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12 Feb 2003 : Column 909—continued

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): That has been one of the Opposition's themes for years, but every time they are taxed with the idea of giving a commitment to re-introduce the £5 billion, they remain silent. What is the hon. Gentleman's view on that?

Mr. Mitchell: The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer will make plain our position on taxation before and at the next general election. My point is slightly different, however. I am asking for a temporary suspension of the tax, which is causing such damage to British pension funds, while we allow the economy to recover.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made things far worse. All the independent forecasters outside the House told him that his growth forecasts were wrong. Those people were rubbished and told that they had got it all wrong. Now it is they who are right and he who is wrong. Do we get any contrition from the Chancellor on his errors? We do not. Instead, we have to put up with

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the bombast, the guff about prudence, the puffed-up and stomach-churning lectures about his golden rules, and the ludicrous pseudo-intellectual speeches about the role of the public sector, such as the speech that he delivered last week to the Social Market Foundation.

Kali Mountford rose—

Mr. Mitchell: The Government blandly go on roaring along with their spending plans, but who will bail them out? Perhaps the hon. Lady will tell us.

Kali Mountford: It would be very nice if the hon. Gentleman could introduce some facts into the debate. He makes much about the forecasts. When did any Tory Chancellor get the forecasts right? Surely it is fair to refer to all the items in the Treasury Committee report that show that no one got the forecasts right, not even the independent forecasters. Let us get the facts straight.

Mr. Mitchell: I gave way in the hope that the hon. Lady would tell us who will bail out the Government. As she has not, I shall do it: it will be the long-suffering and greatly abused taxpayer. Had the Chancellor presided over such a failure as chairman of a public company, the company would have been forced to have a rights issue, the share price would have collapsed and no doubt the chairman and the chief executive would have been fired. Under the Government, however, the Chancellor will not be fired; he merely seeks a promotion next door.

We have the odious spectre of a grinning Government spraying around taxpayers' money as if it were going out fashion. They are frittering away the golden inheritance that they got from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and failing to take tough decisions on public service reform.

I wish to make a few points about the six wasted years, the empty promises and meaningless sound bites that we have all had to put up with from this spinning Government. My hon. Friends will remember with affection the slogan, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." Violent crime and gun crime have risen. In New York, crime is down by 62 per cent, but in Britain it is rising again. We were then encouraged to believe that the Government were going to "think the unthinkable" on welfare. They appointed a Minister who genuinely thought deeply about those matters, then fired him. Since then, the welfare budget has soared and the Government have had to reinstate benefit rules on asylum seekers coming into this country. They had torn into Conservative Ministers for imposing those rules, describing them as wicked, but six years later they have had to reimpose them.

Then there was "24 hours to save the NHS". Waiting lists are still over 1 million, and we have heard the eloquent comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) about the state of the health service. Government Members should think about the following statistic—survival rates for prostate cancer in Germany are 68 per cent., but in this country, in my constituency and the constituencies of Labour Members, they are 44 per cent. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, spending on health has gone up by a staggering 30 per cent., whereas activity—operations—has gone up by only 2 per cent. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there is higher spending, but longer lists and worse cancer care.

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We were told throughout the 1997 election campaign that there would be no rise in income tax, which was a deeply disingenuous piece of spinning. Today, there are 1 million more higher-rate taxpayers, and the tax burden has risen from 37 to 42 per cent. I could go on and examine transport, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham has already done so extremely skilfully. In the past six years, public spending has risen by a staggering £111 billion or one third. That money has been removed in tax from hard-working men and women who have paid higher tax and got precious little back. That is the catastrophic effect of Labour's experiment in throwing tax money at unreformed public services.

David Wright (Telford): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a key statistic in measuring economic success is the number of unemployment claimants in our constituencies? Is he aware that from 1997 to 2002 the number of claimants in his constituency fell by 33 per cent.?

Mr. Mitchell: There are two answers to that point. First, the hon. Gentleman knows that in Sutton Coldfield there is a tiny handful of unemployed people. He gave not a number but a percentage. Secondly, unemployment has fallen since 1997 because of the firm economic foundations that his Government inherited from their Conservative predecessors.

Finally, the Government have flunked reform. They had the opportunity, and we have heard about their interesting ideas on private investment in education and foundation hospitals, but they are fettered by old Labour dogma. Even the Blairite think-tank Demos in its interesting pamphlet "System Failure", published on 20 May last year, made it clear that those reforms are essential, but said that the Government have failed to implement them. They have failed to learn the lessons that Governments have had to learn since the second world war: government is too big. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) pointed out in an intervention that a quarter of the workforce, or 7 million people, are now Government employees. There is micromanagement by politicians, who are using a 50-year-old model that simply does not work. There is no competition or choice, and there is bureaucracy, regulation and waste.

Even the NHS says that 20 per cent. of its budget, or £10 billion, may be wasted, and there is serious capital under-investment in the health service because of the system. We have a poor service, and there is low morale among those who work in the NHS. Recent surveys show that a fifth of GPs say they want to quit and a third of teachers say that they want to quit within five years. The Government have failed to make reforms and have failed to learn lessons that have been learned overseas. If they cared to look at Denmark, Holland and Sweden, they would see that there is a free choice of school, whether public or private, which is paid for by the taxpayer. In Holland, 70 per cent. of schools are non-state owned; in France, a third of hospitals are non-state owned; and in Germany, 50 per cent. of hospitals are non-state owned. The eternal post-war truth that Government Members should have learnt is that choice and competition deliver for our fellow citizens.

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The Government and those on the Treasury Bench have forgotten those lessons. The Government are bent on an orgy of spending our hard-earned taxes, but they are unwilling to make that spending count by making fundamental reforms. They have been found out. Increasingly, they will find themselves paying a terrible price for wasting our hard-earned tax money, and frittering away and destroying the good will and opportunity that they clearly had when they came to power in 1997.

3.6 pm

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): We have heard some deluded comments and nonsense—it is a case of collective false memory syndrome on the Opposition's part. I was going to give a brief speech, but as only one Opposition Member still wishes to speak, I shall allow myself a little more time. We have been presented with another rehearsal of the same ideas, but Opposition Members are blind to the truth. We have been offered a new opportunity to increase unemployment by 3 million; a new opportunity to cut nursing training places; a new opportunity for yet more privatisation. The cat is out of the bag. We have just been told that the way forward is to privatise, privatise and privatise again until everybody pays through the nose for what they are now getting free at the point of delivery. I cannot accept that Opposition Members truly believe that a mix of markets in public sector services would be more efficient or cost-effective or, indeed, deliver the services that people need when they need them.

Dr. Fox rose—

Kali Mountford: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman—it might be interesting.

Dr. Fox: I believe:

I hope that the hon. Lady does too, as those are the words of the Prime Minister.

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