Form-filling under fire as Heseltine takes over

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Chief Political Correspondent

Michael Heseltine yesterday took charge of the Government's summer campaign to lift Tory Party morale while the Prime Minister is on holiday.

As John Major began a three-week break in France, the deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary launched a "war on waste" campaign.

Mr Heseltine is running the Downing Street operation while Mr Major is away and chairing the Cabinet EDCP committee in charge of co-ordinating policy presentation every day during the summer recess. In spite of appearances, Downing Street sources insisted Mr Major was still in charge. "The Prime Minister is in touch if he needs to be," his office said.

Officials brushed aside suggestions that the deputy Prime Minister had moved into Number 10. "It's being rewired," said one source.

On the day that obituaries were being written for the Prime Minister's cones hotline, Labour dismissed the Heseltine "war on waste" as a publicity stunt. They accused ministers of clearing away red tape they had created over the past 16 years in office.

Chairing a press conference at the QE2 centre in London, Mr Heseltine was flanked by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, and Eric Forth, standing in for Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. Also on the platform was Mr Heseltine's Cabinet deputy, Roger Freeman, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The war on waste was aimed at scrapping millions of forms filled in by teachers, GPs and policemen.

The biggest single saving at the Home Office of pounds 13m will be achieved by urging police to make more use of fixed penalties. Mr Howard said it would not involve extending fixed penalties to crimes but one new fixed- penalty offence will be overtaking on a zebra crossing.

The Home Office is hoping an estimated pounds 9m will be saved by giving civilians the task of preparing summaries of taped interviews with suspects. Pilot schemes in six police forces found the summaries prepared by civilians were more accurate than those written by the police.

Mr Howard said he was not worried by these findings, although it could raise questions about the way police fill in the many forms they still have to complete for the courts.

Meanwhile, Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott, launched Labour's summer offensive, promising to keep a watch on the "chicken run" of Tory MPs, including Brian Mawhinney, the chairman of the Conservative Party, who may move to safer seats before the general election.

Mr Prescott, backed by his Shadow Cabinet colleagues Mo Mowlam and Frank Dobson, promised to keep the heat on the Tories over the summer. Mr Dobson offered no apologies for giving no respite from the political battle.

"I don't think people will be bored or turned off at the thought that the Tories have caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their houses, or pushed them into negative equity," Mr Dobson said.