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The Conservatives have argued that the national insurance employers' contribution will be far too expensive for employers. Let us face it; they have yet to come up with an alternative plan for funding any form of health service that will be cheaper for businesses. If every business had to start paying for a private health insurance scheme, the cost for industry would increase dramatically, not decrease. Even if we adopted the French model of social insurance, there would be at least a 1 or 2 per cent.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) said that one of life's lessons is that bureaucracy never decreases. In my experience, insurance premiums never decrease either. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) will be glad to learn that, as I worked for the Church of England for several years, I was insured for many years by Ecclesiastical Insurance"Insurance you can believe in" was its sloganalthough I have now moved because it is far too expensive, to Sterling Insurance. I suspect that I may have to change again after a referendum next year.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): I welcome the Budget on behalf of my constituents in North Durham. We have heard much from Conservative Members about the damage that the Budget will cause to jobs. However, my constituents have not forgotten that they went through some terrible times in the 1980s at the hands of the Conservative party. A once great mining industry and manufacturing industry was decimated. Throughout that period, we did not hear a peep from Conservative Members in defence of industry and communities throughout North Durham which faced wholesale destruction. At that time villages were left to die. People and communities were left with no hope for the future of their children and grandchildren.
Since 1997, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) reported is the case in his constituency, unemployment in North Durham has been at a record low. It has dropped by 44 per cent. The Conservatives tend to forget such facts. The reason why unemployment has fallen is that under a Labour Government we have had economic stability since 1997, with low interest rates and low inflation, which has allowed business in the north-eastor whatever business was left after the Conservatives had decimated itto flourish.
I recognise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David), who mentioned that there are pockets of high unemployment in his constituency, which doggedly defy those trends. Similar areas exist in North Durham, and they will take time to put right. That is down to the "couldn't care less" attitude that we saw in the 1980s, when those communities were left to the whims of the market.
One of the great success stories in North Durham has been the eradication of the scourge of youth unemployment, thanks to the new deal. That was paid for by a windfall tax, which it was said would decimate industry. It clearly did not.
I welcome the exemption from stamp duty for businesses in deprived areas. In areas such as Stanley in my constituency and South Stanley, that will be warmly welcomed. The abolition last year of stamp duty on housing led to more development. I know that it is hard for some Conservative Members to accept, but it is difficult to bring about development and business starts in those areas. Any help such as relief from stamp duty is valuable.
A further legacy of the industrial past of North Durham is a large elderly population scarred by industrial disease. The measures announced this week for the health service will be warmly welcomed. The Conservative strategy is to talk the health service down, reiterating the fact that it will not work. They want to break up the health service and replace it with a system under which people will have to pay. That is insulting to many of my constituents who work in the health service and are proud to do so.
The scandal in my constituency is not that, starting in September, we are getting a new hospital in Chester-le-Street, but the fact that the old one was still there in 2001it was an old workhouse. When the nurses moved into temporary accommodation two months ago, they said that that was better than the building that they had left. The new hospital will ensure better health care for my constituents.
We have heard tonight from Conservative Members that they want investment in public services and health, but not one contribution to the debate set out how they would fund it. All they tell us is why it cannot be funded in the way that the Government have determined.
On Saturday, I did what I do every second Saturday: I went out on the doorsteps of North Durham, on this occasion asking people what they thought of the Budget. I can tell Opposition Members that the Budget is popular with the constituents of North Durham, whether in working-class areas of Pelton or some of the more middle class suburbs of Chester-le-Street. The Budget offers them the improvements in health care that they want. I can tell my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench that the key point reiterated by my constituents is that if they are to pay more tax, they want delivery. We must ensure that that happens.
I also visited two schools on Friday. The head teachers at both the infant school and the junior school at Sacriston in my constituency welcomed the extra money that they were being given directly to improve facilities and to enable them to decide what they wanted for their schools. The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) clearly did not understand that some of that money has already been put through and that extra money is being given directly to
This Budget is good news for my constituency. It is part of the rebuilding of Britain. It is about rebuilding communities that were torn apart during the 1980s. It will go a long way to ensuring that the regeneration of and employment in North Durham continue.
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): This debate has been consistently fascinating and sporadically enlightening. Before dealing with the many contributions made to it from Members on both sides of the House, as shadow Education Secretary I would like to deal with the topic of the Budget and education.
I should point out one salient fact about these four days of debate on the Budget. For the first time since this Government came to office in 1997, they have failed to put up an Education Minister to speak about the Budget, although I should say that I am always delighted to debate with and listen to the Paymaster General. Those of us who have fond memories of proceedings on the Finance Bill in the early days of the previous Parliament are always nostalgic for them. Nevertheless, the absence of a day's or even half a day's debate on education speaks volumes for the Government's current commitment to it. As ever with this Government, one should look at the actions and not the rhetoric. Either the Government cannot be bothered to discuss the Budget's effect on helping our schools and universities, or they feel a little ashamed of how education has fallen down their agenda.
It is important to be fair. Education was mentioned by the Chancellor in a couple of cursory lines in his Budget statement, so it is worth investigating in some detail what was announced. He announced, for example, a payment of £87 million to help schools deal with pupils' bad behaviour. I must point out that that is not new money. Some of it was first announced as part of the £150 million of the children's fund allocation in the report by the Department for Education and Skills last March. Some of it was first announced as part of the £420 million allocated to the Connexions serviceannounced first on 23 October 2000 and then again on 20 March 2001. In addition, the truancy measures announced as part of the Budget have already been announced twice: on 26 March 2001 and 28 November 2001.
Let us look at the wider announcements in the Budget. The centrepiece of the Chancellor's claim to be helping schools was simply that he was giving more money directly to head teachers so that they could spend it as they like. Again, that bears a degree of investigation. The press release put out by the Departmentindeed, what the Chancellor told the Housesuggested that a typical secondary school would see a rise in such funding from £98,500 to £114,000.
As one head teacher who e-mailed me about the announcement pointed out, half the money had already been announced in last year's Budgeta standard Government trick, as he said. He calculated that the extra income for his school was therefore £5,881. That in itself would of course be welcome, but, unfortunately, he has also calculated that the extra employer national insurance contributions that he will be making will cost his school £13,224considerably more than the school is gaining from the Chancellor's apparent largesse.
Let us consider schools throughout the country. The best local government estimate is that the total cost to our schools of the national insurance increase for both employers and employees will be something like £165 million. That is rather more than the Government say they have given to schools. Faced with that embarrassment and the fact that people are looking behind the press releases to the detailed figures of the Budget, the Government did what they always do: they leaked an announcement of jam tomorrow. So, in two of this morning's newspapers, we saw what will come up in the comprehensive spending review.
Even these figures seem slightly hazy and depend on which newspaper one reads. According to the Daily Express, there will be a £20 million bonanza in the comprehensive spending review for schools and universities. According to the Daily Mirror, the figure will be £3 billion. I know that figures are not the Government's strong suit, but it is slightly ridiculous that they cannot get their leaks straight. They are not sure whether they are going to give £20 million or £3 billion in the comprehensive spending review.