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Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): I draw attention to the interests that are still listed under my name but are now outdated.

It is always a pleasure to listen to the Chancellor on these occasions, and it was genuinely interesting to hear what he had to say, for example, about the housing market and child care, which we shall all study in detail. But why is it that, so often, some of the most interesting bits of the Chancellor's pre-Budget reports never make it into his speeches? Why did he not tell us that table A5 on page 190 shows that the savings ratio has halved? Why, I wonder, did he not choose to tell us anything about the tax receipt figures or about the public spending figures in the report? Does he think that those figures are less important than stamping whisky bottles? We have learned that, with this Chancellor, one needs to look at the small print. I very much doubt, though, that even the small print will say that private sector employment fell last year, that we had a record trade deficit in the last three months or that household debt is now only slightly below our entire annual GDP.

The Chancellor has congratulated himself, with characteristic modesty, on the state of the economy and on meeting his growth forecast—it is indeed a remarkable event when the Chancellor meets one of his own forecasts—but the great question is, if the economy is doing so well, why is he borrowing so much? At the time of the last election, the Chancellor said that he would borrow £10 billion this year. Since then, in a series of reports, he has raised that projection to £15 billion, £24 billion and £27 billion. Today, he has finally admitted that he will have to borrow £37 billion this year. We will have to see whether that forecast proves any more accurate than its inaccurate predecessors.

The Chancellor will have been warned about families who borrow a huge amount on their credit cards, but he is doing the same on the nation's credit card. Why is he doing all this borrowing? Is it because, as the Chancellor is fond of saying, there has been a world economic downturn? No, it cannot be, because the borrowing of £120 billion, which he has just announced, between 2002 and 2006 is taking place after the worst of the downturn, against the background of world economy upturn.

The Chancellor cannot blame the rest of the world for his own borrowing, so what reason is there for the borrowing? Is it because he is not taxing enough? The pre-Budget report tells us that the Government are taking about 50 per cent. more in tax than in 1997. The Prime Minister's promise not to increase tax at all has not stopped the Chancellor raising the equivalent of £16,500 from every household in Britain. We have had 60 stealth taxes: taxes on jobs; taxes on families; taxes on homes; taxes on pensions; taxes on savings; taxes on drivers; taxes on businesses; and of course—the biggest stealth tax of them all—a huge rise in council tax. I grant that his tax revenues have not kept pace with his over-optimistic forecasts, but that is just about the only thing that they have not kept pace with.

The real explanation for the Chancellor's borrowing is not that he has been shy about raising taxes—it is the Chancellor's spending. The Chancellor is spending

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more than £50 million an hour. The saddest thing about the taxes that people are paying now, and the saddest thing about the taxes they will have to pay later to repay the Chancellor's borrowing, is that there is very little sign that all that spending is delivering improvements on the scale that everyone wants to see.

In the past seven years, the Chancellor has allowed spending on Whitehall bureaucracy to grow by almost 50 per cent. That is £6.7 billion a year of additional spending on administration. By the time of the next election, the right hon. Gentleman's open-wallet policy on bureaucracy will have cost the equivalent of about £1,500 in extra tax for each household in Britain. Even he knows that he has a problem. That is why he today, and his spin doctors all week, have been busy making noises about his so-called efficiency review, which is intended to cut back on the extra bureaucracy that he has created.

There is an even more serious problem, however. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has repeatedly told the House, the Chancellor is taxing and spending and failing. We have been promised reform of the public services for years but the reform simply has not happened. Why do the latest official figures show that since 1997 spending by the Government on goods and services has risen by 59 per cent. while outputs have risen by only 14 per cent? Why has 37 per cent. more spending on the NHS produced only 5 per cent. more hospital treatments? Why has the Chancellor been hiring managers in the NHS at three times the rate at which he has been hiring doctors and nurses? Why is inflation in the public sector running five times as fast as inflation in the household sector? Does the Chancellor really think that those figures represent value for money?

The Chancellor should have used this statement to announce a new direction for public services, with choice and responsibility transferred from bureaucrats in Whitehall to parents, patients and professionals. Instead, he has been proceeding on the basis that the only answer to failing public services is more bureaucracy, more targets, more plans, more performance monitoring and more taxes, and when that fails, borrowing today and more taxes tomorrow—except, of course, on amateur sports clubs.

The Chancellor's best defence against the accusation that he has taxed, spent and failed is that he has counter-balanced that with success in monetary policy. The Chancellor has built his reputation on the framework for monetary policy that he put in place in 1997. I have congratulated him on that in the past, and I do so again today. But I hope—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members must allow the right hon. Gentleman to be heard. The Chancellor was heard, and the right hon. Gentleman must be heard.

