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Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): What are you doing about it?

Mr. Collins: I voted against the tax increase on petrol. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman voted for the tax increase on petrol, and therefore that he will be paying the political price for that, come the next general election.

My constituents and those of many other hon. Members on both sides of the House are paying higher taxes because of the abolition of the married couples allowance, because of the abolition of mortgage interest tax relief, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) pointed out in his superb speech, because of the extra taxes on pensions. We have seen taxes going through the roof, but consistently, whether in south lakeland or throughout the country, we have seen no improvement in services. If the Government expect that this time people will believe that there is £43 billion of spending, let me tell them that people might have believed them the first time when they announced spending of £40 billion, but they will not be fooled by the same bit of spin spun twice by the same unreliable spin merchants.

5.30 pm

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton): First, I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) on his maiden speech, which we all recognised was extremely moving. I am sure that he will have a long and distinguished career in the House.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate. This week's announcement of the increase in funding for our basic services is widely welcomed. We have already seen increased Government spending beginning to turn round the decline in services that we saw under the Conservative Government.

We have been accused of spin, as if the extra funding is not real. I can say that it is real. When I talk to head teachers in my constituency, I hear of the improvements that are taking place in our schools. When I talk to constituents, I know that they welcome improved public transport in rural areas and the extra money for our health service.

I served as a county councillor for 16 years, and I witnessed the rise in class sizes year on year. In the early 1980s, children were being taught in classes of fewer than

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30 pupils. However, by the time that the Conservatives left office, many class sizes were approaching 40. We have kept our election pledge and we are well on the way to seeing all class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds below 30. The extra funding announced this week will help to tackle the problem of larger class sizes for older children.

I welcome the extra direct funding to our schools announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That is not because I want to see the work of local education authorities undermined, as the Opposition would advocate. Direct funding will help to reduce the gap between authorities like Staffordshire and those which have traditionally been funded at a higher level. It is a great pity that in areas like Staffordshire, the value of the extra Government expenditure on education has not always been appreciated.

The emphasis in the media has been on the disparity between Staffordshire's standard spending assessment and that of other counties. It is important that we address the problem by making changes to the funding formula as soon as possible. I make that plea again.

Perhaps we should spin a little more and get the message over that our schools funding is improving, and that our schools are feeling the benefit of the increased spending, both revenue and capital. On a recent visit to Ryecroft middle school in Rocester in my constituency, I heard from the head teacher of the improvements that have taken place. These included complete roof replacement with new deal funding, a new double mobile classroom from basic needs capital funding, electrical work as a result of the new deal and the refurbishment soon of all cloakrooms, again from new deal money. In addition, the school recently received an extra £30,000 from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. That will boost the resources that are available to provide a good education for the children in the school.

When I spoke to the head teacher of a junior school in Burton, I heard that the £9,000 direct cash payment this year had enabled the school to retain a teacher who would otherwise have been displaced because of falling rolls.

For years, when I was a member of the county council, we were not able to maintain the fabric of school buildings. We knew that we should be doing more, but we did not have the money. Many capital projects seemed dreams for the future. We knew that we were not spending enough to maintain our building stock. There are now building projects and improvements at many schools in my constituency.

I was talking to one of my former county colleagues recently. I heard how it has taken quite a change of culture to realise that money can be spent and jobs can be done which previously we could only dream of doing.

I look forward to seeing the effect on our schools of the further extra funding that was announced this week. However, it is not only in education that we are beginning to see the benefits of the increased public spending under Labour. Last week, I had a phone call in my Burton office from a lady who had just returned from taking a relative to the accident and emergency unit at Queen's hospital in Burton, and who had been very impressed by the way that it looked and the work that had been done on the reception. Her relative had commented on the kindness of the treatment, and they were both surprised that she had

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been treated quite quickly. That lady praised the Labour Government and recognised that we are having to clear up the mess left by the Tories.

