model in that past.

On longer-term spending, we have created the National Infrastructure Commission, which was designed to ensure that the Government think about the long-term challenges and invest appropriately within a defined spending envelope, guiding investments in our infrastructure according to a clear economic strategy. We have also taken action to ensure that our public accounts are among the world’s most transparent—they have been certified as such by the International Monetary Fund, for example. Most recently, the Chancellor announced the retirement of private finance initiatives, so that we continue to ensure that when our accounts are scrutinised, they are as clear and transparent as possible and we are always seeking to derive the greatest value for money for the taxpayer.

We have also sought to distinguish clearly between day-to-day consumption—important though such investment is for the future of the economy, whether it is in the police, in education or in the health service—and the long-term economic infrastructure investments that will really drive the economy forward. Over this Parliament, we will make the greatest investment in such economic infrastructure—our roads, our railways, our digital infrastructure—by any Government since the 1970s.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire for his remarks. This is an extremely important and timely debate. He made his case in his usual eloquent way, as one of the great champions in this House of smaller Government, lower taxes and fiscal responsibility. If only there were more colleagues who followed his example.