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Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why, whenever the
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Government have increased expenditure on the NHS, he and his party have opposed it? He asks where the money is going. In Durham, when I was elected in 2001, waiting lists were 18 months to two years. They are now down to four months. That is where the money is going.

Mr. Letwin: I did not expect that the hon. Gentleman would pay much attention to the facts of an election campaign, as opposed to the rhetoric of his own party. I understand that that is often difficult for people to do. Had he read the plans that we put forward before the last election, he would have discovered that our plans exactly matched those of the Chancellor for the national health service. There was not a jot of difference. There were the same numbers in the same years. The hon. Gentleman's proposition, therefore, is entirely false.

Mr. Wright: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin: No, I shall make progress, as I mentioned.

There is a pattern that the House needs to examine and understand better. The Government and in particular the Chancellor, who has been the main guiding force of the Government all these years, have had fine aspirations. When the history books come to be written, the problem of the Government will be seen to be the mismatch between the aspirations and the achievements.

Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin: No, I shall make progress.

I shall give three or four examples of that mismatch outside the health service, before we return to the question why it is happening. I start with means-testing. I know the Chancellor is no longer very interested in the Prime Minister's views on matters, but the Prime Minister said in 1995:

One does not need to rely on Conservative assertions about what has happened since. One can look at the Turner report, for example, although I know it is not the Chancellor's favourite document. It states that, if present policy is maintained,

That is a pretty remarkable achievement for a Government whose aim was explicitly

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): The Chancellor said it as well.

Mr. Letwin: As my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, the Chancellor has no doubt on many occasions echoed the Prime Minister's admirable sentiment, and the Chancellor is the architect of the failure to achieve that result.
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On red tape, again, the Government had admirable ambitions. Labour's 1997 manifesto states unequivocally, and I echo the sentiment entirely—

There is obviously an oddity in the definition of "unnecessary". The British Chambers of Commerce has estimated that the cost to business of extra regulations introduced since 1997 stands at just over £50 billion. There have been 15 new regulations per working day since Labour came to office. Again, there is a mismatch between aspirations and outcome.

On council tax, before Labour was elected the current and temporary Prime Minister said:

Clearly, no Prime Minister can allow himself to be forced into anything, so I assume it is a matter of voluntary decision that, by April, council tax bills in Britain will have increased by 84 per cent. since the right hon. Gentleman made that remark in 1997.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and my constituents that it is not only the enormous rises in council tax, in direct contradiction to the promises made by the incoming Government, but the election bribe of £200 last year that rubbed salt in the wound, because yesterday we found that the Chancellor has failed to follow that up this year, so pensioners will be paying high council tax with no relief?

Mr. Letwin: My hon. Friend is right. During the election I recall saying to various journalists at various press conferences that there was a difference between the proposals that we made for a permanent reduction in council tax for the pensioners most affected by it, and the Chancellor's proposals, which we said would last only one year. I recall a journalist telling me—I do not know whether accurately—that the Government strenuously denied that that was a one-off move; it merely did not happen to be figured in the Red Book. I remember being told by one journalist that we were naive if we thought that that would be the effect, as he had received personal assurances from somebody—I do not know from whom.

My hon. Friend is right that one of the cruellest deceptions is that that £200 payment, on which many pensioners came to rely, is not present in the Budget. Did the Chancellor make a statement to the House about why that is so? No, he did not mention it. That is part of the pattern of the Budget.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman makes great play of the council tax rebate and speaks of cruelty to pensioners. May I remind him that the Conservatives increased the winter fuel allowance by only £10, whereas we gave pensioners £200?

Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman will never be able to persuade the British public that the merit of the Government consists in being able to argue that some previous Government were less than perfect. The merits
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of the Government must be debated and shown to the British public, if they want to earn their trust and re-election.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Letwin: No, I shall make further progress.

