Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Lady has some interesting definitions of what she means by job cuts. [Interruption.] I know that it has become fashionable for Conservative Members to identify particular areas of the country where restructuring and modernisation have taken place, and then to extrapolate a general picture from those isolated examples. It is for them to check carefully exactly what they mean by job cuts, not least in relation to nurses. [Interruption.]
The simple facts are that 85,000 more nurses are now working in the United Kingdom than there were in 1997; we now have 404,161 nurses at work; and we have 307,000 more staff in the national health service than we had in 1997, including 215,000 more front-line staff. On whatever definition anyone uses, those are not job cuts. They may be things that Conservative Members want to use in debate, but the plain fact of the matter is that more and more people are working in our national health service, and they are delivering more and more treatment, more and more operations, ever-better standards of health care and ever-lower waiting lists. Those are the facts.
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"The NHS will need to respond to the tide of rising expectations and need by improving efficiency and responsiveness. With the dedication and commitment of staff we believe that the NHS can continue its transformation and be a model for other countries."
That letter is signed by, among others, Beverly Malone, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, and the chairman of the British Medical Association, together with representatives of unions and charities that work in the NHS. We are doing exactly what is set out by those people with real experience of a national health service.
On tax credits, nine out of 10 low-income families with children are claiming tax credits. Tax credits are transforming the life chances of the poorest people in our society, which the Conservative Government did not care about and did not concern themselves with. We saw an appalling level of family poverty and child poverty during that period. We have lifted 700,000 children out of povertya policy that the Conservative party has consistently opposed.
On foreign prisoners and deportation, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out the position in a written statement to the House, he made an oral statement in the House, and he made it clear yesterday that he would return to the House as necessary to ensure that that regrettable state of affairs is addresseda state of affairs that the Government have addressed, and which had not previously been addressed by any other Government. That is a matter to which the right hon. Lady might give some consideration. No previous Home Secretary was in a position to provide the information because no previous Home Secretary had the records and information available to him. Again, the Conservatives ought to reflect on that before making such criticisms.
On crime, overall we have seen a significant reduction in key crime statistics over the longer term. The statistics from the British crime survey showed that in the 12 months to September 2005 overall crime was falling, the level of violent crime was relatively stable, all personal crime rates were relatively stable, but domestic burglary was down by 13 per cent. and vehicle thefts were down by 14 per cent. That is an improvement. It is not sufficient; we want still greater progress.
Again, that improvement is hardly helped by the Conservative party's consistent policy of opposing the very policies that we have proposed to make that happen, opposing greater numbers of police officers on the streets[Hon. Members: "Rubbish."]opposing greater support for those police officers. Opposition Members cry rubbish but the truth is that they have consistently opposed providing the resources to allow those changes to occur. They cannot consistently complain in the House when they have opposed the very resources that allowed those policies to be implemented.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
The Conservative Government had their black Wednesday. Yesterday we had the triple whammy Wednesday for the present Government, and the Leader of the House has just displayed the complacency for which he is well known.
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We need a debate on the health service. Last week the right hon. Gentleman said that there was a national debate that would go on for weeks and weeks. We saw that national debate exhibited at the conference of the Royal College of Nursing. It is insulting to those nurses to say that they do not understand what job cuts in the nursing service are, when it is they who are losing their jobs and they who work in the wards that are being closed. We need a debate on the health service.
"I can confirm that consideration of the most serious cases has, of course, commenced and I will report further on progress by the end of this week."[Official Report, 26 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 573.]
We are not sitting tomorrow. There has been no written statement today. I have had no indication of an oral statement later today. How will the Home Secretary report on the murderers, arsonists, rapists and drug dealers whom he has let out, while lecturing the rest of the country about law and order? When will we have that information?
Lastly, may we have a debate on ministerial responsibility, perhaps with reference to Sir Thomas Dugdale and the Crichel Down affair? Some of us do not believe that ministerial responsibility consists of lamely promising to put things right after the event, but rather taking responsibility for things that go wrong and accepting the consequences of failure.
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chose to describe my observations as "complacent". I realise that the Liberal Democrats do not like facts, and I have consistently set out the facts to the House on the health service and tackling crime. The Government have consistently not only set out clear policies, but made the resources available, but the Liberal Democrats cannot say with any conviction or confidence that they would have taken the same course. I am happy that there should be debates on the health service and am delighted that there should be debates on tackling crime, and hon. Members will have the opportunity to discuss those matters in due course. This Government are not afraid of debating and discussing the significant improvements that we have made in British society since 1997.
As far as ministerial responsibility and the Crichel Down case are concerned, the hon. Gentleman should listen to the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), who is sitting behind him and who used to lecture on constitutional law at Cambridge university, because he will find that the situation on the Crichel Down case and ministerial responsibility is not quite how he represented it. I do not believe that there is any necessity for those matters to be debated on the Floor of this House. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear that he will keep the House informed of the facts as and when they are clearly established. Again, it is important that we all get our facts right, which is something that has escaped the Liberal Democrats in the past 24 hours.
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Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): Will this House have an opportunity to look at the review of sentencing for domestic violence offenders? Many victims of domestic violence will have heard expressions of remorse 34 times before the offender is finally brought to some form of justice. Although it is important to make sure that offenders learn how to manage conflict without resorting to violence, is it not also important that the victims of domestic violence are sure that they will be taken seriously when they report such crimes and that their families will be safe from any further violence in the future?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. The Government are committed to tackling domestic violence in all its forms, and we have passed legislation to that end. One reason why legislation has been introduced is to ensure an improvement in reporting rates. The Sentencing Guidelines Council is an independent body and it is important for hon. Membersincluding, I hope, my hon. Friendwho take an interest in that matter to assist in its work by contributing to the consultation on guidelines for sentencing in relation to domestic violence offences. The deadline for contributions is 12 June, and I urge my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to contribute to the debate.