George Osborne wasn't so keen on balanced budget laws when Gordon Brown proposed one

The Chancellor has had a change of heart in government

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Indy Politics

George Osborne derided the idea of laws to force governments to balance their budgets when Gordon Brown proposed one in 2009, parliamentary records show.

Mr Osborne today however said he would bring forward a similar law that would compel him and future Chancellors to maintain a budget surplus when the economy is growing.

The proposed surplus law is one of two similar laws proposed in the Conservative manifesto. The other is a legal commitment binding the government not to raise personal taxes.

During a debate in Parliament in 2009, however, Mr Osborne said that proposals for such laws were a sign that people had lost confidence in Chancellors.

“No other Chancellor in the long history of the office has felt the need to pass a law in order to convince people that he has the political will to implement his own Budget,” Mr Osborne told MPs at the time.

“As one commentator observed this week, there are only two conclusions. Either the Chancellor has lost confidence in himself to stick to his resolution, and is, so to speak, asking the police to help him, or he fears that everyone else has lost confidence in his ability to keep his word, but hopes that they might believe in the statute book if not in him.

“Neither is much of a recommendation for the Chancellor of the day.”


Gordon Brown had wanted to pass a Fiscal Responsibility Bill committing the Government to reducing the deficit in the next parliament.

In practice such laws are trivial to circumvent because any government with a majority to pass a budget that breaks one will have a majority to repeal the law.

It could however lay a political trap for Labour and focus the debate on spending cuts during this parliament – an area that has proved politically difficult for the opposition party.

“With our national debt unsustainably high, and with the uncertainty about what the world economy will throw at us in the coming years, we must now fix the roof while the sun is shining,” he will say in the speech today.

The Government is committed to balancing day-to-day spending by eliminating the structural deficit by the end of 2017-18.