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Mrs. Browning: Clearly, I do not want to take responsibility for something that I have not seen, but I worked in operating theatres in the 1970s, and in recent years I, like others, have had to nurse elderly dying relatives in NHS hospital wards, when our attendance ensured that they had liquid and comfort. Those are the third-world standards that concern people. That may not apply across the NHS, but it is becoming apparent to more and more of us who have had such personal experiences that something must be done.
Mr. Levitt: I exonerate the hon. Lady from responsibility for the leaflet. I congratulate her on having made a genuine point about some people's experience without trying to tell us that that is new and has only recently started to happen. We are not saying that the NHS is perfect. We believe that maintaining a patient's dignity is an important part of health treatment, and we try to do that for every patient at every stage in their health care experience.
I do not want to spend more time on the rag to which I have drawn the House's attention and which contains lies and distortion. The High Peak Conservative association has tried to rewrite history, so it is no surprise that the author wants to remain anonymous. If anyone is as outraged as I am, they can call Buxton 22521 and tell the High Peak Conservatives, so that they may learn for next time.
If we were to go back to a Tory NHS, as before, more beds would be scrapped; disillusioned staff would leave the NHS in droves; there would be no enforceable standards in care homes and nursing homes; people would be unable to afford private health insurance; some medical conditions would be virtually uninsurable even for the rich; lawyers would chase ambulances as they do in America; and the slimmest of safety nets would be provided for the underclass when they fell ill. When I hear Conservative Members criticise our management of the economy, our commitment to public services and our passion to rebuild the NHS, I know that we are right on this one.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I am in an unusual position. For 15 years in the House, I have watched Chancellors come and go and I have never yet been able to support the amendments of the law in Budget motions, but unless the Chief Secretary completely mucks up his summing up, I shall support the Government on the first motion on the Order Paper. I shall be able to do so, because at last a Budget has been proposed whose central tenet I agree with, which is that taxation should fund public services, that public services have been inadequately funded and a major transformation is required, and that that should be done from general taxation. I support that, and we and our Plaid Cymru colleagues will be delighted to endorse it in the Lobby this evening.
I promise Treasury Ministers that that will be the last complimentary thing that I shall say about them in my speech. I can see the relief on the face of the Paymaster General, who once voted for me, although she may not like to be reminded of it. It was during controversy over a Budget some years ago, in March 1988. The then Chancellor is no longer in this place. Subsequently, everyone realised what a total disaster it was, but we saw it at the time. However, I promise not to embarrass her any further with revelations from the past.
I support the central theme of the Budget. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks. Hon. Members may ask what they are, and the opinion polls will tell them. According to the polls, the central theme is hugely endorsed by the public, but the same polls tell us that people do not trust the Government or the Chancellor and feel that they have been misled. They have been misled, because the same Chancellor who now proposes a radical shift of resources into the health service has been living a lieindeed, two liesfor the past five years.
First, after each and every Budget since 1997, the Chancellor told the House that the health service was adequately funded. We all know that he used smoke and mirrors, double counting, triple counting and, on one occasion, quadruple counting of the investment in public services. At each Budget, he told us that the health service was adequately funded, but we now know that that was not true. Even the Prime Minister has noted the scars, as he puts it, in the health service from his personal experienceperhaps it was one of the confrontations that he had during the general election campaign. The Government now accept that, far from being adequately funded, the health service has been systematically underfunded.
The former Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), strongly implied that, if he had been Chancellor in 1998, the health service and other public services would have received more funds than they have received from the current Treasury team. I see no reason to doubt his assertion, because that is an extremely embarrassing thing for any Conservative to say. Talking about himself as a big spender will hardly endear him to his Front-Bench colleagues, so I think that we can safely conclude that underfunding of our public services has been greater under the Labour party than it would have been under the outgoing Conservative Government.
