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Mr. Boateng rose

Mr. Howard: I shall certainly give way to the Chief Secretary. I hope that he will explain why the Government have managed to recruit just 18 GPs in each of the past two years, instead of the extra 2,000 that they promised.

Mr. Boateng: Talking of GPs, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman still adhere to the view that the NHS is

Mr. Howard: We are going to find a better way of living up to the ideals of the national health service. The Chief Secretary ought to pause here. Does he really think that the best way to deliver health care to the people of this country is through a centralised organisation that employs 1.3 million people, the biggest employer in the world outside China, with the possible exception of the Indian state railway? The Chief Secretary ought to reflect on the implications of his question.

In today's schools, teacher vacancies have more than doubled and more than one in two trainee teachers walk away in their first three years because they do not have enough classroom time with children. What does the Chancellor fall back on? No longer able to offer hope, the Labour party now tries to win votes through fear. The Chancellor and his colleagues try to scaremonger, based on our refusal to be bound by their figures. Yet that, of course, was precisely the position that he took in opposition: it was not until January 1997 that he described his party's spending plans.

We, too, will outline our policies before the next general election. But one thing is certain: we are determined to move away from the Chancellor's policy of money without real reform. It does not mean that we are against spending more on health, education and other services but that we are determined to break with the Chancellor's legacy of failed promises and dashed expectations. We are determined to offer something better.

Gregory Barker: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that after five years of increased Labour spending on health, and 53 tax rises to pay for it, bed blocking at the Conquest hospital in Hastings over the last 12 months has risen by 130 per cent., so that now one in nine beds have elderly people trapped in hospital? In East Sussex, the waiting time for women with breast cancer to receive radiotherapy—the Chancellor should be interested in this because he has been confronted on television by one of my constituents, since when the situation has got a lot worse—has risen from 12 weeks 12 months ago to 23 weeks? Where has the money gone? That is what my constituents want to know.

Mr. Howard: I am not astonished by my hon. Friend's figures. I was not aware of the precise figures for East

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Sussex, but I fear that they are typical. But that, I am afraid, is what counts as success for Labour Members. That is what they mean when they talk about the success of their policies to reform the health service. Those are the kind of figures that they have in mind.

Hugh Bayley (City of York): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give the House an assurance that his party's plans for improving the national health service will not include levying any charges on services that are currently available to patients free at the point of use?

Mr. Howard: I know that the hon. Gentleman is impatient to see our plans for the health service, and they will be worth waiting for. He will just have to wait a little longer and contain his impatience until we produce them. I am sure that if he is entirely objective when they are produced, he might even like them. We will have to wait and see.

The Chancellor promised the country in the run-up to the 1997 election:

But now the country is all too painfully aware of the instincts of this Chancellor and his party: an instinct to spend, an instinct to centralise and an instinct to interfere. It is as a result of those instincts that they have failed to deliver on the public services.

There is a better way. There is a way to achieve safer streets and better hospitals and schools. But it will not come about through more of the same. It will come about through leadership, imagination, vision, and real reform. That is what the Government had the opportunity to offer, but they have failed. That is precisely where we intend to succeed.

6.54 pm

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): The shadow Chancellor made himself politically infamous when, on "Newsnight", he refused 14 times to answer a question from Jeremy Paxman about Derek Lewis. He has now refused to answer about 14,000 times questions about where he will get the money from for his plans. The question I have for the right hon. and learned Gentleman is this: how can he maintain the present level of public services without spending any money? Credibility and honesty in politics is all and, sadly, the shadow Chancellor is a sham because he gives no indication of how his party would govern this country. Until he does, he has no credibility whatever.

Mr. Howard: Can the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Treasury explain why my party should produce its spending plans now when his party did not produce its spending plans until four months before the 1997 election?

Mr. McFall: I have a simple explanation. The shadow Chancellor has stood up and, for half an hour, criticised the Government's policies rotten. If he is going to do that, he must give us an alternative vision. All we have at the moment is a blank sheet; frankly, that is not good enough for this debate.

Mr. Tom Harris: Does my hon. Friend agree that, even before the 1997 election and before the Labour party

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had published its specific spending plans, our values and core aims were well known, which is the complete opposite of the Conservative party's position?

Mr. McFall: I agree. In my position as Chairman of the Select Committee, it is important for me and the Committee to analyse the Government's spending targets and plans and, as the shadow Chancellor has said, we did that in the past week.

I thank the Chancellor for his appearance at the Select Committee last week and for the extra money provided. However, I have to say that six days' notice of an event of such significance at the end of the parliamentary Session is not good enough. If we are to take the comprehensive spending review seriously as part of a transparent and well-managed process, we have to ensure that there is more time for discussion.

I suggest also that given that the envelope for public services was announced in the Budget some time ago, it might be a good idea to have a White Paper on the draft proposals so that the Government could consult on the issues and so that we knew where the money was going to be spent. There is a two-year process associated with the review, so there is no reason why we should not have the issues up for public discussion. After all, the United States federal Government do that annually. The British Government have a way to go on that.

I welcome the substantial increase in public spending. As has been mentioned, the total level of public spending will be £511 billion by 2005–06. That is £61 billion extra for public services over the next three years and, in cash terms, it is the biggest rise ever. It is reassuring to know that 75 per cent. of that spending will be focused on the key areas of education and health. It is the biggest rise in spending that we have witnessed and the annual rate of spending will be 4.3 per cent. over this year's forecast.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Is there not a massive irony in all of this? When new Labour came to power in 1997, we were told repeatedly that they would never be a tax-and-spend Government because that had been the failure of all previous Labour Governments since the war. Now, that is exactly what they have become.

Mr. McFall: I shall answer that in two steps. The Treasury Select Committee had a number of experts before us last week, one of whom—David Walton, the chief economist of Goldman Sachs—said that, on the average growth trend of 2.5 per cent., the Government's projections looked very reasonable and their fiscal rules would be met comfortably.

A further issue for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who go on about tax and spend is that, as a share of national income, public sector spending is set to grow from 39.8 per cent. to 41.8 per cent. in 2005. That is still lower than the average of 44 per cent. of national income spent over the 18 years of Conservative Government from 1979 to 1997. The figure is also low by international standards. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that his heroine, now Baroness Thatcher, presided over public spending of 48 per cent. of national income in 1982–83, three years after the previous Labour Government. So this is far from tax and spend—indeed, I would refer to it as fiscally conservative.

Mr. Bercow: I am sure that all democrats share one goal, which is to increase the engagement of the public

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with the democratic process. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the question of the share of national income spent by the state is very important, but that it is not much discussed in the Dog and Duck. Will he tell me how, in practical terms, the increase in expenditure on education will either reduce the appalling truancy levels from which we suffer or counter the 300 per cent. rise in assaults by pupils on teachers?

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