HC Deb 13 February 1978 vol 944 cc64-5W
Mr. Lawson

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will provide a table showing the percentage underspending or overspending on the totality of planned public expenditure (a) excluding and (b) including debt interest, for each of the years 1974–75, 1975–76, 1976–77 and 1977–78, the totality of planned public expenditure being defined as the plans set out in the White Paper published towards the end of the immediately preceding financial year, excluding the contingency reserve, plus any changes subsequently announced in Government policy statements to Parliament, and the underspending or overspending being defined as the difference between this total and the estimated actual outturn for the year.

Mr. Joel Barnett

, pursuant to his reply [Official Report, 2nd February 1978; Vol. 943, c. 326], supplied the following answer:

The definition of planned public expenditure in the hon. Member's Question appears to attach more weight than is warranted to the distinction between changes announced in specific Government policy statements and the other changes announced in successive public expenditure White Papers, which are themselves Government policy statements to Parliament.

In regard to plans for 1974–75, publication of the White Paper of December 1973 (Cmnd. 5519) by the previous Government was accompanied by the announcement of downward revisions to programmes in the context of the oil crisis. In the Budget of March 1974 the present Government significantly changed the planned level and pattern of expenditure. The White Paper published in January 1975 (Cmnd. 5879), which was the first comprehensive set of expenditure plans by the present Government, showed net increases over that of December 1973. These reflected both previously announced policy changes and other developments, the latter including substantial increases in the housing programme. The White Paper of February 1976 (Cmnd. 6393) showed an outturn slightly above these final plans, most of it accounted for by extra expenditure by nationalised industries, particularly on stocks of coal and steel.

Plans for 1975–76, published in Cmnd. 5879, were also subsequently increased during the year, both by way of specific new policies and by way of reassessment of existing policies. These increases were incorporated in Cmnd. 6393. There was also a major upward revision to the expected cost of debt interest payments. The outturn for the year, as measured in January 1977 (Cmnd. 6721), was a little below the final planned total.

In 1976–77, the contingency reserve was used as an operational instrument. There were relatively few additions to specific programmes, apart from various employment schemes. In the outturn, expenditure is now estimated to have been significantly below the level planned in Cmnd. 6393.

In regard to the present financial year, table 15 of Cmnd. 7049-I analyses changes now expected from the plans published in January 1977.

On the particular definition of "planned expenditure" stated in the Question, broad estimates of the percentages sought—excluding programme 5 as comparable figures on the present expenditure definition are not available for all years, and excluding debt interest—are: 1974–75 +5½ per cent., 1975–76 +1 per cent., and 1976–77 -3½ per cent. The interim estimate for 1977–78, also on this definition, is about -3½ per cent. Including debt interest, the differences would all be a little greater.