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Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con) rose—

Mr. Brown: Ah! I may have said half a dozen, but I should have said seven Conservative economic plans.

Mr. Clarke: The Chancellor has brought me to my feet by touching on the future for a moment. He has taken us back over his record and ours, citing figures that go back a quarter of a century in some cases, to make comparisons favourable to himself. Given that we have seen a rapid fall in consumption in this country, a rapid fall in retail sales, a stabilisation, at best, in the housing market and a large fall in industrial production so far this year, does he still stand by his forecast of economic growth for this year, looking ahead? It is upon those forecasts that all his confidence about his economic policy and his fiscal policy appears to depend.

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the former Chancellor for giving me the chance to say that I believe that north
 
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America and Britain will be the fastest growing economic areas this year. We will publish our next economic forecast—[Interruption.] I know that the former Chancellor would like to think that Germany, France and the euro area were growing faster, but they are not. Britain and the north American countries will be the fastest growing areas of the G7 this year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a good reputation for getting many things right, but in 1998, the year after we came into government, he said in The Mail on Sunday:

No recession, but stability, happened not only that year, but for the next seven years.

I said we had half a dozen Conservative plans. As we finish the Queen's Speech debates, it is important that we see what the debate in the House is all about. Always helpful to his Front-Bench team and now to the new shadow Chancellor, the shadow Minister for deregulation, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who was mentioned earlier, wants £12 billion of tax cuts. The shadow Foreign Secretary made a speech only a few days ago, saying that he wanted a "radically smaller public sector" and even bigger tax cuts. The shadow Home Secretary, the favourite for the leadership, said that the Conservatives must

The view taken by all three is that they lost the past three elections not because they were too right wing, but because they were not right wing enough.

Against that, we have the other economic prescriptions. The shadow Health Secretary spoke of

The former shadow transport Minister said:

The current shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry stated:

The former shadow Chief Secretary, one of the half-dozen former shadow Chief Secretaries of the past eight years, says that we need a new agenda for the state that puts public services first, rather than tax cuts.

The only Conservative shadow Minister without an economic prescription in these debates is the man responsible for economic policy, the shadow Chancellor. Now surrounded by so many diverse and divided prescriptions for the economy, the cracks are already so wide and extensive that, if I may be excused for saying so, even the heir to a distinguished wallpaper empire cannot paper over them.

How does the Conservative party resolve these great issues? I can do no better than share with the House the thoughts of Chairman Maude, the current chairman of the Conservative party. I have the full report of the remarks that he made to the newspapers, explaining what he thought should be the direction of the Conservative party from now on. He was asked what the public believe is wrong about the Conservatives. Was it the leadership, personalities or policies? No, he said—


 
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That is not just a reference to the shadow Minister for deregulation. He went on:

and

Even more dispiritingly for Opposition Members, he said:

If that advice was not dispiriting, let me quote the advice of the vice-chairman of the Conservative party, who was asked what he thought should be done. He said that the Conservatives would have to sack hundreds of candidates. He said there may be blood on the floor. Asked in the Financial Times what sort of candidates he wanted, he said—I think this is the most interesting comment in the entire debate—

Asked what that meant, he said that nine out of 10 Conservative candidates would have to be sacked. At his most optimistic, he is describing a party that is 10 per cent. normal. No wonder the Opposition Chief Whip is thinking of introducing a performance test for Conservative Members. The vice-chairman of the Conservative party whom I was quoting is the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Andrew Mackay). To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, to lose one out of 10 candidates is misfortune. To lose nine out of 10 is worse than carelessness.

What is the answer for the Conservative party? I have been given the benefit of an interview that took place since the election with Howard Flight. I also miss him from the House, as do Conservative Members. There will be general agreement that it was shabby treatment of him which lost him his candidature. He has given an interview that will not endear him to the leadership of the Conservative party, and which may make it quite difficult for him to get back at the next election. In the past few days he gave an interview to an obscure magazine, Money Market. It is difficult to get on to the official Conservative website now.

Howard Flight said there is no one left in the Tory party to carry the torch for business. He stated:

I do not underestimate the problems that the Conservatives face. They are trying to find a new leader—their fifth in opposition, a new system for finding a new leader—their third in opposition, and a new shadow Chancellor—their seventh in opposition. They are trying a new constitution, a new statement of values and new candidates, and some are even thinking of a new name, but if they do not change their basic ideology and ideas, there is very little hope left for the Conservative party.

In conclusion, I have some questions which the Conservative party should face up to, and which we faced up to as a party. I notice the shadow Chancellor
 
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gave an interview in December saying—this is very interesting, in the context of the debate going on in the Conservative party:

Even though we cannot ask for detailed answers on policy, it is fair to ask the fundamental economic questions—perhaps the shadow Work and Pensions Minister will respond—that any shadow Chancellor should be able to answer, as I am sure the former Chancellor would agree. On the share of public spending in our economy, does the shadow Chancellor hold to the election view that it should be reduced from 42 per cent. to 40 per cent.? Or does he support the former shadow Chancellor in the view that in theory it should be 35 per cent.? Or does he support Lord Saatchi in the view that it should go down to 30 per cent.? Or is his priority, like that of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), to fund decent health and education services without taking too dogmatic a view of the size of public spending? In that case, the shadow Chancellor would have to say that his party was wrong in the last Parliament to vote against the national insurance changes to fund the NHS. What does the shadow Chancellor believe on that? I am happy to give way if he wants to clarify the policy, so we can have debates during the course of this Parliament.

On tax, does the shadow Chancellor believe the election tax cuts of £4 billion were right; should they be £12 billion; or does he agree with other shadow Ministers that tax cuts are a diversion from the priority to finance public services in their cases? On spending priorities, does he hold to the private patient plan and the private pupil plan, diverting money from the health and education services—local schools and local hospitals? Does he agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary that the party should privatise more, or with the hon. Member for Buckingham that such a policy could be seen as one for the few rather than for the many? On full employment, does he still hold to the view that the new deal should be abolished, or does he accept, as the Tory Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee did, that the new deal is useful in helping people to get back to work? Those are tests of modernisation that the Conservatives will have to meet.

There is a further question on Europe. Do the shadow Chancellor and the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions agree with the party's official policy on Europe—to renegotiate not just the current treaty, but the common fisheries policy, the overseas aid budget, the Amsterdam treaty and the Geneva protocol? That is the policy that the former Prime Minister, John Major, described as "crazy", "absurd" and "mad". Do they support those who want to leave, or do they agree with the former Conservative Chancellor that the Conservatives should accept that renegotiation will not happen?

Those questions have direct relevance for the future of our country, and the last one has relevance for our presidency of the EU. I would like to see an all party consensus behind business to push for economic reform in Europe, but that is impossible as long as there are Members who wish fundamentally to renegotiate our membership of the EU.


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