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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. That was almost a speech.

Matthew Taylor: Liberal Democrat Members do indeed welcome such a debate; after all, we pioneered it and for several years suffered a lot of abuse from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister for daring to suggest that what the Chancellor now says is right might have been right even then, just a few years ago.

Dr. Tonge: Does my hon. Friend agree that the standard of debate that we have had so far today,

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and the shadow Chancellor's remarks on the Stalinist creation called the national health service, are an insult to anyone who has ever worked in the health service?

Matthew Taylor: I am amazed by Conservative Members. If there is an issue that will crucify them at the ballot box, it is their decision not to support the NHS; not to support the principles of care free at the point of delivery for all who need it; their description of those who work in the NHS—doctors and nurses—as working for a Stalinist organisation; and the extremism that has been let in. The extremism that has crept in explains why so many able Conservatives refuse to serve in this appalling Front-Bench team that suggests that it might yet form an alternative Government.

The shadow Home Secretary had it right: not only have the Conservatives not yet won people's trust but they have a very long way to go. At present, all they are doing is going down, down, down. That is what they will find when they go to the ballot box. However, the Government cannot hide behind the Opposition's weakness. We will be there, testing and pushing them, and leading the debate, as we have done since 1997. By the Chancellor's own admission, he got it wrong, we got it right.

8.35 pm

Derek Twigg (Halton): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on an excellent speech. It is interesting to examine how what the Conservatives say about health care and privatisation changes. The shadow Health Secretary has said some interesting things. In The Times on 6 August, he said that his party had to have the courage to

He said that his party's

meant they had not come up with a "credible alternative narrative" for health care—whatever that means.

Why did the Tories have a failure of nerve? Was it because they were not prepared to be honest about their plans to privatise the health service?

Chris Ruane: Trojan horse.

Derek Twigg: Indeed.

It is also reported that the shadow Health Secretary

What does that mean? I have no idea. He said that the funding gap comes from Britain's inability to

He also said that the party should consider

It would be interesting to know where the Conservatives expect the money to come from.

The shadow Chancellor talks about the Stalinist NHS. Does not that undermine any claim that the Conservatives make that they support the NHS? They did not believe in it in the first place. They did not want it. They would like it to disappear, to be replaced by a privatised health

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service. They are not prepared to have that debate, though, so they hide behind some interesting words.

Does the Conservative party favour the system in the USA, where 44 million people have none or no adequate health care insurance and everyone else finds that their premiums are rocketing? Even in some European countries, France for instance, people are put off going to see their doctor because of the rising charges.

It is interesting to hear what the Conservatives say about expanding demand for private health insurance. Where are the resources to come from to meet that increased private sector demand? Where are the nurses and doctors to come from to meet this so-called expansion of private health care? Presumably, they will come from the NHS, which is currently increasing the number of doctors and nurses—and we certainly need more.

The Conservatives want tax incentives for people to buy private health care. Where will they find the money to fund that? Their proposals make it clear what they want in the long run: a privatised or at the very least part-privatised health service. Where does that leave areas such as Halton, the 18th most deprived borough in England and Wales, with the country's highest lung cancer rate, the most renal problems and one of the highest levels of coronary heart disease?

People in Halton rely on the NHS and not many can afford private health care. They would be on the bottom rung, with a second-hand privatised system. They would be ignored by the Tories and would not be looked after as they have been by the NHS and Labour Governments.

Chris Grayling: Like the hon. Gentleman, I see the frustration of my constituents at the current state of health care. Does he agree that we should look to the rest of Europe, which has much better health care with a much more diverse system of funding? It works better, so should not we learn some lessons from that?

Derek Twigg: I am fascinated by the Conservatives sudden conversion to Europe. The difference between us is simple: I believe in a publicly funded health service. With the investment that we will make, we will see further and bigger improvements over the next few years and we will provide the service that his and my constituents want to see. Privatisation would mean that places such as Halton would be at the bottom of the heap in terms of health care. I am not prepared to let that happen.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): My hon. Friend is rightly coruscating about the overt privatisation plans of the present Opposition. Does he agree that one blemish on our health record so far is our too ready acceptance of the private finance initiative—part of the leaden legacy left to us by the Conservatives—which has been prohibitive in cost, flawed in concept and intolerable in consequence for the taxpayers, patients and NHS staff in the UK?

Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend has strong views on that point, but many new hospitals have been built under that initiative that otherwise would not have been built. It is

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not perfect and it has flaws, but if the Tories ever got back in it would be a minor issue, because we would then see the wholesale privatisation of the health service.

David Taylor: It has more flaws than Canary wharf.

Derek Twigg: The Tory party certainly has more flaws than Canary wharf.

The Conservative party manifesto said that the party was

I did not hear that from the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) tonight. In fact, I heard the opposite. The manifesto continued:

Again, I heard no reassuring noises on that point. The manifesto, in the section entitled "staying healthy", said:

The first bullet point then states:

We heard no figures for that today, because the Tories do not really mean that they would do that. They mean privatisation.

If the Tories ever got back into power, I would really worry about how people in some of the poorest constituencies would be treated by the health service. What would happen to the handicapped, the mentally ill and those with long-term debilitating illnesses? Unfortunately, that applies to many thousands of people in my constituency, but they would not be looked after under the Conservatives' proposals for privatisation. I could not let my constituents—the people I grew up with—be treated so abominably. Under the American system, 44 million people have no or inadequate health insurance. That is the sort of system that the Tories would introduce in this country.

What should be happening because of the improvements in health care? The Tories talk about a Stalinist system and centralisation. However, over the next three years 75 per cent. of NHS funding will be administered through primary care trusts. In areas such as mine that will mean more local accountability for decisions about how money is spent. In Widnes, which forms a large part of my constituency, after 10 years of trying—because primary care services have been poor for more than 50 years—we will get a primary care resource centre, which will mean more doctors, nurses and specialist staff to treat people on their doorstep in their local community. That is about to come to fruition, under a Labour Government. The Tories did nothing about the problem when they were in power.

The motion covers other public services than health. Significant improvements have been made in public services in Halton over the past four years. For example, standards have risen in schools; class sizes have been reduced; and more and more teachers are in post. The number of nursery places has increased. More funding has gone to schools than for many, many years. Two weeks ago, when I visited a school in my constituency, a senior head teacher told me that there had never been so much money going into schools.

That would never have happened under the Tories, because they would have made sure that we went back to the old way, with grammar schools in a two-tier system.

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Under the Labour Government, funding has gone into schools—specifically in working-class areas where that investment is needed.

I also want to talk about the transport system in my constituency. We have wanted a second Mersey crossing for many, many years, but we got no help from the previous Government. Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) and I explained to the then Transport Minister that, to get that project under way, we needed money for a feasibility study. We received £600,000 from the Minister towards that study. That help from the Government is for an authority which has to maintain the largest single-span structure of any local authority in the country.

Previously, we unfortunately had a Tory county council in Cheshire. Under that council and the Tory Government, hardly any money was put towards maintaining one of the most important road bridges and its approaches from the M56, M62 and M57: barely £600,000 was allocated in 1997. What is the council receiving this year? It is receiving £6 million this year alone. The amount will increase next year to ensure that the bridge can be maintained in proper order so that it is not a danger and so that traffic can flow more freely. That is the sort of commitment that we are seeing in my constituency.

Furthermore, for the first time, there have been real improvements in bus services, in local transport and in providing access. For disabled people and those with long-term debilitating diseases, there will be investment in community transport schemes. That, too, has happened under a Labour Government; it was not funded under a Tory Government. I can point to tangible examples in my constituency that show not only the Labour Government's commitment to funding public services, but that the way that they have funded those services is bringing about real improvements.

When we consider Tory policy, we recall that the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) did a runner during the general election. He disappeared after talking about the cuts and the black hole in Tory funding of public services. We know about that £16 billion black hole.

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