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Mr. Blunkett: I look forward to the day when the Liberal Democrats whole-heartedly welcome anything,

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because lifting the morale and motivation of the teaching profession is all about not griping and being cynical about every move that is made. I reassure the House that the media did not have my statement at lunchtime; I was still revising it. Secondly, I took the trouble of not going on the "Today" programme, which is unheard of in terms of Government presentations--I say to the Leader of the House that I am only joking.

Let me deal with the last point head on. This is not a statement about lifelong learning. There are resources for skills and lifelong learning, which will be announced separately. We have already allocated £100 million to further education and £165 million to higher education over and above what was allocated by the previous Government. It is simply not true that resources are not available to implement the proposals in "The Learning Age". The comprehensive spending review will deal with that.

There will have to be a bidding process to ensure that we target the money at schools that are in greatest need: first, to replace outside toilets--and that means all outside toilets, wherever they are--and, secondly, to replace the heating systems that are in most need of immediate action. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that education action zones will be available in rural areas, and we look forward very much to evaluating the bids from counties that believe that this initiative will help them to raise standards.

Madam Speaker: After the intervention made by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), perhaps we can have questions.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Is not it a fact that, for 18 years, we had a Government who did nothing to tackle the problem of our decaying schools and often refused to recognise that poor school facilities, such as toilets, boilers and so on, have an effect on learning in schools? We now have a Government who are prepared to put money into those areas, and who will, over the next five years, show that we mean business as far as education, education, education is concerned.

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The means to ensure a transformation in the life chances of youngsters who have had to put up with intolerable conditions in the past will bring great comfort to people in Burnley.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell me how many London boroughs surrounding the borough of Bromley will become education action zones; and when does he expect their standard of education to improve to the standard in Bromley? Bromley parents will then be able to use the places in their schools that are currently taken up by the 25 per cent. of out-of-borough pupils. Those pupils are very welcome, because they get a decent standard of education, but it should be provided in their own Labour-controlled borough.

Mr. Blunkett: On the first question, the bids for education action zones are completed and will be with the Department tomorrow. When we are able to evaluate them, we shall announce where the action zones will be placed.

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On the second question, the hon. Lady has raised this issue before. I give her the same reply that I gave before. It is a scandal that children cannot get into Bromley schools because of the selective system, even though they may live just round the corner. It may be good for people in other areas to travel to take up places in Bromley schools, but it is no joke for those who have to travel miles from Bromley because they are pushed out by children coming in from elsewhere.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): I am flushed with pleasure at my right hon. Friend's statement. Before the election, Conservative Members did not think that class sizes mattered, but now they do. Is it not churlish of them not to welcome the statement whole-heartedly, given that children often lose days of education because of broken boilers? Is it not better that we invest in their classrooms rather than have them huddle together for warmth?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, it certainly is. I welcome what my hon. Friend says, and echo what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said yesterday: the money for the health service will ensure that we are prepared, even if we are hit by the meteorite. I am preparing children to be able to get somewhere quickly should they learn that the meteorite is coming.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): With the cry, "New Labour, new loos", the Secretary of State confirmed our fear that the future of education will go down the drain under the Government. Is it not bound to be noticed that the most welcome improvements of facilities at the 600 schools that he mentioned will cost £35 million, which amounts to £60,000 per school? Why is the Secretary of State inviting local education authorities to spend the money, and not enabling schools directly to get their hands on it so that it could be spent more efficiently and more carefully?

Mr. Blunkett: That takes the biscuit. We shall be replacing toilets, putting boilers into schools and replacing heating systems through the most administratively efficient mechanism possible. When LEAs are responsible for capital investment for schools under their auspices, it is sensible that they carry out improvements. We shall not advertise across the country for schools to declare themselves; we must move swiftly. We want bids to be in by 30 April, so that we can ensure that the scandal of children going across the yard and around the corner in the wet to spend a penny does not continue into the winter months.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. Does he not agree that the Opposition education spokesperson should not deliberately muddle, if not inadvertently mislead, the House by pretending that the money is not new? Would not it be better if the Opposition apologised for spending 18 years failing to address the basic issue of installing inside lavatories in our schools? Many good Labour-controlled local education authorities have spent the past 18 years trying to provide inside toilets, and they would welcome being given some of the resources to improve their heating systems. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that they will not be disadvantaged when he determines how the money will be spread?

Mr. Blunkett: We shall distribute the money on the basis of need. As with the new deal for schools, we shall

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ensure that it is applied to assist in overcoming the legacy that we have inherited, and to assist us with the standards fund. I welcome my hon. Friend's opening words: we are at the end of an era, and at the beginning of a new one. I had hoped that the Opposition would welcome that. With regard to the remarks of the shadow Secretary of State, we are working hard to get the numeracy schools off the ground as fast as we can.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): What is the increase in education funding for Lincolnshire in the first year of Labour government compared with those in the last two years of Conservative government? If, as I suspect, the difference is modest, would it not have been more honest if my Labour opponent at the general election, instead of saying, "Education, education, education" had said, "Same old problems, same old problems, same old problems; same old increase as the Tories every year, same old increase as the Tories every year, same old increase as the Tories every year"?

Mr. Blunkett: I do not think that schools in Lincolnshire that have £1,000 extra to spend on books before 31 March would say, "Same old expenditure, same old Government." When they are given their allocation from the new deal for schools programme next year, they will not say that it is the same old story. As I announced in my statement, schools will receive, on average, £110 more for each pupil next year than they would have received under the Tories.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the parents of the kids in those 600 schools, many of which are in rural and semi-rural areas, will not care whether it is old or new money? They will not get terribly excited about whether it is in the Red Book, the Blue Book or the Green Book. They will know that this is real money. Those 600 schools need sorting out: the Tories had 18 years in which to do it. This work will be done before the end of the century, and those parents and kids will be better off as a result of the action announced today.

Mr. Blunkett: If every hon. Member showed such spirit, we would make enormous progress in giving the children of this country the life chances that they deserve.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): May I draw to the Secretary of State's attention the case of Fairfield Road primary school in Market Harborough? It has already put in a bid under the new deal for schools. Will the boiler money that he has just announced be in addition? The school has three separate boilers and three different fuel systems, and it would obviously be sensible to have one boiler system and one fuel system.


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