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Roger Casale rose

Mr. Bercow: I will not give way at the moment.

The conflict that exists now between the rhetoric and the reality is so stark that it ought even to embarrass the normally unembarrassable hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale).

Warming to my theme, I will deal with the specific public services. Frankly, the Chief Secretary, who is an intelligent and often an amiable man, debauched the currency of this debate from the outset. The right hon. Gentleman, who is justifiably proud of his recent promotion, seemed to forget that we are here to identify ways to improve the quality of the lives of our constituents and our fellow citizens as a whole. The reality of the Government's performance is a dismal catalogue of under-performance: of hopes destroyed, promises broken and trust betrayed.

Let us take the example of the national health service. I do not need to misrepresent the Government's position because the track record is poor enough studied according to its own lights. The Government have increased public expenditure on health since they took office by approximately 30 per cent. During that time, we had nearly 78,000 cancelled operations last year and we have witnessed that, on average, it takes four months to get an in-patient hospital appointment compared with a maximum wait of four weeks in France. As anyone who studies the situation should be appalled to discover, in today's national health service, under a benighted Labour Government who have taken more and more of our money in taxation since they took office, there are more administrators than there are beds.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, made a potent contribution. He drew attention to the danger of

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wage demands. He recognised the need for local involvement in the delivery of public service agreement targets. He was chary, and with good reason, of some of the rhetoric of Ministers, but the one thing that he did not appear to recognise was that, in Scotland, a constituency within which he ably represents, we see evidence of the mismatch between money spent and improvement delivered. He knows that since his party took office expenditure in real terms on health in Scotland has risen by 28 per cent., but simultaneously the average waiting time for treatment in Scotland has risen by 25 per cent.—more money spent but not a better performance delivered. That deals with health.

Roger Casale: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow: No. The hon. Gentleman may tempt me in a moment or two if he is patient but there were other contributions. I might want to refer particularly to the excellent contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), who was rightly sceptical of the Government's position, and the truly devastating critique of Government performance that came from the lips of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley). Not for nothing are they the twin terrors of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Treasury Committee.

Let us talk about the quality of the education system. The Government have increased expenditure on education since they came to office by about a quarter. What do we see in terms of Government performance? We see that on a typical day 50,000 children play truant from our schools. We know that there has been a 300 per cent. rise in the number of assaults by pupils on staff. We observe a doubling of teacher vacancies in our state schools. We recognise the appalling burden on teachers, who have to put up with 17 pages of paper spewing forth from the Department for Education and Skills every day, amounting to no fewer than 4,440 pages a year. That is the reality of Government performance in education. Last year, fewer people achieved the Government's numeracy target than the year before.

It is no good the Chief Secretary saying that all is well and dandy when the truth is that 43 per cent. of the Government's own public service agreement targets have not been met. As I have had reason many times to observe, for the Government to fail to achieve public service targets set by independent experts would be disappointing. To fail, however, to achieve the targets that the Government have themselves set requires incompetence on a truly spectacular scale.

Of course, it is true in relation not just to health and education but to transport. Last year, one in five trains failed to arrive on time. People who experience the public transport system at the grass roots know that delay, congestion, cancellation, danger and vandalism is the regular diet. It is the normal state of affairs. It is not the exception; it is all too commonplace.

Roger Casale: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow: I want briefly to point out the serious failings in Government performance in relation to law and order but if the hon. Gentleman is that keen, I shall be my normal indulgent self.

Roger Casale: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new appointment. His contributions to debates on

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public expenditure will be greatly missed on the Labour Benches. Before he takes up his new appointment and shuts down his Treasury brief, perhaps he can tell the House whether there are any aspects of public expenditure other than defence and international development where a future Conservative Government would match the increases that the Labour Government announced last week.

Mr. Bercow: That was very disappointing. I blame myself. My natural generosity of spirit got the better of me. It is a pretty rum individual who expects the Conservative party to produce the details of its manifesto for the next election precisely 13 months after its devastating defeat at the last.

David Wright: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow: I recognise the impatience of the hon. Gentleman. He will have to be patient.

