Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Hague indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Perhaps he could explain why Conservative central office put out a press release on the day of the announcement about the comprehensive spending review, showing how the regions would benefit from his £16 billion worth of tax cuts. There was only one tiny problem with the proposal: he did not have the faintest clue where the £16 billion worth of cuts would come from. In desperation, he started the fuel protest bandwagon, then the floods bandwagon; on defence it became armour-plated, then on air traffic control it became airborne--he is in favour of privatising the whole of air traffic control--and for a brief spell he even handed the controls to the shadow Home Secretary. The trouble was that she tried to impose fines on all the passengers and half of them pleaded guilty, so there he was with another wheel off.

The right hon. Gentleman is still rolling along, but he has to find £16 billion worth of cuts. [Interruption.] Oh, it seems that Tory Members find the issue boring. I do not think that the British people will find it boring. He insists that he is not committed to those £16 billion worth of cuts. I am happy to give way to him. I shall read what he said in July. I know that is a long time ago in policy terms, but he said:


He went on:


6 Dec 2000 : Column 31

The right hon. Gentleman cannot find his £16 billion, so he now says that he will find £8 billion worth of cuts, and yesterday he found £5.3 billion. Let us see where the £5.3 billion worth of cuts are. First, he says that he will get £1 billion from fraud detection. The Government are taking action on that. For the first time since figures were collected, fraud actually fell, but we will leave that aside. He has the extraordinary proposal that he will find £1.8 billion from central administrative costs. The latest figures show that in real terms administrative costs have not risen but have fallen as a proportion of national income. In any event, the current number of civil servants is 8,000 down on the figure in April 1997. The right hon. Gentleman may say that we are about to increase the number of civil servants. Yes, we are. I shall tell him where we are about to increase them, so let us see whether he agrees or disagrees--immigration, benefit fraud, prison officers, and getting the money through to pensioners. [Interruption.] Are they against that? We do not know. We are on policy now.

The other part of the additional money is the money on the private finance initiative. That is controversial--it might even be controversial among my hon. Friends--but unless we enter into PFI contracts, the money must be found from other parts of capital spending. If the right hon. Gentleman cuts all the administration of PFI, how does he finance the new hospitals and school buildings in every constituency in the country? How can he?

Let us go on. The right hon. Gentleman says that he will get £500 million off lone parents on the basis that, under his Government, they will all go into work. However, he is committed to scrapping the new deal on lone parents, which is what gets them into work.

The Leader of the Opposition then says that he will get another £400 million because he will cut long-term unemployment. In 18 years, the Conservatives doubled long-term unemployment. Since we took office, there are a million extra jobs and youth unemployment is down by 70 per cent. Who will believe that he will cut unemployment?

Let us give the right hon. Gentleman all that. Next, he says that he will scrap best value in local government. That means that local authorities must get the best value for services. He says that he will get £125 million from that. Will he not replace it with anything? Will he not go back to the policy of compulsory competitive tendering? [Hon. Members: "Come on, tell us."] The right hon. Gentleman is wise; it is better that I tell the House. The costs of compulsory competitive tendering are greater than the costs of best value, so the £125 million saving is nonsense.

The right hon. Gentleman will scrap all the regional development agencies and get £100 million out of that. However, there are only just over 1,000 people employed by all the regional development agencies in the country. How will he get £100 million out of that? Who will then administer the programmes that they currently administer?

6 Dec 2000 : Column 32

The right hon. Gentleman says--this is my favourite one--that he will save £205 million from not creating regional assemblies, but there is no £205 million budgeted for regional assemblies, so where does he get it from? [Hon. Members: "Answer."] In the end, the Opposition must answer these questions. They say that they will cut £20 million from the university challenge fund. Does the Leader of the Opposition realise that that means that Manchester university and University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology would lose £4.5 million, Bath and Bristol universities would lose almost £4 million, Cambridge £3 million, Imperial college in London £3 million, cancer research £3 million, Oxford £3 million and Queen's in Belfast £2 million? The money that the right hon. Gentleman says he will take out is vital for the future of the country.

People may know the game "Who wants to be a Millionaire?"--I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of the State for Education and Employment does. Where will the cuts come? Will they come (a) on health, (b) on schools, (c) on the police or (d) on pensioners? There is not much point in asking the audience, as members of the audience do not know. The right hon. Gentleman could always phone a friend, or even the shadow Chancellor. I will help him with the answer. The cuts will fall on schools, hospitals, the police and pensioners.

Let me change television programme for a moment. I know that the Leader of the Opposition is keen on summing up policy in six words. How about this: "You are the weakest link. Goodbye"? There is virtually not a single area of his policy that could not be ripped to shreds, even after a cursory examination--for example, his education policy. I questioned its credibility when I saw the statement of the shadow Education Secretary that the literacy hour was set too long at 60 minutes. I thought that there was something awry there.

