Orders of the Day — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 10th March 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry 5:30 pm, 10th March 1999

I am grateful for the 40-odd minutes that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) took to set out his opposition to the Budget. It was The Daily Telegraph, I think, which stated that, each time the right hon. Gentleman gets up and speaks, he loses votes for the Conservative party.

The Budget presented yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have broad and popular appeal for business, for British people, for those who rely on the public services, and for parents who have children in school, because it confirmed that the £19 billion promised by the Chancellor as part of the comprehensive spending review was to be devoted to our schools. For those who need health treatment, the £21 billion for the national health service has been confirmed.

It is possible to marry fiscal prudence with the need to invest in high-quality public services. That is what the Budget will do. It takes forward the agenda outlined by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. It is a Budget for jobs, enterprise and the family. That is what we should be debating this evening. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not use the opportunity to address those issues.

This is a radical Budget, which recognises that our country's future economic success depends on promoting fairness and enterprise. It is a new Labour Budget, based on a fundamental understanding of the role that business and Government can and should play in relation to the economy. Businesses create jobs and wealth. Entrepreneurs take risks in the face of uncertainty, and open up new markets. Governments should not try to second-guess boardroom decisions, yet much of what we heard from the right hon. Gentleman this evening sought to encourage us to do precisely that—massive intervention in the way in which businesses operate.

That is not the way in which the Government intend to go. We believe that the responsibility of Government is to create the climate and the framework in which business can prosper without interference from Government. The right hon. Gentleman said that Labour does not look after business. It is hardly surprising that he should say that, as the principal Opposition spokesman on trade and industry affairs.

It would be far better to listen to the comments of people who do not have a vested interest and do not approach the matter from a party political perspective— or perhaps some of them do. Let us consider the comments of some captains of industry on yesterday's Budget.

Sir Ronnie Hampel, chairman of ICI, welcomed the overall approach of continuing the direction adopted in previous Government statements about laying the foundations for business growth. The chief executive of Asda, no longer the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), but Sir Alan Leighton, said that he was happy with the Budget. He said that it was a Budget for individuals, families and enterprise and that the benefits that it brought to all three would go through to every sector. Lord Harris, chairman of Carpetright—who, if I remember correctly, has over time been a substantial donor to Conservative party funds and is one of the few business men who still give generously to Conservative party funds—thought that it was a good Budget for his business and that it would get people spending, especially at the bottom end.

Those are overwhelming endorsements from people who, with the possible exception of Lord Harris, do not approach the Budget from a party political position.