The Secretary of State for Transport is probably also a temporary occupant of that office. I note that the Chancellor thinks highly of him, and no doubt he will in due course offer us his own Budget, but for the time being he is constrained to dealing with transport, an important role which he fulfils with distinction. He is aware that the Government promised to reduce road congestion below 2000 levels by 2010. [Interruption.] The Chancellor mutters. He is astonished that I should ever attribute to an opponent any nobility or propriety, but I do not believe that politics has to consist of being nasty about people. I tried to be nice about the Chancellor for some years, without the slightest effect on his consciousness. It works rather better with some of his colleagues, who are more inclined to an emollient view of life. The nation will see that in due course.

The Department for Transport made an admirable plan to reduce congestion below 2000 levels by 2010. It then concluded that that "is not achievable". The CBI estimates that congestion costs are running at about £20 billion a year for the British economy.

I shall give just one further example, although I have more, if tempted. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister was right in 1999 when he said that everyone should have the chance to see an NHS dentist—another splendid aspiration that everybody on both sides of the House could share. It is unfortunate that six or more years later, 48 per cent. of the population are not registered with an NHS dentist. Every one of my hon. Friends and, if they are honest, Labour Members have had letters from constituents in the past few weeks to ask what will happen to dentistry on 31 March. The fact is that there is a crisis in dentistry.

Mr. Austin rose—

Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman has been so persistent that I shall give way, although this is the last intervention that I shall take for some time.

Mr. Austin: Now that the right hon. Gentleman is once again speaking about economic matters for the Opposition from the Front Bench, will he resign the directorships that he holds at Rothschild's, as he was previously forced to do?

Mr. Letwin: Nothing that I have said relates in the remotest degree to Rothschild's, and this brief and pleasant foray into the questions of this nation's finances is perfectly compatible with my declaration in the register.

We have come to an interesting question, which I imagine that Ministers must puzzle over in their quieter moments—even given their busy ministerial schedules, they must have quieter moments. They must ask themselves, "What is going on? What is getting in the way?" There is a vast wall of money and the cheques are being signed, but why is it not having the anticipated
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and genuinely desired effects? The nation and the House have not yet considered that question sufficiently. That process is beginning today, and I hope that we will have ample time over the next three or four years to examine that question in detail.

Let me advance a proposition to explain that bizarre phenomenon. This Government genuinely desire good results, and they want them quickly, which is why they are inclined to do something to achieve them quickly. However, they do not have any deep understanding of the reaction that is likely to set in on the part of society from the action of government. Action meets reaction, and reaction causes the action to be invalid and useless. It is above all the Chancellor who is the architect of that view of life, and he has a basically static view of society. He desires a good result and thinks that society will more or less stay in the same position, except that anything that he does will bring about a determinate effect. Unfortunately, society does not work like that, and I shall give some examples.

I have already referred to means-testing, and the fact is that the Chancellor is the architect of the vast increase in means-testing. He has increased means-testing because he genuinely wants to reduce poverty—he has a moral passion in that respect, and I pay tribute to it. On both sides of the House, there is a shared desire to see poverty reduced in this country, but the problem is that there has been a reaction. The extension of means-testing has resulted in a disincentive to save, which has been a principal cause, along with the Chancellor's raid on pension funds and many other things, of the destruction of savings in this country. The result of the lack of saving has, alas, been poverty beckoning for many people who should have been rescued from it.

If that were one isolated example, it would be important and interesting, but it would not be a pattern, but it is not one example, and it is part of a pattern. Let us consider the Secretary of State who rejoices in the title of Deputy Prime Minister. He, too, has an admirable ambition, which is again due to the Chancellor and which is again right, that there should be more homes in this country. We all share the view that we should have more homes in this country, because we need more homes in this country—many of my constituents cannot afford to buy a home. Unfortunately, however, because the desired result had to be achieved immediately without careful thought about reactions, the contractors who built those houses did not use low-carbon building techniques, because there was no incentive to do so. The result is rising carbon emissions, which directly contradicts the efforts that the Chancellor mentioned in his Budget and that the Government say that they are making to reduce carbon emissions.

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