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Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab):
I endorse the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) about the crucial effect of the investment that the Government have made in science and its spin-offs. The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) made a rather cheeky intervention on my hon. Friend and asked him to name a scientist who would wish to see the return of a Labour Government. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I know many scientistssome of whom are extremely distinguishedand when I put to them the prospect that there might be another Conservative Government, their reaction is either to recoil in horror or to laugh with derision, because it is
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total nonsense and an absolute oxymoron. There is no comparison between the Conservatives' proposals and the seriousness with which this Government have addressed the issues of higher education and the feeding through of the results of higher education and research into innovation and into our economy, the growth of which will have doubled as a result of this Budget.
Conservative Members have made much of the £35 billion, or rather they have tried to make very little of it. They have tried to pretend that it is not there or that it is something that we have dreamt up to beat them about the head with. Can I assume, therefore, that Conservative Front Benchers are repudiating the statements of the shadow Chancellor? If I understand him correctly, he has said that at the end of another six years a Conservative Government would be spending £35 billion less than us. If that is not £35 billion of cuts, exercised at the rate of approximately £6 billion a year, what else is it, or does the Conservative party not understand the meaning of the English language?
Peter Bottomley: Is the hon. Gentleman the only Member of the House who did not see the photographs the day after his Chancellor and his Prime Minister had to face a simple question? The person who saw the humour was the Chancellor; the person who looked as though he had egg on his face was the Prime Minister.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is probably the last time the Prime Minister will allow an independent photographer to attend such proceedings? We will be back to the stage-managed press conferences typical of his leadership. The fact is that the Chancellor understood the difference. It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills do not.
Dr. Turner: It is nice to know that Conservative Members see the relevance of serious politics. It is quite simple: £35 billion less is £35 billion less. They cannot talk that away, and they certainly cannot laugh it away.
The Opposition have described the Budget as a vote now, pay later Budget, as if the Chancellor had introduced a few populist measures to tempt people into voting Labour. Conservative Chancellors never did that, did they? Perish the thought. I am surprised, given the nature of the criticism that the Opposition have mounted, that they have not put forward their own coherent alternative Budget. It is completely missing.
In the Red Book, we have a coherent, joined-up financial statement whereas all we have had from the Opposition is what can best be described as a few cheap tricks to try to tempt the grey vote back into the Conservative fold. I seem to remember that a previous Conservative Government broke the link between pensions and earnings. In so doingin the high-
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inflation times that they presided over, with high wage inflationthey cheated pensioners out of about £22 a week per head.
The Conservatives are making a virtue of restoring the link, but we have already restored the link in respect of the pension credit limit. We have invested more in pensions and supporting the poorest pensioners than the cost of the link. By the time pension credit limits have risen by the amounts already advertised, there will be few people with any severe need who are left out. All the Conservative proposal would do is give money to those pensioners who do not need it and take it from those who desperately do. That can hardly be described as an antithesis of a vote now, pay later proposition.
The Conservatives have offered us another bonus on council tax, but they forget two things. First, under a Conservative cuts regime, councils would get less Government grant, so council tax would go up much more. Therefore, even if pensioners got a £500 discount, it would be £500 off a much higher council tax, and because this is a zero sum game, the rest of council tax payers would pay much higher amounts to pay for that. One cannot just address one little item in isolation from the local government taxation system; one must address the whole complex issue.
Angela Watkinson : The hon. Gentleman referred to the £500 discount, which the Conservative party in government would give to every pensioner household over the age of 65. If he can do simple arithmetic, he will know that £23 billion of reinvestment in schools, hospitals and other public services, plus £8 billion less borrowing to avoid Labour's third-term tax rises, plus £4 billion of tax cuts adds up to the magical £35 billion. Of that £4 billion of tax cuts, the first that we have announced is the £500 council tax discount, which has been carefully costed at £1.3 billion, and we still have a further £2.7 billion to announcequod erat demonstrandum.
The Conservatives say that they will protectnot enhance, so it is not much of a promisehealth and education, which leaves only about 60 per cent. of Government spending. I calculate their tax cuts at around 10 per cent. of public spending. That 10 per cent. will therefore be taken off only 60 per cent. of public spending, so the cuts will be very deep. To return to my point on council tax, that is precisely where the Conservative proposals will hit hard.
The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) says that the Tories are bidding £500. If that is not a vote now, pay later proposition, I do not know what is. Council tax needs a thoroughgoing review. The Chancellor has offered his council tax discount on a one-year basis, for a very good reason: the whole system needs review, which is what this Government will do in their next term. They want to achieve two things: to make the basis of the tax more progressive, and, given that it is far too narrow
Dr. Turner: Yes, I know. Ability to pay would also be taken into account, which is not the case currently, apart from in relation to benefits. I would therefore be confident that a pensioner discount would last not just for the year after the election but in perpetuity. It needs to be done in the round, however, as it is a complicated issue, and cannot be done as a little gesture.
Another of the proposals that I have heard launched was free care for the elderly. That great proposition, which I am sure we would all love to offer, has been promised by the Leader of the Opposition. However, those who read the Conservative documents carefully, as I have, will see that it is not quite as simple as that. The Conservatives are promising to pay for care for the elderly only if the elderly person concerned has first paid out of his or her own resources for three years. That means having to have well over £20,000 in liquid assets, and also having to live for three years. It is a sad fact of life that the average life expectancy of those who go into residential care is less than three years. That too is something of a false promise.
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