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Government Economic and Social Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 9th June 1993.

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Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Monklands East 3:52 pm, 9th June 1993

I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Prime Minister's betrayal of election promises and commitments on economic and social policy; deplores the Government's intention to make the users of public services pay the price of Conservative economic and financial mismanagement; further deplores the failure to make changes in policies towards unemployment, industry and the skills revolution; and calls for new policies in these areas to strengthen British industry and the British economy, to end mass unemployment and to improve public services. Before we embark on our debate, right hon. and hon. Members will have in their minds the statement that has just been made by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer. I had the opportunity to cross swords with him many times when he held the illustrious office from which he has so recently departed, and I commend him for the dignity of his statement. It was, if I may say so, as effective a speech as any he made when he was in office.

The right hon. Gentleman was wise to be wary in his endorsement of the Government's policies. What will no doubt be remembered by most of those who listened to his statement today was the revealing insight into the style and purposes of the Government from which he has so recently departed.

I must confess that it flicked across my mind when I was listening to the right hon. Gentleman that there might have been the odd political influence affecting him at the time of the 1992 Budget, especially if it is compared with the 1993 Budget—but let that pass. He was no doubt, as he constantly reminded us, acting on orders. The orders no doubt came from the pollsters and other people who appear to have such great influence on the Conservative party's policies. People will remember for some time his reference to being in office, but not in power.

When we think about the general election, we remember vividly that the Prime Minister and his colleagues made clear and specific promises to the electorate. It is reasonable to suppose that they were returned to power because people believed their promises. We now know how very few would vote for the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues if there was an election today. There are reasons why the right hon. Gentleman has the lowest rating of any Prime Minister since polls began. The first and most important is that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have cynically betrayed their pledges to the British people.

We heard a great deal about tax from the Tories at the general election. 'The Prime Minister promised tax cuts year on year. There were frequent promises of lower taxes from the Prime Minister, from the ex-Chancellor and from the present Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I do not know whether they meant them or whether they were told by the pollsters to say them, but they certainly said them. On 31 March, only 10 days before polling day, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) said on Channel 4 news: We will not have to increase taxes. I cannot see any circumstances in which that will be necessary. There were pledges on specific taxes as well. At an election press conference on 27 March, just a few days before polling day, the Prime Minister said: We have no plans and no need to extend the scope of VAT. We know how sincere all that was. In this year's Budget, those promises were spectacularly overturned and those pledges were shamefully betrayed.

I need not remind a suffering public that, from next April, VAT will be imposed on household heating bills at 8 per cent. In the following year, it will be hiked to 17·5 per cent. Tax increases in that Budget amounted to a staggering £17·5 billion. So it is not tax cuts year on year; it is tax increases year on year.

What a shocking betrayal of the people. Millions of families will have to find those billions of pounds from their household budgets. I very much doubt whether those at the bottom of the scale—those on income support—will have their benefit properly increased to meet the full extra costs that they have to bear. I know even more clearly that there will be no relief for the millions of families and pensioners who are just above income support level. The stark truth is that every family in the land will have to foot the cost of this Government's perfidy.