I agree with my hon. Friend and I think that the people of Scotland agree with him. The way things are going, the Tory party will be lucky if it is not completely wiped out in Scotland when the general election takes place. The same is likely to happen in the north of England, too.
It is also very significant that the Government are being evasive about rebates and reductions for those families and individuals facing financial difficulties. Everyone will have to pay at least 20 per cent. of the tax, regardless of income. Even rebates may apply only to a fixed amount, less than the total tax charged, according to a recent article in New Society.
While Ministers announce a speeding up of these unfair proposals, they operate a go-slow on the highly sensitive issue of rebates. It took the Prime Minister more than two months to reply to a letter from Councillor Jack Loyden, the leader of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, on this issue and then her reply was completely vacuous, giving no answer at all. As I have said, even the Tory Reform Group, with several existing and many former Tory Cabinet members as patrons, has rubbished the Government's own proposals.
The country is facing a mounting crisis in housing in parts of our major cities, in education and training and., not least, in research establishments and the consequent brain drain. Local government has a crucial responsibility in many of these policy areas. Undermining local government, demeaning it, as the right hon. Gentleman does every time he speaks in the House and elsewhere, serves the nation ill. Undermining local government finance, taking more central powers, and preventing better and more effective investment in people is guaranteed to make those problems worse. As the new director-general of the Confederation of British Industries has said, city technology colleges are an irrelevance in the face of these problems, for without decent homes, good schools and better training and skills our country is doomed. No amount of manipulation of trade figures and unemployment statistics, in a post-Budget, pre-election Tory propaganda effort can solve those critical problems.
Labour party policy on new skills, jobs and industrial strategy offers effective solutions and a clear choice to the people. A clear majority of the British people prefer investment in jobs and services to tax cuts. The majority support investment in people—in ourselves and in our communities, schools and hospitals. That cannot be achieved without effective, improved and strengthened local government, which is an urgent national requirement. Those objectives cannot be achieved by this Government, by their policies or by reports such as this. That is why we oppose it.