I beg to move,
That this House believes that Britain's key public services, in particular education, health and social care, have been underfunded and undermined by 18 years of Conservative rule; condemns the Government for continuing Conservative spending plans and council-capping and for spending less in the present year in real terms on education, health and social services; expresses alarm at the effect of the last budget inflation forecast, which will reduce the real value of government spending plans for next year by around £5.3 billion; believes that the cumulative effects of government policies will be larger classes, longer waiting times, and less care and treatment, when what the public services need is to be rescued from the vicious circle of cost shunting and crisis management, with sufficient resources to allow the raising of quality and standards for all; and calls on the Government urgently to put the necessary resources into public services, by such measures as switching monies from other departments and by limited but targeted and earmarked increases in taxation.
It is a great pleasure to move this motion in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. When my party last had the choice of subject for debate, it was in a Parliament where 20 Liberal Democrats had been returned at the previous general election. This is our first opportunity to choose the subject following May's general election, when 46 Liberal Democrats were returned. We may not be Her Majesty's official Opposition, but we have made our position clear—we are the people's constructive opposition, and the people's credible opposition.
On an issue such as public services and their financing, the Conservative party will never be a credible opposition, which is why we are not only proud to have tabled the motion, but determined to hold the Government to account. After six months, they show much verbal commitment to public services, but less action and finance to back up those services.
Over the past six months, the Government have tried to reconcile two different commitments to the electorate. They came to power on the back of a clearly underfunded set of public services. We acknowledge that, and we share their concern about it.
However, from 1 May it was the Government's responsibility to rescue Britain from that position. Instead, sadly, they have held to—at least in theory—the spending programme to which the Conservative Government had committed the country. The Government have also held to their commitment that they would not raise income tax.
The result is that this year and next year, public services will be not only less well funded than they should be, but this year they will be less well funded than even the Tories had planned them to be, and next year they will be less well funded than they would have to be if there are not to be huge difficulties in health, education, social care, police, the fire service and so on.
Three sorts of spending restrictions are hampering the Government in each day of their new Administration. First, there are the planned Tory spending cuts, under which budgets are planned to fall in real terms—for example, local authority budgets this year and next year, and the budgets for further and higher education. Secondly, there are real cuts to the original planned education and health budgets this year, because the Government have had to contend with higher inflation, but have not made up for the money lost, because inflation has risen from an estimated 2 per cent. to 2.8 per cent. Thirdly, there will be real cuts to almost every other planned budget across public services.
We know that the Tories left a very tight ship—so tight that the outgoing Chancellor of the Exchequer described his spending plans as "for the birds". The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) knew that it was impossible to sustain that level of public spending. Of course, there were lots of things that he did not predict or plan for, such as the issue that has been attracting growing interest in the House: how we will find the money to put computers in order in time for the millennium, at an estimated cost of £7 million. That is not yet provided for, and it will make things especially difficult for the health service and the Ministry of Defence.
The Chancellor had two opportunities to do something, and he has fluffed both of them. In July's Budget, he could have improved the situation for public services, but he left it worse. Independent work by the Library's statisticians and economists and the Budget's inflation forecast have shown that, next year, there will be £5.3 billion less for public services. That will be a real cut of £5.3 billion. Later in the debate, other Liberal Democrat Members and I will address the practical issues of the cut, but I say now that an enormous burden will be placed on public services in every constituency if those clearly announced reductions are not dealt with.
Tomorrow, when Health Ministers announce the new health service waiting lists, it will not be surprising if they rise considerably again. It will not be surprising, either, if reports show that secondary school class sizes continue to rise. We will also hear reports that police forces will have fewer officers on the beat. We know also that, not only this winter but next spring and next year, not only in the capital city but elsewhere, the fire service and, even more crucially, social services—about which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) will catch your eye, Madam Speaker—will be under exceptional difficulty.
Yesterday, I travelled from Southwark and Bermondsey to Winchester. The two constituencies have three things in common. First, they both have cathedrals. Secondly, last month, they both had a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. Thirdly, next month, they will both have a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. Otherwise, as hon. Members will be well aware, they are very different places. Nevertheless, they share some common problems.
The Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham health authority, for example, is hugely in deficit; and Winchester's local health trust says that, next year, it too will be in deficit, by £500,000. In inner London, education budgets are being reduced; in apparently affluent Hampshire, the local authority is under similar pressures in meeting education demands.
The health service is in the worst position it has been in since the beginning of the decade. The figures published last week show that, when the Government took office, 97 per cent. of England's health authorities were in deficit—to the tune of £238 million—and that 32 per cent. of health trusts were in deficit, by £51 million. There has never been a worse legacy in health service funding. A more significant response, in commitment and funding, has never been needed more.
I am rather surprised by the sheer richness of the hon. Gentleman's reference to Hampshire. Will he take this opportunity to confirm the truth of the following statements? When in control of Hampshire county council, the Liberal party had a planned underspend on education for 1997–98. Since the Conservatives took over control of that county council, they have increased this year's planned expenditure by £2.8 million.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) will deal with those points in more detail— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will deal with the points, but my hon. Friend will deal with them in more detail—if the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) really wants the House to concentrate on education funding.
In Hampshire, we overspent the assessment. The hon. Gentlemen well knows that, in education, local authorities have only two choices left to them: rob Peter to pay Paul, by taking money from social services and spending it on education; or take on the Government—whether the previous Government or this Government—and try to have capping limits lifted. The previous Government would not agree to that, and nor will the new Government. The reality is that if money cannot be raised locally, it has to be provided centrally. If the outgoing Tory Government and the incoming Labour Government will not provide the funds, they have to carry the can.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned underfunding in the health service. Will he concede that, in my area, the East Lancashire health authority received an extra £600,000 this financial year, and will receive £12.24 million next year, a real-terms increase higher than any increase over the past five years?
The hon. Gentleman is welcome to take me on over the health service too, because I am going to make a specific allegation. I am afraid that, when Ministers announced the allocation to the health service in England about two weeks ago—there were many planted oral questions to the Prime Minister about it last week—they did not tell the whole story.
Yes, they are wrong, and I shall explain why.
Ministers announced that the allocations to local health authorities in England were the highest for five years. That is true: they were 0.01 per cent. higher than last year. It is true, but not by much—an increased figure only just squeaked home.
The health service in England gets money in two ways: the initial funding comes from the local health authority, and additional moneys are either bid for or distributed centrally. In the past, the two sums were added together, but the Government did not do that this time.
Why not? It was for the obvious reason that, if the two sums are added together, it is clear that the allocation for the health service in England next year represents not the highest percentage real growth increase for five years but the lowest percentage growth for five years. The increase is 1.7 per cent., the lowest for five years, while, in their 18 years in office, the Tories managed an average of more than 3 per cent.
The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) may say that health authorities have more money, but if he believes that the average 1.7 per cent extra across the country will meet the demands of the health service, he has another think coming. No one else believes that it will meet the needs of the health service in the north-west, the south-east or anywhere in between.
What does the hon. Gentleman think about the extra £1.6 million that Calderdale and Kirklees health authority received to help us through the winter? Is that not real money? Will it not translate into more beds to help us meet the winter crisis? Have I been lied to by the chief executive, the nurses and the local unions, who have assured me that they will not—thank goodness—have to put people on trolleys this year?
I respect the hon. Lady for her commitment to and understanding of the health service. She has touched on a good point. So that the House understands, I should explain that the Government realised that they did not want people on trolleys this year—
Of course it is a good thing. Originally, the Government said that they would not transfer money from one Department to another. Indeed, the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box that it could not be done, but in September the Chancellor did it.
The Government allocated £269 million extra, which was raided from money allocated to defence and trade and industry, to the health service this year. That is correct. It will stop people being put on trolleys, which I welcome, but it will not be used to stop waiting lists rising, nor will it deal with the hidden crisis in the health service. It will do nothing to speed up cataract operations.
It will not allow the people needing hip replacements to be operated on. If the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) believes that that amount of money will rescue the health service in Calderdale, Winchester, Beckenham or anywhere else, she is wrong.
As my hon. Friend says, it is a false start.
Even with the extra allocation, the health service will, because of inflation, get less this year from this Government than it was planned to receive from the previous Government.
Is the hon. Member for Halifax, as a socialist, pleased that her Government are delivering less to the health service than the Tories had planned? If she is not, I suggest that she takes it up with her Front-Bench colleagues. The Tories would have spent £160 million more this year than the Government. I am embarrassed for the hon. Lady, but I am troubled not by the embarrassment of hon. Members, but by the thought of those people outside who will be affected directly.
The health service has lost £430 million because of inflation. Over the Government's first two years, there will barely be an increase for the health service over what the Tories planned. When the hon. Member for Halifax and her hon. Friends were in opposition in years gone by, they said how greatly underfunded the health service was, but the Labour Government have provided the health service with the lowest increase for five years.
Patients waiting for operations, doctors and nurses will not be satisfied. [HON. MEMBERS: "What would you do?"] I am being asked by Government Front Benchers what we would have done. We made it clear that the health service needed at least £0.5 billion this year, and the same amount next year, of real, new money. Even if we accept what the Government have said—that that money should not come from income tax—there are other ways in which we could raise it.
We could take some money from tobacco tax—5p on a packet of 20 would raise £200 million. Increasing employers' national insurance contributions could raise about £350 million a year of additional money. When the Government abolished tax relief on private medical insurance—raising £120 million-they could have put that money into the health service. Because of inflation, tax revenues have gone up by £350 million this year, and will increase by £750 million over two years—money that could have gone into the health service. That could have provided £1 billion of real money.
The reality is that no new, real growth has been provided. The Government are condemning the people who depend on the health service to struggling, to waiting, in many cases to growing more ill, and, in some cases, potentially to dying.
What has happened to the extra 1p on income tax proposed by the Liberal Democrats "if necessary"? How would that 1p extra pay for all the hon. Gentleman wants in the health service and education, as well as pensions, student grants and tuition fees? Is not the magic penny, as I call it, one of the most dishonest pieces of political propaganda that we have seen in a long time?
I will not misrepresent the Labour party's position, and I ask the hon. Gentleman not to misrepresent ours. We went into the general election saying clearly that the education service needed at least £2 billion more. That was equivalent to 1p on income tax, and all that money would have gone to education—not health. We made it clear that our priority was schools, and that we did not think that students should pay tuition fees. Unlike the hon. Gentleman's party, we have not changed our position.
We made commitments to the health service—additional commitments funded through tobacco tax and national insurance. If the Government have been trapped by their own dogma into saying that there will be no income tax increases, if they believe that people earning £17 million a year should not pay a higher rate of tax, and if socialists, Labour party members, Labour Back Benchers and Labour Ministers think that it is justifiable for nobody to pay any more, they will have to look for other taxes.
We say that the tax revenues are there, that there are fair and reasonable taxes, and that the public services will not survive without them.
I have two last points to make on the health service. There are six health authorities that, even with the money allocated around the country a couple of weeks ago, will still be in deficit this year—some by as much as £8 million. Those include areas such as Surrey, part of which is represented by a former Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley).
It is no good believing that the Government will straightforwardly say that they made only one pledge on the health service—one early pledge, that they would cut waiting lists, but—
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that that was over five years. If an early pledge is over five years, the English language is understood differently in Bolsover than in the rest of the country.
As one of those who went into the Lobby when the Liberals voted against the cut in income tax, I can speak from a position of authority; but I find it odd that we are hearing this spin-doctoring statement today, even though spin doctoring was invented by Liberal "Focus" leaflets.
On that night, I voted against the Tory Government along with the Liberals, but later on that night, there were several other Budget propositions—the airport tax and so
on—and, oddly enough, the Liberals went into the Lobby and spent the money, or at least a lot of it. Yet now they have the cheek to tell us that they would spend it on health, education, student fees and all the rest of it. At least when I voted against the income tax cut, I was not daft enough to go into the Lobby later and spend it—I wanted money spent on health and education, but the Liberals spent it that night.
The hon. Gentleman is raising an old argument in trying to deal with two embarrassments afflicting him and his colleagues. The first embarrassment is that the Liberal Democrats had a costed manifesto, while Labour did not—the figures did not add up. One cannot defend public services or
save the NHS in 14 days
without raising the money to do it. The hon. Gentleman knows that as well as I do, and his voters know that as well as ours.
The second embarrassment, which the hon. Member for Bolsover cannot cover, is that those on his Front Bench spend more time on news management than on health service management. They manage the figures on allocations to health authorities, and they will try to manage tomorrow's figures on the waiting lists so as to pretend that they are not going up as much as they would have done, but actually have come down a bit—although that is only because of summer. Their attempt at news management has not worked well over the past few weeks over tobacco, and it is not working well on anything else in the health service.
The hon. Gentleman and the rest of his colleagues know that the public services are funded from taxation raised by Government and spent by Government. Until his Government understand that they cannot make promises without asking people fairly to pay, it will be his side that is in increasing difficulty, not ours. We said the same thing before the election, during the election and after the election, and, in the by-elections being fought this week, people will know that that is the truth.
The Labour amendment asks us to be grateful for the money that has gone into these services—of course we are grateful for it. It is right to put extra money into the health service; but the much trumpeted £1.5 billion amounts, after inflation, to only £400 million. For the person waiting for an operation, that means a much longer wait—if he ever gets to have one at all. The capital building programme under Labour is the same as it was under the Tories: there has been no increase in public money at all.
It amounts to £1.3 billion this year of public money—
I am talking about public money for which the Government are responsible. If the Minister of State is saying that public money does not count, he had better come clean and tell the public that they will henceforth be paying out private money for the NHS, for education, and for social services.
My party stands for public investment in public services. We do not believe it right to tell people that, if they cannot pay for something, they must go without.
As for the Conservative amendment, the Conservatives say that my party cannot hold the Government to account, because we are in effect in a coalition with them. The Conservative amendment is notable for the absence of a single word about health. I wonder whether the voters of Winchester will be interested in that; given the candidate there, it might indeed be wiser to say nothing. Nor is there a word in the amendment about social services.
We are willing to engage in partnership politics. Indeed, we were willing to engage in that when the Conservatives were in office, on issues such as Ireland, Europe and the middle east.
We are quite willing to make hard choices, and we have trooped through the Lobbies in the past when hard choices had to be made. We are happy to engage in partnership politics when it comes to cleaning up politics, dealing with sleaze, recording donations and so on.
