"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

EU Budgetary Oversight: Becoming Clearer

This afternoon's Treasury Questions threw further light on the government's stance on EU agreement to vet budgets before national Parliaments see them.  Britain appears to be the last man standing (see also here and a misleading headline from the Telegraph here).

I only saw the first hour but Osborne & his team put in a strong performance - almost everyone seemed to be on top of the issues and most questions were answered, much like last week's PMQs.  I think Osborne will do well if this, his first appearance at the despatch box, is anything to go by.  I can see why some don't like him - he's quick-witted, doesn't suffer fools gladly and has a way of putting down his opponents with spikey humour.  To me, that's no reason at all but I'm not a Labour MP on the receiving end.  All in all it was quite a merry hour.

Here are some questions which stood out, though I've omitted the negative & hypocritical bleating from the Labour benches - they should have become an irrelevance at the last election, not sitting in Opposition:

Michael Fallon (Con, Sevenoaks)  Can I ask him for an assurance that the coming budget and future budgets will always be first presented to Parliament and not have to be pre-notified or approved by Brussels?

Osborne:  The Rt Hon gentleman has my absolute assurance that I would not sign up to that and indeed I made that position clear at EcoFin.  My honourable colleague who is taking my place at EcoFin today has also made  this clear and it's absolutely certain that in future budgets will be presented, first of all, to the House of Commons.

Richard Harrington (Con,  Watford) Q.4.  What was the estimated expenditure on external consultants from 1997?

Alexander: Information on 1997 central expenditure on external consultancy not held centrally but records for 2007/08, the first year for which figures are available, show spending on external consultants was £773million in central departments.  In 2008/09 that rose to £1.1billion for central departments [gasps of shock] or £1.57billion when the whole of central government is taken into account.  Future expenditure will fall significantly as the result of the freeze on consultancy spend announced by the government.

Harrington then stood to criticise the "gross profligacy and waste of taxpayers' money".  Alexander responded by quoting a few more statistics: The Business [? not very clear] Department spent £12,000 on branded golf balls over three years; the Ministry of Defence spent £232,000 on eight paintings in a single year;  the Department of Communities and Local Government has spent £6,000 on deluxe expresso coffee machines for nine new but empty regional fire control rooms... ...

Our old friend, Tom Watson (Lab, West Bromwich East) stood to ask how much Andy Coulson was being paid but didn't receive much of an answer from Alexander ('works at No.10, will look into it').

In an answer relating to reducing child poverty Justine Greening revealed that the OECD says the UK has the highest proportion of children living in workless households of any OECD country - nearly 18%, roughly 1.9 million children.

Mark Williams (LibDem, Ceredigion): What is the government's policy for funding devolved administrations?  Referred to "nations and regions".  Harrumph!

Alexander:  The coalition agreement "recognises the concerns" but the priority must be to reduce the defecit.  There will be "another Calman-like Commission".

Peter Bone (Con, Wellingborough): In 2008/09 our contributions to the European Union were £2.5bn.  This year it's going to be £6.4bn.  Why is it that every budget has to be cut except the European Union's, which can increase by 150%.  Is it not a case of not ring-fencing but gold-plating.

Osborne:  Well, I'm sure my Honourable friend will be glad to know that in my first EcoFin I proposed to the Council that we freeze the EU budget and there was support from other countries around the table.

Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover):  If everybody has to share the burden of cutting the budget deficit, will the Chancellor start at the very top and then will he call on the Royal Family to tell them that under no circumstances will they get a single penny of their £7m increase that they demanded in the Civil List.

Osborne:  We'll be making an announcement on the Civil List in due course but if the honourable member is looking for cost savings perhaps early retirement is something he could consider.

When Skinner heckled five minutes later Osborne invited him to "Oh, go and take the pension, please", and earned himself a reminder about Erskine May from a good-natured Speaker Bercow.

And I'll leave it at that, with the House dissolved in laughter.  David Gauke the Exchequer Secretary and Danny Alexander our new Chief Sec to the Treasury, will have to improve but Greening did well.  I was sorry Philip Hammond is no longer part of the team.

2 comments:

  1. Nice summary, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Banned. I know it's early days yet for this govt but I hope they go on like this. Watching Labour-led debates/questions was awful - all their lies, verbal abuse and deflection of questions was stomach-churning.

    ReplyDelete

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