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Business Confidence

Volume 522: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2011

Returning the UK to sustainable economic growth is the Government’s overriding priority. The Government are doing everything they can to create the conditions that enable all businesses to be successful and create more jobs.

Business organisations have welcomed the Government’s plans to reduce the headline rate of corporation tax and simplify the tax system. Does the Secretary of State agree that cuts are vital for boosting enterprise?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments and reinforce the points made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a moment ago. The priority for economic growth in this country is to cut the deficit of £155,000 million that we inherited from Labour. Cuts in corporation tax, reducing the national insurance burden and keeping interest rates low are important parts of the package.

Given the over-reliance on the public sector in Scotland, does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government should be following the policies of the national Government by encouraging private sector investment and ensuring a balanced economy?

We certainly believe that the private sector has a central role to play in returning us to sustainable growth in this country, whether in Scotland or the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Parliament debates the Scottish Government’s budget this afternoon and no doubt some of these points will be made in that debate.

Is the Secretary of State worried that the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce a business surcharge will damage business confidence?

The Scottish Government have received serious representations on their proposals, and I am confident that those will be debated extensively this afternoon.

A double dip in the housing market in Scotland would be a disaster for the country. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Scottish banks about more flexible lending?

The hon. Gentleman will be more familiar than most with the situation that we inherited, in which bank lending—to businesses or to householders—was not in a good state. We are determined to increase the amount of lending and I have regular discussions with the banks on a range of issues. This issue is a central part of those discussions.

Does the Secretary of State accept that business confidence will have been extremely dented by yesterday’s appalling growth figure announcements? Does he now accept that the Government’s cuts go too far, too fast, and will the Government now pull back from this reckless course?

I recognise that yesterday’s growth figures were very disappointing. We have said for months that the recovery would be choppy. There are special circumstances about the weather in yesterday’s announcement, which she will be aware of, but if we do not tackle the deficit, introduce measures to help businesses to grow or invest in infrastructure and science funding, we will not get the recovery from the situation that we inherited from the Opposition.

In the Secretary of State’s last answer, he referred to investment in infrastructure. He will know, from the Scottish business organisations that are in London today to appear before the Select Committee, that an important part of increasing confidence is having the right transport links and access to markets. Given that, and the future of the Secretary of State for Wales notwithstanding, will the Secretary of State clear up the confusion on his position on High Speed 2 and its extension to Scotland? I know from the discussions a couple of weeks ago that people from Glasgow and Edinburgh are slightly confused about where he stands. Can he clear this up and put on the record his support for High Speed 2 being extended to Edinburgh and Glasgow for the future of the economy of the whole UK?

I would not accuse the hon. Gentleman of wilfully misinterpreting the outcome of that particular meeting. I was pleased to arrange the meeting between the leaders of Glasgow and Edinburgh councils and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who is sitting on the Front Bench. I am a passionate supporter of high-speed rail coming to Scotland, as is my right hon. Friend and the rest of the Cabinet.