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Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): Glum.
Reliable evidence from a reliable source tells me that the Prime Minister's expression was glum. I can only believe that that was the case.
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As for free bus travel for senior citizens, the local newspapers were telling me even last week that local rural bus services will be axed in villages such as Grindleton. The axe has been hanging over the service in Pendleton. We know how important these rural bus services are, especially for those of us who represent rural constituencies. The services are important for the elderly, but not only for them. The bus service that operates through Pendleton is used widely by people of all ages. It is important that we try to preserve these services. I have read recently about the threats hanging over railway services. There is a tremendous rail service running from Clitheroe into Blackburn and down to Manchester, where people can get on to the full network.
If these networks are either to be cut or axed, that will have a dramatic impact on more than 1 million people who use the service. We must ensure that these public services are maintained as much as possible.
I had to break out of the debate for a while this afternoon, as had a number of Members, to visit the Alzheimer's lobby. I listened with great care to what the members of the lobby had to say to me, and not only about the drugs that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence is threatening to withdraw because of cost. Any of us who have come into contact with anyone who either suffers directly with Alzheimer's or is looking after someone with Alzheimer's will know that the drugs are a lifeline. They bring an improvement in the quality of life for those who suffer from dementia. We must ensure that they get the drugs that they need.
I heard what the Prime Minister had to say in response to a question today. It was not quite the ringing endorsement that we read on the front page of one newspaper, that said that the NICE policy had been reversed. It must be reversed. We must ensure that patients get the drugs that they need. We must examine carefully
Mr. Love: Spending commitment.
Mr. Evans: We are told that the drugs cost £2.50. If patients do not get these drugs, they will end up in hospital and will cost the nation far more for their treatment than if they receive the drugs that they need. It was a throw-away line, but we must ensure that patients receive the drugs that they desperately need. We must consider also the cost of caring for dementia patients. We must recognise the full responsibility that rests on carers. It would have been nice if we had heard something in the Budget about that.
I have had a debate in Westminster Hall about youngsters and obesity, but I want youngsters to have access to computers. Computers are in schools and libraries and I want to ensure that youngsters are not left behind in the IT revolution. However, we must attach some value to the health of our youngsters. Far more must be done. No mention of this was made in the Budget speech, but I hope that when other Ministers make their contributions to the debate someone will say something about schools generally, including our responsibility to ensure that youngsters are able to have access to sports equipment. They should have time during the day to get away from their computers and take part in active and competitive sport.
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There was a loud roar when the Chancellor announced his one-off £200 handout in respect of council tax after the clobbering that senior citizens have taken with the increase in the tax since 1997. There have been increases of more than 70 per cent. which amount to several hundreds of pounds. To try to buy people's votes with a one-off £200 is incredible, risible and pathetic in the extreme. We have to ensure that in future our senior citizens are protected from the huge increases that they have had to pay. Many of them will feel, as their children move away and if their husband or wife dies, that although they are the only person left in their house it is where their family memories are. My great fear is that they may feel that they have to sell that family home because they cannot afford to pay the huge council tax increases that are demanded of them. That would be cruel, and we must make absolutely certain that it does not happen.
Much has been made of China, in relation not only to energy but to the fact that it is growing, as is India. Many jobs that were originally in this country have moved to China, India, eastern Europe and south-east Asia, and that is a continuing trend. When I was elected in 1992, we had many debates in this House about the loss of manufacturing jobs, how dismal that was and how it was all the fault of the Tory Government. We have now had a Labour Government for eight years, and the fact that we have lost 1 million manufacturing jobs must be worrying.
We cannot put all our eggs in one basket as regards what we do in the future. I am a big believer in manufacturing industry. BAE Systems is in my constituency as well as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). We have there the beauty of high-tech jobs, which are, like manufacturing, vital. I am proud of those skills. If we do not cherish and nurture them to ensure that they flourish, they will go to other countries. Our skilled people will take their skills to places such as China, India, south-east Asia and the United States of America, and once they have done so we will not get them back.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I am noting my hon. Friend's important and cogent points on the loss of manufacturing in this country over the past seven years. He will be aware, I hope, that in the equivalent seven-year period under the previous Conservative Government, 186,000 manufacturing jobs were created; that is to be contrasted with 1 million jobs lost under Labour.
Mr. Evans: I fully accept that. We recognised the importance of manufacturing and ensured that our businesses were not over-regulated. I heard the spat that took place earlier about regulations. We know from the Institute of Directors and the CBI that extra regulations are costing British business of all sizes billions of pounds. We even heard the Chancellor admitting after eight years, "We know we have a problem with the gilding of directives when they come from Europe, so we are going to do something about it."
Mr. O'Brien: He has read the Conservative policies.
My hon. Friend is right.
