|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): In answering my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), the hon. Gentleman drew attention to the fact that the Liberal Democrats are in government in the United Kingdom. They help to govern 15 per cent. of the population and they share responsibility for many of the matters to which he is referring. Why is he not claiming credit, if credit be due, for improved performance on the very waiting list issues that might arise in the areas of the United Kingdom in which the Liberals share power?
Mr. Jones: The hon. Gentleman is concerned with the organisation's name. I am concerned with how long people wait for delivery of service. Why is performance not better, and perhaps worse, where the Liberals are in government?
Dr. Harris: If the hon. Gentleman cannot get his words right, his point has little substance. We believe in devolution and therefore Liberal Democrats in Wales speak for themselves. At the Welsh Assembly, where they share power, they speak for the Administration. Good luck to them.
The Secretary of State claims that the Liberal Democrats are not in favour of reform. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have proposals to reform the response to clinical negligence and move to no-fault compensation. We want to reform the way in which social services are funded and to allow more extensive and rapid multi-skilling for nurses. We want to strip out political targets for the NHS and provide proper, local democratic accountability and reform inspections of quality in the NHS. Those are radical reforms.
I confess that we do not support pointless reform of the structure of the health service. That constitutes activity as a replacement for action. Patients and workers in the health service need another structural reform like a hole in the head.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Gentleman has presented a long list of radical reforms that the Liberal Democrats would carry out in the unlikely event of their getting anywhere near governing this country. He has told us that the health service needs radical reform and that it is underfunded. He also said that class sizes are too large and that the Liberal Democrats would alter the way in which students are financed. He said that such financing can be provided only through a rise in income tax. By how much will income tax need to rise to pay for all that, come the next general election?
Dr. Harris: At the next election, we will tell the hon. Gentleman and the country by how much income tax needs to rise to pay for our commitment to public services. At the last election, we were clear. We wanted £3.1 billion more for education, and in addition we had a proposal, which may appal the conservative Members on the Labour Benches, to tax people who earn more than £100,000 at 50p in the pound.
Dr. Harris: Yes. The hon. Gentleman will be disappointed by that reply. The money that the provision would have raised had two purposes. It would have given pensioners, especially older pensioners, a decent increase in their state pension. Not long ago, the hon. Gentleman defended an increase of only 75p. Our proposal would also have provided additional funding for training NHS staff. We had a costed manifesto; the Conservatives did not even have a sensible manifesto.
However, we will support the motion. Although we have tabled an amendment to it, we will support it because it condemns a Government record that desperately needs condemning and because it says so little about Conservative policy. The less Conservatives say about their intentions, the less credibility they have. That matches the Government's lack of credibility, with their disgraceful record on our public services.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): I have a slight cold, so I apologise if hon. Members cannot hear me very well. I want to pick up the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) on his comment that the Liberals would support the Conservatives tonight. In an article in The Guardian yesterday, the leader of the Liberal party
Mr. Cunningham: Liberal Democrats, if the hon. Gentleman is so touchy about words. The article appeared to signal a change in stance. It suggested that the Liberal Democrats would not co-operate with the Labour party because the Labour party might not support proportional
Mr. Cunningham: My hon. Friend makes a good point. That provides a further clue. If the Liberals are thinking about going down the road of tax cuts, they might want to balance them by introducing charges. That is the clue that we are getting from them, signalling a change in policy.
There is another problem, though, if we listen to the Liberal Democrats'I had better be careful how I refer to themspokesman. The hon. Gentleman described a number of conditions under which the Liberal Democrats would accept the private finance initiative, but many people outside the Houseparticularly those working in local government and the health servicethink that the Liberals are against the PFI. They are not. If we listen to what their spokesman said, they will accept it, given certain qualifications.
Since the 1997 general election, the Liberals have made much of the link between pensions and earnings; before the election, they pledged not to do anything about that, but after it, that changed. They keep moving the goalposts. At that election, the Liberal Democrats proposed to put 1p on income tax to fund education. We have put £40 billion into education and the health service in the intervening years. That is three or four times what the Liberals were proposing.
I want to touch on one or two issues that seem to have been forgotten, relating to what we are doing for the national health service, that are important to the public. By 2005, we shall have 10,000 more doctors and 20,000 more nurses. We shall also have 100 new hospital developments by 2010even the Liberals would accept
The Tories mentioned bed blocking. Bed blocking is not new; it existed under Tory Governments. The reason for it is simple: there has always been a shortage of social workers. We have debated that issue over the years, and one of the problems that we inherited in the national health service is that often when elderly patients are ready to be discharged, they do not have a social worker to ascertain their needs. We have been addressing that issue; the Tories certainly did not do so.
Tim Loughton: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the shortfall between the amount spent on social services by local councils and the amount that the Government are paying is now estimated at £1 billion? That means that, in parts of the country, there are vacancy rates of at least 30 per cent. for social workers. The situation is far worse than it ever was under the last Conservative Government, which is part of the reason why the problem of bed blocking is now worse than ever, and getting worse.
Mr. Cunningham: I reject what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I shall give him an example from Coventry in relation to investment in public services, including social workers. Coventry lost something like £600 million under the last Tory Government. If we multiply that figure up and down the country, we shall soon find that we have invested considerably morealthough, I accept, not necessarily enough.
On transport, it was the Tories who privatised Railtrack. I remember the debates on that measure in the House. The Tories, not this Government, are responsible for the state that Railtrack found itself in a couple of months ago, when we had to take action. Under the Tories, one of the big problems was that the railways were heavily subsidised. At the same time as subsidising the railways, the Tories took money from bus services. In debates such as this, hon. Members do not always focus on the vital service that buses provide in this country. People wonder why many people will not use public transport. The reason is that, under the Tories, there was not only a lack of road investment but a lack of subsidies. I remember the Tories' attempts to privatise the buses.
The question of student grants has been mentioned. I remember the Tories losing their nerve: it was they who abolished student grants and set up the Dearing inquiry. They set up Dearing because they knew that they were approaching a general election, and we all know what happened after that. We should have had a consensus from the Tories after Dearing, but we did not get one and, as usual, they reneged on what they had pledged to do.
The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said earlier that he did not want to talk about what Tory Governments had done in the past. That is the usual argument that we get from the Tories. They want to go back to Pol Pot's year zero as though there had never been
My hon. Friends will remember negative equity, the 3.5 million unemployed, record interest rates, and the decimation of Britain's manufacturing base, particularly in the 1980s. But the Tories do not want to talk about any of that. Anybody who lived in Coventry at that time will remember the decimation of the car factories. Coventry used to be famous for its car factories. As I said earlier, not only was there a lack of investment in the NHS, but my hon. Friends will remember when the Tories cut the number of beds, cut the recruitment of nurses and training, and closed hospitals. Indeed, if I remember correctly, we even had crumbling hospitals and they failed to deliver on their PFI proposals.
We had school closures. The motion before the House speaks of teacher morale. Nobody created lower morale among teachers than the Tories. I remember one Tory Secretary of State being heckled off the stage at a teachers' conference. The Tories are responsible for the low pay in education, whereas we are trying to put it right. On pensioner poverty, I remember sitting on the Opposition Benches when, Friday morning after Friday morning, one of my late colleagues presented a Bill for winter chill payments. Who talked it out? It was the Tories. At the 1992 election, they said that they would not increase VAT on fuel, but they did.
In conclusion, I do not think that the Tories can attack the Labour party. We have demonstrated that we are taking the country forward and that the country does not want to go back to the bad old days of Thatcherism and Tory Government.