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Mr. Cameron : The James report has been published in full. Perhaps the Chief Secretary will answer this question: will he confirm that, according to the Government's Red Book, the tax burden in 200809 will be the highest for 20 years? Is that true or not?
Mr. Boateng: Once again[Hon. Members: "Yes or no?"] Hold on. Once again, I reiterate my request for the publication of the James report; then, we can have a serious discussion. The Opposition cannot pretend that a PowerPoint presentation equals a report. Will we see a report? Will we see its workings and its analysis?
Mr. Borrow : Let me take my right hon. Friend back 20 years, when taxation under the then Conservative Government was relatively high. Does he agree that that high taxation coincided with high unemployment? In contrast to that Government, the present Government can afford to spend money on public services, because there are so many people in work and so few claiming benefit.
Mr. Boateng: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The new deal and Jobcentre Plus have proved to be essential in reducing unemployment and keeping it low. The new deal has helped 1 million people into jobs and every day Jobcentre Plus carries out 36,000 work-focused interviews and helps 4,800 people into jobs. No right hon. or hon. Member has not at some time appreciated the role in their constituency of the new deal and Jobcentre Plus. For Conservatives to produce a PowerPoint presentation that offers a 40 per cent. cut in the budget of Jobcentre Plus and to scrap the new deal altogether shows theirs to be a party that would imperil our hard-won economic stability and our success in creating jobs.
Mr. Boateng: I intend to advance my argument a little further before giving way again; then, I shall give way to the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), a former Secretary of State for Health, followed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey).
The country would pay a heavy price if the Conservatives put the James report into effect. That price would be paid by hard-working, decent families throughout the land. We make no apology for comparing their record in government with ours. When they last held office, our national debt doubled. Was that
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value for money? Borrowing hit £50 billion. Was that value for money? Interest rates soared as high as 15 per cent. and millions of families struggled under negative equity. Unemployment was shockingly high, reaching 3 million not once, but twice. All that is the Conservatives' record in government, and whether or not the hon. Member for Tatton was at school during that period, we do intend to allow him or anyone else to forget it.
Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): Will the Chief Secretary now address himself to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)? Is it not correct to say that the Red Book commits the Government to tax plans that will ensure that by 200809 the tax take will be the highest proportion of national income for 20 years? Is it not therefore unavoidably true that the Government are committed to raising tax?
Mr. Boateng: I shall not go down that road[Interruption.]and let me tell hon. Members why. The right hon. Gentleman has been a Treasury Minister and he knows precisely the status of the Red Book. He knows that no Chief Secretary or Financial Secretary, which I recollect he was when we first exchanged views on economic matters, would give undertakings or make comments on tax of the sort that he has sought from me.
Mr. Boateng: No, I shall not, because I have given way to both right hon. Gentlemen, for whom I have the utmost respect. Let me instead draw the House's attention to figures from the OECDan organisation for which I too have some respect. They are figures to which the hon. Member for Tatton failed to refer in the course of his speech. They demonstrate that in 2002 total UK tax revenue was 35.8 per cent. of GDP, compared with an European Union average of 36.9 per cent. In 11 EU countries, including France, Germany and Italy, total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was higher than in the UK. For Conservative Members to portray the UK as an over-taxed, high-tax economy flies in the face of the truth.
Mr. Boateng: I shall finish my point before the hon. Gentleman gets up on his feet or, indeed, on a high horsehe has that glint in his eye that suggests that he will be awfully self-righteous. However, he misquoted my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who will make that clear himself later, so let me direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to something that certainly is not a misquotethe right hon. Gentleman in question has never denied itfrom The Sunday Mirror, no less, of 31 October 2004. It reads:
"Businesses are reluctant to locate to places where tax rates are too high, regulatory controls are too intrusive and political instability threatens business stability. Places like the UK, the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore attract because their tax rates for business are low."
That was said by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who, I believe, sits on the Opposition Front Bench and speaks on regulatory matters. That is the clearest possible endorsement from the right hon. Gentleman of the present Government and their economic policies. We will never allow that economic stability or this country's political stability to be threatened.
Mr. Bailey: This is a question that I would have preferred to ask the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), but he declined to take it; perhaps my right hon. Friend can shed some light on it. At different times I have heard Opposition spokespersons say that they would use the money from scrapping the new deal, first, to fund their huge pension commitment and, secondly, to cut taxes. Do the Treasury calculations indicate which of those, if either, it could be used for?
Mr. Boateng: No briefing that I have from Treasury officials throws any light on Opposition thinking, nor would I ask Treasury officials to divine what the Opposition propose. However, I have reflected on the lack of credibility of the Opposition proposal to spend more while reducing what they call a structural deficit, and simultaneously promising tax cuts. That is incredible, as a number of informed commentators have pointed out.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Both parties claim that they can do that by attacking waste. The Chief Secretary asked for some heavyweight analysis. His hon. Friend the Financial Secretary is a member of the Public Accounts Committee. Will he read the scores of reports published during this Parliament that outlined how we can attack waste in the public service, and check his Treasury minutes to see whether every recommendation that we made to deal with waste has been implemented? In the real world we could surely work together to save substantial amounts of public money.
Mr. Boateng: Having sat, as my hon. Friend sits, as Financial Secretary on the hon. Gentleman's Committee, may I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Public Accounts Committee? We in the Treasury and all colleagues across Government take its deliberations seriously, even when not every one of its recommendations is adopted. The Committee does an important job and it would be unwise of any Government to ignore its findings.
: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one form of waste that we should tackle is not financial, but the personal wasted opportunities represented by the many millions of people who are on incapacity benefit and would like to get into work if they were given the chance? Does he agree that the pathways to work programme that we are advancing, despite being an expensive element of the Budget, is well worth while and is a proper investment for the future?
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Mr. Boateng: Not entirely surprisingly, I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. The comprehensive spending review and successive Budgets and pre-Budget reports have recognised the value of the programme.
Delivering value for the taxpayer depends first and foremost on the economic health and stability of the nation. Our record on that is strong, and we intend to do nothing that would imperil it. That is why I make the comparison that I do with the record of the Conservatives when they had stewardship of the economy.
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