EU: Budget Report — Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 25th April 2013.

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Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour 12:45 pm, 25th April 2013

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on powerfully reinforcing what my noble friend Lord Eatwell said from the Front Bench about why this government policy is so inadequate.

I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that I thought she was telling us that she was not too happy about even bothering with these Motions and why did we have do it. We did sign the Maastricht treaty and now this Government are following the previous Government in believing that we have to continue with these Motions. I share her certainty that we are not going to join the euro. That is not because we are as inadequate to join as, for example, Greece and Cyprus, but because Gordon Brown laid it down very clearly in five economic tests, none of which could conceivably be met by any Government. At that time I was not terribly happy with them but that made it certain that we were never going to join.

We have these two Motions before us. I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that I could not conceivably support them. I do not know how anybody could. Indeed, if he was sitting on the Back Benches now, I am sure that he would oppose the signing of these Motions. On the first Motion, we are asked to approve what the Office for Budget Responsibility has said about the fiscal outlook and the Budget Report. I certainly do not agree with that and I could not support it. The second Motion is even worse. We are told that we should support,

"the five key priorities of the 2013 Annual Growth Survey which are in line with the Government's domestic growth agenda", and,

"the Government's view that it is important to focus on implementation of existing reform commitments".

We are told that we have "growth-friendly fiscal consolidation". I do not know how anyone could describe the Government's policy as growth-friendly. I bet that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not really be able to support that proposition.

As I said, it is impossible to support the two Motions. They are based on forecasts made by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Any forecast beyond today is difficult for anyone to support. What we have now from the Office for Budget Responsibility is regular adjustments of its forecasts. The forecasts are meaningless. I do not blame the Government for the forecasts, all of which are inadequate, but I do blame them for believing them. How anyone can believe a forecast for five years ahead I find difficult to imagine. Today's forecast happily does not show that we are in recession, but that will be revised in a few weeks' time by 0.1% or 0.2 %-who knows? That is only for this quarter. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, like everyone else in the Government, keeps telling us that they have cut the deficit by a quarter, a third, or whatever. The fact is that in 2010, the Government forecast that they would eliminate the budget deficit by 2015. It is now called a rolling forecast. Every year, it is rolled forward.

There is now a forecast that it will be in balance by 2018. How can anyone believe that it is possible to make a forecast five years ahead? We do not know. It could be 2019 or 2020 before we get balance; we cannot be certain that it will be in 2018. The reason is that we have not got growth. Without growth, it will get worse, inevitably. Given our constant lower growth, we cannot rely on that forecast for 2018, not 2015. All that we can rely on is what is happening now, and even that is uncertain.

In the second Motion, we are asked to support that view. How can anyone ask us to support forecasts of that kind? Even the OBR does not believe them. It states in paragraph 143 of its latest report:

"There is considerable uncertainty around our central forecast".

I am not surprised. It is inevitable that there is uncertainty about a forecast for five years ahead. We are then told that all central forecasts are unreliable and uncertain, so why on earth are the Government accepting them and relying on them to carry on with their whole policy?

I find this whole debate, and the fact that someone like the noble Lord, Lord Newby, is blithely reading out what the Treasury have given him, surprising. Unfortunately, I have agreed to give a seminar tomorrow in the Treasury on the 1976 crisis. I took the trouble to look at what I did at the time, what I said in my book and what my dear friend Lord Healey said in his autobiography. He said that there had been a £2,000 billion error in the forecast at the time. I assume that he did not mean £2 trillion, but no one has corrected it since. Even a £2 billion error in the forecast would have been enough. He said that, without it, there would not have been a 1976 crisis. That may or may not be true, but the fact is that we had a 1976 crisis, all because we were relying on those hopeless and inadequate forecasts that Governments have believed.

Personally, because I do not believe any forecasts beyond today, I find it impossible to go along with the two Motions. I am sorry that there will not be a vote; if there were, I would be happy to vote against them.