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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is the Chancellor aware that some of us on the Labour Benches heaved a

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sigh of relief when he announced that he was not going to do what previous Tory Governments—and some others—have traditionally done in handing out money before an election and then taking it back straight after? This announcement is characterised by the Chancellor deciding, after four years of handing out money, to hand out even more. The people in the coal fields, in particular the miners who retired before 1975 on a paltry occupational pension, will be considerably relieved. Can I ask my right hon. Friend to wave his Harry Potter wand in the direction of pensions for sacked miners, equality of treatment for the canteen workers and speedier payments for chest conditions?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. On pensions, we will announce new commitments on pensions that we were not able to announce in the period before the general election. Those will include commitments for the length of the Parliament on the winter allowance; increases in the basic state pension in line with inflation or the Government's 2½ per cent. target, even if the index of inflation is lower, which will mean £100 a year; and the new pension credit, which will cost £2 billion. I also agree that we have to do more to speed up the money that miners should receive as a result of the lung diseases that they contracted working for this country in the national coal mining industry. We have set aside more than £1 billion for that provision. I understand that 170,000 miners have applied. Because of the nature of the court judgment, they will have to face legal and medical difficulties that must be resolved before the money gets to them. I am as anxious as my hon. Friend that they should get the money as quickly as possible, and we are considering new measures to ensure that. We are also considering mineworkers' pension funds, as my hon. Friend requested.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Despite the Chancellor's near-hysterical rant at my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor, I join my right hon. and learned Friend in warmly welcoming much of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. However, what advice would he give my constituents, who remain extremely anxious about a Treasury-run health service? The Treasury must of course have a hand in health service planning, but 21 people in the Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath had to spend last night on trolleys in the accident and emergency department. Moreover, 31 beds there are blocked by people who cannot get places in old people's homes. Does the Chancellor understand that, despite the huge sums of additional money that he is pouring into the NHS, PR stunts that imply that the health service is somehow getting better just do not wash in Sussex?

Mr. Brown: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman does not agree with the new policy on private health being propounded by Conservative Front-Bench Members, although I understand what he says about waiting lists at individual hospitals and about accident and emergency departments. We want to do more, but hon. Members of all parties must face up to the fact that a health service that delivers the operations and service that we all want has to be paid for. That means that the amount of money available to the NHS has to be increased, and that is what

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we are doing. The hon. Gentleman must face up to the fact that Conservative Front-Bench Members do not want to spend that money. That is the dividing line between the parties.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement today. I especially welcome the renewed commitment to investing in our health service, to tackling poverty at home and abroad, and to further incentivising investment in small and medium businesses. However, the outstanding element in the statement was the prediction that forecasts of UK economic growth would remain unchanged, even against a backdrop of world-wide economic recession. Does my right hon. Friend agree that stripping £50 billion out of public spending, as the shadow Chancellor would like, would have a disastrous effect on public services and mean that we would have to revise forecasts of UK economic growth substantially downwards? Does not that show that the Opposition are committed to dogmatic economics, and that they are losing their reputation for economic competence?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and I agree with him that it is very important that we meet our international responsibilities with respect to overseas aid. I sense that the shadow Chancellor supports our policy of devoting a higher share of national income to overseas aid, and of significantly increasing the overseas aid budget. We are proposing a $50 billion international development fund, to which all the major countries will have to contribute. An element of private finance could be injected into that fund, as well as the public finance that will be contributed. However, if we are to have the sort of reconstruction in the poorest countries and developing areas of the world—and especially in Africa—that came after the second world war, a new bargain will have to be struck. That bargain will mean that, in return for stability, the liberation of those economies from corruption and the opening up of trade, there will have to be a transfer of resources to enable the development of health, education and anti-poverty programmes.

The problem facing the Conservative party is that, right at the beginning of its period in opposition, it has a shadow Chancellor who is committed to making cuts worth £50 billion in public spending. That is more extreme than the Letwin plan at the general election.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil): Will the Chancellor acknowledge that an important part of the Government's health policy went missing from his statement today? I refer in particular to the announcement made on the Chancellor's behalf by the Prime Minister on the "Breakfast with Frost" television programme on 16 December 2000, when he said that he would bring the average level of spending on the NHS up to the European average by 2005. That commitment seems to be missing from the Chancellor's statement today. Will the Chancellor confirm that that remains the firm commitment of the Government, or is it still a mere aspiration, as the Treasury has wanted?

Mr. Brown: I think that I read out in the previous Budget statement the figures for national health service and general health service spending as a share of national

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income. I think that the figures went up from 6.4 per cent. to 6.8 per cent., 7 per cent., 7.2 per cent. and 7.4 per cent. I said today that we want to see a significantly rising share of that national income for the national health service.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): May I congratulate the Chancellor on his pre-Budget report and the measures that he has announced today, and on his unrivalled stewardship of the economy? As we all seem to agree that the problems affecting all our public services, including the transport system, have their roots in decades of underfunding, does he agree that this historic deficit will take years of consistently high investment to put right within a framework of clear policy and determined management? The public must be prepared, as I believe they will be, to back that investment for years to come and to make the personal financial sacrifices that may be necessary at some stage in the future if we are to get the quality of public services in this country that will match the best of those in Europe.

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that there is significant public demand for the investment that we are making in transport, health and education. We are committed to a £180 billion programme of private and public financing for transport. It is a 10-year plan which is moving ahead and will continue to move ahead. As we have seen over the past few weeks, the important thing is that the money is not wasted but goes on improving our rail track and our rail and transport services. Equally, we are committed to significantly higher levels of investment in the health service and education.

As my right hon. Friend has taken a great interest in the regions, may I add that we are committed to ensuring that our investment secures greater regional economic balance in the country? When he was at the Department of Trade and Industry, his work in improving the country's regional policy and the continuing work of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Deputy Prime Minister are crucial. The investment will be crucial in bridging the regional gaps in our country.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The spectre of unemployment is creeping inexorably across the face of north-west England. BAE Systems announced further job losses today, and there have been announcements from Rolls-Royce, Baxi, Cammell-Laird and Marconi. In addition to the welcome measures for small business, will the Chancellor look again at the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) that business is bearing an additional cost of doing business of anything up to £10 billion? Will the right hon. Gentleman look again between now and the Budget at ways in which some of those costs can be relieved?

In the light of the Chancellor's previous answer, may I ask him to give a commitment to business in the north-west that there will be investment in the M6 motorway and the west coast main line so that our transport infrastructure can assist at least the north-west to communicate with the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe?

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