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Mr. Simon Hughes: I am as sceptical of the PFI as the right hon. Lady, but her criticism is entirely flawed unless she and her colleagues will give a commitment--we are within months of a general election--not only to revenue funding of the health service but to capital funding, which she says should not come from the private sector. Four months before the general election, why has no such commitment been made on either matter? What are the minimum amounts that the Labour party would provide for revenue funding, for capital funding, or for both?

Mrs. Beckett: I am sorry to have to fall out with the hon. Gentleman, but it is typical of the Liberal party's irresponsibility for it to think that we should do what the Government would prefer us to do--pluck figures out of the air, on the assumption that we can believe the basic case made by the Government in their Budget. We are not prepared to do that now, as we have not been prepared to do it previously in this Parliament. I shall, however, return to the hon. Gentleman's point later in my speech.

The basic message of this Budget package and of this debate is, "Thanks to our wise Government, our problems have all been overcome. We have economic success that is unprecedented in Britain's post-war history, and unparalleled in Europe"--the Secretary of State said that we are a "role model" in Europe--"which only a change of Government or a change of course can place in jeopardy." They said precisely the same thing from the Dispatch Box in the pre-election Budget of 1992, and, unfortunately, the British people gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Mr. Dorrell indicated assent.

Mrs. Beckett: The Secretary of State says that that message was true; that is very interesting.

There was, however, no change of Government, and there was no change of course. The Government were given the same mandate that they seek today--a mandate

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to deliver on their promises. "Vote Tory today," said the Prime Minister on election day, "and the recovery continues tomorrow." They promised a three-card trick--lower taxes, higher public spending and cuts in public borrowing--and here it is all over again.

The Government claimed then that--because of their skilful and prudent economic management, even with tax cuts and improvements in public services--the public sector borrowing requirement would be down to £6 billion by this year, 1996. But even after tax increases, which so far have brought in an extra £17 billion, this year the PSBR is nearer to £27 billion--four and a half times what they predicted before the election.

The Chancellor said in the Budget debate:

There has been £17 billion in extra tax, but there is still a PSBR of £27 billion.

Despite the Government's explicit and repeated promises--the Secretary of State made promises on health today--that there would be no increase in value added tax, no widening of the scope of VAT, no increase in national insurance contributions and no new taxes and charges, they did the lot. However much we may accuse them of deceit--which we do--no one can say that they were not thorough. They even took the one action that no one had predicted: to increase income tax by freezing or cutting allowances. I suppose that we may imagine the Chancellor saying, "May as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb."

Today, adding insult to injury--which the Government have made something of an art form--they claim not only that people are better off today than at the most recent general election, but that that is the Government's doing. I heard the Chief Secretary make that claim in last Wednesday's debate. He said:

The Secretary of State for Health made the same claim today, and he explicitly stated that it is the Government's achievement.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): This is a horrible speech.

Mrs. Beckett: Yes, I agree that that was a horrible speech.

I should like to share with the House the experience of a friend who works for a small local builder--[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) will be interested in this comparison.

Mr. Nicholls: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett: Not now; I am about to tell this story.

It was a large local builder, but a few more years of the Government's "unprecedented economic record" made it a small local builder. Recently, the friend found some old wage slips. He is currently working exactly the same hours as he was then. Because of the conditions in the building trade, he is working at exactly the same hourly rate, but he takes home £4 a week less. That is the

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Government's doing, and that is the impact of their tax increases on disposable income. But there is more--more VAT; more new taxes and charges, such as those on insurance; and higher council tax--to pay out of that reduced income.

The Government cannot be trusted on tax or on health care because, as they proved in 1992, they cannot be trusted on the economy.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington): Does the right hon. Lady agree that businesses want certainty? I have read that this "windfall tax" may not apply only to privatised industries. Will she tell us how that tax will be defined and which companies will have to pay, or will she give a categoric undertaking that it will apply only to privatised industries?

Mrs. Beckett: The Government have already provided a whole day for a debate on the windfall tax; if they want to provide another one, no doubt they will do so. I do not have the slightest intention of trying to prejudge any Budget that my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor may bring to the House; I am discussing the Budget that the current Chancellor presented last week and, indeed, the Budget on which the hon. Gentleman and all this other shower fought the previous election.

As I was saying, in 1992 the Conservatives proved, in their election address and the way in which it was falsified, that they cannot be trusted on the economy. But, of course, that was not the first time. In fact, it was the third time, and the Government are trying with this year's Budget to make it the fourth.

In 1983, the Government cut taxes a month before the election and cut spending a month after. In 1987, they cut taxes before the election and the spending that they promised never materialised. In 1992, of course, they promised to cut taxes and to cut the tax burden but reneged on that promise more comprehensively and more thoroughly than any Government in British history. Just as they told half-truths, if not downright untruths, on tax, so almost everything they said about the economy then, like everything they say about the economy today, is either half-true or untrue. They never look at both sides of the coin or of the balance sheet and never present the whole picture of where Britain actually stands.

The Government boast that exports have risen--the Chief Secretary did so again on Wednesday--but the Chancellor's Red Book shows just how poor their performance has been. Yes, exports are up--for example, in September by an excellent 2.4 per cent., taking us to a record of £14.2 billion--but imports are up even more, by a not so excellent 4.6 per cent. As a result, Britain has a deficit on the nation's current account, a deficit that has persisted for 10 years of the Government's economic stewardship. The Chancellor said, with his usual cheerful complacency, that that account was almost in balance--but we are supposed to be, as he claimed in the Budget speech, five years into a recovery, and we still have a deficit.

Our deficit on international trade is even worse and has endured for 13 years. As the Red Book acknowledges:

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    that is presumably a little further. In fact, the non-oil deficit is forecast to be a massive £18 billion in 1997.

Although manufacturing provides two thirds of our export earnings, the Government are always happy to highlight our surplus in services, without which, of course, the current account would be nowhere near balance. Unfortunately, that, too, is forecast to fall in 1996 from its level in 1995. As a consequence, the near balance that the Chancellor mentioned on the current account is itself set to deteriorate in 1997 and to deteriorate still further in 1998.

Even in the one area of some good news--the balance of payments current account--the forecast of improvement in 1996 will not be sustained. It will get worse in 1997 and worse still, according to the Red Book, in 1988. "Widen a little" is the euphemism--the forecast is that it will almost double from £2¼ billion in 1996 to £4¼ billion in 1997.

These are all alarming figures. To put them in the context of the Government's many claims to be doing better than others in Europe--to be, as the Secretary of State claimed, a role model--let me remind the House of another Government claim in which there is some substance but much misdirection. [Interruption.] Substance in the improvement, misdirection in the actual achievement.

In 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994, Britain had the worst trade deficit of the EU Twelve but--I must be fair--there has been some improvement. Last year, we had only the second worst deficit of the EU Twelve--so much for the best prospects for a generation.

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