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Borrowing Requirement

Volume 127: debated on Thursday 11 February 1988

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13.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he now anticipates a public sector surplus rather than a public sector borrowing requirement in 1987–88.

Is it not clear that there is now every prospect of a balanced Budget, or a public sector lending requirement surplus? Will this not be the best performance since the early 1950s, with the exception of the year 1969–70? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townsend) said, does that not offer the prospect of a tax-cutting, expenditure-rising, balanced Budget on 15 March?

My hon. Friend will understand that there is no way in which I can anticipate my Budget today, but I can tell him and the House that public finances at present are fundamentally sounder than they have been at any time since the war, and I intend to keep them that way.

Does the Chancellor remember that the last Chancellor to anticipate a public sector borrowing surplus was Roy Jenkins, now Lord Jenkins? Does the Chancellor expect that his career will follow the same glittering progress?

I have never before been compared to the noble Lord Jenkins. [Interruption.] I have long since given up drinking claret. He was, of course, Chancellor of the Exchequer for only a relatively short time.

Will my right hon. Friend give top priority to raising the tax thresholds in his forthcoming Budget, to help restore incentives to work and help the lower paid generally?

My hon. Friend is quite right. He has been waging a campaign for a long time pointing out the importance of reductions in income tax to create incentives and to help the lower paid, and indeed all those in the economy, to make the economy stronger. I think he will agree that the economy is now very much stronger, and one of the reasons for that, although not by any means the only one, is that we have been pursuing a policy of reducing levels of income tax.

If Britain's public finances are as sound as the Chancellor says, why are the Government not spending the money where it is desperately needed, in the National Health Service? Or does the Chancellor now tell us that enough is being spent on the Health Service? Will he give us a direct answer?

I shall say two things to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. First, as my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in answer to an earlier question, we have provided in this most recent public expenditure White Paper for the biggest ever increases in spending on the National Health Service in the next three years. Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made clear, health provision is currently under review by the Government. Finally, I make it clear to him that anybody who knows anything about provision of health care in the National Health Service in this country knows that the problems—and there are problems—go far beyond the simple question of funding.