§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make the Chancellor of the Exchequer more accountable to Parliament on budgetary matters and to monitor his economic performance; and for connected purposes.
I am pleased to see such a good attendance for the First Reading of my Bill. I hope that there is a similar attendance at Second Reading and thereafter. My Bill was originally entitled the Finance Bill, but once the parliamentary establishment discovered that this would mean that the Treasury would have to rename its Bill the Finance (No. 2) Bill, pressures were put upon me to rename my Bill. Therefore, it is called the Budget Bill.
The purpose of my Bill is to bring our financial affairs under more public scrutiny, because I and an increasing number of people in the country believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is getting away with economic murder. He is a record-breaking Chancellor. He has probably broken more records than has Kenny Dalglish, except that the Chancellor is in the habit of scoring own goals. For example, he presides over record unemployment. He has a record deficit in manufacturing trade and a record low value of the pound against the dollar. We have record interest rates, a record number of bankruptcies, and the record of £3 billion of taxpayers' money spent on a 12-month vendetta against the miners. The Chancellor—where is he?—had the brass neck to tell us that that was money well spent. The British economy has been reduced to a shambles by an incompetent Chancellor, who has the brass neck to tell us to pull in our belts while he seems to become plumper and smugger. He does not seem to practise the austerity of the monetarist policies that he preaches.
At present, parliamentary accountability is limited. The Chancellor comes along here once a year in March to present his Budget statement. I have noticed that as soon as the Chancellor — where is he? — stands up, Mr. Speaker, you vacate your seat. I have often wondered about that. The content of his speech must make you as sick as it makes me. Then the Chancellor comes along with a mini-budget statement in the autumn in a vain attempt to repair some of the damage done by his main Budget in spring.
Under my proposals, there would be more scrutiny before and after the Budget. For example, many hon. Members on both sides of the House will have had mailbags full of letters from constituents complaining about the possibility of VAT being extended to children's shoes or books and periodicals, or about the taxation of pensions, or the need to have more public investment in jobs instead of giving tax handouts to the rich. What most of us do at present is photocopy the letter and send it across to the mandarins in the Treasury with a letter of support from ourselves, perhaps. Some bureaucrat at the Treasury just presses a key on the word processor and we get back a three-sentence reply. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Three months later."] Three months later, very often. To my mind that is not genuine consultation, and I hope that this is a point which appeals to hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I listened with interest to what the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), had to say 780 recently. He proposed the idea of a pre-Budget Green Paper—or a green Budget. I think that there is a lot of merit in that, and that is the principle of my Bill. But I also want post-Budget scrutiny so that we have continuous assessment of the economic performance of the Chancellor. A progress report would have to be presented to Parliament at least quarterly, and the Chancellor would have to come to the Dispatch Box and answer personally.
I have an example of the kind of progress report for which my Bill would provide. I do not want a subjective assessment; I believe in objective assessment. There would be chosen economic and other indicators and the performance of the Government would be measured on those indicators. Here is a progress report on the present Government since it took office in 1979; unemployment up 173 per cent.; job vacancies, down 50 per cent.; the pound against the dollar, down 47 per cent.; interest rates, increased 17 per cent.; company liquidations, up 201 per cent.; balance of trade in manufactures, down 175 per cent.; output of manufacturing industries, down 10 per cent.; economic growth rate, down 85 per cent.; council house rents, up 128 per cent.; prescription charges up 900 per cent.—and I suppose that we are in for another dose of the same medicine from the Chancellor this afternoon.
In case anyone disputes these statistics, I should say that the Library helped me to compile them, and I know for a fact that the Chancellor has a great respect for the Library staff.
So far the Chancellor has scored 0 out of 10. When I was a teacher I was always very reluctant to give any pupil 0 out of 10. I would try to give them 1 out of 10 if I thought that they were making an honest endeavour. So I looked at the whole Government record very hard and I found one small success. I am sure that when the Chancellor eventually comes in he will puff out his chest at the Dispatch Box and tell us all about it. He has managed to keep inflation to single figures. Even I would admit that that is an achievement, but I must remind him that we could have a zero rate of inflation if we reduced all economic activity to zero.
That is the economics of the graveyard and that is the direction in which this Chancellor is leading us. He is making Britain into an industrial and economic graveyard. If we are looking around for uneconomic units, he is the most uneconomic unit in this country. He should therefore be made redundant, and my Bill will make provision for that.
§ Sir Michael Shaw
Yes, Sir, I wish to oppose it, first because it is a quite unjustified misuse of the practice of the House and, secondly—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) has as much right to be heard as the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan).
§ Sir Michael Shaw
The hon. Member's motion is a most excessive way of drawing one's virtues to the attention of the Committee of Selection so as to sit on a Finance Bill Committee.
781 More seriously, if it becomes a precedent, it will endanger a small right of the Back Bencher to be heard on important occasions. There are many other, more serious, objections to the proposition put by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), but I shall not dwell on them today.
The hon. Gentleman and I have in common a desire that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be accountable to Parliament for the Budget. By happy chance, the Chancellor, whom I wish well, is here to account to Parliament this afternoon. Therefore, I shall limit my objections to the motion by allowing them to remain vocal, and I shall certainly not propose that the matter go to a Division.
§ Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 103, Noes 4.782
|Division No. 162]||[3.42 pm|
|Alton, David||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)|
|Anderson, Donald||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Deakins, Eric|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Dixon, Donald|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Dormand, Jack|
|Beith, A. J.||Douglas, Dick|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Dubs, Alfred|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Eadie, Alex|
|Boyes, Rolard||Eastham, Ken|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Fatchett, Derek|
|Buchan, Norman||Fisher, Mark|
|Caborn, Richard||Flannery, Martin|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Foulkes, George|
|Canavan, Dennis||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Garrett, W. E.|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Hardy, Peter|
|Clarke, Thomas||Haynes, Frank|
|Clay, Robert||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Home Robertson, John|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Howells, Geraint|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Craigen, J. M.||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Crowther, Stan||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Dalyell. Tam||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Redmond, M.|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Lambie, David||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Litherland, Robert||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Loyden, Edward||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampf'n NE)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Skinner, Dennis|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|McKelvey, William||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|McNamara, Kevin||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Madden, Max||Stott, Roger|
|Marek, DrJohn||Strang, Gavin|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Maxton, John||Torney, Tom|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Wallace, James|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Wareing, Robert|
|Michie, William||Weetch, Ken|
|Nellist, David||Welsh, Michael|
|O'Brien, William||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|O'Neill, Martin||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Patchett, Terry||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Pendry, Tom||Mr. Allan Rogers and|
|Pike, Peter||Mr. Kevin Barron.|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs E.||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Mr. Willie W. Hamilton and|
|Ward, John||Mr. David Winnick.|
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Kevin Barron, Mr. Eddie Loyden, Mr. Allan Rogers, Mr. Martin Redmond, Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. Brian Sedgemore, Mr. Bill Michie, Mr. Gavin Strang, Mr. Ernie Roberts, Mr. Dick Douglas and Mr. Dennis Skinner.