We do not, however, want partnership politics when the Government go in to the election saying that they will ban tobacco advertising, when they then say that they will ban tobacco sponsorship, and when they then suddenly take formula one off the agenda. As I have told the Secretary of State, there can be partnership politics for the future of the NHS. We want it to be secure beyond party politics; but we will be merciless in our attacks on the Government when they claim to want to save the NHS, but do not come up with the goods to enable them to do so.
We are in favour of partnership politics when it comes to constitutional reform, but we will be very determined on issues such as fair voting, to ensure that Labour does not perpetuate a con. If we are to have reform, it must result in a fair, not a rigged, system.
The Tories ask people to look at the Liberal Democrats' record in local government. We are proud of that record. That is why our colleagues in councils throughout the country win awards as the most popular local authorities, and gain satisfaction ratings of 80, 85 and even 89 per cent. That is why we are now the second party in local government, having overtaken the Tories. We are willing to go back to the electorate, and fight for our local services.
I will not give way. We are not involved in simplistic calls for higher taxation. We believe in fair taxation and sufficient taxation. When there is a crisis in the public services, we believe that it needs a crisis response. The public services in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England—ask any councillor or employee in the public service—are clearly under threat.
New Labour promised much, but is not delivering. We do not trust the rhetoric: we look at the figures and the facts. Public services are the common bloodstream of our people—they keep the heart of the nation beating. They are the very activities that preserve the common wealth. Without public services, there can be no private success. Unlike some people in the House, therefore, we do not believe that there is no such thing as society. We believe that there is such a thing, and that it is held together by decent, properly funded public services.
We therefore say to the Government, "You are on trial. So far, you have let the people down. So far, you have promised much but delivered less. So far, you have asked the people to believe you, but you have not delivered the goods."
The Tories are incredible. The Labour party is rapidly becoming less credible. We say to the people in Beckenham, Winchester and every constituency in the country, "If you want people to fight for the public services and argue for the money to be put in them, we are here to do that, and we will hold the Government to account today and every day."
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
welcomes the extra £1.5 billion the new Government has made available to the National Health Service since taking office; notes that this is more than the Liberal Democrats promised in their Election Manifesto; further welcomes the £100 million shifted this year out of NHS red tape and into frontline patient care, including £10 million for breast cancer treatment and £5 million for children's intensive care; further welcomes the £1.3 billion hospital building programme announced since the election; welcomes the £2.3 billion extra over Conservative spending plans announced in the Budget for education, including £1.3 billion to tackle the backlog of repairs in schools and to bring further improvements for education in the future; further welcomes the public/private partnership approach adopted in education which will increase that sum further to £2 billion by 2002; welcomes the start that has been made on achieving the Government's pledge to reduce infant class sizes and to phase out the assisted places scheme; welcomes the enormous strides that have begun in improving standards in schools; and congratulates the Government on the commitment that has been thus shown to the public services, in particular in education, health and social services.".
The problem with the motion moved by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) on behalf of the Liberal Democrats is that it is plain wrong. It says that the Government will spend less on the national health service than did their predecessor. That is untrue. This year, we have found an extra £300 million to help with the winter pressures.
We hear a cry from the Liberal Democrat Benches, "It is not real money." I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the doctors think it is real money, the nurses think it is real money, and it will be a real benefit to—
Not the spin doctors—the doctors and nurses working in hospitals. They welcomed that announcement because they have a bit of common sense, which is more than can be said for many Liberal Democrat Members.
We are finding an extra £10 million to treat breast cancer this year. That is real money, bringing real benefit to women suffering from breast cancer. We are finding an extra £5 million for children's intensive care. That will bring real benefit to real children who need children's intensive care.
Next year, we are finding an extra £1.2 billion—£1,200 million—for the national health service. On top of that, with the agreement of the Chancellor, we can keep any money that we save on prescription fraud and any money that we save on the preposterous spending on insurance that was introduced under the Tory system. We shall be able to keep all the money that we raise under the Road Traffic Act 1988 when we have changed the law so that we get in the money that was supposed to be collected over the years.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has invented a new way of measuring the money that goes to the health service—the NHS current account. That is not a good measure of what gets to hospitals, because that figure, NHS current, includes the running costs of the Department of Health, including my civil servants, and that certainly has not increased, because we have cut spending on the Department's running costs by 2.7 per cent. I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is a good cut.
The hon. Gentleman should also know that that budget, NHS current, includes family health services, the stuff people get when they visit the general practitioner's surgery, and we have increased that, not by 1.9 per cent., but by 4.7 per cent. That is money going where people want it—into primary care, which is what they receive when they visit their doctor or the practice nurse.
It is not true that the increase in that current account is the smallest for five years. Our increase was the same as last year and it is higher than that in the previous year, even on the measure that the Liberal Democrats have chosen. Then they shift to saying that the growth is less than an average of 3.1 per cent. That is not true: it has not been 3.1 per cent. in the past five years, but has averaged 1.7 per cent. during the past five years.
The Liberal Democrats are asking the House to believe that the extra money that we have provided for the national health service will not go as far as the smaller sum that the Tories provided. That may make statistical sense to a statistician, but it makes none to a human being.
The Liberal Democrats are comparing the Tories' November 1996 Budget, using the 2 per cent. gross domestic product deflator, with our July 1997 Budget, using the honest 2.75 per cent. GDP deflator. They are therefore not comparing like with like, but are giving the Tory Budget the benefit of 2 per cent. deflation and judging us against 2.75 per cent. They must apply one deflator or the other.
Let me explain. To meet the cost of the Tory Government's plan in 1998–99, taking account of the new, higher, honest deflator would have cost £258 million. That amounts to just 14 per cent. of our planned increase of £1.8 billion for the national health service next year. In July, Labour's Budget gave the NHS in England £1 billion extra, an increase of 2.35 per cent. in real terms using the tougher deflator of 2.75 per cent. The Tories' November Budget allocated £33.5 billion for 1998–99 at 1996–97 prices. Now the health budget will be almost £34.5 billion, an increase of £1 billion.
To put it another way, if we had applied the Tories' 2 per cent. deflator, that would have resulted in an increase of just 0.25 per cent. next year. Applying the 2 per cent. deflator to our plans would have resulted in a 3 per cent. increase next year. Applying the realistic deflator of 2.7 per cent. to the Tories' plans would have resulted next year in a cut of 0.5 per cent., and applying a more realistic deflator to our plans produces a genuine real-terms increase of 2.35 per cent. That is what is happening, and it will be real money. It will go to real doctors, nurses and hospitals, and will bring real benefits.
I understand that, even if the Secretary of State does not. Let me put two simple questions to him. First, should the Government be working on the inflation figure of 2.8 per cent.? If so, why do they not make up for inflation? Secondly, does the Secretary of State accept the Library figures, which show that next year's total spend—allocations and current—on the health service in England will result in the lowest real growth for five years?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question is no. On his first question, we shall spend more next year than the Tories intended to spend—a substantial real-terms increase of 2.35 per cent. I should have thought that Liberal Democrat Members would have noticed that their constituents have done well from the Labour Government's spending decisions on the health service. They should know that, because I generously sent details to hon. Members from all parties.
To help with the winter pressures, areas with Liberal Democrat Members will receive an extra £42 million, which is nearly a million quid a constituency. This year, those areas are receiving an extra £2.25 million for breast cancer and an extra £1.5 million for children's intensive care. I have checked and found that that is more than their entitlement on the basis of the number of Liberal Democrats in the House. They are not getting proportional representation—they are getting more than they are entitled to. Next year, under our plans, Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament will be getting an extra £257 million for their areas. If they do not think that that is real, and if they do not want it, I am sure that there are dozens of hon. Members representing other constituencies who would be more than willing to take it.
Let me give so me individual examples. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will get an extra £3.9 million this winter, £235,000 extra for breast cancer, £700,000 extra for children's intensive care, and next year £19.8 million extra. He ought to be grateful, but he shows no sign of it. The other leading health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), is getting £3.3 million extra for this winter, £112,000 for breast cancer, £275,000 for children's intensive care, and £11 million extra next year.
May I bring the Secretary of State back to his early pledge on waiting lists, which is what the people in Oxford, West and Abingdon, who are now waiting up to 15 months for hip operations, want to know about? They are even less interested in the Secretary of State's figures than are we on the Liberal Democrat Benches. When will the Government implement their early pledge to reduce waiting lists by 100,000 as a first step? The answer had better not be, "In five years." That is not early action, and it is not a first step.
I shall deal with waiting lists in a moment.
It is perhaps unfair, on a Liberal Democrat motion, to compare our funding with the previous Government's. After all, it is not a Conservative motion. The Liberal Democrats have put forward their own proposals. They said that they would add £250 million to the £300 million that we put in this year—presumably, the £250 million coming from them would be real, whereas ours was unreal—which would make £550 million. Then they said that they would put in another £550 million next year. That totals £1.1 billion, which the Liberal Democrats say they would put in over a two—year period. We are putting in £1.5 billion, so they are actually proposing a reduction on our spending plans.
The Liberal Democrats are very good at local campaigns, and they have been campaigning in Cornwall, for instance. The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly health authority has proposed closing four cottage hospitals. The Liberal Democrats told the people of Cornwall that that was because the Labour Government were underfunding the health service in Cornwall. That is not true. The chief executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly health authority admitted on television that he would try to close those four cottage hospitals, no matter how much money was available.
It is not a shortage of funds that threatens those cottage hospitals, but I do not suppose that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) will apologise to the people of Cornwall—that is, my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton)—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State. Hon. Members seeking to catch the eye of the hon. Member who is speaking must establish whether they are going to be allowed to come in. If they are not, they must sit down.
The Liberal Democrats should apologise for their misleading campaign.
In response to representations that we have received from people all over the country, we have added a new factor to be taken into account in the allocation of funds, to allow for the special problems of rural areas. That will help Cornwall, among others. In the coming year, Cornwall will get an extra £10 million from the Labour Government. That is in the allocations for next year. It is not some theory—we are getting on with it, but I suppose that it is too much to expect the Liberal Democrats to get up and thank us.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. Has his Department asked the chief executive of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly health authority whether his alleged words—that he would close those services anyway—were true? In a conversation with me today, he denied that he made that statement. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that Cornwall and Isles of Scilly health authority is facing a year-on-year cut of £5 million, which will result in the biggest cuts in the health service that Cornwall has experienced since the inception of the NHS? Does he agree that that is not acceptable, especially in an area that has suffered enough?
Apparently we are now talking about unreal words. I have seen the transcript of the chief executive's comments to Westcountry Television, and he said that he would close the hospitals even if he had enough money to keep them open—or words to that effect. If he did not mean that, Lord knows what he meant to say—but one never knows.
I inform my right hon. Friend that, at a meeting with Liberal Democrat Members from Cornwall, the chief executive and the chairman reiterated that they would close the hospitals, regardless of funding. There is much concern about those issues in Cornwall. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a Conservative Government would have allocated only £4 million extra to Cornwall next year, while the new Labour Government will allocate more than £10 million?
I can give my hon. Friend that confirmation. On top of what we have provided by way of extra revenue, we have set in train a large hospital building programme. Some 15 hospitals are promised under the private finance initiative. Work started at Dartford a few weeks ago and—if you will excuse the expression, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the first sod was turned today for the hospital in Carlisle. Schemes are expected to proceed in south Manchester, Hereford, Bromley, Swindon, Worcester, Norfolk and Norwich, Halifax, Durham, Bishop Auckland, Greenwich, south Tees, Wellhouse in Barnet and in south Buckinghamshire. In addition, within the past two weeks we announced two new hospitals in Sheffield and in Reading. However, apparently they do not count: they are not new hospitals, but a figment of the imagination.
I am amazed by some of the comments from Liberal Democrat Members: they clearly do not speak to hospital staff in their constituencies. Staff have thanked me for the extra allocation to the health service. They have said, "Thank you for helping us this winter. This is the first time in our memory that there has been proper planning for a winter crisis before it happens instead of everyone running around like headless chickens after the event."
I thank my right hon. Friend for the £1.47 million that Warwickshire health authority will receive this winter. I thank him also for next year's allocation. It is not just a matter of one-off payments: we must sustain our support. A Conservative Government would have given £3.7 million extra next year, but this Government will allocate £8.6 million extra in order to enhance—
Order. If the hon. Gentleman is making an intervention, he should relate it to his right hon. Friend. He should not make a speech that he hopes to deliver later in the debate.
As my right hon. Friend has said, Halifax is to get a new hospital after 30 years—thanks to this Government. Is he aware that local Liberal Democrats—there are no Liberal Democrats on Halifax council, just a defector from the Tories—have opposed the new hospital root and branch, even though they know that it is in the health interests of the people of Calderdale, Halifax and Calder valley? Those people need that new hospital, but the Liberal Democrats have fought it tooth and nail.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's efforts in that area over the years. She has been joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Ms McCafferty) in her attempts to ensure that a new hospital, which is desperately needed, is built in Halifax. No hospital was forthcoming, except under the private finance initiative. It is perfectly legitimate for the Liberal Democrats to express doubts about the PFI—which will raise £1.3 billion for hospital building programmes—but it is also legitimate for me to ask: where would the Liberal Democrats get that £1.3 billion to pay for those hospitals?
I am glad to see that some of us still uphold these venerable traditions.
I should like to record my thanks on behalf of the people of Sheffield for the proposal for a women's hospital in Sheffield and for getting on with it. The Government have taken great steps to sort out some of the mess caused by the previous Government's dallying over the PFI, but our gratitude for the capital investment in the proposed Sheffield hospital does not detract from our principal argument about year-on-year revenue funding of the NHS.
The hon. Gentleman rather spoiled his intervention towards the end.
We have introduced measures to end two-tierism, with its unfairness and inequality. We have started to tackle the problem of assaults on staff. We have switched money from bureaucracy to patient care. We have started to overhaul the breast and cervical cancer screening systems, which have scandalously let women down in some parts of the country. We have opened up the NHS appointments system to every elected Member of the House. We have opened up trust meetings to the public.
We face major problems in the health service. The 1 million people who work so hard in it day in, day out every hour of the working day face problems. We have inherited waiting lists—the highest ever, rising faster than ever before. As I have said, waiting lists are rather like a supertanker. It will take time to slow them down, to stop them, to turn them round, but turn them round we will. Tomorrow I shall announce further measures to tackle waiting lists. They will include a task force in each national health service region to target attention on hospitals with special problems, trying to bring the worst performers up to the standard of the best by getting the best people to give them the best advice. Those measures will draw on local experience and will depend on the expertise and enthusiasm of local professionals. I believe that we shall manage that.
