I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate.
Since the start of this Parliament, we have had numerous Opposition day debates on a range of subjects, but the core of every debate is always the same—public spending and public sector reform—and the Labour party always falls back and repeats the same tired mantra that the coalition is cutting too fast and too far.
Of course, to date the Opposition have offered no alternative. They have no credible policies to speak of and there is still no ink on the Leader of the Opposition’s blank sheet of policy paper. Perhaps there is an untidy smudge, because after all, in February, he and the shadow Chancellor tried to instil some discipline in the shadow ministerial ranks by asking that all potential commitments be cleared by the Labour high command. That discipline, however, was in tatters in no time. Over the past few weeks, Labour has opposed £50 billion of savings proposed by the coalition, and made £12 billion—and rising—of unfunded spending commitments. That is no economic policy; it is voodoo economics.
To understand what Labour would have done had it been in government, we need to look back at its plans.
The coalition inherited planned spending cuts from Labour of £14 billion in 2011-12, and the coalition savings amount to £16 billion for the same period, which is a ratio of 9:10. It is all very well Labour Members moaning about the level and pace of cuts, and the front-loading of savings, but the fact is that they planned to do exactly the same.
It is all very well the shadow Home Secretary wailing about police numbers, but before the general election—a number of colleagues have alluded to this—her colleague, the former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, made the point that he could not guarantee police numbers if Labour were re-elected and returned to office. It is all very well the shadow Home Secretary attacking the Winsor review, as she did again today, but her colleague, the former Police Minister, Mr Hanson, who is not in the Chamber, confirmed that Labour planned to cut police overtime if it returned to office. I do not understands—and I guess no Government Members understands—why the Labour party and the shadow Home Secretary oppose the Winsor review.
The shadow Home Secretary may well moan about cuts generally, but she should remember, as do many outside the House, that the Government of whom she was a member created the mess and the record deficit that the coalition is trying to fix. Just for the record, and because Labour Members still do not get it after 12 months in opposition, let us remember Labour’s legacy: the biggest deficit in the developed world, and £120 million paid out every day in interest alone by the British taxpayer. That is three and half times the total that we spend on policing in the UK.
Have the British people ever had an apology from Labour for creating that toxic financial mess? No. And what of the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Labour’s decade of destructive debt? Mr Brown seems to have abandoned the House completely—I do not think that we have seen in him here in recent times—and in his utterances, the shadow Chancellor seems to be morphing into the Labour Prime Minister of the late ’70s, saying, “Deficit? What structural deficit?” That is where we have come to.
A few weeks ago, the shadow Home Secretary turned up in my constituency in a marginal ward to moan about cuts in front-line policing and to worry my constituents—what a surprise with local elections due in May. To get her facts she chose, rather unwisely, to listen to the apparatchiks, dinosaurs and deficit deniers who currently comprise the Labour party in Reading. [ Interruption. ] Oh, Stephen Twigg has met them! They are the same folk who managed, between 2002 and 2010, to increase Reading council’s debt from £41 million to an eye-watering £200 million, with no debt-reduction plan in sight—that sounds familiar does it not? There was £1 million of taxpayers’ money wasted on consultants here and £1.4 million to pay for full-time union officials there, but then Labour has always been very good at frittering away taxpayers’ money.
Had the shadow Home Secretary bothered to speak to the chief constable of Thames Valley police before her visit to Reading, she would have heard a different story. She could perhaps have Googled, as she is doing now, and seen the stories in the press from February. What is absolutely clear is that, despite having to make savings, Thames Valley police has made it clear that it will not cut the resources committed to neighbourhood policing and patrols. That is its commitment to visible policing—protecting the front line. It is finding savings by removing management layers and collaborating successfully with the neighbouring Hampshire police in key areas to save back and middle-office costs. Examples include a single, shared IT department that will save millions of pounds and shared firearms and dog training. It is collaborating with other forces in areas such as air support, witness protection, specialist operations and technical support. While finding savings and protecting the front line, Thames Valley police is also increasing the number of special constables, having recruited 570 in the past six months alone.
Thanks to Labour’s budget deficit, police forces and other public services are having to find savings, but we should also remember, as a number of my colleagues on the Government side have said, that many in the private sector have had to find savings of more than 3%, 4% or 5% a year for the past few years. It is, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, possible, and Thames Valley police is demonstrating that it can find savings and protect the front line at the same time. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the police officers and PCSOs in Reading who do such a great job and are so dedicated to serving the local community.
In conclusion, this is just another cynical Opposition motion. It demonstrates that Labour is not ready for a grown-up discussion about tackling its budget deficit and I will be voting against it this evening.