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Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Since there appear to be no more Labour Back Benchers waiting to speak—indeed, the Chancellor has not been praised for the past half an hour or so—I suppose that I should start by giving some praise to the Chancellor for the work that has been done over the years. It would be churlish not to say that, in Northern Ireland, we now have the lowest rate of unemployment and are the fourth fastest growing region in the United Kingdom, and that there have been economic successes. I am not looking for a job, so I can say that without anybody saying that I have an ulterior motive.

I fear, however, that the tightening that is hidden behind the Budget will affect that situation. Already we see the fiscal grip tightening on Northern Ireland. Regional rates have gone up, water charges are to be introduced and we are to have a charge for policing. Much of the economic success will be badly affected by the hidden tightening in the Budget. The Budget shows that the Government will face difficulties in the years ahead.

Let us consider the meaning of the Budget for the United Kingdom as a whole. Perhaps the clue was in the give-away line when the Chancellor compared himself to Nicholas Vansittart. He may well have been looking back longingly to the days when that Chancellor was able to get 39 resolutions through without any opposition. There were no Back-Bench revolts and there was nobody on the other side opposing the resolutions. On the other hand, Nicholas Vansittart was known for increasing the tax burden, complicated financial schemes for hiding the size of the national debt, paying considerable attention to affecting supposed economies and, of course, privatising naval and military pensions. Perhaps that is the real picture that we get from the Budget and the real picture of the current Chancellor.
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I want to make three brief observations. Amid the financial machine-gun effect, with £100 million here, £20 million elsewhere, £15 million for microgeneration of energy, new boards for technology, and enterprise networks—those things will be rolled out—there are a number of worrying messages in the Budget.

The first message is that when the Chancellor says that he gives, it does not necessarily mean that we receive. He announced that there will be more direct payments to schools, with the money for primary schools going up by £13,000 a school and money for secondary schools increasing from £98,000 to £152,000. He said that the same increases would be announced for schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but when the Secretary of State made the announcement for Northern Ireland, we found that a sum of £16 million would be spread among nearly 1,000 schools, but that does not work out at £13,000 a primary school and £54,000 a secondary school. I suspect that there is a lot of spin in the Budget and many initiatives that are simply regurgitations of money that has already been spent, and I could give further examples of that.

Secondly, more money does not mean better services. I heard Labour Members taunting Opposition Members who wanted tax cuts by asking how they could have tax cuts without cutting services. The fact of the matter is that since the Government came to power in 1997, with "education, education, education" as their agenda, there has been a 47 per cent. real increase in education spending, yet the Chancellor lamented in the Budget that there are still underachieving schools, people leaving school who need a second chance to get further education and A-levels and schools in which there are insufficient science teachers. Spending money has thus not necessarily improved services. In many cases, spending money has simply bloated bureaucracy. If the structures are right, it is of course possible not to take more in tax, yet still improve services. We had this debate on education the other week. If the right structures are in place, improvements can be made to services, even with less money.

Thirdly, if problems are identified, it does not mean that answers are given. The Chancellor talks about the need for enterprise and a competitive economy. We know that in Northern Ireland because we are heavily reliant on the public sector. We have an open and small economy that does not have internal economies of scale, so we have to export and thus must be competitive. During the years of the troubles, entrepreneurs were forced out by gangsters and so on, so we lost the enterprise culture. The problems have been identified, but I do not see much in the Budget to address them. If anything, the enterprise culture will not be stimulated, and let me give one example to explain why. The tax burden on local companies will increase. The Chancellor could have considered reducing corporation tax—we have seen the success of that elsewhere—but he did not, even though there was consensus about it and evidence that it could have led to an improvement.

I know that my time is nearly up, so I will conclude by saying that the Budget is not expansionary and will not address the problems that the Chancellor identified. Other hon. Members have pointed out that he has walked away from the great problems that face us, such as pensions and health. Many of the burning problems that the Government should be addressing have not
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been dealt with in the Budget, so although I accept that there have been successes, I have no hesitation in saying that this is not the Chancellor's best Budget. The Budget will not address the problems that face us.

