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8.28 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): In addressing the motion and the Government's amendment, I ask myself why I feel such deep antipathy to the Government's spin-doctoring techniques. In a way, it is because I feel for the Government. The tragedy for the Government and for the country is that they think that they can do no wrong, which is a dangerous thing to believe. To believe one's own propaganda, as the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) obviously does, is a tragedy for a politician.

I resent that belief because it leads the Prime Minister into making some serious charges against the Opposition that I do not think are sustainable. Each week, I sit on the Opposition Benches to hear the saintly Prime Minister accuse me of the most heinous crimes against humanity. I am told that I do not want a national health service, to reduce unemployment, to help the developing world or care about crime, poverty and social exclusion because I am a Tory, which makes it impossible.

I have news for the Prime Minister and for his right hon. and hon. Friends. He is wrong. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House care passionately about such matters. Our difference is often, but not always, about means, not ends. I accept that there are issues on which we disagree about the ends too, such as the future of sterling, the future of the United Kingdom, our right to participate in country sports and to eat particular foods.

The dreadful way in which the Government have been caught up in the web of their own deception means that they can no longer see that essential truth, and that makes their attacks curiously offensive. The Prime Minister seems genuinely to believe that the answers to the problems that will always exist in any democratic society lie in bigger government and more politicians. That goes to the heart of the Opposition's motion. He seems to believe that the answer to Britain's problem is more politicians in Wales, Scotland and everywhere else, including this place. We should try to reduce the number of Members here, not increase them as the Boundary Commission inevitably does.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Resign.

Mr. Luff: I will if you will. I am not referring to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but to the hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said that 359 new politicians are the result of the Government's policy, and that is not the answer to our problems. I heard the Minister for the Cabinet Office deny the increase in public expenditure for the management of central Government. I have the figures. Last year, we were planning to cut it by £223 million. Instead, the Government increased it by £967 million. That is £1,190 million extra. This year, our planned cut is £114 million. The Government's increase will be £1,104 million. That is a total over two years of £2,408 million. That is the increase in the cost of

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government that the Government have imposed on us. That is because they genuinely believe--this is the tragedy--that that is the right way to run a country. It is not.

The regional development agencies were rightly highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire. He said that they cost about £69 million. These monsters have laboured mightily to bring forward their regional strategies.

I have the strategy of "Advantage West Midlands", the West Midlands regional development agency. In an earlier debate, I highlighted the facile gibberish of the language in which it is written, but what of the content? The glossy and unreadable document includes such surprising insights as:

As Michael Caine would say, "Not a lot of people know that."

Later we read:

I am grateful to the agency for this fresh insight into the workings of the United Kingdom economy.

When the agency is not offering such insights, it is threatening to meddle where it is not wanted. The document states:

That does not stop it from stating that it intends

    "to play an effective role in helping to co-ordinate housing and regeneration strategies across the region."

It knows absolutely nothing about the region. How can it seriously say:

    "It is the blend of culture, unique histories and shared futures that defines the West Midlands"?

That defines every arbitrarily drawn region of the United Kingdom. It is a load of nonsense. Nothing defines the west midlands except some arbitrary lines drawn on a map by a bureaucrat.

Mr. Paterson: I entirely endorse all my hon. Friend's comments on regional development agencies and the west midlands region. The people of Shropshire bitterly resent being lumped in with the central conurbation of the west midlands, which will dominate all RDA decisions. They will be the country cousins, left out on a limb.

Mr. Luff: I am glad that I gave way to my hon. Friend, who makes exactly my point. The people of Worcestershire have exactly the same feeling. How do you think I felt, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture, to read that the West Midlands RDA says implicitly of my constituency:

That is an opportunity, not a problem. Birmingham-based bureaucrats of the agency that was imposed on us by the Government do not understand that.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): For the record, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he was an adviser to Lord Walker, the former

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Secretary of State for the Environment--the very gentleman who drew up the boundaries of the west midlands and the other English regions?

Mr. Luff: I do not want to have a debate about that. Of course the boundaries are useful for administrative purposes and for gathering statistics, but that does not mean that the people of Worcestershire should be run from Birmingham. Will the Minister get that simple thought into his very small brain?

Of course we must carve up countries for administrative and statistical purposes. That has some passing relevance, but it does not mean that the historic counties of England must be run from remote places such as Birmingham, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) rightly said.

It is not just the development agencies, but the Government who write dreadful documents. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), who is not now present, refer to the wretched little document entitled "The Government's annual report". Rightly, he poured ridicule upon it. It is a check list of completed actions. It states, for example:

It is true that it has been done. It has been well and truly done, ignored, pigeon-holed and forgotten, because its recommendations were too difficult.

The report goes on to refer to

as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out last week. That is said to be "On course." Yes--on course for the waste paper basket. The report continues:

    "Simplify Government. On course. See page 57."

I saw page 57 and could not understand it.

A further entry reads:

Excuse me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, did I miss the referendum? Was I asleep?

The Government had to buy half the copies of this wretched little document. They claim that the other 49,000 were sold. I should love to see Tesco's sales figures. The document should never have been produced. It goes to the heart of this dreadful Government and the motion rightly tabled by the Opposition.

Mr. Tyrie: Does my hon. Friend agree that the most extraordinary part of the document is the last page, headed "Your say", which I suppose is Labour's dim attempt at some form of accountability to the public? It states that last year, the Government asked people's views and have published a cross-section of them on the opposite page. All we get back is a little tapestry of cuttings, rather than a serious account of people's views. It is supposed to be a serious public document.

Mr. Luff: My hon. Friend is right. That hardly encourages people to believe that, in the new, open, inclusive style of government of which the Government boast, their views are being taken seriously. I am grateful to him for making an important point.

With regard to the new deal, the Government are once again in danger of believing their own propaganda. They seem to think that their huge expenditure has created jobs.

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It has not. The jobs were being created by the private sector. Youth unemployment was collapsing under the previous Government because of the success of their economic policies.

The present Government have spent £20 million of our money--taxpayers' money--on promoting the wretched new deal. They are doing so for party political advantage. They are trying to be seen to do something about unemployment. That is a monstrous use of money. New jobs are being created not by the Government, their bureaucrats or the new deal, but by hard-working small business men and women, who were doing so anyway without the Government's meddling interference.

Others want to speak, so I shall be brief. The Minister's research was quite good. He suggested that I was a special adviser to Lord Walker of Worcester. I was not. I was a special adviser between 1987 and 1989 to Lord Young of Graffham at the Department of Trade and Industry.

I freely admit that special advisers have a useful role to play. That is why the previous Government had a number of them. They can bridge the gap between civil service and party, work alongside Parliamentary Private Secretaries on parliamentary liaison, and inject original thinking into policy making. They are an extra set of eyes and ears for the Minister.

All that is good, but their role is not, as the special advisers of this Government seem to think, to promote party at public expense, to undermine the Government information service or to brief against other Ministers. It is clear that that is happening in spades in the Government.

We must cap the numbers. What justification is there for increasing the number of special advisers at No. 10 from eight under the previous Government to 22 under the present Government?

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