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Party Spending (OBR Audit)

Volume 585: debated on Tuesday 2 September 2014

2. If he will take steps to allow the Office for Budget Responsibility to audit the spending plans of political parties. (905044)

Autumn statement 2013 announced that, as required by legislation, the OBR is launching an external review of its publications over the course of 2014. The external review team will publish its independent report tomorrow. Following the outcome of that review, the Government will hold their own review of the OBR at the start of the next Parliament.

That was very interesting but it had nothing to do with the question. The figure of £21 billion that the Chancellor mentioned in his answer to question 1 will presumably be sent now by the Minister to the OBR to be checked as to whether it is factually correct, or is the figure a political smear, as usual from the Chancellor, that he is not prepared to stand up by sending it for scrutiny to the OBR—yes or no?

Much of that £21 billion figure is based on the Labour party’s own announcements. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is complaining about that. If the Labour party wants to have credibility on fiscal policy, perhaps it should stop making so many announcements of spending splurges. Our view is that the OBR is in its infancy. We want the organisation to succeed and therefore do not want to draw it into party political matters.

If the OBR ever does decide to look at the Labour party’s figures, perhaps it will be able to explain how it is possible for the Labour party to be able to call for reductions in borrowing and in the deficit while making all sorts of promises to spend billions of pounds that it simply does not have. Does it not show that the Labour Members are as incoherent on economics as they were when they lost the last general election?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The OBR is a very successful organisation that has achieved a lot, but trying to explain the fiscal policy of the Labour party is something that would currently be beyond it.

Why are the Financial Secretary, the Chancellor and the whole Treasury scared of having such an audit? It is the most appropriate thing for the OBR to do. The OBR is one of their better creations; we have complimented them on it and supported it all the way. Perhaps we should have set it up ourselves but we have got it now. I will tell the Minister why they will not arrange for such an audit. It is because they are frit. The whole Government know that the OBR would endorse and give a clear bill of health to our plans.

My memory is that the Labour party did not support the OBR all the way. There is a debate to be had about the future of the organisation, but we do believe that, in its infancy, an organisation of this sort needs to be secure. That argument was used by the Labour party when the relevant Bill was passed in the House of Lords.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, rather than trying to untangle the mess of the current spending plans, the OBR’s time might be better used looking at the spending plans of the Labour party when it was in government so that the public have a verified and independent record of the mess it left before the next general election?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion, but I think the record is fairly clear whether the OBR looks at it or not. The previous Government left our public finances in a desperate mess and we are continuing to recover from that mess.

As well as auditing manifestos, we propose that the OBR should be tasked with monitoring and reporting on the Government’s progress on child poverty, including the impact of Budget decisions. Why will not the Government task the OBR with taking on this role? Is it because the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that by 2020 almost 1 million more children will be living in relative poverty and almost 1.4 million in absolute poverty?

Every week, another new task comes from the Labour party for the OBR. Child poverty is down by 300,000. That is the record and those are the numbers that have been produced. We believe that the OBR has had a very good start as an organisation. We value it and believe that it has an important future, and we will not jeopardise it by letting Labour use it for party political games.