It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
During equally challenging times in the late ’70s, our party’s logo was a torch. The image then was clear: it was to bring light where there was darkness, hope where there was despair, and aspiration where there was desperation. My goodness, do we need a bit of that now. Our Conservative philosophy is one of low tax and less state, and of giving the individual the freedom to lead their own life—it is probably the simplest philosophy of all the political parties—so although I have great sympathy for the Chancellor, pushing taxes to the highest level since world war two in the face of a recession is a move that I question.
Last Thursday, I reminded Members on both sides of the House, who are pledging to spend billions and billions and billions more pounds, of where that money comes from. As we have heard in many speeches today, it comes from the taxes of the private sector and hard-working people, many of whom, as has been said by Members on both sides of the House, are already struggling to make ends meet. And while their disposable income has dropped, pensioners and those on benefits have been protected. Of course, we must take account of both groups, but all this has to be paid for, and the Government do not generate the money to pay for it. As I have said, the hard-working people out there, doing their best to look after their families and their companies, are the ones who generate all that money.
The rush to balance the books has, regrettably, seen the Treasury go after those who have dared to invest some of their hard-earned income, the proceeds of which are given the deceptive term “unearned income”. The implication is all too clear: raiding that pot is perfectly acceptable—but it is not. Tell that to those who have saved all their life for their retirement, to enjoy their grandchildren and, crucially, to remain independent from the state.
We are facing these financial challenges not least because of an unprecedented pandemic and now a war in Europe, both of which have thrown all economies, not just ours, out of kilter. However, our overreaction to the first damaged not only our economy but, it seems, our nation’s very psyche. Spending more than £400 billion to lock the nation down was always going to have consequences, and a few in this place warned of such. Now, the war in Europe has exacerbated the problem, with rising inflation and interest rates causing alarm and despondency to many of our citizens—again, as we have heard from across the House.
The years of quantitative easing have come to an end, and that chicken really has come home to roost. Now, in recession, surely it is time to be radical. My right hon. Friends the Members for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) had the right idea, but poor timing and presentation saw it flounder. At least they attempted to break with the current orthodoxy, which sees the Government hobbled by organisations such as the Office for Budget Responsibility, whose predictions are often wrong, and the Bank of England. Interest rates could and should have risen far sooner.
To date, and in this debate, I have heard consistent calls for money but little debate on what we can save. Saving is hard for an already bloated state to do, but save it must. It stretches credulity that we are pouring billions more into—and we all know it—a failing NHS. Although doctors and nurses are doing their best, a complete overhaul is desperately needed if we are to avoid throwing good money after bad. Worryingly, for defence, where money is needed as a war rages in Europe, there is to be yet another review, leaving the budget at an inexcusable 2% of GDP. Growth is what we need, and I fear that raising taxes will stifle productivity, disincentivise wealth creators, discourage investment from abroad and, as we have heard again from Members on both sides of the House, increase unemployment.
Finally, we left the EU to, among other reasons, give ourselves the flexibility to run our own economy, but 4,000 EU laws are still in statute, and the issues relating to the Northern Ireland protocol are unresolved. To truly flex our economic muscle and allow the innovators and wealth creators to do their job, those two glaring hangovers from leaving the EU must be dealt with. These are challenging times, as we have all heard, but if we are to succeed and see our country through this recession, we need to relight that torch, and fast.