Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 13th September 2017.

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Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent 3:44 pm, 13th September 2017

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I will not try to compete with my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry, but one reason why I am speaking today—and why I often speak on healthcare matters in this place—is that I, too, come from a family of doctors and nurses who work in the NHS. It was wanting to make the NHS better that first got me involved in politics, and I care very deeply about our national health service.

I welcome the Government’s decision to lift the pay cap, and to do it in a responsible way, but it has served a purpose. Back in 2010, the pay cap was necessary. Indeed, there was a pay cap in the Labour party’s 2010 manifesto as well. Labour also recognised that a level of pay restraint was necessary because of the financial situation in which the country found itself. Pay restraint was urgently needed, because wages are a significant driver of costs in the NHS and the wider public sector, and the public finances were running totally out of control. The pay cap was part of the restoration of financial discipline, of confidence in our economy and of growth, which we are now enjoying. Thanks to that growth, millions more people are now in work.

It is right to lift the pay cap now, but it must be done with caution because this country still has a sizeable deficit and increasing levels of debt. We are still paying off large amounts of debt interest. We therefore have to be responsible in the way we make commitments on public sector spending. I am very concerned about Labour’s plans for the pay increases that they would be willing to fund. They seem to involve an open promise and a potentially bottomless pit. Labour Members will not tell us how much the pay increases would be, but we know that the proposals in their manifesto would have cost between £6 billion and £9 billion extra. It was not clear where that money was to come from. Time and again, we heard that it would come from corporation tax, but we know that when we put up corporation tax we reduce the tax take, so that policy would not have funded the increases. I am concerned that Labour Members are making an irresponsible promise that they would not be able to deliver, were they in a position to try.

I welcome the more responsible approach taken by this Government. It will not involve a blanket pay rise; rather, it will draw on the guidance of the next pay review body for the health service and make pay rises where they are most necessary. In my constituency in the south-east, for example, I am aware that the high cost of living affects the people on the lowest pay in the public sector, and I hope that they will be recognised in the pay review. We should definitely draw on the expertise of that body when making proposals for public sector pay, rather than just trying to score debating points and get the right headlines.

In my experience of about a decade working in many parts of the NHS, including hospitals, and as an MP, I have spoken to people working in the NHS and found that pay is rarely, if ever, the No. 1 concern. The issues that come up much more frequently include having time to care—