NHS Workforce and Service Development

Part of Opposition Day — [18th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 11th October 2006.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Liberal Democrat, Northavon 2:01 pm, 11th October 2006

That is very interesting. If an independent NHS is central to fighting the cuts against which the Conservatives have started to campaign, why is it not mentioned in the motion? I just wondered.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that, if the Conservatives were in charge, we would not see "financially driven cuts". I have to exempt him from blame, because he was not a Member of Parliament when the right hon. Member for Witney, now the leader of his party, opposed £8 billion for the NHS in the National Insurance Contributions Act 2002. I read the Conservative Q and A document on that subject, and this is what I found. The question asked is:

"Didn't the Conservatives vote against every penny of the extra investment the Labour Government has put into the NHS?"

The answer is:

"This is just classic spin".

Classic spin it may be, but I have here the Division lists from the Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill. John Bercow led for the Opposition in that debate, and he took an intervention from a little known Back Bencher representing Witney. That Back Bencher attacked the national insurance rise for the NHS, asking

"Has my hon. Friend calculated the effect of increased national insurance contributions on trying to hire badly needed staff in our hospitals?"

Whatever happened to him? The reply from the hon. Member for Buckingham was:

"the bull-headed and short-sighted policy on which the Government seem intent will make a difficult task much more difficult."—[ Hansard, 13 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 543.]

In other words, when it came to the crunch—when it came to putting their money where their mouth was—where were the Tories? In the opposing Lobby.

Were that an isolated incident, a one-off, I might forgive the Tories—I am a very forgiving chap. Unfortunately, however, they have form. I asked the House of Commons Library for figures on real spending on the NHS. I was only interested in what had happened under Labour, but the Library staff inadvertently included on the chart the final year of Tory Government, which showed a real-terms cut. The last time the Tories controlled the purse strings, they cut NHS spending.