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Mr. Soley: My right hon. Friend is being very generous in taking interventions, but an increasing number of Labour Members are getting very angry about the interventions on investment made by Conservative Members, given that not only was there a history of intervention, but the shadow Secretary of State for Health

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refused to answer the question about more investment on the "Today" programme. He refused to take an intervention from me that he knew would be on the same point, and until Conservative Members—whether Front Benchers or Back Benchers—are prepared to say, first, that they will not make the cuts that they made previously and, secondly, that they will match or increase our funding, no one, but no one, should take them seriously.

Mr. Milburn: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Woodspring has had two chances today. He had a chance on the BBC's "Today" programme this morning to say that he would match Labour's spending on health. My hon. Friends gave him a chance to do that in Health questions, and I am happy to give way now to give the hon. Gentleman a third chance, if he wants one, to say that he will match Labour's spending on health.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Milburn: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). Can he make that pledge?

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The Secretary of State mentions cancer patients, and I wish to ask him a specific question on that point. Will he please explain to the House why his Department has recently announced plans to run down the highly successful cancer service at Southend hospital? What have the people of Southend and the surrounding constituencies, including mine, done to deserve this Government reducing the level of cancer care available to them?

Mr. Milburn: I am sorry to say that I am not familiar with the individual—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks a question; I will give him an answer, and if he would care to listen, he might learn something. I am not familiar with the individual case that he raises. I will look into it, but it is simply wrong to say that, somehow or other, we not building up cancer services. We are building up cancer services—more money is going in than ever before. Indeed, one of the big differences between this Government and the previous Government is that we are ear-marking money specifically for cancer services. One of the eternal shames for the Conservative party when in government is that it did not put a penny piece aside for specialist investment in cancer services, and the legacy is with us today.

Instead of learning from their history, the Conservatives are still living in it. For them, public is bad, private is good. The biggest problem in the public services for them is not lack of investment by the state; it is the size of the state. Only the Tory party could think that the best way to get more out of the public services is to put less in. The Tories, frankly—

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Milburn: No, I shall not give way.

Adam Price rose

Mr. Milburn: Oh, I will give way—why not?

Adam Price: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am as surprised as he is to hear about

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the Tories new-found enthusiasm for public services, but surely 18 years of Tory neglect is not a justification for five years of Labour complacency. Was not the Deputy Prime Minister right last week to refer to the cruel shambles of the state of public services in our poorest communities? They have the worst schools, the worst housing and the longest waiting lists. For 18 years, Labour canvassers used to tell us, "It'll be all right when we get a Labour Government." Well, we are still waiting, aren't we?

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): The right hon. Gentleman does not do Wales.

Mr. Milburn: I do not do Wales, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says. However, I occasionally like to do people from Wales. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) has fallen into the trap that the hon. Member for Woodspring set for him. Unless we solve every problem, no problem is solved. Is that what the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr is suggesting? Unemployment is lower, living standards are higher, the working families tax credit is in place, child poverty is being tackled, the minimum wage is in place and there is more investment in the public services. No, not every problem has been solved—amazingly enough—after four and a half years, but progress is being made. If we went back to the years of cutback and closure, not only would we have less investment in our public services but we would not have the reforms either.

Mr. Illsley: I wish to drag my right hon. Friend back to a point that was made earlier about clinical priorities. It was suggested that the ability of GPs to refer people to hospital was being hampered. Does my right hon. Friend recall the situation that existed in Sheffield under the last Conservative Government? Sheffield hospitals refused to accept patients from non-fundholding GPs, because the money did not come with the patient. That was the result of the underfunding of hospitals in the Sheffield area.

Mr. Milburn: I remember that very well. The tragedy is that that was not an accident but a deliberate act of policy. The policy then was to foment competition among hospitals, to split the NHS up and to fragment it. The result was clear for all to see. We did not even have competition and we certainly did not have higher standards in my hon. Friend's constituency or in mine. We have all learned the lessons from that, haven't we?

The truth is that the Conservatives are still living in the past. The shadow Chancellor, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Home Secretary are all in search of a new holy grail. They have lost two elections, but they have found a new cause: reducing public spending to below 35 per cent. of GDP. Let me be clear about it. Reducing public spending to that level would require at least £50 billion of public spending cuts. That is the equivalent of the total NHS annual budget for the whole country. The Conservatives have the temerity to complain about our targets to improve public services, but their target would destroy public services.

We stand for public services, because we stand for a fairer society. For Labour Members, public services are social justice made real. Without better schools, too many

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children miss out on the best start in life; unless we tackle crime, the poorest communities always pay the price; and without a better NHS, too many patients face the dilemma of having to pay for treatment or wait for treatment.

The hon. Member for Woodspring says that we should be clear where we stand. We stand where we have always stood—for an NHS that is paid for by all, that is available to all and that provides patients with care that is free and funded from general taxation and based on the scale of their needs and not on the size of their wallets. The former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher once famously said that she wanted the hospital of her choosing, on the day of her choosing and at the time of her choosing. That is what we want too; we want it on the NHS. That is why we are putting in the investment and the reforms: to get waiting times down and to allow patients to choose when they are treated on the NHS and where they are treated on the NHS, rather than forcing them out of the NHS.

To Labour Members, improving public services has never been just about investment or just about reform. It is about both. So whether it is in health or in education, there will be tough national standards within which schools and hospitals will have greater freedom to deliver. Where services are doing well, there will be less intervention; where they are not, there will be more. In health, education and transport, we will use the private sector where it can help the public sector.

If there are consistent failures in management—whether it be a failure in public sector management or in private sector management—our response will be the same. We will change the management. That is what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has rightly done with Railtrack and what my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills have done with failing schools. It is what I will do if necessary with the small minority of failing hospitals. Whether it is patients, pupils or passengers, we will not tolerate second-rate services for some when the best should be available for all.

This debate has exposed the Conservatives' cosmetic concerns for public services. It has demonstrated the determination of Labour Members to make the investment and reforms necessary to improve those public services. Public services and the people who work in them—the teachers, the doctors, the nurses, the police officers and the people who drive the trains—make a valued and valuable contribution to the fairer society that we seek to build. They are essential to the quality of life in communities and constituencies in all parts of our country. Yes, there is plenty more to do and there are improvements to be made, but improvements cannot come by cutting back the investment or by scaling back the reforms.

It is the Labour party that believes in an NHS that is free at the point of need; it is the Conservative party that does not want choices for patients—it wants charges for patients. It is the Labour party that believes in putting more money into the NHS; it is the Conservative party that would take that money out of the NHS. Just as it was the Labour party that created the health service and the Conservative party that opposed it, so it will be the Labour party that reforms the NHS against a Conservative party that seeks to reject it. We know that the choice

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before the country is the choice before the House; it is between Labour Members who would reform the public services and Conservative Members who would wreck the public services.

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