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Credit Rating

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2013

2. What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s credit rating; and if he will make a statement. (147124)

As I said to the House last month, the recent Moody’s decision was a stark reminder of the debt problems facing Britain and the clearest possible warning to anyone who thinks we can run away from confronting them. We will not do that.

When he was shadow Chancellor in 2009 and Standard & Poor’s put the UK on negative watch, the right hon. Gentleman was unequivocal in calling for a general election. Now that the UK has lost its triple A status on his watch, will he be consistent and urge his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to go to the palace?

The advice from the rating agency could not be clearer: a reduced political commitment to fiscal consolidation would put Britain’s creditworthiness at risk. That reduced political commitment would come from the Opposition, who oppose every single spending cut, who have no credible economic policy and who, despite having promised for two years to produce a deficit reduction plan, still do not have one. We hear that a draft Labour manifesto is coming this July; perhaps then we will see a proper plan to deal with the deficit Labour created.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only true measure of creditworthiness is the price paid by the Government to borrow? Gilt yields are still 16 points lower today than before Moody’s downgrade. Does that not reconfirm the international markets’ confidence in this country’s ability to pay its debts and the Chancellor’s programme to tackle Labour’s deficit crisis?

My hon. Friend is right that our credibility as a nation is tested every day when we seek to borrow money to pay for the deficit that the Opposition racked up. We can borrow at historically low rates, which means low rates for people’s mortgages and low rates for people’s small business loans. Of course, if we lost that credibility by pursuing the Opposition’s policies, interest rates would rocket, people would be put out of their homes and businesses would go bust. That is exactly what we will avoid.

I am sorry; we cannot let the Chancellor wriggle out that easily. Does he remember writing his pre-manifesto paper, “A New Economic Model: Eight Benchmarks for Britain”, just before the last general election? In it, he said that

“for the first time, the British people will have eight clear and transparent benchmarks—Benchmarks for Britain—against which they can judge the success or failure of their Chancellor and their government over the next Parliament. We will be accountable.”

Will he remind the House of his first benchmark test?

Our benchmark was to restore the fiscal credibility of this country and that credibility has earned us record low interest rates. The hon. Gentleman talks about wriggling out of things we did in the late period of the last decade, but he ran the leadership election campaign for the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)—he was the campaign manager—and he should apologise for that disastrous premiership and the chancellorship that preceded it, which put this country in this mess in the first place.

We are all deeply moved by the Chancellor’s remorse and contrition, but let me remind him of his first benchmark test:

“We will safeguard Britain’s credit rating”.

He has failed on the other benchmark tests, too: he said that he would ensure greater availability of credit to small and medium-sized enterprises; he has failed on economic growth; he is failing on borrowing and the deficit; and he is failing on living standards. After three years of failure, when will it dawn on the Chancellor that his strategy is not working?

We have cut the deficit by a quarter, a million new jobs are being created in the private sector and there is record employment in our economy, as well as record female employment. We are rebalancing the British economy after all the problems of the past. The hon. Gentleman talks about remorse and contrition, but until we hear some remorse and contrition from those on the Labour Front Bench about the economic mistakes they made, no one will pay the slightest attention to what they, and in particular the shadow Chancellor, have to say.

Given that the UK Government are able to borrow at historically low rates, may I urge my right hon. Friend to take advantage of that position in order to prioritise capital investment, particularly in the housing market, to give a strong fillip to growth?

We have increased capital investment from the period of the Labour Government. Capital spending as a percentage of our national income is more than under the Labour Government, and we have increased by £10 billion our spending on capital from the plans they left us. I agree that we should be using the Government’s credibility to do more, which is why the infrastructure guarantees and the housing guarantees are coming on stream. Guarantees are being written and that will help to build the infrastructure that this country needs.