§ 4.8 pm
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Treasury to cost proposed budgets put forward by political parties in Parliament.
I move this motion in a spirit of comradeship to the Opposition parties—the alliance and the Labour parties. The whole House is fortunate that in my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, who is sitting in his place today, we have a man of great integrity. Faithfully and voluntarily he has done for the benefit of the whole nation what my Bill now proposes, but new pledges come day by day from the Opposition and we need a Bill to cost those pledges. We do not want the Tory media, about whom the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) frets so much during the long night hours, to distort the spending plans of the Opposition parties. That is why we most definitely need my Bill.
The full light of critical analysis needs to be thrown on the Opposition's spending plans. We want that analysis so that after the election, which I am sure the Conservatives will win, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will not be able to say what he said after the previous election:Nobody believed that our theories could be put into practice. Our vague hopes of achieving growth through government spending were barely understood and rarely believed.My Bill would ensure that we could dig beneath the razzmatazz, the glossy packaging and the red rose, and find out exactly what pledge the Labour party intends to carry out and what pledges it intends to abandon.
For instance, does the Labour party intend to abandon the £360 million that it is pledged to spend on abolishing the right of all parents to spend what they want on their children's education? Will Labour abandon the pledge to spend £1,460 million on increasing overseas aid, although it must be said that that pledge strangely slipped out of the jobs and poverty package last week? Where has it gone? Perhaps the begging bowls of the Third world are to go unfilled. Will Labour honour the pledge to spend £760 million on new hospitals, although, again, that pledge seems to have slipped from last week's package? Does the Labour party recall the fact that spending on hospitals was cut by 30 per cent. under the previous Government? I know not.
Perhaps, through my Bill, we can hear about whether the Labour party intends to carry out its bribes for pensioners, although again perhaps wiser counsels will have reminded it about the sad fate of the £10 Christmas bonus under the previous Labour Government. After all, the hon. Member for Olham, West (Mr. Meacher) has a habit of shooting from the hip, so perhaps a clause in my modest little Bill can provide him with a box of matches so that he can do his sums, although in the case of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), that might be a bit inflammatory, so I shall not suggest that.
We might hear a little more about the pledges that the Labour party has already made on local government. We had to wait until page 11 of last week's jobs package before we saw a mention of local government. Perhaps after all the publicity of the past few weeks about the loony Left, even the forces for moderation such as the right hon. And 938 learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) have forgotten his description of the barmy scheme by Sheffield district council to spend real ratepayers' money on phoney jobs asan imaginative and workmanlike initiative.Perhaps that was an exaggeration.
Perhaps the Labour party has realised all too late the truth of the wise words of the Audit Commission:Throwing money at a problem all too often simply means more waste.My little Bill will also be able to delve deep into how the Labour party intends to borrow money for its spending plans. Perhaps the preamble to my modest Bill can contain the wise words that it isthe Government's intention in the years ahead to reduce the share of resources taken by public expenditure. It is also part of this strategy to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement so as to establish monetary conditions which will help the growth of output and the control of inflation.Those are not my words or the words of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They are in fact the words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in his pathetic letter to the International Monetary Fund in 1976.
Most of all, we shall have to look at the Labour party's taxation plans. Will its plans result in a basic rate income tax of over 50p in the pound? Let me quote the candid words of Mr. Blunkett:There will have to be a return to the higher standard rate of income tax".Will those candid words come true? Like Walter Mondale winning Minnesota, perhaps the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will win Sheffield. Whether he wins much else is a matter for conjecture.
Finally, I must refer to the alliance. Its members are here in the Chamber in some force. I well recall the wise words of Mrs. Shirley Williams, when she said:The danger for any new Party … is that it becomes all things to all men".I know that the alliance does not want to fall into that trap. I am sorry to say this, but there are many weasel words in its latest policy document, "The Time Has Come". There are weasel words such asThe Alliance parties' ambition is … Ultimately we would wish to … We would try to … New and improved services could … As a long-term goal … we would aim".I am sure that with my Bill we could excise those words. It would ensure that the alliance spoke with the same candour as Dick Taverne in introducing its tax and benefits package. He said:You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.We could make sure that the wise—perhaps not so wise—words of the right hon. Member for Plymouth. Devonport (Dr. Owen) when he told the British people last year:Your responsibility is to forgo … tax cuts."—[Official Report, 13 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 596.]—are brought home to the British people.
