Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Letwin: Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to look at the parallel figures on education and measured the actual change since the last Budget Red Book to this Red Book for education spending, as opposed to the figures presented in the relevant table in this Red Book?

Mr. Rammell: The spending figures on schools and the education budget show that over the five-year period from 1999 to 2004 we are sustaining one of the biggest increases for many years. My experience of talking to head teachers in my constituency bears that out.

13 Mar 2001 : Column 895

A former Liberal leader, Sir David Steel, described Margaret Thatcher as knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. The Liberal Democrat party has effectively turned that phrase on its head. It is the party that knows the electoral value of every spending pledge, but has not got the first clue of the cost of any of those pledges and is certainly not straight with people about that cost and who would have to pay.

The starting point for the Liberal Democrats is similar to that of The Sunday Times: it is to claim falsely that the increased funding for the national health service is not happening. In their alternative Budget for 2000, they claimed that NHS spending was increasing by only 3.7 per cent., which was only the average rise for the past 45 years and that there was not therefore a significant improvement. Again, the Library table that I mentioned shows that that is not the case. Over this Parliament, we are looking at a 5.4 per cent. real-terms increase, which compares very favourably with the average and is the biggest sustained increase in the 48-year history of the NHS.

My greatest concern with the Liberal Democrats is the way in which they recycle a limited and insubstantial number of tax increases and then claim that they would fund an ever-burgeoning list of spending pledges. We have seen that today. A detailed reading of the Liberal Democrats' alternative Budget is instructive. Last year, they said that they would introduce a top rate of tax for those with incomes of more than £100,000 of 50p in the pound, which would pay for reducing the 10p rate to zero, which would be a significant boost to people on low incomes. In this year's alternative Budget, we find that the 50p tax rate is to fund extra improvements in the NHS. One would imagine that, given that change had taken place, the commitment on changing the 10p rate to zero would have been removed, but no, the only difference is that we are not told where the money will come from to fund that proposal.

We see that sort of practice time and again. A limited tax increase to fund something in one year funds something else the following year, but the spending commitment of the previous year is still trumpeted as official Liberal Democrat policy. That is dishonest politics of the worst kind. It is not being straight with people about the cost of spending pledges.

One sees it again if one looks at the detail of the Liberal Democrat alternative Budget on long-term care. We are explicitly told that, were the Liberal Democrats to come to power, they would pay for all long-term personal care costs. There are no qualifications and no time scale is given. The problem is that the cost of that commitment is £1 billion but the ready reckoner table at the back of the alternative Budget contains only a commitment to increase funding by £400 million in the first year, which is meant to pay not only for long-term care but for a host of other commitments on the NHS.

There is a word to describe that sort of politics, but I know that I am not allowed to use it in this Chamber. However, if the Liberal Democrats' alternative Budget were a pension policy, they would be on the point of having to pay massive compensation to people because what one paid for is certainly not what one would get under a Liberal Democrat Government.

13 Mar 2001 : Column 896

I have warmly welcomed the significant measures that will make a difference to my constituents and to people elsewhere, but I have one area of concern. I have made it clear that the increases in spending on hospitals are significant and of an order that we have not seen before. However, in Harlow and elsewhere in the south-east, the huge challenge that we face is that of recruitment to the key public services.

My constituency is typical of the south-east. We have effective full employment--unemployment is only about 2 per cent.--and a typical two-up, two-down, house costs £80,000 or £90,000. Those two factors are causing us real problems in recruiting teachers, nurses and the police. I welcome the fact that the Government have given us significant help with recruitment to teaching and the police, but when they introduced the cost of living allowance for nurses of £1,000 a year, it was granted to London, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire--it missed out Essex, which is a genuine concern.

I recently heard a story about someone who met 10 general nurses in my constituency who were in their third year of training, only four of whom planned to work locally at the end of their studies. The others will either go north because of the lower housing costs or will move to London because of the enticement of inner London weighting and the additional £1,000 a year. I end with a plea to the Secretary of State for Health, who has said that he is reconsidering the allowance. A mistake was made by missing out Essex and I hope that that can be rectified.

This is a significant Budget that will benefit my constituents as never before.

8.26 pm

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): First, I must explain that I had to leave the Chamber for a little more than an hour in the middle of the debate to attend the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and deal with a matter that produced a vote, which illustrates the pressure under which some of us are placed when we have to be in two places at once, as many Ministers will no doubt understand.

The date of 8 October 1959 is not one that is in memory of most of my colleagues here, but it was the day that I fulfilled an ambition by becoming a Member of Parliament, after fighting a general election in Poplar in 1951 and fighting Geoffrey de Freitas in Lincoln in 1955. It seems unbelievable that my first general election fight was 50 years ago. It seems like only yesterday, but I do not think that many people will believe me.

I will not try to produce a great analysis of the Budget--my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) did so most excellently. I think that, in time, history will designate the Budget to a back burner, or even to the waste paper basket. It was marvellous spin but, on analysis, little has been given away to the benefit of my constituents. Therefore, I do not want to make a broad-brush speech--there are too many of those and they do not get far. In my last speech on the Budget, I pass on to the House the advice that I was always given: take three subjects, deal only with them and nothing more and they might be remembered. That is what I shall try to do.

