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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Following the Lisbon summit, will it be possible to have a full-day debate on the internet and e-democracy? That would give us an opportunity not only to expose the glorification of St. Tony and the nauseating No. 10 website, but, on a wider scale, to look at the possibility of inter-activity with Standing Committees in their pre-legislative stages and Select Committees. Archive material may be put on some of the Select Committee websites, so that people may be able to access that, give their own suggestions as to areas of concern and make representations to Select Committees on the issues that they are discussing.

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman made various suggestions on how we might, in future years, better exploit the opportunities offered by the internet. He will know that some of the House's own Committees are examining that matter. I suggest that, first, he should write particularly to the Information Committee to raise some of those issues. Many of the points that he made are a matter for the relevant Select Committee and for other Committees. However, I think that, as time goes on, ever more members of the public and hon. Members will wish to take advantage of the opportunities that he described.

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Personal Statement

1 pm

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): The Parliamentary Commissioner has held that I breached the code of conduct for Members of Parliament in not making clear to the Lord Chancellor's Department that, when giving a reference for a person for an honour, the person concerned had, not long before, given me a loan. This was clearly an error of judgment on my part, for which I have already apologised unreservedly in person to the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. I have made it clear that I fully accept that I deserve to be criticised.

The Committee has recommended that I apologise in person to the House. I wish to say sorry sincerely to the House, without reservation or hesitation of any kind.

I have explained in detail to the Standards and Privileges Committee how the circumstances of the reference came about. It was not initiated by me. I responded to a request for a reference from a completely disinterested person. However, I accept that those are matters of explanation and are not an excuse.

I hope that it will be appreciated by all concerned that it is not always possible to have total recall of events. I can only say to the House that, at all times when these matters have been under consideration, I have sought to co-operate fully with the Parliamentary Commissioner and to give truthful and accurate responses.

I also recognise that, when there is any criticism of any individual Member of Parliament, it reflects on Members of Parliament as a whole. I should thus wish to apologise to each and every hon. Member for an error of judgment and a mistake on my part, and my part alone.

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Orders of the Day


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [21 March].


Motion made, and Question proposed,

Question again proposed.

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Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

1.2 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): I know that the whole House will want to congratulate the Chancellor on Tuesday's excellent Budget statement, and particularly to applaud his announcement on additional investment in education and employment. This Budget will provide not only that additional investment, but substantial investment in the national health service, in tackling crime and in supporting and helping retired people. It is a Budget that really rewards hard work and reinforces the something- for-something commitment that we have been making.

The Budget underpins success in our schools, as it supports our teachers' work, our pupils' commitment and success and the hard work of the Employment Service and of hard-working families across the country. All those people will find that their endeavours are being supported by the Chancellor's announcement this week.

In the Budget, we have a commitment from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister of almost £4.5 billion extra for education in the coming year alone. That is an 8.5 per cent. real-terms increase in England, with more than 10 per cent. in real terms going into schools in the coming year. That is how the Government reward those who have given their wholehearted commitment to raising standards and to building the foundations for further success in the future.

In Tuesday's announcement, the Chancellor said that schools across the country would immediately receive a massive uplift in funding, which would enable them not simply to deal with the deficits that were built up in the 1990s, but to engage in new undertakings, such as obtaining new books and equipment or taking on additional staff. Additionally, heads and governors are to have freedom in determining how the new resources are used, to ensure that the resources not only meet their particular needs, but clearly target the standards agenda that we have agreed with them. For primary schools there will be an uplift of between £3,000 and £9,000 for the coming year. For secondary schools there will be an uplift of £30,000 to £50,000 and for all special schools there will be an uplift of £15,000. Special schools have under 200 pupils so the money will provide a substantial per pupil uplift to support special education.

Over the three years of the spending review, we will see an enormous and sustained commitment to education spending such as we never saw under the previous regime. We have already committed ourselves to reversing the trend of reductions that took place in 1995, 1996 and into the 1997 Budget. We have seen a reversal of the downward trend in the proportion of gross domestic product spent on education and I can announce to the House that the £4.5 billion increase will take the proportion of GDP in the coming year to over 5 per cent. I am pleased that we have been able to make that progress so rapidly.

The £300 million that we agreed to distribute to schools is complemented by a £20 million uplift in the recovery programme for primary pupils to be invested in booster classes, which have been so successful. That will mean a doubling of the investment we had already indicated for such classes, giving children who would not otherwise

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have the opportunity to do so the chance to recover on what is done in the classroom and in after-school activities.

Madam Speaker--is it still Madam Speaker in the Chair? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] Cough when you leave, Madam Speaker.

The increase for booster classes will put pupils whose parents cannot afford to buy such classes on equal terms with those whose parents have traditionally bought crammer and booster classes for their children, often in addition to preparatory school fees in more affluent parts of the country. That is a major contribution towards the uplift in literacy and numeracy of which we have been so proud over the past year.

When that is taken with the money that we have already located within the Department's budget--the £50 million that tops up the revenue support grant--we genuinely believe that schools will be able to move forward with confidence from 1 April, knowing that their endeavours will be underpinned by the resources necessary to achieve their goals.

A dramatic improvement in the progress of primary schools now needs to be matched by a similar step change in the secondary sector. In my north of England conference speech at the beginning of January and in two major speeches on secondary education this month, I have spelt out how critical it is that we transform the education of those aged 11 to 16 who have often found that the progress they made in primary schools has been reversed in the first year of secondary school. In fact, 30 per cent. of pupils in year seven--the first year of secondary school--have seen their progress reversed. That is totally unacceptable and the substantial increase in resources for secondary education is designed to ensure that the programmes that we are laying out for secondary pupils can now be reinforced by the resources necessary to achieve their goals.

We have said that we will be investing heavily in changes to what is known as key stage 3--the 11 to 14 curriculum. We have laid out the way in which literacy and numeracy will be reinforced, changes to the science curriculum and support for new science teaching, and new and imaginative ways to ensure that secondary pupils can be engaged and retained within the education system. We will be saying more during this year about how we can increase the diversity of provision and opportunity so that vocational education and connection with the world of work can be commonplace to ensure that those who disengage themselves from school, or who are excluded from school, can once again be engaged with the education system and, therefore, with their own future.

We are announcing today an additional £60 million to underpin the fresh start and city academy programmes. That money will be available for existing and new fresh start school proposals and for the city academy initiative that I announced a week ago. For city academies, we intend that the money will partner the voluntary and private sector contributions that will be made. It will ensure that we transform the environment in which teachers teach and pupils are taught.

It is clear that the environment in which teachers work is important and the optimism and hope that decent premises and good equipment can engender make a

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difference to their professional commitment. That can help a school to re-emerge from failure and the threat of imminent closure.

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