As well as getting on with the practical job of turning round the waiting lists, the regional task forces will provide solid information on which to base sound and achievable targets for future reductions, and those reductions will come about.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State recalls—I certainly do—that, during the general election campaign, Labour opponents such as mine had five little cards, which they kept next to their heart. One said, "Cut waiting lists". It was an absolute pledge. I saw mugs with various pledges on them on sale at the Labour party conference, and "Cut waiting lists" had been replaced by "Treat more patients".
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is straight out of a scene from "Nineteen Eighty-Four"? This is a pledge that the Labour party clearly could not make, but instead of honestly admitting it, it is now trying to change history.
The hon. Gentleman must be a mug if he is going round trying to find out what is written on mugs at Labour party conferences. The fact is that we promised that we will cut waiting lists, and we will.
Not any more.
All the measures that I have talked about deal with problems that we inherited. We inherited the problem of winter pressures. We are addressing that. The Under—Secretary of State for Health has been going round the country, ensuring that social service departments and the national health service work together this winter, getting down the Berlin wall between the two services to ensure that people are properly dealt with.
As a result of the very hard work of the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), we shall shortly publish our White Paper on the new national health service, spelling out what we are doing—not just to end the unfairness and bureaucracy of the competitive system so stupidly introduced by the Conservatives. We shall go much further than that. We are committed to raising the quality, reliability and fairness of the national health service; spreading best practice, clinical and managerial, in partnership with the staff, who are dedicated to quality, reliability and fairness. We shall ensure, with their help and in partnership with them, that we enter the new century with a modern and dependable health service that will provide the best services for all, that is the best for all. We shall ensure quality and equality. That is the basis on which the Labour party founded the national health service, and it is the basis on which we shall renew it.
While we are talking about the origins of the NHS, I should just like to mention that Beveridge was a Liberal.
The Secretary of State has spoken about his inheritance from the Conservatives—the mess in which they left the national health service—and the fact that the NHS is in crisis. We agree about that, so, in those circumstances, why has he decided that the budget that the Conservatives left is suitable for the new Government? The spending targets that have been identified by the Chancellor are those which the Conservatives put in place before the election. Given the crisis in the national health service, why has it been deemed appropriate by the Secretary of State and the Government to keep to the previous Government's budget levels?
I would do anything to help whoever is in the Chair—I may be dependent on your good will, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at some time in the future. — The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) made the same point, admittedly more briefly and cogently, as his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, and I offer the same reply. We have found £300 million extra for this winter and £1.2 billion extra for next winter. That is not what the Tories were going to spend—it is an awful lot more.
The speech of the Secretary of State was such fun.
Two weeks ago, I took part in a television debate with the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, whom I am pleased to see in his place this afternoon. He invited the audience to take note of the influence that his party has had on the Labour Government since 1 May. It therefore comes as no surprise that, having formed an alliance with the Labour Government, marked by the announcement on 23 July this year of the formation of a joint Cabinet Committee, Liberal Democrats in Parliament are rightly seeking influence with the Government.
Last year, on "Breakfast with Frost", the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), when asked whether his party would join a formal coalition, said:
Of course. If the mathematics said that, if the policies were agreed between us, if they were putting into practice the things that we believe in, that's a possibility.
Of course, they have done just that. Yesterday—
The hon. Gentleman has just heard about the pay-off from the Secretary of State, who spoke about how many of his hon. Friends are mentioned in dispatches and receiving preferential treatment in the health service.
I will give way in a moment.
Yesterday the leader of the Liberal Democrats appeared again on "Breakfast with Frost", as he does quite regularly, and was asked specifically about his coalition with the Labour Government. This time, the right hon. Gentleman peered into the middle distance, squinted his eyes and quoted from Kipling. One was reminded immediately of another line from Kipling which advises:
don't look too good, nor talk too wise
Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman did not look too good because of the obvious embarrassment that he and his party now feel about the close coalition in which they are linked and because they must now answer for their judgment in joining it.
Given that the Prime Minister was forced to go in front of the television cameras yesterday lunchtime to explain the actions of his Government, and given the saga that has unfolded in the past 10 days, the Liberal Democrats must be getting a little uncomfortable about having joined a coalition with the Labour Government. Despite the impassioned pleas and the representations of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), this debate is not about public services, health, education and social services: it is an attempt by Liberal Democrats to put distance between their party and the Labour party now that the Labour honeymoon is clearly over. The union between those two parties is now well and truly consummated, for better or worse, and the Liberal Democrats are stuck with it. That is what has prompted this debate.
Yes, of course it does. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has a point to make, although he is being somewhat obtuse about it. I shall touch on health matters in the North and East Devon area in a moment.
Let us examine the motion. I shall come to health later, but first I will deal with education. The Liberal Democrats and Labour are natural bedfellows on the subject of education: a consummation "Devoutly to be wish'd", as Shakespeare said. One of the first measures that the
Labour Government introduced after 1 May was the abolition of the assisted places scheme—a policy to which the Liberal Democrats had been pledged for a long time. That was done on the bogus assumption that class sizes would be reduced as a result. Given the Government's lack of preparation prior to being elected, it is clear that they are unlikely to achieve anything like a result in reducing class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds by abolishing the assisted places scheme—a vindicative little policy affecting the least well-off families.
That is fine. Of course Labour Members like it: they have to like it, and they would not say anything other than that they like it. It should be a matter of some concern to Liberal Democrat Members who represent rural constituencies, however, that it is clear from the responses given at the Dispatch Box by the Minister for School Standards that the Government have not yet worked out how they will deliver the reduction in rural areas. They will have either to fill up empty places in other schools away from the area of choice and away from where it is convenient for infant children to be transported, especially first thing in the morning, or to increase the number of children in primary school classes above the age of eight. The policy will not work, but there is little difference between the Liberal Democrats and Labour.
The Liberal Democrats and Labour are also bedfellows on the abolition of grant-maintained schools—or the supposed abolition: we have noted the wording carefully. Liberal Democrats have long opposed and campaigned against grant-maintained schools and it does not worry them that substantial changes to the financing of grant-maintained schools in the future—which is how their demise will be overseen—will have an effect on teachers' jobs in those schools. A Liberal Democrat chair of education recently wrote to The Times Educational Supplement saying that teachers' jobs in grant-maintained schools would go, but that that was a price that he was prepared to pay.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right in saying that Liberal Democrats are opposed to grant-maintained status and concerned that the Labour party is not intending to abolish grant-maintained schools totally. Does she admit that under the Conservative Government grant-maintained schools received additional money, over and above that received by local education authority schools? That is the implication of what she has just said.
What the grant-maintained schools were given was the opportunity to manage their own budget rather than county hall managing it for them.
I noted the hon. Gentleman's not surprising implication that he shares the Labour Government's view. He need not be too disappointed, however. The Labour Government may not say in so many words that they intend to abolish grant-maintained schools—it would be difficult for them to do that because too many of their children already attend such schools—but they will change the funding formula so that the schools will no longer have the flexibility to manage such a high proportion of their budget. That will, in effect, bring about the demise of grant-maintained schools. So the hon. Gentleman need not be too worried: his coalition partners across the Chamber will not let him down in the end. He need not waste too much time over that pledge, for they will undoubtedly fulfil it.
The same applies to grammar schools. Liberal Democrats who are present this afternoon have grammar schools in their constituencies. They must surely know that the parents of children who go to those schools choose to send them there and want the schools to continue. I am looking at the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) because I know that he has an interest in the matter. Liberal Democrats will have to explain to their constituents—
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman wore such an engaging smile that I was momentarily distracted.
As for policies affecting older children, we have seen that the Labour Government intend to introduce tuition fees, thus depriving children from less well-off families of a university education. The Liberal Democrats say that they oppose that. This will be a marvellous test for them to demonstrate clearly the influence that they have around the Cabinet table. In some ways, we Conservatives look to them to exercise that influence, and to show us just how much influence they will bring to bear on behalf of young people seeking higher education.
It has already been said this afternoon that the Liberal Democrats went into the general election with a policy that they have had for some time—to put a penny in the pound on income tax specifically to fund education. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has demonstrated today that raising money through taxation for hypothecated purposes is still a fundamental Liberal Democrat policy. On Tuesday 23 September, The Timesstated—in an article by its chief political correspondent, reporting on the Liberal Democrat party conference in Eastbourne—
The Liberal Democrats are preparing to drop their flagship policy of raising income tax by a penny to boost education spending. The change is seen as an attempt to bring policy in line with Labour's.
We should be most grateful if the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey would refute that.
Our position has always been clear. We are talking about the money that is needed to fund the education service. We estimated that it needed at least £2 billion, which is approximately the amount that would be raised by an extra penny in revenue—by putting a penny in the pound on the basic income tax rate. That is the amount that we committed at the last election. If in a year's time we find that we do not need to raise the amount through income tax, we will assess the position and give our answer in a costed budget next year as we did this year.
Having seen quite a lot of Liberal Democrat literature at the last general election, and having read some of the famous "Focus" leaflets that have already been mentioned, I cannot honestly say that for the general public the clarity of that policy is as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. As his party prides itself on integrity and so forth, when the general public are told, "Just another penny on income tax"—usually the slogan is not even "a penny in the pound" but "Just a penny on income tax", which will apparently cover all that the party claims that it will provide for education—perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be a little more honest and explain, as he has today, that this is a moveable feast.
I wrote it all myself. Hon. Members should not worry about that.
It is not very honest for the Liberal Democrats to pose—as they have today—as an independent party seeking to distance itself from its coalition partners across the Chamber. They have responsibility, and we see that responsibility in practice in the council chamber. Increasingly, we see that Liberal Democrat councils cost people more. There is no mention of caveats such as that given today by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey about the need to raise taxation being dependent on an annual budget. Raising taxes at local government level is the Liberal Democrats' stock in trade.
Given the power that the Liberal Democrats now have at the Cabinet table, they have every opportunity to ensure that the subjects that we are debating today are put on the agenda for the next Cabinet meeting that they attend. We shall be interested to learn what progress is made. The Liberal Democrats are not bound by collective Cabinet responsibility, but the right hon. Member for Yeovil and four of his colleagues sit around the Cabinet table with Labour. I take it from the intervention of the hon. Member for Torbay that we can expect health, education, social services and local government expenditure to be part of the programme of issues that the Liberal Democrats consider important, and on which they can influence their Labour Cabinet colleagues.
In 1996–97, Liberal Democrat-controlled councils charged nearly 30 per cent. more on average in council tax than Conservative-controlled councils. For a band D home, that meant £139 more tax than under the average Conservative council—more than £2.50 a week. The slavish policy whereby they say, "Yes, tax more, tax more for local services," would be a little more intellectually justifiable if in areas controlled by Liberal Democrats and with increased taxes the provision of services was better than, or even comparable with, that of Conservative councils. Up and down the country, however—in Essex, Kent, Waltham Forest, Cambridge, Mid-Suffolk, the Vale of White Horse, Windsor and Maidenhead—Conservative councils have proposed alternative budgets.
My constituency contains two district councils, East Devon and Mid-Devon. Mid-Devon, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, imposes higher taxes and provides less good services for those who live in my patch. By their actions the Liberal Democrats can be judged. Increasingly, we find that theirs is simply a knee-jerk reaction: they are constantly wringing their hands and constantly begging for more money; yet when they have the authority, the way in which they use the money can be called into question.
If Liberal Democrat councils are so inefficient and think that the solution to every problem is to raise taxes, why are the Liberal Democrats running so many more councils than the Conservative party, and why has the Conservative approach to local government been in retreat in the United Kingdom for the past 10 years?
That is not what we have found recently. We have found that in local government by-elections Conservatives are winning seats. Council seats that Liberal Democrats considered safe are either being lost or being run extremely close.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will find, now that he is in coalition with Labour, that where there is a partnership between Labour and Liberal Democrats—as well as where the Liberal Democrats control a council themselves—they must expect more disappointments in the future. I hope that the salvation for people will be that in local government by-elections the trend will increase—as it has since 1 May—for Liberal Democrat councillors to be rejected in favour of Conservatives.
The hon. Lady talked about an average among Conservative authorities. As there was only one Conservative local education authority last year, it is not difficult to find an average. Does she agree that when local education authorities such as mine in Somerset wanted to spend more, and to put it into education to produce decent services for our people, we were told no by the Conservative Government and we have been told no by the Labour Government?
Did my hon. Friend notice the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) flailing in a pitiful fashion when challenged on the subject of Hampshire education finance? He could not deny that £2.8 million more is being spent under a Conservative-controlled county council than was spent when his party was in office. Would it not be good if the Liberal Democrat party were capable of practising partnership politics within its own ranks?
Indeed—and that brings me to the subject of health. The Liberal Democrats want to apply the same expertise to health care as they do in county halls. It is Liberal Democrat policy to put more councillors in control of health authorities—a policy which, on analysis, they have stated is barmy. It fills me with horror that the way in which bureaucracy and mismanagement lend themselves to Liberal Democrat thinking at county hall should become the way in which our health authorities and health trusts are run.
Is it the hon. Lady's experience in May that makes her so distrustful of the democratic process? Should there not be some democratic accountability at local level in the health service?
There are many ways in which local people can make their views known on health matters—for instance, through community health councils. The wider consultation conducted by trusts, with public meetings, is right and proper—local people should have input in that way. However, if the Liberal Democrats' only health policy is that they want more money, as they do in local government—without defining how they would use the extra money or minimise bureaucracy—more money will go simply into administration and less will go in at the sharp end.
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman. If he wishes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will have an opportunity to expand on his thesis later.
We have already heard that there is anxiety about the way in which the Labour Government are managing the health service. Many of us share that concern. I listened with interest to the point that even the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey conceded: in real terms—I re-emphasise that—the present Government are not spending what the Conservative Government spent or pledged to spend. Indeed, during our tenure in office we not only increased health service spending in real terms but pledged, again at the last general election, to continue to increase spending in real terms.
That is what has caught the Secretary of State off balance because since 1 May inflation has increased—the interest rate rises from the Bank of England are testimony to that. Figures are bandied about by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, but I repeat to him: it is spending in real terms that matters to patients, because that is what provides additional treatment and underpins existing provision. Where there is a shortfall, as there is this year because of inflation—the figures for next year do not look too encouraging either—it is incumbent on the Secretary of State, if he is to claim that the health service is safe in his hands, to increase funding in real terms.
