Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that his hon. Friend would want to cut 20 per cent. of waste or that he would, in reality, cut public services by 20 per cent., which is what we all believe.

Mr. Redwood: There is no way that anyone in the Conservative party has ever said, or will ever stand on a

6 May 2003 : Column 581

platform and say, that they want one fifth off public expenditure across the board. That is complete nonsense. No one has said it, no one ever would, and I hope that we can move on from such trivia.

On whether my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Down would like to cut one fifth off waste, I think that he would like to cut all waste, but he is starting off by saying one fifth of waste because he knows, from watching others, how difficult it will be to get rid of all the waste that this Government have created. Billions of pounds have been wasted under the Government, who have singularly failed to cut waste in benefit fiddles or the over-provision of civil servants. They have allowed the civil service to expand to 500,000 people; I should certainly be happy to see a fifth off the civil service. The civil service is not all waste, but a fifth off would be a good start.

Mr. Cameron : My right hon. Friend makes a persuasive case for why the debate about 20 per cent. is entirely sterile. Does he agree that it is remarkable that although so much time in the House is spent bandying around the 20 per cent. figure, not one senior political journalist in this country believes that it is our policy to cut 20 per cent? They think that that is a complete joke put around by the Labour party.

Mr. Redwood: I think that we should move on. I agree with my hon. Friend that that figure is not taken seriously outside the House, and the Government demean themselves by resorting to such statements.

Mr. Love: It is the easiest thing in the world to say that we will cut all waste. However, the only way in which anyone can validate such a statement is by looking back at previous experience. I sat on the Public Accounts Committee for three years, during which time it scrutinised the expenditure of the previous Government. I could go into examples of housing benefit, over-expenditure on the national insurance computer system and lots of other problems that arose in public expenditure. Can the right hon. Gentleman honestly say, on the basis of that experience, that the electorate could have any confidence that the Conservatives would be able to cut out waste?

Mr. Redwood: Having had considerable ministerial experience, I do not for one moment believe that an incoming Conservative Government could cut out all waste, or even most of it. But they could do a much better job of curbing and reducing waste than the present Administration. In fact, the present Administration have made the job much easier for an incoming Conservative Government because their waste is so monumental. Huge sums go into the machine, but very little of value extra comes out. It is like going shopping. When I go to a shop, the only two things that interest me are whether it has the goods I want to buy and whether they are at the right price—can I get the quality and the price that I want?

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Come to my shop.

Mr. Redwood: I am not sure that I am allowed to advertise my hon. Friend's shop in this place, but I am sure that things are very good in Uxbridge.

6 May 2003 : Column 582

What I want to know is whether the shop has the right goods at the right price. In the Labour shop for public services, the answer is no. The goods are not available—one has to wait 15 months for an operation, and the school results are not good so one cannot get the quality that one wants. The price is astronomical, as we can see in the Bill before us. What do the Government do, then? They do not satisfy us by increasing the supply and quality or reducing the price. On the contrary, they lecture us, saying that it is wonderful news that although they do not have the operation that we want in the hospital and that we cannot have it for 15 months, they are delighted to tell us that they have taken a huge extra sum from our pay packets and are spending it somewhere in the health service, although they cannot tell us where and although it will not provide the operation. If my hon. Friend's shop were not as good as it is and were unable to supply me the goods I wanted at the price I wanted, and if he gave me a lecture saying that I would nevertheless be delighted to know that he had forced a levy on his customers, had spent it and had no clue where the money had gone, I would not go back to his shop, and I would have some pretty unprintable things to say about what it had done. Yet that is Labour's public service shop—no service, huge bills and endless arguments about how the Government have spent a huge sum, for which we ought to be grateful.

Mr. Beard: Does the right hon. Gentleman honestly believe this travesty? Indicators for the health service all show improvements over the past two years. Primary school literacy and numeracy have gone up unbelievably. Schools and hospitals recognise that big changes are happening. The right hon. Gentleman seems to fall into the trap that his whole party falls into by trying constantly to talk down services while ignoring the real indicators of improvement.

Mr. Redwood: Some schools have done well, and some have done a bit better. However, if the hon. Gentleman examines the overall record, he will see that the health service has gone backwards and that more people are waiting longer in pain without the treatment that they want. [Interruption.] I speak as I find in my constituency; my constituents would not want me to say that everything is wonderful in our local health service when it is far from so. Far too many people are waiting too long for treatment that they ought to receive either immediately or very quickly.