Mr. Letwin: I hope, however, that the Chancellor is not putting that well-deserved reputation at risk by the way in which, and the time at which, he is changing the inflation index, which is at the heart of that framework. He did not explain satisfactorily why he is changing the index now, when he knows that the harmonised index is

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likely to change in the near future to include housing costs. I hope that he is not doing that as part of his compromise deal with the Prime Minister on the euro—he needs that deal more than ever, now that he is breaching the Maastricht guidelines on borrowing. I hope that he is not doing it to make rises in council tax less visible. Council tax rises forced on councils by the Chancellor and by the manipulations of the Deputy Prime Minister are causing havoc. Council tax rises are the least acceptable face of the Chancellor's strategy for taxing Britain. What does the Chancellor do about it? He tells us today that he is proposing to use capping, which the Labour party derided when in opposition, and just in case that does not work he is imposing an index of inflation that includes no reference to council tax rises.

Can the Chancellor tell us what other implications the change in the index will have? He says that pensions, benefits and gilts will continue to be uprated in the same way as now. I suspect that those words were carefully chosen. What about tax allowances? What about indirect taxes? What about tax credits? I hope very much for all our sakes that the monetary framework will remain robust. It is not only the Chancellor's reputation that relies on that. Both the prosperity of the country and our own ambitious plans for public sector reform depend on a stable anti-inflationary environment.

But micro-economic policy—the policy that sets the framework for the economic decisions of individuals and businesses—matters, too. The Chancellor has talked today about savings and pensions. I note that he has not talked about his £5 billion a year raid on pension funds—or about the Prime Minister's explanation that that was fine because the stock market was in such good shape. I note that he has not talked either about the fact that his vast expansion of means-testing is making more than 50 per cent of pensioners—and will in due course make more than 75 per cent. of pensioners—dependent on means-tested benefits. I note that he did not mention that a newly retired couple in rented accommodation now need to have saved more than £180,000 to avoid losing between 40p and 85p in the pound in reduced benefits at some time during their retirement. I note that he did not link this misguided, means-tested approach to the fact that the savings ratio has halved. I note that he did not tell us why his forecasts about the number of people who will be affected by his new cap on pensions differ so markedly from independent forecasts. I note, in short, that he did not tell us very much at all about how he is going to make good the damage that he has done to the culture of individual and family saving in Britain. If we are to avoid more and more people becoming more and more dependent on Government handouts in retirement, that culture of saving needs to be rebuilt.

What about the Chancellor's policies announced today for British industry? When the Chancellor addressed the Labour party conference this autumn—in a speech that the Prime Minister will remember—the Chancellor said that he would be using the pre-Budget report to promote "modern manufacturing strength". We will certainly want to look carefully at the measures that the pre-Budget report contains for manufacturers. But the Chancellor has made that kind of promise before. He told another Labour conference in 1995 that he would

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Since then—or more precisely since the Government came to power—700,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. The present Chancellor is the longest-serving Chancellor since Lloyd George, and his policies have seen Britain lose 300 manufacturing jobs for every day that he has kept his job in the Treasury.

One of the keys to manufacturing strength is productivity, which the Chancellor used to call

So can the Chancellor tell us why it is that productivity has, on average, grown half as quickly in the six years for which he has been at the Treasury as it was growing in the six years immediately before? Has the Chancellor heard the British Chambers of Commerce say:

Why does the director general of the CBI say:

The Chancellor uses set-piece occasions such as today's to tell us that he wants to simplify tax and regulation, but his actions contradict his words. If his announcements today were reality rather than rhetoric, why did he impose a fiendishly complex change in stamp duty land tax nine days ago? Why is he imposing 15 new regulations every working day? He has today announced that he will consider abolishing 147 regulations this year. Marvellous! At his present rate of regulating, it will take him 10 days to add that many back on to the burdens borne by business. As the Prime Minister would say, the Chancellor's ambitions are not ignoble. I believe the Chancellor when he says that he wants to improve public services, and I believe him when he says that he wants to improve the prospects for British business. But the sad truth is that his ambitions are not being fulfilled—at least so far as public policy is concerned. That is because, for all his talk of reform, he is—as his neighbour the Prime Minister knows—the biggest single obstacle to reform in Whitehall.

In this pre-Budget report, we should have had announcements on public service reform. Instead, we have unreformed public services from an unreformed Chancellor, who has taxed and spent and failed. The taxpayer is paying now for the Chancellor's spending and will pay more later for his borrowing—but the money is not buying anything like the services that it should be buying, because the Chancellor has placed his faith in a bureaucracy which, instead of exercising effective control, is itself out of control.

In this pre-Budget report we should have had serious measures to reduce the regulatory burden on British business. Instead, business is paying now and is set to continue paying in lost productivity and lost competitiveness as a result of the Chancellor's suffocating blanket of stealth taxes and red tape.

The people of Britain do not want the Government to borrow more on their behalf or to tax them more later to repay that borrowing. What the people of Britain want, and what our families, our pensioners and our businesses want is the prospect of some relief from the ever-increasing burden of tax and regulation. Instead, what this pre-Budget report offers them is the prospect of paying now and paying more later.

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