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Mr. Speaker: There is nothing that I can do about it, but we are now in a new Session and the hon. Gentleman could table more parliamentary questions to the Prime Minister.
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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Sixth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23 November],

Question again proposed.

Economic Affairs

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected for debate the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. Standing Order No. 33 provides that on the last day of the debate on the motion for an Address to Her Majesty, the House may also vote on a second amendment selected by the Speaker. I have selected the amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrats for that purpose. The vote on that amendment will take place at the end of the debate, after the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition has been disposed of.

12.33 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add:—

Before I begin discussing the main substance of today's debate, I want to make a few remarks about the Bills in the Queen's Speech relating to the economy. The Treasury's Bill on the merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise carries our general support, as the Chancellor is aware, although we remain concerned about its practical implementation. We are dealing with two organisations that have between them 250 legacy computer systems and some 13 million customers. It is no mean feat to put them together, and we will want to look at the details extremely carefully.
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Before dealing with the Bills relating to the Department of Trade and Industry, I want to point out that the Queen's Speech does not include two Bills that might conceivably have been expected to be included.

One is the provision for real estate investment trust rights, and I hope that the Chancellor will confirm that clauses will be forthcoming to deal with the introduction of such rights either in the Finance Bill or by some other means. The Opposition believe that those new vehicles have a great deal to offer to our economy. We would want to ensure that the means by which they are introduced are not over-bureaucratic and restrictive, but we would want to support measures to introduce them into the capital markets.

Also notable by its absence—it was not present in the Queen's Speech—was any reference to a statistics Bill. I hope that the Government will draw up proposals to deal with the issues raised by the Statistics Commission about the transparency of national statistics. We shall produce proposals in that connection in the next few weeks and I hope that the House will have the opportunity to discuss and debate such matters during this Session.

In respect of Department of Trade and Industry legislation, the consumer credit Bill carries our general support. We are particularly keen to see some change in the extortionate credit test. As long as the Bill moves towards increasing transparency rather than imposing undue bureaucratic burdens, we will support its gist.

The equality Bill is in much the same position. The CBI, as the Chancellor will be aware, has warned that the new proposed commission for equality and human rights could too easily become too concerned with enforcement, too bureaucratic and not sufficiently concerned with promoting good practice. We will want to see whether those dangers are apparent in the Bill and we will want to debate the provisions in Committee.

I now turn to the main subject of today's debate. Tomorrow we will have an opportunity to see the Chancellor launch his personal election campaign with his customary brio and to discuss the very poor fiscal position that he is in. Today I want to take the opportunity to do something different and examine the Chancellor's economic record, which he is both pleased about and proud of. He frequently presents his economic record as being all for the best in the best of all possible worlds—[Interruption.] Government Front Benchers seem to be very happy about the situation. The Chancellor tells us that it will go on getting better for ever.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): Under Labour.

Mr. Letwin: Yes, indeed. Under Labour, as the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position: that is the mythology perpetuated by the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman says that it is true, so let me read him and Government Members an alternative viewpoint. In respect of the Chancellor, this view states:

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I believe that the Chancellor once asked one of the Treasury officials whether he would like him to write a thank you letter for what had been done for the Chancellor before 1997. However, the person I am quoting continues:

That was, as the Chancellor has recognised—

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. Letwin: Just a moment. Those were the words not of a Conservative spokesman or even of an independent person, but of someone who was working as the Prime Minister's economic adviser.

Mr. Foulkes: On the question of messing up economies, on 1 March 2000—perhaps it should have been 1 April 2000—the right hon. Gentleman said:

Why should we expect anything better from the Conservatives next time?

Mr. Letwin: The right hon. Gentleman has the uncanny knack of falling into the very trap that I am seeking to set for him. It is perfectly true that we are willing to admit it when things go wrong. The problem that I am about to illustrate is the fact that the Chancellor does not know how to do that.

The Chancellor is incapable of recognising that the inheritance we built up after the ERM fiasco—I admit that it was a fiasco—was the strongest inheritance that any Chancellor has had in living memory, as is attested by the Prime Minister's economic adviser. As that adviser points out, there is a question mark over the Chancellor's economic performance. Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Chancellor is very keen to admit it, so I shall go through the record.

It is fair to say that the Chancellor is especially proud of his record on stability. He speaks about stability on almost every available occasion. That record of stability has two aspects—fiscal and monetary. However, the remarkable fact about both those forms of stability is that they are due to the fact that the Chancellor has allowed someone else to set the policy. His fiscal stability, which is now running out—we will talk about that tomorrow—derives almost exclusively from the fact that for the first two years the Government's policy on spending was set by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the previous Chancellor, whose spending plans the Chancellor obeyed for two years. Had he not done so, he would not be within a million miles of adhering to his golden rule today. Indeed, he would be in the most terrible trouble.
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Monetary stability is admirable, but again that is because the Chancellor has allowed someone else to run monetary policy—the Bank of England.

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