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Mr. Howard: What the hon. Gentleman has not taken into account and has conveniently forgotten is that unemployment started falling under the last Conservative Government in 1992. Perhaps he can explain to his constituents why 8 million people—more than in 1997—are economically inactive in the country today and why a million young people are still neither in work nor in training. I hope that he has a good explanation to give to his own constituents when he deals with those matters.

People are paying a lot more in tax and they are not getting value for money. Hard-working families are paying the equivalent of £5,000 a year more in tax, but what do they have to show for it? A million patients are still on NHS waiting lists, a million children are still playing truant from school and there are a million violent crimes. It is no wonder that hard-working families feel hard-pressed and hard done by under this Government. People are fed up with talk and want action.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East) (Lab): In respect of the possibility that more taxes can produce disappointing results, the right hon. and learned Gentleman promised in his shadow Queen's Speech to restore the link between pensions and earnings. Does he accept that the cost of paying for that pledge would amount to an additional £38 billion in taxes by 2050—that is, twice as much as the cost of paying for pensions linked to prices? That policy would do nothing at all for low-paid workers, most of whom are women, as they would still not have a sufficient record of national insurance contributions to qualify for the basic state
 
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pension. The policy would lay an enormous burden on the economy, while widening the inequalities in our society.

Mr. Howard: I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that pensioners are more interested in the real difficulties that they face today than in what might happen in 2050. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Howard: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has looked in detail at the reports from the committee on taxpayer value that we have published. They spell out in great detail how we will save enormous amounts of money by getting rid of bureaucracy and waste in this bloated and fat Government. The reports are all in the public domain, and people have had an opportunity to challenge them. Will he say which of those reports he criticises and why? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Howard: I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman might have done some home work before intervening in such a crass way. [Interruption.] Anybody else?

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Howard: I give way to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt).

Mr. Plaskitt: The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about people paying more in tax. Can he confirm the following figures from the House of Commons Library? They show that, in 1997, a married couple on average earnings with two children paid 17 per cent. in tax and national insurance contributions as a proportion of earnings. That proportion today is 12 per cent.

Mr. Howard: Most families are paying £5,000 a year more in tax than they were in 1997. That is what they know, and the hon. Gentleman ought to know it too.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: Was not the right hon. and learned Gentleman a member of the Cabinet that broke the link between earnings and pensions?

Mr. Howard: It was the right thing to do then, and restoring the link is the right thing to do now. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed that the world has changed in the past 20 years. It has become a different place. Under this Chancellor over the past seven years, there has been a move to make pensioners more dependent on the means test and the state, and on filling in complicated forms to get the help that they need. That is why we must take measures to help pensioners as soon as we get back to government. That is what we are going to do.
 
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Let us talk about education. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call on the House to come to order.

Mr. Howard: I can understand why Labour Members do not want to be reminded of what the Prime Minister said 10 years ago. At that time, he said that it was important to stress the importance of discipline in schools, but what has happened? Today, a teacher is assaulted every seven minutes in our schools. The Education Secretary has told schools that they will have to admit unruly pupils, even if they do not want to.

Two years ago, the Government launched their flagship education policy, "The Power to Innovate". That was designed to give schools more freedom. There are 21,000 state schools in Britain, but just five have been granted that freedom.

The same year, the Government launched earned autonomy and the Education Secretary promised that he would promote it energetically. Not a single school has got earned autonomy. When people hear the Prime Minister talking today about school freedom and choice and about discipline in the classroom, they will see it for what it is—it is all talk. Parents want action. They want action to ensure that their children can actually learn when they go to school and are not disrupted by the unruly behaviour of others. That is why we would give head teachers the final say over expulsions.

Patients want us to clean up our hospitals. The Prime Minister talks about security, but the security that patients want is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they will not catch a new infection when they go into hospital. Three years ago, the Government promised that every patient had the right to expect that their local hospital meets the highest standards of cleanliness. We have had 21 health Bills and 22 MRSA initiatives, yet at least 5,000 people still die every year from infections picked up in hospital. Doctors and nurses still do not have the power to shut wards that they know are infected.

