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Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): For which side?

Mr. Amess: For the Conservative party, of course. That was in Newham.

It is a joke for this rotten Government to suggest that they are going to reform education. That is not what I wanted to hear. What about all the youngsters who do not go to school? Where is the solution from the great person who leads the Labour party? What about all those 14, 15 and 16-year-olds who are not in school? What will the Labour party do to encourage them to return to the classroom?

I think of Government circular No. 1099, which destroyed the Labour support in a local secondary school. A headmaster expelled two youngsters because they were caught taking drugs, but this ridiculous Government's circular says that a pupil cannot be expelled unless they are caught selling drugs. Can you imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government actually allowed a circular such as that to be taken as a panacea for our educational ills? The past four years has destroyed morale in education and I hope that morale will not be destroyed any further.

We are told that the

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That must be the biggest joke ever. Two right hon. Members have had a go at reforming the health service, and it is an absolute disgrace. In Southend at the moment, we have just one consultant psychiatrist, thanks to this rotten Labour Government, and when I knocked on one or two doors I could see that there were a few problems there. We have closed our two local mental health centres, in Westcliff and Shoebury.

During the general election campaign--as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said--very interestingly, the increase in waiting list figures was not announced until the Friday, and this rotten Government, the day after the election, say, "We shall not have waiting lists any more. It is all going to be about waiting times." My goodness, I cannot wait. I will volunteer to serve on the Committee that considers the health Bill. I opted out of the last one, but I cannot wait to get cracking on this one. We can read in Hansard all the quotes by Labour Ministers, saying that we should take no notice of waiting times because it is all about waiting lists.

I heard the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), who has left the Chamber, say how arrogant the Conservative Government were. Well, my goodness, what about the arrogance of this Government? This Government have taken no notice of the medical profession, and my fax machine is already full of the letters from the British Medical Association. When Labour Members were in opposition, they used to pray in aid the BMA. Well, the BMA now says:

First, this crazy Government upset the consultants by imposing on them a six-year contract, with an option of an extra year, which will not work. Those consultants are needed to run our health service, but the Government have completely alienated them, and they have now turned on the doctors and the general practitioners. For the first time ever, GPs in this country are going on strike in July. The Conservatives cannot be blamed for that; it is what four years of this rotten Government have done.

The Royal College of Nursing was always used in support by Labour party activists, but today it has said that

Nothing that the Government have done in the past four years will restore morale in the health service, and all hon. Members know, from knocking on doors, that morale is absolutely rock bottom.

We are told in the Gracious Speech that

This Government helping the police fight crime! My goodness, we heard at first hand during the election campaign what a high regard the police have for this rotten Government. Again, as a result of the Government's mismanagement during the past four years, pay and conditions are the biggest police morale issues. In 1979, when the Labour party was thrown out of office

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and the Conservatives had to sort out a terrible mess, we immediately implemented the Edmond Davies report, restoring morale to the police force. Yet again, this arrogant Government have not listened to anything, but they say that they will help the police.

Mr. David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman talks of sorting out the mess, but does he include--or pray in aid, as he would say in his overblown rhetoric--the rotten doubling of crime under the Conservative party when in office?

Mr. Amess: The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong about the Conservatives' doubling crime. He should reflect on the fact that fighting crime in this country is not helped by the Government releasing half the criminals early. Can hon. Members imagine anything more stupid than going through all the expense of court cases when those found guilty go to prison for increasingly short times?

We are told in the Gracious Speech that

It is not modern or popular for people to cast themselves as Christians, but all hon. Members are only too well aware of the campaign to provide a dedicated channel for Premier Christian broadcasting. We are all aware of the letters that we have received from Ministers, basically saying that we cannot have such a dedicated channel.

Mr. Pike: That cannot be done because of Conservative legislation.

Mr. Amess: The hon. Gentleman says that, but we have had a rotten Labour Government for four years, so it is about time that we heard about Labour legislation if the Conservatives were so wrong. I have no influence with the Government, but, as a matter of urgency, I ask those Labour Members who now feel freer than they did during the previous Parliament--perhaps they have some influence--to press for a Christian radio broadcasting frequency.

