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Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng: Not at the moment. I just want to finish the point about waste and the Conservative party's policy on it, because the hon. Member for Tatton uttered a calumny against the Ministry of Defence, suggesting that money had been spent on chairs that cost £1,000. That is typical of the Conservative party and its approach to waste. If the hon. Member for Tatton can show me a chair that cost the Ministry of Defence £1,000—

Mr. George Osborne: You will attempt to eat it.

Mr. Boateng: I will do more than attempt to eat it. A number of Conservative Front Benchers have been obliged to face up to the fact that they may have to eat their hats or humble pie—they are more likely to eat hats than they are to eat humble pie. If the hon. Gentleman can identify the chair in the real world, rather than in the fevered imagination of those in Conservative party central office, on the day many years
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hence—20 or 30 years' time—when he eventually achieves ministerial office, I will buy him a chair for that office. [Interruption.] That is the extent of my offer. [Interruption.] Give, give, give—that is what I am noted for. There is no such chair; it does not exist.

I shall go into detail about the chair, because Conservative Members keep raising the matter. Interestingly, a number of public sector organisations use the Herman Miller aeron chair. The standard fee paid by the public sector for that chair is apparently £320. There is no such thing as a £1,000 chair in the MOD. If we are to have a serious debate about waste, Conservative Members could at least do us the service of debating serious matters rather than debating a £1,000 chair. In a moment of candour, the hon. Member for Tatton, who is full of candour, would admit that there is no such thing as a £1,000 chair.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who will, I hope, make a serious point about waste.

Mr. Andrew Turner: The Chief Secretary may be surprised, but the figures that he presented earlier on the improvement in GCSE results, which are quoted in the Select Committee report, were achieved at the expense of a 31.6 per cent. increase in public expenditure. Over an equivalent five-year period from 1990 to 1995, a greater improvement in results was achieved with an 11.4 per cent. increase in Government expenditure. I know that the Gershon report proposes reductions of £4.2 billion in Government expenditure on education, of which only £1.2 billion will be found in the Department for Education and Skills. Will the remainder of that money come from the front line, including schools and universities?

Mr. Boateng: That is a serious and interesting point. How can one find adequate measures of productivity in a field such as education? The Atkinson review was conducted to help us in that matter. The hon. Gentleman takes an interest in such matters and knows that it is absurd to suggest that more teachers somehow reduce the productivity of the education system. I am sure that he agrees that that does not make sense. We must work out how to measure productivity in education more accurately.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman also agrees that local education authorities could undoubtedly make savings through better purchasing and better logistics. Education authorities and schools can make such savings, and we must have a serious debate about how such savings may be identified. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes Sir Peter Gershon's approach.

That is a more serious point than the assertion by the hon. Member for Tatton that savings that might be obtained by abolishing regional chambers. To suggest that one can scrap regional planning for jobs, housing and transport without paying a price is disingenuous, and it is not a serious point. However, he does not have to take my word for it, which he can dismiss as partisan by suggesting, "He would say that, wouldn't he?" This morning, I attended the central local partnership group, and he should talk to some of his Conservative colleagues in local government.

The hon. Member for Tatton dismissed regional assemblies, which is surprising given the good work that they do, but he does not have to take my word for it.
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He drew the attention of the Treasury team to the vote in the north-east, of which we are well aware, and I shall draw his attention to the words of Councillor Sue Sida-Lockett, who is clearly well known—and much loved, I am sure—in Conservative circles:

That is an endorsement from no less a person than Councillor Sue Sida-Lockett, who, I fear, is about to be rubbished or undermined in some way by the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois)—I hope that he does neither of those two things.

Mr. Francois: I will do neither of those two things, actually. Is the Chief Secretary aware that the East of England regional assembly, which that lady chairs, produced a regional planning plan in November 2004 to build 428,000 houses in the east of England? One month later, the same regional assembly effectively abrogated its own plan because of the lack of transport infrastructure provided by the Government. If that is successful regional planning, do we really need it?

Mr. Boateng: The hon. Gentleman must take up that point with Councillor Sida-Lockett, and I am sure that he is in a position to do so.

We have not heard a serious response from the Conservative party on the implications for housing if the £1 billion of cuts recommended by the James report were implemented. The hon. Member for Tatton knows that such cuts would mean the scrapping of the sustainable communities plan and that many thousands of first-time buyers would be deprived of the opportunity of owning their own homes. Our efficiency savings at the centre are recycled to front-line services, as opposed to the reckless cuts in public services, of which I have given a number of examples this afternoon, proposed by the Conservative party.

It would be disastrous if the Conservative party were to have its way: our economy would return to boom and bust because the sums do not add up and our infrastructure would be neglected across the board, including areas such as transport, skills and health. When the Conservative party last had stewardship of the economy, it failed to invest in those areas. The contrast is between investment and cuts. We maintain stability and ensure that we keep to our fiscal rules, and stability means that we can invest in the skills of all our people. We are building a platform from which there can be record levels of growth, and maintaining the lowest interest rates for 40 years and the longest period of economic growth for 200 years. It is that combination of low inflation, low unemployment and rising living standards that this party and this Government are determined to uphold.

Rob Marris: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one significant cut in waste by this Government is that of the waste of many people's lives when they are unemployed? The proportion of gross domestic product that is spent on unemployment benefits and interest on the national debt has been cut from the 1997 figure of 4.5 per cent. to the current 2.6 per cent. That represents a considerable
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increase in efficiency. The latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures, which were not quoted by the hon. Member for Tatton for obvious reasons, show that in the United Kingdom we have the highest gross national income per capita in the European Union, apart from Luxembourg.

Mr. Boateng: My hon. Friend is right to draw the House's attention to those facts. Labour Members will not take any lessons about waste from the party that doubled unemployment, which hit 3 million not once but twice. There is no greater waste, not only in terms of borrowing to fund benefits, which happened under the last Conservative Government, but of the wasted potential and lives that unemployment represents. That is of great concern to us, but it has never been so to the Conservatives. That is apparent from their cavalier approach to the budget of the Department of Trade and Industry and from what the hon. Member for Tatton said about the Small Business Service, which will be noted by the Federation of Small Businesses as it has been noted by the CBI. That is the same cavalier attitude that led to 1,000 businesses going bust every week between 1992 and 1996.

We must not forget, and we do not intend to allow the people of this country to forget, the true waste that characterised the Conservatives when they had stewardship of the economy. Our record speaks for itself—economic stability, strong support for the front line, efficient public services, and true value for money. That contrasts well with the flaky facts and empty promises of the Conservatives. For that reason, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to go into the Lobby with us tonight to vote against the motion and for my right hon. Friend's amendment.

2.3 pm

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