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Government Borrowing

Volume 885: debated on Thursday 30 January 1975

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11.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is his latest estimate of the Government's borrowing requirement for the year 1974–75; and what steps he is taking designed to reduce it.

15.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his estimate of the public sector borrowing requirement for the current financial year has increased; and, if so, by what amount since his Budget Statement on 12th November 1974.

42.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, and by what means, he proposes to reduce the public sector deficit of £6,300 million.

It is not customary to give forecasts of the public sector borrowing except at Budget time.

Regardless of whether it is customary to give such estimates, is the Chancellor satisfied that he knows what the increase in the borrowing requirement might be? Does he recall that during the debates on the Finance Bill in July, when we were arguing about public expenditure, he maintained that the increase in the borrowing requirement was only a few hundred million pounds and that four months later it was revealed to be more than £2,000 million? Did he not know at the time, or was it not politic to tell the House?

I am staggered at the effrontery of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. The hon. Gentleman asked me to predict the borrowing requirement this year. Yesterday he and his right hon. and hon. Friends increased the borrowing requirement by £240 million. They are seeking in Committee to reduce the Government's revenue by reducing the rates of taxation and thereby again to increase the borrowing requirement. There has been a series of Questions on the Floor of the House this afternoon seeking to reduce the revenue from taxation. I cannot predict how far the irresponsibility of the Opposition will go.

May I ask my right hon. Friend, purely academically and without wishing to bring politics into it, whether he agrees that, as domestic credit expansion is increasing at twice the rate of M3, the public borrowing requirement—as well as the increase in wages—is having an inflationary effect?

No, Sir, I do not, because the public sector borrowing requirement adds to the money stock only to the extent that it is advanced in sterling through the banking system, and all the indicators show that the monetary pressures adding to inflation are not increasing. Substantial increases in budget deficits are now occurring all over the world as the result of recent oil price increases and the need to counter recession. The United States Secretary of the Treasury announced recently that the central Government deficit alone in the United States will amount to $85 billion over the next 17 months—that is, £35 billion. The West German Government recently announced that they expect their central Government financial deficit this year to amount to 50,000 million deutschemarks—that is, £10 million. Opposition Members, who are doing everything they can to seek to increase the Government's borrowing requirement, would have done well to take the oportunity to keep their mouths closed on this question this afternoon.

Has the Chancellor's attention been drawn to the views of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry about the bad effects from the point of view of national sovereignty of British membership of the EEC? Does not the Chancellor agree that Oriental borrowing on a massive scale from the Shahanshah of Iran and the King of Saudi Arabia—who are not happy bedfellows with the right hon. Gentleman—puts in hock our own foreign policy? Will he address himself to this matter?

I do not think that the faintly ridiculous and outdated chauvinism displayed by the hon. Member will commend itself to either side of the House. I would remind him that the borrowing of which he complains was begun by the Conservative Government before we had an oil deficit.

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify one simple point: is it his objective to reduce the level of the public sector borrowing requirement?

Let me say, Mr. Speaker, "You, too, Brutus". [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am quoting, Mr. Speaker, as you recognise, and not addressing myself directly to you. Of course I should like to see the public sector borrowing requirement less high than it is, but it is even more important to avoid mass unemployment. At the moment we have a choice. That choice is not made any simpler by the fact that the hon. Member and his Conservative colleagues last night, and continuously in Committee at present, are seeking to increase the borrowing requirement by forcing on the Government unwanted increases in the public sector and are seeking to reduce public revenue.

Will my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear, so that there can be no misunderstanding in view of the general concern about the public borrowing requirement, that following the decision taken by the Opposition last night the Government will tackle the consequences of that vote not by cutting public expenditure but by raising taxation in another area to compensate for the decision that was reached?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I made that very clear, and I am now studying various interesting possibilities to ensure that the cost of the decision forced on the Government last night by the Opposition is borne by those who are capable of bearing the cost.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that what the House decided last night, with the co-operation of Labour Members, is unwanted expenditure to help old people? Secondly, he made the claim that it will increase the borrowing requirement by £240 millon. In view of the fact that his arithmetic has no precedent and knows no bounds, will the Chancellor publish in the Official Report how that calculation is made?

I recognise that many items of public expenditure are desperately wanted by many people, including that which was voted last night, but in the circumstances of the time choices must be made—and choices have been made by the Government. I find it odd coming from the right hon. Gentleman, who has pledged himself to support any attempt made by the Government to keep public expenditure under control, that he should have supported that increase by his vote and also by what he said a moment ago. Secondly, on the question of how the sum is made up, if the right hon. Gentleman had been here during yesterday's debate he would have heard a detailed account of the sums given in the speeches of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security.