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Families will be concerned by the increases at supermarkets and petrol stations and in their energy bills. To address those concerns, we have to tackle the root causes of the higher prices. Those causes are international. We are not alone in saying that; the Governor of the Bank of England also says it. He said that 1.1 per cent. of the 1.2 per cent. increase in inflation since the end of last year has been due to international circumstances. We have to work with our international partners to find the right response and we must respond to the ongoing impact of the global credit squeeze, which is contributing to the challenging economic times that we face.
As I listened to the opening speech from the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), I found it interesting that he did not at any point indicate that the problem was international or that the solution lay at an international level. At no point did he urge us to work through OPEC to raise oil production; neither did he urge us to work with our EU partners to liberate the global food market. I can only presume that when his party was in power, it had an empty-seat policy at EU level; its record gives it no credibility on the international stage.
It is important to work with our international partners to address what is an international issue; at the same time, domestically, we must provide families with support when they need it. That is what we are doing, through the increases in personal allowances this year, the additional payments that we are making through the winter fuel allowance and the delay in the fuel duty increase that was due this April.
I turn to some of the specific points raised in the debate. Disparaging remarks have been made about the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths). I enjoyed his excellent and factual contribution. He pointed out that the roofs of the schools, hospitals and railway stations have been fixed under this Government. The investment in public servicesextra police, doctors and nurseshas been widely welcomed. In the past 10 years, real pay has gone up by more than 20 per cent. in each of those sectors, and we are rightly proud of that.
By contrast, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said that we should have made earlier decisions about nuclear power. Whatlike his party, which deliberately said that it would defer the decision, despite the long lead time required to invest in this low-carbon technology? He also said that we should try to reform the common agricultural policy, but in many ways we have succeeded in doing that.
Kitty Ussher: We have, with the shift from pillar one to pillar two of the common agricultural policy, and we continue to make our case. The party of the right hon. Member for Wokingham, would not even engage on the European stage; if it were still in power, we would not have achieved that progress.
In an intervention on the right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) pointed out that the Conservative partyfar from anticipating what it now says was the need for a different economic policy
during what the Governor calls the non-inflationary consistent expansion, or NICE, yearswent into the last two elections explaining how it would spend more while cutting taxes. It would, apparently, have surfed the wave of economic prosperityin a way that would have created even more of a problem, given the black hole in its finances.
That gets to the core of todays debate. On the one hand, the Conservative party says that it will match our spending; at the same time, it tries to imply that it will return money to the British people by sharing the proceeds of growth. I do not know where that extra money would come from. I can only presume that the Conservatives are hoping that the black hole in their finances will suddenly spew out pound coins for them to distribute liberally throughout the economy.
That all relates to what we have seen in this Opposition day debate. The Conservatives are trying to imply, in a salesman-like way, that there is some huge problem with the Governments record on the cost of living. At the same time, their own words in their own research document show that the standard of living has risen under the Government. Since 2001-02, pensioner couples have been £30 a week better off in real terms under Labour, say the Conservatives; single women pensioners have been £21 a week better off under Labour, say the Conservatives; and couples of whom one partner works full time and one works part time are £14 a week better off under Labour, say the Conservatives. The Conservatives say that lone parents are £12 a week better off and that on average everybody is £9 a week better off because of our policies. I will take no lessons from the Conservative party about the cost of living under Labour.
As always, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) made a helpful and well informed speech. In response to an intervention from the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), she pointed out that real wages have risen under the Government. Using Institute for Fiscal Studies data, the hon. Gentleman seemed to try to imply that incomes had fallen. I have read that report, which is extremely credible. However, the authors admit that the specific figure that he cited was within the scope of the margin of error, so it was not appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to use.
Perhaps we should look at the report resulting from the survey of households of below-average incomes. It shows that the incomes of the poorest and richest 20 per cent. of households have risen by 2 per cent. a year since 1997 and that real household disposable incomes across the board have risen by 27 per cent. Let us put it all into context: from the 1980s until the mid-1990s, the real incomes of the poorest 20 per cent. of households rose by less than 1 per cent. a year, while those of the richest 20 per cent. rose by about 2.5 per cent. a year. It is absolutely clear that the tax credit, benefit and welfare to work policies of the Government have arrested the relative increase in income disparities that happened under Conservative Governments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North urged me to continue to focus on the needs of the working poor in our future policies, and we will of course always do that. On fuel poverty, I should point out that we have got the six major energy suppliers to increase their spending on the most vulnerable by £225 million. The Warm Front programme has been
rolled out under the Government and it has had a huge effect, particularly in constituencies such as mine, which have a high proportion of old terraced housing. Driving costs are 16 per cent. lower under this Government than they were under the Conservative Government. [ Interruption. ] I do not know why hon. Members are muttering among themselves. I can only presume that it is because they do not want to listen to the facts and are attempting, by spin and innuendo, to imply to the country that we have not made the enormous inroads that we have, as everybody knows from looking at their own standards of living compared with 10 years ago.
We face some genuine issues that need to be addressed internationally as well as through domestic policy, and we are doing that. Todays debate has shown that Conservative Members have absolutely no ideas and no policies.
That this House notes the significant increases in world prices, with the oil price rising 80 per cent. and food prices up 60 per cent. in the year to May 2008; notes that the Governor of the Bank of Englands letter to the Chancellor dated 16th June 2008 said that 1.1 per cent. of the 1.2 per cent. increase in inflation over recent months was due to world food and energy prices, and that the Government was right to tackle the rises with action on an international level, including urgently looking for a successful conclusion to the Doha round of negotiations in the World Trade Organisation and examining the impact of biofuels on food production; supports the Governments global leadership on these issues; recognises the pressure that these increases in world prices put on family budgets; further notes the measures that the Government will continue to take to support families and individuals, including pensioners and businesses, throughout the UK, including through extra tax credits, increased tax allowances, winter fuel payments and increases in child benefit; further notes that the most important support for working families is a strong and stable economy; and supports the Governments actions that have delivered unemployment, inflation and interest rates all at historically low levels, helping millions of families into stable home-ownership and sustainable employment.
That this House celebrates 60 years of the NHS; recognises the support from all political parties for the NHS during that time; is grateful to NHS staff, past and present, who are the key to its success; commends their commitment and expertise in delivering patient care in often difficult circumstances; acknowledges the unique contribution of volunteers and charitable organisations; is committed to providing the NHS with the funding it needs to deliver European standards of healthcare to all; and recognises an opportunity in future to make the NHS more patient-centred by focusing on outcomes.
On Saturday week, it will be the 60th anniversary of the national health service, and my right hon. Friends and I felt that the House should have the opportunity, in anticipation of that day, to record our appreciation of all that the NHS has achieved and all that it has meant to the people of this country over the course of those 60 years. We do so this evening entirely in the spirit
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