HC Deb 21 May 1998 vol 312 cc1100-1
13. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

What plans he has to ensure that there can be parliamentary scrutiny of his comprehensive spending review before the final results are published. [41685]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alistair Darling)

The results of the comprehensive spending review will be announced to Parliament for scrutiny and examination in the normal way. It will be for the usual channels to discuss the way in which the House debates those proposals at some point after the initial statement.

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) has suggested that pledges are not necessarily binding. Does the Chief Secretary recall his right hon. Friend the Chancellor making a pledge when in opposition that he had no spending plans that would require extra taxation? Yet since the election, there have been at least 17 tax rises based, presumably, on spending, so that is one broken pledge. After the comprehensive spending review is revealed, how many new tax rises will there be?

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see what the Government propose after their spending review. I remind him that, unlike the previous Government, every promise that we made at the election has been kept and will be delivered on by the end of this Parliament. That is something which the Opposition could never claim because they misled people on tax and just about everything else, which is why they are sitting on the Opposition Benches in such reduced numbers.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

Will my right hon. Friend consider making Treasury economists available to the Opposition so that they can conduct their own comprehensive spending review? He may well have noticed that during the past month alone, amendments have been tabled to the Finance Bill and the Social Security Bill totalling more than £6 billion—a massive hole in public finances. Perhaps the Conservatives have been infected by the financial recklessness of their Liberal Democrat colleagues on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Darling

I am not sure that it is just economic advice that the Conservative party is in need of. It is perfectly obvious that the Opposition—at least, the main Opposition party at present—are increasingly giving up any prospects for the future. Not only have they adopted a policy on Europe that many people, in particular business people, find absolutely incredible, but they have already demonstrated that they would be prepared to spend huge sums without giving us any indication about how they might finance that spending. Their antics and their policies are becoming more incredible by the day.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside)

When the Chief Secretary contributes to the usual channels' discussion of how the comprehensive spending review is to be considered by Parliament, will he support an initiative to give the departmental Select Committees the opportunity to look in detail at the Government's proposals, to ensure that any potential damage to existing public services from the review is aired in the full light of day before Parliament, through scrutiny in those Committees?

Mr. Darling

Select Committees are entirely independent of the Government, and it is up to them what they scrutinise and when. As always, the Government are happy to co-operate with anything that they want to do. I am not part of the usual channels, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but I am sure that his representative in that department will ensure that whatever the Committees want to do to ensure that our spending plans and policy proposals are properly scrutinised is taken on board. The Government are moving towards the concluding stages of the review and, because we are determined to deliver our manifesto promises, we are happy to justify those promises to anyone, inside or outside this House, whenever they want.