Is the hon. Lady aware that this year, North and East Devon health authority has already had £157,000 extra to treat breast cancer, is receiving £1.8 million more to see it through the winter and will receive nearly £9 million more next year, which is £5 million more than was provided for in the Conservative budget?
I am fully appraised of the position in North and East Devon health authority because on Friday I attended a one-day conference in which it participated and where the whole region was discussed, not just that part appertaining to my constituency. The Secretary of State washes his hands of community hospitals. It is all very well for the Government to say, "We will take the credit and thank you very much when a new one is built, but we do not think that it is our responsibility when one is closed," but that is not responsible government. In my constituency, the community hospitals help to alleviate peak demand in winter when elderly bronchitic patients often need to leave the general hospital and go into their community hospital.
The hospitals in my constituency are not under threat, but hospitals in other parts of the health region are. It is no good the Secretary of State saying that that has nothing to do with him. If under the health service budget community hospitals in the south-west are being threatened, and no doubt other Members will make their case for their constituents, no one in the south-west will view that as an improvement in health care under this Government.
Will the hon. Lady withhold her judgment of my views of what is happening in Devon and Cornwall until any proposals for hospital closures come to me? After all, the propositions which will eventually have to come to me are being made by the trust and health authority boards, which were appointed by the previous Government.
I am encouraged by that comment as it seems to show that, whatever the decision of the health authority in the west country, the Secretary of State, who has the final say, will take a sympathetic view. I simply thank the Secretary of State if he is tonight pre-empting the health authority's decision. We shall all be grateful, but that was not what he indicated when he mentioned community hospitals in the south-west earlier.
I am sorry to interrupt for the second time. The point that I made was that the threat to close the four community hospitals in Cornwall apparently sprang not from any shortage of funds but from the plans of the health authority and trust boards, which were appointed by the previous Government. The boards apparently want to close the hospitals, whether the money is available or not.
If the Secretary of State is saying that the future of those hospitals is secured, I repeat that Conservative Members will support that. I assume that Liberal Democrat Members whose constituents are personally affected by the matter will make their representations during the debate, but this is not satisfactory when we are given figures about impending problems during the winter months and when we know that community hospitals can help to alleviate those problems, among others.
We know from their track record in local government, at both county and district levels, that Labour and Liberal Democrats do not disagree with one another about much, so this debate is somewhat bogus. The Liberal Democrats have taken fright that somehow they might be seen out there—perception is all these days in politics—to be too closely aligned with the Labour Government and their difficulties. However, it bears recalling that since 1 May young parents can forget about having a choice for their children in schools because both the Liberal Democrats and Labour agree that parents should be denied that choice. A young person who wishes to go to university should try to be born Scottish or German as it will cost less than being from England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Above all, young persons should try to be born to well-off families; then they will not have to pay so much back.
Elderly people should not bother to make provision for independent health care because people who had independent health care can now simply join the longer waiting lists for knee, hip and cataract operations. The Labour Government, supported by the Liberal Democrats, have ensured that independent health care will not be an option for elderly people.
People in receipt of disability benefit can wait for the knock on the door because the Government are having yet another review to see if that benefit should be taxed or even handed over to local authorities so that socialist Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors can decide on those people's behalf how the benefit is to be spent.
Many Liberal Democrat authorities will want more money from ratepayers and from the Government. However, people should take heart and remember that that should not be a problem because the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties are now, to use their own words in the debate, in partnership.
It is a sad tale when the most star-crossed party in history has to initiate such a debate. The debate is full of serious issues, but its sole purpose is for the benefit of the people of Beckenham and Winchester—two constituencies mentioned by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey.
I shall also mention them again to maintain the status quo. The Liberal Democrats have taken fright that the electorates in Winchester and Beckenham will be worried about the coalition from which the Liberal Democrats cannot extricate themselves and in which they have little influence on issues that matter to people. That is what has motivated the debate.
Liberal Democrat romantic dreams, from the Lib-Lab pact of the 1970s to the flirtation with the gang of four and the liaisons dangereuses with Dr. Owen and the SDP, always end in tears. Just when Liberal Democrats thought that Mr. Right had come along they suddenly found that they had thrown in their lot with a Prime Minister and a party who are likely to let them down. If education, health and welfare mean anything to them, they should bring those subjects up at the next Cabinet Committee meeting. We look for a pledge from them that the subjects that they have raised in the debate will be on the agenda for that meeting.
At his party conference in September, the right hon. Member for Yeovil said:
Yes, sometimes it is easier to shout than to talk: to trade insults than to shake hands: to confront than to converse. But if we are to make a new start in Britain, we must tread the more difficult path. If the Prime Minister is serious, as I believe he is, about changing the culture of politics, I will work with him on that. Because that is the way we can make a difference, just as we said we would.
We await that difference with bated breath.
I rise to defend the Labour Government and to congratulate them on what they have achieved in their first few months. We do not live in the Shangri-la that has been described by the Liberal Democrats, in which we can spend two, three, four or five times an amount of money. They want to bid it up and spend a few hundred million here and there. The Government live in the real world and they are determined to create priorities.
We were elected because we said to people that we would deliver on our promises. That is in contrast to the Conservative Government, who undermined and attacked public services to the extent that people decided that they had had enough. Those who oppose the Government propound the myth that they are doing nothing to extend and deliver public services. I am surprised that the Liberal Democrats are trying to perpetuate that myth. Instead of discussing what could or may happen, let us look at some of what the Government have done in their first few months. That will dispel the myth.
Yes, we accepted the Tory spending plans for the first two years. That is because they give us the structure and the tightness that are needed for a proper economic structure. In the Government's first few months, £3.5 billion has been put into the welfare-to-work programme to put young people and those who have been unemployed for a long time back to work. That will give them hope and opportunity and enable them to have fulfilling lives. Liberal Democrats voted against the windfall tax which provided that £3.5 billion.
We are told that the Labour Government have done nothing about education. In their first few months, £2.3 billion of additional money is going to education. Teachers and head teachers say that that is not enough and I and everybody else agree, but people also say, "It is nice to know that the Government are starting to address the problems of underfunding that have existed for years." The Opposition say that that money could be doubled, that education could be given £5 billion or £6 billion, but that is not the real world. We have delivered an additional amount that will provide more books and more teachers and will help to reduce class sizes. That is the real world and teachers and head teachers appreciate that.
We have put more money into improving school buildings over the life of the Parliament. We shall hear the cry, with which I agree, that that is not enough, but I am proud to be part of a Government who have started to help kids who still use outside toilets and sit in classrooms with leaking roofs. This year, six months after a Labour Government took power, and following years of neglect, two schools in my constituency are carrying out roof repairs and replacing temporary classrooms. That is not all. Next year, the authority in Nottingham and others hope to spend additional money on school buildings, and every hon. Member will be able to bid for some of that for his constituency. Of course it is not enough, but we are starting to address the problem of 18 years of neglect.
We are told that an additional £300 million for the health service is not enough. I have spoken to the chairman of Nottingham health authority and to the chairmen of other health authorities and to doctors and nurses in the health service. They are pleased that the Government are supplying an additional £300 million this winter because it will help them to tackle some problems.
Of course it is not enough, but it is a start. As we live in the real world, we cannot promise everything to everybody. The Liberal Democrats have told us that that is not real money, but people in Nottingham health authority are delighted to have £2.3 million because it will enable them to start to tackle bed blocking, a problem that faces all trusts and hospitals. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, if we can begin to break down the Berlin wall between health authorities and social services departments, we shall start to move on.
Not only this winter but next year the Government will put extra money into health authorities. The Secretary of State has been in office for only six months and has provided an additional £1 billion to be spent next year. For my health authority in Nottingham, that will mean an extra £14.2 million. People are pleased about that because it will improve the quality of care and patient provision.
A few weeks ago, I visited the breast cancer unit at Nottingham city hospital. It is one of the finest units in the country. Because of the reforms introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the unit has now received £145,000 in additional funding—which has enabled it to reduce waiting times from three to two weeks. That unit and its patients are not complaining about the Government neglecting public services; they are pleased that the Government are trying to deal with the problems. Of course the unit still has problems with accommodation and other provision. Of course it needs more money. However, I am sure that, when the resources are available, that money will be provided.
My last point, which is crucial, is that my right hon. Friend has announced more than £1 billion for new hospital buildings, and he listed the hospitals that will be built. The Liberal Democrats say that they do not want that because it was private money. My constituents want new hospitals and they do not care whether the funding is private or public, provided that it is all part of the national health service and there is access for all. Within six months of the election, my right hon. Friend has managed to unblock funds and release £1 billion for the hospital building programme, yet the Liberal Democrats say that the Government do not care about public services.
One point that has not been mentioned is the Government's decision to allow councils to use capital receipts to provide housing in their areas. That will help to restore the social fabric of the country. In my constituency, which includes most of Gedling borough, that means that £600,000 can be spent on new windows, insulation, repairs and other improvements. Is that the action of a Government who do not care about public services?
The Government have put billions of pounds of additional money into supporting public services because they are determined to repair the damage done by 18 years of Tory government. Instead of making political points, the Liberal Democrats should join us in the real world and the real economy. They should help us in our attempts to improve public services for the benefit of everybody. Together, we can find even more money for schools, hospitals and a range of other public services. The Government will provide additional public services, but within the context of the real world in which we live.
The Conservative party does not need to spend too long debating the question of funding because, under successive Tory Governments, resources for the health service rose from £7.5 billion to £34.5 billion. That is a substantial increase.
It is disappointing that, so far in the debate, there has been a lack of serious consideration of how to manage public services, make them more accountable, achieve value for money, and get the traditional staff in schools and hospitals to work more flexibly to provide better education and better health care.
As it happens, the Conservative Government spent rather more than other countries on our education service, although we do not yet have the standards that we want. The Conservative Government increased by one percentage point the amount of gross domestic product spent on health, at a time when virtually every other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country was reducing its percentage of GDP.
The hon. Gentleman—whom I know extremely well—is aware that the figures are not clear because we do not know whether the table takes into account Government spending on health, private sector spending on health or the link with social services and the care of the elderly. His party's debate is about the volume of resources—Liberal Democrats are not interested in anything else. They have effectively demolished the Government's position. I do not need to do that because I do not want to deal only with the volume of resources. I entirely endorse the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). Unfortunately, I live in an area where there is a Liberal Democrat council which has raised council tax by 30 per cent. more than the average under the Conservatives. It is spending money on empire building, locality offices and, in particular, consultants' reports when all else fails.
I want to talk about the more serious issues surrounding public services. If the Government cannot take a more serious long-term attitude to public services in their first year of government, it bodes ill for the future. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the national health service, and as we want to increase participation and achievement in education, we must address the serious issues. I take great pride in the role of the citizens charter in making public services more accountable, in providing more information and in making services more sensitive to their users. I worked in the public sector before I entered Parliament, so I know only too well how remote, monolithic and municipal were housing, health and education services in the past. My memory of the Lib-Lab pact is that it was the only time ever that real spending on the health service was cut, so the present regime offers little hope or encouragement.
I enjoy seeing the Secretary of State in his role, especially when he cites Department of Health statistics. I used to be a past master at citing statistics, until I was told that, the more statistics I cited, the less people believed me. That was disappointing for me, as a social scientist, who had always been told that we had to supply the hard evidence and that comment was not good enough. I congratulate those who have drawn up examples of new hospitals and developments in health care. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not answer the questions that are important to millions of people across the country, especially those 1 million people in the NHS—
Does the right hon. Lady accept that one of the statistics that she might enjoy, but that others in the House would not, is that, when she left office, 97 out of 100 health authorities were running a deficit? Is there not a gap between what she says and what she practises?
I cannot confirm the hon. Gentleman's statistics as I was Secretary of State for National Heritage when I left office. However, I can tell him that, when I went to the Department of Health, 213,000 people had been on the waiting list for a year. When I left, there were only 30,000. When I went to the Department, the hours worked by junior doctors were very much longer than when I left. The number of deficits fell substantially during my six years at the Department. I can send the hon. Gentleman the figures if he would like them.
I always felt that it was important to deliver a health service managed by objectives. I am concerned that the Secretary of State is already ducking and weaving and changing the objectives, which makes matters difficult for those in the NHS. He said that he would reduce hospital waiting lists, but already the words are being massaged. Like everybody else, I appreciate the additional money that is going to my health authority, but the right hon. Gentleman has created an appalling precedent. In every year until the next general election, the NHS will require its mid-year crisis intervention. I regret to say that the Secretary of State will recreate the old system—in which the more people howled, the more likely there was to be a mid-year bail out. That is not good for long-term health care planning.
I should like to feel that the Secretary of State will take a serious view on priorities. I should like to feel that the objectives that he has set were not simply those fed back by focus groups but those that were necessary for health gains and the long-term well-being of patients and of the British people.
I commend some announcements made by the Secretary of State. Today, I have decided—because, on every occasion on which I have asked him a question, he has subjected me to personal abuse and political invective—to try a different tactic. I will commend some of his actions, to see whether he might be lured into providing answers to some of the questions that I keep asking him.
No, she does not like beards.
I commend the way in which the Secretary of State has continued with prevention. He will probably be aware that, when I introduced "The Health of the Nation" strategy, not every Conservative Member was particularly supportive of the preventive approach, which was thought to be a little nannying. Nevertheless, I think that it is right for the NHS to continue to take prevention seriously.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will continue also to give priority to mental health—an NHS sphere that is all too easily overlooked. He talks about the popular issues, such as breast cancer and paediatric care, but could he, please, also remember unfashionable health care issues—among which mental illness is perhaps the most important?
I commend the right hon. Gentleman also for floating the idea of a national institute of clinical effectiveness. If we are to have an NHS of the 21st century, examining effectiveness will be enormously important. Effectiveness is at least as important as the volume of resources that are invested in the health service, and necessary health gains will be delivered only if money is spent wisely and well on effective treatments.
I commend the right hon. Gentleman for having talked about being a good employer. He will know that the previous Government joined Opportunity 2000, issued new guidance for ethnic minorities in the NHS, and, in many ways, treated NHS staff well, so that they could better do their job. Such action is a fundamental part of his role, and I have been pleased to hear him making comments on the matter.
I have not been so happy, however, about the right hon. Gentleman's persistent attack on what he calls NHS bureaucrats. Although the Secretary of State has softened his line, the Prime Minister, at last week's Prime Minister's Question Time—as on every occasion when the Prime Minister mentions the NHS—gratuitously attacked NHS managers.
