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Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister: I shall do so in a moment. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Private conversations are going on in the Chamber. [Interruption.] Order. If hon. Members find the debate boring, they know what they can do--they can leave. They will not be missed. If hon. Members wish to become involved in private conversations, it is only courteous for them to leave the Chamber. That is the case no matter which hon. Member is addressing the House.

The Prime Minister: I apologise to Conservative Members because I am talking about policy.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said that police numbers had fallen. That is true, but they were falling for five years before we took office. We are now putting extra investment into police services. That will mean that police numbers will begin to rise again by next March. Once more, of course, he is committed to opposing that investment. The Conservatives have never committed themselves to matching investment on law and order and police. If they want to do that now, they can. But they have not, so although other people may be able to criticise the Government, I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman cannot.

Mr. Hughes: I am happy to join the Prime Minister in criticising the leader of the Conservative party, but he implied that he was willing to take criticism from people who were not Tories. Therefore, will he respond to a criticism made by a pensioner constituent of mine who was diagnosed with chest pains last January? Although he had to cancel the first appointment because he was ill, three of his appointments at Guy's hospital have been cancelled and he will not be seen until January.

As the Prime Minister came to office on the basis of a commitment to save the national health service in 14 days, and as the Chancellor has so much money in the kitty, when will we get a commitment on the maximum waiting time either for operations or for seeing a consultant? Why is it not possible to collect more money from the well-off to pay for services for everyone?

The Prime Minister: I totally understand why the hon. Gentleman's constituent is anxious and wants to be seen and treated as soon as possible, but the hon. Gentleman will know what the problem has been over many years. As a result of substantial under-investment in the health service, we do not have the number of people, such as heart surgeons, that we require. Those people are not in position. However, there will be a 50 per cent. increase over the next few years. We are also investing a vast sum

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in the national health service. The truth is that we are putting in far more money than the Liberal Democrats have ever promised.

In all frankness, the difficulty that I have with the Liberal Democrats on such issues is that, no matter how much money we put in, they always ask for more. However, there comes a point at which we need to balance the books and ensure that the economy is stable. I shall return to that in a moment.

In three and a half years--despite what the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said--we have made a real difference, step by step. First, we have economic stability and an end to boom and bust. Secondly, we have got people off benefit and into work; we do not have mass unemployment and deprivation. Thirdly, we have invested in our future; there is no longer chronic under-investment in our public services. Fourthly, we have attacked crime and its causes. The right hon. Gentleman attacked us on the crime figures, but crime has fallen under this Government. If crime figures are the measure of whether a Government succeed or fail, how does he explain that, as the recent British crime survey showed, crime doubled under his Government? Finally, we have a positive and serious attitude to Europe--the key alliance right on our doorstep--to get the best out of it for Britain.

None of those steps has been easy. None of them happened without difficult decisions being made, including those on Bank of England independence, measures to cut the deficit, performance-related pay for teachers, changing the basis of GPs' contracts, incapacity and welfare reform, the private finance initiative, devolution, House of Lords reform, the minimum wage, banning handguns, a more constructive relationship with Europe--which was fought every inch of the way--the new deal and the working families tax credit. But the one thing of which we can be absolutely sure is that, whatever difficult decisions were needed to make that progress, each and every one was opposed by the Conservative party.

If the Conservatives oppose the measures to produce the results, they cannot support the results themselves. Mortgage rates are virtually half of what they averaged in the Tory years, which is a saving to the average home owner of £1,000 a year. The £28 billion borrowing requirement that we inherited has disappeared. Inflation is the lowest in Europe, and there are 1 million extra people in work. Leaving aside money spent on pensions and child benefit, social security spending in this country is falling in real terms for the first time in decades. Long-term youth unemployment has been cut by more than 70 per cent. In addition to the winter allowance, there are free television licences for the over-75s--again, something that will be taken from people by the right hon. Gentleman. Only 17p--instead of 42p--in the pound is going on debt interest payments and benefit payments.

