Opposition Parties' Policies (Costs)

Oral Answers to Questions — National Finance – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30 April 1987.

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Photo of Mr Roger Sims Mr Roger Sims , Chislehurst 12:00, 30 April 1987

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will prepare estimates of the cost of the programmes announced by the Opposition parties.

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I have already costed the Labour party's commitments, which would amount to an additional £34,000 million in a full year. The SDP and Liberal parties' pledges are so vague and confused that they cannot be costed.

Photo of Mr Roger Sims Mr Roger Sims , Chislehurst

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I assume that the £34 billion figure that he has mentioned has been calculated by assessing the cost of various items of policy to which the Labour party is pledged. Can he tell the House whether he has received any representations or objections about specific items that he has costed? If he has not, does he agree that, if the Labour party does not object to the parts, it can hardly object to the whole?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I have often made clear exactly what items are in the £34 billion commitment and how it has been costed. I have made the costings available to the Labour party and have said that, if it will point out a single one that is not official Labour party policy, I will withdraw it. The Labour party has not done so. Almost weekly, Opposition Front Bench spokesmen for social security, education, overseas aid and health keep confirming the pledges. I again ask the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) when he is going to repudiate them. It is perfectly clear that we would have the same situation as the one that we had under the last Labour Government, because if a Labour Government carried out their spending programme they would be back to the International Monetary Fund in no time.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

As regards costing programmes, would the Chief Secretary be good enough to tell the House and the country how much extra the average household would have to pay if VAT were to be charged on children's clothing and other essential items, including food? Is it not perfectly clear that what is now being planned by the Tories, should they return, is precisely to levy VAT on such items?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

It is quite extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman can come forward with suggestions like that, when he must know that, in order to pay for the kind of programme to which his party is committed, VAT would have to go up very substantially. The cost of his party's programme would be the equivalent of a VAT rate of just under 50p in the pound. The hon. Gentleman puts that point because he is so desperately anxious to find a smokescreen for the cost of Labour's programmes and their tax implications for ordinary people.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean , Penrith and The Border

In view of the pledge made recently by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) that the alliance would publish the costings of its policies before the election, purely in the interests of open government would my right hon. Friend agree to run the alliance programme through his Treasury computer? Will he also get his Treasury experts to cost the alliance programmes? Or are they so vague that it would be impossible to tell what they cost?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Indeed, there is nothing as vague as the alliance programme. I have been through the entire document "The Time Has Come", and it is impossible to cost its contents because the Liberals and the SDP do not pledge themselves specifically to anything. Whenever they do, they immediately have to go back to the drawing board, either because they are incapable of agreeing on the policies, or because they have not thought them through.

Photo of Mr Gregor Mackenzie Mr Gregor Mackenzie , Glasgow Rutherglen

First, might I ask the Chief Secretary, who precisely is paying for those costings? Is he using public money to do his own costings for the benefit of his colleagues and to prepare election ammunition? Secondly, if he is using public money for that purpose, will he note that some of us take strong exception to that? Thirdly, if the civil servants have got it massively wrong, where has that money been coming from and who is paying for the costings?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

No additional public resources are employed in the costings.