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Points of Order

12.31 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask what the arrangements are for amending Hansard? A few moments ago, the Prime Minister suggested that the official Opposition had voted with the Government on the Licensing Bill. We did of course oppose it on Third Reading.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for me and it is not a point of order.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from either a Law Officer or any Minister to clarify the law of sub judice in relation to courts martial? The events in Osnabruck at least require clarification in relation to sub judice.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for me.
19 Jan 2005 : Column 814

Opposition Day

[2nd Allotted Day]

Value for Taxpayers' Money

Mr. Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.32 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House notes that the Government has increased taxes 66 times and has failed to give value for taxpayers' money; is concerned that independent commentators believe that taxes will have to be increased under the Government's spending plans; and calls for a change of direction away from the path of more waste and higher taxes to a path of value for money and lower taxes.

The debate gives us a timely opportunity to discuss the Government's failure to give taxpayers value for money, a timely opportunity to discuss the tax increases that almost every independent expert now believes to be inevitable if Labour is re-elected, and of course a timely opportunity to discuss how we should be putting spending on a more sustainable basis, enabling us to cut taxes imposed on hard-working families.

I welcome the presence of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, because he has been the invisible man this week. As I have toured the television and radio studios, I have kept bumping into the Secretary of State for Transport, who has taken on the role of the Government's chief spokesman on spending. Obviously the purdah that applies to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the context of election campaigning has been applied to the entire Treasury team, and they are all being kept under lock and key. I am glad to see, however, that the Chief Secretary has been let out on day release for this important debate.

There is a danger that debates of this kind may become somewhat partisan, and we would not want that to happen, so let me begin by trying to establish cross-party consensus. I shall do that by agreeing entirely with what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said recently:

I agree. I am happy to work on the basis of that consensus: I want to establish that at the outset.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Osborne: I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree with the Financial Secretary that a lot of money has been spent but very little seems to have been achieved?

John Robertson: Does the hon. Gentleman not think that jobs are the most important thing, and it is in that regard that we get the best value for money in terms of tax? My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and his colleagues have done more than anyone else to get people back into employment.
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Mr. Osborne: I am absolutely delighted that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, who agrees with the Financial Secretary that a lot of money has been spent but very little seems to have been achieved. We have established a consensus. On employment, I should point out that there are now more than 1.1 million people who are not in work, training, or education—more than in 1997.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/ Co-op) rose—

Mr. Osborne: I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman; perhaps he agrees with the Financial Secretary.

Mr. Bailey: What assessment has the hon. Gentleman made of the value for money of the poll tax, which was introduced by the Tory Government?

Mr. Osborne: I was at school when the poll tax was introduced, and at university when it was abolished. I shall concentrate instead on what the current Government are doing, given the legion examples of waste under them, on which we can have a good three-hour debate.

I was building on the consensus established by the Financial Secretary and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson). We agree with the Financial Secretary that people have paid a lot in taxes. There have been 66 tax increases—

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Osborne: I will do so in a second, but so that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the Government's tax record, which the Financial Secretary has helpfully outlined, I should point out that as a result of the 66 tax increases and this so-called progressive Labour Government, the tax burden now falls hardest on the poorest in society. There are taxes on pensions, petrol, mortgages, marriage, employers, employees and the self-employed, amounting to £5,000 per family. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Treasury Select Committee. Does he agree with the assessment of the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Institute for Fiscal Studies that taxes will go up if Labour wins the election?

Mr. Plaskitt: I want to deal with 66 tax rises that the hon. Gentleman likes to cite—a figure at which he has arrived, I think, by working through the Red Book and itemising all the lines that give a tax increase. He is right: there are 66 tax increases, but will he confirm that according to the same accounting methodology, there are also 232 tax cuts?

Mr. Osborne: Any tax reductions introduced by this Government have been more than outweighed by the massive increase in taxation, which amounts to £5,000 per family. But I am glad that this consensus is growing and that the hon. Gentleman accepts that there
19 Jan 2005 : Column 816
have been 66 tax increases. It is very useful, as we approach a general election, to have a Labour member of the Treasury Select Committee agreeing with us.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): There is one important tax cut that the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned: the cut in VAT on fuel. The current Leader of the Opposition was a member of the Conservative Government, who intended to increase VAT on fuel to 17.5 per cent. ultimately. They never implemented the second stage of that increase because they were defeated by the Labour party, which on entering government immediately reduced VAT on fuel to the minimum level of 5 per cent. That reduction has benefited every taxpayer in this country.

Mr. Osborne: The hon. Gentleman did not mention fuel duties, which have rocketed under this Government. Indeed, because of their very nature, and because of the pledges concerning the basic and top rates of income tax that the Prime Minister made during previous election campaigns, many of the stealth taxes have been imposed through duties. Such taxes fall hardest on the poorest in society, which is why the Office for National Statistics points out that the greatest tax burden is now paid by the poorest quintile.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con) rose—

Mr. Osborne: I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).

Mr. McLoughlin: For the record, I agree with the Financial Secretary that a lot of money has been spent and wasted, but does my hon. Friend agree that this is not really a new error? The Government agree with that assessment, which is why they commissioned the Gershon report, and why the Chancellor announced at the Dispatch Box that he wanted to sack 80,000 civil servants. Should we not welcome the fact that the Government have belatedly recognised that they have spent all this money and wasted it?

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