Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 30th April 2002.

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Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe 4:46 pm, 30th April 2002

No, because I want to move on to discuss the Budget itself. Whereas the Opposition Front- Bench spokesman, Mr. Bercow, dwelt for about 20 minutes on the number of pages in the Budget and on gossip about how Ministers get on with each other, I would like to address the content of the Budget.

The central feature of the Budget is that, for the first time in many years, adequate provision is foreseen for the health service. Strikingly, that was not addressed at all in the Opposition spokesman's introductory remarks. It was not as if he was in favour of it or against it; it simply was not addressed at all because he was too busy counting the number of pages in the Red Book. In the real world, there is broad consensus that however one organises the health system, funding for health in Britain is inadequate, and has been for many years under different Governments. We all know the reason why; until recent years, the economy has been in such a parlous state that successive Governments have been unable to provide adequate funding.

I am proud that we are now in a position to change that, but I note that the Opposition are unsure of their position. We are promised that at some time in the future they will say whether they support or oppose the commitment, but for the time being they are Delphic on the subject, which is why they concentrate on counting pages instead of looking at content. I have talked to my constituents about the impact of the Budget, but I have yet to meet one who wants to know how many pages are in the Red Book. I have yet to hear a constituent raise any of the issues raised by the Conservative spokesman. Again and again, people tell me, "At last we have a Government who are taking health seriously." Of course they have reservations—we should be open about this—about whether the money is really going to the NHS. After many years of frustration and disappointment, people naturally wonder whether we are really going to put the money in.

There is a political difficulty, which we all know about. There are thousands of hospitals in Britain and hundreds of thousands of people employed in the health service. It will always be possible—whether in three, eight or 100 years' time—to find a hospital somewhere in Britain where a mistake has been made or a problem has arisen, which Opposition spokespeople will use as an opportunity to show that the system is not working and the money has not produced results. They will do so, as the Opposition Health spokesman has said, to try to demolish public confidence in the health service so that they can introduce an alternative, even though they do not know what it is.

In the real world, people do not share that priority; they want our initiative to succeed and recognise that the Opposition do not want it to, which is one reason why the Opposition's response has so far failed to command interest, let alone support.