This is a modest little Bill, which I hope will result in the British people knowing that when they go to the polls, if they are determined not to vote Conservative, they will be signing a blank cheque made payable to Her Majesty's Government to repay the tax cuts that they received yesterday. While it is undoubtedly the privilege of Opposition parties to make promises, it is their bounden duty to make only such promises as they have an even chance of carrying out. What we have from the Opposition parties is jam today and pie in the sky tomorrow.
I commend my Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Wainwright
Yes, Mr. Speaker.
I suppose that virtually every Member of the House wishes not only political parties in the House but all hon. Members to have the best possible information from the most independent, reputable and reliable sources on any matter that is introduced for debate. I go further and hope that hon. Members will agree that it is most important to set out on the right foot and not to confuse the issue, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has done. I can vouch for at least one group of Members who have gone to considerable expense to obtain an independent costing of their proposals so that the House may be fully informed.
Our procedures would need to be revised so that the Houe may have some control over Government proposals to borrow. One of the great gaps in the House's power over the Executive is that the Executive is left virtually free to borrow what it wants, often with lamentable consequences. Secondly, it would be necessary to find some way round the difficult situation created by the fact that the Crown has the sole initiative in this place for proposing to raise taxation, which means that all Opposition parties—most of us have taken advantage of it from time to time—are let off the hook because we are not allowed to propose to increase taxation as the Finance Bill goes through Parliament. Those two matters need to be put right first.
The hon. Gentleman proposed that, of all the bodies in the country with economic knowledge, the Treasury should be chosen to have that duty. That is absurd and cannot have been put forward seriously. I apologise for reminding the House, first, that the Treasury is necessarily the servant of Government. Secondly, it is the protector of the Revenue. In those capacities, the Treasury is bound to put the worst possible face on any proposals from anybody in opposition, whether a party or an hon. Member.
I cite this as evidence. It happens every year when the Finance Bill is debated. It is an annual ritual, whichever party is in power, that its obedient servants, following the course of duty meticulously, keep a score sheet of the cost of every Opposition proposal for reducing taxation. Those proposals are in fact a set of alternatives. No Opposition suppose that they will ask for all those reductions to be granted simultaneously— of course not. We know that we will be defeated on one matter, so the following week—[Interruption.] Conservative Members know that, so it is no good their trying to cover it up with hilarity. We come back to the charge the next week with another proposal for the Treasury— Laughter.] Some Conservative Members do that every time. The Treasury, in the most simplistic way, keeps a milometer of the cost of such proposals, adds up the whole lot and every week gives Ministers a horrific figure that they duly retail in Committee. Nobody believes them. It is just part of the ritual.
I have an alternative which I am sure has occurred to most hon. Members. There are many independent economic institutes in the country, academic departments and others that are perfectly capable of costing Opposition 940 proposals. The House should make funds available— within reasonable limits—so that independent institutes can provide information for the House. That seems to me to be very much more constructive than the obviously tendentious proposals made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle. I hope that the House will divide against the motion.
§ Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nominations of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):
§ The House divided: Ayes 91, Noes 13.
|Division No. 121]||[4.20 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Ashby, David||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Lilley, Peter|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Lord, Michael|
|Baldry, Tony||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Blackburn, John||Mather, Sir Carol|
|Bright, Graham||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Budgen, Nick||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Butterfill, John||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Carttiss, Michael||Mudd, David|
|Chapman, Sydney||Murphy, Christopher|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Colvin, Michael||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Coombs, Simon||Ottaway, Richard|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Pawsey, James|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Raffan, Keith|
|Farr, Sir John||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Forth, Eric||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Silvester, Fred|
|Gow, Ian||Sims, Roger|
|Greenway, Harry||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Grylls, Michael||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Harris, David||Speller, Tony|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)||Stern, Michael|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Henderson, Barry||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Hill, James||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Hind, Kenneth||Sumberg, David|
|Hirst, Michael||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Whitney, Raymond|
|Irving, Charles||Yeo, Tim|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Mr. Ivan Lawrence and|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Mrs. Elaine Kellet-Bowman.|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Cartwright, John||Taylor, Matthew|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)||Wainwright, R.|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Maclennan, Robert||Mr. David Alton and|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Mr. James Wallace.|
|Shields, Mrs Elizabeth|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.941
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Leigh, Dr. Michael Clark, Mr. Michael Forsyth, Mr. Andrew Stewart, Mr. Neil Hamilton, Mr. Ian Gow, Mr. Robert B. Jones, Mr. Tom Sackville, Mr. James Pawsey, Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman, Mr. Ivan Lawrence and Mr. Eric Forth.