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Mark Lazarowicz: It is, of course, a national scheme for England, as it is a national scheme for Scotland. That has the effect that my constituents, should they wish to visit the hon. Gentleman's constituency, can do so free of charge, but they cannot visit free of charge constituencies in Newcastle or elsewhere south of the border. Does he agree that perhaps we should consider a UK-wide scheme, or at least a mainland-wide scheme, as the next logical development from the welcome England-wide scheme?

Mr. Carmichael: That is an interesting idea, and surely not beyond the wit of man. A pensioner is a pensioner, whether he is in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. I hope that some of the disputes about crossing boundaries that we have seen between different local authorities with the concessionary scheme being rolled out in England will not appear at a macro-level. That would be a missed opportunity.

While we will consider carefully the funding of the scheme to be rolled out by 2008, we must have more immediate regard to the situation facing local authorities that are trying to implement the scheme announced last year. That is forcing many local authorities into crisis as the 31 March deadline approaches. In Watford, for example, the Government provided funding of £300,000, but the eventual cost was no less than £830,000. In Bath and North-East Somerset, the shortfall is in the region of £200,000. Community transport schemes are suffering. Again, many people in remote and rural areas, where there is not an "ordinary" bus service, depend on such crucial schemes. They are not getting that sort of provision as part of the scheme, and I have heard of places where those schemes are being cut to allow councils to meet their commitments to the concessionary scheme.

York has struggled because it received some £855,000 from the Government rather than the £1,086,000 that the implementation of the scheme will cost. That pattern seems to be repeated throughout the country. In many local authority areas, councillors have taken the initiative and have been able to make significant progress in providing good, often multi-modal, schemes, which are popular and workable on a local basis. Surely it is not right that those schemes should be sacrificed on the altar of the one that they are being forced to introduce.

An awful lot of opportunities have been missed. The Budget could have delivered a great deal more for transport. The bottom line is that as an instrument of economic generation, environmental change and social inclusion, transport could deliver an awful lot more for the Government, if only they would take it seriously.

2.18 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). He made his points very forcefully, but in a very moderate way. He also ensured that his party's policies in relation to the Budget were presented to us. As he reminded us, that was in contrast
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to the speech of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who has now left the Chamber. He came in, delivered his speech and left—in the absence of the shadow Chancellor and the shadow Chief Secretary, although I was delighted to observe that the shadow Chief Secretary joined the debate halfway through the proceedings.

Gregory Barker: Surely the absence of the shadow Chancellor is not remarkable. The absence that is extraordinary is that on the Labour Benches. The hon. Gentleman is the single, solitary Labour Back Bencher who is present. Oh! Another one has just returned.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not think that we need references to anyone who is or is not in the Chamber. We need references to the debate, which is on the Budget resolutions.

Keith Vaz: The fact is that every other Labour Member agrees on the success of the Budget, and I am clearly speaking on behalf of all of them—which is a great and powerful position to be in.

Listening to the right hon. Member for West Dorset took me back 30 years to when I first saw him speak, in a university debate. His speech today was almost identical to the speeches that he used to give at the Cambridge Union: very funny, made without a script, with the right hon. Gentleman making it all up as he went along—but with no substance. That is exactly what we heard today. It was basically an undergraduate speech, of a type for which the right hon. Gentleman became so famous when he was a student.

In contrast, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport gave an excellent speech, setting out very clearly why the Budget would be such a success. When I returned to my office yesterday after the Budget speech, I was inundated with calls from constituents and others who were delighted with the support that the Chancellor is giving to ordinary working families, and with the success of the Budget and the 10 years of delivery of sustained growth to our country.

I have been in the House for 19 years. I came in with my right hon. Friends the Paymaster General and the Secretary of State for Transport. I have forgotten who was Chancellor of the Exchequer when I was first elected, but I do remember that every time a Conservative Chancellor stood up at the Dispatch Box to deliver a Budget, it was at a time of crisis. For 10 years we have had economic stability and growth, and that is a credit to the stewardship of the economy by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor—and, if I may say so, by my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, who has been at the Treasury for as long as we have had a Labour Government.

Mr. Graham Stuart : It is a beautiful picture that the hon. Gentleman paints, and I am sure that we all enjoy the pastel colours in which he paints it, but will he concede that the stability and growth started long before the present Chancellor came to office? It started in 1992, since when we have experienced a period of continuous growth. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the
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stability was created by the reforms of the last Conservative Government, and that this Government inherited the strongest economy in Europe?

Keith Vaz: No, I do not accept that at all. All that I can remember—and, I am sure, all that the hon. Gentleman can remember from that time, during which he was outside the House—is crisis upon crisis, with Conservative Chancellors coming to the Dispatch Box to try and deal with one or another of them. Whether it was the exchange rate mechanism or some other issue, they were dealing with a crisis. What we have had is stability and growth. What we have had, in the words of the Chancellor, is cultural stability. People expect from this Government the ability to deliver Budgets that will help working people in this country, and that is exactly what we were given yesterday.

Mr. Stuart: Perhaps, as the hon. Gentleman's memory is failing him, he will look at the inflation figures for 1997, when the current Chancellor came to office. The inflation rate then was 1.8 per cent., compared with 2.1 per cent. in 2005. Real growth in gross domestic product in 1997 was 3.2 per cent., compared with 1.8 per cent. today. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will reflect on that and realise that the inheritance, not anything that the present Government have done, has made the difference.

Keith Vaz: Merely saying persistently that the economy was inherited does not justify the hon. Gentleman's proposition. I know that I will be 50 this year, but my memory is not failing me. I know what a crisis is, and that is what we had. I also know what stability is: the lowest level of inflation, the lowest interest rates, the lowest unemployment and the longest sustained period of growth in our country. I think that that is a huge credit to the Chancellor.

Of course, Oppositions have a duty to oppose what Governments do; that is the nature of opposition. I was an Opposition Member, along with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Transport and the Paymaster General, for 10 years before our party became the Government, and of course one of our duties was to scrutinise. However, when the economy is going well and sustaining and benefiting our constituents, political parties have a duty to say so and to congratulate those who have made it a success. Indeed, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), has benefited from the economy's strength. I am certain that if the economy were not a success, the Opposition would have offered today a much more severe critique of this Government's efforts, instead of the platitudes and nonsense that we heard from the right hon. Member for West Dorset. Therefore, I welcome this Budget and the success that we have enjoyed in the past 10 years.

I come now to three developments that we heard about for the first time yesterday, the first of which is the additional resources that will be given to education. The overall education budget has increased in the past 10 years, which is only right. It is important that we have given so much money to education and that the economy is strong, so that we can generate the resources to enable our schools to provide our children with the best education that they have ever had. Of particular
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importance was the decision to give the extra £440 million directly to head teachers. Members can doubtless cite past examples of secondary and primary heads raising with them their concerns about a particular expenditure item, or a staff issue that needed to be resolved. Under this Chancellor, instead of having to ask the local authority for money, heads have been able to use the special budget given to them to deal with urgent and emergency issues. The direct payment to secondary and primary heads gives them their own budget to spend on such matters, which is most welcome.

Like other Members, I write constantly to local education authorities asking for support for our schools. In the city of Leicester, we have a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition and, strangely, although they are unable to get along in Westminster, they get along extremely well in Leicester. Whenever I wanted to deal with a particular issue raised by a school in my constituency, I used to have to write directly to that coalition, and thus the paper chase began. Now, there is a budget that allows head teachers to interface directly with their stakeholders and to spend money on their schools. That is of enormous benefit to schools, head teachers and children.

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