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Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 20th April 2004.

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Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 4:46 pm, 20th April 2004

I should like to start by reminding the House of my interests recorded in the Register of Members' Interests, although I cannot for the life of me think how they would be in any way relevant to what I am about to say.

I thoroughly agree with Angela Eagle about the problem of age discrimination in the job market and in the health service. I have twice introduced ten-minute Bills designed to address that problem—once under the Major Government. I think that I was the first Member to do so on either side of the House, although several people have picked up the cause since then. I once received an answer from the present Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time saying that he intended to legislate on the subject. I am afraid that that was just one more broken Labour promise, but I am glad that at least I have one ally on the other side of the House.

I want to make three points today. Two of them go to the heart of the Government's fiscal and economic policies, although the one that I shall start with is important, even though it might strike some hon. Members as a strange matter for me to talk about. However, it is a matter of public interest and something should be said about it. I want to talk about the Red Book—or the white book, as it has now become; perhaps we should refer to it as such. It has always—not just in my time, but for generations—been the foundational document for discussions in the House on the Government's fiscal and economic policy and the relationship between fiscal policy and the rest of the economy. It is foundational not only for our discussions in the House; it is the only document that is readily available to the public—to those who send us here, who pay their taxes, who take an intelligent interest in what is going on and who want to have the relevant facts and figures to hand.

I am worried about the increasing politicisation of that document, and about the declining standard of the presentation of the facts in it. When I first came into the House, the Red Book, as it then was—it was genuinely red in those days, although that does not matter—was a document that simply set out facts in a dispassionate, even austere, fashion. That has been true for many generations under Governments of both parties. There were no gimmicks or politically loaded phrases. There was no political rhetoric of any kind.The book is now full of PR-speak, value judgments and loaded words. There is a great deal about fairness for all and high-quality public services. That is about the most politically controversial statement that can be made at present—whether our public services really are good value—and it is quite inappropriate in a document of this kind.

More serious still, while there is a clear tendency to make historical comparisons with 1997–98 when they seem favourable to the Government, where the facts or the historical indices would clearly be unfavourable to the Government or would raise embarrassing questions about Government policy, no figures are provided—at least not in the context of comparisons with 1997–98.

This is, or ought to be, of importance to the whole House. It will certainly be important to the public, and it should be important to Treasury officials who serve the public and whose interest must be in the good economic governance of the country, and hence in maximum credibility for our fiscal policies. They should be sure to resist any political pressures when putting this document together, and in my personal opinion the spin doctors should be locked out of the building.