The NHS is a tribal organisation. Doctors have their agenda, nurses have their agenda and professions allied to medicine have their agenda. NHS managers, however, have the difficult task of bringing together the different tribes and of delivering objectives. It would be absolutely deplorable if the Secretary of State and, particularly, the Prime Minister were gratuitously to attack NHS managers on every occasion.
In my new approach of being more emollient—in trying to get answers from the Secretary of State—I commend the Labour party and the Prime Minister for giving a life peerage to Philip Hunt. Philip Hunt, of the national health service confederation, is an outstanding example of an NHS manager. I hope that, in future, he will have great influence.
Although—as I said—I should like to elicit a favourable response from the Secretary of State, it is difficult for me to address my comments in a positive frame of mind when dealing with the matter of the huge number of non-executives who have entered the NHS, adding their skills and leadership to health authorities or trusts. There is despair over the total shambles in the NHS appointments system. A vast number were due to— [Interruption.] Would the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. King) like to say something?
Order. Before the right hon. Lady continues her speech, I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman that he has now seen a demonstration of how easy it is to intervene properly, and not from a sedentary position.
The hon. Gentleman has also intervened as I thought that he might. He might like to read Lord Nolan's report. Lord Nolan said that there was no evidence of widespread political appointments— [Interruption.] Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he was a member of a health authority or trust?
I do wish that the right hon. Lady would come to Rugby, where I live, because it was rife with Tory placepeople. When the trust was established, every single person who was not a Tory placeperson was immediately dismissed from the trust—or proposed trust. The fiasco ended with the trust crumbling, just before the general election. The chairman, chief executive and everyone else resigned, because they had let the people down. The situation was totally unviable.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has already heard my statements on the need for brevity in interventions on an hon. Member who has the Floor. The right hon. Lady has perhaps seen how awkward it can sometimes be to give way.
I cannot comment on the example given by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth because I do not know of its veracity. I know what Lord Nolan said. He dismissed ideas that there were widespread political appointments, and he not only commended the changes that have been introduced but proposed changes to make the matter even more open.
I can tell both the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth and Liberal Democrat Members that people such as Baroness Jay, Baroness Hayman, Baroness Dean, Baroness Neuberger and Baroness Thomas all served in NHS appointments. I do not know whether, under the previous Government, serving on the board of an NHS trust or health authority was a prerequisite to becoming a life peeress. It is extremely important, however, for the Secretary of State urgently to examine the matter of appointments.
The Secretary of State will know that his predecessor, the late Lord Ennals, dismissed about 150 health authority leaders when he came to office. It would be a grave error and misjudgment if the Secretary of State were to behave in a similar manner.
Currently, the despair is that nothing is known about appointments. It was said, for example, that anyone who used private health care would not be appointed to an NHS trust or authority. Labour Members are nodding and showing their approval of such statements. It makes one wonder why Greg Dyke was appointed as the guru of the patients charter. Although I greatly applaud Greg Dyke's activities in the media world, it seems as if the Labour party believes that a media guru is the answer to every problem. The millennium company has been filled with media gurus, and Greg Dyke—excellent man though he is—has been put in charge of the patients charter. Labour Members have not said much about that appointment.
I urge the Secretary of State to respond at the earliest opportunity to people's concerns over appointments.
Mr. Greg Dyke was appointed because the Government wanted someone to take a fresh look at the matter. Last week, he had a day-long meeting with people who work in the health service, people from community health councils and people who advise on producing better health service publications. So far as I know, all those who turned up—there were about 30 of them—thought that it was a most excellent start to Mr. Dyke's review. We need someone who takes a fresh look. We cannot keep going to the usual suspects, as the previous Government did.
If his job is to examine NHS communications and publications, I am sure that he will do a better job than Mr. Joe McCrea. Providing authoritative information for people in the NHS and for those using it is certainly a laudable goal, but it is not one in which the Secretary of State has given people much confidence so far. My point was that, if the use of private care was a disqualification, the Secretary of State must have had great difficulty with the man who was, presumably, imposed on him to take responsibility for the patients charter, excellent man though he is.
The right hon. Lady is in danger of straying from her new emollient style. That would be a tragedy because she was doing so well in praising my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health for a number of initiatives. Perhaps I might suggest a new emollient track for her. Will she apologise to the House for failing to open up NHS trust boards and for allowing some of the people she appointed to take decisions on NHS matters behind closed doors?
Whether NHS trusts should sit in public is a vexed and difficult question because confidential matters need to be debated privately by a small group of people. The danger of trust boards meeting in public is that such meetings could become artificial—controversial or ambiguous information is kept separately, and boards or authorities might have separate meetings to deal with it.
Having said that, in many cases it will essentially be a matter of evolution. My personal view is that the NHS should be as open as possible, subject to the fact that patient material is confidential. Staff issues are often highly sensitive and confidential, too. I do not really take issue with the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) on that matter, but I believe that public meetings may lead to a certain artificiality. There are other ways to communicate with the public, and communication should be the aim.
Might I suggest that it is the financial aspects of health authority trusts that have been kept most secret? Indeed, it is the competitiveness between the trusts that has caused the difficulty. Surely the right hon. Lady welcomes the fact that the two-tier system is going to be abolished under the new Labour Government and that that will bring the necessary openness. Such a move will bring to an end the secretiveness of the old trusts.
It is a great shame that neither the Secretary of State nor the Liberal Democrat spokesman dealt with precisely that issue. Many commentators have described GP fundholding as the real engine for change and innovation in the NHS. It is important that all GPs should have the opportunity to become fundholders, but the current worry is that the Secretary of State's soundbites give the impression of levelling down, just as with Labour's plans to get rid of assisted places in schools.
One of the challenges in the public services has been to allow diversity and to allow people to improve, innovate and change. Fundholders who were able to spend their money more cautiously and then invest in various services found that there was a virtuous cycle of reward, instead of the vicious cycle of disincentives which was so pervasive in the past. We are all looking forward to hearing from the Secretary of State whether he is introducing change for change's sake in a service that has seen great improvements. Is he suggesting talking shops? There have been leaks in the press about the changes but, as is typical of the Labour party, the right hon. Gentleman does not inform the House. The press are informed first, and the House is told only in the fulness of time. We are all getting used to his doing business that way.
I deplore the leak of an early draft of our White Paper on the NHS, which is why I have ordered a full leak inquiry with the support of the head of the civil service. I hope that the log showing every telephone call made from the Department of Health will be examined in an effort to track down the people responsible. I believe that the House has a right to hear about things first—I believed that in opposition and I believe it now that we are in government.
Once again, the Secretary of State has a very different way of doing business from No. 10, but I appreciate his point. Nevertheless, the House wishes to hear his thoughts. It is important to know whether there is simply going to be a talking shop with more layers of bureaucracy and consensus management whereby difficult decisions are never taken.
It is clear that the challenges facing our education service, health service and other public services are linked not only to the volume of resources and the interests of those who work within them, important though they are. Those services have to go through further changes to deliver a better quality of care and research excellence and to meet the needs of an aging population with increasingly high expectations.
So far, we have heard nothing from the Secretary of State, and certainly not from the Liberal Democrats, about how they are going to exercise stewardship of this great national service. Their irresponsibility in opposition in failing seriously to consider the underlying problems is well understood, but people working in the NHS and, indeed, people across the country are becoming extremely impatient waiting for decent answers and more thoughtful comments than we have heard today as to how the 50th anniversary of the NHS is to be marked. They want to hear about levelling up, not levelling down, and they want courageous long-term decisions to be made.
I have some difficulty with this debate because in my experience there is a considerable gulf between the lectures that we have heard from the Liberal Democrats and what that party does when attempting to get into power and trying to run or gain power in local authorities.
This afternoon, we have heard a panoply of sea-green rectitude and determination to spend more and raise more taxes to pay for public services. One might expect that approach to percolate down to the people running the Liberal Democrat campaigns across the country—we might expect those working in support of their party to be saying the same things, but, unfortunately, that is very far from being so.
Let me take the House to the battlefront of the Winchester by-election. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats could not have failed to see the coincidence in having this debate today and the fact that the by-election is approaching. However, in case they had not noticed, I am happy to point out that coincidence. Their candidate, Mr. Mark Oaten, is allegedly fighting for local health services. A big notice on the front of his campaign headquarters in Winchester says just that. The "Focus" leaflets published on his behalf say, for example:
Give Winchester hospitals the V, million they need
to get them through this winter, and claim that the Government have failed to act.
The Liberal Democrats always bid up any amount of money that is being suggested—we have seen an example of that this afternoon—so one might expect that the Government are providing perhaps £200,000, £300,000 or even £400,000 to get the health services in north and mid-Hampshire through the winter. The actual figure is £1.52 million—three times that which the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Winchester by-election claims is needed. Liberal Democrat literature contains not a word about what the Government are doing in terms of health care in this country.
The hon. Gentleman ought to realise that there are two issues here. I think that he understands that, but he must not misrepresent the issues. We are talking about the allocation announced two weeks ago for the health authorities, several of which cover Hampshire, and the separate budgets for the trusts. When I was in Winchester yesterday, I heard the chief executive of the trust say on television that the trust was £500,000 short this year. That was the chief executive—not a politician or party candidate.
The words I mentioned were:
Give Winchester hospitals the £½ million they need
to avoid a crisis this winter. That was written in a Liberal Democrat campaign leaflet, the implication of which was clear—winter payments that were needed were not forthcoming. The Liberal Democrat candidate mentioned that in a public debate, but that is far from the case.
Next year, the North and Mid-Hampshire health authority will receive an increase of £8.566 million, which compares readily with the £3.74 million which would have been allocated had we stuck with the Conservatives' proposals—proposals which have been endorsed by the Conservative candidate in Winchester, Mr. Gerry Malone. The Liberal Democrats cannot be taken seriously as partners in government, as claimed by the Conservatives, or as a serious Opposition party, as they claim themselves, because of the enormous gulf between what they say here and what they do elsewhere.
I wish to talk about the Liberal Democrats in local government, and there are many examples that one could give. My charge against them is that they misrepresent public services by systematically simplifying them in the eyes of local government electors. A "Focus" leaflet I received recently showed a picture of a Liberal Democrat councillor pointing at a fence. The leaflet said that the councillor had noticed that a fence by the B and Q store had fallen down, and that she had reported it. That was the main thrust of a leaflet about local government services. The public are led to believe that local government services are smaller and more simple than they are in real life.
The local authority next to mine—while putting out similar leaflets—failed to notice that the direct labour organisation had lost £3.5 million and had to be closed down. The authority put out a leaflet saying, "We are sorry that we did not notice, but we are only councillors; it is the fault of the officers."
The House ought to know that there is an airport in the middle of the borough of Eastleigh which—unfortunately for Eastleigh—is called Southampton international airport. The authority put out a leaflet in the north of the borough, demanding that planes take off from the south of the airport. The authority also put out a leaflet in the south of the borough, demanding that planes take off from the north of the airport.
In the country as a whole—although not necessarily in this Chamber—the Liberal Democrats are a franchise party; the McLiberal Democrats, or the Chicken McNuggets party. Whoever happens to have control of the local duplicator gets to decide the local policy of the Liberal Democrats.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has read every single "Focus" leaflet that we have produced. That goes to show how effective the campaign has been. In terms of franchising, could he say which version of the Labour party the Prime Minister was franchised to when he told the Evening Standard that Labour had no plans to introduce tuition fees?
The Prime Minister set out a proposal that the Government were considering. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the processes of government mean that one must take decisions on what one finds when one gets into power. The Dearing committee, instituted before the Government took power, made a number of recommendations that the Government took seriously. It is a part of government to take seriously the issues with which one is presented, and that underlines my point. Liberal Democrats in local government often fail to be remotely consistent with the local authority next door or their party in Parliament. They do what the fancy takes them to obtain power.
As I think the House will have recognised, the hon. Gentleman was visibly stumped by
the intervention from the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). Will he call to mind the specific wording of the statement on 14 April in the Evening Standard—
Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees in higher education"?
Will he acknowledge the U-turn and apologise for it?
If continuing to speak while being on one's feet is a sign of being "visibly stumped", then I was.
The Government must, of necessity, take decisions in relation to the consistency of a long-term programme in government to make sure the funds add up. In this case, we must make sure that we expand student numbers and overcome the stop-start policies of the previous Government, who marketised higher education and brought all sorts of new students into higher education without providing the funds. As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) will know, funding per student over the past few years has dropped by 25 per cent.
In panic, the previous Government put a cap on student numbers. The hon. Member for Buckingham is presumably expecting us to reduce student numbers back to the level of a few years ago, when only those from a relatively privileged background could get into higher education. He is no doubt proposing that as a solution to the funding crisis in higher education, rather than attempting to find the money to carry on funding higher education, so that more people—particularly those from less privileged backgrounds—have the opportunity to get the higher education that they deserve.
Our decision is consistent and honourable, and will ensure that a long-term policy of this party—wider access to higher eduction—is maintained. It was a hard decision, but it was consistent with our long-term plans for government, and it will ensure that those plans are carried out.
The charge I am making is that the Liberal Democrats have no such consistency. My difficulty with the debate is that, although the Liberal Democrats bring their policies and principles into this Chamber and offer them to the party in government, they have a sorry record of campaigning on half-truths and smears, which seriously mislead the public at local level. I will not embarrass and burden them with the sorry story of Tower Hamlets, as that would be too painful for them to contemplate. All I would say is that the right thing for the Liberal Democrats to do now is to go back to their constituencies and prepare for consistency.
It will soon be the time of year when many of us take part in the sending and receiving of Christmas cards and gifts. Unfortunately, not everyone welcomes that Christmas mail: up and down the country are people for whom Christmas cheer is sadly lacking.
Who are these people and what makes them regard December with such foreboding? They are local authority treasurers, for it is they who have to translate the spin of local government settlements, both past and present, into the cold reality of local council budgets. It is their job to be the bearers of bad news for local councillors, for council staff and, above all, for the people who rely on local services.
For the past 18 years, the arrival of the brown envelope from Marsham street or Marsham towers has been greeted in town halls of all persuasions and all political colours with growing despair and anger. For the past 18 years, the Conservatives have turned the screws on local services, forcing local councils to cut, cut and cut again, and denying councils and the communities that elected them the right to take a view about the level of council tax and local services.
The result has been a steady erosion of local services. At the same time, Parliament has shown an incredible ability to pass laws that impose new duties and give powers to local authorities—but although this place wills the ends, it has not always willed the means to allow local authorities to do the job.
