The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:34 pm, 24th October 2019

No, I will press on. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to speak.

The Government have made £47 billion in cuts to our public services, they are giving away £110 billion and, to ramp up the profits of these corporations, they have sold out our public services to them: £9 billion-worth of contracts in health and social care were handed over to private companies this year. Outsourcing under this Government has been exposed this week for the racket it is. A report by the think tank Reform showed that outsourcing contracts wasted £14.3 billion of taxpayers’ money in the last three years. Nothing in this Queen’s Speech even acknowledges these rip-offs, let alone promises action to reverse them.

I found nothing either in the Queen’s Speech that addresses the scandal of the industrial scale of tax avoidance and money laundering that is staining the reputation of our country. Today, Transparency International published its report “At Your Service”, which shows how

UK service providers have been involved in some of the most egregious cases of corruption in our time.”

From the looks of this Queen’s Speech, the Government will continue to do nothing about it. The registration of overseas entities Bill, which will create a register of controlling owners of overseas legal entities that own UK land, is nowhere to be seen in the Queen’s Speech, three and a half years after the Government first committed to it.

We are at the tail end of what has been nearly a lost decade for our country—a near decade of the grotesque mismanagement of our economy by successive Conservative Chancellors; I am on my third in three years. The New Economics Foundation has shown that austerity has suppressed growth by almost £100 billion—that is more than £3,600 per household. After nine years of stuttering growth, GDP even went backwards in the last quarter. Public debt was meant to peak at 70% of GDP in 2013-14, only for it to rise to 86% of GDP in 2018-19. For all their stale claims of reducing the deficit, the reality is that the Conservatives have simply shifted that burden on to the shoulders of headteachers, councillors, NHS managers and police chiefs. These are the people who have had to make the tough decisions, not Government Ministers, and who have had to face up to the undermining of their services by these cuts.

Part of the testament to the Government’s failed fiscal strategy has been the litany of fiscal rules, invented, published, broadcast widely and then quietly and embarrassingly dropped. Within weeks, we hear that a new fiscal rule—probably largely stolen from us—will be announced in the Budget. I should say that we “may” have a new fiscal rule because we cannot be sure: only yesterday, despite the Chancellor announcing the Budget and its date, other Government sources were briefing that it was off. We have a Chancellor whose staff are sacked and escorted by armed guard out of their office, without his being told, and now Cummings is possibly cancelling his Budget. I give a word of advice to the Chancellor and his colleagues: get a grip on Cummings before he does any more damage to our country.

Apart from Budget making, one of the vitally important responsibilities of the Chancellor is to ensure that the Government and this House have the fullest information before them when considering legislation or issues impacting our economy. It is therefore extraordinary, and I think a dereliction of the Chancellor’s duties, that he—unlike his predecessors—has refused to publish a detailed economic impact assessment of the Government’s Brexit proposals. Studies of similar proposals have indicated a hit to the growth of our economy of between 3.4% and 8.1%. Even the lower range of that hit will have a severe impact on our people’s jobs and living standards, and on the economy overall. Surely it is only reasonable for Members to have a degree of information and analysis from the Chancellor’s Department before they make this momentous decision.

In their most recent manifestos, both the main parties committed themselves to respecting the outcome of the referendum. We do and we will, but, as we made clear on Tuesday, the House will not be bounced into an unrealistic and unfeasible timetable for considering and scrutinising such a critically important piece of legislation. That is why the Leader of the Opposition and Labour’s Chief Whip met the Prime Minister yesterday to offer a genuine compromise, and to agree on a proper timetable that will allow, in the normal manner, proper scrutiny of the Bill and the opportunity to promote, debate and determine amendments. The Opposition have set out their views on the parts of the Bill that it wishes to amend, but of course we accept that it will be the House that decides. As always, we must accept the will of the House, even if, on many occasions, we disagree with it. It is a pity that the Prime Minister does not adopt that attitude.

There is an opportunity here for us to demonstrate to our people that Parliament can and does work. If we can demonstrate civility and a rational process in the House, we may be able to help to overcome some of the division and, indeed, bitterness that have set in within our own society.