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Mr. Paterson: I said that the former Home Secretary had reduced the amount of crime, which I would have thought was the fundamental role of a Home Secretary.

Mr. Todd: That trend has continued under the present Government, if we take their time in office as a whole. In any event, that does not constitute a response to the question of accountability, which I understood to be the focus of the debate requested by the Opposition.

I was present at the debate on the Passport Agency and its performance. It is worth contrasting the performance of the last Home Secretary with the frank apology offered by the current Home Secretary. There was no attempt to blame the civil service; rather, there was a recognition that Ministers were accountable for performances of that kind. The stark contrast between the two approaches struck me at the time.

The phrase "boom and bust" has become almost a catchphrase in Government, so I will use another. We will take no lessons on this from the last Government. I have

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not used those words before, but they seem singularly appropriate in this instance. When it comes to accountability in Government, there is little to be learned from the 18 years of Conservative administration.

Without dissolving that accountability, the present Government have also sought to consult more widely. The pre-legislative process has been extended to cover major Bills, which has helped to isolate the issues that divide us--the existence of such issues is inevitable--from genuine discussion of how best to manage specific policy choices. Changing a complex and history-ridden institution and political process is hard and frustrating, but the right choices have been made so far. The management of those choices will be challenging, and mistakes will be made. Improving management quality at both civil service and political level will be necessary, but excellent progress has been made.

The motion snipes at the fringes of the issue. The Opposition spurned the opportunity to tackle many of these opportunities during their 18 years in government, and I see little reason to listen to them now.

8.54 pm

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in the debate on the cost of central Government.

I thought that it would be interesting to go back to 1997, when the Government set out with such high hopes. The Labour manifesto bluntly said:

I wonder what Lord Winston thinks of that in the light of this week's events.

I have much simpler beliefs. I think that people are happier with less government, fewer politicians, fewer bureaucrats and therefore less taxation. I can think of no country that has been made more successful by an increase in Government activity, or in taxation. In the light of that, I am appalled at what has happened in the past two and three quarter years.

The second line of the motion expresses regret that

They certainly are not in Shropshire. Not one publicly funded service in Shropshire is adequately funded. The Government have wilfully shifted £500 million from the shire counties to the inner cities. One can see it immediately.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) dug out some figures in a written answer, which show that the average pupil in a Shropshire primary school receives £2,220, whereas a pupil in a Southwark primary school receives £3,396. Resources are not reaching front-line public services in Shropshire.

We hear that, instead of being 6.1 per cent., this year's standard spending assessment increase is only 5.4 per cent. That is another £500,000 to £600,000 that the people of Shropshire will not get and were expecting. Amazingly, the fire brigade is 47 per cent. underfunded. It bought no new fire engines in 1998. It is struggling to see how it will afford to buy any more this year, with one pump costing £130,000. Resources are not reaching front-line services, such as the fire brigade.

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West Mercia--this affects my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff)--has the lowest net expenditure per 1,000 of population in the shire counties. To reach the average, it would need an increase of £14.3 million. To reach the highest level, it would need a £55.3 million increase. It is clear that resources are not reaching front-line services, such as policing in West Mercia.

Sixty-seven per cent. of people in Shropshire drive to work in a car and 97 per cent. of goods go by motorised lorry. There is a £100 million backlog on the roads.

Mr. Tyrie: I wondered whether you had had any notification of that. Has there been any accountability to you, or to local people about those changes?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he must use the correct parliamentary language.

Mr. Tyrie: Has there been any accountability to my hon. Friend about the lack of resources?

Mr. Paterson: No. Those are arbitrary decisions by a central Government dominated by urban interests. They ignore national interests, too. Major road schemes are a constant battle because the Government have an in-built prejudice against the motorised vehicle.

In the light of the figures that I have mentioned, it is staggering to see what has happened to the cost of running Government Departments. In 1997-98, the cost was £13,246 million. It rose by an amazing £1,104 million in 1998-99. That would provide 11 district hospitals, probably 110,000 hip operations at today's figures, over 60,000 E grade nurses and 36,000 junior doctors. Those are striking figures for the general public to ponder when they think of the crisis in health and in Government services elsewhere.

Where is that money going? Before Christmas, I tabled a written question to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and it is already out of date. I asked how many special advisers there were. I was told that there were 68, but an addendum to the written answer gave another six. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) has managed to elicit information showing that the number has been ratcheted up to 77. They are also not cheap, those boys. Moreover, the bill has increased from £1.8 million in 1996-97, to an estimated £3.9 million in 1999-2000. They also spent £500,000 on jollies abroad.

