The Economy and Welfare Reform

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:37 pm on 25th May 2005.

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Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:37 pm, 25th May 2005

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at end add—

'but regret that the Gracious Speech does not contain measures to address the major challenges the British economy now faces to ensure its competitiveness in the light of unprecedented global competition;
further regret the absence of measures to bridge the skills gap so that the UK has the right skills for tomorrow's economy;
deplore the failure to include in the Gracious Speech a credible programme for cutting the burden of regulation which stifles business and holds back entrepreneurs;
condemn the absence of measures to ensure value for taxpayers' money in order to improve public services and remove the need for further tax increases;
and further regret the absence of measures in the Gracious Speech to tackle the pensions crisis to which Government policy has contributed, or to encourage savings to help give people greater security and dignity in retirement.'.

Let me start by congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Brown, on his new constituency, and on his reappointment as Chancellor. He is the longest serving Chancellor in recent British history, and I genuinely congratulate him on that impressive record. I know that he sees himself as Prime Minister in waiting, and I only hope that he proves better at being Prime Minister than he has been at waiting.

I welcome my right hon. Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind back to his place. Later today he will demonstrate to new Members how to deliver a kind of maiden speech while winding up a Queen's Speech debate. It is traditional for a new Member to take us on a tour of their constituency, and I am particularly looking forward to my right hon. Friend praising the progressive thinking to be found in Notting Hill.

Last week at the CBI's annual dinner, the Chancellor called for a national consensus on the way ahead for our economy. He said that the Government should be more humble—not a word that regularly passes the lips of this Chancellor of the Exchequer. Perhaps he stumbled across it while looking up "hubris" in the dictionary.

Let us explore the Chancellor's new-found humility and put his call for a national consensus to the test. I am willing to acknowledge that the British economy has enjoyed 51 quarters of continuous growth if he is willing to acknowledge that by the time he entered office, 19 of them had already happened. I am willing to accept that giving the Bank of England independence was the right thing to do, if he is ready to accept the recent Bank of England report that says that the current period of remarkable stability began five years before Labour came to power.

I am happy to recognise the value of his golden rule, if he is happy to recognise that it is undermined because the Chancellor is his own judge and jury on that rule. Whatever happened to the panel of independent forecasters that would decide whether the golden rule had been met? The Chancellor proposed it himself 10 years ago, but when that idea appeared in our manifesto this year, he opposed it. What sort of national consensus are we going to build if he cannot even agree with his own ideas?

I will also support the Chancellor's sustainable investment rule, if he will publish more honest national accounts. A report says today that £40 billion-worth of private finance initiative and other liabilities are hidden off balance sheets. We should stop this fiddling and have an independent national statistics office. It was in the Labour manifesto in 1997, and it was in our manifesto this year. What more of a consensus is he looking for? He should get away and implement it.