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Mr. Hopkins : I agree very strongly with my hon. Friend. Does he agree that if we had the protection that European workers enjoy at their plants, the Vauxhall plant at Luton might have stayed open, given that it was the most efficient General Motors plant in Europe?
Mr. Cunningham: I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. When I served on the Trade and Industry Committee, we used to visit car plants and talk to the management and shop stewards. We must consult our labour force because we cannot continue as we have been.
I welcome the additional money that has been put into the health service, where it is badly needed. Still more will be needed in future as science develops and new medical techniques become available. The money will not all be spent on bureaucracy. We are accused of throwing money at the health service and getting nothing from it, but that is not the case. If the Government are putting money into the health service, they should monitor it to make sure they are getting something out of it, and they are doing so. We certainly
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are getting something backa new hospital and more doctors and nurses in Coventry. People tend to forget that it takes about seven years to train a doctor, and it takes some time to train nurses these days as their training becomes more complex.
I welcome the extra money for education. I have always been concerned about further education. Vocational education could play a big part in getting young people in the inner cities interested in doing something with their lives by acquiring a trade. I know a number of young people for whom that has been a launching pad to university. We should concentrate on further education to the same extent as we do on university education.
When we speak about university tuition fees, we should remember that the previous Administration copped out when they set up the Dearing inquiry. I remember meeting on a train a vice-chancellor who had met the then Secretary of State. I asked whether the universities would get any more money, and the vice-chancellor said, "No. The Government have set up an inquiry by Dearing." We all know what happenedit was intended to get them through the 1997 election. People tend to forget what the Conservatives are capable of.
The Budget contains further measures to help jobs and businesses. Rates of corporation tax and capital gains tax have been frozen, which has not been mentioned in the debate. The freezing of insurance premium tax, the climate change levy, the aggregates levy and the tax on company cars are all important. I have raised issues such as civil service and local government pensions, but there are many positive measures in the Budget. Someone commented earlier that the Budget was boring. I would prefer a quiet Budget; exciting Budgets are often the result of crisis.
There is one issue that I should like my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to look into. We have a problem in Coventry, which I am sure will spread to local government in the rest of the countrythe funding of single status. That may lead to industrial action in Coventry this Wednesday. If the Government have made money available to fund changes in the health service, they could certainly assist local authorities with single status, as it was Government legislation which introduced that.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham), who spoke movingly about the problems that confront his city following the decision by Peugeot on the Ryton plant. We hope the dialogue to which he referred has a productive outcome.
The hon. Gentleman was slightly less than fair on the actions of the previous Administration, who worked closely with Coventry city council on inner-city regeneration, housing renewal and other schemes that helped the ethnic minorities in his city, so I hope he is
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prepared to put a little on the other side of the scale, alongside the rather disparaging remarks he made about the Administration.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: I give the right hon. Gentleman credit. I remember that he and I had discussions about the Muslim resource centre in Coventry and the Indian community centre. Indeed, he was the Minister at the time.
I shall make a brief contribution to the Budget debate. We have had the weekend to reflect on the Budget. We have had time to talk to our constituents. I was in Liverpool, Wrexham and Andover over the weekend, and in all three places I found a rather muted response to the Budget. I am not sure that it has had huge political impact. It certainly has not kick-started the Government's flagging re-election campaign back into life, as many Labour Members may have hoped.
There are a number of reasons for that. The Budget lacked what I would call bullet points. In my constituency, as in many in the south-east, the stamp duty changes will have little impact. Petrol duty has been frozen, but only for the time being. The council tax help is welcome, but it is only for one year and it is less than that promised by my party. Other parts of the Budget were too complicated. I shall return to that.
In the old days there was one highly visible budgetary thermometerthe standard rate of income tax. That told us something about the Budget and about the Government. Everybody knew how to read that thermometer. By and large, under the Tories it went down and under the Labour party it went up. Nowadays there is no single thermometer by which we can judge the Budget. Instead, there are hundreds of little sensors all over the body politic, all giving out slightly different signals. That makes the Budget much more difficult to interpret.
