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Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), and the hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill), who spoke a little earlier. Over the years, I have heard many maiden speeches in this Chamber, but those were the first more or less valedictory speeches that I have heard. They were both elegantly constructed, and they constitute an important contribution to the debate. Those who made them will have cause to remember them with pride if they have to leave this place in the next few weeks.
I was pretty disappointed by the Budget speech. It seemed to be an undignified shopping list of proposals, whose aim was more to upstage the Chancellor's Cabinet colleagues than to offer a serious contribution on the economy. I welcome the announcement that a memorial to the Queen Mother will be raised using funds from the sale of a commemorative coin. It is a good idea, but I am not sure that it was appropriate for a Budget speech.
In addition, the Chancellor announced the establishment of the sporting academy. That initiative will grab the sub-headlines, but the funding allocated for the academy is substantially less than the amount robbed from the sports lottery fund to pay for health and education initiatives that should be paid for by the taxpayer. Sports have been short-changed by this Government and this Chancellor, and nothing announced yesterday changes that.
I applaud what has been said by other Opposition Members about the honesty of the Chancellor and the Government. It is right and proper that the differences between the parties should be expressed robustly in this place, but those differences should not be caricatured. I do not agree with what the Government have said about Conservative policies. The impression that they have given is profoundly wrong and the exact opposite of the truth, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells said. That is unhelpful for good political debate.
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It is absolutely, totally and completely wrong for the Government to claim that Conservative policies would lead to £35 billion in cuts in public services. The Government know full well that of the money we plan to save, £23 billion will be reinvested in those self-same public services. It would still be disingenuous and wrong for them to claim that £12 billionthe differenceis to be cut from front-line public services. But it is utterly, totally and completely wrong to cite the £35 billion figure. There is no intellectual, moral or political justification for that whatsoever. There are words I could use to describe what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on the "Today" programme this morning about that, but you would not allow me to use them, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the House knows what I mean. The claim is untrue. No Labour Member who wants to earn the respect of his or her voters at the coming election should dream of using that figure.
Conservative spending plans would increase by 4 per cent. compared with Labour's 5 per cent. So we are talking about increases. The more interesting intellectual criticism by some commentators is whether the cuts are sufficiently robust to measure up to the international challenges posed by developing low-tax and low-wage economies, such as China and India. That is a much more interesting argument. I happen to think that we have got the balance right, but I would take that criticism and explore it. Instead of that, Labour Members rely on something that is simply not true.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Is it not a fact that the hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench spokesmen argue that real-terms spending will be down £35 billion? On "The Daily Politics" show on BBC 2 on 18 January, the shadow Chancellor said:
Mr. Luff: I am glad I gave way. The hon. Gentleman's comments form a natural introduction to the next section of my speech. We can happily trade quotes. The chairman of the Conservative party said this morning:
"We have made clear in our spending plans for 200708 we have identified £35 billion of savings, we will re-invest £23 billion in priority services, the NHS, police, schools, transport and we will save money by cutting waste. It is all very explicit."
Some services would be cut, some of which the Prime Minister often names in Prime Minister's questions. Some £666 million would be saved from the new deal. That is the right thing to do. Youth unemployment was falling faster under the Major Government than it has under this Government. The new deal is not value for money. The Small Business Service will be scrapped, saving £496 million. Good, I say. I go around manufacturing, engineering and service sector businesses in my constituency, and no one has a good word to say about most of the Department of Trade and
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Industry's services. There are a couple of exceptions to that. The manufacturing advisory service is valued and will be kept. Those services that do not deliver value for money, however, will go. We are not cutting valuable front-line public services. We are making sensible economies to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent well.
We would save £18 million by scrapping the regional chambers. Not many of my constituents would cry into their beer about that, because the regional chambers are a complete waste of money. I have a list, ranging from £3 million saved from the budget for the judicial appointment commission, £45 million from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport "Culture Online" website project, and £98 million from ending the over-30-month scheme, to £1 billion saved from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister by abolishing the intrusive local government inspection regimes. Those schemes are nothing but micro-management of local government from Whitehall. They do not improve public service delivery, but harm it. They are the opposite of what we should be doing, which is driving power down to local communities. The cost of enforcing the Deputy Prime Minister's will on local authorities and overriding local will is £1 billon a year.
Mr. Mark Field: At the risk of encouraging my hon. Friend to continue his enormous list, may I tell him that one of the most important cuts for most Londoners would be at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister? Over the past five years, there has been a ludicrous duplication of roles, with a large number of employees at the Greater London assembly considering strategic London issues under the auspices of the Mayor of London, and an increase in the number of employees and expenditure in the ODPM in the form of the Government office for London. I can assure the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) that there will be no loss of front-line services for Londoners.
