Labour in manifesto scrutiny bid
Tuesday 15th October 2013, 12:31AM BST.
Labour has challenged Chancellor George Osborne to back changes to the law to allow independent scrutiny of tax and spend proposals in the general election manifestos of the main political parties.
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls announced at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton last month that the party intended to submit its manifesto to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to confirm that it contains no uncosted spending commitments.
But the announcement was dismissed as a “stunt” by Conservatives, who said that the OBR’s charter did not allow it to do the work.
Labour has now drafted a change in the law to allow the spending watchdog to scrutinise and certify the costings of proposals in manifestos of all parties with at least 5% of seats in the Commons and is urging the Chancellor to give his backing to the move.
In a letter to Mr Osborne, Mr Balls said: “As I said in Brighton, we would support any changes needed to the OBR’s charter and primary legislation and would seek to build cross-party consensus to achieve it.
“In order to achieve that consensus, I am publishing a draft amendment to the law which would enable the OBR to carry out the role I have proposed. The Clerks of the House of Commons inform us that, with your support, one option available to us is to table this amendment to next year’s Finance Bill so that the change could be made well in advance of the 2015 general election.
“I hope you will support this important reform, which I believe will enhance the role of the OBR while maintaining its impartiality and independence and ensure a more informed debate in Britain at the next election.”
Mr Balls has also written to Andrew Tyrie, chair of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, to seek his support for the reforms as well as to OBR chairman Robert Chote.
Mr Tyrie MP said: ” OBR involvement has merit if it can enhance the quality of public debate on tax and spend.
“In 2010, the Treasury Committee recommended that the OBR should have absolute discretion over the work it undertakes.
“I made clear in the Commons that this should include examining, at their request, the fiscal policies of opposition parties at election time.
“Both the Government and the Opposition rejected this approach at that time.
“If the OBR were to undertake this work, it would be essential to obtain a measure of cross-party support about the terms under which it would be conducted.”