Taxpayers in Shropshire wonder what they are getting out of those special advisers. What have they got out of the antics of Alastair Campbell, who is paid by the taxpayer a cool £93,562 annually? This week, his service was to tent-peg into the ground a real expert--and member of the Labour party--who understands health problems and was promoted to the Lords for his expertise in health matters.

What did Lord Winston say before he had his talk with Alastair Campbell? In the New Statesman, he said:

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After Lord Winston received a wet sandbag behind his right ear, he said:

    "I certainly do not believe . . . that the NHS is worse under this Government than the last Government."

In the New Statesman, Lord Winston said:

    "Our reorganisation of the Health Service was very bad. We have made medical care deeply unsatisfactory for a lot of people. We've always had this right, but monolithic view, that there should be equality throughout at the point of delivery. All very good stuff, but it isn't working."

After Lord Winston's interview with Alastair Campbell, he said:

    "I believe that the basic direction of NHS policy is right under this Government and in primary health care there have been considerable improvements. We now need to see these in hospitals and specialist services in particular."

It is a real disservice to the British people that Alastair should be paid more than £90,000 annually to distort entirely the debate on health. Lord Winston is a real expert and has genuine points to make on a matter of national interest that affects every citizen, but taxpayers' money has been spent to shut him up. He has gone to ground, and we have not heard from him since. It is disgraceful.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) endorsed that view. On 14 January, in The Scotsman, he bravely said:

I heartily endorse that view.

Politicisation of the civil service has become particularly apparent in relation to Government information officers. Why, since the 1997 general election, have 16 of the 18 most senior press officers been either removed, moved sideways or pensioned off? Perhaps it is worth listening to the words of Mr. Andy Wood, who was replaced as director of information at the Northern Ireland Office. He said:

What about task forces? In November 1999, a report conducted by Democratic Audit--an independent research group at the university of Essex--was published. It identified 318 task forces, on which 2,500 appointees sit. What do the task forces do? They review. Subsequently, the Government received bad press for having too many reviews--so we had a review of reviews, resulting in a ban on reviews. I suspect that, at the next stage, we may progress to a review of bans and that, subsequently, we may come full circle and have a ban on bans. One really wonders where that money is going and what it is achieving.

We should also examine expenditure on devolution. We now have 359 more elected politicians and are spending £120 million more on the cost of elected representatives. Before the referendum, in the White Paper, the Scottish people were told that their Parliament would cost them £50 million. On the latest estimate, however, the building alone will cost £109 million.

We should again ask the West Lothian question, which has been much publicised in the press: why should decisions on the roads and health of the people of

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Shropshire be made by hon. Members from north of the border, whereas I have no say there? There is no equity in the arrangement, and it cannot last.

The same is true of the Welsh Assembly, which has more impact on my constituents. Its costs are running at £15 million to £20 million. The cost of the temporary and permanent accommodation is estimated at £17 million to £20 million. However, the situation could get worse because, amazingly, the building that has been designed is too big for the plot available. There could be yet more cost for the benighted British taxpayer. The organisation is also inefficient. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, of which I am a member, has great trouble in getting the Welsh Assembly to answer letters even to set up meetings.

There are other outrageous costs that have upset my constituents, particularly in the farming sector, which has taken a hammering under this Government. Farm incomes were at record levels under the last Government, but they have now plummeted. Pig farms are closing every week and milk prices are at rock bottom. What did my farmers think when the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), the previous Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, spent £930,000 relocating MAFF offices and making extravagant trips on Concorde? There is real arrogance in the Government. They must learn that 1 May 1997 did not settle history for good.

The Government also spend huge amounts on publicity. The amount spent by Government Departments on opinion poll research, media advertising, direct mail publicity, press releases, websites and extra publicity totals an astonishing £107,184,624. A lot of that is spent very badly. I shall give just one example that annoyed my local farmers. When the British cattle movement service helpline was set up, 109,000 leaflets were issued, of which 50 per cent. contained errors in the address. A letter of apology then had to be issued to livestock farmers. The total cost of the apologies was £45,000. There is not time to give further examples.

The Labour Government set out with high hopes and an excessive belief in their ability to deliver good. They are failing, and many people resent the extraordinary increase in the cost of central Government, which is not benefiting them in their everyday lives. I support the motion.

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