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Dawn Primarolo: The hon. Gentleman made two points, the first of which was on internet cigarette sales. Although I am sure that he will already appreciate this, we should make it clear to everyone who hears or reads our proceedings that those purchases are liable to United Kingdom tax. Consequently, people will save nothing on such purchases--which work out to be more expensive than regular purchases.
Secondly, no Budget press releases are not available to hon. Members. Earlier, the hon. Gentleman asked for technical Budget notes. Customs and Excise has always made notes available on the day of the Budget, and the Inland Revenue has made those technical Budget notes--not press releases--available. As I said, if it will assist the House, I shall certainly ensure that they are in the Vote Office tomorrow morning, before we start our debate.
Mr. Bottomley: I am not absolutely sure that they are all technical notes. Some of them are called Budget notes and some are called Budget notices. I think that the hon. Lady may want to re-examine the expression that she has used. All I am saying to her, in the nicest possible way, is to make sure that they are in the House and in the Library and available to hon. Members. We are here to scrutinise such matters. The Government should stop treating the House with contempt. Hon. Members want to know what is going on.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer--who managed to hide IR35 and not draw any attention to it, although it has affected the United Kingdom's economic development--has shown that he cannot be trusted on these matters. Let us just put down what is gently called a marker and say, "Produce those documents in the House. Make them available to hon. Members." That is not a courtesy; Ministers should regard it as a requirement.
I pay tribute to the public servants, from many Departments, who must have worked very hard this year, as they have in previous years, in bringing together information, working through the options, discussing the options with Ministers and--as the Chancellor and other Ministers make decisions--presenting the measures in a coherent and sensible manner. If Ministers would like a suggestion on how life could be made slightly easier, it would be that they include an index in the Red Book. In the old days, it was far easier to find specific matters in the Red Book. Now, although it is more informative, it is not very easy to find specific information. I challenge any Labour Member, within two minutes, to find, for example, where the savings ratio is dealt with in the Red Book. To save time, I shall tell them that the information is on page 170.
A table on that page, however, contains a curious feature that I hope will not be repeated in future Red Books. It is headed "Percentage changes on previous year", and includes three items: household consumption, which lists percentage changes; real household disposable income, with percentage changes; and the savings ratio, which an accompanying note specifies as "level, per cent". Although that information has been provided, it might be missed by those who read the Red Book casually.
I also suspect that, although it might be embarrassing for the Chancellor, it would be better if the savings ratio could be dealt with separately, under a separate heading. The savings ratio does matter. A savings ratio of 3.35 per cent. is almost as low as that pertaining in the United States. I do not think that that is healthy. The Government inherited a savings ratio of about 10 or 11 per cent. Even if, in two or three years, it returns to more than 5 per cent., that would not be very comfortable.
Besides emphasising what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in response to the Budget announcement, I also wanted to state that the illustration of the children's tax credit does not make obvious sense to those who do not know much about it. If that credit is worth £520 a year, why does the press notice put the value at £5,200? It may be that 10 per cent. of £5,200 is £520, but anyone reading the notice for the first time ought to be able to understand how one figure translates to the other.
The underlying point is that we must take into account the need of people of working age who are capable of working to be in work. I acknowledge that what happened in the final Parliament of the previous Government has continued under this Government, and that many more people on benefit who want to become taxpayers have been able to do so. To get work, they have overcome personal disabilities, or disabilities of location, or the disabilities associated with the changing industrial nature of their local environment. Most of them will have put in a great deal of effort to obtain work; I know very few people who want to remain on benefit.
We need to widen the gap between people on benefit and those who pay tax, so that there can be a neutral position in between. However, that becomes more difficult when poverty is defined as being on benefit. Much of what the Chancellor calls taking people out of poverty means putting them on tax benefits rather than cash benefits. That is a rather odd use of language.
I have spoken about the needs of people of working age who are in work, but I return briefly to the matter of people who are above working age. I mentioned the importance of helping people with children, but my constituency of Worthing, West has the highest proportion in the country of people above retirement age, many of whom are healthy and self-reliant. When they turn to the national health service, they find that they have to wait more than a year for a 20-minute hearing test. That may be a local curiosity, but when their hearing aids are available they have to wait three and a half months for them to be fitted, and for instructions about the location of the on-off switch. That is not acceptable. Whatever the arguments are in favour of the way in which the NHS is funded and organised at present, people should not have to wait a year for hearing tests.