We are told in the Gracious Speech that

That shows how crazy the Government are. They are telling us in the Gracious Speech that a Bill will be introduced to outlaw foxhunting. I shall share a secret about the Government's game with my recently elected hon. Friends. We shall debate foxhunting, and I am one of a small minority of my colleagues who vote differently from the rest, but there will be a huge majority in favour of banning foxhunting. The Bill will then go to the House of Lords, and all the Labour Members will say, "Well, what can you expect of the House of Lords? It's a complete anachronism. It's stuffed full of Conservatives." That will not wash any more, because the House of Lords is stuffed full of Labour cronies, and I can name one or two of them who are totally pro-foxhunting, so it is nonsense to suggest that we cannot deal with foxhunting without reforming the House of Lords, and I will not buy it.

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We are told in the Gracious Speech that there will be legislation

Well, was not it a wonderful spectacle when a Labour Minister deigned to open her mouth at a press conference during the general election campaign? The media had asked where the Labour women were in the general election campaign. Of course, none of them was to be seen, and two of them were immediately slapped down when they tried to say something during a press conference. I have never met a lady who needed men to fight on her behalf. When we had a woman as leader of the Conservative party and as Prime Minister, this country had its finest hours. I have no problem with more women being elected to the House and having them as leaders, but we need no help from this rotten Government to get women back into Parliament.

However, I agree with one of the measures in the Gracious Speech--that on adoption. I had a few words to say on the previous Bill. It will be a splendid measure. It is crazy that a huge number of babies and children cannot be adopted because of all the bureaucracy involved. I speak only for myself, and certainly not for my party, but I hope that we back the Government on that issue so that the measure quickly reaches the statute book.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Yeovil on his maiden speech, which seems a long time ago now. My colleagues should not be downhearted about the result of the election campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) is now in his seat, and we had a splendid result in Essex, and I include you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as your constituency is in Essex. Once again, Essex will lead the Conservative party back to victory and on to the Benches opposite.

8.18 pm

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): A key theme of the Queen's Speech--indeed, it was the dominant theme of the general election--is the need to create high-quality, world-class public services. It is clear that the electorate rejected the Conservatives' approach to public service, and it is not difficult to understand why. Teachers and pupils had a long recollection of the year-on-year cuts in school budgets, and patients, carers and those who use the transport system knew only too well the consequences of privatisation. Everyone rumbled the fact that tax cuts, however unspecified--£8 billion, £16 billion, £20 billion or £30 billion--would lead to cuts in public services.

It is also clear that people have high expectations of the new Labour Government. I looked with interest at the commitments on public services in our manifesto, which says that

It goes on to say that we will create a Britain

We must deliver on those promises and build on the good start that we made in our first term.

Over the past three years, the budget of Nottingham health authority rose by about 5 per cent. in real terms. Since the last year of the Conservative Government, its budget has increased by £185 million to £462 million this year. School budgets have also increased in

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Nottinghamshire. Compared with last year's budget, this year's has increased by 6.1 per cent. School budgets have increased every year since the 1997 general election. What is more, we have a sound economic platform for greater investment in public services--in hospitals and schools--over the next three years.

There can be no alibi for failure in our second term. We will have been in power for eight or nine years and we must make a difference to the public services that have been mentioned tonight. However, there is a curious paradox, which has interested me for many years, before and during my time on the Government Front Bench. We are investing more in public services, but the people who work in them have, by and large, low morale. I have heard that denied, but my experience in surgeries, hospitals and schools and with the police force suggests that there is a crisis with regard to the people who work in the front line of public services. Unless we can improve morale, enthuse and involve front-line staff and make them real stakeholders in the provision of services, the rhetoric of creating high-quality, world-class public services will be just that--rhetoric.

I want to examine how we got to this position and, more importantly, what we should do about it. The first problem is the danger that the large sums of money that are being put into public services have been overinflated and have raised the public's expectations. Hon. Members will remember that in our first spending round an extra £40 billion was made available for health and education. However, when worked out on a year-on-year basis, that gave growth of just 3 per cent. Over the next three years we are promising to put a third extra into the national health service--the biggest cash increase that it has ever received. However, there are many different priorities and we need to be clear that we might raise the expectations of consumers and, more particularly, raise too greatly the expectations of the people who work in our public services.

We have had a decade of under-investment in public service. In the previous Parliament, the Government increased the money available, but that is like a sponge mopping up water; it takes time to turn things around. Let me give a classic example. The number of police officers fell for eight years under both Governments, but it began to grow for the first time last autumn. We are in a position to invest 5 to 6 per cent. more, year on year, in public services. We need to ensure that that is translated into service improvements on the front line.

