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13 Nov 2002 : Column 56—continued

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East): The right hon. Gentleman has amused the House with his anecdotal evidence, which many of us have heard before from friends and relatives who teach. What does he suggest are the best lines of accountability for parents who want to know more about what their children are doing and achieving at school? Does he have a formula for achieving that without teachers being involved in significant paperwork?

Mr. Redwood: I would like to leave that to teachers and parents. The best ways of communicating are perhaps the traditional reports on pupils, and sessions during which parents can meet teachers and talk to them about their children. That always worked when I was a parent with children at state school, and I am sure that it can continue to work in schools with the time and energy to do it. Schools do not need massive bureaucracy from quangos and national Government

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insisting that they complete forms for national record purposes. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that teachers could usefully spend most of that time teaching children and a limited period communicating directly with parents and pupils to keep them up to date on progress.

I have therefore recommended that my right hon. and hon. Friends in a future Conservative manifesto offer to abolish the apartheid that divides independent and state schools. Everyone should be allowed to go to an independent school, and I would like every state school to become independent. Schools could adopt a number of forms, and choose whether to become a mutual or teachers' co-operative—that may attract the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase)—or a profit or not-for-profit private company. I would guarantee that money would flow from taxpayers to pay for free places for the many pupils whose parents wanted the free place that their children currently enjoy. However, I would not be prescriptive—I would not stop schools allowing top-up fees or charging much higher fees than average, as long as there was a guarantee of free places at good-quality schools for everyone who wanted them.

Mr. Soley: The two broad thrusts of the right hon. Gentleman's argument are about cutting public expenditure and privatising more public services. He has been saying that to enthusiastic nods from his Front Bench. Are those two policies the policies of the Conservative party?

Mr. Redwood: The Conservative party will set out its proposals on taxation and spending in the next Parliament nearer the time of that Parliament. I fully support my right hon. and hon. Friends on the importance of studying things carefully and not making our plans known until the Government have published theirs. The hon. Gentleman could not tell me about the spending plans that the Labour Government will put to the electorate at the next election in the hope of winning another term. When we have seen those plans, we will able to say how much more or less we will wish to spend in a number of different areas. I strongly believe that we should spend a lot less in big areas that have been deliberately expanded by the Government, but not on schools and hospitals, or nurses, teachers or policemen, on whom we should spend more. We may have at least to match Labour's spending plans or direct even more money at those crucial public servants. However, those services account for only a quarter of total public spending.

I would love to slash the regional government that Ministers constantly foist on us. I want no regional government at all in my part of the country. The Government do not even know what my region is called. Sometimes we are the rest of the south-east, sometimes we are London and the south-east, sometimes we are Wessex, and sometimes we are the Thames valley. They do not know, because where I live, there is no entity that is a region.

Mr. Clelland: Would the right hon. Gentleman inform the House what research he has done into the

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costs to which he refers? How much will regional government cost, and what proportion is that of national expenditure?

Mr. Redwood: I have indeed researched the cost. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in the months ahead I will be producing plans that will save billions of pounds by reducing the Government overhead, and save several hundred millions from the regional government area. We do not need a regional government office in Guildford or the south-east.

Mr. Tyler: I am following the right hon. Gentleman's thesis with great interest and have memories of his sojourn in the Welsh Office. Can he say whether it is his policy to abolish devolution in Wales, and what the saving would be if he did?

Mr. Redwood: No, I am not recommending that, because the Welsh and the Scottish people were offered a different type of government and voted for it in a referendum. I would abolish the posts of Secretary of State for Wales and for Scotland—and for Northern Ireland if it goes back to having a devolved Assembly. I see no point in paying twice for the same thing. The people of Wales, Scotland and indeed England are paying for the superstructure of First Ministers and all their supporting staff in the devolved Assemblies, and there is no need for a similar establishment in Whitehall. There is a need for one senior Minister, who would probably be properly styled Secretary of State for the regions and local government, and who would argue the case in Cabinet for the relative sums of money that needed to go to English local government and to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland devolved Assemblies. That Minister would have more detailed duties in England, because he would be facing a range of responsibilities day by day and week by week in English local government, whereas one would hope that he would have to intervene very little in the devolved Assemblies in the other parts of the United Kingdom.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not reverse the settled position that exists in Wales and Scotland, not least because the people voted for those arrangements by a majority. If, by the time of any change in government, the regions in the north, the west midlands or wherever had similarly voted by a majority for an elected regional assembly, would that be sufficient for him to desist from reversing that position?

Mr. Redwood: It might be, but we would need to cross many hurdles before we got there. The hon. Gentleman assumes that the necessary legislation would go through; that a referendum would then be called; and that a region would be foolish enough to vote for a regional assembly. Those are three rather big ifs, and he should have a little modesty. Legislation sometimes gets modified or changed in both Houses of Parliament. That is a noble tradition, and he should be a little careful, in case he pre-empts all the discretion that the Houses have.

Looking at the problem in the run-up to an election, my hon. Friends would obviously investigate very carefully both turnout and percentage majority, should

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the event that the hon. Gentleman describes come to pass. My observation in London was that very few people wanted devolved London government. If we re-ran that referendum today, I suspect that even fewer would want that outcome, because they now know that it was an expensive waste of time and money. I did not include London, as I believe the Conservative party has serious thinking to do about London.

I am not sure that the mayoralty is serving the capital well. It may need to have its powers even more reduced. It has no significant powers, but those that it does have, it seems to abuse and use to make life difficult. Perhaps we need to ask the public in a general election or a further referendum whether it was a good idea to save the money. It looks as though the present mayor is all tax and waste, and doing that to an even greater degree in London than the Government are doing for the country as a whole.

Mr. Bercow: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the premise upon which regionalism is based is that in some sense we in this country suffer from too few politicians and too little government? Is that not eccentric, to put it mildly?

Mr. Redwood: Indeed. My hon. Friend warms my heart. There needs to be a powerful voice in this country for fewer politicians and fewer bureaucrats, and for some control to be placed on the political classes. The Government have been a wonderful Government for the political classes and their bag carriers, advisers and consultants. With reference to an earlier intervention, one of the big areas in which I would like to see huge cuts is in the amount of money that we waste on the political classes themselves. We do not need huge armies of politicians at every conceivable level and layer.

In some parts of the country now, we have parish councils, district councils, county councils, regional offices, regional development agencies, national Government and the European Union—massive bureaucracies. The result for the public is that they pay the bill many times over for expensive staff, consultants and, in many cases, politicians. They all row with each other; they often do deals in private behind closed doors; and the public find it very difficult to understand who has done what, whom they can blame and whom they can throw out. We need much less of it, and the politicians whom we do have should be much more accountable.

Mr. Don Foster: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have too much regional governance, given that in every region there are some 70-odd quangos spending billions of pounds, and costing a great deal of money because of all the quangocrats that run them, each operating in its individual silo with no joined-up thinking, and no opportunity for local people to have any influence on what they do? Surely regional government, directly elected, would provide an opportunity to bring functions together, reduce some of the bureaucratic costs, ensure that there is more joined-

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up thinking and ensure that there is true democratic accountability? May I add one further brief point? I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman—

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