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Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): It is easy for the Secretary of State to make Red Book promises when he knows full well that he will not be in a position to honour them. Returning to the Secretary of State's claims about the state of the national health service, if it is so good, why has Mr. James Johnson of the British Medical Association consultants committee voiced his fear that the NHS hospital service will collapse this winter?

Mr. Dorrell: I do not base my case purely on the Red Book--although I shall examine the contrast between our commitments and those of the Opposition. I base my case on 17 years of delivered growth plus our commitment to ensure that it continues. I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) to allow him to quiz me on the figures in the Red Book, which underline clearly the Government's continuing commitment to real terms growth, year by year. I am also pleased to give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to refer to other issues.

Mr. Alan Milburn (Darlington): Will the Secretary of State explain why page 124 of the Red Book shows that health spending will be frozen between 1998-99 and the turn of the century?

Mr. Dorrell: I will indeed. The note to that table makes it clear that the figures are subject to rounding. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the cash allocation in year 3, which is provided on page 123. If he gets out his calculator, he will find that £35.89 billion is a 2.1 per cent. increase on £35.15 billion. In other words, there is a real terms increase in year 3--precisely as the Government have stated. Would the hon. Gentleman care to return to the Dispatch Box to argue the point? If he does not, I shall assume that he agrees with me.

Mr. Milburn: I am happy to do so. The press release issued by the Department of Health to coincide with the Budget statement--we are debating the same figures--showed that there would be minimal growth in the year of the general election, but that there would be a fall in the year after the general election.

Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman has shifted his ground and he is wrong on both counts. Opposition Front Benchers have sought to use two arguments. I have the press release and it shows at table 3 that the Department of Health budget will decrease in year 2--not in year 3, as the hon. Gentleman claimed; I had always assumed that he could read. The note makes it precisely clear that it will fall in year 2 because the Department of Health budget in year 1 includes a grant to local authorities that will not be paid in year 2 because the money will be provided direct to the Department of the Environment. Would the hon. Gentleman care to return to the Dispatch Box? I should like to hear his views.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): Would the Secretary of State care to read out the figures

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for the Department of the Environment, which show a cut in precisely the same year? Therefore, there is a cut in the figures of both the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment.

Mr. Dorrell: If the hon. Gentleman is interested in substantiating the facts of the issue rather than playing party points, perhaps he will table a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ask him what provision is made in year 2 of his public expenditure survey settlement for the transfer of community care responsibilities. Let him table that question. If he does so, he will find that my right hon. Friend's budget has been increased in year 2 by £325 million. That is the fact. Would the hon. Gentleman--[Interruption.] There is a confab taking place on the Opposition Front Bench. I am happy to talk while the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench sort out their next question.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) rose--

Mr. Dorrell: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is being loyal to his Front-Bench colleagues. We shall have a private discussion while they sort out what the answer is.

Mr. Spearing: If there is to be an increase in resources this year and in future, will the Secretary of State explain to the people of east London why East London and The City health authority--this was shown on a BBC programme last Thursday--is having to cut its budget for next year by £18 million? How has that happened when the right hon. Gentleman provides the money?

Mr. Dorrell: That authority secured an increase of £8.9 million over and above inflation in the settlement that I announced last week. That is an increase of 2.5 per cent. in real terms. The authority also has bids for other funds, which are currently being considered. As I said when I made the allocations, they are initial allocations. East London and The City health authority benefits from other allocations as well.

Now, have those on the Opposition Front Bench sorted out what the answer is? The reality is that the Government are committed to real terms growth in health expenditure. The Opposition have made two attempts to demonstrate that that is not true and both have been demonstrated to be wrongly based. They should--[Interruption.] It is no good sitting on the Opposition Front Bench and pointing at the Red Book. Let them come to the Dispatch Box to advance the argument. But the argument has been demolished. If the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury wishes to return to the Dispatch Box, I shall happily give way. Let him come back and advance the argument. Is he trying to make an argument?

Mrs. Beckett: The Secretary of State is wasting time deliberately. It is not true that he has made his case. His case is false, and he knows it. The Red Book shows that the budget of the Department of Health is cut. It shows also that the budget of the Department of the Environment is cut. Probably the best that the right hon. Gentleman can do is to claim that councils will have to increase rates

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even more in future to pay for this funding. Let us stop this nonsense. The Red Book proves that the Secretary of State is misleading the House, or trying to.

