Douglas Carswell

25 NOV 2015

Cut spending, empower Parliament

Today, George Osborne will deliver the Autumn Statement. He might use clever clogs words to hide it from us, but things aren't going well. Government spending keeps going up. The national debt is still increasing. The deficit is getting wider. In fact, the only thing that's falling is the Chancellor's popularity rating.

David Cameron correctly styled himself the heir to Blair. George Osborne has been less keen to admit he is the heir to Brown. But his record speaks for itself.

Like Brown, Osborne has presided over an unprecedented rise in public debt – which has doubled since he took office. Like Brown, he is borrowing during an economic boom. Like Brown, his spending plans are based on constant economic growth – the illusion that he has abolished boom and bust.

Osborne is deliberately disingenuous about controlling spending. But to be fair to him, no modern Government has managed to make cuts – not even Margaret Thatcher's.

Why?

Because the executive has a vested interest in increasing spending. Every Government department always wants more money. So ministers sitting at the Cabinet table invariably lobby for more funding for their departments.

But it hasn't always been this way. The budget wasn't always written entirely behind closed doors in the Treasury. Parliament used to be able to amend the text. In fact, the enormous twentieth-century expansion of the State can be traced to the point in the 1930s when MPs lost the power to amend budgets. Since then they can only boo or cheer. Often MPs won't even understand the tax and spending as they do so.

Look at countries that keep spending in check: Switzerland, Australia, South Korea. They have powerful legislatures that do their job of controlling public spending. The United States may have serious debt problems, but they would be even worse were it not for the power of Congress. Twice in recent years, the legislature has pushed through budget cuts against the will of the President.

Imagine what we could do here if Parliament had the same power. What if each government department had to have its spending plan scrutinised and approved by a select committee of MPs? What if select committees had the power to veto departmental budgets?

The Autumn Statement is a ritualistic sham. The Chancellor's statement to Parliament gives the illusion of accountability. In fact, Parliament is powerless to do anything but rubber stamp his plans. Unsustainable spending is possible because there are no real checks on the Treasury's dominion over taxpayers' money. The solution is to empower Parliament.

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