Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation
Mr Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough, Liberal Democrat)
It was a pleasure to be in the House to listen to the speech of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). It was a pleasure to listen to a speech that was part of the debate, that entered into it and offered information and informed opinion. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was in stark contrast to the comments of the Leader of the Opposition—especially the speech about "a foreign land" that he made in Harrogate two weeks ago. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon did not give the House that impression today. It was delightful to hear the right hon. Gentleman forgive his former friend, Lord Lamont—although I suspect that Lord Lamont has never forgiven me for defeating him at the general election.
I want to quote a wonderful remark made by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon—he may intervene if I do not get it right. In 1997, when the right hon. Gentleman was asked to comment on the Labour Government's policy of "education, education, education", he replied that he thought it was a good policy but that he would have put it in a different order. That brings me to a critical comment on the right hon. Gentleman's Government.
Although I would not challenge the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge and understanding of economics, I would certainly challenge the fact that successive Conservative Governments, one of which he presided over as Prime Minister, left 7 million adults functionally illiterate and only one in four adults functionally numerate. That legacy was unacceptable, and it behoves all of us, irrespective of political party, to address that huge deficit and to ensure that future generations do not face the world without the basic skills that they need to operate successfully.
I, too, welcome this debate and echo the comments made at the beginning of the Budget debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who said:
the mark of a society is what sense of opportunity it gives its youngsters and how much security it offers the most elderly and vulnerable."—[0fficial Report, 7 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 318.]
The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), who is no longer in her place, hit the nail on the head. The one thing that I took from the Budget, and the one thing that the House should praise, was the concentration on removing child poverty. Without ending child poverty and ensuring that fewer of our young people begin life and spend their early years in poverty, much of the rest of what we do is reactive rather than proactive; it is a sticking plaster.
In terms of my right hon. Friend's comments on 7 March, two main issues were not dealt with in the Budget, and they have been addressed by Labour Members during the debate. First, there was nothing in the Budget on the care of the elderly. That was a huge omission; it is one of the most pressing issues that we face. It is not simply a pensions issue—clearly, we have had many debates about pensions—but one of how we care for our elderly. The way in which the long-term residential care needs of our population are looked after distinguishes a caring from an uncaring Government, an idea to which the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) alluded in his speech.
There was nothing in the Budget to support local authority social service departments, which are desperately struggling with the costs of residential and nursing-care placements. It was rather sad that there was nothing to support the cross-over between health authorities, health care trusts and social services in trying to meet those needs. The Chancellor, who had the resources available, could more wisely have used his money in that way.