The transport system is in chaos. The underground is far worse than it was five years ago and is not able to provide the transport needed at a time when the congestion charge stops all but the rich from travelling by car. There is chaos and dislocation on the railways after a back-door renationalisation that has backfired, costing the Government and the taxpayer a fortune, and which is delivering a worse service than the Government inherited in 1997.

I have more government than I want, more government than I need, and more government than my constituents and I can afford. The Government are not delivering. Public services are not getting better, and in many cases, such as transport, they are getting a lot worse. In Labour's public sector shop, the price goes ever upwards, the goods are either not available or of an inferior quality, and there is no choice. I will vote against

6 May 2003 : Column 583

the Bill with relish. It is a Bill from a rip-off Government who are charging us far too much for a lousy range of public services, a Government who are unable to tell us where all the money goes and how it is wasted. I look forward to supporting my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor and my hon. Friend the shadow Chief Secretary in the Division Lobby. When we return to power, they will undoubtedly be able to deliver more for less than this wasteful, rip-off Government have done.

6.57 pm

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) so that I can put him right on a few general points. I shall cover a range of issues. The first is overall investment. Given the enormous increases in public expenditure that the country is now able to afford for schools, hospital and transport, the British electorate will clearly choose to support public investment and do not want the 20 per cent. cut that we would otherwise have.

It is all very well saying. "Lots of money has been spent, but what is there to see for it?" The reality is that, thanks to the stability that we created by making the Bank of England independent and through prudent management, the British economy now has 1.5 million more people paying tax instead of taking benefits. Because Britain is working again and because we have macroeconomic stability and such things as working families tax credit to make work pay, we have people back at work, providing money. The money is being invested in our health service, our schools and our transport infrastructure. There is a lot more to do, but business responds to a better-educated work force.

Locally, the number of people obtaining five or more GCSEs in Croydon has gone up from 45 per cent. to 49 per cent. in a single year. Last year, Croydon also had an extra 227 nurses and record numbers of people being treated. On the ground, people are seeing benefits. If one runs a business, as I have done, the fact that people are more healthy and not waiting as long is good news. We are seeing returns. Interest rates are at a 20-year low, and the position on inflation is similar. People can plan with security, knowing they can pay back the investments that they make in their own homes without fear of repossession and bankruptcy—a situation that is unprecedented in British economic history. They know now that the economy is safe in Labour's hands, when formerly they felt completely insecure about their future. That is good and should be acknowledged.

Hon. Members have spoken generally about productivity. Productivity is continuing to grow, but Opposition Members occasionally say that the rate of growth is not as much as it might be. The reason is that if one rapidly increases the number of people working in an economy—we have had an increase of more than 1.5 million—the marginal productivity of the extra people entering the job market is less than the average productivity of the people already in the market, so one would expect a reduction in productivity. Instead, we are witnessing marginal increases.

Now that we have so many people back in work, the big challenge, which the Chancellor has identified, is to gear up their productivity. We are doing that by

6 May 2003 : Column 584

investing in IT, encouraging training and investing in the regions. Overall investment is up, as a premium for the fact that people are in work. Alongside that, we have had record levels of debt repayment—more debt repaid in Britain than ever before. Debt in Britain when compared with gross domestic product is lower than in any other European country.

The Opposition say, "Oh, look: the forecast is slightly out"—because of the world recession, obviously—but if one puts that in context, one realises that Britain's finances are completely sound. They are stronger than they have ever been. In the context of the EU stability pact—I am not a great fan of it—if Britain did borrow more than 3 per cent. of GDP, it could easily do so given our level of debt. France and Germany may breach that stability pact.

Those are some of the issues that are rightly being considered by the Treasury as it weighs up whether the time is right to move forward and recommend joining the euro. I do not feel that the time is right; there are some issues concerning the structure of EU finance and the stability pact and the European Central Bank that need refinement. The Treasury recognises that.

Already, France and Germany are likely to breach the terms of the stability pact. It is a great tribute to the Chancellor that he has introduced a model for the Bank of England that is so much better than that used by the European Central Bank. Specifically, my right hon. Friend's symmetrical inflation targets mean that if inflation drops more than 1 per cent. below the 2.5 per cent. target, or goes above it, in essence the Bank of England will adjust interest rates so that the economy is either reflated or deflated to maintain stability, whereas in the case of the European Central Bank there is simply a ceiling.

In addition, we have the advantage of transparency in terms of what is decided in the Bank of England, so that the markets can be confident and comfortable with the reasons for those changes, which is not the case with the European Central Bank. So in terms of stability, managed growth and a regime that encourages reflation as well as holding a lid on overheating, we have a very good model, which explains the remarkable growth that we, as opposed to our European friends, have enjoyed.

Next Section

IndexHome Page