9.19 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): The right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) urged me to be generous to the Chancellor, even if he is not here. Let me begin by congratulating the Chancellor, in his absence, on the delivery of his 10th Budget. It is an undoubted achievement. He has beaten a record set by Lloyd George in a week in which the Prime Minister has returned us to the politics of Lloyd George.

We have had a good final day's debate, although I am sorry that Labour ran out of speakers about halfway through. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is not here now either, trotted out the Chancellor's litany of bogus statistics on investment, research and development, and productivity, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) comprehensively demolished each one of them in their robust contributions.

How on earth can the Chancellor claim that research and development is going up when the day after the Budget figures are produced showing that R and D levels are down? How on earth can he claim that business investment is up when his own Red Book revises down the forecasts for business investment and when business investment levels are at a record low? How on earth can the Government claim seriously that productivity growth is up when everyone knows that it has slumped?

There was an argument about which measure we should use for productivity growth. I am happy to use the one that the Chancellor himself used in 1998, based on output per worker, when he said that it was the

On that yardstick, he has fundamentally failed. Productivity growth is one fifth the level that he inherited. That must in part explain the sluggish growth that my right hon. and learned Friend talked about. [Interruption.] I welcome the Chancellor to his place. The 1.8 per cent. growth last year was below the EU average, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average and the G7 average.

We had other good contributions. I enjoyed those from the hon. Members for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson). My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) has been Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for years, and I was one of his underlings on that Committee. He described how impossible it is to measure the Government's claims on Gershon, and the National Audit Office report on that is striking. My hon. Friend proposed getting the Comptroller and Auditor General to audit Opposition efficiency plans. I am happy to consider the idea, although I suspect that Sir John has his work cut out trying to get to the bottom of the Government's efficiency plans.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) drew attention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton and others did, to the decision to abolish the scheme that has
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given 500,000 people computer laptops. My right hon. Friend described it as the action of an analogue politician—a very good phrase. We will vote against that measure. Perhaps the Minister for Industry and the Regions, who was in the Chamber earlier, will join us, because only a few weeks ago he said that the scheme was a great example of what can be done when the Government and industry work together. If he works with us, we can stop it being abolished.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) gave a spirited defence of his beloved Royal Shrewsbury hospital, and dairy farmers, in the presence of the Chancellor himself. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) pointed out that there was nothing in the Budget speech for carers or manufacturing. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) gave an excellent speech on the Government's failure to address the seriousness of the environmental challenge that we face. Of course, when we look in the Red Book we see that the proportion of taxes raised through environmental taxation will fall as a result of the measures introduced by the Chancellor. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) became almost religious in his enthusiasm for his constituency, but he also drew attention to the serious problem of crime against schools.

I hope that I shall not offend my right hon. and hon. Friends when I say that the most interesting speech was made by the right hon. Member for Darlington. He chose not to talk about the 700 job losses at the County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust announced last week. Instead, he focused his fire on the Chancellor's poverty policies.

The right hon. Member for Darlington is a practised assassin. He began by covering his tracks by lavishing praise on the record of the Chancellor, then he stuck the knife in. He called for "direct targeted tax cuts for low-income families"—but he knows that that is exactly the opposite of the strategy pursued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who explicitly rejected tax cuts in the Budget. He knows that his speech will be seen alongside that of his colleague, the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers), who attacked the Chancellor's extension of means-testing in yesterday's Budget debate. He hopes that his speech will be reported in the press tomorrow, because he was circulating it to the press lobby before he delivered it in the House. I am not a Kremlinologist, so I can only guess what those two arch-Blairites are trying to achieve.

All is not well in the state of the Labour party, and the most charitable view is that, like the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, they believe that taxes are so high that

Bang goes his job in the next Administration.

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