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18 Nov 2002 : Column 400—continued

Tony Cunningham (Workington): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman will have to wait just a minute.

In its 1997 manifesto, the Labour party said:

Now, all that the Government can do is to boast about the level of public spending.

Tony Cunningham rose—

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) rose—

Mr. Howard: I give way to the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham).

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Tony Cunningham: At a recent press conference, the Leader of the Opposition was asked about his commitment to matching Labour's investment in health and education. He said:

Does the shadow Chancellor agree with that view? To use the Leader of the Opposition's recent words: yes or no?

Mr. Howard: We have made this absolutely clear. I shall say it again for the hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor, and I hope that, this time, it will register with them. Our commitments on public spending will not come from the failing policies of this Government; they will come from our policies, which we believe will succeed and provide the country with the public services that it needs and deserves.

Mr. Plaskitt: In that case, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that it is still his view that public spending should fall to 35 per cent. of gross domestic product?

Mr. Howard: I have said this a hundred times before, too: no, it is not. When that statement was made, the proportion of GDP that was taken in tax in this country was 36 per cent., so that was not really as radical or dramatic a policy as the hon. Gentleman makes out. Since then, however, the burden has increased substantially, and we shall have to deal with the situation as we find it when we return to office, and not with the situation as it was in 1997.

Although, understandably, Labour Members do not want to talk about their record on public services, that is what I want to talk about now. The Chancellor's recipe for reform could be found in his public service agreements. In his first spending review, he said that they were an Xessential change", helping to ensure that Government would do what they did Xto the highest standard". But what has happened? The Government have failed, or are on course to fail, to meet nearly 40 per cent. of the targets that they set in 1998 and 75 per cent. of those that they set in 2000—and that is if we accept their own assessment, and their own interpretation of success or failure, at face value.

A helpful guide to the Government's interpretation can be found in today's edition of The Times. Under the heading XAvoid slippage by rolling forward", we read:

We then find the following helpful guidance:

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Some of the targets themselves beggar belief.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman will have to listen to this first.

Some of those targets are just targets for the setting of targets. In 1998, for example, the Department of Transport was given the following target:

To be fair to the Department, it met that target: it did indeed set a new target, which counts as a success. I fear, however, that the same cannot be said of the Lord Chancellor's Department. This is one of the targets set for it:

Well, March 2001 has been and gone. March 2002 has been and gone. But still no target has been specified by the Lord Chancellor's Department.

What about this target for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?

That target has been declared met. We do not know how this remarkable achievement has been assessed, what benchmark was used or what the criteria were for meeting the target; what we do know is that the achievement has not been repeated in respect of either the 2000 or the 2002 set of targets. Apparently the target was met in 2000, and that is that.

Let me give one final example. This is a target set for the Treasury, by the Treasury, in 1998:

That target, too, has not been met. Indeed, the Treasury now says that it cannot even assess it. Perhaps it should have thought of that before setting it in the first place.

David Wright (Telford): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: Yes, I will give way to the last surviving defender of the Treasury's targets.

David Wright: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what the target for inflation was under the last Conservative Government? Was he pleased when it reached 10 per cent?

Mr. Howard: I can understand why the hon. Gentleman will go to any lengths to try to divert us from

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his Government's failed targets, but the people of this country are more interested in the Government's failure than the paths down memory lane that he wants us to take.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that, in 2000, the Government set a target to improve palliative care? They put #50 million behind it, but, two years on, a ministerial written answer to me given only this week says that it is disappointing that not a penny has yet been delivered to hospices to meet that target.

Mr. Howard: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that shameful statistic. In fact, this would all be laughable were it not so serious. Those targets are at the heart of the Government's attempts to deliver on our public services, and they are the particular brainchild of the Chancellor. They are well on the way to making him a laughing stock.

Meanwhile, the Government continue to pour money—taxpayers' money—into those unreformed public services. This Government are taking #115 billion more every year from the taxpayers of this country, which is nearly #40 a week for every man, woman and child. That is before next April's national insurance contributions rise—the Brown tax on incomes and the Brown tax on jobs. Under this Chancellor, next April's tax rises will not be the last, because the Government's failure to modernise the public services means that their only answer is higher and higher spending and higher and higher taxes. Despite that extra spending, we are not seeing the improvements in our public services that we all want.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley): My constituents are still completely confused by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view, and it is not surprising that they say to me, as a former nurse, XAll this criticism is coming at the Labour Government, who are putting so much more money into public services, but there is a given statement from the Conservatives that we would have to pay for particular services in the health service." What services are they? He needs to tell my constituents clearly what health services they would have to pay for under a Conservative Government.

Mr. Howard: I am sorry to say that confusion in the hon. Lady's constituency is obviously contagious and it is hardly surprising, given her state of mental confusion, that it has been transmitted, as she suggests, to her constituents.

The truth is that all we see under this Government is more and more money being taken out of people's pockets and the slow but inexorable undermining of the competitive advantage of British business on which everything depends. The problems in the UK economy have been building for some time. Of course it is true, as the Chancellor says, that all countries are affected by events such as 11 September, but the causes for concern in the UK economy run deeper. It is five and a half years since Labour took office, so it is time to test the Government, not merely against the much-hyped forecasts for growth and public spending this year,

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but against the promises and objectives that the Chancellor set out before he took office. Let us take a look at just a few of his promises.

In opposition, the Chancellor said that the test was Xhow you increase productivity". Britain was

In his first pre-Budget report, he said:

Here we are, five years later. How has he fared on the very first challenge that he set himself? Britain's productivity growth has more than halved in that time, falling behind that of the United States. In the immortal words of the Chancellor's spin doctors, there is plenty of Xincreased room for catch-up".

What about the Chancellor's other promises? In opposition, he was concerned about

So, what has happened to competitiveness under his stewardship? On the world competitiveness scoreboard, Britain has fallen out of the top 10, slipping from ninth to 16th. There is plenty of room for catch-up there too.

In opposition, the Chancellor said that he would

How is that industrial policy faring? Since 1997, half a million manufacturing jobs have been lost. Indeed, manufacturing jobs are being lost at the rate of 12,000 a month. Output in the manufacturing sector is lower than it was when the Government came to office.

As part of the new industrial policy, the Chancellor promised that Government must implement a co-ordinated programme of manufacturing investment. However, manufacturing investment in the last four quarters was 13 per cent. lower than in the last four quarters before Labour came to office. Business investment as a whole has fallen for six quarters in a row. We do not have to look far to see the root cause of many of those failures. For five years, the engine of wealth creation in this country has been over-taxed and almost run into the ground. It can take no more.

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