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After eight years, and weeks before a general election, the Chancellor of the Exchequer concedes that there is a problem in this regard. Anyone who has read Christopher Booker in The Sunday Telegraph over a similar period will know that we have huge problems and need to do something about it. We do not want to create the same conditions that exist in places such as China and Indiarather, we want conditions there to improve for their workersbut we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a competitive global world and that if we keep unnecessary rules and regulations we become too expensive compared with the rest of the world, and that is when we will start to lose out. British business will not be fooled by the Chancellor's late conversion on extra rules and regulations when he could have done something about it many years ago.
This is a vote now, pay later Budget, and I think that the British public will agree with that. The figures in the Red Book simply do not add up. We are told that there is a big black hole in the Treasury. It is not a black hole, but a Brown holea hole made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When people are in a big hole, we tell them to stop digging, and that is the clear message that should have gone out to the Chancellor today.
I know that the Chancellor believes that after the next general election, if a miracle happens and the Labour party is re-elected, he will go to No. 10. The one thing stopping him is the general election, which is likely to take place in May 2005. The choice of who will hold the keys to No. 10 is not between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Their little spat is interesting, but alarming. They do not even talk to each other and do not have a civil word to say to each other, which is worrying for all of us. The choice is for the British people who have seen what has happened not just in this Budget but over the last eight years. I am enthusiastic about the next general election. As our leader said, "Bring it on; we look forward to it."
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I want to follow up some of the comments that have been made about manufacturing in the United Kingdom. The subject is dear to my heart because I was born and bred in the west midlands and represent a west midlands constituency. I know that it is also dear to your heart, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I welcome the fact that the Government are taking manufacturing more seriously than during their early years when there were other priorities. I echo the comments made by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) about the aerospace industry, which have a resonance in Wolverhampton. I echo the calls from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) for investment in pollution control and other such equipment in world markets. We should also encourage development of medical technology, which is already a large world market and will grow. We in the west midlands could do the research and development, and build the equipment.
I echo the calls from the TUCI am proud to have been a member of the Transport and General Workers Union for many yearsfor the Chancellor to initiate a follow-up of the Wood review. That should identify positive lessons for developing procurement strategy in
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the United Kingdom. The Wood review examined barriers to bidding on contracts and so on. We have a particular problem when UK companies try to bid for contracts in other countries of the European Union because those other countries do not always have as level a playing field as we do, or competition that is as open as here. We should consider encouraging British manufacturers to bid, and teach them how to bid, for Government procurement of manufacturing-based contracts in the United Kingdom.
Having talked about manufacturing, I salute the Opposition, particularly Conservative Members of the Opposition. They have done a good job today in difficult circumstances. It has been hard for them because economic growth is on forecast and we have great job creation. Some members of the Conservative party recognise that. The right hon. Member for Fylde got his figures right on public sector jobs in contradistinction to private sector jobs. There are 2.1 million extra jobs under this Government, but the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) got the figures wrong and said that two thirds of those jobs were in the public sector. In round terms, the figures are 600,000 out of 2.1 million. That is slightly less than a third, and there is proportionately slower growth of employment in the public sector than in the private sector. Conservative Members should recognise that. They should also recognise that it is sometimes difficult to determine who is what they would call a front-line worker.
To put another cast on the matter, when there was a decline in manufacturing under the Tories, part of it was masked by the figures. A tea lady in a factory was counted as working in manufacturing. If the contract was outsourced, she was no longer counted as working in manufacturing, but she was still a tea lady. That sort of thing sometimes makes it difficult to determine whether someone is a front-line public sector worker.
We have the lowest interest rates for years and years and we have low inflation, with the expectation that it will continue for many years. That makes it difficult for the Conservative Opposition to attack the Government, but attack they doon the national debt, Government spending and regulations. I shall deal with those three issues in turn.
On the national debt, table C24 on page 274 of the Red Book gives the historic figures for public sector net debt. Other people spoke for far too long, so I will not bore the House at this time of night by reading out all the figures. It is clear, however, that in most of the years between 1979 and 1997 when the Conservative party were in government, public sector net debt as a proportion of gross domestic product was higher than it has been for the past eight years under the Chancellor. For most of those 18 years, it was higher than the Chancellor's projections for the next five years.
There is a similar situation regarding Government spending as a proportion of GDP. Table C25 on page 275 gives the historical figures for public sector current expenditure as a percentage of GDP. The highest figure in the past 30 years was 42.7 per cent. in 1982, under the Conservative Government. For most of the 18 years of the Conservative Government, public sector current expenditure as a proportion of GDP was higher, and sometimes considerably higher, than it has been for the past eight years under this Chancellor and this Government. It was also higher than the projections for
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the next five years. I have not worked the figures out exactly, but as a rough average, public expenditure as a proportion of GDP was 40 per cent under the Conservatives. The average under the present Government is 36.5 per cent. We could have a debate about whether that is too low, and whether we should do even more.
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