I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof:
applauds the achievement of the National Health Service in providing a record level of patient care; recognises that this achievement rests on the substantial additional funds from the taxpayer which a strong economy has made possible and which has supported the dedicated work of the National Health Service staff; and welcomes the Government's continued commitment to the most effective use of all the Service's growing resources to bring about a further rise in the standard of health care, both in hospitals and in the community".
May I start by genuinely thanking the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), my "shadow", for his kind remarks with regard to my illness. He and I have known each other for many years and I am always conscious of his continuing courtesy and personal politeness, and I do appreciate it.
Having said that, I know that the House, as I think both I and the hon. Gentleman would wish it to, will treat a subject of this importance in the 40th anniversary year of the National Health Service with the serious, rational and thoughtful tone that it clearly needs. Health—or illness, as I certainly know to my personal cost—arouses deep emotion, but we will not find long-term solutions in emotion alone. It will require clear thinking. And above all—and I stress this in the light of the remarks that the hon. Gentleman finished with — it will require a successful economy.
May I start, therefore, with the fundamental point that good health needs and must have a successful economy. That has been the essence of the argument of the hon. Member for Livingston and of his right hon. and hon. Friends in the past few weeks. They have argued that the only answer—and they have put it in the motion in terms of a "financial crisis" — is essentially to spend more public money. They want more, that is, than the increases that we have provided and more than the increases we have promised. It is the only answer that they have offered. The awful, fascinating and terrifying thing for them is that that is the only offer we know they cannot deliver if, ever again, we have the tragedy of having them in office.
I know full well and accept entirely, because they are not dishonourable men and women, that they do not mean to hurt the Health Service, and never intended to do so when they were last in office. But when the economy collapsed in their period of office, let me first remind the House of the priority they put on health care, and their attitude towards staff. I will come to the contrast with our attitude afterwards. Let me remind the House of the way in which they handled future investment in the NHS and their responsibilities when in office. First, public spending on the Health Service fell from 5 to 4·7 per cent. of GDP while they were in office.