My Lords, I am a mere observer of government over quite a long time. Obviously, we all support the 0.7% target and the whole gesture of telling the world that we intend to stick to it. However, you cannot translate a gesture literally into statute like this. The way that it is being done shoots an arrow straight into the heart of good government. The Treasury system of controlling spending is a complicated and sophisticated one but one that, in my view, has done very well.
The last big change to it was in the 1970s. At that time, public spending was based on the old Plowden system of allocating resources, which effectively pre-empted decisions. The House of Commons was, again and again, asked to vote supplementary estimates, which it did with virtually no discussion. The whole thing descended into total chaos and there was a major economic crisis. That was then changed to the present system, with cash limits and proper scrutiny of each proposal, by the great Leo Pliatzky, who was then the Permanent Secretary in charge of spending. That was based on the system of cash-flow management used in the private sector. Until cash-flow management came into force, an awful lot of perfectly good companies went bust because cash flow was out of control. I do not believe we can change the principle of proper control of public spending for one particular thing, however desirable and however much we support it. That is why I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Butler.