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Mr. Ruffley: What the Minister omits to mention is the targets at the beginning of the PSA process and the targets now are different because the targets are being slimmed down and changed. He cannot seriously be seeking to deny that. If he does, I suggest that he speaks to the Chief Secretary, who will put him right on that basic fact.
I draw the House's attention to the way in which the non-delivery of the Government, their hike in taxes and failure to deliver front-line services adequately have affected my rural constituents in the towns of Stowmarket and Bury St. Edmunds. We have seen a decline in police numbers. In 1996-97, the last year of the previous Government, there were 1,185 policemen in the Suffolk constabulary. This year, there are 1,165. Suffolk health authority has received the joint worst health spending
We have seen across first, middle and upper schools an increase in class sizes. Only the other day a written answer provided me with the information that for middle schools in Suffolk, the average class size is 23.8 compared with 23.7 two years ago and that for upper and secondary schools the average class size is 21.2 compared with 20.8 in 1998. These are facts which are not lost upon my rural constituents.
We also realise that we are getting a raw deal on the A14. According to a written answer this week the number of fatalities on that treacherous stretch at Haughley bends has doubled within 2 years. We urgently need expensive, safety work. We need the Highways Agency to commit resources so that there are not more deaths, but all we get are warm words.
We must look carefully at this spending round to ensure that rural areas are not overlooked as they have been so tragically and, in my view, grotesquely in the first three years of this Parliament. That offence is worsened by the way in which the Government invite us to believe things that simply are not true. They say that taxes have not increased; they have. They say that services are getting better; they are not.
For those reasons I must profess my profound scepticism about this document. We in the Opposition make it clear that whatever additional resources may or may not be available in the next two years--a three year horizon in the comprehensive spending review--when we are in government we will spend them more wisely and better, and we shall get more money to the frontline of our vital public services.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): First, I echo the congratulations that have been heaped on my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) for his maiden speech. He will no doubt be here for many years and I trust that he will maintain his humility and hang on to his sense of gratitude to the people who sent him here.
I am grateful for the opportunity briefly to contribute to this debate on public expenditure. It allows me the opportunity to comment on the widespread welcome that my constituents will afford to the radical increase in public investment which the Chancellor announced in his statement on Tuesday. I warmly welcome his conclusions because his comprehensive spending review sets out a wise and responsible direction for the Government to go in--a direction that will deliver the Government's long-term aspirations of a strong, healthy economy, efficient, comprehensive public services and, most important of all, social justice for all our citizens.
The ability to deliver all that while providing stable economic growth coupled with low inflation and the promotion of a dynamic, growing economy which employs our people in ever increasing numbers and prosperity is a remarkable tribute to the Chancellor's handling of the economy. The public investment proposed will be a real boost for Bolton and, indeed, for the rest of the country. It sets us on the road to delivering the social justice that we have always stood for. Wise and prudent public spending is what responsible, democratic government should be all about.
The Chancellor's proposals are essential for Britain. Our country has so much to offer and so much wealth, yet we still have far too many pockets of poverty and deprivation. So much still needs to be done in health, education, transport and, above all, in the reduction of crime, along with the apprehension and prosecution of criminals.
The proposals are especially important to my constituency, where there is a particular demand for all these areas of public service. However, there is an exceptional obligation on us when it comes to the provision of health care. The recent performance indicators, for example, released by the Department of Health last week, demonstrated a massive north-south divide in health care and confirmed that Bolton was one of the worst places for heart attacks. The Bolton hospital trust comes bottom in a table of 56 similar hospitals, with 20 per cent. of those who are admitted with a heart attack between the ages of 35 and 74 dying within 30 days. That is unacceptable for a modern health service. When we enact the Chancellor's promise of 6.1 per cent. growth above inflation in health funding over the next five years, I expect that we will also take the opportunity to equalise the provision of health care across the nation.
One of the consequences of Bolton's getting such a poor financial deal is that many of my constituents who suffer from kidney disease are forced to travel to Hope hospital in Salford for dialysis treatment. Only today, I heard from a constituent who has to wait 60 days for cataract treatment. That will all be helped by the decision to build a new surgical theatre for eye operations in Bolton. However, it is simply wrong that such an essential and basic provision should not already exist in Bolton.
