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Mr. Hoban: When the hon. Gentleman's constituents ask for their share of the £15 billion increase in school spending, what will he say to them?

Mr. McCabe: My constituents will comment on the fact that Allenscroft school is about to be completely rebuilt, that Hollywood primary school has recently been refurbished and that Colmore junior school, which achieved excellent results recently, has just recruited new classroom assistants and teachers. They will tell me that the secondary schools have more resources than ever and urge me to tell the Chief Secretary and his colleagues to continue on that path.

I have not heard one commentator endorse—[Hon. Members: "Except Jim."] It may be entertaining, but we were given a very interesting lecture by little George at the outset. He wanted to forget what had happened during all the years that his party were in power, so I am equally entitled to contrast—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman must refer to hon. Members of the House in the proper way.

Mr. McCabe: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No offence was intended.

I was saying that I had not heard one single commentator treat the Opposition's plans seriously. Those plans are frightening and damaging but no one really treats them seriously. Everyone knows that they are merely a fig leaf to get a failing and weakened leader through an election. What is guaranteed is that as soon as that election is over the first dramatic cut will be the leadership of the Tory party. That is what is happening at the moment and that is what we can expect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) noted earlier that the Tory motion referred to 66 tax rises and he helpfully pointed out that the Conservatives had arrived at that number by adding together the various changes listed in the Red
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Book. Conveniently, they have ignored the 232 tax cuts, which can be demonstrated in exactly the same fashion: tax cuts such as corporation tax to help business, jobs and exports; the doubling of capital allowances to small and medium enterprises and tax credits to help hard-working families. All are at risk under that increasingly desperate shell of a once proud political party.

What can we really expect? The shadow Chancellor, who has established some reputation for honesty, is always willing to let the cat out of the bag. He has told us exactly what we can expect. Pain. That is the Tory message to the electorate. It is not painless and there is no point in trying to pretend that it is painless, he said. Now, we have some idea of what sort of pain is intended. This is a slash and burn exercise. The proposals are way above the 2.5 per cent. efficiency savings that Sir Peter Gershon said were possible. He warned that if we went above that we would do untold damage to the economy and our public services. It is not acceptable to come to the House with some kind of PowerPoint presentation that ignores that basic fact. If the Opposition's proposal is to make cuts that go beyond what Gershon said was possible, they have an obligation to spell out in detail what those cuts will be and where they will fall. To do anything else is deliberately to try to deceive the British people.

It seems to me that I am entitled to ask exactly what additional cuts are intended. I say that because I noticed earlier that the hon. Member for Tatton was happy to quote the Institute for Fiscal Studies when he felt that it supported his argument. In return, perhaps he would care to explain the comments of Robert Chote of the IFS who has warned that currently only a third of the Tory plans have been costed and that they will have to go much further and find much deeper cuts. I want to know where those cuts will fall.

I am conscious of the fact that the Environment Agency has been cited. It is possible to make deep cuts in the Environment Agency, and we know exactly what that would result in: more flooding of people's homes, more illegal fly-tipping, fewer prosecutions of cowboys and more risks to public health. If that could be done to one agency, which other agencies that would be dismissed as meaningless quangos would also be chopped to the bone, and which other services that currently exist to protect the British public would be taken out of action? I am entitled to ask that in such a debate. In fact, I shall go further: if the Conservatives have accounted for only a third of their cuts to date, I want to know where the other two thirds would come.

Given the Conservative party's record when in power, I suspect that the Conservatives would start to close schools and hospitals. If so, I want to know which ones in Hall Green the Conservatives intend to take out of commission. Would they cut the new classrooms at Allenscroft, Hollywood or Colmore schools? Which schools and hospitals are on the secret Tory hit list? We are entitled to know. The Conservatives cannot give a PowerPoint presentation and ignore the things that people are really concerned about.

I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Tatton boast that he would spend £6 billion to sack 230,000 diligent public servants. Given the experience of unemployment in this country under the Tory
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Government, I was astonished that a shadow Minister could gloat about the fact that he plans to spend £6 billion of public money to throw 230,000 diligent civil servants on to the scrapheap—people who work in the new deal, helping others to find work and employment, and people who work in the strategic health authorities, of which the hon. Gentleman is equally dismissive.

Of course, as I pointed out earlier today, we would not know about the abuse of elderly people at the Maypole nursing home in Hall Green if it had not been for the actions of the strategic health authority's staff in uncovering that scandal. The decent civil servants who work at the Environment Agency and the people in the regional development agency who are trying to provide jobs and regeneration in some of the most run-down parts of Birmingham are the kind of people who would be thrown on the scrapheap. Of course, as we heard yesterday at Health questions, the Conservatives would also like to sack the accountants who work in the health service—the very people who are capable of tracking budgets, trying to avoid waste and ensuring value for money.

I conclude—[Interruption]—that I can agree with only one part of the motion. Opposition Members will hear an awful lot more between now and the election, so they should not panic.

Mr. Francois : Some of it might actually make sense.