I do not say that as a criticism of the budgetary measures, but I do think that the move away from changing the rate, doing something significant about the allowances and focusing instead on micro-measures makes it more difficult for the public to read a new Labour Budget and come to a judgment about it.
Mr. Hopkins: The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the Budget is more complex these days, but perhaps it still represents a statement about the fiscal stance. The present Budget reflects a slight tightening of the fiscal stance.
Over the weekend I detected some fatigue following the exchange of fire last week about public expenditure totals and who will spend how much. My heart sank when the Secretary of State for Education and Skills introduced the debate this afternoon with a sentence about £35 billion, which, I suspect, every special adviser now writes into every Secretary of State's speech. My
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view, which I fear will not be shared, is that the Easter recess would be a useful time to have a ceasefire and spare the public a little of the warfare that is raging. There is real election fatigue out there. I remember reading that in the first world war, on Christmas day the soldiers stopped shooting and played football in no-man's land. That might be a useful way of spending our Easter, but I suspect that all three parties have major political onslaughts planned for the Easter recess.
Sir George Young: Yes. I hope that no Secretary of State who is to speak in the rest of the debate will repeat the £35 billion figure. The public are fed up. The more Ministers go on about it, the more damage they do themselves.
Mr. Lewis: Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman with three bullet points, and ask him to comment: low interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment. That is the barometer by which a Budget is usually judged. On spending, is it his party's position to match the Government's spending on schools, or on education? Massive sums of money are spent beyond the school system.
Sir George Young: I am not sure whether the Minister was in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) introduced the debate. He made our policy absolutely clear and it is in Hansard. I welcome low inflation and low unemployment. As a Treasury Minister some 10 years ago, I am prepared to take some of the credit for the financial position that the Government inherited in 1997.
As I listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer last Wednesday describe how well things are goingin many cases they are going well, and I welcome thatI had to ask myself why, if things are going so well, the Chancellor has to borrow so much more than he thought, and has to borrow quite so much at this point in the economic cycle. That question has not been satisfactorily answered. Perhaps the Minister who winds up the debate will answer it. I respectfully agree with outside commentators who say that if Ministers, notwithstanding all the assertions that we have heard from them, want to sustain their planned level of spending, they will have to raise taxes in order to do so.
Incidentally, the actual level of Government borrowing is far higher than that stated by the Government. Who, for example, would lend to Network Rail after the debacle of Railtrack if the Department for Transport did not stand behind those loans? Now that the Strategic Rail Authority is
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disappearing, the Department for Transport stands behind those loans, but miraculously that liability does not show up on the Government's balance sheet. Indeed, if one followed the National Audit Office's interpretation of liability, the Government's golden rule would have been shattered several months ago.
May I offer, with respect, a word of caution to the Government regarding their boasts about public services, particularly the NHS? Many hospital trusts and primary care trusts in the south-east, especially in Hampshire, are running large deficits and are having to introduce financial recovery plans in order to balance the books. The Mid Hampshire NHS Primary Care Trust is looking at spending reductions of some £14 million. It has to save £9.5 million to deal with a recurrent deficit and £4.5 million to deal with non-recurrent savings. It is looking at fewer staff, has not ruled out redundancies and is planning to reduce beds. That local debate, which I suspect is being reproduced elsewhere in the south-east, provides a rather discordant background to the harmonious noises that we have been hearing from Ministers about record investment in the health service. Once one nets off the impact of higher drug prices, reduced working hours for doctors and the high cost of recruiting temporary staff, the extra cash gets eaten into. Some of it is ring-fenced. Services that are not ring-fenced are the ones that are exposed to reductions in investment. NHS dentists, in Hampshire as in other parts of the country, are increasingly difficult to find.
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