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Government Running Costs

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 8:54 pm on 18th January 2000.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 8:54 pm, 18th January 2000

It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in the debate on the cost of central Government.

I thought that it would be interesting to go back to 1997, when the Government set out with such high hopes. The Labour manifesto bluntly said: We have modernised the Labour Party and we will modernise Britain. This means knowing where we want to go; being clear-headed about the country's future; telling the truth; making tough choices … being prepared to give a moral lead where government has responsibilities it should not avoid. I wonder what Lord Winston thinks of that in the light of this week's events.

I have much simpler beliefs. I think that people are happier with less government, fewer politicians, fewer bureaucrats and therefore less taxation. I can think of no country that has been made more successful by an increase in Government activity, or in taxation. In the light of that, I am appalled at what has happened in the past two and three quarter years.

The second line of the motion expresses regret that this means resources are not reaching front-line public services". They certainly are not in Shropshire. Not one publicly funded service in Shropshire is adequately funded. The Government have wilfully shifted £500 million from the shire counties to the inner cities. One can see it immediately.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) dug out some figures in a written answer, which show that the average pupil in a Shropshire primary school receives £2,220, whereas a pupil in a Southwark primary school receives £3,396. Resources are not reaching front-line public services in Shropshire.

We hear that, instead of being 6.1 per cent., this year's standard spending assessment increase is only 5.4 per cent. That is another £500,000 to £600,000 that the people of Shropshire will not get and were expecting. Amazingly, the fire brigade is 47 per cent. underfunded. It bought no new fire engines in 1998. It is struggling to see how it will afford to buy any more this year, with one pump costing £130,000. Resources are not reaching front-line services, such as the fire brigade.

West Mercia—this affects my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff)—has the lowest net expenditure per 1,000 of population in the shire counties. To reach the average, it would need an increase of £14.3 million. To reach the highest level, it would need a £55.3 million increase. It is clear that resources are not reaching front-line services, such as policing in West Mercia.

Sixty-seven per cent. of people in Shropshire drive to work in a car and 97 per cent. of goods go by motorised lorry. There is a £100 million backlog on the roads.