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Mr. Laws: The hon. Gentleman is developing an interesting speech. He is right to say that I noticed his ambush of the Chancellor last year in respect of the spending review. In that exchange with the Chancellor, he mentioned that there were a number of flaws in the existing public service agreement regime. Will he explore some of those flaws and how they might be tackled?

Mr. Mudie: I do not have much time and I am not sure where this speech is going. I might take that route, but other hon. Members wish to speak and we have little time.

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I was speaking about the Treasury Committee and foreign affairs, but the hon. Gentleman has taken me entirely away from my argument. In terms of targets, I think that I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), who is sitting in front of me, mutter a word that puts the matter into some context—"ambition". As a taxpayer and citizen, I want a Government to have ambitions. I cannot fault them if they fall short of those ambitions, as long as they have tried and done everything to achieve them. The hon. Member for Yeovil was not in the House when the Conservative party was in government. When we attacked that Government and asked what they were going to do, their answer to every problem in the three failing areas that have been mentioned—the greatest problem was unemployment—was to shrug their shoulders and give the stock reply: "We'll still get elected in five years' time."

They occupied these Benches for the status, the red boxes and the fame; with a few exceptions, they had no ambition for the ordinary people of this country. That was the most unacceptable aspect of their term in office.

Much as targets are open to criticism—I would say the same about reform—they represent ambition. At least this Government have an ambition. If that is translated into targets that we sometimes do not reach, I can live with that. For example, when did a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer ever set a target for the abolition of child poverty? I cannot remember any of them ever mentioning it. They never had such a target or ambition. Poverty was about my class: they were a different class. We, by contrast, have a target. When the hon. Member for Yeovil heard me chase up the Chancellor about the subject, it was the target that enabled me to do it, because he had put his ambition on the table and said, "I will tell you the year when I expect child poverty to disappear from this country; and I will tell you, in stages, the point that I have reached." The hon. Member for Yeovil and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) were able to push the Chancellor and to make sure that he understood how important it was that he should meet his ambition to abolish child poverty. Then, as he moved on from the first milestone, we were able to say to him, "You should do this, this and this." If we did not have a target, an ambition and a statement, where would we be?

Dr. Fox rose—

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mudie: No, because someone even greater than the hon. Gentleman wishes to speak: the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox).

Dr. Fox: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a world of difference between aspiration—which he rightly mentions, and which all Governments need to

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have—and the process by which front-line services are micro-managed from Whitehall through the use of targets?

Mr. Mudie: I accept that it is a learning process. Sometimes, the fault lies partly with spending Departments, which reach public service agreements with the Treasury. I am sure that if the hon. Member for Woodspring sat on the Government Front Bench, he would say, having agreed with the Chancellor that the targets were fine, "I would like to be left alone to put them into operation and, as Secretary of State, to have the opportunity to make the changes that I want." I see nothing wrong with that. Although targets are a good development—

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mudie: When I have finished my sentence, I will sit down. The targets need to be finessed and changed as we jointly gain more experience.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I call Mr. Richard Bacon. [Interruption.] Order. I may have misunderstood the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie). He said that he was going to sit down, not that he was going to give way.

Mr. Mudie: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I meant that I was going to sit down to allow that very important Member, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), to intervene, but I fear that he may have tricked me, and I am sure that you would not want to be party to that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: In future, less ambiguous language would be helpful.

Mr. Bercow: I am extraordinarily grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who, in his typically understated and kindly way, wishes the Labour Government to transmute contracts to promises and targets to ambitions. Why have the Government's targets on slashing the number of deaths from strokes and on reducing by half the incidence of prescription charge evasion—perfectly laudable targets—simply been dropped?

Mr. Mudie: I am sure that the Secretary of State will be able to deal with that more easily than a layman who has little experience in such finer points of the health service.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for pulling me up on my ambiguous language. It is the first time in my life that I have been accused of ambiguity.

The Government, by setting targets and saying, "We are going to go through this painful business of reform", are making a rod for their own back. However much we muck about here debating the finer points of the meaning of the word "targets", the British people are interested in the ambitions and delivery of a Government who came in promising to make things better: that is what people want to see. If the Opposition's judgment is that the Government have not achieved all their ambitions, I should like—but will not, in deference to other speakers—to go through in detail

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each of the three areas that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton mentioned. I should like to speak about the 50,000 additional nurses. If someone asks, "What's the difference between the two parties?", 50,000 trained nurses will say, "The Labour Government gave me a job." There are 10,000 additional doctors and 1,500 additional GPs. I think that that is right. I am trying to read my own writing and having some difficulty; I should have been a doctor. There are 300,000 more operations each year. Waiting lists are below 1 million for the first time in decades. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who intervened on the Chancellor to ask about cancer, is not here. I wonder how she could look at herself in the mirror and defend that intervention, given these figures: under the last Government, 63 per cent. of cancer patients saw a consultant within two weeks; now, 98 per cent. do so. The Chancellor was told, "That is only a figure; there is nothing really happening out there." People should come to my city of Leeds, where in the next few months a £400 million cancer block will be under way at St. James's university hospital. One can see the reality of ambition and targets delivering, as opposed to the Opposition's lack of ambition and targets.

I turn to education. There are 25,000 more teachers. I attended a meeting in Leeds where the chief executive of Education Leeds, which is not a body that I support or wanted in my city, spoke to parents and pointed out that capital expenditure in Leeds has gone up by 10 times since the time of the previous Government. That is an amazing figure, and it was given not by a politician, but by a chief executive. That shows the advantages of ambition. As well as 25,000 more teachers, there are 122,000 teaching assistants.

I conclude with reference to the Government's ambition on unemployment. I have one of the poorer constituencies. When we came in, we raised money, against the wishes of the Opposition, from the windfall tax on the privatised public utilities. We spent it on reaching parts of Britain, such as my constituency, that had been ignored for 18 years. The unemployment rate in my constituency went down by 50 per cent. in four years. We halved unemployment in east Leeds, and we have continued to work away at it as the years have passed. For targets, read ambition. I am very grateful to the Chancellor, who is interested not only in money, but in social policy and in converting valuable taxpayers' money into helping ordinary people to raise their families with a decent standard of living.

6.29 pm

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I, too, am interested in money. The Chancellor spent most of his speech boasting about it, as did the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie). In the health service, much money is wasted: approximately £1 billion to £3 billion on fraud and theft; approximately £2 billion through bed blocking and late cancelled operations; approximately £2 billion through staff sicknesses and absences; approximately £1 billion through infections that are caught while in hospital; between £300 million and £600 million on over-prescribing drugs; approximately £400 million through clinical negligence, and approximately £230 million on treating patients who become malnourished while they are in hospital.

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That is a total of some £9 billion, which means that between 16 per cent. and 20 per cent. of the NHS budget is wasted. Those are Department of Health figures.

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