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10.49 pm

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): I am rather confused by the previous contribution, as I was by the remarks and questions of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), who I understand is summing up tonight, since the announcement was made last week. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us whether the Opposition are now saying that the Government have not given enough to Derbyshire. If they are, why were they previously arguing that Derbyshire should not ask for anything more? That is the question that the Opposition now need to answer.

Does the hon. Member for West Derbyshire support the potential loss of 440 jobs--including those of 70 teachers--the closure of homes, and the threatened closure of the Lea centre in his constituency? If he does not, does he support the Government's allowing us to get off the horrible hook on which we found ourselves? Perhaps he will also tell us what proposals his Conservative colleagues on Derbyshire county council had to enable the council to operate within its budget within the cap, without causing the horrendous consequences for education and other services that we have been seeking to avoid.

During business questions last week, the interesting suggestion was made that the Members of Parliament for Derbyshire would not welcome this debate. I have to say that that is completely wrong, just as the current Conservative Tory Member of Parliament with a Derbyshire constituency and our Conservative predecessors who lost their seats were wrong to denigrate the county over the years and to encourage the Conservative Government to do us down and act against the interests of their constituents.

We welcome the chance to be positive tonight, as we have spent some time in doom and gloom. We have a beautiful county, and the county council has undertaken many excellent initiatives, in spite of the difficulties and in spite of the denigration that it faced.

I apologise to those hon. Members who have had to stay late tonight and who might not have wanted to do so. We might owe them an explanation. I also apologise to Ministers who have had to spend a long time talking to us and considering the arguments. We are grateful that they have listened to us with care and have gone some considerable way to meeting our concerns.

Reference was made to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) is not here. We are sorry that he is not here, but a recent question of his summarises one of the problems. He asked

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what percentage of UK taxpayers pay the higher rate of taxation. The answer is that, overall, 8.1 per cent. of UK taxpayers do, whereas only 5 per cent. of Derbyshire's taxpayers are in the higher tax bracket. In Hertfordshire, the figure is 15.2 per cent., or three times higher, yet Hertfordshire gets central Government grants that allow it to spend £76 more per head on its residents than Derbyshire can. That goes to the heart of the problem that we face.

Considered since 1989, Derbyshire's capped spending is now 18 per cent. less than the average for all counties, and its increase was more than 6 per cent. below the next lowest increase. There have been cuts of £200 million in its budgets, and 4,500 employees have lost their jobs over that period. That has led to an annual cost of £4.2 million in redundancy and retirement payments. Our pupil-teacher ratio has declined from being one of the best in the country to being one of the worst. The same has happened to our home help ratios.

I was interested to read in The Times Educational Supplement a couple of weeks ago about the threat to school music services. Those discretionary services went in Derbyshire in 1991. We have been left with no reserves, so we are in a unique position.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) rose--

Judy Mallaber: I shall not give way. Many hon. Members wish to speak, and I am keen to make progress.

Over that period, Tory Members have gloated, as we saw in the debate on local government finances. There were many good changes in that settlement, but the changes that have started to redress some of the unfairness in the local government system did not help us in Derbyshire. We faced difficult cuts that would have been impossible to meet.

Some positive schemes were under threat as a result of the budget that we were set. The head teacher of one school in my constituency who lobbied us came from Hampshire. If he had still been there, he would have had £300,000 more for his school and fewer statemented children. The Employment Sub-Committee, of which I am a member, is looking at pathways to work for women. We shall say that education and training are as important as child care in enabling lone parents, for example, to make the jump from welfare to work. Peverel house in Codnor has 130 women on computer and keyboard skills courses that will enable them to get back to work. It also has other facilities, including nursery facilities and youth facilities, used in the evenings by 80 young people a week. It was under threat of closure. We hope that that will be reversed.

My Select Committee is also responsible for investigating the new deal. I have been told by the new deal adviser at Heanor job centre, which is in a pathfinder area, that many people with basic skills problems are still presenting themselves. One of the nearby secondary schools has an excellent literacy and numeracy programme, for which it has gained national plaudits. I found it heartening to see a 13-year-old who had had difficulties with reading being able to read the announcement about the award and talk about it. That was thanks to the special programme. Such programmes are vital if we are to make advances.

In some cases, parts of the Government's programme would have been jeopardised by the cuts that Derbyshire is facing. The Government have recognised our class size

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problem and given us a substantial sum to cut infant class sizes. Last January, 13,000 infants in Derbyshire were in school classes of more than 30. From next January, we shall have only 1,000. That is thanks to the first stage of the Government's recognition of our problems. If we had not been allowed the extra money, we would have added teachers to help five to seven-year-olds, but taken them away for seven to 11-year-olds, which would have been nonsense.

Derbyshire is an efficient authority. Council staff use 20 per cent. less than the county council average. We spend £23 per pupil on education and central support services for schools, which is 30 per cent. below the county council average.

We needed the additional money to put ourselves on a proper footing for the future. We can go forward to make our arguments in the review of local government finance to ensure that we do not get into the same position again. The council can address the issues in conjunction with the review.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley): When the hon. Lady talks about extra money, does she mean the £2.9 million or the £3.9 million that she campaigned for?

Judy Mallaber: We are grateful for the £2.9 million. We hope to be able to access some of the other money.

I am sure that the hon. Member for West Derbyshire will talk about rebilling. We should remember that he voted for that ridiculous system. We are landed with Tory legislation. I did not vote for it and neither did my hon. Friends the Members for Erewash (Liz Blackman), for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) and for High Peak (Mr. Levitt), but our predecessors did and they lost their seats. We would prefer not to have such legislation, but we do.

Mr. McLoughlin rose--

Judy Mallaber: The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to reply. He voted for a £1 million rebilling charge in 1990. That will cost £1 per household.

Will the hon. Gentleman name a single school in his constituency that does not welcome Derbyshire's decision to go through the cap? Let him name a single school that does not welcome the Government's decision. I recently met the chairman of education on Derbyshire county council, who told me that he would happily visit such a school or talk to any parents in west Derbyshire who do not welcome the decision. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's answers will tell us whether the residents of Derbyshire agree that the Government and the county council have done the right thing.

Does the hon. Member for West Derbyshire support the loss of 440 jobs, the loss of 70 teachers, the closure of centres? Are the Opposition saying that the Government should have spent more or that the county council should not have asked for anything? I am very confused about their position and would welcome some clarification. If they are opposing the order, is it because we have not been given enough or because we have been given something?

In Derbyshire, we are grateful that Ministers have listened to our arguments. Obviously, we are disappointed that we did not get the full amount. Although there are

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still difficult decisions to take, the settlement fends off the worse of the disasters and gives us a base on which to build. The Government have recognised our case in providing money for reducing infant class sizes and for school buildings. They have recognised our case in allowing us to go through the cap. We can now talk about how to get a fair settlement for the future, which will resolve the problems and not leave Derbyshire lagging behind other authorities in such a difficult position.

Parents and others in the county know whom to blame for the difficulties that the county council has had over the years. They now know whom to thank for the recent decisions and the ability to enter into discussions in future. Although I am disappointed that Derbyshire did not receive the full amount, I shall happily support the Government in the Lobby.

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