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Mrs. Roche: I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Does he recall that during the last Conservative Government a significant number of Conservative Back Benchers signed an early-day motion deploring the regulatory record of the then Conservative Government? What does he have to say about that?
Problem. Ernst and Young looked at them and found that 75 per cent. of them had nothing to do with tax or red tape. The only item that the then Financial Secretary was able to mention was something that had never occurred in the first place.
What is the Labour party's response to that evidence of failure to get value for money, failure to constrain bureaucracy and failure to get rid of red tapea vast commitment to big government? It is to engage in the theatre of the absurd. First, Labour said that the Conservatives were
That was in June 2004. By August, they had changed their tune. By then, the figure was £20 billion, but by 1 December, at column 654 of Hansard, the Chancellor was telling us that it was £70 billion. The Chancellor had found an excess of additional funding for the Conservatives. He felt that that was not terribly good, however, so a day later he asked the Chief Secretary to put something on the website and it was £50 billion£20 billion gone in a day. Remarkable. Now, we are at
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£35 billion. The problem with all those accusations is that each is as false as the last18, 20, 70, 50, 35. Dodgy arithmetic from the party that brought us the dodgy dossier.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is on the record as saying that he would like public expenditure to fall to 35 per cent. of gross domestic product. If that is not the figure, what figure does he believe in today?
Mr. Letwin: I am on record as saying that I would like to spend £12 billion less than the Chancellor in 200708 and to use £8 billion of it to stop his tax rises in the next cycle and £4 billion to produce tax cuts. [Interruption.] We should have pity on the hon. Gentleman because he works for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and under whatever dispensation, that is not a post that will last very long.
This is a Budget debate that will be remembered for the Chancellor's dodgy arithmetic. It will be remembered as the time when the Chancellor yet again locked himself into spending plans that the nation could not afford. It will be remembered as the time when the Chancellor yet again failed to set out any coherent plan for giving people in this country value for money.
What is needed now is a change of directiontransparent accounts, spending plans that the nation can afford, real action to cut back on wasteful, unnecessary and extravagant bureaucracyto give the taxpayer value for money, to get that money to the front-line services, and to give Britain better services and lower taxes. That is what the coming general election will be about, and as my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition so memorably put it on Wednesday, bring it on.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): This has been a good and typically wide-ranging debate over a number of days with differing perspectives and tribute is due to all those who have participated, particularly those for whom this has been a valediction. In that respect, I should like to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard). She has friends on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) has already paid her glowing tribute for the work that she has done in mentoring women Members of the House. I want to pay her a tribute from the other side. I remember the very first day that she was appointed to her then historic position in the Treasury as the first woman ever to sit on the Treasury Benches as a Treasury Minister. If she recalls, we followed each other around the studios on that day. We had a good old go, as was our wont, but she made an enormous impact on the Treasury, and she made a subsequent impact on this House. She is a groundbreaker in every respect, and she will be much missed. [Hon. Members: " Hear, hear."]
I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman). I went to Chipping Barnet, unsuccessfully, in the course of the last general election in an attempt to unseat the hon. Gentleman. [Hon. Members: Shame."] Call me old fashioned; I am
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a politician[Interruption.]at least I am now. We were in the square in Chipping Barnet and it was clear that we would have a good old go, and indeed we did. We considerably reduced the hon. Gentleman's majority, but it was clear that he was the long-standing Member who was much loved by his constituents, known to all of them just as he is known to all of us, and is greeted with much affection on both sides of the House. However, as I heard him bemoaning at great length the increase in public spending over the many years that he has been a Member of the House and a candidate, I could not help remembering that throughout all the jobs that I have ever held on the Government Benches he has always asked for more. But we all got the point of his contribution, and he will be much missed.
Talking of valedictions, let me just say a word of thanks to those who have been kind enough to refer to my own departure. I am thinking of the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), the shadow Economic Secretary, who was kind enough to pay tribute to me yesterday, and the shadow Chancellor, but particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green and for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). It has been an honour and a privilege to serve Brent, South in this place, and I am grateful for the opportunities and friendships it has afforded me. Those have been 18 deeply fulfilling years, and I look back on them with much happiness.
Now to the task in hand. [Interruption.] No more Mr. Nice Guy. The Budget locks in our current economic stability. It seeks to promote fairness in relation to our nation's prosperity, so pensioners, children, hard-working families and those seeking a step up in terms of home ownership, which we will consider in some detail in the course of this evening's winding up, all benefit. The Budget recognises also that in the 21st century we need to invest in skills and education and in research and development, reduce the regulatory burden on business, and so boost our long-term productivity and growth.
This year has seen Britain benefit from strong global growth. The Chancellor's Budget forecasts in 2003 predicting strong growth, which were challenged repeatedly by our opponents, have once again been proved right. Our economy is set to grow by 3 to 3.5 per cent. this year. Growth, which has been balanced with consumer spending, is in line with trend gross domestic product since 2000. Business investment is growing twice as fast as consumer spending last year. Manufacturing is now growing at its fastest for four years. With our lowest inflation for 30 years, the lowest interest rates for 35 years, and unemployment the lowest in the G7, we can and must make the necessary investment to secure the economy for the long term.
This hard-won economic stability has enabled us over the past eight years to invest in our public services and in our nation's infrastructure. The Conservative party cannot be trusted to make, let alone match, the scale of that investment. We do not need to read the account of the Opposition's spending plans, which they have made only too clear; we can look at their actions when they were last in government. But first, let us consider what they said. We are more than happy to rise to the challenge thrown down by the shadow Chancellor in his winding-up speech, and to examine the exact words that he has uttered on the issue over recent months.
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"Our plans provide for us to continue growing public spending 1 per cent. slower each year than Labour, and by the end of the parliament, 201112, the end of the economic cycle, we'll be spending about £35 billion less than Labour."
If he is not denying having said any of those things, why does he ask us where we get the figure of £35 billion from? That is where we get itfrom his own mouth. [Interruption.] Someone says from a sedentary position that those are not cuts.
Opposition Members are always inviting us to listen to what the Institute for Fiscal Studies says. We do listen. I said so when I last addressed the House, at the time of the pre-Budget report, so I should like Opposition Members to listen to what the Institute for Fiscal Studies says. Mr. Robert Chote said on 18 March:
"If by 201112 the Conservatives have got spending down to 40 per cent of national income, and Labour is spending 42 per cent of national income, then it clearly is a spending cut of £35 billion, in 2011 prices, in relation to what Labour is spending".
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