Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:26 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 3:26 pm, 14th March 2017

I am very grateful for being informed. Before the hon. Gentleman stood up, I did want to say to him and his colleague the hon. Member for East Lothian that the events of the last 24 hours had convinced me more than ever that I was right to table an amendment, at the beginning of the present Parliament, to give full fiscal autonomy to Scotland, with a modern equalisation formula which would ensure prosperity throughout the nations of the United Kingdom and replace the outdated Barnett formula. Perhaps SNP Members should not intervene on me too often, because basically I am on their side when it comes to these matters.

I want to say a few words in defence of the Government. I am aware that that is sometimes an unpopular thing to do, but I feel that the Chancellor was courageous. I know that that is what Ministers are sometimes told by their civil servants when they are doing radical things—“It is a very courageous thing that you are doing, Minister”—but I think that this was the right thing to do. A storm has broken about the Chancellor’s head over the last few days. Why was it the right thing to do to try to plug the funding gap and to increase national insurance contributions? It was the right thing to do because this is, I think, about honesty in politics. Too often in Budgets we have seen gimmicks and little giveaways. We have only learnt the full story the next day, and we have realised that successive Chancellors have pretty well taken back from us what they have given to us. The Chancellor was trying to say, “We have to have a mature, grown-up debate in this country about how we are going to meet the funding gap in adult care.” That debate will run and run. We have a few months to think about it and to come up with a solution.

People say to me, “You made a manifesto commitment.” Sometimes, circumstances change, and one has to do what is right for the country. It is a difficult thing to do. Manifesto commitments are not written in stone—[Interruption.] I did not mean that to be a joke. We all know the history of that particular Labour party manifesto commitment and what might have happened to those words written in stone if the Labour party had won the election.

We have to have a mature debate about how we are going to pay for the NHS. Why do I say that? I am going to be completely honest about it. A lot more needs to be done for our NHS. I rely, as do my family, entirely on the NHS. We have no other providers. People of my age are deeply worried about the funding crisis. We have seen what has happened on A&E—targets have been missed. We have seen the report that puts the UK just ahead of Slovenia, Croatia and Estonia. As a country, we should be doing better than that. What is worse, England was ranked 30th for accessibility because of our exceptionally long waiting times for treatment. The 2013 figures from the OECD show the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and France at the top, with their spending hovering at around 11% of GDP, while the UK’s stands at just 8.5%. Therefore, we need to have a mature debate about how we are going to meet the funding gap for all our people.

The King’s Fund estimates that, if we wanted to close that gap solely by increasing NHS funding from central Government, by 2021 we would need to increase our spending by 30%—a whopping £43 billion increase in real terms. That would push NHS spending to £185 billion overall.

Are there any alternatives to those scenarios? I pose that question. I know that that is unpopular. I know that people do not necessarily want to debate this, but we cannot raise this money from general taxation—there is not the political will and we cannot afford to do it—not if we want to maintain the NHS as universal, non-contributory and entirely free at the point of use. Something has to give.

The 2015 Euro health consumer index points out a contrast between two styles of health care: the “Bismarck” systems and the “Beveridge” systems. Bismarck systems are based on citizens taking out insurance available from a range of providers, whereas Beveridge systems such as ours have one body that provides all the care. The ECHI says that the largest Beveridge countries—the UK, Spain and Italy—

“keep clinging together in the middle of the index.”

The ECHI rated the Dutch health system as the best performing in Europe. The Netherlands happens to have a contributory Bismarck-style system. I believe—I know that it is controversial and that colleagues do not necessarily want to debate it because it is politically very sensitive—that, without appointing a royal commission and wasting years, Ministers, and the Opposition, have to have an open mind about how we are going to raise money for people not from general taxation, but by moving gradually, for parts of our healthcare, to a social insurance-based system.

We also have to have the courage to think radically about following the German and French example and indeed the Australian example. If you go to see a GP in Australia, you have to pay some money; if you do not turn up, you lose the money. In France, if you go to see a doctor or go to A&E, you have to pay a “facture”. If you cannot afford to pay, all that will be returned to you; if you can afford to pay, you have to make a contribution.

I know that these are radical ideas. However, if people are going to dismiss them, and dismiss the need for an open debate about how we are going to fund our healthcare system, they have to explain to us how they will raise the money from general taxation. There is no point simply attacking for Government for increasing national insurance contributions without proposing how they are going to tax to have a world-beating healthcare system, which is in all our interests. We want an open debate on that.

We need to have a realistic debate about education, too, on both sides of the Chamber. I do not think the way to approach the debate is to say, “I believe in grammar schools,” or “I oppose selective education in any shape or form.” The Opposition have to ask themselves a serious question: why has social mobility declined so catastrophically in our most deprived areas? The solution may not be to have grammar schools in our deprived areas. It may be to have more academic streams in our comprehensive schools. It may be to set up some selective schools only in deprived areas. It may be to provide places only for academically gifted children who come from deprived backgrounds. If politically and ideologically one says that we are not going to go down that route at all and believes in neighbourhood comprehensives in deprived areas, one has to ask oneself why social mobility is declining, has declined and will go on declining.

The Prime Minister is trying to open up a serious and interesting debate, and the Health Secretary is starting to open up a serious and interesting debate about how we are going to fund the NHS, and the Chancellor is opening up a serious and interesting debate about how we are going to find the money to meet all our future needs. In those terms and on that basis, I welcome the Budget speech.