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4.26 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): We have heard two speeches of outstanding quality. I was much moved by the contribution of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). He said of Bernie Grant that he was natural, authentic and brutally honest. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares those qualities with his predecessor. He spoke about there being no need to go to New York or California to discover a myriad of diverse vibrancies, and I am sure that many a Select Committee could bear that advice in mind before deciding on its travel programme.

Some people say that there is no gratitude in politics, but the hon. Gentleman showed the opposite. I was especially touched by the warm tribute that he paid to his mother, his family, his teachers, his friends, those in his political party and those who had brought him to where he is now. I am sure that he will fulfil a distinguished role as the hon. Member for Tottenham.

The other remarkable speech, which followed a series of remarkable speeches, was that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). It was full of rigour and intellectual honesty, and to the point. It was the culmination of a series of distinguished speeches that he has made on the Finance Bill, the last of which I heard on Third Reading last night. Each one has been of the highest quality. I wish that more right hon. and hon. Members had been present to hear him.

As my right hon. Friend warned us, the public expenditure statement has all the ingredients of an inflationary package. It is almost certain to increase interest rates, as the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England has warned us. The likelihood is that in the medium to longer term, it will cause taxation to rise as well. The interesting thing is that the projected figures for the last part of the triennial period show that there will no longer be a budgetary surplus, and by then the deficit will have to be made up with taxation.

I am sure that the Government do not want to talk about that additional burden of taxation now. When the Lex column in yesterday's Financial Times spoke of "Pumping for a purpose" in connection with the public expenditure statement, it defined it in entirely correct terms. The Government are pumping the economy for the purpose of winning the next general election. It is an

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irresponsible additional injection of public money into the economy at a time in the cycle when there are inflationary pressures and pressures on capacity. I am sure that the Monetary Policy Committee is wise to warn of the dangers.

Mr. Alan W. Williams: This is the second or third time this afternoon that we have heard that the Government are pumping the economy for the general election. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the programme starts on 1 April 2001 and continues for the three subsequent years, and all the guessing suggests that the election could be on 1 May next year? So it is a post-election package rather than a pre-election package.

Mr. Wilkinson: I do not think that it will help the Government, whenever the election comes. The electorate will not be taken in by what constitutes an extra £100 billion of public spending being put into the economy over the period from last year until the financial year 2003-04. The electorate will judge the Government on their performance.

I can only quote the experiences in Ruislip-Northwood, and they are dire. Only last Thursday, consultation started on the closure of Harefield hospital, the country's premier heart hospital, which has carried out more heart transplants than any other in the world. It is threatened with closure at a time when the Government are supposed to be having a drive against heart disease and placing particular emphasis on cardiothoracic treatments, which are the speciality of the hospital.

Education is a continuing problem. The schools in Ruislip-Northwood are exceptionally good, particularly in the secondary sector. Pupils come flooding across the borough boundaries, and as a consequence, my constituents cannot get their children into the local schools. Quite rightly, they are extremely upset about it. None of the proposed measures will change that, because the Government are not prepared to alter the Greenwich judgment.

Police numbers are continually falling. A policeman on the beat is almost as rare as a swallow in winter, and people are desperately worried because crime rates are rising in parts of outer London that never knew a crime wave before. They now have one with a vengeance; they suffer all the time and there are endless complaints to me and other local representatives. We have done everything possible. We have seen the Home Office Minister, Lord Bassam, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, the district commander for north-west London and our own chief superintendent. We have done everything, but police numbers continue to fall, crime statistics continue to rise and public disillusion grows. Although more money is being provided, experienced officers and personnel are leaving the Metropolitan police in droves because they can get a better quality of life outside the force. Even this injection of extra money will not change that.

Last but not least, I turn to transport. We were told at the last general election that the public-private partnership would revolutionise the tube, that the service would be modernised and that the lives of my constituents who depend on commuting into central London would be much improved. The facts are different. We heard a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister only this

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afternoon. The initial headlines were very favourable and the first edition of the Evening Standard paid glowing tribute to the effects of the extra moneys which were to be provided. The headlines were:


However, the second edition carried the headlines:


This is typical of all Labour's pronouncements. They appear very attractive, but when one reads the small print one sees how unattractive they are. Because the current administration at county hall--or wherever the Greater London Authority headquarters are--will have to pick up the tab for the overrun in the Jubilee line extension, there will be virtually nothing left to pay for improvements in services. The office of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) put it rather well. A representative told the Evening Standard that by the time the extra money has been found for the Jubilee line extension, the GLA will be left with "peanuts". That was not how the Deputy Prime Minister put it in his statement on public expenditure.

Finally, I turn to the area of departmental spending that I know best, because it demonstrates the sleight of hand of the current Administration. It was the first departmental sector referred to by the Chancellor in his statement on Tuesday, when he said:


The press release on that subject was challenged by The Daily Telegraph yesterday because the facts are otherwise. In 1996, the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) announced a budgetary increase in defence expenditure of 0.4 per cent. in real terms. So the civil servants had to correct that in a hurry.

It is clear that the commitments in Tuesday's statement are shallow, insubstantial and inadequate. Let us look at the roles. The British armed forces have always been involved in international peacekeeping, conflict prevention and promoting human rights throughout the world. That is why they fought in Korea, and that is why they have been engaged in countering terrorism in Northern Ireland and supporting United Nations operations from East Timor to Kosovo. There is nothing new about that; they have always done it. The amount of extra money is actually very small. In real terms, it is 0.1 per cent. in the financial year 2001-02, 0.2 per cent. in 2002-03 and 0.7 per cent in 2003-04.

The major projects report for 1999 from the National Audit Office shows that cost overruns continue to escalate. Between 1993 and 1999 they increased in absolute and in percentage terms--so much for smart procurement. In fact, they are getting worse. In 1999 they amounted to £1.36 billion, increasing by 6.3 per cent. in one financial year. Against that background, how will the

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armed forces be able to redress the shortfall in the infantry of some 5,000, the deficiency in fast jet pilots of some 120, and the constant outflow of experienced personnel who vote with their feet, or on the dictate of their wives, who can no longer stand the long separations?

In short, the increases are basically a fraud. That is not limited to the defence sector, but applies to many other Government Departments.


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