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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On that very theme, the right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the Liberal Democrat group on Ceredigion district council recently voted against local income tax.
Mr. Redwood: How wise they were, and I am sure that the leader of the Liberal Democrat party wished that he had voted against local income tax, tooor perhaps he did when the policy came up for discussion and he lost.
Lembit Öpik: I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I appeal to the House for some understanding in response to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson's incorrect attack, given the fact that Plaid Cymru has sunk to being the third party of Wales, and the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the Liberal Democrats are now the official Opposition in Wales.
The Gracious Speech adopts certain Conservative language on some crucial policies. Naturally, I welcome the Prime Minister's conversion to the idea that choice, quality, differentiation and diversity are important matters for educational improvement. I look forward to seeing how many of his right hon. and hon. Friends he can carry with him in the Lobby if he decides to put
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those issues to the test. However, one of the big let-downs in British politics in the past few years is Labour's mantra that cash will be allied to reform, but we have not seen proper reform.
We have seen a massive over-centralisation and a huge increase in targets and bureaucracy. We have seen teachers, nurses and doctors driven mad to distraction by having to fill in forms instead of looking after their charges and by having to deviate from doing what they would like to doteaching well, or looking after their patients in the best mannerto deal with the priorities imposed by a centralised bureaucracy, sometimes driven by Ministers and sometimes seemingly acting without a great deal of ministerial direction of any kind. Sometimes, if we challenge Ministers, we are told that they will look into things, as though they had absolutely nothing to do with them. Sometimes we think that they may not have anything to do with Ministers: they look very surprised by what the bureaucracy had been doing in their names. On other occasions, they are more honourable and say, "Yes, of course, we as Ministers are responsible", and suggest that they will make some changes.
I will believe that the Prime Minister is a true convert to the cause of proper reform when I see the moves that I think he needs to make. He needs to strip out many of those central targets and bureaucracy, and he needs to say that popular schools will be able to expand and that parents will have a genuine choice of school and that the resources and the wherewithal will be made available so that that choice is realistic and their children have a good chance of getting into the school that has been chosen. He also needs to stop his party threatening or menacing the grammar schools.
One of the most disappointing features of the Labour Government over the past eight years has been the decline of social mobility. One would think that Labourwhich, like the Conservatives, wants opportunity for people from poor backgroundswould be a champion of ways in which people could exercise their rights and could achieve greater social mobility. We heard poignant stories at the start of this debate about people who had managed to move upwards from humble beginnings. Many of us on the Opposition Benches did not start with anything, and the way in which we were able to move upwards was often through educational opportunity at a grammar school or, in my case, a direct grant school where I was able to win a free place. That system was abolished by a previous Labour Government and that school is now independent, so people from the background that I came from are no longer able to go to that school and to enjoy the greater opportunity to go on to a good university and make progress. I do not know whether we all regard getting to the House of Commons as making progress, but there are many who still do. I regard it as a great privilege to be in this place, and I am very conscious of the role that education played in enabling me and many others to get here.
The Prime Minister must be serious about allowing different types of schools and about backing and supporting the schools of excellence that are often the subject of jealous attack from some members of his party. He needs to be serious about stripping away the centralisation and urge to control and intervene that have done so much damage to our schooling and part of our health care under this Government so far.
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I also look forward to seeing how the Prime Minister intends to buttress his policy of harnessing the private sector's role in the provision of better health care. I think that the important thing about the national health service, which brings together many people and has traditionally united the main parties since the post-war settlement, is the principle that all those who need treatment can get it free at the point of use. It is quite wrong to say that they are getting it free, because all of us are paying very dearly for health care. Very often those who receive it have, over the years, paid many times more than the cost of the health care that they finally need.
I have described the important principle and we have no ideological hang-up about how the pledge is met. Any sensible person would want it to be met in the most efficient way so that people can access care quickly and in the best way so that the outcome of the treatment or care is the best possible. If the Prime Minister is serious about that interpretationa more Conservative interpretation than his party has traditionally gone in forI will very willingly support him. I am sure that all my right hon. and hon. Friends feel the same. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that he is not going to carry that reform forward in the way that he claims he will because there will be political difficulties in his party and because I do not think that he can draw himself away from all the targets, bureaucracy and regulation that are the hallmarks of this Government and in which he is so deeply immersed.
The Government have also, rather late in the day, become a convert to the idea of less regulation. It was some months ago that the Prime Minister boldly announced that for every new regulation that the Government introduced, one would be removed. It was a very crude approach to deregulation, because regulations are not units of account. It would be possible for the Prime Minister to meet his target by introducing a very expensive regulation such as the recent one on the limitation of overtime and by taking out an old-fashioned and cheap one. He could then say that he had met his target and he would at least have stuck to what he said he was going to do. However, in the past few months since he made his statement, I do not find that he has struck off many regulations but that many regulations are still being introduced.
In the Gracious Speech, we are promised legislation to make it easier to remove unnecessary and undesirable regulations, but in the words that the Government crafted for Her Majesty we are not actually promised real deregulation. It is well beyond the time when we should just be discussing that process or the idea. If the Government are serious about wishing to undo some of the many mistakes that they have made by over-regulating and interfering too much, they need legislation this Session that will remove a sizeable amount of regulation from the statute book.
There are many examples of regulations that achieve the opposite of what they set out to do, or fail to do anything along the lines of what was intended. The Government must know about that because they have introduced and supervised many such regulations, so I urge them to beef up the Bill and make it a more serious contribution, if they really think that they have learned the lesson from the electorate.
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My view of the electoral mood in the many places that I visited before the general election and during the campaign itself was that people were conscious, as consumers, that when they bought something, they usually got good product information and some sort of after-sales services, and that if things went wrong, they got redress. When it comes to government, however, which is the biggest thing that they buythey have no choice about that because they must buy itthey find that there is not a proper after-sales services. Measures often do not do what the product information purports to say. There is often little product information of any kind and people find it difficult to get redress.
That is why many people are heartily sick of all of us and the political theatre. They begin to think that all there is is political theatre and that Parliament does not engage with the lack of value, responsiveness and accountability that they find day by day when they discover that they cannot get appointments with their doctors on time, that they cannot get their operations on time, that their children do not get the teaching in schools that they think they deserve, that there is not the discipline in schools that they think is needed, that police do not respond as quickly as they would like to serious crimes in the neighbourhood, or that policemen are not seen on the beat when casual violence or yobbish behaviour is under way. All our constituents witness those failings from time to time, but that does not seem to produce a response here in the elected Parliament that drags the Government to account and gets them to make things work better for the enormous amount spent.
The constituents of all hon. Members pay on average £4 out of every £10 that they earn in taxation, although they often do not see that happening. For example, if they are lucky enough still to be able to buy petrol for 80p a litreit is now usually a bit more than that at the pump60p of that 80p is tax that goes straight to the Government. When people buy a product or service that has VAT on it, 17.5 per cent. goes straight to the Government. People can see obvious deductions from their income due to income tax and large deductions due to council tax because that annual bill makes them aware of how much the Government can take.
If the Queen's Speech is seriously to help Parliament and the Government to re-engage with the electorate, we must start from the proposition that the public are not getting value, do not think that they are getting value and feel that the Government are not responding to their worries about the way in which services are delivered and money is spent. All of us need to lift our game and show that Parliament can be incisive and cause the Government to provide better and more responsive services because people will otherwise continue to leave the political theatre.
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