Mr. Luff: I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, although he has not been here for much of the debate. Before I do so, however, there is one serious risk for a politicianbelieving one's own propaganda. He should not believe the propaganda that he has brought with him to the Chamber.
Mr. Jones: I choose to believe in the fact that youth unemployment in my constituency has gone down by 85 per cent. since the Government came to power. May I tell the hon. Gentleman that I have not been in the Chamber this afternoon because I have been attending a Committee considering delegated legislation? The hon. Gentleman listed a number of organisations. My maths is not brilliant, but the total was less than £2 billion. He needs to account for about £33 billion. Can he explain how he will reach that figure?
I am tempted to do so, as I have brought the list to the Chamber. It would, however, be rather tedious to go through it, and I would prefer to dip in and out and select illustrations. I am happy to share the whole list
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with the hon. Gentleman after our debate. It is not a state secret, as it is on the party's website, so he can look at it if he wants to. I shall give a few more examples: strategic health authorities will go, saving £617 million. The role of primary care trusts will be changed radically, saving £637 million. The number of quangos at the Department of Health is a scandal, and £651 million can be saved by slimming them down. That is a saving of roughly £1.9 billion, which can be used to pay for the salaries of doctors and nurses. I therefore advise the hon. Gentleman against pursuing that argument because he will lose it if he engages in it honestly. It is only by refusing to engage in it honestly that he has a chance of winning it, but I do not think that he will succeed even then.
On the subject of honesty, I listened carefully to the Chancellor yesterday, and I was disappointed. Sometimes, he is capable of being gracious and courteous. For example, on international debt and development, he has often paid tribute to his Conservative predecessors for their role in creating consensus on those important matters, and I welcome that. However, when it comes to the golden economic legacy, he is less than generous.
When I go home in a couple of hours, I shall get off the train at Worcester Shrub Hill station and I will see a Labour party poster showing the faces of Lady Thatcher, John Major and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Under the pictures of Lady Thatcher and John Major appears the word, "recession", and under the picture of my right hon. and learned Friend appears a simple question mark. That is about as disingenuous as it gets, because an honest Labour party poster would say under the photograph of Lady Thatcher, "Cured the sick man of Europe". Under John Major's face, it would say, "Created the golden economic legacy that the Government inherited". Under my right hon. and learned Friend's picture it would say, "Building the better Britain we deserve". That would be the correct poster to display outside Worcester Shrub Hill station. [Interruption.] Labour Members may jeer, but that is another example of them believing their own propaganda.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in his excellent reply to the Budget statement yesterday, cited Tom Bower's biography of Gordon Brown, which was published by HarperCollins in 2004. Mr. Bower describes a meeting in the Treasury shortly after the election:
"'These are fantastically good figures', the official concluded. 'The state of the economy is much better than predicted.' Eyes swivelled to Brown. 'What am I supposed to do with this?' he snarled. 'Write a thank-you letter?'"
That is a nice idea, but those figures have underpinned many of the good things that the Government have done. I accept that they have done good things, although they have also done monstrous things, outrageous things and silly things. The golden economic legacy, however, has enabled the Government to proceed.
The Chancellor conveys the impressionand did so again yesterdaythat he inherited a dreadful economic situation in 1997. In her excellent pamphlet, "Whatever happened to the golden legacy?", Ruth Lea says that
"the economy is not currently performing as well as it did when it was under the Major Government. This is because the current Government's policies have hindered rather than helped business and have undermined competitiveness."
That thesis underlies Ruth Lea's excellent paper. She says that there are two main reasons for the economy's strength. First, the supply-side reforms introduced in the 1980s, including trade union reform, privatisation of the utilities and the reform of the tax system under Lady Thatcher, underpin our new economic success.
Many of us were wrong about that. We believed in the exchange rate mechanism and thought it was a good idea. I remember that I did[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) is right to say, "What?". I freely confess, it is on the record, and I now admit that I was wrong. I wish the Labour party would admit that it was wrong and abandon its still lingering love affair with the single European currency, although I was interested to hear the Chancellor say yesterday that he would not be revisiting the five tests. That, at least, is something.
Growth was higher on average over the Major years than it has been under the present Government. The balance of payments was roughly in balance by 1997 and is now in catastrophic deficit. Unemployment was falling faster than it has under the present Government and productivity growth was higher than under this Government. Inflation was brought under control by the previous Government. The Chancellor was particularly outrageous on the "Today" programme this morning when he said that inflation was built into the system when he inherited it. That is simply not true.
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