Mr. Dorrell: The right hon. Lady is too much of an optimist. We are certainly not stopping this argument, which demonstrates the difference between the parties on the national health service. The Conservative party is committed to real terms growth in the NHS budget. The Labour party refuses to give the commitment. Let Opposition Members come to the Dispatch Box. I shall give way again. If any of them--perhaps the shadow Chief Secretary or the Opposition Whip--would like to give the commitment that a Labour Government, if elected, would give a real terms increase to health expenditure, I shall give way. It is a simple question. The right hon. Lady is a former deputy leader of the Labour party, and pro tem leader of the party. Let her use her authority. Let her commit the Labour party to the real terms growth of the NHS if the Labour party were ever elected.

The fact is that Opposition Members cannot and will not give that pledge. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury is all the time full of soft words and empty rhetoric and reassurances. He was at it again in his interview with Pulse this week. A journalist from Pulse wrote:

He can say that again. The interview continued:

    "he argued that Labour had no need to counter the Conservatives pledge to increase NHS spending year-on-year."

Presumably he means by that that Labour is complacent on the health service. We know now what Labour's position is on health expenditure. As the hon. Gentleman said to Pulse:

    "I'll fight my corner for NHS funding".

That is what the NHS is expected to accept from the hon. Gentleman. That is just like his ability to deliver his right hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) when he last went into a Labour economic commission, when he was unable to get any of his proposals through. If the hon. Gentleman cannot deliver the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, he has small chance against the International Monetary Fund, which would be the real negotiating party once the Labour party was in power. Although the hon. Gentleman likes to go round saying that he will fight his corner, and, "Don't worry, it will be all right under us," we know from its private paperwork that the Labour party, including the hon. Gentleman, does not believe that that is an adequate answer. We know that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) told the Fabian Society:

    "Labour's health policy will not look credible at the general election if we do not commit ourselves to matching the rate of growth delivered by the Conservatives in recent years."

He is right. [Hon. Members: "Where is he?"] Indeed. Where is he?

It is not only the hon. Member for York. I have some minutes that may interest the House. These are the minutes of the parliamentary Labour party health committee meeting, held on 29 October 1996. The hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) was there. He was talking to Labour Back Benchers about Labour's health policy. He said that the Government are talking about additional money for the health service. He

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is quite right. We are. He said that Labour had to make an effective response. He made it absolutely clear that he does not believe that Labour has an effective response to the Government's additional pledge. [Interruption.] Let me read another bit of the minutes, which the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) might recognise if he had been at the meeting. I am not sure that he was, but I can tell him. [Interruption.] No, he was not, so I shall tell him what transpired.

The hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South recognised that there were problems in the health service that could not be met through the "Pledge"--the word has a capital P, so important is the pledge on health service funding in the mind of the secretary of the committee, the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South--that the Labour party had made.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury is known to be unhappy with the position in which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), the shadow Chief Secretary, and the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, the shadow Chancellor, have put him. He is shifting slightly and offering a little friendly advice to the right hon. Member for Derby, South. The right hon. Lady will not have a better position than the hon. Gentleman, because they cannot get the shadow Chancellor to agree to match the Prime Minister's pledge to real terms growth in NHS funding. [Interruption.]

If, during my speech, the hon. Gentleman's mind turns and he concludes that he can pledge real terms growth in NHS funding under a Labour Government, I shall give way to him, but he knows that he cannot do that.

The hon. Gentleman also faces a more immediate challenge of his own making. It is not just his failure to deliver the shadow Chancellor on real terms growth. The hon. Gentleman has twice--on 12 October and 4 November--committed himself to making a specific response once the Government's Budget figures were published. On 12 October, when asked about Labour's plans for health service funding, he said:

That was not just a slip of the tongue. On 4 November--I was in the studio on that occasion--he said again:

    "As soon as we see precisely what they are going to do, then of course we can make a precise response."

We told the House and the hon. Gentleman six days ago precisely what we shall do. We are waiting.

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