Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I congratulate the Prime Minister on leading his party to its election success.

On public services, which the Prime Minister, like the Liberal Democrats, chose as the key issue for the election campaign, and given his commitment to recruit all the extra teachers, nurses, doctors and police that we need, will he give one additional commitment at the beginning of this term--that when those people come into the public services, by the end of this Government, public sector workers' pay will be nearer, if not equal to, that of someone doing a comparable job in the private sector? We shall never have good public services if the equivalent job is far better paid in the private sector.

The Prime Minister: That is true, and I shall come later to how we recruit and retain people in the public services, but one point that I must deal with is the idea that no progress was made in those areas in our first term in office. In education, for example, some 17,000 schools were modernised. Partly as a result of the new deal money, which the Liberal Democrats opposed-- [Interruption.] They say that they opposed not the new deal but the funding. Outside the Liberal Democrat party, however, it is a generally accepted view that if one has a programme, one has to fund it. We believe that the Liberal Democrats, too, will appreciate that in time.

As a result of phasing out assisted places, there are 450,000 fewer infants in classes of more than 30 pupils, and 150,000 more 11-year-olds are passing their tests in English and maths. In health, there are already 17,000 more nurses, but we need far more. As I said, a huge hospital-building programme is under way. On law and order, crime is down overall by 10 per cent. and domestic burglary and car crime are down by 21 per cent. On welfare reform, there are already, after the past four years, some 860,000 fewer benefit claimants.

Our mandate, of course, is now to do more. In education and health and in putting the pupil and the patient first, that means reform to achieve three specific goals: universally high standards; services built around choice with sufficient diversity to achieve it; and devolution to the front line, thus empowering staff who deliver on the ground--teachers, doctors, nurses and police. So, standards, choice and front line first are the goals for the second term.

20 Jun 2001 : Column 52

In education, secondary schools are now the priority. Over the next year, we will extend the literacy and numeracy strategies into the early secondary years. We will set ambitious targets for improved test results: at least 75 per cent. of 14-year-olds are to be up to the required standard in English and maths within three years. We will give new vocational routes for pupils beyond the age of 14 and greater challenge for the most able pupils in our schools. The education Bill will free up successful schools without the abolition of local education authorities--a Conservative party proposal that would be damaging. It will free up successful schools and also provide far more effective action to turn around weak schools, including partnership with the voluntary and private sectors in promoting greater diversity.

By next September, from a total of almost 4,000 secondary schools, we intend to ensure that 830 are already specialist schools, each with a centre of excellence in a key area of the curriculum. In five years, that number will increase to at least 1,500. There will also be significantly more city academies, faith schools and schools managed by external sponsors--all with a strong individual ethos and a mission to raise standards, putting pupils first and extending parental choice.

Bob Russell (Colchester): Two tier! We are returning to secondary moderns.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman shouts about secondary moderns. Some 93 per cent. of these specialist schools have a fully comprehensive intake. I have one in my constituency that has raised standards across the curriculum. I say again to the Liberal Democrats that it is not simply money that public services need; they also need change and reform, and they will get it with us. The aim of all these reforms is clear: to ensure that all children--whatever their background, wherever they live and whatever the wealth of their parents--get the chance to succeed and make the most of their abilities.

On health, we will reduce maximum waiting times year by year as we invest in reforms. Maximum waiting times for in-patients will be reduced progressively from 18 months to six months within four years. Within that period, we expect average waiting times to fall from three months to seven weeks, with urgent cases being seen faster. We will also devolve directly to the front line. The NHS reform and decentralisation Bill will radically alter the power structures in the health service. By 2004, the primary care trusts, to which more power will be devolved, will control 75 per cent. of the NHS budget. The number of health authorities will be reduced by two thirds, and we will engage with voluntary and private providers when that helps to meet our commitment to improving patient care within the national health service.

All those reforms are to one end: to ensure that the national health service, which is the proudest creation of a Labour Government, is rebuilt and modernised on the fundamental principle that good health care should not and must not depend on ability to pay, but on need.

We will also legislate to reform the criminal justice system; to modernise the rules of evidence to simplify trials in order to bring the guilty to justice; and to establish a new recovery agency to seize the assets of serious criminals. We will continue to invest in the police and work with them on a reform programme to improve

20 Jun 2001 : Column 53

performance and give more power to local police commanders. We plan to establish a criminal courts system that is fully equipped to tackle modern crime patterns, with more of the 100,000 persistent offenders who are responsible for the vast bulk of crime in our communities being brought to justice. Every active offender will be on the DNA database by 2004. There will be greater protection against sex offenders, the law on corruption will be reformed and we want to double the assets that are seized from criminals and drug dealers. I want Britain to be the toughest place in the western world to be a drug dealer

As all hon. Members know, improvements to our transport infrastructure are vital. We inherited a system that had been undermined by decades of neglect and under-investment. We are emerging only now from the post-Hatfield collapse of the rail system. The transport plan, with £180 billion of investment, sets out the necessary changes in the next 10 years. The backlog of road investment is also being tackled.

To take up the point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made, we know that we must take further steps to improve the recruitment, retention and motivation of staff throughout the public sector. I stress to hon. Members that that again means extra investment; the improvements will not happen without it. We have pledged 6,000 extra police recruits, 10,000 extra teachers, 10,000 extra doctors, 20,000 extra classroom assistants and 20,000 extra nurses. That requires more trainees and improved incentives to attract them.

Postgraduate applications for teaching have increased by 25 per cent. since last year, thanks to new training salaries, bonuses and the promise to write off student loans for recruits in many subjects. The number of nurses in training is increasing, thanks partly to bonuses for those in areas with a high cost of living. There is a target to recruit 40 per cent. more medical students by 2004.