The question is, will the Labour Government be any different? Judging by their rhetoric in opposition, there is every reason to expect a much better deal for local services, but will the Government make a difference? Do they trust local government, much of which they control? The answer to both of those questions is no, and I shall explain why.
The Government will not make a difference, because they are sticking to the Tories' spending plans for local government. For many, the news will be bleak: more cuts in local services, and tough choices about which services to protect and which to sacrifice—not so much a case of new Labour as of hard labour.
As for trust, as long as capping remains in place, there can be no trust. Over the past 18 years, the Conservative party has developed a unique relationship with local government: one based on distrust, a belief that Whitehall knows best, and universal rules to stamp out the crimes and misdemeanours of a few high-profile councils. That relationship was blind to the fact that, outside the spotlight, there was and still is much that is good, excellent and innovative in local government. The Conservatives paid the price of that relationship: year after year, the party lost seat after seat and council after council, and now the Conservative party is the third party of local government.
It is time to start undoing the damage done by the Tories; that is why capping must end, and end now. With the cap and Tory spending plans, the Labour Government will be rightly condemned for delivering the very Tory cuts that Labour campaigned against. Next year, even after efficiency savings, local services will be short-changed to the tune of £1.1 billion. That is not the result of local government profligacy, but the cost of Tory neglect.
Let me give some examples: more frail elderly people and fewer NHS beds are increasing demands on social services; the legacy of rising crime requires more police officers to stem the tide; and increasing pupil numbers require more teachers simply to keep class sizes as they are. Those pressures will not go away, but will continue to increase, and failing to invest in those services now is a false economy that will lead to short-term decisions with long-term consequences.
Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that the new Labour Government have already made available an additional £1.3 billion for education; that they have already taken steps to reduce class sizes in infant schools; that they have already made available more capital receipts to enable more public housing to be developed; and that they have financed that through the windfall tax—a great redistributive tax, which he should welcome?
I am sure that, with her long and distinguished career in local government, the hon. Lady will understand the heartache experienced every year by council leaders when they receive the detailed figures from the Government, and will accept that this year will be no different. The reality is—
Let me finish with this intervention before moving on to another.
I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) will accept the Local Government Association's figures, which clearly show that, in order to put the extra money she mentions into education, councils will have to allocate money away from other services—in other words, there will have to be cuts elsewhere.
I do indeed, and that brings me to my next point.
The problems facing social services can be summed up by three Fs: funding, fragmentation and false economy. In funding terms, local authorities are battling against Whitehall. I lay the blame for that not specifically at the Government's door, but at the door of a system which underestimates the actual cost of delivering community care.
This year, the average local authority social services department is spending 9 per cent. more than its standard spending assessment on social services. I sometimes wonder what would happen if every local authority social services department in this country spent down to its SSA—I suspect that the results would be devastating to many people.
Even the extra money the Government have promised to help social services and social work departments this winter seems far from certain to reach its destination. Written answers from Health Ministers suggest that far too many ifs and buts litter the path of funds from the Treasury to front-line care, so I hope that Ministers will offer an assurance this evening that the money will reach its destination and not be used to reduce NHS deficits, of which we know there are many.
Funding is not the only problem—fragmentation also plays a part. First, there is a lack of symmetry between the benefits system and social services. The objectives of the two conflict, to the disadvantage of the vulnerable in our society, and put barriers in the way of greater independence.
Secondly, the interface between health and social care is not clear. The concept of a seamless service between health care and social care is a myth—the reality is better described as pass the parcel, and the price is expressed not only financially, but in terms of the individual's loss of dignity. Thirdly, there is fragmentation in legislation and case law governing the delivery of social care. Judgments like those involving Gloucestershire and Sefton have exposed the stark reality—that community care is not needs-led, but is about resource-led rationing.
It is now time for Parliament to address those issues, which is precisely why I have taken up Jack Ashley's Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill. The House must debate how we can make progress with comprehensive reform of community care law, and the Government should give a wider remit to their royal commission on long-term care, so that we can tackle the issues raised by fragmentation.
Taken together, the problems of funding and fragmentation lead to false economy. Evidence gathered by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux shows how the original objectives of community care have been distorted. Although targeting of support is a clear aim of community care, the reality for many people is that of care rationing—longer waits for assessment and care provision, tightening eligibility criteria and more and increasing charges, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mrs. Ballard) described
The consequences represent a false economy for society. As the NACAB report, "Rationing Community Care" states:
Excessive targeting of scarce resources on those in greatest need is leading to inadequate preventative measures in terms of support services in the community for both carers and care users, which may result in more costly institutional remedies becoming necessary".
It is a false economy when one agency manages its budget by simply shunting its costs on to another, either directly or by storing up costs for the future, in education, housing, health and the criminal justice system. Increasingly, that is what is happening in an underfunded public service.
Unless the Government act now, the vicious circle of crisis management will not be broken, and those who put their faith in a Labour Government will be betrayed. We Liberal Democrats have our plans for raising extra resources, but the Government set the fiscal reality in which we must live, and it is in that context that I challenge them to invest a little extra money now, so as to avoid wasting far more later. There is nothing shameful about relaxing Tory spending restrictions, which even their Conservative architect dismissed as "for the birds".
Why will the Government not make use of the extra tax revenues their Budget will generate? The country can afford it, and the Treasury can afford it. Why not redirect some of the £5 billion tax windfall? Why not rechannel some of the £25 billion that will accrue to the Treasury as a result of the abolition of the pension funds tax credit? Why not invest some of these resources to protect local services now? Failure to do so will cost more in the long run.
The public will not thank the Government when they announce a spending bonanza in a few years' time, if the human costs continue to mount now. The social damage has been done, and service infrastructure and assets have been so undermined that they can no longer deliver—
Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the record of Cornwall county council, which I understand is Liberal Democrat-controlled, which underspends its SSA on education, and which last year cut its adult education provision by half? How does that compare with the record that he has just been describing? Will he further comment on the fact that 47 per cent. of three and four-year-olds are found places in Liberal Democrat nursery education provision, compared with an average of 70 per cent. in Labour-controlled authorities?
I have not been to that primary school, but I can deal with the hon. Lady's other points. Cornwall had a glowing Office for Standards in Education report for the excellence of its education. Secondly, I hope that later this year the hon. Lady will go through the Lobbies with me to vote against capping, because it was capping that led to the cuts that she has described.
Thirdly, head teachers and others in Cornwall accept that it was the LEA in Cornwall—as she rightly says, it is Liberal Democrat-led—which managed to minimise the damage done by the Conservative Government with their capping policies. So I am proud to be associated with the work that Cornwall does. The hon. Lady should take a closer look at the record before intervening next time.
Rather like Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol", the Government, I hope, have now seen Christmas past: they have rightly condemned Tory spending cuts. Now we are approaching Christmas present, and the Government are about to implement those Tory spending cuts. But there is still Christmas yet to come. Will it be a bleak one, with rundown, impoverished public services; or will the Government, like Scrooge, heed the warning signs, and act now before it is too late?
It is certainly true that until 1 May this year all local authorities and public services faced considerable financial pressures. Moreover, morale in many of the public services was falling and standards were under intense pressure. Had this debate taken place before 1 May, many of the points that we have heard Liberal Democrats make today would have been apposite.
The problem with this debate is the Liberal Democrats' failure to recognise the progress that the Government have made in tackling the problems that faced the public services when we came to office. They have wasted their opportunity to look at how we can move the Government's agenda forward to improve education, the health service, social services and policing.
It is worth recounting some of the additional resources that the Government have provided for the public services. They have given an extra £1.3 billion for schools revenue spending this year; and £1.2 billion more for the capital works needed to restore so many of our crumbling schools. The tragedy is that the Liberal Democrats have failed to deal with the other important education issues that require attention—it is not just a question of resources. We must also consider the standards attained by the education service.
The Liberal Democrats have failed to support the Government's White Paper on standards; nor have they offered any praise for the Government's commitment to additional support for head teachers and to improving the qualifications of teachers and head teachers alike. The Liberal Democrats have offered no commitment to support the Government's work on establishing a general teaching council, nor have they praised the Government's requirement that local education authorities prepare education development plans for schools and their local partners.
I have heard no praise from the Liberal Democrats for our guarantee of a nursery place for every four-year-old, nor for the fact that we have begun the task of providing a place for every three-year-old. They have given us no praise for abolishing the assisted places scheme and using the released resources to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. There has been no praise for the campaign for literacy launched in the summer by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
Is the hon. Gentleman worried by the fact that another 55,000 students are set to increase secondary school class sizes next year, at the same time as teachers continue to lose their jobs?
That is precisely why the hon. Gentleman should commend the Government for giving schools an extra £1.3 billion. The mealy-mouthed nature of that and other Liberal Democrat contributions bears testimony to the short-term, narrow-minded focus of their party on Beckenham and Winchester, where they are desperately trying to hold on to their seat. If they continue making interventions like that, I suspect that they will struggle to do so.
The Liberal Democrats have failed to praise the requirement to establish early-years plans and early excellence centres.
When I made my maiden speech, I acknowledged the enormous pressures under which hospital staff and GPs were working. My health authority was one of those in deficit at the end of March this year, and two of the trusts that serve my constituents were also in deficit at that time. The Government have given the NHS in my area more resources; the same applies to the areas of all other hon. Members. This year the NHS will receive an extra £1.2 billion, and the commitment for next year is to real-terms growth in funding for my area's NHS. The Government have allocated another £9 million to Brent and Harrow health authority for next year. Under the spending plans of the previous Government, that would have been only £4 million—so we have doubled the available resources. Yet we hear no praise for the Government's initiative from the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats have also failed to consider the structural problems in the NHS: the internal market and the enormous bureaucracy caused by the previous Government's reforms. Until 1 May we were spending an extra £4 million a day on bureaucracy. That is why I am surprised that the Liberal Democrats have not welcomed the additional money, found from cutting bureaucracy, for the breast cancer initiative and for children's intensive care. In my area, £97,000 has been found for breast cancer work. That will reduce waiting times for appointments from four weeks to two. It is odd that the Liberal Democrats have not welcomed that initiative.
Globally speaking, we have already saved £100 million in the management costs of the NHS internal market—
If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about unnecessary bureaucracy, why did his party vote against the abolition of regional health authorities, which resulted in 1,500 fewer managers?
I am surprised that the right hon. Lady is unwilling to praise this Government's efforts to tackle NHS management costs. One hundred million pounds saved in management costs; the abolition of the eighth wave of GP fundholding and stopping that process in its tracks, saving £20 million—I am surprised that the right hon. Lady has not welcomed those savings. When so many problems in the national health service were caused by the internal market of which the right hon. Lady was an enthusiastic supporter, it is no good for the Conservative party not to praise those savings in bureaucracy.
I draw attention to the £1.4 million that has been made available to Brent and Harrow health authority, to enable it to cope with the additional pressures that winter always brings to the national health service. As a result of that money, extra resources will be put into the discharge services that are provided in our area. Elective surgery will now be maintained over the winter at our local hospital. There will be additional community care placements. Additional resources will go to the very social services department that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) was talking about, providing additional community care and additional support for the elderly in our borough.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam made a pertinent point—it is a pity that other Liberal Democrat Members did not, because it might have led to a useful debate—about his concern about the fragmentation in health and social care and the artificial division that exists between health and social care boundaries. However, the hon. Gentleman did not praise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health for his work and the pressure that he has brought to bear to reduce those boundaries further. The hon. Gentleman is being mealy-mouthed in not acknowledging the work that is being done.
Several other measures have been taken to improve public services. In my intervention on the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), I mentioned the welcome opening up of trust board meetings, which will make the national health service more accountable to the patients and users, who demand that openness and who should be entitled to know what is going on. Decisions should not be taken behind closed doors, as in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), who is no longer in the Chamber, mentioned the capital receipts initiative and the additional support that will be provided to housing. That is welcome news for people in my constituency: Harrow has benefited to the tune of about £620,000.
I have given way a couple of times and I should like to move on.
Considerably more resources will be allocated next year. They will be spent on helping to tackle the problems of an estate represented by Liberal Democrat councillors, who have taken absolutely no action in the past 10 years to try to solve the problems there.
I am one of those unfortunate Members of Parliament who has to cope with a Liberal Democrat-run council. It may be worth asking Liberal Democrat Members to take some action on the state of that Liberal Democrat group. As recently as last week, there was yet another resignation from the Liberal Democrat group in Harrow. On leaving the group, the councillor said that he had become more and more dissatisfied with the attitude of members of his group. He was the second Liberal Democrat councillor to resign in disgust from the Harrow Liberal Democrat group. Four other Liberal Democrat councillors have resigned from the council, and the leadership of the Liberal Democrat group has changed three times in the past three and a half years.
It is no surprise to the people of Harrow that the legacy of those changes has been incompetence and a failure to grasp the problems facing my constituents. I am sure that those people would want to join me in condemning the plans of that Liberal Democrat group in each of the past two years to try to cut school budgets. The group attempted, despite the existence of obvious alternatives, to cut school budgets by up to 8 per cent. for each school. At the start of September, the first cuts that the group successfully introduced this year bit, and more than 50 teachers lost their jobs in schools in my constituency. I ask Liberal Democrat Members to tackle that tragedy behind the scenes, to raise the standards in that group.
This debate could have been a useful opportunity to consider how we can make progress on the Government's agenda of raising standards. I am afraid that instead it has been a mere party political effort by the Liberal Democrat party, in the light of the two forthcoming by-elections. Liberal Democrat Members must accept responsibility for failing to consider how to make progress on the Government's agenda, and failing to consider the opportunities to raise standards further in our public services.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) affects to be surprised by my opening lines, but his pitiful contribution is testimony to the correctness of what I am saying.
I noticed, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) noticed, that the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), graced us fleetingly with his presence in the Chamber.
I am glad to hear that, but it is very good news indeed for the hon. Gentleman that his leader was not present to hear his contribution, because he got himself into a frightful pickle.
The truth may be succinctly stated. The Liberal Democrats are puffed up with self-importance by their membership of a Cabinet Committee. The problem is that their right of free expression is constrained by it, and in attempting to square the circle, to manoeuvre themselves out of the unprincipled mess into which they have plunged, they have chosen today, of all days, to launch an attack on the Government.
