It used to be the case that the Chancellor wore the heavy mantle of chief distributor of misery, entrusted with executing Budget provisions in a limited and predictable manner. However, now the headlines proclaim, "Flash Gordon", "Everyone's a winner" and "Brilliant". How Budgets, Governments and Chancellors can change!
The Budget is supported by good housekeeping, including a major reduction of the inherited national debt and the costs associated with it and a determined yet practical reduction of unemployment and its associated social security, health and other costs, none of which properly serve the individual or the economy. However, I noted that the Chancellor again failed to realise the fears of George Bernard Shaw, who wrote some time ago:
Give women the vote, and in five years, there will be a crushing tax on bachelors.
I wondered whether I should be generous and say that even Conservative Members would not have added that to their intended list of items such as food, books and children's clothing that were under threat of imposition of VAT, had the Conservatives won the election.
I especially welcome the Budget's impact on my constituency of Lincoln. More than 11,000 families will benefit from the further increase in child benefit plus the new children's tax credit. That will mean that the Labour Government, since coming to power, will have doubled the financial support available to children. More than 16,000 of Lincoln's pensioners will benefit from an increase in the winter allowance from £20 to £100 which, together with the other measures including the reintroduction of free eye tests—I strongly supported the local Age Concern group's campaign on that issue—and the lifting of many pensioners out of tax liability, will provide a better deal for pensioners than they have been used to for some time.
To achieve all that, support for business and enterprise must be a priority. I know that many in the business community will be pleased by the Government's practical responses to their needs, which Labour has listened to for some time. The business community will welcome the Budget announcements, including the tax reductions and credits, the new small business service and new proposals to increase share ownership, to help to increase productivity. Lindum Construction in Lincoln proudly announced such a scheme some time ago and I believe that it will be successfully replicated around the country.
I recently addressed business representatives at a busy chamber of commerce lunch. In discussion afterwards, I heard how business people genuinely felt a sense of stability that, slowly but surely, is rebuilding the confidence lost in the Tory years of boom and bust. Such confidence supports an American parent company's decision to establish a new manufacturing site in Lincoln. A year ago, I was pleased to welcome Sermatech UK to its new Lincoln facility, which employs some 33 people. Sermatech established that plan in partnership with Alstom Gas Turbines, which—incidentally—supplies the turbine that powers the Whitehall energy efficiency scheme. No. 10, the Ministry of Defence and many other key buildings rely on Lincoln's skill and technology for heat and light. That is a powerful position to hold. Sermatech has a positive future and I believe that it will be enhanced by the final Budget of the millennium.
This is a Budget for work. Lincoln has seen a steady reduction in unemployment, which has fallen by 15 per cent. in the past year. The new deal is part of that, and I am especially pleased that the over-50s will have an opportunity to benefit from a new programme to get them back to work so that they are not left on the scrap heap. Anglia Water last year invited me to support its 37 new deal young recruits and their mentors in Lincoln. I was
delighted to hear that since my visit, Gary Peck, a trainee leakage operative, has obtained a permanent job as an assistant surveyor. He is just one example of the powerful effect of a partnership initiated and funded by the Government. Gary's view is:
I wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for all the help I've been given.
He is a bright young man with great potential: he just needed the opportunity of the new deal to get him into work. There are many more like him, who will benefit from the Government's determination to get people into work, including those who find it hardest to get their feet on the employment ladder.
On education, I especially welcome the £470 million investment to broaden access to technology for both children and adults. I was delighted to see that principle already in action at Ermine junior school in my constituency, which has a dedicated room with IT equipment for that very purpose. Especially impressive is the availability of the new technology to those in the local residential home. The friendships and exchange between the children and the elderly people provide an example of true and meaningful education.
I especially welcome the allocation of £2,000 to every school for books. I welcome it for the contribution it will make, but also for its directness. We all know what the money is, what it is for and where it is going. The path of previous allocations of extra funding for education from this Government has not been so clear in my constituency.
I also welcome the recent intervention by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment who has written to Lincolnshire county council to urge it to ensure that the additional Government provision is spent on education and, especially, to support schools so that resources can be spent directly on raising standards. Not surprisingly, the Conservative leadership of the county council takes issue with that point, but the issue is not only how much is spent on education— important though that is—but where it is spent and what it is spent on. I know from parents, teachers and governors—whether at Ancaster, Sir Francis Hill or any other school in Lincoln—that the education priorities voted for by the people in Lincoln and across the country at the general election are not being met in my constituency.
In contrast, yesterday's Labour Budget is just what the people voted for on 1 May 1997. It is a Budget which speaks of how all players, from the company director, through the NHS manager, to the pensioner or parent managing a household, can see and feel the links to and benefits from each other. I welcome the Budget with enthusiasm. It is a better deal for Lincoln and a better deal for Britain.