The additional resources made available this week will, I hope, rectify the inequalities in health care between the regions. We will, at long last, have a health service that will be the envy of the world again.
The acid test of any Government's commitment to the NHS is their willingness to deliver the necessary resources. Almost everyone accepts that increased spending on the nation's health service is essential. So how can the shadow Chancellor argue that the rate of spending in Britain should increase by 2 per cent. and not 3.3 per cent. without accepting that the consequences will mean a £16 billion reduction in his spending plans? That view is not simply taken from a Conservative document--we heard it said on television. Where will the right hon. Gentleman find his £16 billion without devastating health and education?
New developments and increased public aspirations will, in any event, continuously increase the demand for health care. Perhaps we will never be able to meet those demands entirely, but to argue for cuts in public expenditure when it impacts on life and death is callous and irresponsible.
I enthusiastically support the review. It has been long awaited, and it is not before time. Such a truly comprehensive review is welcome, and clearly demonstrates the difference between a Labour Government and a possible Conservative Government. That is how it should be. The voters are entitled to be offered distinct political choices at elections.
This week's events have provided such a choice. They demonstrate clearly that if constituents believe in public services efficiently delivered within a strong economy, they should choose Labour whenever they have the opportunity. If, alternatively, they believe in increasing privatisation of the national health service, encouraging non-public sector education for their children and leaving public transport to the rigours of the free market so as to cut taxes for the wealthy, they should, of course, support the Conservatives. If they do not know what they believe but desperately want the best of both worlds, they are perfectly entitled to vote Liberal Democrat. However people choose to vote in the end, they were given a choice on Tuesday, and I welcome that.
I am convinced that the tough decisions that the Government have taken during their first three years in office have equipped us with a stable platform on which we can build. This week's comprehensive spending review will enable us to create a Britain that will not only be fit for the future but fit for its people. It has my committed support, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Let me begin by adding to what has quite rightly been a chorus of approval for the excellent maiden speech of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). I apologise to him and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the fact that an urgent constituency matter meant that I had to watch the hon. Gentleman's speech on a monitor rather than seeing it from within the Chamber. However, I heard enough of his speech to realise that all the subsequent comments made by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House about its excellence and quality and the very high calibre of contributions that we must now regularly expect from the hon. Gentleman were perfectly right and well judged.
On Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extra £43 billion of public expenditure, and said that it would transform the nature of public services. I suspect that I was not alone in having an overwhelming sense of deja vu. It is only two years since the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extra £40 billion of public expenditure and told us that that would transform public services and dramatically change the nature of health and education provision. The Government would like the public to believe that, this time, the £43 billion is real and that, of course, the £40 billion from the previous review was the product of some double and triple counting of which they are a little ashamed. The problem for the Government--on this as on so many other fronts--is that their credibility has been comprehensively demolished by their successive experiments in the world of spin and by the way in which all their actions have been exaggerated; figures have been counted twice or three times, or openly fiddled.
It normally takes us a few weeks to get a grip on the sheer scale of the tortuous process through which this Chancellor arrives at the figures, but it is already clear, 48 hours after his statement, that several of the figures that he announced were--to put it at the mildest--a little controversial. For example, the Chancellor announced
The Chancellor undertook a similar exercise in respect of Scottish spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made a similar point on defence expenditure. Indeed, he could have gone further; assumptions on defence spending are based on the expectation of asset sales, including the dubious process whereby the Government propose to privatise the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. Those assumptions are rather difficult to believe.
The problems with the Government's spending plans do not simply reside in the fact that the public have grown used to disbelieving any figure produced by the Chancellor or the Prime Minister. If the Government seriously intend to initiate such a substantial increase in public expenditure, there could be grave macro-economic consequences. Two days ago, the City editor of the Evening Standard noted that the Chancellor had set in train a process that was likely to lead to a recession. He pointed out that, based on the Chancellor's public spending plans, we should be lucky to avoid a recession.
