Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success of the new deal, which has virtually wiped out youth unemployment in my constituency. Has he any idea of what I can tell my constituents when they hear the shadow Chancellor refer to it as an expensive waste of time, even though in Wallasey it is giving new hope and opportunities to many of my constituents?

Mr. Brown: Even if only a few people in our constituencies had got jobs as a result of the new deal, it would still have been worth while, because it is a social investment as well as an economic investment—but the fact is that 2 million people are in or have been through the new deal, hundreds of thousands have got jobs as a

4 Dec 2003 : Column 684

result, and the new deal has done better in the regions where the highest unemployment had been the greatest cause of social problems.

I cannot understand how a Conservative party leader can say that he is moving his party to the centre while repeating exactly the mistakes of the past, when the Conservatives made people unemployed and pulled away any help for them when they became redundant.

Mr. Laws rose—

Mr. Brown: I shall give way to the deputy Liberal economic affairs spokesman now.

Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Chancellor for giving way so graciously.

On the key issue of public service reform, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has been much speculation about whether there are divisions between the Prime Minister and himself on top-up tuition fees. So that we can be in no doubt, will he tell us specifically whether he supports variable top-up fees?

Mr. Brown: Yes, and if the hon. Gentleman would read my speeches and do his research, he would know that that is exactly the position. The difficulty, however, is that the Conservative proposition would mean not only that there would be no opportunities for unemployed people, because there would be no new deal, but that if the Conservatives took up the policy that they propose on tuition fees, 100,000 students who are already at university would not be there, and in total 250,000 students would be denied university places. How can the Conservative party claim to be a party of the centre, when it is pursuing extreme policies that would deny opportunities to thousands of people in constituencies throughout the country?

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) is supposed to be doing a study of the costings of Liberal party policy, so he may find it interesting to note that even after his proposed tax rise, there would still be a £14 billion gap in his spending plans. Perhaps he should listen to the cautionary words of the former Liberal Treasury spokesman, who said that it was not possible to make any more spending commitments because the commitments that the party had already made had virtually burst the bank. In every part of the country, the Liberals will be exposed for what they are—people who make promises that everybody knows they can never deliver. Now, if I give way to the hon. Member for Huntingdon, who has been waiting to enter the debate for some time, perhaps he can tell me precisely what the Conservative economic policy is.

Mr. Djanogly: The Chancellor has spent some time explaining how so many jobs have been created through his various policies. What he has failed to say that is business is not creating the jobs, because people are being sacked here and jobs are being created in India. The public sector, the Chancellor and his Government are creating the jobs. If people were digging roads in the public sector in the 1930s, they are now sitting in town halls and Whitehall. How is the Chancellor going to help business to create jobs?

Mr. Brown: I would say that the hon. Gentleman is ranting about the matter. In the last six and a half years,

4 Dec 2003 : Column 685

1.7 million jobs have been created in the economy. No other economy has such a record. Conservative Members are trying to suggest that every one of those 1.7 million jobs is somehow pen-pushing in the public sector. However, the vast majority of those jobs are in the private sector and the vast majority of jobs in the public sector are the thousands of nurses, teachers, classroom assistants, policemen and women—and it is about time the Opposition recognised that if this country is to have a health service that it can be proud of, they will have to vote for the extra moneys necessary to invest in it. That is why the 1p rise in national insurance should be supported.

I was demonstrating that the Conservative party is pledged to abolish the new deal, while we wish to expand it, build on it and employ training pilots so that people can get the skills that they need. The Lambert report is published this morning, and help for university spin-off companies will be available so that new jobs in high-technology industries can be created. We shall reform the Employment Service so that it can do a better job of helping people who are hard to employ. None of that would be possible if we denied the Employment Service and the new deal the necessary moneys to help people get back to work and get the requisite skills, which is supposed to be the Conservative policy.

Another Government policy is investing in the public services, and I have to tell Conservative Members that if we were to reduce public spending to 35 per cent. of gross domestic product, we would have to make many people in public services redundant. Furthermore, there is no doubt that over the past few years, what has kept the British economy moving is the symmetrical inflation target and the monetary policy pursued by the Bank of England. The credibility that has emerged from the Bank of England's work has led interest rates to be actively pushed down to the point at which it was necessary to keep the world economy and the British economy moving forward. It was also necessary to have fiscal policy to support monetary policy during that period. That is why a programme of cuts in public expenditure would have been the wrong thing for the British economy.

Conservative Members do not want to engage in the issue of what is the right economic policy, and particularly the right macro-economic policy, for Britain. It is good that this country did not have to suffer from their policies over recent years. They refused to make the Bank of England independent. They never supported our symmetrical inflation target until it was too late. They refused to provide the fiscal boost that was appropriate for the economy and they would have abolished the new deal. Pursuing Conservative policies over recent years would doubtless have led to a repetition of the same boom-bust, stop-go policies of the past. Conservative policies would have put Britain into recession.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): As well as noting the dismissive attitude of Conservative Members to our position on public sector workers—they seem to dismiss them as not having real jobs—has my right hon. Friend made an estimate of the effect on the wider

4 Dec 2003 : Column 686

economy of making public sector employees redundant? Public sector workers would no longer pay taxes or contribute through buying goods and services.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right that public servants make a contribution not just to public services, but to the economy as a whole. She is also absolutely right that Conservative policy is to devalue the work of public servants. I see that the shadow Chief Secretary has just joined the debate. Let me quote what he said in an article in The Sunday Times on 10 March 2002:

I would be happy to give way if the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) would like to correct his statement. However, it seems to me that when we reach the next general election and we are explaining policies on the public services, if the hon. Gentleman makes such accusations against good public servants, including nurses, doctors, teachers and classroom assistants, and tells them that their mentality is to do as little as they can, we shall genuinely know the feelings of the Conservative party towards the public services of this country.

The shadow Chancellor was good enough to admit that his policy was to provide vouchers to help people move into private health care services, but he refused to tell us how much money people would have to put up to enable them to receive the benefits of such treatment. I have here a pamphlet written several years ago by the shadow Chancellor and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). It is a manifesto not just for vouchers in the NHS, but for charges all round within the NHS. It is a manifesto for private health insurance to be taken up, perhaps compulsorily, by many people, and for breaking up the NHS as we know it. I believe that the whole country will be looking to the shadow Chancellor as he formulates his plans for the future to see whether the Conservative party policy is not just for vouchers, but for charges, cuts, privatisation and the break-up of the NHS. That is undoubtedly the aim of the Conservative party.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con) rose—

Mr. Brown: I am sorry, but I have already given way many times.

The Queen's Speech debate has already revealed much about the modern Conservative party. The Conservatives want to abolish the new deal, to cut public expenditure to 35 per cent. of national income—an £80 billion cut in public services—and to force a voucher system on the NHS, which would mean that health care would for many people be based on ability to pay rather than on need.

Next Section

IndexHome Page