First Day

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 6th May 1992.

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Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 3:01 pm, 6th May 1992

The Government have run Britain down with their policies. I am trying to build Britain up. The people of Britain want Britain to be built up. They do not want us to be bottom of the league. They do not want us to slip down the international league. They want investment, development and sustainable recovery. They want policies that will bring that about.

Are the other countries of the European Community really looking for what the Prime Minister calls the British medicine when, of the 1 million people who last year lost their jobs in the 12 countries of the Community, 850,000 lived in Britain? Eighty-five per cent. of the increase in unemployment in the Community last year occurred in this country. I do not expect the Government to be exercised by those appalling unemployment figures. After all, the word "unemployment" does not appear in the Queen's Speech. That says a lot about the Government. Some 2·7 million of our fellow citizens are unemployed, but they are not mentioned in the Queen's Speech.

Unemployment and the fear of unemployment are hanging over the confidence of countless individuals, families and households, but the Prime Minister and the Government cannot even bring themselves to mention unemployment in the Queen's Speech. Why are they so coy about unemployment? After all, is this not supposed to be the medicine for which half the world—in the Prime Minister's words—is clamouring?

Apart from being a lethal medicine, unemployment is a very expensive medicine. Its price is not simply measured in terms of personal tragedies and family crises: its price is measured in the costs of unemployment, which are now a major cause of the increased budget deficit of £28 billion to which the Government have so far admitted. Both unemployment and the deficit are forecast to continue to rise.

In the Queen's Speech, the Government tell us that they will get rid of that deficit in the medium term. Perhaps when the Prime Minister speaks later he will tell us how he intends to do that. Perhaps he will tell us how he proposes to fulfil the pledge in the Queen's Speech to balance the budget in the medium term—in other words, in the next three or four years. Does he promise to do that with higher growth? If so, is he pledging now that he will achieve higher levels of sustained growth and lower balance of payments deficits than any ever achieved by this Government, even at the height of North sea oil output? Alternatively, does the Prime Minister intend to balance the budget over the medium term—over three or four years—with higher taxes? If so, which taxes does he intend to raise? Or will the Prime Minister fulfil his promise in the Queen's Speech to balance the budget in the medium term by cutting public expenditure programmes? If that is what he is going to do, he should tell us which programmes he intends to cut.

When the Government can say with such certainty that they will get rid of the budget deficit in the medium term, they must know how they are going to do that. We should be told the answers in this debate. The country should be told the answers now so that people know what they face in the years ahead as the Government, who through their policies have generated a massive rise in the public sector deficit, go about the business of fulfilling their promise —if that is what they intend to do—of balancing that budget.

Perhaps the answers to those questions are not to be found in growth, tax increases or spending cuts. Perhaps they are to be found in what the Queen's Speech describes as the national lottery to raise money for good causes. That would not be a very surprising development from this Government.

Opting-out is being extended in health and education. The dependence on fund-raising efforts to buy basic necessities for hospitals and schools is becoming increasingly intense. There is no strategy for combating widening poverty in our country. The Government refuse to invest extra in housing. Unemployment continues to rise. All those policies—every single one of those policies —are making opportunity and care, and for many people even life itself, more of a gamble.

The Government are making the principle of the lottery into a ruling system for society and for the social institutions which serve this society. They are fragmenting the schooling system by opt-outs and dividing it by selection, so that the quality of education becomes more dependent on the fortune of parentage or background or neighbourhood. They are fracturing the national health service into trusts and making it a creature of contracts, so that the quality of health care becomes more a matter of chance for more people.