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Mr. Rammell: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's statement that he remains committed to the national health service free at the point of use. If that is the case, can he explain what the shadow Secretary of State for Health meant by "self-pay"? What does that concept mean to the Conservatives?
Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman has not grasped the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves. We have a two-tier system. Last year, 250,000 people without insurance paid for their operations. It should not be necessary in the year 2002 for people to use their life savings to save their own lives. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Health has said that people are having to pay, and he does not want that situation to become worse. He recognises the need for reform and he is considering the various options. He knows that the Government have made a mess of things. I say to the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) that my hon. Friend has probably forgotten more about the national health service than the Secretary of State knew in the first place.
Mr. Chas Roy-Chowdhury spoke about the savage imposition on married women, as reported in the Financial Times on 3 May. He is the head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. He said:
Vernon Coaker (Gedling): The hon. Gentleman has quoted many organisations. Will he quote ordinary people? Will he quote what individuals in our constituencies are saying about the extra investment that will go into the national health service, and how important they think that extra investment is? Does he think that to quote them would be worth more in this debate than quotations from representatives of the organisations to which he has referred?
Mr. Bercow: I am slightly perturbed by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The individuals to whom I have referred would find it peculiar to be described as in some way extraordinary. They have the advantage of the hon. Gentleman because they boast experience and expertise that lend authority to their pronouncements. However, the hon. Gentleman is always good at egging me on and encouraging me in debate. If he will exercise some patience, which is a virtue, he will recognise that I intend to refer to the impact of the measures set out in the Bill on the very ordinary people for whom he purports to care.
Mr. Bercow: I am disappointed in the Chief Secretary. He should know by now that my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer is an ordinary person blessed with extraordinary abilities. That should be patently apparent to all Members of this place and others well beyond. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) must contain himself; he must exercise what restraint he can muster. I know that he is a distinguished Member of this place and I believe that he is the Chairman of the relevant Select Committee. I say to him in all kindness that if he behaves himself, I will give way. If he does not, I will not. He has a simple choice, but he must allow me to deal first with the Chief Secretary, which I shall relish. My right hon. and learned
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): On the impact of the increase on ordinary people, is my hon. Friend aware that the John Radcliffe hospital, which serves the Oxford, East constituency of the Chief Secretary, as well as the constituencies of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and myself, is short of 300 nurses and its vacancy rate is running at 14 per cent? Has my hon. Friend calculated the effect of increased national insurance contributions on trying to hire badly needed staff in our hospitals?
Mr. Bercow: In due course; I do not want to squander the hon. Gentleman's contribution. His professorial interventions are of great value and it would be a pity to waste one just yet. If he will allow me, I shall store him up and deal with him a bit later.
Most strikingly of all, Stephen Alambritas of the Federation of Small Businesses stressed that taxes will rise for 3 million self-employed workers. Pointing out that the average income from self-employment is just £13,890 a year, compared with an average income from employment of £21,842 a year, he rightly castigated the Government for undermining any attempt to help the low-paid. My right hon. and hon. Friends will have noticed that whenever I have spoken today about increased burdens, higher taxes and objections from business and other organisations, Government Members have been determined to throw me off the scent. They do not want to talk about damaging consequences, to focus on the realities or to acknowledge the protests that are springing up from reputable organisations and individuals the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, because they prefer to live in an ivory tower. They can try to do so, but it will not work; we shall point out the damage inflicted by their policies.
Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Earlier, the hon. Gentleman said that the shadow Chancellor was an ordinary man of extraordinary talents; he seems to be proving this afternoon that he himself is an extraordinary man of ordinary talents. He said that the increases in national insurance contributions on both sides may be a tax on jobs. What is unemployment in his constituency, and what was it in 1997? How does he explain the fact that it has fallen by 55 per cent.?