6 February 2023
Harriett Baldwin speaks in Charter for Budget Responsibility debate

Harriett Baldwin highlights the merit of having forecasts produced independently of the Treasury by the Office for Budget Responsibility but calls for a more realistic approach concerning the fuel duty projections used in the forecast which are out of line with reality. 

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, and may I associate myself with those passionately expressed words from the Chair?

I did think there might be a few more people here this evening to talk about the charter for Budget responsibility, after we have had so much debate across the country about the Office for Budget Responsibility and its forecasts over the last year or so. This was the year when the Office for Budget Responsibility made it into the headlines on numerous occasions, so I thought there might have been a bit more of a heated debate. I listened to the words of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), and I am not sure I understand at the end of his speech whether the Opposition are in favour of tonight’s motion and of the charter. I am not sure whether they are in favour of Budget responsibility. In fact, I did not hear any suggestions at all for solutions to the criticisms that he raised.

This evening, I reiterate, for those who were not here in early 2010, the rationale for the setting up of the Office for Budget Responsibility. It was because, in the Treasury of 2008, 2009 and early 2010, it was far too easy for the Government simply to make their own forecasts and to mark their own homework. I think there is merit in having someone external to the Treasury and oblivious to ministerial pressure come up with a set of forecasts. We all acknowledge that none will be perfect, or have perfect foresight about the future, but that externality means there is a way of marking the Treasury work and the Treasury projections. A Chancellor can certainly make an argument about why they may take issue with some of the elements going into the forecast, and there is often a more dynamic quality to tax revenues than is perhaps put into some of the external forecasts referenced this evening. A Chancellor can certainly have a debate about the numbers, but we do need to remind ourselves of the importance of this process and its external nature.

The other point I want to raise is about the fiction, which the Treasury Committee highlighted in one of our recent reports, that clouds the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts for fuel duty. Again, this practice goes back many Chancellors and many Governments, and it is about putting into the projections for future tax revenue a ratchet up every year of fuel duty, yet for the last 12 or 13 years, every Chancellor coming to the Dispatch Box has decided not to implement it. It would be astonishing—I note that the Chief Secretary gave me a little cheeky smile—to see what is currently projected for fuel duty in the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast, which is for an extra 12p to go on to fuel after the Budget if the Chancellor does nothing. I think we can all agree that that is fiction. I cannot see the Chancellor coming to the Dispatch Box on 15 March and increasing fuel duty by 12p—I would be astonished—because the temporary one-year reduction of 5p will expire and there is the cumulative impact of the ratchet over the years.

I just wanted to highlight that there is some element of a work of fiction in the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast. It would be healthier for all concerned if a more realistic approach could be taken to the forecast for fuel duty not just in the short term, but in the medium term, because I think we all recognise that there will have to be a change, as more and more people are buying electric cars, in how we tax transport and drivers. I also wanted to publicise how our Committee has come together on a cross-party basis to make that point.