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Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 9:19 pm on 21st March 2000.

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Photo of Mr Nick St Aubyn Mr Nick St Aubyn Conservative, Guildford 9:19 pm, 21st March 2000

To judge by the comprehensive spending review, one would not have believed that today, on Budget day, the hospital in Ashford would announce that the accident and emergency unit just up the road from my constituency would nevertheless still be closed. One would not have believed that today, on Budget day in the year 2000, the accident and emergency unit in Guildford is still under threat.

If the extra £20 billion in health and the extra £20 billion in education that the Chancellor announced in the CSR cannot stop the closure of key services in our constituencies, why on earth should we be impressed by the additional £2 billion in health and £1 billion in education that he proposes to spend in the coming year?

The problems that we have are far too deep-seated for the Chancellor's announcements simply to spirit them away. I accept that waiting lists in the west Surrey area and in the south-east as a whole have gone down by 4,000, but the numbers waiting to go on the waiting list—the numbers waiting to see a consultant—have gone up by 40,000 in the same region.

The truth is that the Government tax more and deliver less. That is because they have not tried to manage the money that they have raised. They thought themselves so clever to have picked everyone's back pocket without anyone realising it that they have not recognised that that is real money, which needs to be looked after carefully and used wisely.

In education, the Government came up with the idea of cutting class sizes in the first three years of a child's education. We are in favour of lower class sizes, but we would not have done that in a way that meant that class sizes for every other year group in schools have had to go up. The Government said in their class size pledge that in the lifetime of this Parliament the cost would be £100 million. Now we know that its cost will be at least £620 million—more than six times the amount that they budgeted for.

When we did our own analysis and asked what would have happened if the Government had tried to use the independent sector to provide some of the places that were needed for the first three years in education, we found that the cost of delivering their class size pledge would have been less than £60 million—a tenth of what they propose to spend to deliver it.

That example illustrates that it does not matter only how much a Government are raising in tax or how much they propose to spend in key services such as health and education but how they intend to spend the money to maximise its value. That is how the Conservatives have previously taxed less and spent better, and how they will do so again.