Mr David Laws (Yeovil, Liberal Democrat)
The Chancellor is very good at giving way to other people when he wants them to speak, but he seems a little more reticent in coming forward when we are told that a memorandum to the Public Administration Committee states that the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor have misled the House on the question of the percentage of public service targets that have been met. That is an extraordinary claim, and I hope that any member of the Treasury Committee who is present will take the opportunity at hearings later this year to return to an issue on which the Chancellor is so reticent.
The Government have been in power for more than six years. On
The Chancellor may hope that he can get away with ignoring those things. He may hope that people have not detected the Government's failure. If recent opinion polls are anything to go by, however, he would be mistaken in hoping that people do not see the failure of the Government's public sector policies. In the most recent published poll, the net improvement balance—that is, those who think that public services have improved versus those who think that they have deteriorated—is minus 16 percentage points in transport and minus 10 percentage points on the national health service. I should be happy to give way to the Chancellor if he thought that I had got that wrong. Even on education, where there was previously a positive balance of 12 points, the poll taken after the chaos in school budgets earlier this year shows minus one percentage point: even on education, people believe that performance has deteriorated. The outcome was exactly the same on policing.
The debate gives us an opportunity to touch briefly on alternative proposals put to the Government on public services, including some of those put forward by the shadow Chancellor, Mr. Howard, in a variety of areas. The Chancellor spent much too much time covering Conservative policies on health, but I agreed with his basic analysis, which was summed up in an article in The Times on
Problems in the Conservative party's new policies on public services extend not just to health but to education. Only weeks after the Tories announced their intention to abolish tuition fees, there are already divisions in their ranks. According to The Times, Mr. Jackson—a former Education Minister—last week met the Tory leader and Mr. Green, who is shadow Education Secretary, to ask that the pledge on tuition fees be reconsidered. Apparently, the hon. Gentleman led a delegation of MPs including a former Health Secretary, Mr. Dorrell. Critics within the Conservative party are apparently saying that its policy is opportunistic and impossible to implement.
Since we are dealing today with public service agreements, we also want to know whether—