Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:32 am on 1st February 2007.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal 11:32 am, 1st February 2007

That was original.

The right hon. Lady asked whether there would be a St. David's day debate. Yes, one is planned for 1 March, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will be delighted to talk in great detail about Labour's success in Wales. That includes, for example, 7,500 additional police officers. On health, which is a devolved issue, the Labour-led Welsh Government have done extremely well, providing 400 more consultants, over 7,000 more nurses and 100 more dentists since 1999. There has been an extraordinary increase in resources devoted to education, and 1,700 more teachers since 1998. Employment is at a record high, with 1.3 million people in work. It is a fantastic record and we are delighted to debate it.

The right hon. Lady asked about our child care policy. She leads with her chin, does she not? Child care was a lamentable failure under the Conservatives, whereas under this Government, with expenditure that they opposed, we have a good record on child care. Everybody in the country knows that it is thanks to a Labour Government that we now have tax credits giving effective support to families, a network of Sure Start programmes, children's centres and vouchers for child care. That means that many more working parents can go back to work, where they wish to.

On the costs of reorganisation, my advice to the right hon. Lady is not to trade our reorganisations with hers. For example, there was rail privatisation reorganisation, for which her party voted and on which they all campaigned. It was one of the most catastrophic reorganisations, which we have had to resolve, and having done that— [ Interruption. ] Mr. Bone may mock, but we brought Network Rail into public ownership and invested hundreds of millions of pounds, and the result is a 40 per cent. increase in the number of passengers travelling by train. Where there is a problem—as there is in the right hon. Lady's area with First Great Western—responsibility for it lies with the train operating company, which she should remember, because she supported privatisation.

There are some proposals for the reorganisation of local government. A few years ago, local government was reorganised in the right hon. Lady's county, just as it was partially reorganised in my county of Lancashire. Speaking for Lancashire, the transfer of responsibility for all services to a unitary authority has made a big difference to delivery on the ground, and the costs of reorganisation have been tiny by comparison.

On joined-up government, I read and listened carefully to what Anne Owers said about the relationship between the Home Office and mental health provision. There is a continuing long-standing problem, in that many of those who commit crimes also have mental health problems. That is a fact of life, but a great deal of work is going into trying to improve mental health provision inside prisons. As the right hon. Lady wants a serious debate about the problem, she will know that mental health practitioners are often reluctant to take on people diagnosed with mental health problems who happen to be in prison. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health are looking into the matter.

The right hon. Lady made some points about the Home Office budget being frozen. It has not been frozen. There are certainly restrictions on the growth of bureaucracy in all Departments—I thought that she was in favour of those—but capital building and the expansion of prison places have increased. The proof is that almost 20,000 additional prison places have already been provided in the past 10 years.

The right hon. Lady knows very well when the Lords White Paper is to be published, because I told her. She has been a member of the cross-party group on the Lords, where we have been seeking consensus when it is perfectly obvious—everybody knows—that opinion on reform of the Lords varies very much in all the major parties, and between this House and the other place. It is for that reason that we committed ourselves to a free vote on composition, which will include all Ministers, as we made clear before and at the election. There is not a Government view—