The right hon. Gentleman says he is going to get £540 to every pupil. Right--that comes to £4 billion. Of that £4 billion, however, we are already providing £1 billion through the Chancellor's payments direct to schools; so it is not £4 billion--it is £3 billion. He also said that he will put the standards fund through direct to schools, but in fact the vast bulk of that already goes direct to schools. Of the rest, £400 million goes--targeted, it is true--to primary schools for class sizes and literacy and numeracy, with 6,000 extra teachers. Is he going to scrap that? So that money cannot be used, either.

The last bit of it is that there is £900 million of the £4 billion--[Interruption.] No, this is very important. I hope that Opposition Members will listen because they will have to explain this to their constituents at the election. Nine hundred million pounds is for children with special educational needs. Are the Conservatives pledged, or not, to reverse that money? Is that part of their £4 billion, or not? I think we should be told. The truth of the matter, which is why it is so important--

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): Let us hear about Government proposals on special educational needs, not the Opposition's policies. This is the Queen's Speech debate.

The Prime Minister: Special educational needs is in the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Wells: Talk about that, then.

The Prime Minister: I have just talked about it.

6 Dec 2000 : Column 33

If the Conservatives want to save £1 billion on fraud, they can start with their own programme. The truth is, they cannot tell us where the money comes from. There is a black hole, and only two things could follow from that. Either, because they could not find the money, we would be back to the old, late 1980s and early 1990s boom-and-bust economics, which is what they did before; alternatively, we would have major cuts in the Government's programmes, which are vital to the future of this country.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is extraordinary that, in such policy questions and debates, he has absolutely nothing to say. I cannot believe that it is possible to be in his position: as Leader of the Opposition, he has to try to put forward an alternative programme for government, but he plainly has not even thought through the beginnings of the answers to some of these questions. The reason it is important for us to make the commitments we have set out in the Queen's Speech and elsewhere is that without investment in education our children will suffer. Without this extra investment--which he wants to cut--in skills, technology, small businesses and transport, our economy will suffer. Without investment in the national health service, people will be forced to take out private medical insurance, but many of them will not be able to afford the private medical insurance that he will force on people. Without investment in law and order, the streets will be less safe.

The truth is that a strong economy and a strong society go together. This side of the House believes in that, but that side of the House will do everything it can to undermine it. We know, because we can see the proposals of the Conservatives, what that would mean. The right hon. Gentleman's speech yesterday, which he made with the shadow Chancellor, was a truly Thatcherite condemnation of all Government spending in general, but when it came to the particular he could not quite make up his mind. All he is left with is the courage of his own contradictions.

All the way through, the contradictions in the right hon. Gentleman's policy are stark. He says that he is against the single currency in principle, but only for five years. Can someone explain--can he explain--how on earth he can be against something in principle, but for only five years? He says that he is in favour of locking up asylum seekers in purpose-built detention centres, but we know, from the rest of his colleagues, that he is against building any. Every time we propose one, they oppose it. He says that lone parents should work, but would scrap the new deal for them. He says there would be more prisons and more action on benefit fraud, but would put a freeze on prison officers and fraud busters.

Tory central office made a great statement today about how the Conservatives are in favour of the Kyoto climate change commitments. The Conservatives were attacking my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister for not securing those commitments strongly enough, but they are in favour of abolishing the climate change levy, which is one part of getting there. The right hon. Gentleman--or his spokesman--demands more defence spending, but he refuses to match the commitment on defence. In opposition, that type of policy incoherence is amusing; in government, it would be a disaster.

The truth is that we need to move the whole agenda on from the 1980s, where the right hon. Gentleman is stuck, to an agenda that says, "If we are the fourth largest

6 Dec 2000 : Column 34

economy in the world today, as we are, let's invest in world class public services." If we do live in a global market, let us keep the economic stability that we have won. If we provide opportunity for people through the new deal, the working families tax credit, the minimum wage and extra child care--all those social measures opposed by the right hon. Gentleman's lot and introduced by us--we have a chance of getting back the responsibility that we demand.

That is what "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" means. Yes, it means taking good, tough measures in the criminal justice system, but it also means recognising that unless we deal with the squalor of our inner cities, unless we deal with poverty, unless we deal with the deprivation on our streets, we will never get that responsibility. It also means--as I know many of the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends privately agree--that we must have a sensible, outward-looking, constructive attitude to the European Union, which is the key strategic alliance on our doorstep.

Those are the serious choices for the country. Yes, the right hon. Gentleman made a very witty, funny speech, but it summed up his leadership: good jokes, lousy judgment. I am afraid that in the end, if the right hon. Gentleman really aspires to stand at this Dispatch Box, he will have to get his policies sorted out and his party sorted out, and offer a vision for the country's future, not a vision that would take us backwards.


Next Section

IndexHome Page