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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I point out that a number
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). Indeed, it is reassuring for Opposition Members to know that some Labour Members listen with scepticism to the words uttered by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his hard work to achieve a positive result for his constituents. When I was a Minister with responsibility for housing, I paid a pleasurable visit to Clay Cross. Indeed, I still have a picture on the wall to remind me of the occasion.
I want to harangue the Government again about the increasing administrative inefficiency that is experienced by the constituents of all hon. Members. Such inefficiency adds to the burden of bureaucracy, as well as to the burden placed on Members of Parliament and their secretaries. It also creates additional cost.
I should like to give five examples from my constituency of the effects of administrative inefficiency. Recently, the pension of an elderly lady was abruptly withdrawn because it was suddenly decided in officialdom that she was no longer alive. It has been a nightmare for her to try to get her pension restored. She now has to walk around with her birth certificate--indeed, she almost needs a doctor's certificate saying that she is alive--to try to obtain the benefits to which she is entitled.
Another example of such problems arose in the past month. A doctor who had paid his national insurance contributions for some 40 years reached his retirement, but did not receive notification of his pension, so he applied for it. About three months after doing so, he received a claim form. He sent back the form straight away, but the Totton benefits office disputes that he ever did so. The system and its bureaucracy, for which the Government are ultimately responsible, are treating the retired doctor and his wife, who posted the letter, as if they are liars. They are also behaving as if every aspect of their organisation is thoroughly efficient. That is intolerable. The doctor has to write to me and I have to write in turn to the Department, the Minister and so on. All that wasteful bureaucracy results from inefficiency.
Another of my constituents is a war pensioner who travelled all the way from Christchurch to Exeter last August for a tribunal hearing. When he arrived in Exeter, he found that the War Pensions Agency had not given the full papers to the tribunal, which ordered that a rehearing should occur straight away. However, he is still waiting to be notified of its date. I telephoned the War Pensions Agency last week and was told that the matter was in the hands of the tribunal. I then spoke to the tribunal, but was told that it might be February before the case was reheard. I remind hon. Members that the previous hearing has already been adjourned.
Another recent case is that of a constituent who was the victim of a car accident. He eventually succeeded in badgering the Crown Prosecution Service into bringing a prosecution. On doing so, however, the CPS failed to warn the witnesses and the case was consequently dismissed by the magistrates. In terms of his insurance, my constituent is left up the creek without a paddle.
Finally, the media studies A-level paper of the best performing pupil at Ferndown upper school was marked with a C, rather than an A, solely because his marks were not added up correctly. The school complained, but, unfortunately, it took until the end of September to add up the marks correctly, by which time the pupil had missed the opportunity of pursuing the university course that he wanted to take. I took up the issue with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and this week received from it a letter that is far too complacent. The letter says that
The issue of delays in ministerial correspondence is one to which we return frequently in the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) made the point that the Government often appear to treat Members of Parliament with contempt. On 18 October, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Social Security on behalf of a man concerned about war widows' pensions. I have not yet received a reply, but my constituent has written back to me to say:
During my service in the headquarters of a government department, the receipt of all mail was acknowledged by return of post and the contents dealt with in a prompt and respectful manner, whoever the writer and whatever the subject. We were never allowed to forget that the Taxpayer picked up the bill for our salaries!
Due to the limited time available, I shall not regale the House with descriptions of all the other letters to which I await replies, but they cover the whole range of Departments. The Government talk about better government, but people know that they are experiencing worse government. That is not the only example of the Government saying one thing and doing another. Education funding is a hot topic in Dorset, and in the past month I have received more than 100 letters about the injustice of the funding formula. That matter dates back to the area cost adjustment.
The Minister will remember that, before the general election, the Prime Minister went to Cambridge, which had been adversely affected by the area cost adjustment. He led people there to believe that he was sympathetic to their cause and would do something about the injustice of the area cost adjustment as soon as he got into power because it was arbitrary and unfair. I do not have to remind the House that absolutely nothing has happened.
I am a member of the campaign because my constituency contains one of the worst-funded local education authorities in the country. Indeed, in the recent settlement, Dorset received the lowest funding increase per primary school pupil and the second lowest funding increase for secondary schools. In a letter, the hon. Member for Stafford writes:
The concessionary fares scheme is another example of the Government's saying one thing and doing another. They announced that there would be centralised funding for concessionary fares and said that they would put into local government more money than the cost represented by the additional burdens of such fares for all pensioners. It just so happens that two authorities, one of which is East Dorset district council, have not received a penny of extra funding because they are outside the grant mechanism.
The Government will not listen to those authorities, despite the fact that more than 25 per cent. of the residents of East Dorset are over retirement age. In order to meet the new minimum statutory requirement, it is likely that East Dorset district council will have to increase its council tax sharply, which falls disproportionately on pensioners on fixed incomes who are expected to benefit from the new concessionary fares. That is a ludicrous situation.
Finally, I shall highlight the consequences of another example of the Government's systematic deception of the people. In the pre-Budget statement on 8 November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced new arrangements for vehicle excise duty. He said:
The new system does not come in until July next year, when it will be backdated. However, if my constituent changes his car between now and July, he will not benefit from any of that backdated duty. As a result of trying to be too clever by half with their spinning, the Government have misled the people. That has created an extra burden for the DVLA and additional correspondence for Members of Parliament. The Government have the gall to suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the
I hope that my constituents have a merry Christmas, but it will be in spite of the Government's policies rather than because of them.