HC Deb 08 April 1998 vol 310 cc350-2
Q8. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The Audit Commission report published last month confirms that my borough of Southwark—the second most deprived borough in the country, where Labour has run education since the war—is at the bottom of the secondary school attainment tables, although it spends far more than the most deprived borough in the country. Today's Treasury figures show that, in the past year and the coming year, the Government will have spent less of our national wealth on education than the Tories. Is it not clear that, at local level, Labour does not deliver value for money, and at national level it simply does not deliver the money?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am afraid that, yet again, that is not consistent with the truth. I see that the hon. Gentleman is holding up a copy of a national newspaper; I hope he will forgive me if I say that it does not necessarily contain the truth.

I note that, when commenting on the amount of resources given to education and health, Liberal Democrats constantly call for an extra £1.1 billion in the first two years. We have given more than £2 billion to health and almost £850 million to education. That is more than was ever promised by the Liberal Democrats, and it is certainly more than was envisaged in the previous Administration's expenditure programme. It is still too early to make a proper judgment on the balance of resources as between all expenditure. It is over the period of five years that the electorate will make that decision, and I have no doubt that it will return us with a resounding yes.

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)

In this 50th anniversary year of the national health service, which was established by a Labour Government against Tory opposition, will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to remind the British public that another great British institution, the national minimum wage, will be introduced by a Labour Government and that it is still opposed, as we have heard today, by the Tories?

The Deputy Prime Minister

It is worth repeating the history which shows that the Tories bitterly opposed the establishment of a national health service. In their last years in office they claimed that it was one of their ideas, although few of them use it. I shall leave that aside. It was a truly national health service committed to a socialist principle—treatment based on need and not ability to pay. I have always thought that that was the greatest experiment ever conducted in this country. Millions of people have benefited from it and we can rightly claim it as our own. If there was one thing that a Labour Government did that fully justifies the Labour movement it was the establishment of the national health service—and now we have the establishment of a national minimum wage.

Q9. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

With the formation of the Euro X committee by European Union countries that will form the first wave of EMU to co-ordinate economic policy in the EU, could the Deputy Prime Minister explain precisely the areas of economic policy making from which British Ministers will be excluded in this phase?

The Deputy Prime Minister

It is clear, and I think that the Prime Minister has made it clear from time to time, as has the Chancellor, that there are no areas of economic decision making from which the Government will be excluded in the EU.

Q10. Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that the Government's commitment to education as our number one political priority is a commitment that we expect all local education authorities to adhere to and respect? By contrast to such a commitment, may I tell him that the new Conservative administration on Essex county council in this its first year is scandalously planning to spend £3.5 million below the Government's SSA for education? That means that the successful music schools in my constituency face cuts of 70 per cent. Does that not demonstrate that, where and when the Tory party gets its hands on political power, whether at national or local level, it always cuts education because the Tories simply do not believe that it is important?

The Deputy Prime Minister

We should put on record the fact that our local authority settlement was about £835 million for education. Every pound was funded in full by the Government, so there was no necessity to cut any services to provide extra for education. Spending caps were designed to allow local authorities to put all the money that was given to them into education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment wrote to all local authorities making it clear that he expected them to do precisely that. Essex received £497 million, which is £27 million more than in 1997–98. That is an increase of almost 6 per cent.

Most authorities have followed the Government's lead, but authorities that do not will be held accountable by their electorates. It is quite clear that Essex gave education a low priority, despite what we hear from Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen, and it has chosen to deny the people what we intended them to have—more money for education. Our No. 1 priority is education, education, education.

Q11. Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us the answer to this: will he act now to save the green belt in Hertfordshire, as requested by Hertfordshire county council last week?

The Deputy Prime Minister

Of course, I have to wait for the judgment or the statement by Hertfordshire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh.] I do not think that the House would expect me to comment without having seen what the local authority has to say about the matter. We have made it absolutely clear—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but an announcement by a Tory Member is not necessarily the view of the Hertfordshire local authority. It would be proper for me to receive a proper communication. I assume that even the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) would not disagree with that.

When I receive it, I will give it the proper consideration that is involved in these matters, but I have to say that the Opposition have had a very elastic policy as to what the proportion of building should be on brown-field and green-field sites: it has varied, basically, from 50 per cent, to 60 per cent., to 66 per cent., to 73 per cent—and I think it has now fallen back to 66 per cent. I await the next announcement.

Q12. Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

On the day that this House adjourns for the easter break, should we not remember the millions of workers in this country who do not have statutory holiday entitlement? Does my right hon. Friend therefore welcome, as I do, today's announcement by the Government to start consultation on the European workplace directive in order that many workers in this country will for the first time have the right to paid holidays?

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly what we will do and it is another manifesto election pledge that we will carry out. To be fair, good employers give their workers decent holidays, and better companies sometimes do better than that. These regulations will be an important step to turning bad employers into better ones and to giving working people the decent terms and conditions that we all deserve. All that some Tories want to do, apparently, is block us in government achieving those objectives. We await the debates and discussions that will take place in the House, but it is interesting to note that the Tories would fight an election on the rallying cry, "Vote Tory and we will take your holiday rights away."

Q13. Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with last week's remarks by the Foreign Secretary that, although 20 years ago Britain was stuck in decline, today, she is dynamic, self-confident and outward-looking? To what does he attribute that remarkable transformation over the past two decades?

The Deputy Prime Minister

It shows the real effect of a new Labour Government.