Mr. McCabe: The simple problem is that it will not make any sense to the hon. Gentleman because he does not realise what mass unemployment does to people's lives. He does not care about cuts in the health service, about the effect of crime on people or about negative equity. He thinks that those are matters of fun. I suggest that he speak to some of the people who have had to live with the trauma of those experiences, which the Conservative party inflicted on their lives.

I agree with one part of the motion: there is a need for a change of direction. It is time the Tory party abandoned its back-to-the-future vandalism and started to recognise that the British public constantly reject the Conservatives because of their false prospectus and their fantasy policies.

3.32 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): The kindest thing that I can say about the contribution made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) is that he was obviously gallantly and valiantly responding to a plea from his Whips to come into the Chamber to fill up some time so as to disguise the Labour party's evident embarrassment and indifference towards this very important question.

The need to monitor spending and control the Executive's spending appetite is the first role of the House. We ought to discuss that matter more often than we do. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and right hon. and hon. colleagues on giving us this opportunity and on inviting Mr. James and his colleagues to produce the excellent report that we have all received. It is very easy to get it off the internet; my secretary did so this morning with no difficulty at all.
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The report is an impressive piece of work, and it is particularly important that public attention should be focused on the extremely worrying growth in public expenditure over the past few years and the fact that we are now running a £40 billion-a-year deficit that must be paid for, with interest, by future taxation. That is a clear burden on future generations. This is the right moment to focus on the issue.

The report brings out absolutely astonishing, spectacular and frankly scandalous revelations. For example, I have learned that the administrative costs of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have more than doubled since 1997, although its responsibilities have increased only trivially. It is clear that bureaucracy in that Department is out of control. I have learned that the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts—NESTA—which distributes grants under those headings, has given away £7.3 million, yet its bureaucracy has cost £5.9 million. That is a scandalous waste of public money by any standards, so I am grateful that the report has brought that out.

Some aspects of the report are slightly weaker than others. I am not quite convinced about savings of £1 billion or more in defence procurement in the Ministry of Defence. Additionally, the person who was responsible for drafting the part of the report on overseas aid—I know a little about the subject because I serve on the International Development Committee—was not up to the standard of those who wrote the rest, because that section is very muddled. It says:

It is a fundamental error to confuse giving aid to poor people with giving aid to poor countries. The largest development programme that we have is to India, and although that is a middle-income country, there is enormous poverty in Orissa, Bihar and other states, so we are right to continue to give such aid. The fact that only 52 per cent. of EU aid goes to low-income countries says nothing about the efficiency of the programme.

The James report suggests splitting the EU aid budget

Such a split already exists because there is a separate budget under the external relations part of the own resources budget that is related primarily not to poverty reduction, but to building stability in the near abroad. The budget makes a useful contribution to building stability in the Maghreb, the Balkans and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and I think that we are committed to it. Additionally, the European development fund is administered by EuropeAid, which is a completely different bureaucracy. The split already exists, so I am mystified by the proposal.

The report talks of

The contribution is voluntary in the sense that it has nothing to do with our contribution to the EU's budget and that not making it would be consistent with our obligations under the treaties, but it is not voluntary in that we are committed to making it under the Cotonou
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agreement and we would let down many poor countries if we did not do so. The section of the report is bizarre and muddled, so it must be reconsidered.

Several aspects of the report are modest and we could have been more ambitious about cutting Government expenditure in some areas. I was surprised that there were no proposals to reduce quangos in the section on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so I hope that we can consider doing that.

There is an open question about whether we should provide legal aid at all for non-criminal cases in this country, given that we have provision for contingency fees. Although I do not have time to go into that point now, there must be a case for restricting access to legal aid for civil cases to UK residents. We have that restriction in the national health service, but apparently not under the legal aid budget, so surely legitimate savings could be made. We know from the newspapers that scandalous abuses of civil legal aid have involved non-UK citizens.

When considering the Home Office, we should think about savings in the Prison Service. The Federal Bureau of Prisons in the United States raises more than half its costs through prison work programmes, and I have felt strongly about that matter since I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Home Office under Ken Baker. The Home Office said that it would try to do something, but I encountered enormous resistance to the idea in the Prison Service. We should take the matter up.

On the Department for Education and Skills, I think that we could be braver than the James report suggests and abolish local education authorities altogether. It seems to me that there is a residual function in looking after children with special needs and those who have been excluded from mainstream schools, but that concerns a very small number of people and does not require an LEA. All their regulatory, advisory and inspection functions could and should be totally closed down.

I have a final, personal contribution to make. This is worth billions, and I think we should consider it urgently. I propose the introduction to the NHS of compulsory generic prescribing. That is to say that when a doctor prescribes a pharmaceutical compound or combination of compounds, the dispensing pharmacist should where possible, if they want to be reimbursed by the NHS, dispense one that is ex-patent and available in generic form, often at a cost that is an order of magnitude lower than the branded version. We should not be using taxpayers' money to pay for packaging or brand; we should be paying simply for the clinical compound that is required.

That is my additional suggestion. I am moving forward on the excellent basis that has been established by the James report, which I hope will inform the debate that we will be having over the next few months, when the rising burden of public expenditure and taxation will be, as it should be, one of the major themes in the coming election campaign.

3.41 pm

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