Skip to main content

Departmental Budget

Volume 461: debated on Wednesday 20 June 2007

My Department’s budget for 2007-08 is £2.5 million, in line with Treasury guidelines. That figure has already been published in a number of places, including the departmental main estimates and the Department’s annual report, a copy of which is available in the Library for the reference of Members.

Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that this budget is big enough to enable any one of his six potential successors to do what he has been able to do over the past 10 years?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that money has been better spent by this Government than by the previous Administration. I recall in particular that the hon. Gentleman was an advocate of the poll tax. How anyone can come here and talk about this amount of resources when £5 billion was wasted on the poll tax, which he advocated, I do not know. Perhaps he should not be doing that. Let me tell him that he should stick to his original position when he was the MP for Basildon. He launched a song called “I love Basildon” and then got on the chicken run to Southend. It is now rumoured that he is composing another song called “I love Southend”—good luck!

In welcoming the Deputy Prime Minister back to the House in what is clearly robust good health, may I say that for once I was very pleased with his answer, because it clearly illustrates that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has just assumed his place on the Treasury Bench, will not need his Department any longer? Does the right hon. Gentleman assume that he will be the last holder of that office?

That is clearly a matter for the incoming Prime Minister, who I have no doubt will do an excellent job.

Has the Department had any money available to spend on opinion polls? If not, has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to look at the recent opinion poll in The Times, which showed that there was unanimous support on the Government Benches for equality measures and next to no agreement on the Conservative Benches? May I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on 10 years of absolutely resolute support for equality for lesbians and gay men?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. No, we have not invested in polls to find that out; quite frankly, I am not a great believer in them. The Department has not spent any money on that. I welcome my hon. Friend’s remarks about our contribution to equality. It has not been easy to make some of those arguments in the past, as he well knows, but I am glad to have belonged to a Government who have made those radical changes.

On behalf of Conservative Members, may I extend all our personal good wishes to the Deputy Prime Minister in respect of his rapid recovery and his return to rude good health, which seems clear from his answers to the previous questions? Before extending even further good wishes, may I ask him one last question of substance? Since his departmental budget is paid largely for him to be a kind of marriage guidance counsellor between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, can he assure the House that the two of them have reached complete agreement on the Government’s negotiating position for the European summit, which starts tomorrow?

My experience is that there has always been good agreement between my two colleagues and I am sure that it will continue. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. It seems that while I was away, the Leader of the Opposition had something to say about me, too. He described me as a cross between Ernie Bevin and Dameosthenes—[Laughter.] It seems that I have not yet figured it out. Well, the Leader of the Opposition reminds me of someone, too. When I read classics and Greek mythology at the Ellesmere Port secondary modern school, we learned about Narcissus. The House will know that he died because he could only love his own image. Yes, he was all image and no substance. Speaking as an historian, does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me?

I am sure that Dame Osthenes will be very flattered that the Deputy Prime Minister has singled her out for praise today. This only goes to show that, for all the harsh words that the right hon. Gentleman and I have exchanged over the years, politics will be dramatically less entertaining without him. Not only do we not know how the Labour party will manage without him; we do not know how the Conservatives will manage without him. Nevertheless, we wish him a thumping good retirement, with many years of good humour and good health off the Front Bench.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. We live in truly remarkable times. As a previous Leader of the Opposition, he must have heard the present Leader of the Opposition say this week that the Tories were

“not abandoning Conservative principles, but applying them in new ways to new challenges”.

That sounds like my

“traditional values in a modern setting”.

So now we know. The Leader of the Opposition is not the heir to Blair; he is a prophet of Prezza.