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Government Economic and Social Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 9:31 pm on 9th June 1993.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Chancellor of the Exchequer 9:31 pm, 9th June 1993

The hon. Member for Hartlepool, who is laughing at me so loudly, was practising public relation techniques when we last emerged from a recession. If he thinks that what we have achieved so far and will achieve again is done simply by investing in a lot of plastic red roses and smart suits, he has another think coming.

The Labour party talks only of our manifesto and promises. I do not think that we shall ever hear anything again about the fatuous promises that it made at the last election. If I had been facing him from the Opposition Benches the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East would be talking not about the state that I have just described but about the consequences of adding about £35,000 million worth of extra public spending to the deficit that we now suffer as a result of the recession.

I was misquoted by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East, who should have been at the Press Gallery lunch where I spoke. I take seriously the commitments that we made in our manifesto, which are credible and deliverable—they will be delivered. The political technique of taking half-quotations out of speeches and using them out of context is no foundation for a credible leader of the Opposition or shadow Chancellor.

I want to consider the issues contained in our manifesto, depart from the tone of debate set by the Opposition and return to some factual demonstrations. The manifesto said that we would increase funding for the national health service in real terms—we have. Spending is set to increase by 1 per cent. in real terms this year and capital spending is at the record level of £2 billion. The manifesto said that we would protect pensions against inflation, as we have done for the past 13 years—we have. Due to the way in which we have done so, pensions and other benefits increased by 3·6 per cent. this April. Inflation today is just 1·3 per cent.

When I was on the Public Spending Committee last year with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames, we bore in mind the fact that we had said that we would go for capital investment in the roads programmes, housing associations, British Rail and london Underground. We have done all that. Funding for the roads programme has been maintained this year in spite of the fact that construction prices are much lower and allow for even more work to take place. We have given £750 million worth to the housing associations and investment in British Rail will be about £1,000 million this year.

What was the Labour Government's reaction—[Interruption.] What was the reaction to those achievements which were obtained last year in a tight public spending round? The Labour party's reaction was the same that it has given this year—to trot out during a tight public spending round complaints that we were to stop inflation-proofing pensions, cut this for the sick and that for the poor. The Labour party does it every year. I have been not only an Economics Minister but a Health Minister, and I cannot count the number of times it has claimed that we will stop prescription charge exemptions for pensioners.

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East even brought out the hoary old chestnut about how we will charge for visits to GPs. That was a revisit to shabby triumphs. The Labour party won the Vale of Glamorgan by-election by claiming that we were going to charge for visits to GPs, and another John Smith lost the constituency once the health reforms were in place and Labour's accusation turned out to be untrue—