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Economy: Deficit Reduction

Volume 739: debated on Monday 15 October 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest estimate of the debt to gross domestic product ratio in 2015 under the current deficit reduction plan.

My Lords, the Office for Budget Responsibility produces the official fiscal forecasts. The OBR’s March 2012 forecast shows public sector net debt peaking at 76.3 per cent of gross domestic product in 2014-15 and subsequently falling in 2015-16 consistent with the Government’s supplementary target for debt. The OBR will publish updated forecasts alongside the Autumn Statement on 5 December.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. Is he aware that there has been a later report from a more independent source—namely, the IMF—which states that in 2015 the net debt as a percentage of GDP will be about £50 billion more than the Chancellor previously expected? In those circumstances, does he not accept that the OBR is less independent for the very good reason, as was set out in the beginning, that its forecasts are influenced considerably by the general and regular meetings that it has with the Chancellor and Treasury officials? How many have there been in the past 12 months?

No, my Lords, I do not accept for one minute any questioning of the independence of the OBR. It was set up on a statutory basis through a Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, contributed. It is set up totally independently under a respected head, Robert Chote, and his team and I refute absolutely any question that it is not independent. All of its meetings with the Chancellor and the dates on which data are transferred over are transparently set out on the Treasury website.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that lack of access to reasonably priced credit by small businesses is holding back both those businesses and general economic growth? Does he further agree that with funding for lending now in place there is no excuse for the banks not to make that credit available, especially as they no longer have to put capital on their books to support those loans?

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that the question of funding, particularly for SMEs, continues to be of considerable concern to the Government. That is why we have been able to use the strength of the national government balance sheet which derives from our deficit reduction plans to put in place the funding for lending scheme, to which my noble friend referred, and the UK guarantee scheme of up to £50 billion for infrastructure projects so that we can ensure that credit continues to flow.

My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord’s answer implies that the Government intend to pursue continuously their ludicrous economic policy, the effect of which is that the Government engage in cuts, those cuts lower aggregate demand, the tax revenue goes down and some benefits go up so that the budget deficit increases, whereupon they engage in more cuts, and this process goes on until the economy implodes. That is the danger before us. What is required is a change in economic policy that leads to some expansion of the real economy.

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and his noble friend Lord Barnett have been comparing notes, but the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, was quoting the IMF approvingly at me only a minute or two ago. On this point, only a week ago, on 9 October, a senior official of the IMF said that at this stage:

“The policy mix in the UK, which consists of adjusting fiscal policy, reducing deficits, at the same time supporting the economy with a very accommodative monetary policy is the right way to go”.

My Lords, can my noble friend please tell the House about the last time that the IMF forecasts for the British economy were accurate?

My Lords, I am not going to give a commentary on the IMF’s forecasts, or anybody else’s. We should wait until 5 December to see what the Office for Budget Responsibility has to say in its renewed forecasts.

My Lords, are we not experiencing a double-dip recession that is longer than any since the war, and is it not the case that forecasts are belied by the facts? The Government are borrowing £9.3 billion more in the first four months of this year than in the same period last year. How on earth can the Minister pretend that the present policy is working?

My Lords, we have only to wait until 25 October to learn the third-quarter growth number; then we will know the latest state of play in the economy. As to the question about levels of debt, I find it extraordinary that a Front-Bench opposition spokesman should give us a lecture on debt plans. Does the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, recognise the recent IFS analysis of Labour’s plans, which said that under the so-called Darling plan, total accumulated debt would be £201 billion higher than under the present Government’s plans? That level of debt would see the AAA rating gone for a very long time and would see almost £4,000 of debt per man, woman and child in this country added to the debt load we inherited. Is that what the noble Lord is advocating?