Orders of the Day — The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 13th December 2000.

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Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea 4:30 pm, 13th December 2000

I will in a moment.

If the Chancellor had been listening, his Back Benchers could have told him that pensioners would not take the 75p insult lying down. Only a Chancellor who is hopelessly out of touch with the British people could have acted so, without sparing a thought for the hardships being faced by pensioners and families.

Labour's summer of discontent had just one cause and one author: the man who is sitting opposite me—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, still wholly unrepentant. Labour is never having to say one is sorry. Even now, the Chancellor still refuses to acknowledge in the House that the tax burden is up, even though his own figures—distorted as they are—prove it to be perfectly true. So, he has banned Ministers from using the expression "tax burden". First, he taxed stealthily; now he wants to tax silently. He hopes that by banishing the thought, he can banish the concept. A Government who claim to be in touch with ordinary people tell families that taxes are not a burden but some sort of opportunity.

Even if Labour was never believed by the British people about what it would do on tax, the British people at least hoped that it would deliver on public services—but how they were deceived about that. We were told that Labour would save the national health service. Three and a half years on, waiting lists are longer and the Prime Minister predicts a crisis in the health service. If it is Labour and it is winter, there must be discontent.

Labour election posters promised smaller class sizes. Three and a half years on, the Labour party's own website says that class sizes in secondary schools are rising very slowly. That passes for candour under new Labour. Teachers are leaving; they have been let down and they are voting with their feet. Even this Government cannot blame the previous Conservative Government for the fact that teachers have lost patience with the Labour Government.

The Government promised to be tough on crime, but there are fewer police officers and the number of bobbies on the beat is the lowest for a decade. Crime is rising; serious offenders are being released before their sentence has been served. Violent crime is up by a sixth—all of that, two years after the Chancellor told The Sun that they were determined to get value for every penny they spent.

Anyone who believed the Chancellor then should take a short ride on the Jubilee line. The dome is a stinking mess of incompetence and shoddy accounting. Millions of hard-working punters have bought their lottery tickets week after week merely to see Ministers squander that money. Was that money not meant to be used for good causes? Would not £800 million spent on the dome have bought another Great Ormond street hospital for sick children in Manchester and one in Leeds, one in Newcastle and another in Bristol, with money left over?