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7.54 pm

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): It is notable that Opposition Members took to heart Madam Deputy Speaker's request that, in order to enable all hon. Members to speak, speeches should be kept reasonably brief. I fear that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) may have deprived some of his colleagues of the opportunity to speak, bearing it in mind that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Pearson) are the only Opposition Back Benchers left to speak--I know that my hon. Friend will certainly bear in mind Madam Deputy Speaker's remarks about the allocation of time.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the Government's attack on motorists and roads. Motorists have been hit by a number of tax increases--once again, they will be paying fuel duty--but the increases also affect industry and commerce. As has been said, it is from industry and commerce that we get the revenue from which all else flows. To attack road users through fuel and excise duties and the insurance premium tax damages industry as well as domestic motorists.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and, indeed, the furthermost regions of England are peripheral communities in the sense that one has to travel a long way to reach them. That is especially true of the Scottish highlands and Northern Ireland. Such communities will have to bear the brunt of increased motoring costs. The Chancellor has paid little regard to the Budget's impact on them.

The increased cost of petrol and fuel will also damage the tourist industry in Scotland, in which I have a particular interest, and in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is trying to get away from violence, to encourage employment and establish a more secure industrial and commercial base. Tourism has terrific potential in Northern Ireland, but, sadly, the Province will be able to take no comfort from the extra charges to be levied on motoring.

I agree with the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) about greyhound racing. It provides jobs and entertainment, and is part of the leisure industry, but there is to be no relief for it this year. That is a poor move by the Chancellor.

It always comes as a surprise to Conservatives when Labour Members express this point of view, but I am not that fond of motorways--I can take them or leave them, depending on the need for them. However, the roads programme has been slashed, even though some of the proposed bypasses would be useful and it would be common sense to complete some existing schemes.

The roads programme was costed at approximately £20 billion in 1989, but now stands at £6 billion. It has become an easy target in the fight to save capital. Cutting the roads programme betrays a short-term approach, because traffic will snarl up, and industry and commerce will be affected. The road haulage industry is still the most important distributor for industry and commerce in the United Kingdom, but it is being damaged.

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In my constituency, we are waiting for the M74 extension. The motorway currently comes to a sudden end and the traffic piles on to Cambuslang main street in Rutherglen, causing all sorts of environmental damage and costs for industry. That is just plain daft.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Michael Jack): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a point for me? He criticised my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor for raising fuel duty, and he has now gone on to talk about the roads programme. Has he received any assurances from his right hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West--

Mr. McAvoy: East.

Mr. Jack: Has he received any assurances from his right hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that, in the event of him ever having his hands on the Treasury till, he would reverse the changes that my right hon. and learned Friend has made, and provide more money for the road programmes that are near to the hon. Gentleman's heart? Will he give a straight answer on that?

Mr. McAvoy: The Minister is asking me to do homework, but he cannot even do his homework on the name of the constituency of my right hon. Friend. [Interruption.] The Minister asked his question in his way; I shall answer in my way.

I remember watching--not from here, but on television--Lord Howe, who was then Chancellor, being asked to make a projection for the future. He rightly and sensibly said that he would not be daft enough to make predictions without knowing the full facts. How are we supposed to make predictions without possession of the full facts, particularly bearing in mind the way in which the Government have fiddled the books, as well as the Red Book? The Minister's question is bogus. Conservative Members would not give answers without knowing the full facts. When we open the books in six months, Conservative Members will get their answers.

Mr. Jack: The Red Book is available now.

Mr. McAvoy: I am coming to the Red Book. I am sure that Conservative Members are delighted that all the Minister's interventions are increasing the time that I shall spend on my feet.

The hon. Members for Gloucester and for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) have said that it is a fallacy that the Tories have increased tax. Conservative Members have not mentioned the honesty--or near-honesty--of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on television. He clearly said that the Conservatives have increased tax. Will the Minister tell the House who speaks for the Government on such matters; is it the Deputy Prime Minister, who denied that tax has gone up, or is it the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who admitted it? Before he is too critical of those on the Labour Front Bench, the Minister should put his own house in order.

