Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Prime Minister; the replies Ministers give are not a matter for me.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noted that that important announcement, which will damage the RAF's air transport capability in the future, was made in the form of a written statement. Can you use your influence with the Government to ensure that announcements of such significance and magnitude are made in the proper way—by oral statement to the House?

Mr. Speaker: My understanding, from the glance at Hansard that has been possible, is that the issue will not arise

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and others will have some time to pursue the matter.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not providing notice of my point, but are you aware of paragraph 137 of the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, entitled "The Decision to go to War in Iraq", which reads:

the second dossier—

Given that the author of the main article on which the dossier was based, Mr. Ibrahim al-Marashi, testified to the Committee that his article and two other articles

7 Jul 2003 : Column 761

from Jane's Intelligence Review accounted for 90 per cent. of the second dossier, is it not clear that the Prime Minister did inadvertently mislead the House? Have you heard from him that he intends to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to set the record straight?

Mr. Speaker: Technically, the Prime Minister is coming before the House, because the Liaison Committee meets tomorrow—

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): No.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister will be questioned by that Committee. In fact, the Liaison Committee meeting was set for tomorrow in order that the document that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) mentions would be available.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I personally asked the Prime Minister a question on the second dodgy dossier, and I also wrote to him a month ago asking him to come to the House or to provide a written apology to me and others who asked specific questions on that issue. I accept that Committees carry out work on our behalf, but we are not all members of Committees. Is there no way in which a Member who has received such a reply from the Prime Minister can receive an apology on the Floor of the House, as we would expect from any other hon. Member?

Mr. Speaker: Apologies are for the Prime Minister and any other Minister with whom the hon. Lady takes issue. As I stated, the Prime Minister will have to give an account of his stewardship at tomorrow's Liaison Committee, which was set up by the House. The Prime Minister may also be asked questions, similar to those that the hon. Lady has put to me, at Prime Minister's Question Time.

Mr. Forth: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely you are not suggesting, are you, that the Liaison Committee is now a substitute for the House of Commons? However eminent, important and superior it may be, it is not the equivalent of the Floor of the House of Commons and it does not give Members at large the opportunity to question Ministers. I do not want an

7 Jul 2003 : Column 762

immediate response from you, but I hope that you will not depart from the time-honoured principle that it is the whole House that is able to hold Ministers—including the Prime Minister—to account in the proper way. The Prime Minister must be prepared to come to the House, make a statement and answer questions from hon. Members as a whole, and not just go before a group of the elite and answer its questions.

Mr. Speaker: I am not changing policy. The Prime Minister will appear before the Committee tomorrow. That does not exclude the House from demanding anything, or from seeking the views of the Prime Minister on any other matter when the time comes. The House decided that the Liaison Committee would meet and that the Committee should ask questions tomorrow.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that none of the minority parties has seats on the Liaison Committee. What can you do to ensure that we in the minority parties will also have the opportunity to question the Prime Minister on this serious and significant issue?

Mr. Speaker: This is a matter for the usual channels. At the moment, I have enough problems with that.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are eating into Opposition time. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that?

Mr. Wilshire: I am most grateful, Mr. Speaker. My point of order arises from a comment that you made a moment ago when you said that the House had decided that the Prime Minister would appear before the Liaison Committee. I am not aware that the House had decided that. My understanding was that the Prime Minister had decided that he would do it that way. Is there something that I have missed, namely a resolution of the House that the Prime Minister should attend?

Mr. Speaker: There is something that the hon. Gentleman has missed. The House set up the Liaison Committee and the House has given the Committee authority to call witnesses before it. Tomorrow, the witness will be the Prime Minister.

7 Jul 2003 : Column 761

7 Jul 2003 : Column 763

Opposition Day

[13th Allotted Day]

Government Targets

Mr. Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.6 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): I beg to move,

I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.

This debate is about the Government's record of tax and spend and fail. A fortnight ago, the Leader of the House called for an honest debate on tax. It is little wonder that he was slapped down. An honest debate on tax is the last thing the Government want. This is a Government who promised that they had no plans to increase tax at all, but have increased taxes 60 times and taken almost £44 a week extra in tax for every man, woman and child in Britain.

Every year, the Government excuse their broken promises on tax because, they argue, that is the price that people have to pay if they want better public services. Every year, they say, there will be reform to improve public services. As the Chancellor said:

At the heart of the Chancellor's reforms was his system of public service agreements. They were, he said,

In those heady days, the Prime Minister backed up his Chancellor. He said:

So it is time to take the Prime Minister and the Chancellor at their word. It is time to judge them by their performance against their targets.

Of course, that is easier said than done. Many of the Government's targets cannot be measured. The Treasury set itself a target of 2.5 per cent. annual efficiency gains. Four years later, it decided that it was unable to measure that.

Other targets were targets to set targets. The Crown Prosecution Service and the Lord Chancellor's Department were set a target to set a target for reducing the time from arrest to sentence. Alas, they have not yet been able to assess progress on that target to set a target. Although the Lord Chancellor's report says that the target to set a target should have been met by March

7 Jul 2003 : Column 764

2001, more than two years later that target, alas, still has not been set. Indeed, it seems that the Lord Chancellor's Department will go to its grave not having met its target to set itself a target.

We must do the best we can, and the reality is that reports admit that more than a third of the targets set in 1998 have not been met, and a similar pattern is emerging for the 2000 targets. I emphasise that that is based on the Government's own information.

What is the Government's response to that failure? Do they intend to change their approach to the public services? Not at all. First, they try to downplay the figures. Failing some targets, they say, is not too bad—they were challenging targets, ambitious targets—so hitting a fair few and missing the rest is really quite good. Of course, that is not what they said when they launched them. Then, the PSA targets were described as agreements between the Chancellor and the Departments concerned—contracts, in return for the largesse that the Chancellor was providing from the taxpayer. If the contracts were not honoured, there would be consequences. The Chancellor said:

Downplaying the figures is not all that the Government do; it is not their only response. The Government's second response is to invent a whole new lexicon of euphemisms to disguise failure—their failure to meet education literacy targets: "Falling a little short"; failure on crime: "Further progress is needed in some areas"; and failure to tackle the delayed discharge of older people from hospital: "Challenges remain". In respect of the Treasury's own failed target on productivity, where productivity growth has halved and the gap with the US widened: "Outcomes mixed so far". [Interruption.] The Chancellor says from a sedentary position that I have given this speech before. He is right, and I shall give it again because these charges are true, these charges are sound and these charges demonstrate the failure of the Chancellor and the Government to improve this country's public services.

Next Section

IndexHome Page