Previous SectionIndexHome Page

18 Nov 2002 : Column 396—continued

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): I congratulate the Chancellor on his conversion to

18 Nov 2002 : Column 397

Reagan economics, but will he follow the example of Reagan and start reducing taxes across the board instead of increasing them all the time?

Mr. Brown: I remember that it was a Republican Administration who ran up the greatest deficit ever as a result of not being able to take the right decisions. The key issue is that we do not allow ourselves to return to the days of Conservative government of the early 1990s, when we had a #50 billion deficit—it rose to 8 per cent. of gross domestic product—that led to 22 tax rises, despite the promise that the Conservatives made at the election that they would never increase taxes. I am determined that we will pursue prudent and responsible public finances, even if the shadow Chancellor cannot begin to tell us what his fiscal rules will be.

We shall announce the new level of the pension credit, which will be introduced in October. I can confirm that the winter fuel payment is being sent out now. The free television licence is worth #112 for the elderly. The shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions wanted to take it away from pensioners, but it will continue. For tomorrow's pensioners, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will shortly publish our Green Paper on pensions.

The Tories would cut investment in education, and in every major public service. We know that in the modern economy we cannot afford to waste the potential of one child. Investment per school pupil will rise from just under #2,500 a year under the Conservatives to #5,000 a year on average per pupil—twice as much—by 2006. That requires 10,000 more teachers, 50,000 more classroom assistants, 20,000 schools renovated and the right to nursery education for not only every four-year-old but every three-year-old.

The new resources that we will put in will be accompanied by reforms—for example, freedoms and flexibilities for head teachers through the direct payments that were introduced in previous Budgets; a reduction in ring-fenced funding; new incentives for successful schools; new specialist schools and city academies; a national roll-out of education maintenance allowances to persuade young people to stay on at school and get qualifications, even when their families do not have the income to support that; and further education reform under the paper that is to be published this week to increase opportunities for post-16-year-olds, including an expansion in the number of modern apprenticeships. We shall widen access to higher education. University reforms will be outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in the new year.

Again, there are questions for the Opposition. They refuse to match us on education. They say that we are spending too much on it. How can they claim that it is not cost-effective for expenditure on education to rise to #5,000 per pupil when they are prepared to spend money on assisted places schemes for pupils to go to private schools that charge an average #9,000 a year? We say that it benefits the nation to invest substantially not only in some pupils at some schools but in every pupil at every school.

18 Nov 2002 : Column 398

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell): As it appears that each member of the Cabinet is to have a free vote on university top-up fees, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he believes that top-up fees are an acceptable way forward for higher education?

Mr. Brown: I know that the Liberals will oppose every change that we even consider. Even on the Queen's Speech—I know that I share common ground with the shadow Chancellor on this—the other shadow Chancellor has set out 19 new spending proposals. That is on top of the Liberal Democrats' calls since the previous Queen's Speech for an end to prescription charges and for free personal care for the elderly. I could go through the list.

The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) would like to support us on university funding because we are increasing it to 2006. We will honour our manifesto commitment on top-up fees, and he, like everyone else, will have to be patient and wait until the White Paper on universities is published. However, he cannot go on claiming that he will spend more and more on everything. At some time, the Liberal party, and the hon. Gentleman with his new, dignified title of shadow Chancellor, will have to face up to their responsibilities.

Let us consider the national health service. To ensure that it has the resources that it needs, we announced in the Budget the largest sustained increase in funding in NHS history: 7.4 per cent. a year for five years, thus raising spending to #90 billion by 2008. We also announced that spending on social services would increase. As the Queen's Speech makes clear, resources will be matched by reform. That includes: NHS foundation hospitals with growing devolution of money; multi-year budgets; flexibility down to primary care trusts and hospital trusts; payment by results; new and streamlined audit and inspection, with new national regulators; an annual report to Parliament and local reporting. The public have a right to know how health service money is being spent.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Brown: I have given way enough.

