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9.32 pm

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in the debate. It is a strange comment on our parliamentary system that, although we are about to raise £8 billion in revenue from the British people, only about eight Government Members have bothered to turn up to defend that conduct.

I welcome, very sincerely, some measures in the Budget, in particular the plan to alleviate the burdens on rural breweries, although I note that nothing has been done to de-tax Brakspear's 2.5, which is a fine brew. One can drink three pints without being over the limit, so it would be nice to have fiscal recognition of the benefits that that beverage can provide to the rural economy.

I also congratulate the Chancellor on getting rid of some ridiculous tax breaks that the Labour Government instituted for the film industry. Well done, at last. However, bigger announcements were made today, and I turn to those—[Interruption.] I hear the word "disaster" coming from the other side of the Chamber. Well, well, well—dissent.

I turn to those announcements, because most Members will agree that this is an important political Budget in which the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, finally felt confident enough to raise taxes openly. He has done so by stealth over the past five years, raiding pension funds, for example, by £5 billion. This is the moment at which he has decided to raise taxes without anaesthetic, to use an NHS metaphor. The thought is not original, but that must reflect some power shift on the Labour Front Bench between No. 10 and the Treasury. It was the essence of Blairism—the unique selling proposition of Tony Blair—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must use the correct terminology when referring to Members of the House.

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I meant the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was the Prime Minister's unique selling

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proposition that he could improve public services without raising taxes. Labour Members may recall the gigantic posters that sprouted up all over the country with images of the then Leader of the Opposition—with his signature appended, the better that we might believe his pledge. It is interesting that the Chancellor has today made nonsense of that promise. I agree with the analysis that we heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that this surely constitutes a power grab by the Chancellor.

I can see why there was so much cheering and waving of the Order Paper on the Labour Benches. Like the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and others, I have listened carefully to the debate. It has been wonderful to behold those on the Labour Benches, because this is what they came into politics to do: tax and spend. It is what they like doing. They want to take money away from the productive sectors of the economy and give it to public sector special interest groups, which they largely represent.

Labour Members may have missed two points in their discussion of the national insurance hikes: first, that those raises will hit the very public sector workers whom they hoped would benefit from the Chancellor's spending plans; and, secondly, as the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) rightly said, that the national insurance increases are regressive, and someone earning £32,000 will pay exactly the same as someone earning £132,000. That may be why Labour Members were so jubilant: we all know that they are now fat cats and MPs, and will not be as hard hit, relatively speaking, as many of their constituents.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Does the hon. Gentleman advocate a more progressive rate of income tax for those on higher incomes? If that is his policy, I agree with it.

Mr. Johnson: I merely point out that it is ironic that Labour Members should cheer a regressive tax.

Those regressive taxes are expected to go a very long way. The Chancellor said that he would increase public spending from £390 billion to £470 billion in about four years' time. I hope that I heard him correctly. If his growth projections are wrong, someone will pick up a large bill, and I expect that it will be the taxpayer.

It is the judgment of the Chancellor, the hon. Member for Hemsworth and many others who have spoken tonight that the time is now propitious to raise taxes and that the taxpayer is willing—

Sir Robert Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Johnson: I will, but I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak.

Sir Robert Smith: Has the hon. Gentleman noticed the sleight of hand in the Chancellor's statement? While the ceiling remains for most levels of national insurance, it will not remain for the 1 per cent. level. In effect, therefore, the Chancellor has taxed income right up through the scale—except unearned income or income

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from investments, which will not contribute to the national health service—despite saying that he did not want to increase income tax.

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out.

The Chancellor hopes to take a huge amount of money from the public and he thinks that the time is right to do that. Labour Members may be right that the public are in a generous mood and are prepared to pay more in taxes. What the public want more evidence of, however, is that those taxes, if taken and spent exclusively by the Government, will deliver a better health service. We have had umpteen health service reforms, and we now have more health administrators than beds. More people are on waiting lists than when the Government came to power and we are now driven to the crazy expedient of using taxpayers' money to send patients to France and Germany in the hope that they will be cured there. I wonder how the Chancellor can call the NHS the envy of the world, or whatever fatuous phrase it was that he used, when people are driven to go to South Africa for cataract operations and to India for heart surgery. More people than ever before are now being forced to use their own resources to pay for operations. That is not because the Labour Government have been particularly kind to private medicine; on the contrary, when the Government came to power they took away the tax break for private health care for the elderly, with the result that 200,000 people immediately gave up their policies. People are being driven to use private medicine in despair at the NHS. There should be no shame in pointing that out.

It should not be sacrilegious to say that the NHS is failing. I think that Nigel Lawson said that the NHS is the religion of the British people, and, to some extent, that is true. We all sign up in a general way to the objectives of the NHS. I think that the Chancellor said today that the NHS amounted to a definition of the character of this country. It is all very well to treat the NHS as a religion, but it is legitimate for some of us to point out that, in so far as it is a religion, it is letting down its adherents very badly.

It is wrong of the Chancellor to set his face against the experience of other countries that have a far better record of health care provision, a far better life expectancy, and a far better record of dealing with cancer and coronary heart disease. Those countries do so not just because they spend more money on health but because they do not rely exclusively on a top-down monopolistic health service of the kind that we have in this country. The Chancellor has decided that there is only one model for health care in this country—the NHS model—and he has decided that it is unimprovable except through the addition of more taxpayer's money and platoons of auditors to swell the ranks of the administrators. The best auditors of health care in this country should be the patients, and it would be far better if they were given more control over how money was spent for their health care.

We have had five years of bluff about the Labour Government's tax and spending intentions. Now, at last, we are getting the reality—in their hearts they are deeply wedded to tax and spend, and they have no more imaginative prescriptions for the NHS than those outlined by Labour Members today. All the froth, the candy floss and the spin of new Labour have finally been blown away. People such as the hon. Member for Hemsworth have

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been revealed in their true colours as taxers and spenders and believers in the NHS unreformed and as it is—monolithic and monopolistic. They think that that is the only way to improve health care in this country. I hope that they are right; I fear very much that they will be proved wrong.

9.43 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): In the previous Labour Government, the Chancellor achieved through, first, independence for the Bank of England, and, following that, low and stable interest rates and growing employment, an important reversal—that of Labour's reputation for economic incompetence.

I hope that this Budget will mark another change—a change in the way that politics works. For some years, we have experienced a sort of ersatz politics, in which politicians have become so expert at presenting policies in the best light that people have begun to believe that all politicians are interested in treating them like fools and patronising them. The consequence has been a growing distrust of politicians and an abandonment of the political process. Many politicians have wanted to make politics easier and simple to understand; instead, we have made it simplistic and confusing. We have implied that one can have extra investment in public services without paying for it, and have then faced the wrath of people when they realise that they are paying for it through so-called stealth taxes.

Let me take this opportunity to nail the myth that stealth taxes were invented by the Labour party. I recall the 22 Tory tax increases between 1992 and 1997 imposed by Conservative Chancellors.

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