If I do not blame the Government totally for that, I blame them for it in large part. We must find a way to take queueing out of health care. It is all right to expect people to wait for many consumer goods, and to tell them that they cannot have what they want straight away, but people must be able to have the serious health treatments that they need when they need them, and without paying at the time of need. I do not believe that we can meet that requirement without a surplus of capacity and important quality improvements. However, the extra money promised in the Budget is welcome.
My final remarks deal with savings. Unless we encourage people to save and put money by, and reward them for doing so, we cannot expect them to be more self-reliant when they retire. If we do not encourage saving, we cannot expect more people to have control over their own housing on retirement. That is true of retired people who own their houses and are economically active, and also of those who live in communities. The latter is increasingly the case for people in their late retirement years.
That is why I welcome the alternative Budget proposals made by Conservative Front-Bench Members, which matter a lot. I believe that, like every Tory leader since the 1920s, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) will become Prime Minister. His speech in response to the Budget embarrassed the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. The Conservatives have more to offer than the complacency and occasional arrogance of the present Government.
I do not say that everything that the Government have done is wrong, because they have implemented many of the ideas that I have put forward. However, the cross-party consensus is to give more support to people with children and those above retirement age. Unless that happens, we will not make this country what it should be for people of all ages and conditions.
Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I declare an interest in relation to one or two of the points that I will make in my brief contribution. I am a governor of two schools in north-west Leicestershire--Ashby grammar school which, despite its name, is a comprehensive, and Ibstock community college. In the four years that I have been in this place, I have remained a member of their governing bodies and have seen the pressures that schools in Leicestershire have had to endure. Most of the problems relate to the standard spending assessment formula.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) have referred to the difficulties that exist in education funding in certain parts of the country. Leicestershire is at the bottom of the county league table when one expresses the SSA per primary school pupil and also per secondary school pupil. We are about 6 per cent. adrift of the average county and 13 per cent. adrift of Hertfordshire. Those are substantial sums.
We are immensely grateful for the extra investment put into education over the past four years and for that which is planned for the next three or four years. However, the relative position for Leicestershire, as for Derbyshire, Staffordshire and the F40 group of authorities, remains much as it was. It needs to be addressed and I am sure that it will be.
The bigger direct payment that the Chancellor announced will be most welcome. I have visited all 52 schools in north-west Leicestershire and I know how welcome they have found the extra payments and direct payments when they have been available. I endorse what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said. I think that the banding system is capable of significant improvement and these sums of money should be expressed on a per capita basis.
One of the greatest improvements in education in north-west Leicestershire since 1 May 1997 has been in the infrastructure of some of our older schools. At Ibstock community college, where my children were students until relatively recently, the laboratories were in a dire condition. Despite pressure over many years, through the local education authority to the then Government, little or nothing was done about them. Like every other Member of Parliament, I receive a summary of the planning applications made to the local authority and I was very pleased to see on the planning list a week or so ago the early commencement of work on the laboratories of a school that has been waiting for improved laboratories for decades. What the Government are doing for education is warmly to be welcomed.
One specific to which the Chancellor referred during his speech was the fight against crime and drugs. I have four daughters. Every parent worries about their children and wants to see them growing up safe from the scourge of drugs. My right hon. Friend's reference to the extra £300 million that will be spent in this area over the next three years was very heartening. That money will go direct to local crime and safety partnerships--a hallmark of the Budget and of recent Government decisions.
I declare an interest in that I was closely involved with the creation of the north-west Leicestershire safer communities forum. I chaired it for a number of years until 1 May 1997. I know that whatever proportion of that money is available to that organisation will be wisely and effectively used in partnership with local agencies, the police, the local authority and other groups.
This has been a positive and helpful Budget. At one end of the age spectrum, the scourge of child poverty has been addressed in a substantial way. At the other end, pensioner poverty has been tackled. Labour Members welcome that.
There are 5 million couples who have no dependent children, either because their children have left home or because they never had any. Those 5 million couples--that is about 8,000 couples in an average constituency--are pre-retirement age, and will have lost the married couples allowance, which ceased on 5 April 2001 and which in the previous tax year was worth £195. Many of those people still feel a little sore about the loss of the allowance because they see nothing to replace it. Yes, they will in many cases have had lower mortgage interest rates, a benefit that can be worth as much as £1,200 a