In relation to law and order, the Government have spent more, trying, honourably and decently but unsuccessfully, to fight crime. They have increased resources by 25 per cent. in real terms. Now, crime is rising by 7 per cent., violent crime is rising by 11 per cent., robbery is rising by 28 per cent.—

Hugh Bayley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow: No, I will not. Street crime is rising by 31 per cent. The central proposition that the Government have not been able to answer is this: for the last five years, they have spent more money, promised reform, failed to deliver it, and presided over a continuing deterioration in the quality of public services on which the citizens of the United Kingdom depend. We are not going to be trapped in that discredited gobbledegook that says more money alone will solve the public service ills from which this country suffers. We are determined instead to listen, to look and to learn. Labour Members may be all in favour of giving power to people in European Union institutions whom we do not elect and whom we cannot remove. What a pity that they do not want to learn from the practical experience of countries that are more successful, in their public services, at translating care from a word to a deed. They have failed to do it. They have closed minds, closed ears and closed intellects. We have opened minds, opened ears and opened intellects.

We will fashion a credible policy. We will communicate it honestly. We will subject it to the scrutiny of the electorate. We are determined to get rid of the highest-taxing, heaviest-regulating, most pompous, sanctimonious, politically correct sisterhood called new Labour, and to get a Conservative Government in office led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who will promise less and deliver better in the interests of people who have suffered too much too long from a Government who have nothing left to offer.

9.47 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly): We have had an interesting debate this evening, with useful and—may I say?—measured contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton

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(Mr. McFall), my right hon. Friends the Members for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) and for Newport, East (Alan Howarth), and my hon. Friends the Members for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley).

We have talked about choices—political choices. We have made ours. In our election manifesto, we promised to put schools and hospitals first. In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced the largest sustained increase in spending on the NHS since it was founded in 1948. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to re-establish the historic consensus in favour of the NHS: free at the point of use to all who need it. The Tories oppose our funding and seek to unravel that national consensus, which has endured for 50 years, in favour of charges and cuts.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) appealed to our compassion this evening. Why should he set out his spending plans for our scrutiny? Why, indeed. We learned two important and interesting facts this evening. First, we found out from his answer to one of my hon. Friends that he stands by his earlier comments that the NHS is a Stalinist creation. We also found out that the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), the new shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, does not deny that he wrote in a memo to the shadow Chancellor:

No wonder he is hiding behind the camouflage of reform. They talk about reform; instead, they mean cuts. They talk about learning from abroad; instead, they mean charges. They talk about consultation; instead, they mean forcing the sick to pay for being sick. Let them explain why they do not support our health service reforms and our money, and why they are considering charges for visits to hospitals and GPs.

In the spending review, my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary set out their commitments to education. Over the next three years, there will be a 6 per cent. real rise in education in England—the biggest sustained rise in a generation. That will include £165,000 direct to secondary school heads, rising to £180,000, and £50,000 direct to primary schools. There will be more resources for further and higher education. That is what we mean when we say "education, education, education".

I defy Conservative Members to go back to their constituencies to tell head teachers why they do not support the extra money that we are giving to secondary schools and directly to primary schools, or the 6 per cent. real terms increase in education spending. Why did the Conservatives say in their manifesto at the last election that they would support our education and health spending and our reforms, and why have they turned away from that now? What has changed? Do they believe that they were being too generous just a year ago?

Five years ago, when we came to power, we inherited a legacy of economic failure and social decay. Money was being wasted on debt and debt interest, and high unemployment was a further drain on the Exchequer. Public services were starved of resources and public servants were starved of support. Because we have cut public sector debt from 44 per cent. of national income to

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30.4 per cent. last year, and have cut unemployment by more than 700,000 and created a new framework for monetary policy and tough new fiscal rules, we are now in a position to build on the successful reforms of our first term and to introduce the investment and the reform that the public sector desperately needs.

Debt interest is at its lowest as a proportion of gross domestic product since the first world war. Debt interest payments have fallen by more than £6.5 billion since 1997, so more money has been freed up for investment every single year. Britain's debt has been reduced to the lowest level of national income in the G7 and to the lowest of all our major European competitors.

