New Clause 10 — Impact of the Spending Round 2013 on tax revenue

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 2nd July 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport 4:00 pm, 2nd July 2013

I will try to say something positive about new clause 10. It is quite laudable, in a way, because it would link spending to taxation and get us to engage in retrospective analysis, and frankly we do not do enough of that in this place. We talk about policy a great deal, but the long-term effects are often hidden from us. It can be quite counter-intuitive. We had an interesting debate yesterday on the 50% tax rate, the Laffer curve and the effect that such a rate might or might not have. There are plenty of other examples where the effect of taxation needs to be adequately scrutinised. In Committee we debated what tax avoidance measures would do to people’s behaviour, what petrol taxation would do to people’s behaviour and to the revenue we get, what landfill tax would do to councils’ behaviour, and what the video games industry would make of the various changes that will affect it.

My problem with what Catherine McKinnell is saying is that I think Parliament should do what she is suggesting. It seems to me that Parliament does not have enough good, accessible data and that we make no real effort to examine the whole business of tax revenue yields in any systematic, thorough, regular or routine way. When it comes to spending, there is a very similar picture. There is no real scrutiny of spending in this place. The scrutiny we do is not even as good as that which might be found in a local council. We have the big events, such as the announcement of the spending review, but there is no detailed examination of expenditure.

If Members do not believe me, they should come along to estimates day tomorrow and see the examination of estimates that is imposed in this place. The last time we had an estimates day, I was actually ruled out of order by the Deputy Speaker—not you, Madam Deputy Speaker—for talking about the estimates, which was thought improper.

We do not examine the non-controversial, everyday departmental expenditure that goes on from year to year and the errors that occur in it. The Public Accounts Committee does a very good job of looking at the controversial stuff, but there is no rigorous, effective or ongoing examination of expenditure. We do not do enough of that and we do not know enough about what tax policy actually does, how Departments spend and what the profile of a Departments is on a day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year basis.

Arguably, somebody in the basement of the Treasury knows the spending profile of Departments, but they would probably be unable to give the hon. Lady the answer she wants in three months, and probably not in six months. I think she has to recognise that she is making a hard ask and, in my view, probably a futile one, because if we do not do any real scrutiny of taxation in this place—we scrutinise policy, but certainly not outcomes—beyond headline figures and big grandstanding days such as the announcement of the spending review, then what we are essentially doing with the Government finance is firefighting.

What takes place in this place is not effective financial scrutiny. We do not look at the boring, pedestrian, routine and important spending, which is massive. The new clause asks the Treasury to mark its own work, and I am sure that it would be perfectly happy in some contexts to do so, but what we really need is to get Parliament to do the work and to give us an answer that would satisfy us, including the hon. Lady.