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Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): As a long-standing Tory democrat rather than a social liberal, who has throughout a parliamentary career of some length always supported high levels of public expenditure, and is on the record as saying so throughout the Thatcher years, may I ask the Chancellor to answer the practical

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question of how his announcements of huge increases in public expenditure can be reconciled with his stability pact commitments to the European Union?

Mr. Brown: We are talking about public services, but Conservative Members can talk only about Europe. The stability pact asks for Budgets to be at or near balance. Last year, we paid back £36 billion of debt. The hon. Gentleman should be congratulating us on that. Additionally, if he looks at our figures for future years, he will find that public borrowing is at a level that is perfectly sustainable and perfectly adequate not only within the terms of the Maastricht treaty, but within the terms of the golden rule that I have established.

When we want to talk about the health service and education, only Conservative Members want to move on to talk about the European Union and whether we should be members of it. I think that the country wants us to have a debate on public services. If Conservative Members have not learned that lesson from the general election, I do not think that they will ever learn anything about how to run their affairs.

The question that I am posing is whether we are prepared not only to talk about good public services, but to invest the scale of money that is needed, rather than putting across-the-board tax cuts before the needs of public services and stability. That issue was raised most helpfully in the general election campaign by the shadow Chief Secretary, whom I am pleased to see in the Chamber today. We did not see much of him in the later stages of the general election campaign, when he gave a new meaning to the word "shadow". We talk of people who are seen and not heard, but he was heard and then not seen. That was a feature of the election campaign. However, although we had no idea where he was, we knew what he was saying. That is the dilemma for Conservative Members.

The shadow Chief Secretary said:

in public spending as a share of national income--

At today's prices, to reduce public spending to 35 per cent. of GDP, which is the ambition of the shadow Chief Secretary--an ambition that he has never denied--would entail cuts not of £5 billion, £10 billion or £15 billion, but of £50 billion. It is the equivalent of the entire budget of the national health service. Everyone knows that such changes could not be achieved without deep cuts in all of our major public services. That is the choice: to invest or to cut. We say that we cannot will the ends--better public services--without being prepared to will the means, which are investment as well as reform.

I see that Conservative Members are getting a bit jumpy about the looming leadership election. For the Conservatives, it is a time for reflection, and they have quite a lot to reflect upon--not just a search for power, but a search for a minimum level of coherence in the way they put forward their policies.

Some of the main contenders for leadership have been out of the country. The shadow Chancellor left the night after the election to visit some ancient relics--these were not Conservative constituency associations--moving

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effortlessly from one set of ruins to another. While we have been getting on with the business of Government, we have seen the contestants nightly on our television screens. They are closed off in a world of their own. They are nominated and then eliminated week by week in seemingly endless ballots. The last two are to be voted out by whatever is left of a dwindling audience of viewers. What we have ahead of us is the Westminster version of "Big Brother".

Like "Big Brother", the contest has already turned nasty. Newspapers are filled with accusations of backbiting, there are daily outbursts in front of the cameras and, increasingly, the rest of the contenders are turning on one man who is accused of disloyalty. At some point, the Conservatives will have to re-enter and face the world of reality. At some point, they will have to enter and face the world as we know it.

The theme of the Queen's Speech has been our commitment to improve public services. Last week, the shadow Chancellor said that his campaign theme was that he would be passionate about public services. However, on election night, in response to a member of the Conservative party who said that the campaign should have been about public services, the shadow Chancellor said:

His folly last week is his passion this week.

How does this week's passion for public services square with the cuts manifesto that put large tax cuts before public service needs--a manifesto of which the shadow Chancellor said he was "very, very proud"? He was proud of tax cuts last week, while public services are his passion this week. How does his passion for public services this week square with his personal authorship of the £8 billion spending cuts plan last year? Was that an error? What about his statement that £8 billion of cuts was "just the beginning"--was that also an error? His personal conviction about the increased reliance on private health insurance--was that also an error?

Perhaps we should also look at the previous convictions that the shadow Chancellor has to his name. What about the record spending cuts when he was at the Treasury? Were they an error of judgment? His conviction about what he called an "ultra-low tax economy"--was that also an error of judgment? His conviction about "clear blue water" and shrinking the state--was that also an error of judgment? His conviction that the highest goal above all others was to minimise the state--in the context of support for more public services, was that also an error of judgment? His conviction about the poll tax being fair, a vote winner and misunderstood--was that also an error of judgment? Does the shadow Chancellor really ask us to set aside each and every one of his previous convictions?

It comes down to trust. Just as people will ask whether they can trust with the economy the Minister who, when Chief Secretary, gave us 15 per cent. interest rates, 10 per cent. inflation., £50 billion of borrowing, 22 broken tax promises and record mortgage repossessions and who was a principal architect of boom and bust, so, too, will they ask whether they can trust with public services the

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Minister who has spent most of his political career, in government and opposition, as the torch bearer for the ultra-low tax economy and for a radical scaling back of the responsibilities for public services.

One day, the Tories will have to address their fundamental problem. Britain cannot be served by a party hijacked 20 years ago and still imprisoned by a wholly out-of-date and socially divisive dogma. For our part, stability is the foundation. Our policy is investment, not cuts. We say yes to targeted tax cuts for families, pensioners and work, we say no to irresponsible tax cuts, and in this Parliament we put schools and hospitals first. That is why I commend the Queen's Speech to the House.

4.35 pm

Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea): First, I draw attention to my interests, which are in the register.

I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the election result, which means that he can continue in his office. I thought that his performance this afternoon was curiously edgy, nervous and bombastic--an out-of-date, old-fashioned sort of speech. I remind him that his party did win the election. It is over--he does not have to go over all the old arguments again. [Interruption.] As far as I could tell from looking at Labour Members, the only person in the House who enjoyed the speech was the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). He seemed to enjoy it very much indeed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has shown a consistent interest in the plight of developing nations, and I am glad that that issue features in the Queen's Speech. Britain should play a role that is suited to our standing in the world in helping to relieve world poverty. As a civilised and relatively rich country, we should take pride in doing our duty. We must play our part in extending good governance around the world. We must do all that we can to reduce the causes of disease and of conflict. Even in terms of enlightened self-interest, the richer countries must see that money spent today reducing disease and eliminating the turmoil that gives rise to flows of refugees is repaid by the money saved on having to deal with the tragic consequences of those episodes. We must also work for global free trade, which is disproportionately to the benefit of the poorer nations in the world.

I also welcome the proposal in the Gracious Speech to make it easier for women to enter Parliament. The proportion of women here is too low. At this election, the progress made in 1997 has not been sustained. In my party, the under-representation by women is truly chronic. The Conservative party must put it right, and the Government's legislation may help us all in that respect.

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