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Mr. Blunkett: I am aware that the hon. and learned Gentleman has written about that matter. The money that I have announced will be additional to the bids under the new deal for schools.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I greatly welcome the Secretary of State's statement. Does he agree that 20 years of under-investment in education, of children peeing in disgusting lavatories, and of freezing classrooms often in huts that contain asbestos has given the message that

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education does not matter, which it did not under the previous Government? Will he consider following up this excellent scheme with a programme to get rid of the use of huts, many of which leak and contain asbestos? Will he also ensure that education action zone proposals can be made in future? This year, Slough is becoming a unitary authority and a local education authority for the first time. That is not an appropriate time to make a sensible proposal for the creation of an education action zone. Will he give me an assurance that the programme will be available to such authorities in the future?

Mr. Blunkett: Health and safety is one of our key priorities under the new deal. The replacement of asbestos and the removal of what are no longer temporary classrooms, because many of them are more than 40 years old, will be part of that programme. Moreover, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks. Subject to the outcome of the comprehensive review, I hope to expand the education action zone programme during this Parliament.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): No doubt the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) will have explained to the Secretary of State that Oxfordshire this year faces a £3.5 million deficit on its education budget, which is leading to reductions in school budgets. Is the Secretary of State aware of the feeling in shire counties such as Oxfordshire that they are losing out on the standard spending assessment system, and that they will not benefit from initiatives such as the one that has been announced this afternoon, however welcome they may be? I do not expect the Secretary of State to answer now, but it would be helpful if he would write and explain how much money he thinks Oxfordshire will receive under this initiative, because I suspect that it will be very little.

Mr. Blunkett: I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman and let him know how many outside toilets in Oxfordshire schools will be replaced and how much will be spent on the replacement of boilers and heating systems. I can assure him that the allocation of new deal resources will be made fairly and openly and will be based on need, as is the allocation from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I am sure that he will agree that it will be done in precisely the same way as his right hon. and hon. Friends allocated resources before the general election.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): The statement is exceptionally welcome for Derbyshire, which is in great difficulty in all the respects described by my right hon. Friend. It has had to exceed its capping level in order to maintain its expenditure, and its primary schools probably have larger classes than those in any other shire county. Schemes to tackle such problems are very welcome. If it all works in Derbyshire, it will work throughout the country.

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said, and for his commitment and enthusiasm. It is worth recalling that we have also allocated £1.1 million to Derbyshire county for the investment that will be needed in September to fulfil the pledge on class sizes,

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and a further £1 million for the city of Derby. We have made some progress, although much more remains to be done to overcome the legacy of 18 years from which Derbyshire is suffering.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Parents and teachers in Bury will welcome the statement, as they welcomed the education statement in last year's Budget and the statement on the standards fund in February this year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the worst legacies of the past 18 years is the continued existence of enormous discrepancies between the per capita funding of children in primary and secondary schools across the country? My schools in Bury are in one of the small group of authorities with chronically low per capita funding. Consequently, they struggle to obtain basic materials, and, even with the help over class sizes, they will continue to struggle next year.

The solution can lie only in the reform of the current SSA system. Has my right hon. Friend any plans to start reforming it, so that education investment can be distributed more equitably?

Mr. Blunkett: My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Housing are aware of the considerable pressure for rapid change exerted by, among others, those who previously supported the SSA system. I think we all know that there is improvement to be made, and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is working on that.

Bury makes excellent provision. It has an excellent local education authority with excellent schools, and it will have come as close as any authority in Britain to eliminating classes of 30 or more by September this year.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York): Following today's performance, the next statement that we hear from Opposition spokesmen about education will have to feature this question to my right hon. Friend: "Apart from cutting school class sizes, getting rid of outside toilets, providing proper heating systems and improving education standards, what have a Labour Government ever done for the education of our children?"

Let me make a more serious point. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to make capital go as far as possible, the Government need to consider private-public partnerships? Might it not be a good idea for the Department to scour the executive agencies under its umbrella for talented people with experience of such partnerships, and to try to establish a unit that would put their skills to use?

Mr. Blunkett: I cannot list all the items--including books and equipment--that we have provided in our first 10 months of government, and all the things that we have managed to do so far. Over the months ahead, however, I shall do my best to ensure that the outside world hears about them.

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I am mindful of the important question that my hon. Friend has raised. There are people with great expertise whose present employment has enabled them to understand the development of capital programmes and the planning process, and we hope to be able to draw on their expertise in developing still further the substantial public-private partnership programmes that are about to take effect throughout the country.

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Business of the House

4.8 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor): With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the business for next week.

Monday 23 March--Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 24 March--Conclusion of remaining stages of the School Standards and Framework Bill.

Wednesday 25 March--Until 12.30 pm, debate on the second to fifth reports from the Select Committee on Health on children's health, followed by a debate on the third report from the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs on the proposed strategic rail authority and railway regulation, followed by debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Progress on remaining stages of the Government of Wales Bill (First Day).

Thursday 26 March--Conclusion of remaining stages of the Government of Wales Bill (Second Day).

Friday 27 March--Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week is as follows:

Monday 30 March--Consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill (Seventh Day).

Tuesday 31 March--Consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill (Eighth Day).

Wednesday 1 April--Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Regional Development Agencies Bill.

Thursday 2 April--Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day] (first part).

Until 7 pm, there will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.

Friday 3 April--The House will not be sitting.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 25 March there will be a debate on bananas in European Standing Committee A, and a debate on aid to shipbuilding in European Standing Committee B.

On Wednesday 1 April, there will be a debate on renewable sources of energy and the energy framework programme in European Standing Committee B.

Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 25 March:

European Standing Committee A--Relevant European Community documents: (a) 5357/98, Bananas; (b) 6150/98, Assistance for Traditional ACP Suppliers of Bananas. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: (a) HC 155-xvi (1997-98); (b) HC 155-xxii (1997-98).

European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Community documents: 11165/97 and 11167/97, Aid to Shipbuilding. Relevant European Legislation Committee report: HC 155-ix (1997-98).

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Wednesday 1 April:

European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Community documents: (a) 13035/97, Annexes I, IV and VI--Energy Framework Programme (1998-2002); (b) 13035/97, Annex V--Energy Framework Programme: Save II; (c) 5140/98, Renewable Sources of Energy; (d) Unnumbered, Renewable Sources of Energy: Council Resolution. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: (a) HC 155-xxi (1997-98); (b) HC 155-xxii (1997-98); (c) Hc 155-xviii (1997-98); (d) HC 155-xxii (1997-98).]

The House will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Easter recess on Wednesday 8 April until Monday 20 April.

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