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Mr. Laws: The Chancellor is very good at giving way to other people when he wants them to speak, but he seems a little more reticent in coming forward when we are told that a memorandum to the Public Administration Committee states that the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor have misled the House on the question of the percentage of public service targets that have been met. That is an extraordinary claim, and I hope that any member of the Treasury Committee who is present will take the opportunity at hearings later this year to return to an issue on which the Chancellor is so reticent.
The Government have been in power for more than six years. On 2 August, they will become the longest-serving Labour Administration of all time. For the first couple of years, it was a passable excuse to say that many problems in the public services resulted from at least two decades of under-investment by preceding Conservative Governments. That excuse is wearing incredibly thin. In less than six years, a previous Prime MinisterWinston Churchillmanaged to win a world war, but the present Prime Minister has been unable even to make the trains run on time. Perhaps that was why the Chancellor was so determined to talk about everything other than the Government's record of delivery on public service agreements and public services.
The Chancellor may hope that he can get away with ignoring those things. He may hope that people have not detected the Government's failure. If recent opinion polls are anything to go by, however, he would be mistaken in hoping that people do not see the failure of the Government's public sector policies. In the most recent published poll, the net improvement balancethat is, those who think that public services have improved versus those who think that they have deterioratedis minus 16 percentage points in transport and minus 10 percentage points on the national health service. I should be happy to give way to the Chancellor if he thought that I had got that wrong. Even on education, where there was previously a positive balance of 12 points, the poll taken after the chaos in school budgets earlier this year shows minus one percentage point: even on education, people believe that performance has deteriorated. The outcome was exactly the same on policing.
The debate gives us an opportunity to touch briefly on alternative proposals put to the Government on public services, including some of those put forward by the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), in a variety of areas. The Chancellor spent much too much time covering Conservative policies on health, but I agreed with his basic analysis, which was summed up in an article in The Times on 6 June by a Mr. Green, who said that the Conservatives had had six years to rethink their health policy but the previous day's patient passports announcement had shown that all that they had come up with was another escape route from collectivism for the relatively well-off.
Problems in the Conservative party's new policies on public services extend not just to health but to education. Only weeks after the Tories announced their intention to abolish tuition fees, there are already divisions in their ranks. According to The Times, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson)a former Education Ministerlast week met the Tory leader and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who is shadow Education Secretary, to ask that the pledge on tuition fees be reconsidered. Apparently, the hon. Gentleman led a delegation of MPs including a former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell). Critics within the Conservative party are apparently saying that its policy is opportunistic and impossible to implement.
Mr. Laws: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned targets; we want to know, for example, whether the commitment given on targets in the 2001 Conservative manifesto on the patient's guarantee on maximum waiting times in particular clinical areas is still in place. We should shed some light on that important issue.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): The hon. Gentleman has said a lot about Conservative targets. May I interest him in a target in his own county of Somerset? The local education authorityLiberal Democrat-controlledhas kept back nearly £10.5 million from the county's schools, and Somerset is missing targets. Should he not put his own house in order before he throws stones at other political parties?
Mr. Laws: My Somerset colleague is wrong. Perhaps he is unaware that I had a letter from a Minister at the Department for Education and Skills recently saying that previous claims that the Government had made that Somerset local education authority and others were to blame for the funding problems were inaccurate, and that the problems were caused by the Government. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that recognition of a funding problem caused by the Government's policies.
The shadow Chancellor did not set this out today, but it would be interesting to see at some stage whether he would be willing to match the more significant increase in health and education spending that we have had in recent years, and whether he will offer something more than the paltry funding that we had under the Conservatives, including the slowest period of rise in education funding in the whole post-war period.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The hon. Gentleman has spent his entire speech criticising either the Government's missing of targets or Conservative party policies. It seems to me that the Liberals have few policies. Before he finishes, can he tell us one or two basic things? What would the total managed expenditure be if the Liberals ever got anywhere near power over the next three years? What would they do about health spending? Would they match the Government's health spending or exceed it, and if so, by how much?
Mr. Laws: I shall be delighted to answer all those questions, and I apologise for spending so long criticising Conservative and Government policies, but there is so much to criticise, and it is only right to subject their policies to proper scrutiny.
Year in, year out, since 1998, the Government have been saying that they are about to enter a year of delivery. That year of delivery has never been reached. It is a matter of concern, as the shadow Chancellor said, that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry now seems to be wondering whether the Government ought to be delivering at all, with her suggestion that it is not as easy in public services as it is in areas such as pizza delivery. It is astonishing that, six years into this Government, when we are about to match the longest term in office of any Labour Administration, the Government are backing away from public service delivery, to the extent that we have had a speech from the Chancellor that was entirely content-free in relation to the issue on the Order Paper. [Interruption.] The Chancellor mutters away, but he is not willing to clarify whether he and the Chief Secretary have misled the House on the targets on PSAs from the 1998 spending review. [Interruption.] I will give way to the Health Secretary if he thinks that he can do better than then Chancellor on that subject.
Today figures from the Department for Transportnot Liberal Democrat or Conservative figuresrevealed by a commission specifically set up to assist the Government to deliver on public services, show that Ministers have been blown off course and are failing on six of the 17 targets set by the Deputy Prime Minister, including the ill-fated target to triple the amount of cycling that was supposed to take place by 2010. We are now told that cycling fell by 17 per cent. in 2001. An excuse from the Department tells us that it is in the nature of transport that it takes a long time for investment to make an impact. Apparently, there will be dips and troughs on the way to meeting the targets. That is yet another partially met target, and we await with interest to discover whether it will ever be met or will be revised away in the meantime.
Then we had the shambolic evidence given by the Chancellor to the Treasury Select Committee in July last year, which appalled even the Labour members of that Committee. I hope that that will be good reason in time for those Labour members to take up the issue of public service agreements in a separate report. The Chancellor confirmed in his evidence the 87 per cent. figure, which we now know is rubbish. Perhaps the Chancellor anticipated it at the time in using the words