|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Major: If it is nonsense, it is Red Book nonsense. Those figures come from the Red Book. Before the hon. Gentleman mutters into his non-existent beard, he should read the Red Book and check. It is possible that the Chancellor has given us more duff facts; we are used to that. However, if they are duff, that is his responsibility, not mine.
There are 2 million more taxpayers and 700,000 more higher-rate taxpayers than there were four years ago. In addition, mortgage interest relief at source has been scrapped, although I do not object to that particularly. However, not only has MIRAS been scrapped, but stamp duty on home purchase has been increased and national insurance contributions for middle-income earners have risen sharply. So much--on the eve of the next general election--for the promises that the Labour party made to middle England and middle-income groups throughout the United Kingdom on the eve of the last one. Those groups may also care to note that the yield from inheritance tax has soared 50 per cent. during this Parliament. The Chancellor still has no concept--I genuinely believe that he does not understand its value--of letting more of the fruits of a lifetime of work filter down to the people whom the earner most cares about: his own family and the next generation.
It is no wonder, with such tax increases, that the ratio of tax to gross domestic product has risen 2.5 per cent. to 37.7 per cent. The Chancellor, despite all his promises, has not so much wooed middle England as assaulted it.
Mr. Geraint Davies: Does the right hon. Gentleman know that, taking tax and borrowing together as a share of GDP--given that borrowing is deferred taxation--the figure went down two points from 38.2 per cent. in 1996-97 to 36.2 per cent. in 1999-2000, and down to 34.1 per cent. in the current year? The current figure is due to the spectrum auction of mobile phone wavelengths, but for the previous period, those two points represent the equivalent of an increase of 7.3p in income tax. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman simply borrowed instead of taxing, and tried to fiddle the figures.
Mr. Major: The hon. Gentleman ought to know that his Chancellor changed the way in which the figures are quoted in the Red Book, and the actual equivalent of what he has done is an extra 10p on tax. The hon. Gentleman may care to examine that matter. [Interruption.] If it is nonsense, it is the Government's nonsense in the Government's own figures. Those are the figures that I am using. I am glad to hear from Labour Members that they do not believe them.
It is ironic that the Government and the Chancellor have increased taxes so much. During the last Parliament, I remember vividly the present Chancellor and his colleagues, ever ready to find a catchy slogan, repeating the slander of 22 Tory tax rises, with no acknowledgment whatever of any offsetting tax reductions. To call their attacks disingenuous would be kind. They were patently
The Government cannot deny that, because the figures for tax increases are now clear. The statistics cast light where the slogans cast deception. Before this Budget, the real increase in taxes over this Parliament was about 4.5 per cent. a year. Obviously, that figure is now a tiny bit lower, but not all that much. That compares with 1.8 per cent. between 1979 and 1997. I am indebted to the Institute for Fiscal Studies for pointing out that there were tax rises of 2 per cent. a year between 1979 and 1990, and of 1.3 per cent. between 1990 and 1997.
So much for the 22 Tory tax rises, or, indeed, the unsustainable proposition--unsustainable except by malice--that the previous Government wrecked the Tory tradition of low taxation. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends who rather timidly accepted that fiction in the early part of this Parliament can now feel comforted that it was not true and refute it. They need not concede, but may safely move on and reassert our traditional tax credentials. Taxes were not unduly increased, despite the pressures of a recession that began in the 1980s and cast its shadow into the 1990s--although not, from the point of view of the health of the economy, much beyond 1992.
The Chancellor is ever ready to gloss over the excellent parts of his inheritance. He cherry-picks the bits on which he can make party political capital, and I do not blame him for that: most politicians do. However, he misses other bits. He is, after all, a very political Chancellor who wishes to be Prime Minister, and he is doing a bit of image building.
We need more facts and less of the fiction that we so often hear. The economy has been growing steadily since 1992, before--some hon. Members may not wish to hear this next point--sterling left the exchange rate mechanism. Unemployment has also been falling since that economic recovery began, and the very welcome job growth across the country--in both the number and the variety of jobs--has been consistent throughout the previous Parliament and this one.
Mr. Mackinlay: The Chancellor has been skilled, but I put that in perspective. Other factors have contributed, such as the ebb and flow of the economy, and I accept, to an extent, that employment growth was under way during the right hon. Gentleman's stewardship. I have intervened only because of his breathtaking assertion that people are somehow worse off than in 1996, which defies both belief and the litmus test of what one sees and feels. There was extensive unemployment, particularly among poor and unskilled people, during the period to which he refers, and although I do not apportion credit or blame in respect of employment, people are now in jobs. Demonstrably, they are better off.
Mr. Major: Demonstrably, the people in jobs are better off. That is undeniably so, but I was referring to the scale of tax increases. If the hon. Gentleman reads some of the independent research, he will see precisely why I made that comment.
As it happens, I was about to give credit to the Chancellor. The economy is in good shape and he can take a great deal of satisfaction from that. I shall not be mealy-mouthed: he can take a good bit of credit for it as well. Were he to be similarly candid, he too would offer credit to his predecessors, because he has built on what they did and on a trend that was established five years before he went to the Exchequer.
For example, some hon. Members, but perhaps not all, believe that an economic miracle began on 2 May 1997. Let us take a date at random--1 May 1997. Growth was set to be 3.5 per cent. for the next year. Inflation was 2.6 per cent. and stable. Unemployment was falling rapidly and, although still high, was down to just over 1.5 million. The fiscal deficit was falling sharply--a point that the Chancellor invariably overlooks because it embarrasses his campaign to discredit his predecessors. The trend of a falling fiscal deficit was clear, and it was falling sharply. The right hon. Gentleman can take credit for not wrecking the trend, but he cannot take credit for beginning it, for it preceded him by four years.
I thoroughly welcome the fact that economic management has reached a maturity whereby the two major parties do not feel it necessary to reverse all the actions of their predecessor. That is beneficial to the British economy, and it will remain so for as long as that is the case. I may be wrong, but I think that the Chancellor took that too far in his first two years by adopting the previous Government's expenditure plans in toto. I can tell the House, and I hope that it is not a great shock, that we certainly would not have done that. We would have increased them in the two public expenditure rounds that followed, as we had in every public expenditure round since 1979.
Stakhanovite is one word; masochistic is another, which might perhaps describe more plainly the Chancellor's disposition. He has been an economic masochist over public spending. We hear a huge amount about public spending, and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was at it as well this afternoon, but despite the hype about the unprecedented sums for health and education, the fact is that the Chancellor has raised taxes by far more than he has increased expenditure. The public have not noticed because one skill that the right hon. Gentleman has perfected is that of counting, and that includes the capacity to double count, overcount and miscount, which he has done repeatedly.
Again, I am indebted to the Institute for Fiscal Studies: total Government spending in this Parliament has risen at 1.2 per cent. a year in real terms. That is not only less than tax increases, but less than economic growth. It compares with public spending of 2.6 per cent. in the previous Parliament, which is a point that Liberal spokesmen have often made, although they are not often nice about the Conservative party. I am glad to see a nod of agreement, rather than a shake of the head, from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), because that is undoubtedly the case.
I concede that much of that expenditure was not discretionary: it resulted from the unavoidable impact of the recession. However, it puts in a better context that hoary old myth about Tory cuts, which the Prime Minister
The Government's publicity on cuts is familiar: it is an echo from the past. It was an odd experience in the last Parliament to be taunted by the Labour party over so-called cuts while hostile monetarists attacked us for spending far too much money.