Budget Statement (Advance Disclosure)

- Wednesday, 2nd July 1997

 

Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (by private notice): To ask the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons if she will move to set up a Select Committee to investigate advance disclosure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget statement. [Interruption.]

 

Madam Speaker: Order. I will take no points of order until after the private notice question. I want to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say at the Dispatch Box. The House will come to order and hear exchanges. Mr. Lilley.

 

Mr. Lilley: indicated dissent.

 

Madam Speaker: In that case, we will have silence for Mrs. Taylor.

 

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor): No, we do not intend to establish such a Committee. There is always speculation at the time of the Budget about its contents, as the right hon. Gentleman, a former junior Treasury Minister, should know. I have seen no evidence that details of the Budget statement have been leaked. If the complaints are that we are sticking to manifesto commitments and election pledges, then, as the Prime Minister made clear, we are happy to confirm that this is the case.

 

Mr. Lilley: I had rather hoped that the right hon. Lady, recognising that she acts for the whole House rather than for the Government, would take this matter more seriously—certainly more seriously than her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—act on precedent and set up an inquiry. Does she not recognise that these are matters of the highest importance to the authority of the House and to the integrity of financial markets? That is why a previous Labour Chancellor, who himself disclosed contents of his own Budget before that Budget, was required to resign and the same has happened to other Treasury Ministers.

 

The right hon. Lady says that this relates to matters that were in the Labour party's manifesto. Neither of the issues disclosed before the Budget today was in the Labour party's manifesto. They are not a matter of speculation, but of disclosure of specific matters which will be in the Budget. If she says that it was a matter of which we all should be aware, why was it that, when the Treasury revealed the details of the plans to abolish in this Budget the tax relief for medical insurance for the elderly, the BBC thought that was news, Ceefax thought that was news and the journalists who phoned me thought that was news? They did not think that it was established policy and, unlike the Treasury which said that it was in the manifesto, they knew that it was not in the Labour party manifesto. It had never been declared as policy and a possible content of this Budget in the House, and I would submit to the right hon. Lady that it should not have been revealed to journalists before it was disclosed in the Budget statement in the House.

 

Whatever the right hon. Lady may say about that issue, she will surely agree that the second disclosure, on the front page of the Financial Times today, written by its respected political correspondent, states: A senior member of the government said"— about the plans to abolish dividend tax credits and take billions of pounds out of pension funds— the markets are bonkers … we are pressing ahead with these plans. That is a clear disclosure of a very price-sensitive matter. Will the right hon. Lady agree that it is necessary to inquire into the fact that there have been share price movements following both disclosures?

 

Does the right hon. Lady recall that when an official, without authorisation, leaked the contents of the Budget last year, the then shadow Chancellor—now the Chancellor—said: I condemn this leak and I think nobody can condone the leak of sensitive Budget matters the day before the Budget. I am sure that a full inquiry is going to be mounted"? Why is no inquiry to be mounted on this occasion? Why is no Select Committee to be set up, even though one was in the Hugh Dalton case? Does the right hon. Lady agree with the former Labour Prime Minister, Attlee, who said: The principle of the inviolability of the Budget is of the highest importance, and the discretion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer must he beyond question"? Does she agree with Hugh Dalton's reaction when he was urged not to admit that he was the Minister responsible? Does she accept that whichever Treasury Minister briefed The Times and was quoted by the Financial Times must own up and say that he did it? Finally, does she agree that there must be an inquiry to clear up these matters before we can proceed?

 

Mrs. Taylor: I think that the right hon. Gentleman has confirmed our fears that this is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to disrupt the Budget, because the Opposition are so afraid of the popularity of our manifesto commitments. The right hon. Gentleman really ought to learn the difference between speculation and disclosure. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, speculation of the type that appears in the Financial Times today has preceded every other Budget, too.

 

As for the abolition of tax relief on medical insurance, which the right hon. Gentleman claims has been revealed to the world for the first time today, I remind him and his colleagues that on 25 February 1997 the Conservative party published an attack on Labour's plans which included the words: Labour are committed to cutting VAT on fuel to 5 per cent. Labour have said that they will pay for this by abolishing tax relief on medical insurance for pensioners. I can confirm to the House that the purpose of Budget secrecy is to prevent sensitive material from being leaked, not to prevent manifesto commitments from being kept.

 

 

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