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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Since the Chief Secretary asks the question, I will give him the answer. We were told that, if I opened in the debate, the Chancellor might speak in it. It is a matter of great regret that he is not coming to the Dispatch Box to defend his spending review.

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Mr. Boateng: They were never told any such thing. Let me suggest a reason—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. It would be a good idea if Members settled down. This is an important debate that is unfortunately taking place in restricted time.

Mr. Boateng: I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The reason why the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs was not allowed to speak for the Opposition on this matter—

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you rightly said, this is an important debate. The Minister has been speaking for five minutes, yet so far he has not begun the debate. Do you not think that that is an abuse of the House and, more to the point, an abuse of Back Benchers?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Fortunately, the Chair has no responsibility for the content of the speech of any right hon. or hon. Member. I was merely suggesting that the debate on public expenditure can occupy only just over four hours, so Members should quieten down so that we can listen to the arguments.

Mr. Boateng: It was the shadow Chief Secretary, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, who rather gave the game away as regards the Conservative approach to the spending review. In a memo to the shadow Chancellor, he said that the reforms that the Tories would be proposing would end the NHS monopoly and entail those who can afford it making some payment for health care services. That is the view of the new shadow Chief Secretary about the NHS and about charges. That is the truth of the matter.

Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs): Will the Minister add that the Government came by that confidential memo by improper means?

Mr. Boateng: I can understand why the hon. Gentleman deny the accuracy of the quote. I shall give him the opportunity to deny either that that was his view then or that it is his view now. He is not doing so. We know, then, that when Conservative Members talk about reform, they mean charging.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Have the Government ever put up prescription charges? Do you charge for spectacles, dental checks or dental care, or are there no charges in your NHS?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There are none in mine.

Mr. Boateng: The reality is that the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs was talking about private insurance, which is the reform that the Conservative party has in store for this country should it ever again have the opportunity to exercise power.

The spending review is focused around four key objectives: raising productivity so that Britain can be more prosperous; extending opportunity by investing in education; creating strong and secure communities

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matching rights with responsibilities; and, in relation to Britain and the wider world, maximising the opportunities for our country and for managing globalisation and minimising the insecurities of the world in which we live. Economic stability and sound public finances are the basis upon which better public services can be delivered.

Difficult decisions had to be taken in the first term—the independence of the Bank of England, tough fiscal rules and strict control of the public finances. No one could pretend for one moment that any of that was easy, but it worked and it provided the basis on which to build. Five years on, the state of our public finances is sound and, despite uncertainties in the global economy, inflation is under control, interest rates have been low and stable, and employment and growth continue to rise. Over the economic cycle, we will meet our fiscal rules even on the most cautious case. We are saving £20 billion a year on debt interest and a further £10 billion through cutting the cost of unemployment. Those extra resources have made it possible to recruit more nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers than at any time in the past two decades.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng: In due course.

We have never entered a period of global uncertainty in a stronger position than we do now. We will steer a steady course with the strength to make decisions for the long term. That is what the spending review is about. Holding strictly to the total spending envelope that the Chancellor set out in the Budget, we are raising departmental spending from £240 billion this year to £263 billion next year, to £280 billion in 2004–05, and to £301 billion in 2005–06—in total, by 2006, that will be £61 billion a year more for improved public services. That is what Conservative Members cannot bear to hear.

Mr. Redwood: Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to my constituents in Wokingham why our primary care trust has just received a letter saying that instead of the 76 general practitioners that we currently have, we should have only 63, and that funding is to be adjusted on that basis? Is not that a cut rather than an increase?

Mr. Boateng: The right hon. Gentleman is calling for more, not fewer, resources. He and his right hon. and hon. Friends must answer these questions. If they oppose our spending plans, what are theirs? What are their priorities and policies? What would they cut? How would they raise the money? They say absolutely nothing about that. The right hon. Gentleman knows that in supporting the money that we are passporting directly to schools on the front line, he is opposing the policies, such as they are, of his Front Benchers. He should have the honesty to say as much.

The increased investment must be matched by real and radical reform. In each area of service delivery, we will ensure that new resources are tied to reform and results. We are setting demanding national targets; introducing independent and open audit and inspection; giving frontline staff the power and flexibility to deliver; extending choice; and rewarding success and turning round failing services.

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Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng: In due course.

In the Budget, we set out our programme for the NHS. None of us can know when we might need the NHS. All of us are entitled to use it without fear of charges and without having to worry about the consequences for our loved ones when we do. That is the great success of the NHS. It is an act of collective will on the part of the British people that we will all take responsibility one for the other to relieve us all of the fear and pressure of growing ill and growing poor at the same time. That is what we owe to the founding fathers and mothers of the NHS. That is the legacy that we inherited and are determined to take forward, and that is what Conservatives opposed in 1945 and would wreck now if given half a chance.

In April, there was a Budget for the NHS. Now, there is a spending review for education. That is as we promised: schools and hospitals first. The only guarantee of prosperity in an uncertain world is the skills that are needed to cope with change. Investment in education and skills—investment that was neglected by the Conservative party—is the best guarantee of families' future prosperity, and that is the guarantee that we give to the people of this country. However, resources must be tied to reform. Reform of the primary school system has helped teachers and children to achieve a step change in standards. Today, 75 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieve the expected literacy standards, compared with just 57 per cent five years before. The work goes on. Our next task is to extend those improvements to secondary schools. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills has announced her reforms to raise standards, to enhance choice and diversity and to tackle poor pupil behaviour in our secondary schools, so that schools can develop the talents of all.

We are already delivering real results. There are more teachers, class sizes have fallen, more than 125,000 adults have been helped to improve their basic skills, and the number of students in our universities has increased by 87,000. However, there is no room for complacency. We want a culture of continual improvement. We want more children to achieve higher standards of literacy and numeracy, more teenagers to get five good GCSEs, and more young adults to stay in education and training— 50 per cent. of them with experience of university by 2010.

Education is the best defence against changing circumstances; it is the best hope of future prosperity. Investing in the children of today is investing in the productive potential of tomorrow. This spending review not only divides up the cake within closed national boundaries, but seeks to make the cake bigger in an open, global economy. That is true in education, science, competition, planning, knowledge transfer, enterprise and regional development.

In each of those areas we are providing increased resources: a 10 per cent. real-terms rise in the science budget each year; and an increase in the budget of the Office of Fair Trading, from £34 million this year to £55 million by 2005–06. We are promoting independence and delegating responsibility; there are independent competition authorities, and new powers for regional

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development agencies over planning, transport and tourism. This is about the enterprise-driven economy—one in which competition and productivity go hand in hand.

There is investment in each of those areas and in housing, neighbourhood renewal, transport, the countryside, and resources to assist the implementation of the Curry report. There are resources to assist the voluntary and community sector, and the police and the Prison Service. There is investment in defence to combat the insecurity of an interconnected world, and in development as we take up arms in the war against want. That is investment that must be matched by reform.

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