We will have almost a dozen Home Office Bills in this Session. After seven and a half years, with just five months to go before an election, why should people believe now that the Government are suddenly going to fix crime? The Prime Minister promised cash point fines for yobs—it never happened. He said they would dock housing benefit from antisocial tenants—it never happened. Night courts were closed after six months. As for being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, his Government are letting prisoners out early and have downgraded punishment for shoplifting. Is it any wonder that crime is out of control?

Crime figures are the measure of whether the Government are succeeding or failing; that is what the Prime Minister says. When he criticises our record, he always uses the recorded crime figures. He did it again last week. Recorded crime fell by 18 per cent. when I was Home Secretary. Under his Government, it has gone up by 16 per cent. On his own criterion, he has failed where I succeeded.

This weekend, we were told that drugs would be the Government's priority. We have heard that before, too. In 1999, the Prime Minister promised new action to break the link between drugs and crime. It was all talk.
 
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His Government have downgraded cannabis. According to the Met, more people are being caught with cannabis but fewer are being arrested. Perhaps that is what he meant by breaking the link between drugs and crime. What does it say about the Prime Minister's priorities that he talks about protecting children from sweets and crisps but will not keep them safe from cannabis?

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police Federation said that, even without arrest, there is still plenty of paperwork. People do not want the police filling in forms. They want them out on streets, challenging and confronting every kind of criminal behaviour, from graffiti to drug dealing. That is why we will take action to cut police paperwork by scrapping the politically correct form that officers have to fill in every time they stop someone. We will take action on drugs. We need to offer every youngster on hard drugs the chance of residential rehab. All the evidence shows that that is what works best. That is what we will deliver.

The Prime Minister talks about our nation's security. It is one of his many priorities, just as it was 10 years ago when he said:

How can we guarantee security when we do not even know who is coming into our country? There are 250,000 failed asylum seekers somewhere in Britain. So much for the Prime Minister's promise of a fairer, faster and firmer asylum system. He has had seven and a half years, but he has not even got to first base on that. How can he keep a straight face talking about security when he is going to cut our armed forces and disband historic regiments, including the Black Watch?

People can see through the talk. They are fed up with it. They want action to reinstate 24-hour security at our ports. They want action to tighten up on work permits, and to let Parliament decide how many people can come into Britain every year. The Prime Minister knows it. That is why the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—the Minister paid £130,000 a year to write Labour's manifesto—was busy briefing The Sunday Times that:

But we know that the Labour Government will never deliver because they are all talk, all spin and no substance. They never learn and never change.

The truth is that the Government have over-hyped everything. "Over-hyped" is not my word, but that of the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn). There is no one more addicted to over-hyping than the Home Secretary. Just last Sunday, he was talking about the measures needed to protect us from terrorism. He went through them in detail—juryless trials, wire-tap evidence, yet more police powers to pre-empt terrorists. But there is no legislation in the Gracious Speech to provide them. So we have a Government who admit that the law needs to be changed, but not yet; a Government who say that protection from terrorism is a priority, but not yet; a Government who say, "We will take action to keep you safe", but not yet. There can be no better example of the Government's pre-occupation with talk,
 
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spin and newspaper headlines. What the people of this country want is a Government who make their lives better month by month, year by year.

We will promise only what we know we can deliver. We will ensure that children can actually learn when they go to school by giving head teachers the power to expel unruly pupils. We will give patients the right to   choose where they are treated and doctors the power to close wards when they are infected with a superbug. We will cut police paperwork so that the police can get out on the streets and cut crime. We will get a grip on immigration and asylum by giving priority to genuine refugees and people who have a real contribution to make to our country. And yes, we will give pensioners the security that they deserve in their old age by restoring the link between the basic state pension and average earnings. That is what this legislative programme should have been about—the people's priorities of school discipline, cleaner hospitals, more police, lower taxes and controlled immigration. Today, after seven years of this Government and five months before the general election, all that we get from them is more rhetoric, more promises and more talk. But this Government will never turn talk into action, so it is time for a Government who will.

3.28 pm


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