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The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address on their excellent speeches. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and I have known and worked with each other for a long time, having both entered Parliament in 1983 on the back of a disastrous election defeat for our party. In those days, of course, winning just 209 seats was regarded as a catastrophic result for an Opposition party. Nowadays, it is apparently a cause for delirious celebrations. Within a few years, he and I were working closely together as shadow Energy Ministers, where his personal expertise as a former miner went some way to compensate for my total ignorance of the subject.
My right hon. Friend came to the House with a rich and interesting history. Just two years before he was elected a Member of Parliament, he had been Arthur Scargill's successful campaign manager for the National Union of Mineworkers presidency elections. Who knows? If he had stuck with those politics, he might have made a new recruit for the Liberal Democrats, but, fortunately, he did not. As an MP for a mining constituency and sponsored by the NUM, it took enormous bravery for him to stand up and criticise the leadership of his union over the handling of the strike. Despite savage personal attacks on him, he never flinched or gave ground. His principled stand won him the respect of Members of Parliament of all parties at the time.
My right hon. Friend's courage was also seen as he began the long and difficult job of modernising the party. As Parliamentary Private Secretary to Neil Kinnock, he did it with great skill and loyalty. He took on the job of heading the new clause 4 campaign with enthusiasm and dedication. I congratulate him on the same determination he has shown in his long campaign to reduce the death toll from smoking. I know that he is proud of this Government's action to curb tobacco advertising, but that he is determined to continue pressing us to do more to tackle that threat to public health. His was a superb speech. It showed not just ability but judgment and character. He deserves our heartiest congratulations.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) is also to be warmly congratulated. Like my right hon. Friend, she has a surprisingly colourful
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history. There cannot be many barmaids at a Pontin's holiday camp who have gone on to become one of the country's top QCs. When I asked my colleagues last night what I should say about her, one advised me to make a few jokes about women from working-class backgrounds who are staunch feminists and go on to become highly successful QCs. I thought about it and I simply say how deeply I admire such people.
I understand that my hon. and learned Friend was at first going to be a medical student, but decided that she would rather spend her time dissecting arguments than bodies. Medicine's loss has been the law and politics' gain. Her expert and passionate advocacy on behalf of the victims of rape and domestic violence in high-profile court cases has had a profound impact on how the modern law and the criminal justice process have evolved. Her energy, vitality and principle have made her a contributor to this House's debates, and she is respected by Members on both sides. As I represent a seat not far away from her constituency, in the north-easta region, by the way, where our party held every single seat on 5 MayI know how successfully, through hard work, she has won the trust and respect of our constituents.
"The only way a working class girl from Oldham was able to become a QC was because of Labour Governments that saw the point in providing decent dry housing, good healthcare and free education for children like me. I want to repay some of that and make sure that others have the same chance."
Now for the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). He made some fun at my expense, but I say good luck to him for the future. Let me gently remind him, however, which party won and which lost the election. He has 197 MPs. We have 356, and I stand here and he sits there. After only three elections since the war has the Conservative party had fewer than 200 seatsthis was one, and the others were in 1997 and 2001. The truth is that the people were not thinking what he was thinking. Unfortunately, they were remembering what we were remembering: 15 per cent. interest rates, 3 million unemployed, two recessions and under-investment in our public services.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman can put all of that behind him now, but his speech was rather like the election campaign: there were a few good lines but no real vision for the future of our country. He and the Conservative party did not just lose the electionthey lost the argument in the course of the election. On the economy, their mixture of spending increases, tax cuts and borrowing cuts swiftly collapsed. On public services, we had the spectacle of the Conservatives being willing to do doing anything other than engage in debate on their flagship vouchers policies. The oddest thing about the election was that we were more interested in discussing Tory policy than the Tories were.
Where are those policies now? Who will defend cutting £35 billion from Labour's spending programmes now? [Interruption.] I am being told, "Get on." I assume that that policy has gone now. [Interruption.] Oh, so the Tories did not say that they would cut £35 billion from our spending programmes. Oh yes they did. How about national health service vouchershas
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that policy gone too? Have school vouchers? As a parting present, can we now be toldI know that they knowwhere was that fantasy asylum island?