Secondly, the Labour party has been living a lie because it has said that public services could be adequately funded without recourse to general taxation. For the first five years of the Labour Government, there was an ingenious search for sleekit, back-door, underhand taxationanything that might not be noticed by the general public. Worst of all, in 1999 when, as the Secretary of State for Health told us earlier, public finance was out of control, Labour announced a 1p reduction in the basic rate of income tax. The Government tried to give the impression that a miracle could be worked: that public services could be adequately funded and there could still be a reduction in the headline rate of income tax. Now we know the truth. That was not possibleit was never possible. It was a deception, and that is why the public are totally cynical about the Government's arguments.
In Scotland, we fought an election in 1999 against that 1p reduction in tax. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the full panoply of the new Labour party, from the top right down to the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Alexander), attacked the SNP's proposal against a taxation reduction for the Scottish Parliament as wildly irresponsible. Labour's running dogs in the Scottish press corps tore into it, and said that it was dreadful to ask people to pay more for public services.
Now, three years later, the Labour party is doing exactly that, and the dogs in the Scottish press corps are running in the opposite direction, saying that this is the best thing since sliced bread and that a Chancellor should be brave enough to increase taxation to fund public services.
Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman is perfectly well aware that the activities of the Scottish Executive, who include Liberal Democrats, are prescribed and limited by the money that they receive from this place. That is why there has to be some compromise in the programme that they implement.
Mr. Salmond: I understood that the Scottish Executive could vary income tax. I also thought that the Liberal Democrats did not want taxation to be reduced, and that that was the programme on which they stood. They have the ability, if they so choose, to pursue that programme and to say that they will not sell their principles for a ministerial Mondeo. They actually sold them for two ministerial Mondeos.
Mr. Salmond: It may be a cheap shot, but not with regard to private prisons. We are down here in this place, where the Liberal Democrats argue strongly against privatising the Prison Service, but Scotland's Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice is at the forefront of privatising the Prison Service in Scotland. That is not a cheap shot, save at my constituents and others who will be on the receiving end of that deeply misguided policy.
We and the Liberals can have fun at the Government's expense, but my resentment is caused by the fact that we are also having that fun at the expense of othersthose whose operations have been delayed or cancelled and who have been on long waiting lists over the past five years. The casualties of the Labour party's deception are the people who have suffered from the inability of even the hard-working health service staff to cope over those five years, due to chronic and consistent underfunding. I should tell the Government that although many, including me, welcome the change in line, people will have long memories regarding that period.
In some ways, the Conservative party, and certainly the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), the former shadow Chancellor, has been kind about the Chancellor's economic record. For example, I note that growth in the UK economy over the past five years is marginally less than in the five years under the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, although it must be said that his best year was his first, probably because he followed a right duffer as Chancellor. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was able to bounce back from that experience.
I also note that on competitiveness, which is the measure that the Chancellor used to describe as the critical one, the UK economy has declined from No. 4 in 1998 to No. 12, according to the World Economic Forum. UK growth over the economic cyclethe past 10 yearsis 2.5 per cent., which is much less than Norway's 3.8 per cent., the USA's 3.3 per cent., the Netherlands' 2.7 per cent. and Ireland's 6.9 per cent.
Let us concede for a second that UK economic performance has been adequate over the past five years. That is certainly not true of the Scottish economy. Prophets are not honoured in their own country, so it is no surprise that the Chancellor is not honoured in Scotland. The UK economy bundles along at 2 to 2.5 per cent., but the growth rate in the Scottish economy is less than half that. In the Budget speech, the Chancellor talked of reaching out to full employment, but the International Labour Organisation measures Scottish unemployment at 6.6 per cent., which is a long way from full employment.
We might have expected the Scottish-based Chancellor to address the low growth in his own country and the relatively high unemployment in the Scottish economy. Instead, we get a series of measures that will make the position worse. A major revenue raiser in the Budget is the increase in oil taxation by the equivalent of £1 billion in a full year. The Press and Journal quoted the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) as saying that that will increase North sea employment. I must say to him and to others that it is impossible to take £1 billion out of the industry and increase North sea activity and employment. There are less damaging ways to increase taxation in the oil sector, but the Government have not found that method.