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Endangered Species (Illegal Trade)

Mr. David Amess accordingly presented a Bill to increase penalties for offences under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 12 April, and to be printed [Bill 84].

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Opposition Day

[8th Allotted Day]

Public Services

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now move to the main business. I should announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.43 pm

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): I beg to move,

So, new Labour moves closer to its sixth year in office, but what has it meant for Britain's public services, for those who work in them and for those who use them? [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I want this debate to be conducted in an orderly manner and I certainly want to be able to hear hon. Members' contributions.

Dr. Fox: How well has Labour matched its delivery to the enormous expectations that it raised before it was elected? Those are the questions that are central to our debate. The British public want to know what has happened to all the extra taxes that they paid for all the extra spending. Why is it that they have noticed no difference? We also want to examine whether there is any intellectual coherence in the Government's approach to policy making, or whether the constant proxy war of interference by Nos. 10 and 11 is making it impossible for Cabinet Ministers to exert any continuity whatever.

It all began with such promise: education, education, education; tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime; 24 hours to save the NHS. But now teachers are increasingly demoralised and violent crime is rising. What of 24 hours to save the NHS? By summer 2000 that had become a 10-year vision in the NHS plan, and by autumn 2001 the Chancellor's Wanless report talked about a 20-year plan. Ministers feed us figures, send out glossy

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brochures and spend millions advertising their wonderful achievements, but for the users of the services things are completely different.

Phil Hope (Corby): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Fox: Not before I have said anything.

It is anyone's guess whether one waits longer these days on a railway platform or on a hospital trolley. Street crime, particularly in the capital, is rocketing. Post Office workers are threatening to strike; train drivers are striking; the morale of doctors and nurses is at rock bottom. Exam papers have unanswerable questions. Health authorities are dangerously overspent and hospitals lack the ability to undertake basic infection controls, so we intend to send more patients abroad—that is if they can get as far as the coast on our ever-ailing railways. All this occurs under the leadership of a Prime Minister who seems constantly to be appearing in yet another part of the world where diplomacy fuses with fashion, and to be increasingly disinterested in domestic affairs or completely out of touch with the reality faced by the public.

Phil Hope: Apart from the fact that an opinion poll gives the Prime Minister the highest approval rating since we got elected and the Leader of the Opposition a rating of only 13 per cent., the Opposition motion refers to

which will come as a bit of a surprise to my constituency, where the education action zone has just been extended. That is worth £2 million to Corby schools, Corby teachers and Corby pupils. The Opposition opposed education action zones, but they lament their closure and they are telling us lies because Corby's zone is being extended for two years.

Dr. Fox: I can only suggest that the hon. Gentleman would be better off sticking to the questions given to him by the Whips, as he normally does, because the Government are abolishing the zones that he seeks to praise. Perhaps he should get his facts right before he intervenes.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to examine the intellectual coherence of the Government's arguments, but he both expressed the wish to have the Government interfering less and referred to the problems arising from exam questions. Is he seriously saying that Ministers should be sitting down and writing exam questions?

Dr. Fox: The hon. Lady should not bother to intervene at all.

We are suggesting that the Government's whole approach smacks of utter incompetence in education, transport, health, law and order and most of the other public services.

Several hon. Members rose

Dr. Fox: I shall give way a little later to the hon. Gentlemen, if I can remember exactly who they are.

The problems faced by our public services lie in the very ethos of new Labour. Like the Clinton Administration, its project is about coming to government

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and staying in government, not about what one does in government. Consequently we get endless reports and reviews. It is little wonder that a senior United States official is quoted this week as saying that Tony Blair seems more concerned about finessing a problem than dealing with it. How very perceptive.

Moreover, while the presidential style undermines Secretaries of State, No. 10 increasingly interferes in what Secretaries of State are able to do. We have just had the Treasury's Wanless report on the funding of the NHS. That was about cutting those options available to the Secretary of State for Health which the Chancellor did not like. Of course, as No. 11 had a report on health, No. 10 has now commissioned a report on health as well—the Adair Turner report on the structure of the NHS for the latest master plan—but no terms of reference have been published, and there are no plans to publish the report itself. Neither we nor, presumably, the Department of Health will be given the information on which the Prime Minister's interference in the Secretary of State's health policy is to be based. Lord Birt has been commissioned by No. 10 to review transport policy, and of course as the Prime Minister is having a report, No. 11 has to have one too, and we now know that someone will review transport policy for the Treasury. What is going on?

We have all been entertained when the Chancellor's men, as they like to describe themselves, call the Secretary of State useless in lobby briefings and the Commons watering holes echo with the briefings and counter-briefings of senior Ministers against their colleagues, but that culture, especially the seemingly endless tussle between No. 10 and the Treasury and between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, is debilitating for the Government and has profound consequences for public policy.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): First, does the hon. Gentleman not realise that education action zones were time limited in any event, so they will reach the end of their lives? Secondly, he talks about transport and the railways in particular, but can he explain why the Tory Government included a clause in the northern area franchise, which went to Northern Spirit, saying that the company had to reduce manning by 40 per cent? It sacked a lot of workers and drivers in particular. Now we have shortages. The privatisation was botched.

Dr. Fox: First, more passengers have used the railways since privatisation, and passengers are what count on the railways. Secondly, hardly any Government policy has not been time limited and immediately overridden by a review—only a few weeks later in some examples—because the policies are so ill thought out. I shall take an intervention from the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell)—they are getting easier.

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