Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 7:28 pm on 10th March 1992.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford 7:28 pm, 10th March 1992

I have seen the hon. Gentleman do that on many occasions.

I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you, too, will soon be leaving the House. You will certainly be missed. I have known you, too, for many years. I first met you when you visited Pontefract, for a stay of three weeks. That was some years ago, but I remember the occasion extremely well. You have always been held in high esteem in the House and your presence in the Chair will be greatly missed. I wish you a happy and healthy retirement.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) has left the Chamber. I shall refer to him none the less because my remarks will not be controversial. The hon. Gentleman referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), who is recognised within the House as one who understands finance. I cannot claim to be a financial wizard, but I wonder whether there are any financial wizards on the Government Benches. If there are, why is the economy in such a mess? We have the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his predecessors, not least the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). The economy, as I say, has been getting into a mess and surely it is reasonable to ask, "Where does the fault lie?"

It is no good the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others saying, "It is a world crisis" or, "It is a European crisis." Of course there are problems throughout the world, but we appear to be in a much worse position than other countries in the European Community, for example, apart from Greece and Portugal. Why is that?

The Budget is an attempt—I do not think that anyone can put his hand on his heart and contradict what I am about to say—to convince the British public that things are not quite as bad as they appear to be. The British public will take some convincing. They are not familiar with the procedures of the House or with national finance, but they are familiar with the consequences of recessions, for example.

No one can deny that there has been great suffering within various sections of the nation over the past few years. Any Government who have been in office for 13 years cannot escape responsibility and blame for what has happened. Whether it rests with the right hon. Member for Blaby, as some Secretaries of State have seemed to suggest recently during television appearances or in the press and publications generally, I do not know, but responsibility must lie with the Government.

My constituents will want to know what the Budget does for them. In the short time that we have had to study the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals, there seem to be only two main features within his statement. The first is a public sector borrowing requirement of £28 billion. That will be a millstone around somebody's neck; it will bear upon this Government or the next one. At some stage, it will be a millstone. It is perhaps an attempt to alleviate the burdens of the people including, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us today, the lower paid. If the lower paid receive tax reliefs, many of them will lose current benefits. If that happens, they will not be helped too much.

How does the Budget help the unemployed? The Chancellor admitted this afternoon that there was not much hope for them. There are many unemployed people in my constituency. About 20,000 have been thrown out of work since 1985, and since then there have been few employment opportunities. The unemployed want to know how the Budget will help them. In fact, the Chancellor told them: it will not help them at all. The right hon. Gentleman sees no hope at present, in the near future or the medium future for the unemployed in my constituency and in other areas.

Young miners in my constituency—men in their 30s and 40s—have been thrown on the scrap heap. Many of them have had their homes repossessed. What will the Budget do for them? Nothing. What will it do for old miners who are chronically sick? Right hon. and hon. Members have heard me refer on many occasions to miners with chest diseases. I visited some of them only a few weeks ago. There are old miners suffering from emphysema who receive no industrial injury benefit. Many of them cannot breathe without the aid of oxygen. There are men who cannot lift a cup of tea to their lips. I repeat: how does the Budget help them? It does not help them at all.

How will the Budget help local authorities or the fire service? The fire service in west Yorkshire has to cut services year after year. Next year, the West Yorkshire fire authority will have to take decisions that will involve cuts to its emergency service. At the Pontefract fire station there is an emergency service unit that is specially equipped to deal with motorway accidents. The House will know that the M62 and the A1 cross are in the area. There are major chemical factories and there are still one or two pits. The special equipment is essential for the saving of life, and men have been specially trained to use it. First-class equipment will be put in storage because the authority will be unable to afford to employ staff to use it. What will the Budget do for the authority?

What will the Budget do for the West Yorkshire police? I have a report from that force that next year it anticipates that there will be a shortage of 150 uniformed officers and 130 civilian staff. Crime increased in the area by 27 per cent. last year. How will the Budget help to prevent crime? None of us condones the increase in crime; indeed, we all condemn it.

What do we do when hundreds of youngsters between 16 and 20 years are unable to find employment? They get up in the morning, they have no money, and there is nowhere for them to go. They can see no future. I think back sometimes and wonder what I would have done in their position. I used to think when I was their age—I started work at 14—that I was hard done by. We used to leave the classroom on Friday and meet one another down the hole in the ground on the Monday. It was slavery, but my friends and I did not get into mischief. That is because we were not idle. We had a job. The kids who now leave school at 16 do not have employment. What will the Budget do for them? According to the Chancellor, it does nothing. There is no hope at all for those youngsters.

How does the Budget help the health service in my area? How does it help the hospital at Pontefract? An old miner who had been in ward 7 there telephoned me to say that he had had to use his dressing gown for a pillow. That is the truth, not some trumped-up story seeking to appeal to the emotions. I thought that it was a rather outlandish story, so I went to see the chairman of the health authority and told him what the old miner had told me. He made inquiries and he confirmed that there was a pillow shortage, but it was decided to send a few—about five to each ward. How does the Budget help the health authority that is having to put up with such problems?

This afternoon the Chancellor told us that there would probably be a 1p increase in the price of a pint of beer. One might say that that is not much, but for the retired miner and the unemployed miner it is another increase for them to bear. It decreases their spending power. The same applies to the increase in the price of cigarettes. I have no objection to that. It is a step in the right direction because it discourages people from smoking. Nevertheless, those who like to smoke have not been helped by the Budget.

I might have generalised and I might not have dealt with matters of high finance, but I have touched on how the Budget affects people most. The Government can no longer continue to make excuses, saying that they have had only 13 years and that if they have a bit longer they might put matters right. The British public will not swallow that. The sooner the election comes the better for the return of a Labour Government.