Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham):
Where is she?
It is not surprising that the right hon. Lady is not here because she would not want to hear what I am about to remind the House of. She said:
"I think in the past we have sometimes fallen into the trap of frankly having too many targets".
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said that the situation had nothing to do with him. He said:
"There've been more and more targets imposed on the National Health Service since I ceased to be the Health Secretary and there weren't very many imposed by me".
Even the Prime Minister says:
"Maybe we have too many".
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The Chancellor seems to stand alone. Ever the centraliser, he is the only member of the Cabinet who is still prepared to defend his rigid and centralised targets, and it is for him to justify them today. After six years of tax rises, five years of public service agreements and literally hundreds of targets, where are the improvements to the public services that we were promised?
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton):
I raised with the former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), correspondence from consultants in Wonford hospital in Exeter showing that the craven focus on targets meant that they could no longer make clinical judgments about people on the list who had deteriorated and whose treatment needed to be brought forward. Is this not an example of the Government thinking that they know better than people who have trained for many years and who put patients' interests first?
My hon. Friend is right.
What is the result of all the targets? In the national health service, there are now more administrators than beds. A survey today reported that the national health service ranks between services in Slovenia and Poland for offering choice to patients. As I said, 300,000 patients without insurance were forced to go private last yearnot by choice but because the service on the NHS is so poor.
Figures today from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority show that one in three children left primary school last year unable to read, write or count properly. Last year, more than 30,000 students left school without a single qualification. The gap between children in Britain's inner cities and elsewhere is growing. The British people are right to think that they deserve better. People are right to demand that the Government stop wasting their money. People are right to demand that the Government end their obsession with ludicrous targets, which prevent public service reform, not promote it. People are right to demand a Government who give them a fair deal.
Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford):
Given the right hon. and learned Gentleman's diatribe against targets generally, if he were in charge of a major programme of public investment, how would he control it to ensure that the money achieves what is intended; or is it that he does not expect himself or his party ever to be involved in a major programme of public investment?
It is certainly not the latter. The hon. Gentleman asks that question at the right time because I am about to deal with precisely that point.
There is another waya better way: the way of real reform. Real reform means allowing teachers to restore discipline in their classrooms. It means allowing police officers to get back on the streets to fight crime. It means allowing doctors to treat patients on the basis of clinical need, without constant diktats from Whitehall. It means trusting professionals to get on with their job. It means being willing to learn from the success of other countries. We want the priorities in our public services
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to be driven by the needs and wishes of patients, parents and local communities, not by distant civil servants sitting behind a desk in Whitehall.
Last week, the Prime Minister told us what he had to offer: his 10th relaunchmore of the same. He said:
"Six years is not such a long time in government"
All he needs is a bit more time. He says that better public services are just around the corner, but that is where they always are. In 1997, he told us that there were 24 hours in which to save the national health service. In 1998, he said that the Government were delivering on their promises. In his new year's message, he said that 1999 would be the year of delivery on promises that the Government made, and that 2000 would be
"when things would really start to happen".
In 2001, Alastair Campbell said that
"transformed public services is the key delivery aim of the second"
term. But now they say that they need a third term in which to do that. They said they would do it in their first term. Then they said they would do it in their second. Now they say they will do it next termin other words, some time never. All they have to show for their six years in office are higher taxes, failing services and more empty promises.
The Government no longer even try to claim that services have improved; instead, they admit defeat. As the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said so memorably on the "Today" programme on Friday:
"When we talked about delivery, that may have been something of a mistake . . . We are not in government in order to show that we can be more competent than the Conservative Party was".
After fiddling the figures and inventing a new vocabulary to disguise their failure, they are finally giving up. They still are not tackling the root cause of their failure: the total absence of real reform of the public services. Instead, they are preparing to ditch the one way in which they said their success on the public services should be measuredthe yardstick against which they asked people to judge them. They know that they are being measured and judged. They know that everyone knows they are failing. So what do they do? They ditch the targets.
"I think values are more important than targets",
said the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Friday.
"It can come across as a bit technocratic, a bit managerial",
said the Prime Minister.
"The Government had never said that setting targets was the totality of its approach to public service reform",
said the Prime Minister's spokesman. No longer do they stand for delivery, they say. No longer do they stand for any pretensions to competence and no longer do they want their performance to be measured. They have broken their promises on tax, and because they have broken their promises on real reform they have broken their promises on the public services, too.
Can there ever have been a Government who raised people's hopes so high, only to see them so cruelly dashed? Can there ever have been a Government who
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have promised so much, but delivered so little? All they offer for the future are more empty promises. This is a Government who have lost their purpose. This is a Government who have lost their direction. This is a Government who have now lost every vestige of their legitimacy to govern. The sooner they go the better it will be for patients, parents and all the people of this country.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown):
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"welcomes the Government's record extra investment in health, education and Britain's other vital public services; supports the Government's agenda of linking this investment to public service reform through Public Service Agreements to build high quality public services for all; welcomes the attainment of economic stability, with low inflation, low interest rates, and low unemployment; believes that the achievement of this platform of stability has made record extra investment in public services possible; supports the Government's determination to do nothing to put this stability at risk; believes that after years of neglect between 1979 and 1997 it is even more important to invest in our public services and that to fail to invest in health, education, and other vital public services would be deeply damaging; and supports this Government's resistance to any attempt at this time of global economic uncertainty to cut public spending."
The Shadow Chancellor failed to tell the House that we have met our school class size target, our school exams pass target and our nursery places target. [Interruption.]
The Opposition say that we have not met our class size target. We said that children should not be in classes of more than 30 pupils. When we came into power there were 450,000 children in classes of more than 30, and we have eliminated that problem, so we have met our class size target.
I shall give way in a moment.
We have also met the main juvenile offenders target, concerning the time between arrest and sentence; our homelessness target; and our debt relief target. It is interesting that the shadow Chancellor should spend half an hour talking about targets and fail to mention all the economic targets. We have met our inflation target, our debt target, our public borrowing target and our employment target. We said that 250,000 young people would move from welfare to work, and we not only met but far exceeded that target.