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Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 21st March 2000.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 6:41 pm, 21st March 2000

Agriculture is important in many ways other than in employment and financial terms. It is important to the food industry, to the environment and to leisure and recreational activities. The Government have shown their support for those aspects of agriculture, not least in terms of the importance attached to access to the countryside and the need for proper land management. However, the Conservative party opposed the Bill on those issues when it came before the House yesterday.

The skills gap is a problem nationally. In Northamptonshire, the A-level pass rate in schools is below that for comparable counties and, at almost all other stages, achievements in schools in Northampton are the lowest in the county. That is a source of great concern to me. That means that the extra money in the Budget that is earmarked for schools will not just meet some public service pressures, but will deal with pressing economic pressures.

The extra money for the health service will relieve some of the biggest pressure points in that service. Conservative Members have scoffed at what that money will mean but, in practical terms, it will mean that my health authority will be able to makes plans for winter fuel with some certainty. On the scale announced, the money could also provide extra intensive therapy unit and high dependency beds that will make it possible for heart surgery to be carried out in a more planned way.

Most important of all, that money means that it will be possible to provide the extra services that are needed to keep old people out of hospital. It is a disgrace that many old people in my constituency and elsewhere see their own homes for the last time from the back of an ambulance as they are taken to hospital. From there, they go to nursing homes. If we are serious about providing high-quality health care for old people, we must consider developing the new services that can support them in their own homes and give them much more dignified care if they suffer from illness.

The Budget and in particular the Tories' response to it show up weaknesses in Tory thinking and policies. That point will be strongly echoed by people outside the House. Sometimes, Tories say that they welcome extra health spending, but sometimes—and we have heard this today—they describe it as taxation by stealth. They must come clean about what they want. Do they want improvements to the health service, and are they, therefore, prepared to support the tax and spending programmes that are needed to achieve that?