People will recognise the cynicism of the timing of the debate. No doubt the press releases in Winchester and Beckenham have already spewed out of the fax machines so that a campaign of disinformation can be waged, but let it be clearly understood: the Liberal Democrats have every opportunity to raise the subjects of education, of health, and of the quality of our public services on that Cabinet Committee. They fail—indeed, decline—to do so. People in the country ought beyond peradventure to understand that the similarities that unite Liberal Democrat Members and the Government are always, everywhere and without exception greater than the differences that divide them.
Let me turn, as lain Macleod would have said, briefly but with relish, to the subject of funding, because that was a lamentably handled feature of the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Being an emollient and kind-natured fellow, I am all in favour of partnership politics, but it would be helpful if the Liberal Democrats were capable of practising partnership politics within their own ranks. They are not. The inconsistency is manifest. The contradictions are plain for all to see.
For ages, the Liberal Democrats have been telling us that there should be another penny on income tax to finance education. On one occasion they told The Times that they had sought a change of stance and that they really sought to convey to the masses that a penny of income tax should be devoted additionally to education, but that income tax should not be increased.
This evening, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey stuck to the traditional line, saying that the additional penny raised by income tax should be spent on more books, special needs provision, reductions in class sizes and commitment to lifelong learning. He does not seem to be conscious of the fact that, on 4 July 1995, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) adopted an entirely different position. In the course of a by-election campaign in the north-west, he owned up to the reality that Liberal Democrat plans would cost another 2½p on the basic rate of income tax.
In case the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is looking bemused by that contradiction, as undoubtedly the House will have noticed he is, the explanation is readily available. He ought to consult his hon. Friend. They are sitting next to one another; one should be able to establish a partnership with the person next to whom one is sitting in the Chamber. There is a difference because in the course of that by-election, true to form, typical of Liberal Democrats' chameleon behaviour and consistent with their opportunist stance in by-elections, the hon. Member for Bath then spoke about additional expenditure on higher education and argued for universal social security benefits for part-time and full-time students in higher education. On the strength of that, it was dragged out of him under pressure that an additional 2½p would be required on taxation rather than the 1p with which the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has contented himself in other speeches.
The Liberal Democrats are getting into great difficulty. Why was The Times briefed during the Liberal Democrat conference that the party was considering abandoning its commitment to increased taxation altogether? Liberal Democrats always say, in sanctimonious sermons to the public, that what we need is clarity and consistency. They say that the public demand clarity and principle, but what we get from the Liberal Democrats is twisting and turning—one statement one week and a different statement the next; one statement in one part of the country and a different statement in another.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) is nodding. Given the area from which he comes, he will be aware of the sheer unbelievability of Liberal Democrats' opportunism and of their capacity to change their minds regularly, apparently without embarrassment.
People should understand that the Liberal Democrats and the Government are an alliance. They are an alliance against choice, competition, efficiency and value for money. They are an alliance for greater bureaucracy and stopping parental choice, and for believing that funds are always the answer and nothing else is in the equation. They are against both grant-maintained and grammar schools. In my county of Buckinghamshire, whose education results are unsurpassed in the United Kingdom, people on the doorstep have no doubts about how they should vote if they want choice, quality and competition, and if they favour the pursuit of excellence. The Government know that they are poorly represented in my county and will continue to be.
Voters in Buckinghamshire know that the Liberal Democrats are against grammar and grant-maintained schools. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey must therefore try to rescue himself from the difficulty into which he has plunged, on the subject of funding. He must seek to answer his constituents, and particularly the electors in Winchester and Beckenham, on his party's record. Liberal Democrats prattle on about the need for additional funds, but since the Conservatives took control of Hampshire county council on 1 May, spending on education is £2.5 million more than it was when the Liberal Democrats were in power.
We recognise that, although funds are a necessary condition of improvement in the quality of public services, they are not and never can be a sufficient condition. We believe in markets, choice and the power of competition. We believe in the right of parents to go elsewhere if they do not like the service that is provided in the state sector or a particular school. The Liberal Democrats are plainly ignorant of that because they are steeped in the orthodoxy of the 1960s. They are fanatics for egalitarianism but know nothing of excellence.
Excellence, choice, quality and competition form no part of the Liberal Democrats' lexicon, which is why, for the bulk of the time, they are on splendid terms with the Government. The Minister for School Standards is an agreeable fellow and an effective exponent of the Government's case, but he is also very chummy with the Liberal Democrats because they agree on most points.
What we have witnessed is in no sense a dalliance; nor is it a flirtation or an attempt at an affair. The relationship has been consummated. What we have witnessed between the Liberal Democrats and the Government is a full-blown marriage in which the contract has been clearly signed. Those people know nothing about what is needed to bolster education or health today.
Would the hon. Gentleman care to welcome the £12 million extra that Buckinghamshire health authority will receive from the Government next year to fund services? Does he accept that Buckinghamshire would not have received those funds under a Conservative Government?
If the hon. Lady were factually correct, I would welcome that intervention, but as she is not, I do not. I accept that there has been a modest increase, but it is nothing like as much as the service providers in that part of the world need, nor anything like as much as a future Conservative Government choosing better priorities would deliver.
The choice open to voters in Winchester and Beckenham is to vote either for a party that wants to improve the quality of services or for a party obsessed only with inputs. I am concerned with outputs, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton; my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) devoted an extremely thoughtful speech to the subject. On that subject and on the results of the expenditure dedicated, the Liberal Democrat party has nothing coherent or intelligible to say.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred rather eloquently to the underfunding and undermining of public services during the 18 years of Conservative rule. He also said that many people were concerned that under new Labour those services might continue to be undermined and underfunded.
The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) accused my hon. Friend, a little unfairly, of not spending most of his speech praising the new Government. Today was not the most appropriate day to do that. It is important to recognise, however, that whenever the Liberal Democrats have considered it appropriate to do so and have agreed with the Government's proposals and propositions, we have been willing to support them. We have much sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about trying to overcome the artificial boundaries between health and social services. We would be more than willing to work with him and the Government to deal with that question.
Labour Members, particularly Back Benchers, do not realise the full import of today's debate. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, praised the Government for the additional money being put into the health service in Halifax. However, she failed to note that in her local education authority area of Calderdale the Labour-controlled local education authority is in the process of planning a 1.5 per cent. cut in the education budget for next year. That cut will take place under a Labour Government. There are many other examples of that happening.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) was keen to defend the Government, but in so doing even he admitted that the money going into our schools was not enough. He went on to say that we must remember that we live in the real world. In the real world, local education authorities and health services are planning for further cuts in services. Local education authorities in Oxfordshire, for example, estimate that they need to make a £3.5 million cut in the education service.
Let us move closer to home and to the current Prime Minister. In Islington, the local authority is planning cuts of £9 million in overall services next year under a Labour Government, with £1.3 million likely to come off education services. In Brent, as a further example, cuts of £3 million from schools and a further £1.3 million from children's services are planned. That is the real world, of which the hon. Member for Gedling should be aware.
Only the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) did not mention Winchester in their speeches. I should hate to be out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so let me point out that in the real world of Winchester further cuts in the education budget are planned. Schools such as Twyford primary school desperately need—but will not get—the money to replace temporary classrooms, where metal props are holding up the roof, making it difficult for some of the pupils to see the blackboard.
That is true not only of education services, but of other public services. The Local Government Association recently conducted a survey on the impact that the new Labour Government's budget for local government will have on care services in local authorities around the country. The survey showed that seven out of 10 local authorities will have to tighten the eligibility criteria for their care services; more than six out of 10 say that they will close establishments which provide much needed care; six out of 10 say that they will have to increase charges above the rate of inflation; and four out of 10 say that they will introduce new charges. Those are the real facts of the real world that are the subject of the debate.
It was a great pity that when the Secretary of State addressed the House he was not prepared to deal with the real figures. When asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey whether he would accept the independent figures prepared by the Library of the House of Commons, he said that he was not prepared to do so.
Perhaps the Secretary of State will be prepared to accept the figures presented by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), in a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) on 4 November this year. When asked what would be the spending on health in the current financial year on a constant price base under the new Labour budget, as opposed to what it would have been under the previous Tory budget, the Minister's answers were revealing. Under Labour's budget, it would be £33,306 million; the Tory budget would have been £33,422 million. Simple arithmetic shows that less money is being spent this year by the Labour Government under their budget than would have been spent under the Tory budget, on a constant price base. Those are not the independent House of Commons Library figures, but the figures prepared by the Minister of State, the Department of Health.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have noticed two occasions when information from the official Box has come not to the Front Bench, but to Government Back Benchers. Would it be possible to draw hon. Members' attention to the convention of the House that the official Box is there to provide information to hon. Members on the Government Front Bench?
The hon. Gentleman is correct. That would normally be the case, and it would be helpful if hon. Members could observe the conventions.
I regret giving way to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) if she was merely reading out the brief just passed to her. She will surely understand that I am not trying to make up figures: I am giving figures that have been quoted by the Minister in the past two weeks and which make clear the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was arguing earlier.
It is a great pity that by wafting in front of the House a large number of statistics the Secretary of State seemed more interested in the language of the spin doctor than in the language of real doctors.
We heard from the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) his concern that one Member of Parliament sometimes says something different from another Member of Parliament. In that context, it is interesting to consider the comments of the Secretary of State in relation to Hereford hospital. He said that the move was wonderful and had been welcomed by everybody, and that there had been widespread consultation. I would say to the Secretary of State, were he here, that I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), believe that it is a wonderful move forward, but it would be wrong to say that it was widely welcomed, because the Labour party candidate in the general election opposed it, and it would be wrong to say that there had been widespread consultation about it, as in the past few weeks a delegation from Unison has been to see my hon. Friend to complain about the lack of consultation on the matter.
A great deal of spin has been put on health service figures during the debate. We all remember the card produced by the Labour party during the general election showing Labour's five early pledges, which the party made clear that it would get on and implement straight away. One of those five early pledges was to
cut NHS waiting lists by treating an extra 100,000 patients as a first step".
Interestingly, if one went to the Labour party conference and bought the mug displaying Labour's five early pledges, that pledge was not worded in quite the same way. I wonder why that was. The Minister of State has made it clear that he knows that those figures will not come down during the lifetime of this Parliament.
We heard an interesting contribution from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who told the House with great glee that she "wrote it all myself". The majority of the House would no doubt share my view that it might be a good idea if she found herself a speechwriter. Not only did she spend most of her time moving hither and thither, but the one clear theme that emerged from her speech was her fascination with people getting in bed together. She referred in an obsessively prurient way to matters such as liaisons dangereuses, but all was revealed when she said that she now understands that getting in bed together is about sitting round a table. One wonders what happened at the Tory party's bonding session in Eastbourne.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of relationships, may I tell him that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) is more up to date with the gossip than with the facts? She alleges that we have relationships only with Labour. After the debate, she may wish to comment on the fact that one of her colleagues in the other place, Lord Hugh Thomas of Swynnerton, has today left her party and joined ours because he believes that we are more in touch with the people than her party ever has been.
My hon. Friend makes a telling point and brings me a piece of information that I had not heard. I am grateful to him. The problem with the hon. Lady's contribution to the debate—
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the noble Lord was a Labour peer before he was a Conservative peer. It shows the rather wayward nature of such relationships.
The noble Lord has clearly moved around—he was head of the Tory party think tank at one time—but however much he may have wandered over time, he has at last found the holy grail and he is very welcome.
The hon. Lady was clearly not talking about the holy grail in her speech. She tried desperately—and unsuccessfully—to defend 18 years of Tory misrule. How could anyone come to the Dispatch Box during a public services debate and fail—as she did—to mention the appalling cuts that took place under the Tories? Public services were cut to the bone during 18 years of Conservative government.
The real point of today's debate is to express concern about the effect that those cuts are now having. We must know whether the new Government are prepared to do something about that—as the Liberal Democrats would.
No, the hon. Gentleman promised to make a brief speech and then took more than 16 minutes. I must press on.
Are the Government prepared to do something about the state of our public services? The evidence to date is slightly worrying. My hon. Friends and I have cited worrying figures for health, and the situation is equally disturbing in education. The Liberal Democrats were chastised for not praising the Government for the good things that they have done. I acknowledge that the Labour Government have done some good during their short time in office, but they have also imposed spending cuts on various local authorities, heralding teacher job losses and rising class sizes, while threatening local education authorities with hit squads, cutting school budgets and introducing university tuition fees. The Government's education budget offers jam tomorrow—and very little of it.
I will explain why that is so. We have had far too much spin recently. When the Government get into a spin—as they did over the tuition fees issue—they spend money that could have gone to education trying to stop people's heads from spinning. The Government have spent about half a million pounds on a publicity campaign explaining their new policies.
The Secretary of State also tried to put a spin on the allocation of additional money. The other day he announced £83 million for further education, as though he had found some wonderful new money, but in reality the Government did not find a single penny of additional money: £20 million came from employers, £48 million was recycled money from existing training schemes, and the remaining £15 million came from accounting changes within the Department. That is the reality: despite the Secretary of State's spin, there was no new money.
What about the Government's Budget that claims to give new money to education? If we take into account the impact of rising inflation on education, we find that local authorities will lose £157 million in school funding this year. The Government claim that local authorities will have extra money next year. However, the carry-forward of the teachers' pay award reduces that sum to £673 million. Local authorities will face severe pressures as a result of rising pupil numbers, which reduces available money to £404 million.
Local authorities were expecting to make a 1 per cent. funding cut next year and they must make reductions of £1.3 million overall, which will cut school funding still further. That reduces the money available to a £34 million increase. Sadly, however, £333 million is set aside for capital expenditure. So the net effect of the Budget hailed as providing new money for this year and next is that it will leave schools £157 million short this year and nearly £300 million short next year.
In the run-up to the general election, Labour candidates around the country campaigned against Tory education cuts. However, the Labour party is now delivering those Tory cuts in government. Before the debate, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned that the Government were having to deal with a "lousy Tory budget". It does not have to be like that; I believe that there is another way. The Government believe that extra money will come from a successful economy: the Liberal Democrats believe that increased investment in education is an essential ingredient for creating that successful economy.
The Government welcome this opportunity to debate our public services. After 18 years of neglect, it is time for the House to address the vital issue of the future of our public services. After those 18 years of neglect and four Parliaments, what did we inherit on 2 May? We have record levels of debt in the national health service, record levels of crime on our streets, and public housing starts at an all-time low. As a result, the nation is divided.
Nowhere is the division and failure more clear than in the education service, where four out of 10 11-year-olds fail to reach the target standard for their age in mathematics and English; where only one in two 16-year-olds gets five good GCSEs; where 20 per cent. of adults have literacy or numeracy problems; and where 50,000 16-year-olds left school last year without a qualification and nothing to show for 11 years of statutory education.
