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Several hon. Members rose

Dr. Fox: I shall not give way. I am perfectly capable of mocking the afflicted myself. That right hon. Gentleman should have resigned over his failure to sack Jo Moore. That whole wretched episode brought shame on the Government, and the Government's failure to act brought shame on this country. The right hon. Gentleman should have resigned over his calamitous handling of Railtrack. The Government's original estimate that Railtrack would be in administration for between three and six months has proved to be hopelessly optimistic. The latest estimates suggest that it could be as long as August 2003 before Railtrack's replacement is up and running. A report in The Times, which went unchallenged, estimated that the administration of Railtrack is costing the taxpayer more than £1 million a day. Of that, fees for advisers connected with Railtrack are estimated at £500,000 a day.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich) rose

Dr. Fox: I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that that represents value for taxpayers' money.

Mr. Henderson: May I give the hon. Gentleman some information that I received from the Library? I asked how

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many White Papers the previous Government introduced to Parliament from 1979 to 1997, and was informed that they introduced four. Thus in 18 years they introduced only four White Papers, two of which were for rail privatisation—we all know what happened there—and another was for bus deregulation, and we know what happened there, too. What was the hon. Gentleman's transport plan in those 18 years?

Dr. Fox: The concept that after 18 years in government we issued only four White Papers is absolutely astonishing. Clearly, numeracy is not a quality required for Government Back Benchers.

It is a sad truth that Labour Members will have to recognise that, in the big boy's class, when one has been in government for two terms, one must answer for what one has done and for what one has promised and failed to provide. There is no point in the Labour party, in its second term in government, going on about what the previous Conservative Government might have done two Parliaments ago. The Labour party is on trial today, and will be in future, for its failure to provide the people of this country with what it promised them at two general elections.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Fox: I think that I have given way perfectly sufficiently up until now. [Hon. Members: "Give way."] I am not giving way at the moment.

Not only has the Secretary of State's incompetence cost the taxpayer huge amounts of money, but performance on the rail network continues to deteriorate. Since Railtrack was placed in administration, performance has plummeted. Delays and cancellations caused by track and signal failures have risen by 45 per cent. since early October when Labour pulled the plug on Railtrack. The Government's 10-year plan for the railways is in tatters: £34 billion for the railways was meant to come from private sector funding by 2010, but having seen what the Government have just done to Railtrack, the private sector is unlikely to want to do business with a Government who have just confiscated a private company from its legal owners.

The strategic rail plan was a complete flop.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): My hon. Friend is making a magnificent and spirited attack on this lamentable Government and their performance on public services. Is he aware that they spent most of their first term trying to set up a Strategic Rail Authority—a new instrument of torture to destroy private interest in the railways—and are now spending their second term trying completely to reorganise it under a new chairman, because they accept that all that it did in the first term was a disaster?

Dr. Fox: It is certainly very interesting, in the light of what my right hon. Friend has just said, to look at the different ways in which the Secretary of State for Health and the Transport Secretary are dealing with the results of their own incompetence. Both have reached the dizzy heights that they now occupy in the Cabinet on the third-way tide, yet the Transport Secretary now says that the third way was flaky and is busy reinventing himself as a born-again nationaliser.

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Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Health tells us that he is the arch Blairite moderniser—in the words of the Transport Secretary, the chief flake now in the Cabinet—and he moves ever closer to a full-scale working amalgamation with the private sector, including using private sector management.

I did not come to praise the Secretary of State for Health, and I shall leave burying him to his hon. Friends on the Back Benches, but he is the one who is heading in the right direction. He will need to be genuinely courageous in the face of not only Back-Bench but trade union hostility if he is to move in the right direction as he indicated last week. He will find that he will get a lot of support from many Labour commentators, who know that the policy of utilising the private sector more fully in our public services is the right one.

As for the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, it is clear that she has been left a series of time bombs by the now Home Secretary. Teacher shortages, the chaos in student support and, the collapse of education action zones which the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope) did not know about, and individual learning accounts are all examples of the Home Secretary's legacy. The policy is littered with inconsistency.

Before 1997, Labour attacked Conservative education reforms as bureaucratic. Teachers now think that they did not know what bureaucracy was under the previous Government. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills said:

Who is she talking to?

The Government tell us that they want new powers to crack down on disruptive and violent pupils, but they ordered that exclusions from school should be cut by a third by 2002 for purely political reasons, which robbed heads and governors of their independence in excluding disruptive pupils. There is intellectual incoherence, inconsistency and incompetence, all underpinned by the Government's dishonest claims to want to depoliticise the delivery of public services.

The Government announced the setting up of the NHS Appointments Commission. The results of that fair, impartial, objective commission were given in a parliamentary answer: of those appointed, 30 were Conservatives, 32 were Liberal Democrats, nine were independents and 140 were Labour—how independent, objective and fair! Long live cronyism, the hallmark of Blairite new Labour!

Not only do we have a Government of intellectual incoherence, inconsistency and incompetence where the Prime Minister becomes ever more detached; we have a Prime Minister who appears to grow ever more contemptuous of his party, which seems to exist only to glorify the cult of his personality, spawning a ministerial culture of blame, spin and reannouncement. This Government blame the professionals, their predecessors in government, the third way—anyone but themselves. If that fails, they set new targets, shift deadlines and commission new reports.

Our transport system is in a mess. Violent crime is rising. The NHS is an international embarrassment. The Government do not know the problems and they certainly

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do not know the solutions. It is new Labour, new year, new panic, new policies—but never fear:—there will come a good day to bury them all.

4.13 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

What a load of claptrap we heard from the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). He does what he always does: he reminded the House that he once trained as a doctor. In that case, he should know a case of selective amnesia when he sees it. He talks about the state of the trains and conveniently forgets that his party presided over the botched privatisation of Railtrack and the rundown of the railways. It is no good him talking about nurse shortages, doctor shortages or bed shortages. It was his party and his Government who created those shortages.

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