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Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): The hon. Gentleman criticises, carps and calls for honesty from the Chancellor. The Liberal Democrats call for an increase in spending on education, health, transport, the environment and small businesses. Can we have a little honesty from them? By how much would they put up taxes to achieve their aims?
Matthew Taylor: It was all set out in our manifesto. Incidentally, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the BBC economics department and others all concluded that our figures added up. Clearly, the Chancellor's did not, because he has had to do a complete U-turn in only six or seven months following the general election.
That said, the House may now have the vague impression that the Government's position is clear. The Chancellor has said, "Yes, it is our commitment to meet the EU target by 2005", and that is welcome news. I think that it means some increase in spending for the NHS. Unfortunately, the Treasury is redefining the EU target. Perhaps that is why the Chancellor now feels able to make that commitment.
The King's Fund and the Institute for Fiscal Studies both believe that the position is clear: there is a substantial gap, even on the Government's present spending plans. The size of the countries should be taken into account. Luxembourg, one of the smallest, does not spend so much, but then perhaps it is not overly reliant on the immediate health services in Luxembourg itself. If the reasonable view is taken that the larger countries count for more, on an independent basis, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the King's Fund and others all conclude that the Government will fall substantially short of their target.
The Government now use an average that includes the United Kingdom. That helps to bring the figure down as UK spending is low in any case, but the humdinger is that every country across the European Union faces similar pressures to those that have caused so much difficulty in the NHS: the increase in demand, the development of technology, the need to pay doctors and nurses a reasonable wage. Across the world, other workers are benefiting from growth in the economies through the wage packet. Doctors and nurses obviously need the same, but the Chancellor is off the hook in one bound because the target is to meet not the EU average, but the EU average as it used to be. It is not to bring us up to the European Union, but to allow us permanently to fall ever further behind.
Chris Grayling: May I seek the hon. Gentleman's clarification on an important point? He said that his party was committed to raising health care spending in this country to the European average; he gave the answer, "Yes" a moment ago. Did his proposals at the general election raise sufficient money to do that? If not, where will the money come from to fill the gap? What extra taxation does his party want to raise to meet that target?
Matthew Taylor: The hon. Gentleman is drawing me down the line of an alternative Budget presentation with the full details. We published such a Budget at the last general election. I shall not deliver it now but, if he is interested, we will continue to deliver our alternative spending plans at each and every Budget, which is more than his Front-Bench team has ever done. We have a clear commitment from the shadow Chancellor not to do it in March.
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil): What conclusions does my hon. Friend draw about the Conservative party's commitment to the NHS, given its statements in the debate today and given the fact that barely 10 Conservative Members have bothered to turn up for their own Opposition day debate?
The Chancellor commissioned the Wanless report, effectively taking over direct control of long-term NHS policy making. Now that that report has been published, we have learnedfirst in The Mail on Sunday, on 12 December, and now essentially directly from the Chancellor's own lipsthat:
The Observer had the most bizarre story of all. Presumably briefed by Labour party insidersit is quite a friend of the Government, although not always a secure one, and tends to have knowledge of what is said in the inner circlesit said:
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the announcement of a great national debate on the future of public expenditure and public services? If so, will Liberal Democrat Members rise to the challenge of that debate, or will they continue as he has started by talking about the personalities in various Departments? Does he agree that the reason why we are able to have a debate on the future of public expenditure at all, not to mention the public expenditure increases that the Government are delivering, is that the Government have shown competent stewardship of the economy and that, despite a world recession, growth next year is forecast to remain the same as it has been this year?