That is the legacy of our predecessors: a legacy of shame and of failure. The Conservatives failed to provide the people of this country with a decent health service, good housing, freedom from the fear of crime, and a high-quality education service. That failure is not just social, but economic. The previous Government failed to equip our country with the education and skill base that we need in order to compete in the modern world. Investment in education, training and lifelong learning is essential if we are to put right the neglect of the past two decades.
I share many of the concerns expressed by the Liberal Democrats this evening, and we welcome the choice of subject. We have a huge task if we are to convert Britain into a modern, successful economy capable of providing decent public services. While I regret the tone and nature of some Liberal Democrat speeches, there is an important principle on which we agree that distinguishes our two parties from the Conservative party. While the Conservative party is hostile to the very idea of public services, we believe in strong public services that respond to people's needs and not to the wealth of those who use them.
As a Government, we shall act for all our people and not just a few. We recognise that, in order to govern for our whole nation, we must look beyond groups of individuals and families struggling on their own and treasure the fact that there is such a thing as society.
I am following the Minister's argument closely. Does he acknowledge that, when he says that the Conservatives are hostile to publicly funded and publicly provided services, he is being not only very immature but deeply insulting to those of us who have used, and have been proud to use, public services—including health and education—for years?
If the hon. Gentleman had represented an inner-city seat on Tyneside for the past five years under a Conservative Government, he would know only too well the destruction and the chaos that that Government inflicted upon essential public services. The Conservative Government believed that the market should determine essential public services. From our experience, that approach clearly fails our people and those essential public services.
We believe that there is such a thing as society. We want to see a society that is both strong and united, in which we marshal the power of society to advance and benefit the individuals within it—the power of all for the good of each. Efficient, accessible and accountable public services do precisely that. They harness the power of all for the good of each.
The previous Government—the Government of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow)—allowed dogma to triumph over reason, with services sacrificed on the altar of the market. It was an approach based on winners and losers. Let the position of this Government be clear. We reject a philosophy for essential public services, such as health, social services and education, that is based on the belief—the belief of the Conservative party—that some of our people must be losers for others to be winners. Our commitment is to ensure that all our people benefit from good public services.
I shall raise a point that has not come out in the debate, but first we welcome the Minister' s comments about some of the values that we share.
One of the great issues, to which I would like a straight answer, is that much of the new money that the Minister claims is going into health and education is from reserves or the windfall tax. What will happen when that money runs out?
That was a very interesting intervention, because for the past two and a half hours we have heard from the Liberal Democrats that no new money will be made available to fund health and education. Now we hear the truth—there is new money. It is coming from the reserve in the short term. We are investing in education and health to build a future, so that the economic growth will eventually provide the wealth for our country and fund those essential public services. We are spending from the reserve to save for the future, and redirecting it into essential public services. That is exactly what we are seeking to do.
It is important, however, as we consider the future of public services, that we recognise that public services themselves must change. By definition, they exist to serve the public, but all too often they are seen to operate for the convenience of producer interests. Well, no more. The Government will defend, protect and support public services only where they are accountable to their public; where they provide a high-quality service and are committed to raising standards.
Although we share a principal support for public services with the Liberal Democrats, we do not understand how they would pay to put right the legacy of neglect. During the election, they told us that we needed an extra penny on income tax to spend £1.8 billion on education—or did they? The briefings that they put out during their party conference neither confirmed nor denied where they stand on this issue. It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, is not in the Chamber—[Interruption.] I am sorry, he is here. I am grateful. He has just arrived in the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "No he has not."] The reason why it would be of interest to the Liberal Democrats is that, during their party conference, the spin doctors were spinning away about the Liberal Democrats' pledge to increase spending on education.
Our position was unequivocal. We said that to fund education we would put a penny on income tax if necessary. We said that it was necessary and we made that commitment. We have not backtracked on it.
I am grateful for that very important condition. It is no longer a cast-iron commitment for a penny on income tax to fund the £1.8 billion. Instead the condition is "if necessary". We do not know what conditions will be attached or what criteria will need to be met, if necessary, to put that money into the education service.
The Government have already put more than £1.8 billion into the education service. The Budget introduced on 2 July by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer ensured that there was real money, in real terms, for education and health. The Government believe in spending when it is prudent to do so. We make no apology for that.
A central part of the Government's commitment to prudent spending is our comprehensive spending review: a root and branch review of public spending in all Government Departments, with a view to reordering our spending priorities. We will do precisely that. We are taking a fundamental look at Government spending from a zero base; starting from basics, asking whether the Government need to spend money in the way that we do. There may be other ways to meet public needs. If there is a case to continue any programme, we will aim to do so in the most efficient and cost-effective way.
In just six months we have begun to reorder our priorities. We have allocated £1.2 billion to the national health service; £1 billion to schools from the reserve next year for day-to-day education spending to employ more teachers, reduce class sizes, and update books and equipment. We expect more than £2 billion to be spent through the new deal on capital for schools. We have released a further £900 million under our capital receipts initiative. Spending on the police service will rise by 3.7 per cent. to £7.3 billion. That is not underfunding. It is a commitment to fund priority areas. It is targeting resources to help the most vulnerable: the sick, the unemployed, the young and the old. We will enable them to get the help that they need and deserve. We will ensure that the money is passed on to fund those essential public services. We will improve education standards in schools and the standards of schools.
We are committed to reducing class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. One of the key pledges—we heard about key pledges from Liberal Democrat Members—in our election campaign was that, by the end of this Parliament, the class size for five, six and seven-year-olds would be reduced to 30 or fewer. I can tell the House that we shall begin to implement that pledge not in 2001, not in 2000 or 1999, but from the next school year. In September next year we will provide an additional £22 million to employ 1,000 extra teachers, all of whom will be used to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds.
We will also invite local authorities to submit plans for capital spending under our new deal project for next year to carry out the necessary building alterations to deliver our class size reduction pledge. On the latest figures, nearly 500,000 infants are being taught in classes of more than 30. That is unacceptable. We must begin cutting class size as a matter of urgency. We will begin to do so from the next school year.
The Government are not complacent about the work that is still to be done. The neglect of two decades will not be put right over night. Service standards matter, and the Government will ensure that service standards are improved. The Government will put in place policies that will allow us to invest in education, social services and health, instead of having to pay the high costs of economic failure, criminal behaviour and social squalor. If we do not change course, we will have two classes of health service, two classes of state school, and, as a result, a fractured and divided country.
Under this Government there will be change. Public services have a crucial role to play in ensuring that we become a nation united, working together for the common good. In just six months, we have already begun the task of turning around 18 years of neglect. We shall rebuild our public services so that our people can once again take pride in them. Those public services will be efficient, accountable and accessible, and they will meet the needs of the many, not the few. That is why I commend to the House the amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
|Division No. 89]||[7.12 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Clark, Dr Lynda|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||(Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Ainger, Nick||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)|
|Allen, Graham||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Clwyd, Ann|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Coaker, Vernon|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Ashton, Joe||Coleman, Iain|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Colman, Tony|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Connarty, Michael|
|Austin, John||Cooper, Yvette|
|Banks, Tony||Corbett, Robin|
|Barnes, Harry||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Barron, Kevin||Cousins, Jim|
|Bayley, Hugh||Cox, Tom|
|Beard, Nigel||Cranston, Ross|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Cummings, John|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Benton, Joe||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Davidson, Ian|
|Blizzard, Bob||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Boateng, Paul||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Borrow, David||Dawson, Hilton|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Denham, John|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Doran, Frank|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Drew, David|
|Browne, Desmond||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Burden, Richard||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Burgon, Colin||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Edwards, Huw|
|Byers, Stephen||Efford, Clive|
|Caborn, Richard||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Ennis, Jeff|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Etherington, Bill|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Canavan, Dennis||Fitzsimons, Lorna|
|Cann, Jamie||Flint, Caroline|
|Caplin, Ivor||Follett, Barbara|
|Caton, Martin||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Chaytor, David||Foulkes, George|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Fyfe, Maria|
|Clapham, Michael||Galloway, George|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Gapes, Mike|
|Gardiner, Barry||McFall, John|
|George, Bruce (Walsall S)||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Gerrard, Neil||McIsaac, Shona|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||McKenna, Mrs Rosemary|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Godman, Norman A||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Godsiff, Roger||McWalter, Tony|
|Goggins, Paul||McWilliam, John|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||Mandelson, Peter|
|Grant, Bernie||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Grocott, Bruce||Martlew, Eric|
|Grogan, John||Maxton, John|
|Hain, Peter||Meale, Alan|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Merron, Gillian|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Milburn, Alan|
|Hanson, David||Mitchell, Austin|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Moffatt, Laura|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Heppell, John||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)|
|Hesford, Stephen||Mountford, Kali|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||Mudie, George|
|Hill, Keith||Mullin, Chris|
|Hinchliffe, David||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Hoey, Kate||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Home Robertson, John||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Hood, Jimmy||Norris, Dan|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Hope, Phil||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Olner, Bill|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Organ, Mrs Diana|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Pearson, Ian|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Pike, Peter L|
|Hutton, John||Plaskitt, James|
|Illsley, Eric||Pollard, Kerry|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Pond, Chris|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Pound, Stephen|
|Jamieson, David||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Jenkins, Brian||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|(Welwyn Hatfield)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)||Purchase, Ken|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Radice, Giles|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Rammell, Bill|
|Jowell, Ms Tessa||Rapson, Syd|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Raynsford, Nick|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Kelly, Ms Ruth||Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)|
|Kidney, David||Rooker, Jeff|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Rooney, Terry|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Ruane, Chris|
|Lepper, David||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|Leslie, Christopher||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|Levitt, Tom||Ryan, Ms Joan|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Salter, Martin|
|Linton, Martin||Savidge, Malcolm|
|Lock, David||Sawford, Phil|
|Love, Andrew||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McAllion, John||Shaw, Jonathan|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|McCabe, Steve||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|McDonnell, John||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Singh, Marsha||Todd, Mark|
|Skinner, Dennis||Touhig, Don|
|Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)||Trickett, Jon|
|Smith, Miss Geraldine||Truswell, Paul|
|(Morecambe & Lunesdale)||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Soley, Clive||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Squire, Ms Rachel||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Starkey, Dr Phyllis||Wareing, Robert N|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Watts, David|
|Stevenson, George||White, Brian|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Stoate, Dr Howard||Wills, Michael|
|Stott, Roger||Winnick, David|
|Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Straw, Rt Hon Jack||Wise, Audrey|
|Stringer, Graham||Woolas, Phil|
|Sutclifte, Gerry||Wray, James|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)||Mr. Greg Pope and|
|Tipping, Paddy||Mr. David Clelland.|
|Allan, Richard||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Baker, Norman||Keetch, Paul|
|Ballard, Mrs Jackie||Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Brake, Tom||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert|
|Breed, Colin||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Burnett, John||Moore, Michael|
|Burstow, Paul||Öpik, Lembit|
|Cable, Dr Vincent||Rendel, David|
|Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Chidgey, David||Sanders, Adrian|
|Cotter Brian||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Dafis, Cynog||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Fearn, Ronnie||Wallace, James|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Webb, Steve|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Hancock, Mike||Willis, Phil|
|Harris, Dr Evan|
|Harvey, Nick||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)||Mr. Paul Tyler and|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Mr. Donald Gorrie.|
That this House welcomes the extra £1.5 billion the new Government has made available to the National Health Service since taking office; notes that this is more than the Liberal Democrats promised in their Election Manifesto; further welcomes the £100 million shifted this year out of NHS red tape and into frontline patient care, including £10 million for breast cancer treatment and £5 million for children's intensive care; further welcomes the £1.3 billion hospital building programme announced since the election; welcomes the £2.3 billion extra over Conservative spending plans announced in the Budget for education, including £1.3 billion to tackle the backlog of repairs in schools and to bring further improvements for education in the future; further welcomes the public/private partnership approach adopted in education which will increase that sum further to £2 billion by 2002; welcomes the start that has been made on achieving the Government's pledge to
reduce infant class sizes and to phase out the assisted places scheme; welcomes the enormous strides that have begun in improving standards in schools; and congratulates the Government on the commitment that has been thus shown to the public services, in particular in education, health and social services.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am grateful to the Minister for Transport in London for being present, because I gave her notice that I would raise an important point of order. It arises from a point of order raised with you, Madam Speaker, by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers).
As my hon. Friend has already told you, earlier today we were surprised to hear that two coastguard stations were to close and to be merged into a single station. Last Wednesday, I asked the Minister, in Committee, whether the rumour had any foundation, and was told that it was empty speculation, and that simply repeating what had been in the press for some time was fanning the flames of scaremongering.
I have now seen a press release that describes the move as not reducing the number of people employed in the coastguard service. It talks of 200 new jobs. That refers to 200 people who were recruited recently to replace 500 who had lost their jobs last year; in fact, there are 75 new job losses. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to make a statement to put the record straight, and to promise that hon. Members who represent constituents in the areas involved will be consulted about such life-threatening issues. We should at least have had the chance of being consulted before, rather than—I do not know how to describe the words that have been given to me.
Yes, Madam Speaker. Although I was not in the Chamber at the time, I noted the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), and what you said in response. Since press reports about two and a half weeks ago that a coastguard station in my constituency, and one in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), were threatened with closure, we have both been seeking meetings with the Minister to put our case before a decision was made; but our requests have been turned down. That makes things very difficult after an event has taken place. Will you look at that, Madam Speaker?
When hon. Members seek an interview or a meeting with a Minister, it is customary for the request to be granted at the earliest opportunity. The Minister is present, and may wish to respond.
Further to the last point of order, Madam Speaker. It is not within my knowledge that meetings have been requested. Had such meetings been requested, I would of course have agreed to them.
Further to the first point of order, a response to a parliamentary question is in today's Official Report. As for the question of whether two coastguard stations would be closed and reduced to a single station, I made the point—very succinctly—that two stations would, in effect, be housed under one roof, and that there would be no diminution of either manpower or coverage.
In my response to the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), I suggested that he apply for a half-hour Adjournment debate. As other hon. Members are involved, perhaps I can make this clear to the House. A number of hon. Members may like to write in, and who knows? They may be given a debate lasting an hour and a half on a Wednesday morning. In any event, they can all be given five or 10 minutes in which to deal with their own areas, and we can get this properly on the record.