Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that another euphemism for failed targets is "Conservative Government"? Does not he accept that the failure to set challenging targets was what brought down his Administration?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is living in a dream world, and I shall leave him in that dream world.

The Government's third response to failure is to try to hide the truth. With 1 million families not receiving the tax credits for which they are eligible, what of the Inland Revenue target to deliver improvements in the number receiving their entitlements? There is no overall assessment. Today, the Commission for Integrated Transport says that Ministers have "overpromised and underdelivered" on the transport plan. The Government are failing to meet the five targets that really matter. Yet, with one in four trains now late, the Department for Transport has made no overall assessment of its target to secure improvements in punctuality and reliability on the railways.

7 Jul 2003 : Column 765

Even worse, other failures are counted as being passed or on course, such as the Treasury target of achieving an improvement in value for money in public services, year by year. In the real world, a 22 per cent. increase in national health service funding over two years led to a 1.6 per cent. rise in hospital treatments, but in the Chancellor's target world his target to secure better value for money in the public is somehow "on course."

Let us take the education target to cut the number of pupils in classes of more than 30 to zero by September 2001. In the real world, in September 2001, 8,000 five, six and seven-year-olds remained in classes of more than 30, and the figure has doubled since, but in the Chancellor's target world none of that is true. That target was passed, according to the Government. What a wonderful place the Chancellor's target world must be—a world where a failure is a pass, a failure is a success, Tim Henman wins Wimbledon every year and the Government have kept their promises on the public services.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): In my constituency, two new primary schools have just been built and are about to be opened and a secondary school and another primary school are planned. Why were they not delivered when the Conservative Government were in power for 18 years?

Mr. Howard: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that no new schools were built during the years of the Conservative Government, he is living in a dream world too, and he ought to give credit to the Conservative-controlled county council for the part that it has played in delivering those improvements in his constituency.

When this Government make ludicrous claims such as 87 per cent. or 93 per cent. of targets being met, as the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary have, is it any wonder that they are accused of cheating and of misleading people? A memorandum to the Public Administration Committee exposes the fact that they believe that they have missed or have been unable to evaluate more than a third of the targets; they merely hoped that no one would do the arithmetic. Is it any wonder that the credibility of the Chancellor's target regime is now at rock bottom? Is it any wonder that no one believes a word that the Government say? The fact is that, on any reasonable assessment, they have not even managed to keep their failure rate down to a third. In reality, the number failed is considerably higher. Looking at the 2000 targets for which it is possible to make an assessment, it is clear that more than half are currently not on course to be met.

Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the Government have set a target that 90 per cent. of people going into accident and emergency should be seen within four hours, and that the target is measured in the last week of each quarter? Has he seen the figures from the Surrey and Sussex strategic health authority, which show that for 12 weeks out of 13 it failed dismally to reach that target, and the figure was about 80 per cent? In the last

7 Jul 2003 : Column 766

week, it cancelled leave, brought in supply staff and, miraculously, the figure went up to 90 per cent. Does not that show how the targets are fiddled?

Mr. Howard: Indeed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing those figures to the attention of the House. That is an important target, to which I shall return in due course. That target and its consequences speak volumes for the failure of the Government on public services.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): One of the Government's targets that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not yet mentioned—perhaps he will later in his speech—is to have 30,000 new nurses and 15,000 new doctors in the NHS by 2008. Does the Conservative party agree with that target?

Mr. Howard: I will tell the hon. Gentleman this—[Hon. Members: "Answer!"] I am answering his question. I will tell him this about the number of new doctors in the health service—[Interruption.] The Health Secretary should listen instead of muttering from a sedentary position. The Government are always telling us how many new doctors are in the health service. It takes seven years to train a doctor, so if there are that many new doctors in the health service they must have started their training before this Government took office.

What is most serious, however, is that the sheer number of targets and their centralised nature have often made things much worse. They have distorted priorities, stifled local initiative, contributed to the feeling of disillusionment among doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers, encouraged cheating and diverted time and attention away from the task of improving front-line services.

The Chancellor's one big idea on the public services has not only turned into a shambolic farce but has been counter-productive. It has not only been a substitute for real reform but has taken things in the wrong direction. For example, the Government set a target for reducing school exclusions by a third. They have not met it. In the course of trying to meet it, however, they have achieved a massive decline in standards of discipline in our schools.

The effects on the national health service have, if anything, been even more serious. Last week, Dr. Ian Bogle, the retiring chairman of the British Medical Association, said that the Government were turning the NHS into an organisation governed by "spreadsheets and tick boxes". It had become, he said,


One trauma surgeon at the Oxford Radcliffe hospital told the BBC's "Panorama" last week that there are people


had it not been for NHS targets distorting priorities. "Panorama" reported yet more serious results: because of the target to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) referred, whereby waiting times in accident and emergency start when a patient is officially handed over to hospital staff, patients have been left waiting in ambulances outside the hospital for five hours. While ambulances stand idle, it takes longer

7 Jul 2003 : Column 767

to answer 999 calls. This is the question that I ask the Chancellor: how many people have died because ambulances are not answering 999 calls as quickly as they would have done had it not been for his targets?

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): The situation in the national health service is even worse than the picture that my right hon. and learned Friend paints. Is he aware that, to avoid having to report that people are waiting in trolleys in accident and emergency departments, trolleys are simply moved to corridors outside the departments so that there are no longer trolley waits in A and E departments?

Mr. Howard: My hon. and learned Friend is right, and that is only one example of the cheating that occurs in the national health service as a consequence of the targets.

The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid): As the right hon. and learned Gentleman made the poisonous suggestion that people are dying rather than being saved, will he acknowledge that under the Conservative Government there were 400,000 fewer operations every year and 50,000 fewer nurses, and that general practitioner training—in complete contradiction of what he said when he inadvertently misled the House 10 minutes ago—was cut by 25 per cent.? Does he accept that 100,000 people every month now go through accident and emergency departments in fewer than four hours, whereas, under the Conservative Government, people had to sit in pain and discomfort because of cuts in the national health service?

Mr. Howard: No, I do not. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of one of the statistics that he did not mention. If things are so wonderful in the national health service under this Government, why do three times as many people without any insurance—300,000 people a year—now have to pay for their own operations? It is because they are so distressed by the treatment and waits that they face in the NHS over which he presides.

In the light of all that, is it any wonder that the Chancellor's colleagues are deserting him and disowning his targets? The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said—


Next Section

IndexHome Page