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13 Nov 2002 : Column 17—continued

Jim Knight (South Dorset) rose—

Mr. Duncan Smith: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he can tell us all why the Prime Minister broke his pledge on taxes.

Jim Knight: The right hon. Gentleman talks about taxation, but does he agree with the increases in public expenditure that go with it?

Mr. Duncan Smith: The reality for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Front Bench is that the Government have failed to reform public services, which is why they are having to spend so much money. He should ask them why they do not reform public services. He did not answer the question because one cannot trust the Government.

The Queen's Speech is being debated on the day of the first firefighters' strike for 20 years—since, I must remind the House, the last Labour Government. Let me be absolutely clear: the decision to strike and to put people's lives at risk is wrong. When I asked the Prime Minister last month to let our soldiers have access to the most modern firefighting equipment and training, he said that he would not do so, because it might inflame the situation. The situation is now inflamed, so will he give the Army access to that modern equipment so that it can provide the protection that people need? When he speaks, perhaps he will explain exactly why not. The firefighters should call off their strike now.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): The right hon. Gentleman refers to a question that he put to the Prime Minister in Prime Minister's questions. Will he explain why last week he flouted parliamentary convention by failing to notify me that he was going to refer to me and purport to quote me at Prime Minister's Question Time? Why, by selective quotation, did he distort—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the right hon. Gentleman make his intervention.

Mr. Kaufman: Why, by selective quotation, did the right hon. Gentleman distort what I said by omitting my comments on Gibraltar:

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Why now—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The intervention is too long. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the Leader of the Opposition misquoted him.

Mr. Duncan Smith: How are the mighty fallen.

Mr. Kaufman rose—

Mr. Duncan Smith: I am not giving way to the right hon. Gentleman again.

Mr. Kaufman rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I cannot have two hon. Members on their feet at one time.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to write his apologies to the Prime Minister in his own way. I promise that I will not intervene.

It is not just union militancy that has got worse over the past five years under this Government, but a number of other things—for example, the crisis in pensions. The Chancellor has slapped a #5 billion tax on pension funds each year. We have the lowest savings ratio for 40 years. Fewer than four in 10 salary schemes are open to new members. Britain is in the grip of a Minister-made pensions crisis. There are no bold measures on pensions in the Queen's Speech—not one. So there is no real reform on pensions; just plans to scrap tax breaks on pensions for hard-working savers.

What about the crisis in transport? One in five trains do not reach their destinations on time. Delays on the tube have doubled since the Government took office. Their 10-year plan has been rubbished by the Transport Select Committee, which is dominated by the Prime Minister's own party. The transport system is in gridlock. There is no real reform in this Queen's Speech on transport; just, next year, more congestion charges for commuters in London.

There is a crisis in education. In the past three years, the number of serious assaults on teachers has nearly quadrupled. The number of teacher vacancies has doubled since the Government took office, and the A-level fiasco was a disaster for thousands of hard-working parents and students.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week three head teachers told the Select Committee on Education and Skills that this year there were fewer remarkings of A-levels than in normal years?

Mr. Duncan Smith: It really is a shame when Labour Back Benchers have to get up to defend the disaster of those on the Front Bench, who have plunged A-levels into crisis.

I am aware also that the brand new Education Secretary recently said that the problem is that the Government have introduced

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He must have been thinking of the 4,500 regulations that the Government heaped on teachers year after year.

I have copies of the Government's answer to all the paperwork. First, there is XGood Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume One", followed by XGood Practice in Cutting Bureaucracy Volume Two". They are to be used in conjunction with the XBureaucracy Cutting Toolkit". The Prime Minister who promised us education, education, education has given us paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.

The Queen's Speech contains no bold measures to slash red tape and set teachers free to teach. There are therefore no bold reforms on education, only plans to hit hard-working families with top-up fees for university students.

Let us consider the crisis in health. Five years after the Prime Minister said that there were 24 hours to save the NHS, the health service has more administrators than beds. In Britain, the average wait for an operation exceeds four months. In France, the maximum is four weeks. In Britain, patients have to wait hours in accident and emergency; in Germany, the maximum wait is minutes. Most important, the Government's handling of health professionals has left morale at an all-time low.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the #1.5 billion necessary to provide the private operations to which he is committed would come out of the NHS budget?

Mr. Duncan Smith: In the past year, 250,000 people had to go outside the health service to buy treatment. The Chancellor is not paying for them and the hon. Gentleman is not caring for them. Tell them what sort of care the health service provides.

We need bold action on health, but we shall get only 12 foundation hospitals out of the 250 hospital trusts. Bold health reform would make every hospital a foundation hospital.

Let us consider the crisis on our streets. Five years after the Prime Minister said that he would be tough on crime, a crime is committed every five seconds. The number of solved crimes has fallen by 18 per cent. in the past five years. Street crime has increased by almost a third in the past year. After five wasted years and 12 criminal justice measures, the Queen's Speech again promises action on crime.

The Government promised genuine reform but they failed to deliver. They said that there would be 5,000 antisocial behaviour orders a year, but only 300 were issued last year. They said that child safety orders would tackle antisocial behaviour, but four years after their introduction, only 12 have been issued. They said that child curfew zones would tackle antisocial behaviour, but, four years later, not a single local authority has issued one.

One does not fight crime by undermining the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens while allowing thugs and criminals to walk free.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for the Prime Minister to give police

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back the power to confiscate unopened cans and bottles of alcohol from youths and younger children on the streets, where they would otherwise consume the alcohol? The Government removed that power from the police under the Criminal Justice Act 2001.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I should love to ask the Prime Minister for a promise, but we get only promises from him, never delivery.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Leader of the Opposition is not giving way.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The Deputy Prime Minister usually misses out in the Queen's Speech. It is a pity that that has not happened again this year. The right hon. Gentleman has a Bill to tear up the map of Britain, to destroy our historic counties and to create a new layer of government that will employ fresh armies of bureaucrats and create a new mass of red tape. The Bill will impose a new tier of politicians on local people and place new burdens on business. That is not devolving power down; it is grabbing power up.

The Queen's Speech offers more of the same failed policies as before, with more edicts, more targets, more indicators, more centralisation, more spin and more control. It could have delivered so much. It could have given head teachers the final power to exclude unruly pupils. It could have offered treatment to all young heroin and cocaine addicts. It could have extended the right to buy to housing association tenants. It could have cut regulations for care homes and restored care beds. It could have made all hospitals foundation hospitals. It could have handed power back to doctors, nurses and teachers. It could have given choice to patients, parents and pupils. Finally, it could have offered genuine hope to the millions of people who work in and rely on our public services. It did none of these things. Instead, the Queens' Speech is just more of the same. Each year the Government promise real reform and each year they fail to deliver.

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