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Mr. Dorrell: I am pleased that the right hon. Lady has confirmed the key point. The social chapter allows the introduction of new legislation by qualified majority voting. Why does the Leader of the Opposition appear not to know that when he implies that we can pick and choose?

Mrs. Beckett: This is the deal that the right hon. Gentleman's Government did. They decided to agree to qualified majority voting and brought in the Maastricht treaty. It was not the Labour party. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has never said that he does not recognise and accept--

Mr. Dorrell: Oh, he has.

Mrs. Beckett: I heard the speech to which the Secretary of State is mistakenly referring. My right hon. Friend did not make the statements that the Secretary of State suggests. My right hon. Friend has always made our position on the social chapter crystal clear, including making a commitment--which, if I recall correctly, the Prime Minister has not made--that he would veto any proposal to change our social security system through the mechanism of the social chapter.

On the social chapter, the minimum wage and the farcical mess over the 48-hour directive--described untruthfully yet again by the Government as preventing

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people from doing overtime, when it does no such thing--the revealing feature is that the Government's policy is for Britain to aim low, to be the cheapest and to undercut the worst. In contrast, we want Britain to be the best.

We believe that our only future lies in supplying goods and services of high quality, not of low quality. We must use the skills, talent and potential of our people to the full. That is why we want to develop and build on programmes such as technology foresight and enhance the work of business links--proposed in our most recent manifesto, not that of the Conservative party--which promote the use of new technology and give the best advice for marketing, for design and for the development of export potential.

We regret the Government's failure to reform competition policy for the good of all or to strengthen regulation of the utilities, as we would do, so that their duty to the consumer is secure. In their legislative programme and in the Budget, the Government have ceased to govern to secure Britain's interests, seeking only to hang on to power until the last gasp in the hope of securing their own interests.

In his response to the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the Prime Minister's interview in Los Angeles a year after the last election, in which he revealingly admitted that, despite all the claims of recovery made during the campaign, he had expected a catastrophic drop in popularity within a year. The Prime Minister said, with his customary modesty, that he had been remarkably prescient. I say that that is because he knew that he and his party had been remarkably dishonest.

The 1992 pre-election Budget was designed to obscure the true state of Britain's economy after 13 years of Tory rule. This one is designed to obscure the failure and fraudulence of that one. The intention is to try to persuade the British people to forget the Government's record and again to place their faith in the Government's promises.

For the Government to be awarded a fifth term of office would be a vote of confidence unprecedented in British political history. It is for the people to decide whether they have earned such a vote of confidence.

Mr. Tim Smith: They did last time.

Mrs. Beckett: When the people come to make that judgment--

Mr. Smith: And the time before.

Mrs. Beckett: They must weigh in the scales not just the promises--

Mr. Smith: And the time before that.

Mrs. Beckett: --but the risks of a fifth Tory term.I do not know why the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) is shouting so much. He was in the Chamber when we debated the 1992 Budget. Every promise that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends made on that day has proved false. Has he gone back to apologise to his electorate for those false promises?

Mr. Smith: I was pointing out that, before every election--1992, 1987 and 1983--we have heard the same

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threats and promises about a Labour Government. No Labour Government have been elected, and no Labour Government will be elected this time.

Mrs. Beckett: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he told lies to the British people at three successive general elections and got away with it, so he hopes that he will again? That seems to be the purport of what he is saying. The Government promised tax cuts and public spending increases in 1983 and they did not deliver them. They did the same in 1987 and did not deliver them. In 1992, they promised massive--massive--cuts in taxation.

Mr. Dorrell: Blame the people.

Mrs. Beckett: Blame the people? I blame the Government. How dare the Secretary of State say that. The Government told the people a pack of lies and they now blame the people for believing them.

Mr. Dorrell: The right hon. Lady is saying that the people got it wrong. Until Labour Members understand that it was not the people who got it wrong but Labour, they will stay on the Opposition Benches.

Mrs. Beckett: The Secretary of State is admitting that Labour told the truth at the last election and he regards that as a mistake. We have never blamed the British people. The British people have every right to expect that any political party coming before them at election time will place before them promises and pledges that have some credibility.

The Secretary of State clearly has no shame. The British people were entitled to believe that there must be some truth in what the Government told them. The people had that belief and placed their confidence in the Government. They were betrayed on every promise and pledge. It would be an unprecedented vote of confidence if the Government were returned--

Mr. Nicholls: The right hon. Lady has already said that.

Mrs. Beckett: Yes, I have and it remains true--just as I have already said on many occasions, and am happy to repeat, that the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party placed a false prospectus before the British people at the last election. Does the hon. Gentleman want to confirm that?

Mr. Nicholls: It would also be an unprecedented vote of confidence in the British people if the right hon. Lady would clarify what she said about the utility tax on 16 November. She said then:

Will she tell us which companies will be covered by that tax?

Mrs. Beckett: As I was saying, the British people--[Hon. Members: "Answer him."] I am not going to bother with the hon. Gentleman. He is not worth it.

At the next general election, the British people will have to weigh up not only the Government's promises and record but the risks of a fifth Tory term. If the

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Government were re-elected, they would believe, with some justice and as they have made it plain that they almost believe already, that they had carte blanche--a licence to do precisely as they pleased.

Apart from the Government's initial record, given what we know of their pledges to abolish inheritance tax and capital gains tax, if they were re-elected it would mean the end of the welfare state that my generation has taken for granted. People would be reliant solely on their personal employment and earnings record to enable them to insure against unemployment and ill health, to educate their children or to provide an income in retirement. All that at a time when there is no such thing as a safe job or a secure profession.

Of course, we shall be told that all this is scaremongering or even, as the Government said in a special campaign guide at the last general election, "disgraceful scaremongering". That was said of our prediction that, given the state of the economy, if re-elected the Tories would raise or spread value added tax or national insurance contributions, or invent new taxes and charges. We were telling the truth then and we are telling the truth now.

I referred to the Prime Minister's interview in the Los Angeles Times, in which he also said:

The Government make claims for success unprecedented in Britain and unparalleled in Europe, yet they have had opportunities unprecedented in Britain and unparalleled in Europe. From the North sea alone, they have had revenues equivalent in today's money of £22 million every day for 16 years. Privatisation--selling the nation's silver, Harold Macmillan called it--has brought in revenues equivalent to £13 million every day for 16 years. From those two sources alone, the Government have had the equivalent in today's money of £35 million every day of the week for a solid 16 years.

Britain should be the enterprise centre of Europe. The fact that we are not and, that we are outsold by our competitors, and the state of our transport infrastructure, hospitals, houses and schools, must all lie at the door of this Government, with their unprecedented record and their unparalleled opportunities.

Britain could not afford the deceit practised on the British people at the last general election, still less can it afford to offer the Government the chance to betray our people again.

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