Many of us in the House have seen Budgets come and go. The Chancellor of the day makes his speech to wild cries of "Hear, hear" amid the waving of Order Papers, but, once the small print has been read, what a different story it all becomes.
Give this Budget a month, and the only thing that people will remember is the disgraceful increase in VAT on fuel to 17.5 per cent. I attended a public meeting in my constituency last evening, and everyone wanted to ask about that increase on fuel. It will cause many problems for the Government, and rightly so.
The Government have not listened. They have shown no sympathy, no understanding of the opinions of the general public. However, all hon. Members know, on whatever side of the House we sit, how difficult it will be for people if we have a hard winter. We know what the needs will be of the elderly and disabled and of those with young children, who need to keep their homes warm.
I have to tell the Minister that the supposed extra payment is already being laughed at. Help the Aged has already said:
The compensation does not make up for the VAT rise. Old people often find themselves choosing between eating and heating.
What an appalling indictment of a Government who have been in power for 15 years that, according to an organisation represented by Members on both sides of the House, elderly people must choose between keeping warm or keeping fed.
At the meeting that I attended last evening—a public meeting, not a party meeting—the utter contempt for the Government and their policies was quickly and clearly shown. The Government will pay dearly for their action on VAT, as they will soon learn at the forthcoming Dudley, West by-election.
Throughout the country, housing is a major problem, be it in large cities, smaller towns or rural areas. Alongside unemployment it is the No. 1 issue but, as other hon. Members have said, nothing in the Budget encourages a house-building programme. No one can dispute the need for it. No one can say, "Yes, we would like to do it, but where will we get the money?" We know that billions of pounds are being held by local authorities throughout the country, as a result of the sale of council properties, which could be used in such a programme; and we all know—whatever may be the supposed rules that govern the spending of that money—that, if the Government wanted it to be spent on that aspect, those rules could be changed in a matter of days. Every single one of us knows that, and we know how widely supported such a change of policy would be.
Hon. Members, whatever party we belong to, receive report after report from housing associations and from groups involved with housing, which clearly outline the need for major house-building and major house improvements throughout the country. Why do the Government ignore those reports? I ask the Minister: how many properties will be built this year by local authorities or housing associations and how many by private developers? What will the yearly figures be for housing construction?
We all know that the housing construction sector of the United Kingdom should be playing a major overall role in the economic life of the country, and the number of workers that it could employ, who now have to be paid benefit because of their false unemployment. Vast sums could be saved. Many sectors that supply materials have an automatic spin-off in creating other jobs that would take people out of the unemployment problems that, sadly, confront so many people throughout the country.
As the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry), said, the Budget and the Government have ignored many of the key issues that they had an opportunity to tackle. They could and should have been tackled but, sadly, they were not. Against the background of what the Budget could have done, but did not do, and what, sadly, it did do—the disgraceful increase of VAT to 17.5 per cent.—no wonder the Government are so scared of facing the electorate.