The second problem is that when we came into power in 1997 after 18 years out of government, we were keen to do so much that we concentrated on quantity rather than quality. For example, one of the key spending Departments in the previous Administration had 50 top priorities. Clearly, it was impossible to deliver them all. One message for our second term is that we must focus our priorities and concentrate on quality rather than quantity. If we can deliver services well, with our stakeholders, it is clear that morale will increase and we will have made real improvements.

A third aim, which is an absolute priority, is to involve the work force in our public services so that they help to set targets and timetables. After all, people who come into public services are like politicians; they want to make a difference, to serve the people in their community and to make services better for their kids and their children's children. Unless we involve the providers of public

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services--the people who are close to the consumer--there is a danger that our initiatives will be out of touch with the needs of the customer or consumer. When that has been achieved, it has been a tremendous success. When the cheque for school standards money goes directly to head teachers, it is most welcome. I have talked to ward sisters who have a budget of their own and feel more in touch with their destiny. We should do more of that and translate the rhetoric of the devolution of finance and decision making into reality.

There will be consequences. Although we might set targets from the centre, if we trust people on the ground to deliver, they will find different ways to resolve issues. They will find different local solutions to a shared problem. Things will happen differently in Brighton, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham, Nuneaton and Newcastle. Instead of being anxious about that, we should celebrate it. There is a belief that all public services have to be delivered in the same way, but that is clearly a fallacy. We must ensure that public services meet the needs of local communities and when, as a consequence, a local solution is different from what the Government want, we must be mature enough to accept that.

Mistakes occur in all large organisations. It is a fact of life that things go wrong. Public services have been disabled by the fact that when that has happened we have far too often been critical rather than supportive. Politicians have a tendency to call for a public inquiry when there is a problem, but we must consider the facts and learn lessons. We must also acknowledge that the people working in those public services have been doing their best. As a Government and as management, far too much of our focus has been on failure. The other side of the coin is the need to identify and promote success. There is a lot to be proud of in our public services. We have not achieved our aim of using education and health action zones, where interesting changes are taking place, to inform public services throughout the country.

If I am right to argue that the focus has been on failure and that we ought to concentrate on the positive and to reward success, that has implications for our inspection and regulatory bodies, such as Ofsted, the Audit Commission and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. I have always argued that the Audit Commission ought to be called the "Quality Commission". Instead of number crunching and looking at the nuts and bolts, it should identify good practice and use those practitioners to roll out good practice throughout the country.

Until recently, Ofsted has been an absolute disaster. If one body has had a destabilising and dysfunctional effect on public services, it is Ofsted. It is now under new management, with a regime that has a lighter touch, and I hope that we can make progress. The lesson that all Governments need to learn from the Ofsted experience is that naming and shaming is dysfunctional and destructive, and the way to improve public services is to be proud, positive and rewarding. High-quality, world-class public services will be achieved only if we use all the resources at our disposal.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), I see nothing wrong in principle in using the private sector, but the issue is why and how we will do it. There are strong arguments to be had about that. We must be careful to get away from the old Thatcherite

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legacy of "private sector good, public sector bad". We know that if we look for good and bad management, we will find examples of both in the public sector and in the private sector. Bringing in private sector management, allegedly to reform our failing public sector schools and hospitals, could prove to be more dysfunctional than it is worth. We need to be clear that the role of bodies such as Ofsted and central Departments is to look for and promote good practice.

It makes sense to strengthen central Government and to reinforce the Cabinet Office. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) is right that we need to set targets, but the process by which people reach those targets is a matter for a more local level. We can be absolutely certain that change in public services will not be delivered by central Government--by people in the Cabinet Office. Substantial, meaningful change that will affect our constituents will occur only if the people who work on the front line are involved and enthused.

I have not set out a prescription for the health of the NHS, and I am not giving lessons about investment in education. I am keen to stress a straightforward management point, a truism. If we are determined to make change, the people who can make the change--the change agents--are the doctors, nurses, teachers and head teachers, and the police officers on our streets. If we cannot excite and enthuse them, and make them part of our crusade to adapt and improve public services, we face real dangers and the possibility of failure.

I am conscious that this is work in progress and that unless we involve the work force we will not make progress. Unless the stakeholders really are involved, our commitment and desire to create world-class, high-quality public services will be in doubt. The challenge before us is to make the change to ensure that the people who work for us and our communities are fully engaged and supported in the task.

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