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Mrs. Beckett: I am so pleased to have upset the shadow Chancellor. He will be even more upset in a second. By 1997, the Tory Government had had the equivalent in today's money of £35 million every single day of the week for a solid 17 years. I shall say that again in case the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten: £35 million every single day for 17 solid years. That was the opportunity given to the Conservatives, but they never delivered a sustained and stable programme of long-term investment in Britain.
When faced with such unpalatable facts, the Opposition cannon fodder abdicate the debate and vaguely claim that it is all spin. It is the argument of a party that has no argument. Neither is their claim borne out by the facts or by the experience of millions of people throughout the country who, under this Government, have witnessed significant change for the better in many things that matter in their lives. They have seen much done, although we all recognise that there is much more still to do.
Mr. Redwood: Will the right hon. Lady tell the House why there are now fewer policemen, fewer hospital beds, fewer trains, fewer trains that run on time, and a far worse mess in manufacturing, farming and fishing than there were in 1997?
Mrs. Beckett: I did not quite catch the tail end of the right hon. Gentleman's list, but I assure him that we are conscious of the fact that, in the opening years of this Government, we needed to deal with the debt that we inherited from the Tories. Thus we were unable to put investment into public services as speedily as we had hoped. The right hon. Gentleman talked about fewer hospital beds and fewer nurses, but there would have been a lot more if the Conservative party had not cut the training programmes. We are doing our best to turn the situation around, but it takes three years to train a nurse, seven to train a doctor, and 10 years to provide a road building programme.
Mrs. Beckett: Oh, I am so grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me. Yes, indeed, for years we told the Conservatives when they were in government that the health service would suffer as a result of the cuts in beds that they introduced in every specialty. They did not listen then, and they are clearly not listening now.
I shall return to the issue of delivery. We said that we would introduce a national minimum wage, and the Conservative party said that it would cost 2 million jobs. The Liberal Democrats said that it should be a regional minimum wage, because they wanted it to be lower in the south-west. I am not sure how often they remind their constituents of that, but there you go.
The latest figures for the new deal show that more than our target of 250,000 young people have successfully been helped. The new deal and the windfall tax were opposed by both Opposition parties. We said that we would seek economic stability. Interest rates have varied by no more than 2.5 percentage points since May 1997, and now stand at 6 per cent., as they have for the past 10 months. We are now spending an extra £4.5 billion in real terms on pensioners, with more to come, and we have introduced the biggest ever increase in child benefit. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North
The shadow Chancellor talked about class sizes. He knows that our pledge was to reduce infant class sizes, and that it is being kept. On school standards, this year 75 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the literacy standard for their age--up 10 per cent.--and 72 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the expected numeracy standard for their age--up 13 per cent.
The in-patient waiting list is, as promised, below the level we inherited--126,000 below--and free eye tests for pensioners have been restored. All those points were made forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale). I recommend to the cannon fodder on the Opposition Benches that, next time the words "all spin and no substance" rise to their lips, they reflect for a second on what the Government have already achieved and compare it with their own dismal record.
All those things are the fruits of previous legislative and non-legislative change. When we measure that record against the Opposition's charge of no delivery, we know who is really in a flat spin to know what to say and how much notice to take of what they say about the Queen's Speech.
Mrs. Browning: I keep the Labour party's pledge card close to my heart. The right hon. Lady has referred to many pledges and prayed in aid the delivery of the pledges that the Government made nearly four years ago. However, is it not true that somebody else has paid the price for the delivery of the pledges that she has mentioned today? When the Government cut the class size for children under seven, children over seven pay with larger classes. When they cut the waiting lists in order to get through a lot of operations in one day, it is not the urgent or ill patients who are treated. The cardiac and cancer patients have to wait their turn while the Government deliver their pledge. That is not delivery; it is cynical, political electioneering. It is cynicism at the expense of--
Mrs. Beckett: What a lot of nonsense. The hon. Lady talks about cardiac and cancer patients, but I remind her that the principal reason why those patients have to wait is that we do not have enough consultants in those specialties. It takes seven years to train a consultant. The hon. Lady said--it is one of the most stupid points made by Opposition Members--that we have lower class sizes, but that it is paid for by increases in class size elsewhere. That is absolute rubbish. However, at least she conceded that we have lower class sizes. The shadow Chancellor said that none of our pledges had been met. Secondary school class sizes have been rising for 10 years. I do not think that Opposition Members know anything about teaching primary-age children. The notion that somebody who would be teaching Latin, maths or geography in a
Mr. Bercow: Why, since January 1999, have 3,000 people, typically sentenced to 20 months' imprisonment, been released after only eight? I am referring to the 3,000 drug dealers on whom the Government have gone soft.
Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman was here to contribute to the Home Office debate. He will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary deal with those points, as he does whenever Opposition Members raise them.
The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) made an interesting speech, not least when he called for a 20 per cent. devaluation of the pound. Yet again, he pretended that the Liberal Democrats' 1p on tax would have exceeded our investment record. He must know that that is nonsense. In almost every area, the Government have already delivered more than the Liberal Democrats even dared to offer.
Alongside increased investment, the Government will go forward in the Session with a programme of work centred on improving public services and tackling crime--central not just to our programme, but to the concerns of the people of this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) chairs the crime community partnership in Barnsley. He told us of the success that it had already achieved, with reported crime down by 35 or 36 per cent. in one area. In the Queen's Speech, we are bringing forward a range of measures that are aimed at combating different aspects of crime. They include crime in the streets, cracking down on the yob culture that is defacing and shaming Britain; crime on the roads, with stolen or bodged-up vehicles; crime and drugs; and crime and profits. Too many criminals are big-time professionals living high on the hog on the profits of crime, so there will be draft legislation to ensure that we confiscate their capital and that crime does not pay.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) drew attention to the need to tackle rogue companies in the private security industry. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) confirmed that reputable companies will welcome that.
Safety and security are about not just combating crime, but knowing that there is a proper health service for people when they need it. Our Health plan--a plan for the crown jewel of our public services--must deliver the modernisation and reform that can make best use of the unprecedented investment that we are committed to provide. It is the centrepiece of our legislative programme. It will demonstrate the stark choice before the country: that jewel re-cut, gleaming in a modern setting, providing health care for all; or what the Shadow Chancellor called a "mixed economy" health system under the Conservatives, a two-tier health service. Long-term care will be free. I note that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) welcomed that.
We have too often overlooked the need to tackle the causes of ill health. That is why we will bring forward legislation to help to tackle smoking, which kills 120,000 people every year in this country. It is a huge charge on us all, as well as a huge waste of life. With some defined exceptions, tobacco advertising will be banned. Tobacco promotion will be banned. Over time, tobacco sponsorship will be banned.
Although crime and health are the key priorities for the Government, the speech and the programme contain much else: measures for children with special educational and care needs; measures on housing; and an early chance to give a view on the different approaches to hunting with hounds. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton referred to the Regulatory Reform Bill, which will give us the power to remove regulation that is accepted to be out of date and unnecessary, but that until now we needed primary legislation to replace.
Whatever the Opposition's inadequacies, the key elements in our programme underline the major choices facing Britain: the choice between economic stability and boom and bust; the choice between investment in our public services, including investment over the long term, and cuts in those services; the choice between strong communities and the idea that there is no such thing as society; the choice between leadership and isolation, as we have seen with the Conservative party's policies on Europe. What the Queen's Speech and our programme show above all is that the choice is between a Government who are about investment and planning for the long term and for the whole country, and a party that is hooked on opportunistic bandwagoning and campaigning for cuts in our public services, and is for the few rather than the many.