Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Yes, there is a moral case for low taxation. If one wants to encourage family life and marriage, one should not tax them. If one wants to encourage savings, one should not tax them. That explains the immorality of the Government's actions, so I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in setting out the clear moral case for bringing down the burden of taxation over the lifetime of the next Parliament.

Mr. Stewart rose--

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that we can continue this discussion at greater length later in the debate.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): In view of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the moral basis of taxation, will he comment on the 22 tax increases that were introduced by the 1992-97 Government? They included slashing the value of the married couples allowance.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The hon. Lady should understand that removing completely the married couples allowance when the Government are running a surplus is wrong and completely contradicts the Prime Minister's oft-repeated claim that he wants the Labour party to be the party of the family and the party that supports marriage. That is the moral argument and the Labour Government cannot duck it.

We are not just interested in the output targets that have all been breached by the Government. We are also interested in the fact that even their spending commitments have been breached. On Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made much of the degree to which he wanted to encourage and promote public sector investment. He said that net capital investment would double by 2004--from £7 billion to £18 billion a year. He made exactly the same promise in 1998. Page 17 of the document on the comprehensive spending review forecast that net investment for the following year would be £8.6 billion.

20 Jul 2000 : Column 586

Again, we are entitled to ask whether that target was met. Did the Government spend £8.6 billion in 1999-2000? According to the document that they published on Tuesday, the actual investment figure was £2.6 billion. What happened to the other £6 billion? They cannot even predict net investment by the public sector itself one year later. How can they expect us to believe what they say will happen to the economy in four years' time? That is the point. It is a giant exercise in underspin.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am going to draw my remarks to a close so that the hon. Gentleman and others can contribute to the debate.

The answer to the questions of Labour Members, who have raised the mythical figure of the supposed cut of £16 billion in public expenditure in four years' time, is that Conservative Members will not base our plans for total expenditure on a Labour figure for total expenditure in four years' time because the Chancellor cannot even make accurate predictions for a year ahead for investment by his own Departments. In any case, the entire exercise is vulnerable to what may happen in the economy.

Mr. Andrew Smith: Will the right hon. Gentleman give a straight answer to a straight question? By how much would the Conservative party cut our spending plans?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: We have already made the answer to that perfectly clear. We are not going to underestimate expenditure plans drawn four years into the future, when the Government's own expenditure plans, which were drawn up two years ago, have already been found to be false in their output and investment targets. The right hon. Gentleman can build castles in the air and project imaginary cuts years into the future. However, the Opposition are entitled to examine the record and what the Government have so far delivered in office.

It is beyond dispute that the Government have spent their first three years taxing, and they now want to spend in the year before the election. However, the record is against the right hon. Gentleman, and the current spending review will be no more successful than the last one in meeting the public's demands, needs, requirements and aspirations. I agree with the 72 per cent. of the Chancellor's constituents who do not believe the figures either.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that Madam Speaker has placed a limit of 15 minutes on Back-Bench Members' speeches from now on.

3.21 pm

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) may try to catch your eye a little later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make his maiden speech. We are looking forward to that occasion very much, so I hope that my hon. Friend is successful.

That reminds me of my own maiden speech, which came under the heading of public expenditure. I talked about education to some extent, and perhaps was a little

20 Jul 2000 : Column 587

foolish, as I tied myself down very specifically by saying that our party ought to be judged not on big figures and headlines, but on what happens in our localities. I named Chapel-en-le-Frith infants school as a school that, to my mind, would be the touchstone of whether our policies had been successful. That school was overcrowded, had a main road going down the middle of it and 50-year-old temporary classrooms, and was letting in water.

Six weeks after my maiden speech came the announcement that Chapel-en-le-Frith was having its infants school replaced, lock, stock and barrel. Earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment came to my constituency and opened the new Chapel-en-le-Frith infants school, which means that that touchstone of success has been achieved. However, that was only the beginning as, since then, Tintwistle primary school in my constituency has been completely replaced; Taxal and Fernilee primary school has had a new classroom and an extension; Peak school, Chinley has been remodelled; Whaley Bridge primary school has had one extra classroom and Burbage primary school, two; Newtown primary school in New Mills has had one extra classroom. Throughout my constituency, outdoor toilets, which were to be found in all too many of those schools, have been eradicated.

There have been energy improvements throughout the schools of High Peak. No fewer than 30 schools in my constituency have had new classrooms, extensions to classrooms or other major capital expenditure on classrooms in only three years. Half the schools in my constituency have therefore received genuine benefit from the Government's spending programmes after a 10-year drought in which only a single school building was built in my constituency between 1987 and 1997.

Schools are not alone, as there have been other improvements on the ground that people notice. For example, their libraries are open for longer hours and Derbyshire was successful in getting £2 million of additional funding for rural buses. Our primary care groups are now changing into primary trusts and are much more proactive in their delivery of health care throughout the area. People who, only two years ago, complained to me that their four-year-olds were getting a raw deal now find that nursery or pre-school education is provided for four-year-olds. From September, that will extend to three-year-olds in Derbyshire, and is another major achievement that people can see on their doorsteps, in their streets and in their schools.