I do not know whether that prediction is correct, but I do know that the 12 unbroken years of economic growth that the Chancellor assumes will continue until the end of the CSR2 period hardly ever occurred in the UK throughout the whole of the previous century. His assumptions are extremely optimistic. It will be interesting to see whether the Treasury Minister who winds up the debate can guarantee that the Government's spending plans will be met in all economic circumstances.
I suspect that Treasury Ministers will not be prepared to give that guarantee. It is thus clear that the total figure of £43 billion will be, at best, hypothetical by the end of the planning period. That figure is conditional and no one should base any real expectations or hopes on it. I fear that many vulnerable people and deserving causes throughout the land have been cruelly deceived into believing that their fortunes will dramatically improve, whereas in fact, much of that public expenditure is not guaranteed.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Chisholm) made an interesting point. He said that the review was a politically significant moment; he believed that we had come to the end of two decades during which high public expenditure was regarded as politically unpopular. He hoped that we were entering a period when, for as far ahead as we could foresee, the state would consume more than 40 per cent. of the nation's wealth every year.
That is indeed a politically significant moment--in part, for the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, the Secretary of State for International Development was widely reported in today's newspapers as saying that the new bit of new Labour had fallen off. She said:
It turns out that that is simply not true. It turns out that old attitudes are reasserting themselves, and after two or three years of the present Government, when they have come under sustained criticism because they have failed on so many fronts, they are going back to their old instincts--their old belief, "If in trouble, spend and tax your way out of it". But in fact, the history of every Labour Government has been that when they did let rip in spending and taxing, it has not been the solution to their problems but has resulted in the termination of their public support and their ejection from office.
This is therefore a truly significant political moment. It is the moment when the old division lines between the parties--between a Conservative party that believes that one can grow public services within a growing economy but that one can do so best, indeed only, by reducing taxes and allowing people to keep more of what they own, and a Labour Government who believe in spending more and taxing more for the sake of it--are becoming very much clearer.
I was intrigued by several of the announcements that we have had since the Chancellor's statement, and by their implications for the quality of the public services on which my constituents can expect to rely in future. My constituents have become very sceptical about what this Government's announcements mean in practice. Two years ago, they heard the announcements of the extra expenditure for health and education. Since then, they have found that their waiting times have actually lengthened.
There are now 11 people in the Morecambe Bay health authority area who have been waiting for more than a year for a heart bypass operation. That is a vital, lifesaving operation, and people in my constituency and the surrounding area are waiting more than a year for it.
My constituents were told that the Government believed in high quality transport, yet one of their very first acts was to cancel the desperately needed A590 bypass project at High and Low Newton. Even though the project had funding and planning permission and was ready to roll at the time of the last general election, it was axed in its entirety. This afternoon, the Deputy Prime Minister made a speech in which he said that there would be 100 bypasses, but he then made it clear that he would not tell anyone what they were, where they were or when they would happen; so that seems to be another example of spin for the sake of spin.
We have heard repeated reannouncements of the same thing. Very often, the Government have claimed credit for things so old that they had nothing whatever to do with this Government. They have repeatedly reannounced the upgrading of the west coast main line--which is to happen thanks to Railtrack and Virgin Trains--started under the previous Government. They claim credit for the Jubilee line extension in London, a project that was wholly pushed through under the previous Government.
The Prime Minister regularly claims credit--indeed, he did so in his famous leaked memo--for the introduction of a policy of "three strikes and you're out" for burglars. Not only was that policy brought in under the previous Government, but the legislation was passed in 1996 and
The problem that the country faces with any of the Government's public expenditure plans is that time and again we read wonderful headlines and there is a great attempt at spin, but very little actually happens on the ground that people have the chance to see in their local area.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith said something else that was very interesting. He claimed that these public spending plans were unique in British history because they were delivered without higher taxes. We have seen very dramatically higher taxes underlying the present Government's spending plans. There has been a 44 per cent. increase in the petrol price paid by many of my constituents, who have absolutely no choice but to use their car, for whom it is not a luxury item but a necessity.