Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gale rose

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) rose

Mr. Brown: I shall give way in a minute. Conservative Members are making a historic decision this evening. They tell us that they are no longer prepared to commit themselves to the principle on which the NHS was built 50 years ago. At the general election, they said that they supported a comprehensive service that was free at the point of need. They no longer support it and they will have to answer to their constituents for that.

Mr. Gale: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown: In a minute.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Once again, I call the House to order. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is on his feet.

Mr. Gale: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You quite rightly admonished me earlier for

3 Dec 2001 : Column 96

making an intervention from a sedentary position. You said that I had to ask the Chancellor whether he would give way. Since then, I have tried to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to give way. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. It is up to a Minister whether he or she decides to give way.

Mr. Brown: I want to make some progress.

Mr. Howard: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown: I will give way in a minute, but I want to develop my argument because the issue is not simply that the Conservatives are prepared to contemplate charges for the first time in their history. It is also that they are prepared to abandon a tax revenue-based national health service. The reason that the Flight memorandum says all that is because of the commitments that the shadow Chancellor has made in another direction. He will have to think before he gets to his feet again, because of the speeches that he has been making from 1997 onwards. Those speeches explain why the Conservatives have to cut public expenditure.

Mr. Jack: Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Brown: I will give way in a minute.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): This is a very long minute.

Mr. Brown: The Conservative party does not like—[Interruption.] I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jack: The Chancellor has made some comments about charging. Will he explain why he condones and supports the charging of elderly people for many aspects of their social care?

Mr. Brown: The right hon. Gentleman knows that we are operating rules that have been operated by both political parties over the last few years. He also knows that we are now talking about charges for a visit to a GP. [Interruption.] The Conservatives do not like hearing about this, but it is about time they faced up to it.

Mr. Howard: Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Brown: I will give way in a minute. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Can we please let this debate proceed with some degree of decorum?

Mr. Brown: The health spokesman of the Conservative party has said:

3 Dec 2001 : Column 97

How can the shadow Chancellor say that once the election is over, the promises will go?

Mr. Howard: The Chancellor was waxing eloquent a few moments ago about how effective, efficient and equitable the national health service is. Is he proud of a service that tells one of my constituents, who is 83 years old and suffering from Parkinson's disease, that he has to wait 83 weeks to see a consultant neurologist? Is that the national health service of which the Chancellor is proud?

Mr. Brown: I am proud of the fact that the national health service does not charge people for treatment in the way that the right hon. Gentleman wants to do. Under his proposals, the constituent whom he mentioned would have to pay. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. This debate will proceed, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other right hon. and hon. Members will be heard, but not all together.

Mr. Brown: Let us be clear why the Conservatives cannot commit themselves to a health service that is free at the point of use, and why they have abandoned that principle. The reason is that the shadow Chancellor has been going round the country for years making promises about cutting public expenditure.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Brown: I have given way quite enough.

The shadow Chancellor has said that we are spending too much money. His whole point is that we are spending too much money—this year, next year, last year. In other words, he is saying that spending should be cut. That is the shadow Chancellor's position. Why? I shall read out this quote, so that people can understand where the Conservative party is coming from:

That was the shadow Chancellor's programme for the last Parliament, which would have meant public spending cuts of £10 billion a year. In 1997, in a speech that now influences the whole thinking of the shadow Cabinet, he said:

[Interruption.] Perhaps the shadow Chancellor denies that he made that speech.

Mr. Howard indicated dissent.

Mr. Brown: No, he does not. In the speech, he went on to say:

What would 35 per cent. mean? It would mean £50 billion of cuts in public expenditure. It makes the Letwin manifesto at the last election look moderate. It is the most extreme proposal for cuts in public expenditure that could be made. What would it mean for the future of

3 Dec 2001 : Column 98

the national health service in this country? Could the income of the national health service rise by 6 per cent. a year in real terms under that policy? The answer is no.

Mr. Howard: Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Brown: I will give way in a minute.

Could the national health service get £5 billion extra a year under the shadow Chancellor's proposals? The answer is no. Why cannot he now commit himself to a free national health service? Because he plans to cut public spending to 35 per cent. of national income—a £50 billion cut—and I say to hon. Members that this is the trouble with having a shadow Chancellor who has a record.

Mr. Howard: Instead of taking us on this trip down memory lane, will the Chancellor now keep the promise that he made at the beginning of his speech and answer in detail all the questions that I put to him in my speech?

Mr. Brown: The problem is that all the questions are now for the Conservatives.

Mr. Goodman: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Chancellor to say at the beginning of his speech that he will answer the points made, then, halfway through the speech, to refuse to do so? [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Brown: I must explain that I have had to follow this line of questioning because the Conservatives seem to have concluded that the reason they lost the last election was that they were not extreme enough. They seem to have concluded that, if only they had told the electorate that they would abolish the national health service, people would have rushed towards them. They now seem to be planning a pledge card for the next election, which would offer five pledges: charges for GP visits; charges for hospital visits; charges for operations; cutting national health service expenditure; and ending the national health service entirely. That is what the Flight memorandum says. That is what the shadow Chancellor means when he refuses to rule out charges. It is also what he means by his proposal to cut public expenditure to 35 per cent.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Brown: I will give way once more, then I will finish my remarks.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): Will the Chancellor clarify the Treasury's position on hypothecation? I understand that the Treasury is concerned that revenues might rise or fall with the cycle. I wonder whether the Chancellor has had the opportunity to see my article, published this morning in the Institute for Public Policy Research journal, which shows how that problem could be dealt with. [Interruption.]

Next Section

IndexHome Page