All the money that we put in goes to the front-line services that we need. Some 17,000 schools have new buildings and equipment and we have had the best-ever primary school results. Hospital deficits have been cut. The Tory two-tier system has been abandoned and, in its place, are primary care groups and primary care trusts, which are doing excellent work. There are 38 major hospital development projects worth £4 billion around the country. Of course all that has taken time, but those are real, tangible benefits.

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One feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was extraordinary. As I have said, the jokes were good--they are always good. There is probably a little debate in his office: "Do we go for jokes or for policy?" Let me congratulate him on at least one sound judgment. Frankly, I think it is better to stick with the jokes; he has taken the right tactical decision in that respect.

I have referred to real achievements, and now we must build on them for the future. The national health service plan and legislation for it is referred to in the Queen's Speech, as is taking forward the changes in primary schools into secondary schools. The new Bill on special educational needs and disability will be important in that context. Of course there is transport chaos at present, and we know the reasons for it, but at least we have a proposal. The 10-year transport plan has been agreed by the industry, by consumers and by the Government. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition is opposed to extra investment for transport. The one person who cannot stand at the Opposition Dispatch Box and criticise is the person who would cut the very means of solving the transport situation.

There will be further action to cut debt and to keep interest rates low. There is the extension of the new deal and the children's tax credit, which will be a family tax cut of £8.50 a week and will come in April. There will be new help for pensioners on the basic state pension, new measures on the knowledge economy and Bills on social security fraud, free nursing care, banning tobacco advertising, the international criminal court, housing, safety, the armed forces and Northern Ireland.

Across all those areas is a clear narrative to what we have achieved, which is laying the foundations of economic stability, getting people off welfare and into work and investing in public services. These measures are all designed to build opportunity. In return for that opportunity, the Queen's Speech provides for responsibility. It is tough on crime at every level, including car crime, drugs, organised crime and the yob culture and anti-social behaviour. We are giving the police the powers that they need and we are giving the people the support that they need to win back their communities.

The right hon. Gentleman did not really mention any of the crime measures set out in the Queen's Speech. He did not say whether he would support them. We know that the levels of burglary and car crime have fallen. However, we are taking extra measures because we know that violent crime is continuing to rise. We know also-- I suppose that every Member knows this--that the impact of drug-related crime is a scourge on every community.

We are legislating at every level, including on vehicle crime, handling stolen cars, hit-and-run drivers, kerb crawling and the yob culture, with a wide range of new public and police powers. We will confiscate the assets from organised crime, including those of drug dealers, and regulate the private security industry. At each stage legislation is matched by investment. At each stage we are putting the money in as well as legal provision, be it in respect of the police, hospitals, schools, rail or roads. Every pound of that extra money is a choice, and that is the choice that there will be between the two main political parties.

More than 90 per cent. of the extra spending will be in the priority areas plus pensions. What is the alternative What does the right hon. Gentleman offer? Why was it

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that he made a policy-free speech, apart from a load of nonsense from the shadow Home Secretary, most of which we are doing in any event? [Interruption.] Not the nonsense. [Interruption.] I knew that the Opposition would like the joke, even if it was against me.

Let us plot the path of the right hon. Gentleman. In his first Queen's Speech as Leader of the Opposition he was brim-full of confidence. There were four wheels on his bandwagon and he was rolling along. What was he predicting then? He talked about a recession made in Downing street, dangerous arrogance in giving the Bank of England independence and hundreds of thousands about to lose their jobs. Instead, his bandwagon lost its first wheel. But he did not mind--with three wheels on his bandwagon, he was still rolling along. He went into the first comprehensive spending review, which he said was reckless and irresponsible. He said that the economy would collapse. Having realised that it was popular, he got himself into a convoy, and with another wheel off he rolled into the land of guarantees, notably the tax guarantee. His stay there was short and not entirely congenial.

With two wheels on his bandwagon, he let the shadow Chancellor grab the steering wheel and that took him to the old familiar Tory town of spending cuts guaranteed. That is why the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with the economy. The Tories say that they will cut spending from our 3.3 per cent. rise to just 2 per cent. below trend growth. That was very clear and precise, and it adds up to £16 billion worth of cuts in the Government programme.

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