Leaving the EU: NHS Funding: 15th November 2016

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government have to honour a promise made by others to the tune of £350 million a week extra for the NHS? My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and other notable leavers have now conceded that the actual figure was £120 million. Would it not be unfair to say that the Government have to deliver that pledge, given that they never made any such promise to the British people?
 
Mr Umunna
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s intervention; I shall come on to those precise points shortly. I note, however, the public statements she herself made when she was a member of the Government. She criticised the way in which her fellow Ministers were going around making these big promises, perhaps on her behalf.

Anna Soubry
We must be very clear about this. During the referendum, we campaigned individually, not as Ministers on behalf of the Government. The hon. Gentleman is right that some Ministers campaigned for leave and made this promise—and indeed many other promises that I do not think they will be able to deliver—but there is a distinction to be made between the promises of the Government and those of people who now happen to be in government. It is really the leave campaign that must be held to account, not the Government.

Mr Umunna
The right hon. Lady pre-empts what I am about to say; I shall come on to that precise point.

To be clear, I want the Minister, on behalf of his Department, to give the same commitment that we are asking the Treasury to make, and to outline how his Department will make good on this pledge. I shall explain why this is a pledge that the Government should deliver. The Minister might give a number of reasons, perhaps echoing the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), to explain why the promise given by his ministerial colleagues during the referendum should not be treated as such. I will deal with each of the main possible reasons in turn.

First, there are those who claim that this was not a pledge at all. Nigel Farage, the interim leader of the UK Independence party, said that it was one of the mistakes that he thought the leave campaign made. The current Transport Secretary, who was also a member of the Government at the time of the referendum, has said that Vote Leave’s specific proposal was, in fact, to spend £100 million a week of the £350 million for the NHS that was originally hoped for, commenting that that would be an “aspiration” to be met. Let me tell the Transport Secretary that the poster that the Vote Leave supporters all stood next to did not say that this was an “aspiration”; it was a pledge—pure and simple. There was no qualification on the poster or on the big red bus. This statement was made, and the people who made it should be held to account for it.

Secondly, many leave campaigners deny ever using the £350 million figure. One of them said:

“I always referred to Britain’s net contribution of nearly £10 billion—some £200 million a week…rather than £350 million.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 20WH.]

It is true—my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) touched on this—that the Office for National Statistics said that the £350 million figure was misleading, but the head of the Vote Leave campaign said:

“the £350 million figure is correct and we stand by it.”

Vote Leave, whose banner Government Ministers campaigned under, carried on citing the figure, as my hon. Friend said, and those Ministers must now be held to account.