My right hon. Friend and I faced crises both before and after September last year. We worked together towards objectives that we shared, and we were always agreed as to our main goals: low inflation, sustainable economic growth, an increase in prosperity for all our people as medium and long-term objectives. I believe that history will look favourably on my right hon. Friend's economic and financial skills, but a strong Government need political skills as well— [Interruption.]—when leading a democratic society and, in particular, when handling a lively House of Commons with a small majority.
Dealing with the problems of a small majority is a fundamental fact of democracy that no one dare or should even attempt to overlook. However, as we have shown in the battle over inflation and in our pursuit of European policy, against great difficulties in this House, we were not prepared in the Government to allow short-term difficulties to deflect us from what were the right long-term policies for this country. That was the position, and it is the position.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support and help throughout the past two and half difficult years. I acknowledge the difficulties that he has faced and the courage with which he has faced those difficulties. and I accept the support that he has offered to the Government for the future. I welcome the opportunity to debate economic policies at a time when output is up, exports are up, productivity is up, confidence is up and, as announced today, when business starts are up.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East has just made the speech that we expected of him. At the end of it, we are no better informed about his economic policies than we were at the beginning of it—or even about whether he has any economic policies or whether he has progressed beyond the sound bites that so frequently construct them.
We do know something about the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We know that he is the man who announced the biggest tax increase in peacetime history, just before the general election. He is the man who said confidence would carry on falling, just before the CBI announced the highest level of confidence in 10 years, and he is the man who calls for a debate on the economy just as the economy is recovering. I hope that, with timing like that, the right hon. and learned Gentleman never takes up boxing, because it would be very painful. Many things can be said about him, but "floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee" is clearly not among them.
What does seem right about the right hon. and learned Gentleman was said by the right hon. Member for
Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman what his right hon. Friend said about him:
I do not think that Members of Labour's Front Bench would have even two ideas about what to do with the economy if they came to power…a series of sound bites glued together and called an economic policy is not an economic policy."—[Official Report, 20 May 1993; Vol. 225, c. 420.]
That remains as true at the end of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech as it was before.
Today's debate goes right to the heart of the fundamental divide between the Conservative party and the Labour party. The Labour party stands for higher public spending, higher taxation and more state interference in business and industry. We stand for controlling public spending, bringing direct taxation down where we can and getting the state off the hacks of businesses and individuals.
Let me deal with one matter that was fundamental to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. let me turn immediately and clearly to social policy. I did not come into politics to dismantle the welfare state. I have no intention of doing so and neither does my party. At the moment, in different parts of the country there are many vulnerable people who are worried. They are worried because the Opposition systematically, day after day, leak after leak, sound bite after sound bite, have sought to frighten them. The Opposition have peddled scare after scare—