We need not only more staff, but improved rewards, better training, modernised working practices and far greater opportunities for staff to fulfil their potential. This year, the performance pay scheme for teachers is likely to provide an increase of £2,000 for more than 150,000 teachers.

Old demarcations in working practices have to go. Classroom assistants can make a big contribution to learning, thus freeing teachers to teach. Nurses can be trained to take on some of the tasks that doctors currently perform, and general practitioners are often able to perform minor surgery. Greater use can be made of physiotherapists and other NHS disciplines to free consultants' time.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Instead of making comments about Conservative results, will the Prime Minister answer a simple question? What were the public trying to tell him, given that the Labour party polled 3 million fewer votes in this general election than in 1997--a lower result than the Conservatives achieved in 1992? Were not the public saying that the Prime Minister had failed last time, and they did not believe he would succeed next time?

The Prime Minister: That we lost rather than won the election is an interesting speculation. There are issues

20 Jun 2001 : Column 54

relating to turnout, and perhaps I shall comment on them shortly. However, it is important to emphasise that we have a mandate for the change and reform that we set out. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well--whoever the next leader of the Conservative party might be, I know that the right hon. Gentleman will be there to challenge him.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): If student loans are not a disincentive and a problem, why offer to write them off for teachers?

The Prime Minister: If, as employers, we need to recruit people into teaching, it is important to provide an added incentive in subjects where there is a shortage of people. We could write off everyone's loans, but I stress to the hon. Gentleman, as I emphasise to Liberal Democrat Members, that such incentives have to be paid for. If people want them to be paid for, it is sensible to do that by making the investment when we can, based on a strong economy. We should not make promises that we cannot keep. Hon. Members in the hon. Gentleman's position can make whatever promises they want because they know that they will never have the responsibility of fulfilling them.

The Queen's Speech makes it clear that there will be a continuing programme of welfare reform. The changes that we have announced to Government structure underline our belief that work is the best route out of poverty to fulfilment. The welfare reform Bill will represent a further widening of the opportunity and responsibility agenda in the benefits system. As we extend greater help to people who could work but do not, we will enforce greater responsibility to take that work.

The Bill will increase the standard rate of statutory maternity pay to £100 a week and extend the payment period from 18 to 26 weeks. That means an extra £1,200 in maternity pay for the 360,000 women expected to have babies each year. That is all part of our commitment to helping people to balance work and family.

The minimum wage will also be raised, first to £4.10 and then to £4.20 an hour, helping 1.5 million people to escape poverty pay. The working families tax credit will be maintained, benefiting 1.2 million families, and we are putting millions into sure start, child benefit and support for Britain's poorest families so that we can build on the figure of 1 million children already lifted out of poverty in the past four years. In addition, the tax credit Bill will set out the next steps in the programme to tackle child poverty.

The pension credit Bill will mean that from 2003--for the first time in the history of the social welfare system--pensioners will be rewarded rather than penalised for having worked and saved to provide for themselves. Above all, we will continue the new deal for the unemployed, extending it to the disabled, to single parents and to those who could work but are not. We stood on a clear manifesto pledge to extend the new deal. The Conservative party pledged to scrap it. To those who say that the election was not about big choices I say, "Tell that to the 290,000 young people lifted off benefit and into work as a result of the new deal."

On Europe, the European Communities (Finance) Bill will implement the excellent deal on future financing that we secured at Berlin in 1999. We will legislate to ratify the treaty of Nice, which gives more voting power to the

20 Jun 2001 : Column 55

UK, secures more qualified majority voting when it is in our interests and is at the heart of the commitment to enlargement. Our position on the single currency remains as we set it out in the manifesto and during the election: in principle, in favour; in practice, the economic conditions must be met. The final say in any decision will be with the British people in a referendum. In this election, the British people decisively rejected the narrow nationalism and monomania of the Conservative party on Europe. I hope that, for the good of the country, the Conservatives will learn that lesson.

International development will be another key second-term priority. We will write off £1.9 billion worth of debt of the world's poorest countries, increase aid and development by £0.7 billion, and establish it in law, through the Queen's Speech, that reducing poverty, not tying aid to trade, is the paramount aim of any aid and development assistance that we give.

Although the enterprise, education, health and crime Bills are the flagship Bills in this reform agenda, there are others. I welcome what the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said in his welcome for adoption reform. There are also Bills on commonhold and leasehold reform, reform of land registration and so on. To pick up the point made by the right hon. Gentleman earlier, we will also work to eradicate foot and mouth disease and to provide a viable future for British agriculture.

To those who say that the Queen's Speech does not contain every Bill that the people might have wanted, I say that it is always the case that many more Bills are introduced than are listed in the Queen's Speech. Indeed, I understand that following the 1997 Queen's Speech, some 30 Bills were eventually added. Many of the provisions that people have mentioned--such as laws relating to drinking and to tobacco, for example--are ones for which we can legislate if we have the time, which I hope we shall.

Elections are about big issues and big choices. The public at this election rejected policies of boom and bust. They rejected cuts in public services. They rejected the belief that there is no such thing as society. They rejected the idea of Britain turning its back on the world. The British public chose economic stability, and that is our choice. They chose enterprise, and that is our choice. They chose investment and reform in public services. That is our choice. They chose to put schools and hospitals first. That is our choice. They chose leadership and engagement in the world, and that is our choice, too. In making the choices that they did, the British people have given us our mandate. We know exactly what they demand from us, and we fully intend to deliver it.

Next Section

IndexHome Page