The Budget is a tax-raising Budget that hurts ordinary families. The tax burden has increased since the 1992 election. The Conservatives pose as good managers of the economy, but borrowing is up and the Budget has left the public and business unimpressed.

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For my constituency, which still has some manufacturing industry left, the big failure of the Conservative Government is the lack of investment. Investment in 1995 was still 11 per cent. below the level of 1989. In that six-year period, investment has taken an ever smaller proportion of national income--down from 23 per cent. to 17 per cent. That is short-sighted. The Government should be the driving force of investment, and they have not been. They have not even encouraged private sector investment, which is only 9 per cent. higher than it was in the depths of the recession. At the same point during the last recovery, it was about 30 per cent. higher.

The Conservatives may be sick of hearing it, but the facts of life are that a typical family is paying a higher proportion of its income in tax than it was at the last election--33.7 per cent. of gross income compared with 32.7 per cent. in 1992.

Mr. Jack: I should like to point out briefly that the Red Book shows an equivalence of tax burden between the run-in to the last general election in 1991-92 and the situation in the next financial year.

Mr. McAvoy: I was going to deal with the integrity and reputation of the current Red Book later, but since the Minister has mentioned it twice, I shall bring forward my remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) pointed out that the Government factored into the Red Book figures calculations on the level of employment or unemployment. There is a convention--it is not a rule, but it is a convention--that the Chancellor does not do that in the Budget. That is a breach of the normal rules for the integrity of the Red Book.

Others far better qualified than me have passed an opinion on the integrity of the Red Book. Adam Cole, an economist at the brokers James Capel, or is it pronounced Capell--[Hon. Members: "Capel."] I accept the expertise of Conservative Members. Adam Cole said of the Red Book:

He is not a raving left-wing socialist, but a member of the financial world, who I imagine has some independence.

The Red Book has been fiddled. It is riddled with calculations made here, guesses there and estimates somewhere else to ensure that the best possible gloss is put on it in the run-up to an election. We have a Flash Harry Chancellor who is chancing his luck. He knows full well that his eye is more on an internal election in the Tory party in six months than on the general election. He is doing his best to give himself as good a chance as possible of winning.

I should like to turn quickly--well, perhaps not too quickly--to considerations of health and local government finance in Scotland. For Scotland, the Budget is for the short term, not the long term. It does Scotland no good overall. The Chancellor is thinking only of the next few desperate months rather than the long-term prosperity of the country. Despite last week's cut in income tax, the fact remains that there have been 22 tax rises since the last election. Conservative Members do not like hearing that, but it is a fact of life.

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The Tories are in control of the national finances, but we hear nothing about taking action on VAT on fuel. Labour has made a clear commitment to reduce it to the minimum of 5 per cent. VAT on fuel is a pernicious tax, particularly in Scotland, because of the colder weather.

Mr. Jack indicated dissent.

Mr. McAvoy: The Minister scoffs, but his Government accept that the colder weather in Scotland justifies having certain mechanisms brought into play when the temperature reaches a certain level. The Minister should not scoff at what his Government practise.

I make no bones about the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland has been very clever--time will tell whether he has been successful--in portraying the cash settlement for the Scottish Office as a success, despite the fact that, according to the Government's figures, total Scottish Office spending will fall in real terms by £522 million next year, and by a further £359 million in the two years after that. Spending will therefore be cut by £881 million in real terms over the next three years. That is a 6 per cent. cut. Again, there is a suspicion that those future cuts are being projected to get tax cuts now to help the Tories at the election.

The nastiest aspect of the Conservatives' treatment of local government in Scotland has been laying the burden of community care on Scottish local authorities. Because people are living longer and there are real problems with senile dementia and Alzheimer's, many people are looking for places for the elderly in local authority homes, and the authorities cannot supply those places.

It is despicable that elderly people in that position are left trying to put pressure on the local authority when it has not been allocated the funds by central Government to provide those places. That is a mounting problem in Scotland, as it will be elsewhere in the UK, and it is completely wrong.

None of these measures will work. The Government can talk as cleverly as they want about the Red Book, and can quote all sorts of percentages, agreements and projections, but the facts of life are that no one believes them. Within six months, they will find that out.

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