Within that framework, we have the strength to invest for the long term and to reverse the chronic underinvestment of the 18 years under the previous Conservative Government. The investment has already started to go in and we have already seen the results. Instead of 500,000 children in classes of more than 30, there are none today. There are 20,000 more teachers in schools, and 100,000 more students in universities. We have 10,000 more doctors and 39,000 more nurses, but there is still a lot to do.

Holding strictly to the public spending totals that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in the Budget, we are raising departmental spending from £240 billion this year to £263 billion next year, to £280 billion in 2004–05 and to £301 billion in 2005–06. By 2006, we will have increased public spending by £61 billion, and that is £61 billion a year more for improved public services.

In each area of service delivery, we are tying new resources to reform and results, developing a modern method for running efficient public services, setting national targets with performance monitored by independent and open audit and inspection. Front-line staff will be given the power and flexibility to deliver, thereby extending choice, rewarding success and turning around failure.

There has been much discussion in the debate, not least from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), about the new inspection regime. We as a Government are determined that the extra £61 billion allocated to public services will deliver results. We are tying the resources to reform and results through streamlined arrangements for accountability and audit. I would have thought that the Opposition would welcome our new inspection regime.

Those of us who believe in public services know that we have a special duty to make sure that public money is well spent and spent efficiently. We are as determined to secure value for money as we are to secure money for services. [Interruption.] I hear jibes from those on the Opposition Front Bench, but this Government want value for money, whereas the Opposition seem to want value without money.

Points have been raised about the inspection regime, but I must point out that the National Audit Office's responsibilities are completely unaltered by the new inspection arrangements. The new bodies will amalgamate and streamline existing performance and value-for-money work, so the National Audit Office will continue to have an important and valuable role in monitoring the new arrangements.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton made some interesting comments about public service agreements. I am extremely pleased to hear that the Treasury Select Committee will continue to take an active interest in monitoring the Government's performance against our performance targets. By setting clear, measurable targets, publishing information on each of them and collating that information in one easily accessible location, we empower not the Government, nor even the Treasury, but the people who elected us and who can use that information to hold Departments to account. The National Audit Office has said:

This is about transparency and accountability as a necessary component of good governance. We are learning from best practice in the private sector and applying it for the first time to the process of government.

Alongside the new performance targets, each Department will publish separately detailed implementation plans as to how they intend to meet those targets. They will be open to public scrutiny and debate, and I am sure that they will monitored by many hon. Members, not just those on the Select Committee. I look forward to that.

We heard several interesting contributions. I am sorry to have missed the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East, who gave a passionate and erudite exposition of the case for university museums and collections and for making a change to the VAT regime. I remind him that the impact of tax changes is already included in spending allocations, although I take his point as an early representation on the next Budget.

I also enjoyed the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East, who agreed that money has to be accompanied by reform, and gave specific examples of reforms that are making a real difference in his constituency and others.

On the comments of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), with whom we have had some dealings in the House over the past few weeks and months, I may say that they might have had more credibility had he not opposed the extra money that is coming through the taxation of the North sea oil regime. He cannot stand up in the House and argue for more resources for Scotland if he does not back the revenue-raising measures that go alongside that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central made an impassioned plea for his local authority and for others in the north of England. The options are currently being discussed and I look forward to his active participation in those consultations. I am sure that my ministerial colleagues with responsibility for local government will take that into account.

As for Liberal Democrat Members who suggested that in the comprehensive spending review we have succumbed to the demands of the Liberal party for extra resources to be put into our public services, I should like to point out a couple of facts. By comparison with what the Liberals promised at the last election, by 2006 we

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will be spending £9 billion more than they promised on education, £25 billion more on health, £6 billion more on transport and an extra £1 billion on international development. From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton refers to the trend rate of growth. I know that he made that point during his contribution. We base our fiscal forecasts on cautious estimates for the trend rate of growth, and all those estimates have been audited by the National Audit Office.

By 2006, we will be investing a total of £61 billion a year in public services. We have established testing targets, independent audit, new powers, new flexibilities, new responsibilities for front-line agencies and systems of sanctions for those who fail to deliver. We are building on the successful reforms of our first term to deliver improvements in education, housing, defence, development and productivity. Resources matched by reform to deliver results—that is what the spending review sets out. I commend it to the House.

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