Pre-Budget Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 25th November 1997.

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Photo of Gordon Brown Gordon Brown The Chancellor of the Exchequer 3:30 pm, 25th November 1997

I am grateful for the chance to continue my debates with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not know which will happen more quickly—his reaching the leadership of the Conservative party or the Conservative party's no longer existing to be led.

As for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's three points, first I shall tell him why my July Budget was needed. First, it was needed to cut VAT on fuel, which he had refused to do. Secondly, there was the introduction of the windfall levy that was necessary for our welfare-to-work programme. Thirdly, I had to introduce measures for stability that he had failed to introduce during the three years that he was Chancellor.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to create a myth about the difference between his record, which he wants to promote, and that of Lord Lawson, whom he is happy to see remain in a difficult position. I have to tell him that, when we came into office, we were told that inflation was forecast to rise way beyond the target. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Bank of England was telling him for six months before the general election that, on its understanding of the position, interest rates should have risen.

I was not prepared to go back to a situation, as in the late 1980s, where interest rates had to rise late because the action to tackle inflation had not been taken, forcing the country into the stop-go instability of recession. Let us remind the Conservatives that, in 1990, interest rates went up to 15 per cent. and wages had gone up by 10 per cent.—[HON. MEMBERS: "ERM."] That was before the ERM. Inflation was at 10 per cent. We are not going back to those conditions.

The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said that our changes to pension funds were unnecessary. Let me remind him that his special adviser on tax before the election has written an article in the Financial Times, supporting our reforms. From what he said in that article, I believe that he will support the further reforms in advance corporation tax announced today.

The tragedy is that the former Chancellor was in power for three years and could—and should—have made these reforms in the interests of long-term investment in this country. We will take no lectures from a Chancellor who should have raised interest rates before the election, but did not do so for political reasons.