Parliament - PM's questions: Blair's `year of delivery' is one of deceit, say Tories

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR came under fierce attack yesterday for turning 1999 from the promised "year of delivery" into a "year of deceit", with failing public services and a rising tax burden.

The Prime Minister was challenged by the Opposition Leader, William Hague, during the last question time of the millennium for delivering a year of "fewer police, longer waiting lists, higher taxes and more bureaucracy".

Mr Blair admitted that waiting lists to see a consultant had risen and police numbers had fallen, but he insisted that the Government had kept its promises after "two difficult years" which saw tight spending plans.

He stressed unemployment was falling, the country had 700,000 extra jobs, smaller class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds and "we have got through a downturn without a recession for the first time in decades".

He added: "I have accepted that the number of police have fallen since the last election, as they were falling for the two and three years before the election.

"However, as a result of the announcement made by the Home Secretary [Jack Straw] police recruits will rise again and police numbers will rise again."

But Mr Hague taunted him: "So much for delivering on your promise to be tough on crime. How many more people are waiting to see a hospital consultant, than at the time of the last election?"

The Prime Minister told Mr Hague: "It's correct that the out-patient figures have risen, as they have been rising for 10 years. Yes, I accept in the first two years it was difficult because we had to clear the public financial deficit and sort out the situation we inherited.

"But now, across all these areas, more investment is going in - in schools, hospitals and crime. This was the extra spending that you described as reckless and irresponsible."

Mr Hague renewed his attack, stressing that the number of people waiting to see a hospital consultant had risen from 248,000 to 512,000.

"Those are people you are making wait to be on a waiting list and the number of people waiting two-and-a-half years to hear you tell the truth on this has risen to 55 million!"

He added the Office of National Statistics showed that the tax burden had grown from 35.6 per cent to 37.7 per cent since Labour came to office.

He said the cost of government administration had risen by pounds 1.1bn since the last election "enough to pay for thousands of police, and tens of thousands of hospital operations".

During a later exchange, Michael Fallon, the Tory MP for Sevenoaks, added: "Is it not the case that you have turned your year of delivery has turned out to be a year of deceit?"

Mr Blair said: "In the first two years we cleared the financial deficit. But this financial year the tax burden is falling, not rising.

"This year, which I said was the year of delivery, the tax burden is falling, in-patient waiting lists are falling, class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds are falling and unemployment is falling."

He added: "The fact is that yes, we took two difficult years, but we are delivering for the people of this country."

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