It was good to hear that the money provided by the Government to refurbish the accident and emergency unit at Queen's hospital is appreciated. It is also good to know that people recognise that, even with unprecedented increased spending on health, we cannot put right the problems of the health service overnight. It takes time to train doctors and nurses, but we are getting waiting lists down. At Queen's hospital, a special team has been set up to ensure that targets are met and I was delighted to visit the hospital, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), to thank staff for their hard work.

We have much to do to bring the national health service up to the standard that Labour Members want. We need to reduce waiting lists further and we need to reduce waiting times. I welcome the commitment shown by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, which has meant that my health authority, South Staffordshire, has received a total increase in its allocation for the current year of 8.7 per cent., giving it a real-terms increase of 6 per cent.

I hope that, as with education standard spending assessments, the Government will continue to review the formula for health spending, which puts South Staffordshire health authority low down in the funding league. It is also important that the anomaly within the health authority, which means that my constituency is poorly funded compared with the rest of the authority, is also addressed.

I want to express my appreciation at the announcement of increased funding for law and order. Staffordshire police had to make cuts in the number of officers last year, because of continued restraints on the budget while the Government were maintaining Conservative spending plans and reducing the burden of national debt. However, I am pleased that Staffordshire will be able to recruit 83 more officers over the next two years from the 5,000 extra that were announced some time ago. Like my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt), I am even more pleased that a further 4,000 extra--in addition to the original 5,000--have been announced and that there will be even more recruits in Staffordshire. I certainly hope that Staffordshire receives a fair share of that funding.

Today's announcement on transport spending was equally welcome. It will bring improved finance to all forms of transport. The extra money that has been provided for road maintenance will continue to help to address the deterioration of our highway infrastructure. I have no doubt that, when repairs hold up traffic, it will cause frustration to motorists; I am sure that we shall receive complaints about that. However, it is vital that we start to catch up on the road maintenance backlog caused by years of underspend by the previous Government.

I remember well the frustration that we felt when I was a member of Staffordshire county council and the vice-chair of highways because we were not able to maintain our road network, just as we were not able to maintain our building stock. We could see the deterioration in the roads year on year, and it was a particular problem in Staffordshire because the county is at the hub of the country's traffic movements.

The Government's increased spending on rural public transport has enabled new services to be provided. The 1986 deregulation of public transport brought with it a

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loss of services to rural areas, and I welcome the increase in evening services and the greater access to villages that the new money has already brought. Of course, in rural areas, it is not possible to make provision for all transport needs by public transport, but it is right that those without transport should be given greater freedom and that those who seek alternatives to the car should be able to access such services wherever possible.

The extra £800,000 a year which has already been made available to Staffordshire for rural transport has brought new services. One can now even travel from the town of Uttoxeter to other parts of the county on Sunday morning, which has not been possible for more than 25 years. I know that the increase in the annual allocation from £60 million to £95 million will bring even greater improvements.

My constituency includes the town of Burton- upon-Trent whose problems, in some ways, are similar to those of many inner cities. The inner wards are deprived, but are benefiting from the new deal and we are getting young people back into work. I am very pleased that Burton has been accepted as an area that can bid for a sure start scheme which, again, is good news for the Government. As my constituency is semi-rural, I know well the problems faced by the agricultural community, including the legacy of BSE and, in the northern area of my constituency, cattle testing positive for TB, which is a great concern to many other constituencies.

Great changes are needed in the industry, and I welcome the increase in the agricultural budget announced by the Chancellor. I know that my constituents will welcome warmly the public spending announcements this week, and I believe that we can now see that the Chancellor's prudence has enabled money to be made available to improve our public services and address the underspending that we inherited. The difference between Labour plans and Conservative policies is now plain for all to see. The Conservatives would cut public expenditure by £16 billion and would have a two-tier health service, but then they voted against the NHS when it was formed.

I welcome the additional investment in our services, which is vital to ensure that those services are there when people need them and is fundamental in ensuring a civilised and fair society.

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