In High Peak, youth unemployment has been reduced by 78 per cent., and there are now few people who qualify for the new deal. That means not that the new deal is not affecting enough people, but that it has been so effective, as have general plans for generating jobs, that it is hardly being used. In the past three years, unemployment as a whole in my constituency has halved as a result of economic conditions created by the Government. In the next two years, there will be 101 more police officers in Derbyshire. I am sorry, that figure was correct until yesterday but, with further funding not just for 5,000 police officers, but an additional 4,000 throughout the country, we will get a share of that. Those are the real issues on which real people are demanding to see action, and our public spending policies are delivering them.

Those issues are genuine, in contrast to some of the absurd fantasies that we have just heard from the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who

20 Jul 2000 : Column 588

does not seem to live in the real world or relate to the typical experiences of his constituents. The right hon. Gentleman made no mention of the four-year-olds whose education is now being paid for, or of the class size problem. We had a class size problem in Derbyshire, as 13,000 children in key stage 1 in our infant schools were in classes of more than 30 in 1997. We are on target to eradicate that class size problem in just a few weeks, which is long overdue and will be another achievement.

If I may, I should like to put down some markers for the future. If I were to make my maiden speech today, I might like to use as a touchstone the Buxton to Matlock railway line and the need to restore it. The Tintwistle-Mottram bypass is a good contender for funding. Elderly people in my constituency are looking forward very much to next week's announcement on funding for long-term care. Again, we have looked at that matter long and hard and I believe that, at last, next week, there will be an announcement of which I can be proud.

I should like my right hon. and hon. Friends to look at Derbyshire's position in the local authorities' league of spending. We have been down at the bottom for quite a long time, and we are still there, although the difference between top and bottom is not what it was. Derbyshire has had generous settlements for local funding in recent years which, while not quite generous enough to get us up the league table, mean that we are not as far from the top in cash terms as we used to be.

I am proud of the Government's record of public expenditure and know that, in years to come, I shall be proud of the delivery of what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced earlier this week. In complete contrast to our position is the play on words or joke that the shadow Chancellor was trying to make in his pathetic response to Tuesday's announcement. He was trying to make a joke of the idea that in our manifesto we said that we should not be judged on public expenditure alone. That is quite right, because if were to say merely that we believe in more public expenditure on the principle that more must be better, our hero would be the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who saw social security expenditure go through the roof when he was in charge of the Department of Social Security.

The right hon. Gentleman spent more than any other Secretary of State for Social Security before him not because he was enjoying the fruits of success, but because he was paying the price of failure. He was paying the price of bailing people out of poverty and of giving benefit to the many people who were unemployed. We believe in public expenditure because it has a positive purpose; it is not just for providing safety nets and bailing people out of problems, which often are not of their making, but for building a coherent society. We have done that and will continue to do it because we have got the economy right, and we have the wherewithal and the determination to do it.

Because we have more people in work, we have more people paying tax. Because more people are earning more, they are paying more tax. There are now more people paying the higher rates of taxation, which could explain some of the barmy figures that we were hearing earlier. They are paying those rates because they are earning more, and they are higher up the income scale. I have no regrets at all about such an increase in the tax take.

20 Jul 2000 : Column 589

We have done more: we have reduced the cost of debt to the Government and to householders throughout the country. One has only to consider mortgage rates to see what we have done to stabilise and rationalise our economy. We have a stable, low rate of inflation, and everybody, including companies coming into this country to invest and people planning their family's future, knows that it will continue to be stable for a long time. During the period of these long-term spending plans, there is no reason to believe that we shall have significant problems with the economy getting out of control.

Six basic principles should guide public expenditure. There may be more; I may have missed some out. First, we should get best value for the money that we put in. We should not only measure that in cash terms, but look at the qualitative responses that we get from investing money in services. The second principle is the measurement of outputs. It is essential that we are able to measure what public funding does so that we can assess whether we are getting best value.

Thirdly, we must not be afraid to make difficult decisions about priorities. We had a difficult period in our first two years when we were tied to the spending plans that we had inherited, and with those difficult decisions we got a taste of how bad it would be if we had to return to that situation. Fourthly, our spending decisions must be sustainable; they must not be a flash in the pan. We must not throw money at a problem, thinking that this will solve it. We must build on what has happened before and make sure that we can deliver in future.

Fifthly, our spending plans must be without dogma. By that I mean that the era of Labour Members saying that all public spending is good and all private spending is bad has passed. We must consider using partnerships and seedcorn investment. We must consider using any available money. There is enough capital flying about in this country which has no home to go to. We should find a good home for private capital and use it to underpin public services. I have no conscience about using private money or any money from a legal source to give a good foundation to our public services.

The last principle, which the right hon. Member for Wells completely missed the point of, is that we must plan for the long term. He said that the Government claim to have put money into the national health service, but asked where were the results. If he can find a way of training nurses in 12 months, of training doctors in 18 months and of building hospitals in six months, let him tell us, because our investment in nurse training, doctor training and the capital programme in the health service cannot deliver overnight. We do not claim that it will do so, but we say that essential, long-term, planned investment meets the principles that I have outlined.


Next Section

IndexHome Page