First, it amazes me that during the whole of the Chancellor's speech of just under an hour, with the countryside reeling and farming in a desperate plight

13 Mar 2001 : Column 897

because of the foot and mouth epidemic, the only words that we heard from the right hon. Gentleman on that tragic situation were about agrimonetary compensation, which was in the pipeline long before the outbreak of the disease. Even in this Budget debate, I stress that the Government must take the situation much more seriously than they do at present. Since yesterday's report, a further 24 cases have been confirmed, bringing the total--at 3 o'clock this afternoon--to 180 cases. More than 985 movement restrictions have been imposed throughout the country, covering 25 counties in England and Wales.

The Government must look at consequential compensation. It is imperative that they consider the consequential damage of the epidemic across the board. Farmers who have had to slaughter their cattle, sheep or pigs are rightly compensated--we all understand that--but other people in the countryside equally face financial ruin. A haulier in my constituency told me that during the past three weeks his takings were only 10 per cent. of what they had been during the same three-week period a year ago.

Farmers who cannot move their beasts to market do not have to have them destroyed, but are unable to obtain the proper value for them. They face desperate financial problems--as do hoteliers and tourism. A person who runs a tourist park in my constituency told me that he dreads answering the telephone because it will be yet another cancellation. He said that the park was full about a month ago, but that almost no one will be going there at Easter.

The Government must take that into account when they consider the overall effect of the epidemic. It affects not only those people whose animals have to be destroyed, but those for whom the consequential effect is disastrous.

Can the financial action for which I ask be taken? Let us study the Red Book. Under income, the total figure is £399 billion: £61 billion from VAT; £38 billion from corporation tax; £37 billion from excise duty; £63 billion from national insurance; £104 billion from income tax; £15 billion from council tax; £94 billion from all other income; and £17 billion from the business rate. I have listed the figures so that hon. Members can see how the £399 billion is made up.

On spending, the amounts are £109 billion on social services; £18 billion on housing and the environment; £23 billion on law and order; £16 billion on industry and agriculture; £23 billion on debt repayment interest; £24 billion on defence; £50 billion on education; £10 billion on transport; £59 billion on the national health service; and about £52 billion on other matters. The total is £394 billion.

There is a difference of £5 billion between income and spending. I have the right to stand here tonight and demand that the Government use some of that money to help constituents--not only mine in Devon, but those in the north of the country where matters are just as bad. Throughout 25 counties, there are people who deserve some assistance from the Government.

Such compensation may never have been paid before, but the Government can no longer use that defence. They claim to be a Government who rethink everything. The tragedy that we face in the countryside demands a rethink from the Government; they must take positive action to provide compensation for people who face the bitter prospect of bankruptcy.

13 Mar 2001 : Column 898

Secondly, I want to consider the help that should be given to elderly people who go into homes or hospitals during the latter years of their life. In my constituency--in Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth and Exmouth--a vast number of retired people who are coming to the end of their lives are entering care homes and being looked after well. The difficulty is that the costs of those homes are constantly rising, and many people who enter them, believing that they can meet the costs, find themselves only a short time later in the frightening position of being in real hardship and beset by great worry about the ever-growing cost of sustaining themselves.

If those people were thrown out and had to be looked after by the state, the costs would be much greater than they would be if the Government gave them some help in meeting their costs. As a matter of humanity, any Government must take the matter seriously and adopt a modern approach. Unfortunately, such an approach is not being taken at present.

Thirdly, I want to ask why there was no mention of the euro--one of the major sources of worry and contention--in the Budget. By this time next year, there will be no French francs, German deutschmarks or Italian lire. Thirteen European currencies will have disappeared and will have been replaced by a single currency: the euro. Tourists will increasingly want to bring that currency into this country and use it, and in this country there will be increasing demand for commercial and industrial aspects of trade to be settled in the euro.

How do the Government envisage those changes affecting their budgetary position? What consideration are they giving to the matter? A number of us believe that it is essential that if, taking into account the economic position, it is seen to be to the great benefit of Britain to enter the euro, no political party should desist from taking that action. What is that great benefit? That factor must be analysed, and I believe that the Government have to start to bring that analysis before the country as a whole. I believe that it is necessary for us to have a clear understanding--which I do not believe exists now--of what the advantages can be and what some of the disadvantages might be of the euro in operation.

People have been speaking about the euro theoretically until now, but by this time next year it will be not theory but a practicality, and it is a practicality that cannot be swept under the carpet. It is a practicality that the Government and the Opposition will have to face in different circumstances from those that exist now, in 12 and 15 months' time. The Government must start to explain exactly what their view will be when they begin to notice that effect, and what effect that will have on their budgetary position, because I would bet my bottom dollar that the euro will have a considerable effect on that position, which no one is considering now.

I could continue for some time, but I believe that a number of hon. Members wish to speak and that if I sat down it would be welcomed more than if I continued. Thank you very much for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Next Section

IndexHome Page