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Mr. Laws: The hon. Gentleman is developing an interesting speech. He is right to say that I noticed his ambush of the Chancellor last year in respect of the spending review. In that exchange with the Chancellor, he mentioned that there were a number of flaws in the existing public service agreement regime. Will he explore some of those flaws and how they might be tackled?
I was speaking about the Treasury Committee and foreign affairs, but the hon. Gentleman has taken me entirely away from my argument. In terms of targets, I think that I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), who is sitting in front of me, mutter a word that puts the matter into some context"ambition". As a taxpayer and citizen, I want a Government to have ambitions. I cannot fault them if they fall short of those ambitions, as long as they have tried and done everything to achieve them. The hon. Member for Yeovil was not in the House when the Conservative party was in government. When we attacked that Government and asked what they were going to do, their answer to every problem in the three failing areas that have been mentionedthe greatest problem was unemploymentwas to shrug their shoulders and give the stock reply: "We'll still get elected in five years' time."
They occupied these Benches for the status, the red boxes and the fame; with a few exceptions, they had no ambition for the ordinary people of this country. That was the most unacceptable aspect of their term in office.
Much as targets are open to criticismI would say the same about reformthey represent ambition. At least this Government have an ambition. If that is translated into targets that we sometimes do not reach, I can live with that. For example, when did a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer ever set a target for the abolition of child poverty? I cannot remember any of them ever mentioning it. They never had such a target or ambition. Poverty was about my class: they were a different class. We, by contrast, have a target. When the hon. Member for Yeovil heard me chase up the Chancellor about the subject, it was the target that enabled me to do it, because he had put his ambition on the table and said, "I will tell you the year when I expect child poverty to disappear from this country; and I will tell you, in stages, the point that I have reached." The hon. Member for Yeovil and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) were able to push the Chancellor and to make sure that he understood how important it was that he should meet his ambition to abolish child poverty. Then, as he moved on from the first milestone, we were able to say to him, "You should do this, this and this." If we did not have a target, an ambition and a statement, where would we be?
Mr. Mudie: I accept that it is a learning process. Sometimes, the fault lies partly with spending Departments, which reach public service agreements with the Treasury. I am sure that if the hon. Member for Woodspring sat on the Government Front Bench, he would say, having agreed with the Chancellor that the targets were fine, "I would like to be left alone to put them into operation and, as Secretary of State, to have the opportunity to make the changes that I want." I see nothing wrong with that. Although targets are a good development
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I call Mr. Richard Bacon. [Interruption.] Order. I may have misunderstood the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie). He said that he was going to sit down, not that he was going to give way.
Mr. Mudie: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I meant that I was going to sit down to allow that very important Member, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), to intervene, but I fear that he may have tricked me, and I am sure that you would not want to be party to that.
Mr. Bercow: I am extraordinarily grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who, in his typically understated and kindly way, wishes the Labour Government to transmute contracts to promises and targets to ambitions. Why have the Government's targets on slashing the number of deaths from strokes and on reducing by half the incidence of prescription charge evasionperfectly laudable targetssimply been dropped?
The Government, by setting targets and saying, "We are going to go through this painful business of reform", are making a rod for their own back. However much we muck about here debating the finer points of the meaning of the word "targets", the British people are interested in the ambitions and delivery of a Government who came in promising to make things better: that is what people want to see. If the Opposition's judgment is that the Government have not achieved all their ambitions, I should likebut will not, in deference to other speakersto go through in detail
I turn to education. There are 25,000 more teachers. I attended a meeting in Leeds where the chief executive of Education Leeds, which is not a body that I support or wanted in my city, spoke to parents and pointed out that capital expenditure in Leeds has gone up by 10 times since the time of the previous Government. That is an amazing figure, and it was given not by a politician, but by a chief executive. That shows the advantages of ambition. As well as 25,000 more teachers, there are 122,000 teaching assistants.
I conclude with reference to the Government's ambition on unemployment. I have one of the poorer constituencies. When we came in, we raised money, against the wishes of the Opposition, from the windfall tax on the privatised public utilities. We spent it on reaching parts of Britain, such as my constituency, that had been ignored for 18 years. The unemployment rate in my constituency went down by 50 per cent. in four years. We halved unemployment in east Leeds, and we have continued to work away at it as the years have passed. For targets, read ambition. I am very grateful to the Chancellor, who is interested not only in money, but in social policy and in converting valuable taxpayers' money into helping ordinary people to raise their families with a decent standard of living.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I, too, am interested in money. The Chancellor spent most of his speech boasting about it, as did the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie). In the health service, much money is wasted: approximately £1 billion to £3 billion on fraud and theft; approximately £2 billion through bed blocking and late cancelled operations; approximately £2 billion through staff sicknesses and absences; approximately £1 billion through infections that are caught while in hospital; between £300 million and £600 million on over-prescribing drugs; approximately £400 million through clinical negligence, and approximately £230 million on treating patients who become malnourished while they are in hospital.