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Mr. Beard: Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am attempting to outline the broad structure of Government policy in which public service agreements and, therefore, targets fit. PSAs form a major part of the Government's programme of investment by ensuring that the investment achieves what people voted for and wanted.
The other big rules in the strategy were the independence of the Bank of England and a target of 2.5 per cent. inflationI wonder whether that will be condemned with all the otherswith the rate kept within 1 per cent. above or below. Do Conservative
The fiscal rules are part of the general complex. There is a golden rule of ensuring that borrowing occurs only for investment so that we do not return to the previous Government's policies of live now, pay later. The sustainability rule ensures that we do not run up debts and leave them to be paid in the future.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I endorse my hon. Friend's point about the sustainability of the repayment of public debt and agree that we should not pass on debt to future generations. However, given the broadening and expanding use of the private finance initiative, is there not a risk that we are doing exactly that? We are requiring later generations to pay for the investment from which others will benefit.
Mr. Beard: The reverse is true, and I think that my hon. Friend has misunderstood the nature of payments under the private finance initiative. Under the PFI, the public sector pays year by year as services are used. Consequently, the services gained in one year are paid for in that year. Whatever sins one might adduce to the PFI, burdening people in the future cannot be one.
Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because he is a loyal Government workhorse. Surely one of the central political questions behind the debate is whether the measurement of public service agreement targets is so flawed as to undermine the integrity of the targets themselves. In that context, does he think it right that if a PSA target has five components and the Government miss four, Ministers are justified in recording the target as being "partially met"?
Mr. Beard: I shall talk about what is amiss about the targets in a moment. I tell the hon. Gentleman that the questions of whether we have quantified the targets that have been adopted sufficiently well and whether that quantification has been adequately measured are the subject of a different debate. If we accept targets, we may consider the way in which they are properly implemented. If he is saying that several of them are difficult to measure or are bound to be subject to judgment, I go along with him entirely. However, that is not the motion before the House. It says that we should not have targets at all. It seems that the targets, which are somehow flawed, should be swept away and everything should be devolved. If he wants to stick to the line that he took, I suggest he thinks about voting against the motion.
Mr. Laws: The hon. Gentleman's comments clarify that the motion does not specify that there should be no public service targets at all. It could meanthis is for the Conservative spokesman to clarifya much smaller number of key targets without the same amount of micro-management. Does he agree?
Mr. Bercow: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's belated concession of defeat to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws). For the purpose of clarification and the avoidance of doubt, I put it to him that the central problem in the Government's position is that when important targets have been set that should have been met, they have not been, and that when they have met a target, it is of the vacuous character, "We will publish a White Paper", which does not represent the apogee of political achievement.
Mr. Bercow: I am very happy to do that. It is overly generous of the hon. Gentleman to give me such an opportunity and a bit uncharitable of me to exploit it, but I appreciate it none the less. A good example is the failure to meet the truancy target, followed speedily by the decision to abolish it. I should like to adumbrate the argument, but I fear that I would fall foul of you if I did, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Beard: I shall not respond directly to the hon. Gentleman because I am about to address the application of targets and their value if they are not met. Plainly, they are not always met, but they are, nevertheless, of value to the administration of large investment projects.
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): Does my hon. Friend agree that one great benefit of our targets is that they are, at least, made public? Does he remember when the Conservative Administration in the 1980s set targets in secret for the pound against the Deutschmark? We all know where that led.
Mr. Beard: In terms of the motion, the Conservative party's record on economic management would have meant us debating the abolition of long division because its Government were incapable of basic arithmetic, let alone anything complicated. However, I shall deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) in the context of my other remarks.
Having succeeded so well in our economic performance and in providing the money that is vital to regenerate our public services, it is essential that we ensure that the money is spent to best effect. In a nutshell, that is what public service agreements are about. They do not mean putting money into an organisation and hoping for the best, which would be the effect of the motion. Those long-neglected services
The targets that we set enable us to monitor carefully whether investment and reform are being achieved. There will be cases in which those aims are not being achieved, and year-by-year monitoring is the means by which attention is called to those cases so that remedial action can be taken. That ensures that we do not wait five or 10 years before we see that the ultimate target has not been met and then wring our hands.
Targets provide a means of making corrections as we go along, year by year. [Laughter.] I am surprised that the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) finds that so amusing. Is he suggesting that, once launched, any of those programmes should be left on autopilot with no one looking at them again? If they were left on autopilot, against what would we judge them if we did not have some idea of where we were going? If, by monitoring performance against a target, we find that the target is exaggerated or too optimistic, we adjust it. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman a secret: every private company in this country that is engaged in major investment runs its programme in that way.
David Taylor: Is it not in the interests of the Conservative party, which, in its heart, does not believe in the concept of high-quality, wide-ranging public services, to remove performance indicators from those services, so that the party's success or failure can be judged by journalists who write the editorial column in that esteemed organ, the Daily Mail, and who successfully employ the broad-brush, condemnatory style that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has made almost his own in the House?
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in his increasingly long speech on an Opposition motion. Having already been trounced in his attempt to suggest that the motion proposes the complete scrapping of targetsthose words do not appear on the Order Paperdoes he now recognise that the Opposition's objection to his statement that all targets need to be corrected is that, because of the Government's abject failure in the delivery of public service targets, corrections occur only when they scrap them or revise them downwards, against the interests of our constituents?