Reform and investment will reduce waiting lists and times. I believe that the British people will listen to what we say about taxation to pay for the NHS. Like us, they will agree to put public services before tax cuts; like us, they know that a properly funded NHS through general taxation is the best insurance policy in the world. It is clear that the difference lies between those of us who want to invest in the NHS and public services and those who want to introduce and subsidise private medicine.

Let us consider Conservative policy again. In the general election campaign, the Conservatives said that they would match us on spending on hospitals and the health service. After the election, they decided that that was too moderate and left wing. Now, they refuse to match us on health service spending. Worse, they prefer subsidies for private medical insurance and subsidies for private operations to spending on the NHS.

18 Nov 2002 : Column 399

How would the shadow Chancellor fund private insurance tax relief at a cost of at least #500 million? How would he fund subsidies for private operations at a cost of #1 billion? How does he square a precise and absolute commitment to spending public funds on subsidising private medicine with his failure to make any commitment to financing the NHS?

Does not it say something about today's Tories that their first pre-election commitment is not to the NHS but to subsidising private medicine? They used to tell us that they could not give us their spending commitments because they would make no early decisions. After claiming for a year that they would not make spending commitments on health, they were prepared at their party conference to make them on private medicine but not on the NHS. There is no better illustration of the priorities of today's Conservative party. It is not that they cannot but that they will not announce their commitment to the NHS.

It matters more to Conservatives to finance one person on BUPA than to fund the 50 million people who depend on the NHS. Dogma, not economics, leads them to deny the health service money. Let us remember the letter that the shadow Chief Secretary, who is present this afternoon, wrote to the shadow Chancellor a few months ago. It stated that the reforms that he proposed

Such a policy leads to vouchers, extra charges and privatisation. The Conservative party has again become the party of public spending cuts and privatisation. It has become the party that is not for but against the health service and public services.

In the most difficult world economic circumstances, the Queen's Speech tells the country that even in exacting times, the Government will continue to steer a course of stability. We will reject the Opposition's policies for instability, unemployment, cuts in public services and undermining family and pensioner prosperity. Instead, we will pursue policies for a strong economy with employment opportunities for all, strong public services and a Britain that is enterprising and fair. I commend the Queen's Speech to hon. Members.

5.19 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): For the avoidance of doubt, I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests.

It is no part of my attitude, unlike that of the Chancellor, to denigrate anything and everything that emanates from the other side of the House. I shall, therefore, begin by welcoming the announcement that he made on the financing of terrorism. We are at one with the Government on that issue, and we welcome the progress that has been made. Indeed, we look forward to more progress being made in that important endeavour.

18 Nov 2002 : Column 400

This afternoon, we have once again heard a speech from the Chancellor that was a masterclass in complacency. It is the latest in a series; he made a very similar speech at the Labour party conference. Then, too, he tried to give the impression that all was for the best, in the best of all possible worlds. The moment he sat down, however, his spin doctors were scurrying around telling the world that his forecasts would not be met. Indeed, the private press briefing in advance of next week's pre-Budget report has already been going on for some time. Two weeks ago, the press were briefed that the Chancellor had told the Cabinet that he was running out of money, and no doubt his spin doctors are scurrying around briefing privately as we debate these matters in public this afternoon.

Today, the Chancellor had stern words to say about public sector pay. Yesterday, the Governor of the Bank of England warned against a high pay settlement for firefighters, saying that wage inflation would

with Xnot just inflation higher" but Xunemployment higher", too. He said that that would be Xvery damaging indeed". How does the Chancellor reconcile what the Governor said yesterday with those above-inflation settlements in the public services—referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)—that have already been made? There have been increases for ACAS workers of 17 per cent. over two years, increases of 22 per cent. over three years for the staff of the Welsh Assembly and increases of 20 per cent. over four years for civilian workers in the Ministry of Defence. The Governor of the Bank of England said that

As it has already started, how does the Chancellor propose to stop it?

The Chancellor also said something about the public services today; he did not say as much as he normally does, but he referred to them. Nowhere is the Government's failure more stark than in their failure to deliver on those services.

Next Section

IndexHome Page