Now, the battle is on for the leadershipthe fifth Tory leader I will have faced. The most profound question in that debate appears to be to wear a tie, or not to wear a tie? Aspirant Tory leaders fall over themselves to appear tieless on TVit is not so much a policy statement as a fashion statement. No wonder I am told that Lord Saatchi has leftto be replaced by Lord Gucci, no doubt. The only candidatesthere is quite a fieldwho seem to stand no chance are those on the right and the left of the Tory party who want to debate policy. The most intelligent analysis of the state of the Tory partyI mean no disrespect to himcame from the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), who was immediately condemned by his leader as disloyal. However, the ultra-moderniser, the new party chairman, came to the rescue in his interview in this morning's Financial Times, which reports:
"Tim Yeo, leadership contender and former shadow cabinet member, has suggested that true modernisers needed to do more than just 'just appear on television without a tie'. But even Mr Yeo would concede that Mr Maude goes the extra modernising mile: he conducted his interview with the FT in his socks."
The mind boggles as to where further acts of modernisation might take us. That is today's Tory party: tieless, shoeless but, above all, clueless. It is not clothing the Tories need to discard, it is policy, and the sooner they realise that, the better. However, the party chairman got one thing right when he concluded his interview by saying:
Not that the Liberal Democrats are any better. I understand that they have ditched the policies on which they fought the election, instituted a major policy review and now have a policy blank page. If they take my advice, the page will remain that wayit is more in keeping with their politics. Theirs is the party of Gladstone, Lloyd George, Beveridge, Keynes and, now, Brian Sedgemore[Laughter.] They run to the right of Labour in Tory constituencies and to the left of Labour in Labour constituencies. In this Parliament, we are going to make them choose.
Only one serious programme for government was put forward in the electionthe one that is now in the Queen's Speech. At the heart of the Queen's Speech are policies that prepare our economy for the future, continue the investment in and reform of the national health service and our education system, and protect our citizens from terrorism and crime. They are quintessentially new Labour: economic prosperity combined with social justice, right in 1997, being delivered now in 2005.
The Prime Minister:
I have already dealt with that, in the course of the election campaign and afterwards. I think that my leadership of my party has been a bit more
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successful than the hon. Gentleman's leadership of his party. I say frankly, and probably to the delight of my colleagues, that when I do leave the leadership, I will not be coming back again.
The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe said that it was time that we delivered. Let us consider the state of the NHS today. We have 80,000 more nurses and 27,000 more doctors than in 1997. As for the estate of the NHS, 10 years ago, half of the buildings had been built before the NHS was created, and now such buildings represent only a quarter of the estate. There are more than 100 new hospital projects open or under way. Waiting lists are down to the lowest level for 17 years. I shall take two examples. In cardiac care, in 1997, more than 1,000 patients waited for a year to receive their treatment. Some of them waited two years. Many died waiting. Now it is a maximum of three months. There are 2.5 million patients treated with the right drugs, up from 300,000 in 1997. Heart deaths this year are 27 per cent. down on 1997.
In 1997, people often waited more than 18 months for treatment for cataracts, but now it is three months, with double the number of operations. That has been achieved by investment and by modernisation, and the process will continue. There is payment by results where hospitals are paid for the work that they do and patients have a choice of which hospital they go to. There is practice-based commissioning so that general practitioners can choose the most appropriate care. The "Agenda for Change" in the work force has meant that the number of nurses in training is up by 60 per cent. Medical school places are up by 70 per cent. GPs in Britain are paid roughly twice as much as they are in France, but in exchange for old demarcations and practices going and new ways of working.
"Overall, in our view, the results of this audit are very positive. The ambition for the NHS has been appropriately high. There has been unprecedented investment. There have been significant improvements in most areas that the Government have focused policies on. Has there been a 'step-change' in NHS performance? If step-change means a significant shift of gear, with more and better services, then yes there has."
We accept, however, that there is much more to do. We shall introduce measures to improve public health with the ban on smoking in public places. There will be further money and modernisation to give NHS patients, by 2008, an 18-week maximum waitand that is from the door of the GP to the door of the operating theatre. The average wait will be nine weeks. There will be a choice of hospital by 2008 and all breast and bowel cancer referrals will be done within two weeks. Under this Government, however, NHS money will be spent for NHS patients and treatment will remain free at the point of use.
In education, likewise, there has been delivery. By 2008, if we continue investing, investment per pupil will have doubled since 1997. In 1997, there were only 83 secondary schools which were non-selective and achieved the result of more than 70 per cent. of pupils with five good GCSEs. Today, the figure is 400. There are 130,000 more support staff and 30,000 more teachers in our education system. The number of failing schools has halved. There are 300,000 young people with education maintenance allowances. There are more teacher training places available than at any time since
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the 1980s. Teachers' pay is up by 25 per cent. in real terms. Again, we accept that there is much more to do: extending specialist schools, the new city academies, the ability to gain foundation powers for all schools and guaranteed three-year budgets. There will be no return to selection at age 11 and the money spent will be spent on state pupils in state schools.
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