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9.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers): The debate, initiated by the Conservative party, managed to feature only four speeches from the Tory Back Benches, each of which was delivered by former Cabinet Ministers parading their excuses for years of Tory failure in government. They cannot tolerate the fact that a Government are in office who are delivering on the public service agenda. We also heard, however, from constituency Labour MPs, who could see how we are delivering and the improvements that we are making.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) used his experience as leader of Coventry city council to demonstrate the difficulties that he had during a period of continuous cuts in public spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) explained that more police are being employed in his constituency. He said that investment is being made in CCTV and a new police station being constructed. He also pointed to the improvements in health provision in his constituency, with a new hospital that has been provided by the PFI, and the better results in education.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), not always a complete supporter of Government policy, demonstrated from his impartial position the way in which services across the board—education, health, policing and transport—have improved significantly. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) stressed the importance of real-terms increases in public spending. He also raised concerns about the need to ensure that pharmacists explore the better use of drugs, and reduce waste and the inappropriate use of drugs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will take up those specific issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) stressed the importance of policing. He referred to the difficulties in Barry in his constituency and mentioned the reduction in crime there. He also drew attention, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), to the lessons to be learned from the Vale of Glamorgan by-election in 1989. As my hon. Friend pointed out, although he technically lost his seat in the 1992 election, in reality he had a majority among people resident in the constituency. [Hon. Members: "What?"] The votes from those resident in South Africa won the day.

Most telling were the contributions made by former Tory Cabinet Ministers. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) clearly said that members of the Conservative Front Bench have not ruled anything out in terms of policy development. That is the real threat that hangs over public services in this country. When my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband) asked the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) whether she would rule out charging for clinical services, she took a Trappist vow—no comment was made. She

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wants to be careful. Bearing in mind that this is the new, inclusive Tory party, as expounded by its leader, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) talked about playing in the big boys' league. The hon. Lady clearly has difficulty playing in the big boys' league if she cannot answer such questions. So much for the inclusive Conservative party as proposed by its leader.

I am pleased that the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) acknowledged that the Labour Government are investing more in public services—I welcome that refreshing honesty from the Opposition. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe said that the Labour Government were building on Tory success and our great economic legacy from 1997—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Well, let us look at the former Chancellor's record. Between 1993 and 1997, when he was in office, national debt increased by £100 billion. In the last year of his chancellorship, there was a real-terms decrease in NHS spending.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman seeks to curry favour with his colleagues by trying to rehearse the Chancellor's arguments on economic policy before 1997. Will he turn to his transport policies for the present? How long will the Railtrack administration last, and what will be the consequences for investment in our railway network once he has managed to get an institution back in place to administer it?

Mr. Byers: I know that the Conservatives find it difficult—[Hon. Members: "Answer."] I shall answer, but in my own terms. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends find it difficult to acknowledge that we have killed off a failed Tory privatisation. We did so because we decided that we are not putting the interests of shareholders first, but the interests of the travelling public.

The most telling speech from the Tory Back Benches was delivered by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who revealed the depths of Tory thinking when he said, "We do not accept that poverty is a cause of ill health"—a classic example of the Tories not allowing the facts to get in the way of prejudice. Let us have some facts. At the end of the 20th century, a boy born into a family on the lowest income will, on average, live nine years less than a boy born to a family with a professional background.

Mr. Lilley: The Secretary of State should be a little cautious about being derogatory about ex-Cabinet Ministers, as he may shortly be joining that club. Will he answer my principal question about his responsibilities and confirm that up to £2 billion that is to be spent on the Thameslink 2000 project will not result in a single extra train service at peak times?

Mr. Byers: I shall come to Thameslink 2000—[Interruption.] Opposition Members do not like the facts to be given. The right hon. Gentleman made an important statement about ill health not being linked to poverty. I have already made the point that a boy born into a family on the lowest income will, on average, live nine years less than a boy born into a professional background. Life expectancy in Manchester is seven years less than in Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. Infant mortality is 17 per cent higher among the most disadvantaged groups in the country.

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The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden will know that, as a result of the failures of Railtrack, which wanted to stand down the team driving the project through, Thameslink 2000 has been delayed. With the new management of Railtrack, and with the Strategic Rail Authority operating, that contract and project will be put on track; we shall deliver the improvements that the right hon. Gentleman and his constituents want. [Hon. Members: "When?"] We shall do so when negotiations are completed. Like the west coast main line, those projects, which were supposed to be dominated and controlled by Railtrack, have fallen behind because of the management failures of Railtrack.

Investment is crucial in high-quality public services, which provide the foundation of economic prosperity and social renewal; it generates wealth as well as supporting welfare provision. As a nation, we have suffered for generations from chronic underinvestment. It is because we in the Labour party believe passionately in public services that we will ensure that the extra money is made available. Ultimately, the hospital patient, the school pupil, the rail passenger and the potential victim of crime must come first.

The British people will not be fooled by the Tories' new rhetoric on public services. People know from their own bitter experience that the factors that have motivated the Tory party over the years—envy, self-interest and greed—are simply incompatible—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to calm down. I cannot hear the Secretary of State.

Mr. Byers: Envy, self-interest and greed are incompatible with the provision of public services. Of course, the great hope for the Conservative party is that there will be collective amnesia at the time of the next election and that people will forget the Tory approach to public services. That now seems to be the official approach of the Conservative party. In an interview with the Financial Times last Thursday, the Leader of the Opposition said that his children do not remember Margaret Thatcher at all. All I can say is that they are very fortunate. He went on to say that, as memories fade, so people's recollection of what was done fades.

I have a message for the Conservative party: we will keep reminding people of the Thatcher legacy and the consequences for individuals, families, communities and public services. We will remind them that every indicator of economic and social failure at least doubled under the Conservatives. Crime doubled, national debt doubled, those on long-term income support doubled, long-term unemployment doubled, homelessness doubled and child poverty doubled. We will remind them that, in the early 1990s, interest rates were more than 15 per cent., inflation was more than 10 per cent., and 1 million home owners were in negative equity. We will remind them that, by 1997, numbers on the waiting lists rose by more than 400,000; about half of our 11-year-olds failed to reach expected standards in maths and English; almost 500,000 five, six and seven-year-olds were in classes of more than 30; and, of course, there was Railtrack and privatisation.

That is a catalogue of prejudice, neglect and dogma from the Tories towards public services. Labour's commitment to public services reflects our values, principles and beliefs as a political party. Labour believes

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in opportunity for all our people and in social justice. Labour believes that there is such a thing as society and that we achieve far more acting collectively than we ever can in isolation. It is through collective provision delivering social justice and providing opportunity for all that, under Labour, housing waiting lists have been cut by 120,000. Under Labour, crime is down by 22 per cent. Under Labour, all four-year-olds are guaranteed a pre-school place. Under Labour, infant class sizes have been cut. Under Labour, there are 27,000 more nurses; and under Labour, Railtrack is no longer serving the interests of shareholders, but putting the travelling public first.

Labour in power is acting in the public interest. Labour in government is delivering for our people and our country. It is on that basis that I urge the House to divide and support the amendment in the Prime Minister's name.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House proceeded to a Division.

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