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12 Feb 2003 : Column 899—continued

Mr. Bercow: Fewer!

Phil Hope: I accept the hon. Gentleman's grammatical correction and thank him very much for it. It is the only thing that he has got right all afternoon.

Fewer children in my constituency are truanting. Unlike the situation under the Conservative Administration, when truant children were simply roaming the streets, measures are now in place to tackle truancy and ensure that those children are identified, provided with an education and brought back into schools, with—crucially—the involvement of their parents. The parents are involved in the school contract to ensure that they, and not only the schools, take responsibility. As a result, less children—fewer children—are leaving school inappropriately and more children are back in school and achieving a higher educational performance.

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I will finish now as time is short.

Mr. Bercow rose—

Phil Hope: I will not give way now; I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question.

We have achieved a remarkable economic success. We are making step-by-step improvements to public services. However, there is another challenge—to improve people's quality of life. The challenge for the Labour Government, now that we have the economy right and now that we are seeing improvements to public services, is to raise the quality of life for every citizen in our communities.

2.22 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I have declared my interests in the Register of Members' Interests.

So far in this debate, we have heard a most lamentable speech from the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Truro and St Austell (Matthew Taylor). He should have died of embarrassment as he was wilting on his feet trying to deliver it. He could not answer a single intelligent question—and my colleagues raised several—on Liberal Democrat policy. He was left stumbling by the question on whether they wanted a massive increase in tax and waste, on top of the tax and waste that we have got used to from the Government. He was quite unable to explain how, if there were to be no further increases in expenditure under the Liberal Democrats, there could be any improvement in services. As we well know, they are quite unable to deliver such improvement when they are trusted in councils around the country.

I wish to concentrate on the complacent and unconvincing performance of the downgraded Chancellor—the Chancellor of tax and waste; the Chancellor of boom and bust; and the Chancellor who came to power saying that he would bring about a great manufacturing renaissance, only to dash hopes, sacrifice jobs, and lead many manufacturers to a valley of tears.

Kali Mountford: If the Chancellor is complacent, will the right hon. Gentleman explain the complacency of the members of his own party? This is his party's debate, but where are they?

Mr. Redwood: This debate has been extremely well attended on the Front and Back Benches for the interesting speeches that were given by my colleagues.

Matthew Taylor: But not for yours.

Mr. Redwood: The Liberal Democrats have chosen to make this truancy hour, as we see from their absence from the Chamber. I am delighted to see the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), in his place. This is a team and we are heartily sick of the way in which the Government team have let down this country, let down their pensioners, let down their taxpayers, let down their users of public services and let down, above all, their manufacturers.

Mr. Ivan Henderson rose—

Mr. Redwood: Briefly and succinctly, I wish to highlight 10 massive errors of the Chancellor. First, this

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is the Chancellor of tax and waste. This is the man who has tipped so much money into the health service that we get no visible improvement at all in health care in my part of the world. Where has all the money gone? It is not buying us the nurses and doctors that we want; it is not delivering the extra operations; and it is leading to bed closures and shortages. There has been incompetence on an enormous scale from the Chancellor of tax and waste.

The second great error of this Chancellor was to destroy the savings and pensions industry in this country.

Andy Burnham: Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that there has been no increase in the numbers of nurses and doctors, and no new NHS buildings and no improvement whatsoever in his local health service? I will look up the figures but I believe that he is wrong to say that. I would be grateful if he would be honest with the House.

Mr. Redwood: What can be achieved in my local hospital is all too little because of the changes in the way in which the health service is managed and because of the shortage of money to deal with the falling productivity that is the hallmark of the health service under this Government.

The Chancellor has a massive productivity crisis in the public sector and he has no idea what to do about it. The more targets and central controls that he heaps on the systems, the worse they become as local situations are undermined. I want more doctors and nurses, more treatments and more patient activity in my hospital. Despite the money, none of that is being delivered because of the fall in productivity

Kali Mountford: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Redwood: I have already given way rather generously and I wish to make some progress.

I had moved on to pensions. The Chancellor tried to tell the House that a £5,000 a year stinging tax on pension savings would not be visible. He and the Prime Minister dared to say that, because the stock market was rising when that tax was introduced, all would be well and there would be magic money—pensioners and savers would be better off, and, of course, the Chancellor would be better off with his bags of gold swelling every day. As soon as the stock market started to fall, we saw absolutely nothing from the Chancellor by way of apology or adjustment to his policies.

The Chancellor seemed so little to understand what he had done that he did not realise that there would be a stock market fall in company shares as a direct result of taking £5 billion off the people who had invested in those shares. The market was selling on 20 times earnings at that time. I do not know whether the Chancellor was aware of that or whether he understands it, but it meant that there was bound to be a £100 billion hit on share prices that were held by my constituents and the constituents of hon. Members on the Labour Benches through their pension and insurance funds. Either the

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Chancellor did not understand, or he did not give a toss. Either way, it is very bad news for the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he was so careless of the savings and future pension entitlements of so many people. Where is he now to apologise? Where is he now to start reducing the tax burden? Where is he now to help savers before many of them reach retirement with a fraction of what they were expecting from the hard-earned money that they had saved? People have been robbed by a rip-off Government and robbed by a rip-off Chancellor.

The third error has been the Chancellor's failure to deal with the problems of manufacturing. Indeed, the Chancellor is the main problem for manufacturing. It is this Chancellor who has stung manufacturing by £15 billion a year through his extra impositions, controls and regulations. It is this Chancellor who believes that he can regulate, control and harry manufacturers, taking money away from them but mysteriously believing that that will do them no damage and that they will come up smiling and bouncing.

When the Chancellor was in opposition as shadow Chancellor, his idea of a good evening out was to sit in the House of Commons Library puzzling over all the numbers coming out month by month from the then Government's statistical machine. As soon as he found a single bad number—jobs lost or manufacturing output not rising—he was on to it and would claim that it was a scandal and a disgrace. Why does he not read the figures now? Why does he not see that he has already presided over two manufacturing recessions? The second was long and deep, and some people believe that he will preside over a third if he survives long enough in office given all the current rumours. This is the man who has let manufacturing down, who has destroyed good, well-paid jobs and who has led to a crisis in our export industries, because he has damaged the productivity and competitiveness of those who make things in Britain.

That leads me directly to the fourth huge error and problem with which the Chancellor has burdened us. It is a problem that he and his Labour predecessors as shadow Chancellor used regularly to complain about when Conservative Governments delivered more modest figures in terms of the problem than this Chancellor has done. I am talking about the balance of payments. It really takes the biscuit for someone who campaigned against any balance of payments deficit in the Conservative years not only to preside over, in the past year, the biggest bumper deficit in history but to say nothing of the fact that we buy £34 billion more of manufactured goods into this country, which was once the workshop of the world, than we are able to sell from it. That is the magnitude of the crisis that he has created in manufacturing.

Many Labour Members have now gone quiet. They know that there have been factory closures and job losses in their constituencies. They are under pressure from their constituents to put that right, but they know that they have nothing to offer because the Chancellor does not care.

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