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Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con):
It is a pleasure to sum up for the Opposition this afternoon, after what I think we can all agree has been a rather lively debate. It was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for
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Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chief Secretary, who provided a robust advocacy of our new value for money proposals, of which more again in a moment.
That was replied to by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. It is a funny old thing, politics. He may recall that we first debated together back in 1997 in a secondary school in Wembley, I think, when I was the Conservative candidate in Brent, East, the seat neighbouring his. May I compliment the right hon. Gentleman on his consistency? He had a particular debating style back then, and I hope that he will not mind me saying that it has not altered much even to this day.
May I correct the right hon. Gentleman on a couple of points? With regard to the depth of our research, Gershon, which he prayed in aid, is a 60-page report, of which only some 10 pages are specifically about savings, whereas we have published all the results of our research on a website. At Prime Minister's questions earlier today, the Prime Minister quoted, in detail, from our report on the website. If there is enough detail in there to satisfy the Prime Minister, perhaps the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary should take it on board.
There is a great problem with the new deal. We have 1.1 million people in this country under the age of 25 who are now not in employment, education or training. The new deal has failed those young people. The acronym for that group is NEET. I have to tell the Chief Secretary that Labour's record on the matter does not seem very neat to me.
I hope that I do not misquote the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), but he said that the James report was extremely helpful and detailed. He also said that the costings are perfectly legitimate. We welcome that acknowledgment from the Liberal Democrat spokesman of the depth of work that has gone into this process. The hon. Gentleman admonished us gently on the list of 168 quangos that we would abolish, pointing out that some are regional bodies that crop up a number of times. That is because the Government have balkanised a number of national organisations in their obsession with a regional agenda; Sport England is just one example. It is not our fault that the Government did that, and in abolishing those organisations, we obviously have to act regionally, which adds to the total.
Mr. Laws: Since the hon. Gentleman is trying to sum up the debate and cite all the comments that have been made, may I ask whether he agrees with the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who described certain parts of the James report as bizarre and muddled?
Mr. Francois: No, I do not agree with all of that. I shall discuss my hon. Friend's contribution in a moment, but first let me ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees with what I understand his hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) said on BBC Radio 5 Live in a debate at lunchtime today: "Trust us, we will put your taxes up."
The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) spoke about reaching a threshold beyond which people in Britain simply are not prepared to pay any more tax.
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I have some sympathy with his argument; unfortunately, he was unable to tell us how the Labour party will then fill the Chancellor's black hole. I put to him the point made by Mr. Stephen Lewis, an economist at Monument Securities, in The Guardian of 3 December:
"It is one thing for a chancellor to miss his borrowing target because economic conditions have let him down. It is quite another when the error occurs despite the economy performing in line with his expectations. The only conclusion then to be drawn is that the public finances are out of control."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) delivered a thoughtful speech, as one would expect from one of his experience in these matters. I take it that he would be in sympathy with the comment in The Sunday Times of 16 January that
"according to Labour's version of things, economic stability and success did not start until after May 1, 1997. That is wrong. Low inflation was well established before Blair was elected, and the current record run of growth began in 1992."
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) made an entertaining contribution in which, in effect, he rewrote Labour's election slogan to say, "After seven years and billions of pounds, things have got ever so slightly better." He treated us to the views of his notional constituent, Jim, and some of his experiences. I suggest to him that, under the Labour Government, in addition to what the hon. Gentleman told us, Jim's family have had to endure 66 tax rises, probably cannot register with an NHS dentist, and have probably been burgled twice in the past five years. Jim is now struggling to find the money to pay the tuition and top-up fees for his children, which the Labour Government promised him he would never have to find.
Perhaps on our behalf the hon. Gentleman will forward to Jim a copy of The Economist of 15 January, which contains an article intriguingly titled, "Boasters", with the subtitle, "The dubious self-congratulation on Labour's campaign posters". The article concludes:
"The economy has certainly been doing better in the past few years than it was doing earlier. But the turning point was not in 1997, when Labour took office, but in 1992, when the Conservatives adopted an inflation target."
To my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) I say only that he has a long-standing interest in certain matters and he has expressed concern, but I assure him that any savings found in the Department for International Development are to be reinvested in the Department, so the amount of money going to international aid will not decrease under our proposals. In fact, it will most assuredly increase. However, he has experience of those matters and if he would like to come and discuss them with Front Benchers, we would be delighted.
Lembit Öpik: I request clarification. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), said in the most recent sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee:
Mr. Francois: I can most assuredly confirm that under our plans Wales will receive precisely the same amount of money that it would from the Labour Government under their plans. There is no difference. In return, may I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Gladstone, whom his Front-Bench spokesman mentioned, once wisely advised leaving money to
In the two minutes or so that I have left to speak, I wish to make the point that a great deal has changed in the past seven years. In 1997, all the talk was of prudence and of the Labour Government never repeating their predecessors' mistake of taxing and spending and getting into financial trouble. Now we find that most of the major economic forecasters the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the ITEM Club agree that the Chancellor has a burgeoning black hole in his finances, to the point where, if Labour was somehow re-elected, the consequence would be massive tax rises to try and fill it.
I conclude, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton started, by asking the Financial Secretary which taxes Labour would put up to fill the black hole. Would it put 2p on the basic rate of income tax, would capital gains tax be levied on principal properties, would VAT be imposed on food, or would there be a 10 per cent. increase on national insurance contributions to blow away the upper earnings limit once and for all, as many of us have suggested the Chancellor has long wanted to do?
The British people will have a clear choice at the general election. They can vote for a high-spending and high-taxing Labour Government who would almost certainly raise taxes to fill their black hole, or they can vote for a Conservative Government who have identified £35 billion of savings, of which £23 billion would be reinvested in public services, £8 billion devoted to filling the black hole, and £4 billion returned to the people in tax cuts. That is a clear choice for the people of this country. They can have tax and spend socialism with Labour, or value for money under the Conservatives. I am confident that they will choose the latter, and I commend our motion to the House.
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