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12 Dec 2002 : Column 391continued
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): Government forecasts are based on a realistic assessment of economic developments and prospects, and are broadly in line with the latest assessments from several leading independent forecasters. In recent years, GDP growth out-turns have tended slightly to exceed forecasts.
Mr. Goodman : At the time of the Budget, the Government's growth forecast was 2.5 per cent., and it is now 1.5 per cent. Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that the Treasury's forecasts have been humiliated? Why were the independent forecasters right and Ministers wrong?
Mr. Boateng: It was, in fact, 2 to 2.5 per cent. The underlying question that the hon. Gentleman needs to addressand the assumptions on which our economic forecasts are basedrelates to the soundness of the underlying macro-economic policies that the Government have pursued. That is why we are able to read an IMF report, which says of our performance
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): How significant does my right hon. Friend find it that we have had a public sector surplus in four of the five years of this Labour Government, while the previous Conservative Government managed to achieve that in only four of their 18 years?
Mr. Boateng: Very significant, it will surprise no one to know. We took some hard decisions in the early days of this Governmentdecisions that Conservative Members opposedsuch as those relating to the independence of the Bank of England and to our public spending plans. Taking those decisions has put us in a position to weather the international storm.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Will the Chief Secretary explain why the pre-Budget report summary leaflet that the Treasury has sent to the public to explain the pre-Budget report does not mention the fact that the growth forecasts were downgraded, or that any borrowing was going to take place? In fact, the only way to work out that there is going to be a deficit is to subtract one pie chart on the back of the leaflet from the other one.
Mr. Boateng: The Chancellor announced all the figures in the course of his statement. The pre-Budget report is published as it is. The hon. Gentleman knows what is contained in tables A and B. He is merely pointing out the virtues of a summary.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): The Government are awareas are hon. Members on both sides of the Houseof the recent rises in insurance premiums.Following wide discussions, including with the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions has now begun a formal review of the operation of employers' liability insurance, the consultation on which is to be completed by the end of February. On Tuesday this week, the Office of Fair Trading announced a fact-finding study into the wider market for liability insurance.
John Healey: I recognise the importance of such firms in my hon. Friend's constituency and, more broadly, in Cumbria. The Government cannot, of course, intervene in relation to the terms and conditions of insurance policies or in individual cases. The Department for Work and Pensions is conducting its review, and the Government have also emphasised to the Association of British Insurers the importance of the problem that my hon. Friend has starkly illustrated. The association is now working closely with brokers, business bodies and trade associations to maximise the availability of affordable insurance for precisely the kind of firm that my hon. Friend has described. He might like to encourage his constituent to investigate that matter further.
John Healey: Of course, the Government appreciate the problem. Every Member of the House has such firms in their constituency. I say again that it is not the Government's position to intervene in individual terms and conditions of insurance policies, or in individual cases. That is why we have been working with the Association of British Insurers to encourage it to take the action that it is taking. That is precisely the way in which we try to tackle these problems. If the hon. Gentleman has firms in his constituency that are in that position, I recommend that he suggest that they contact their trade associations, their professional bodies or the ABI, because that is the way in which we are trying to tackle the problem.
It may be for the convenience of the House if I announce that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will make a statement on the Government's pensions Green Paper next Tuesday.
Members will notice that this week we have experimented with the recommendation of the Modernisation Committee that ministerial statements should be distributed in the Chamber after the Minister has sat down. I hope that that has been a help to Members.
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for letting us have the business for next week. Is not it now time that we had an urgent debate on blind trusts, which seem neither blind nor trustworthy? If blind trusts are to have a role in public life, surely at the very least we should be absolutely certain that the beneficiaries neither know what is going on nor have any control over what is going on, if indeed that is the object of the exercise. We need a debate to clear up who defines the role of blind trusts and who polices them, because if figures in public life are to resort to such things it is vital that we all trust them. As that seems sadly no longer to be the case, we must deal with this issue responsibly and urgently.
Not unrelated to that matter, it is time that we had a proper look at the ministerial code, which is supposed to provide a framework for the ethical conduct of Ministers. Is not the code written by the Prime Minister, policed by the Prime Minister and monitored by the Cabinet Secretary, who is appointed by the Prime Minister and reports to the Prime Minister? Is not there
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister whether we could have an independent inquiry into, among other things, the ministerial code, the abuse of the civil service that seems to have taken place recently and the role of the No. 10 spin machine. To our astonishment, the Prime Minister said: