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Mr. Douglas Alexander (Paisley, South): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salmond: I shall not give way, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman exactly why. There is more than a suspicion among Opposition Members that Labour Members are anxious not to move on to the next debate on student loans. I make no comment about House of Commons tactics, because I have used them myself, but the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not assist him in delaying an embarrassing debate on student finance which many Labour Members do not want. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should be allowed to make his contribution without interruption.

Mr. Salmond: The serious points raised have been totally unanswered by the Government. They are blind to the economic circumstances faced in the Renfrew-Paisley economy and in many other areas across Scotland. There is no recognition that there is a serious economic problem which mimics the economic disasters provoked by the Conservative Government over the past 20 years.

Mr. Alexander rose--

Mr. Salmond: This may be the new Labour party, but, for the manufacturing economy, it is the same old policy measures and the same old results: redundancies, downsizing and the diminution of the manufacturing base.

5.46 pm

Mr. Leslie: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on Third Reading. It is a pity that I have to say this, but it is a shame that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), in his criticisms of Government policy and in seeking to bait the Government, was afraid to listen to the voice of the Government and to give way.

Mr. Alexander: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Leslie: I happily give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Alexander: Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason why the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) was frightened to give way might have been that, although he talked much about the service sector in Scotland, he did not mention the Scottish National party researcher who has recently recommended a boycott of a service sector company in the Edinburgh financial community?

Mr. Leslie: That is illuminating. Perhaps we will hear more about the SNP. As a Yorkshire Member, I would not wish to tread on the toes of the hon. Member for

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Banff and Buchan, especially when he is not listening. The House looks forward to a contribution from my hon. Friend later.

The Finance Bill is a strong step forward on public sector finances and the economy. It ensures that provision is made for public services, that resources will be available to ensure they are of a standard befitting the 21st century, and that we can move forward into a climate in which Government and state services are high quality, accessible to many people, and provided at the most efficient and effective rate, giving good value to taxpayers.

Mr. Derek Twigg: I was taken by my hon. Friend's excellent comments on the public service ethic and his support for public service. In addition to this excellent Budget, does not the Chancellor's recent fiscal statement add extra strength and put down a marker to show how committed the Labour party is to public services?

Mr. Leslie: My hon. Friend is correct. I shall deal with "the code for fiscal stability" later in my remarks. It is important for us to set in context the fiscal situation that the country now faces. I am pleased to see that the nation's finances are now getting into a healthy state.

We are all familiar with the ridiculous profligacy of the previous Conservative Administration who, year after year, consumed taxpayers' resources. The leviathan of state swallowed up money in welfare budgets and social security payments unnecessarily, when we should have been using taxpayers' money to invest in infrastructure and job creation mechanisms to get people off benefit and into work. That would have reduced consumption of public sector resources, and enabled us to move on to other more productive public services.

Mr. Alexander: Can my hon. Friend give the House any explanation of why the previous Government were able to waste such huge levels of resources rather than investing in success?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not respond to his hon. Friend's invitation, which would take us well beyond the scope of this Third Reading debate.

Mr. Leslie: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to stray from the matters before the House today.

It is important that, when we look at the context of the provisions in the many clauses of the Bill and the revenue effect that they have on the Exchequer, we should consider why it is necessary for the Government to start to change the direction of this great oil tanker of state and move away from the old consuming tactics of the previous Administration. Each unemployed person cost £9,000 in benefit and revenue lost to the Exchequer. If we can reduce the number of people unemployed and claiming benefit, and simultaneously reduce social security budgets, we can use the money for more productive elements, such as education and the health service. We can then make provision for better services over the long term.

The fiscal state of the nation is becoming very healthy, thanks to measures in the Budget and the prudent and careful measures drafted and proposed by my right hon.

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Friend the Chancellor. I am especially glad that provisions in the Budget help to shift from consumption to investment and, more important, to capital infrastructure investment. For example, I should like to see some of the capital infrastructure moneys raised spent on an important scheme in my constituency. The Bingley relief road is an excellent scheme, and it would be very helpful. The new priority of shifting from consumption to investment will, I hope, one of these days mean that resources come the way of my constituency to improve the economy in that way.

We are making sure that we use the nation's finances for capital purposes as a priority. That is what is called the golden rule of borrowing. We do not borrow to consume, but use the nation's resources to invest in more productive things--obtaining assets for the nation and making sure that items of infrastructure can be used for industry and create economic prosperity in the longer term. That is the right course of action. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set the ship of state on the right course, and I am pleased to support him.

The Budget and the Finance Bill contain many measures that modernise the tax and benefits system and begin to make work pay. I am pleased to see a number of fiscal policy measures put in place that give people the incentive and motivation to work and eliminate the poverty trap. It no longer makes sense for people to sit at home and claim benefit when there are opportunities for them to work and contribute to society. The Finance Bill plays a strong part in making those proposals a reality.

The Bill also helps to set the framework for economic stability throughout the country, ending the boom and bust years of Conservative administration. It is interesting to note the robust opposition to the Finance Bill put up this afternoon by the Conservatives. They seem to have given way and caved in so soon in the Third Reading debate. It is important to emphasise that boom and bust was not sustainable. It was the wrong policy for the Conservative Government to pursue. It is right for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to put in place measures to plan for the longer term. We no longer have an economy based on short-term greed and profiteering, which can sometimes arise in companies that do not always take the longer-term interests of the country into account.

When we discussed monetary policy and inflation earlier, we heard about the difficult impact that boardroom excesses of companies such as Yorkshire Water would have on inflation. The company paid a 30 per cent. increase to its directors and a 69 per cent. increase to Kevin Bond, the chief executive. That was an outrageous example to set the nation. I hope that Yorkshire Water will reconsider that payment, given the outrage across all walks of life and the boardrooms of this country. Boardrooms have to recognise that they have a responsibility to play their part in prudent economic policy and control of inflation.

Mr. Derek Twigg: There are many tax changes in the Bill. They are designed to encourage people into work and give them an incentive to work. How does my hon. Friend think that that fits with the point that he has just made about pay? Pay is important in ensuring that the measures in the Bill work to regenerate the economy.

Mr. Leslie: My hon. Friend is right. The Tories sought to remove the Finance Bill from the wider context of the

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other policy measures that the Government are taking, but those policies are an important component, and a crucial piece of the jigsaw in the Government's overall strategy. By ensuring that work pays by means of, for example, the national minimum wage and other such policies, and that the tax system reflects that strategy, the Government are pursuing the right policy.

Many of the provisions in the Bill relate to the national debt and public sector borrowing. On Report, the Opposition tabled amendments about the definition of national debt. It is important that we examine the state of the country's finances now and in the past, and consider where we would like to take them. The Conservative party left the country with a national debt of hundreds of billions of pounds. That is costing the taxpayer, year on year, £25 billion in interest payments alone. That money could and should be used on vital public services that people like, and on investment.


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