Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Malcolm Bruce: The right hon. Gentleman suggests that the Government are being profligate. Does not he agree with figures in the House of Commons Library showing that over this Parliament, and allowing for the Government's increase in expenditure, public service expenditure will increase by less than half the increase during the previous Parliament? What spending increase would the right hon. Gentleman allow, and how deep would the cuts be if he were in control of policy?

Mr. Maude: Perhaps it is a mistake to rely on Government figures, but that is what I am doing. The Government's figures provide for an increase in public spending of 2.75 per cent. above inflation over the rest of the Parliament, and, if the numbers that they have fiddled out are counted back in, it comes to more than 3 per cent. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Labour party have claimed to find a magic potion, an elixir, that will provide the secret of perpetual motion. It was Labour who said that the circle could be squared so that we could have absolute fiscal rectitude and increased spending. Labour said that the way to do that was to cut welfare spending, but the Government have, on their own admission, failed to do so.

Fiona Mactaggart: The right hon. Gentleman suggests that we look back 10 years to the glorious work of the previous Government. However, he will recall that interest rates were exactly the same as now, inflation was 4.2 per cent, as it is now, and there was substantially greater unemployment than there is today. Within a year, the right hon. Gentleman's Government managed to double both interest rates and inflation, and made no

29 Jun 1998 : Column 28

serious inroad on unemployment. Does he accept that we should take no lessons from a party that wants us to look back to that?

Mr. Maude: I merely make the comparison that Labour Members invited us to make. At the top of the cycle, we had strong public finances. This Government are not even planning, on their own optimistic growth projections, a Budget that gets into balance in a single year. It was all phooey about repaying debt and getting back to a balanced Budget. They do not even do it in a single year.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) rose--

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood) rose--

Mr. Maude: I have given way often and am drawing to a close.

We always said that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy. After only 14 months, it is coming apart. Its economic policies are in disarray and the public finances are unravelling. In a moment, the Chief Secretary will begin the old familiar rant. He will chant that we will have no more stop-go or boom and bust. He will do it not once but time and again, in the inane new Labour belief that if a mantra is repeated often enough, it becomes more plausible. When Labour dreamt up the phrase, "No more boom and bust," it must have meant no more boom followed by bust, because we have boom and bust at the same time. Boom-bust, stop-go, stability, security, and the long term were just mantras.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maude: No, I am coming to an end.

Those phrases were just mantras to persuade people that Labour could be trusted with the economy and the public finances. It is time for Labour to take responsibility for its actions and stop blaming everyone else. This is the Government's strategy. These are their choices and decisions. As the economy flags, it will be the Government's fault. It will be a downturn made in Downing street.

4.1 pm

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alistair Darling): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

29 Jun 1998 : Column 29

    business tax to their lowest levels ever, launched the New Deal, the biggest employment programme for decades, reformed the tax and benefit system to tackle the unemployment and poverty traps and invested in education and skills; and notes that Britain now has a government which will ensure that the country does not return to the boom and bust and 15 per cent. interest rates of the late 1980s and early 1990s and instead has an economic policy based on stability, enterprise, employment and fairness.".

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) for telling the House that he was about to come to the end of his speech. I congratulate him on getting in what might pass as a soundbite just before he sat down.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The House should not take lightly the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a parliamentary democracy with an unwritten constitution such as ours, there are unwritten rules that Ministers accept their responsibility to Parliament. When the Opposition table a motion naming the Chancellor and complaining about a range of Government action and he chooses not to attend, it shows an arrogance to Parliament that we should not accept. Is there any way in which we can oblige the Chancellor to appear before us if he behaves with such insouciance?

Madam Speaker: That point was made earlier by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude). I am sure that both his remarks and those of the hon. Gentleman have been noted by the Government.

Mr. Darling: I was going to allude to the shadow Chancellor's reference to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The Chancellor and I discussed at length which of us should reply to the Opposition. He was upset that, in his capacity as representing Europe and the European Finance Ministers, he felt that it was appropriate to attend the European monetary affairs committee, which is traditional at the beginning and end of each country's presidency. The previous Government would have done that when they held the presidency. We believe that the Government should honour our international obligations.

The Pavlovian response of the Conservatives every time that Europe is mentioned is interesting and instructive. They cannot conceal their hostility to anything to do with Europe or any idea that a Minister of the Crown might represent Britain in Europe and thereby further our interests there. They really cannot stand it.

Instead of spending about seven minutes skirting around the subject as he taxied to the end of the runway, so to speak, before delivering his attack on us, the shadow Chancellor really ought to have considered whether the point was worth the trouble he went to. My right hon. Friend is doing precisely what the country would expect him to do: representing Britain in Europe--which is what the Conservative party did not do.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) rose--

Mr. Darling: I know that Europe always provokes a response from the hon. Gentleman, so let us hear it now.

Sir Peter Tapsell: In all seriousness, cannot the Chief Secretary understand that it is not just a question of a Pavlovian response to Europe? Some of us are

29 Jun 1998 : Column 30

Euro-sceptics, some are not; but most of us believe passionately in the sovereignty of the House of Commons. That is such an essential element of all our proceedings that if Ministers are not prepared to respect it, democracy in this country is at risk.

Mr. Darling: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he will see and hear plenty of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Chamber in the not-too-distant future.

I want to deal first with the points that the Conservative motion raises--in particular, with this golden economic legacy which keeps reappearing. I then want to deal with the measures that the Government have taken, and with the one glimpse that we have had of where Conservative thinking, if that is what it can be called, is taking us.

The Tories have done this before. For 18 years, they tried to delude us into thinking that they had achieved economic success. Today, they carry on with that by claiming that they left something called a golden economic legacy--this, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, from the party which used to proclaim the economic miracle of the 1980s, which became the economic disaster of the 1990s. This is the party which delivered two of the deepest recessions since the war. The United Kingdom was one of the most unstable of all the industrialised countries. And there was a legacy of boom and bust: 15 per cent. interest rates, and interest rates in double figures for four consecutive years. There were 1 million home owners with negative equity, and record repossessions.

The right hon. Member for Horsham tells us that the right period of history to look at is 10 years ago. It is indeed an instructive time to look at, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said. After 1988, when the then Chancellor Lawson started his unsustainable boom, within two and a half years inflation had doubled to nearly 10 per cent., and interest rates had risen to record levels. There were 22 tax rises to try to contain the debt that the previous Government began to pile up. Is that a golden legacy? Are these people in any position to lecture us?

Next Section

IndexHome Page