The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): My Department has received a number of representations on the Bett report. It is important to emphasise that the report is for employers and universities and not for the
Mr. Todd: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that it would be helpful to urge employers in the higher education sector to commit themselves, now that they have the most generous settlement for many years, to the process of implementing the recommendations in the Bett report and resolving current disputes about higher education pay?
Mr. Wicks: We would certainly welcome anything that would prevent disputes, as we are concerned about the education of students. However, I am confident that the parties are now meeting and will resolve the matter. We obviously want our university academics to be paid well, and we must have regard to universities' performance and shortages in certain subject areas.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): The Minister may be aware of the current worsening industrial relations at Sheffield Hallam university resulting from actions arising in the dispute over implementation of the Bett report. I accept the Minister's point that detailed negotiations on pay are a matter for employers and employees, but does he have a message for the many staff at Sheffield Hallam university who have contacted me asking for the link to be made between the negotiations and the Government settlement for higher education? Does he also have a message for the employers at Sheffield Hallam university who have made precisely the same point, and said that any pay deal is utterly dependent on Government funding?
Mr. Wicks: The Department must resist the temptation to get involved in detailed negotiations, whether at Sheffield Hallam university or at any other college or university. Our task, which we have fulfilled, is to fund universities at record levels and offer funds specifically for pay in the university sector. We obviously wish to see any industrial relations problems resolved--although that is the task of the employers and the unions--for the benefit of staff and students.
Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): Although I acknowledge and welcome the Government's substantial increase in funding for higher education, with specific allocations for increased pay, does my hon. Friend accept that staff do not believe that university employers have been negotiating according to the terms of the Bett report? Will he ensure that the Government's provision for increased pay will result in a general increase in pay throughout the university sector?
Mr. Wicks: I understand those concerns. This coming year alone, we are giving an extra £412 million to the university sector. That is our task as Government--not to negotiate on behalf of employers or trade unions. The future of our university sector depends on decent and fair funding, which must be the object of negotiations.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): The Minister talked about the increased resources available to universities, which are welcome. He also talked about the quality of staff. Is he convinced that the available resources enable universities to employ quality staff, especially in the sciences? In addition, does he believe that sufficient students are going to university to study the sciences which, of course, was the subject of the earlier question tabled by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett)?
Mr. Wicks: We certainly need to encourage more young men and women to study sciences and other disciplines crucial to our economy. We tackle that in a wide variety of ways: through our schools, the modernisation of careers services and the new Connexions service. Total departmental funding for the higher education sector will be £5.8 billion this coming financial year, rising to £6.1 billion the year after and £6.4 billion in 2003-04. Unlike the previous Administration, we are providing resources for universities. It is for the universities themselves to determine the sensitivities of pay structure.
Mr. Browne: I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply and invite her to join me in congratulating the Employment Service and its partners which have, through the new deal action team for jobs pilot in east Ayrshire, secured, in six months, more than 230 new jobs for people who would otherwise have been in long-term unemployment. Many of those jobs are in the construction industry, and the figure represents 20 per cent. of the registered unemployed in the areas covered by the pilot.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the simple fact of the Employment Service paying for training for the CITB--Construction Industry Training Board--roadworks and street certificate is daily helping people who would otherwise be unskilled to get available jobs in the construction industry? Will she confirm that that type of targeted investment in skills will be expanded by the Government? I urge her to extend that pilot project to my whole constituency.
Ms Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and for his support for the action team for jobs in his constituency--one of the pathfinders. There are now 40 action teams for jobs helping unemployed people back to work in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. Yes, I can promise that efforts will be redoubled to strengthen the links with the construction industry in my hon. Friend's constituency. That industry has been a valued partner in the work of the action team.
The House will also wish to be reminded that on Wednesday 14 February, there will be a debate in European Standing Committee A relating to the prevention and control of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
[Wednesday 28 February 2001: European Standing Committee C--Relevant European Union document: Unnumbered EM submitted by DTI dated 21 November 2000, informing and consulting employees. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee report: HC 23-xxx (1999-2000).]
Now that the Prime Minister has confirmed that, if re-elected, the Government would propose scrapping the pound within the next two years, will the right hon. Lady press the Chancellor to table a debate so that the Government's timetable can be fully discussed by the House? That would also provide an opportunity for hon. Members to contribute to a debate on the Government's intentions with respect to the wording of a referendum question. There appears to be some confusion on the part
As the Leader of the House announced, on Monday the second Opposition debate initiated by the Conservatives will give hon. Members of all parties an opportunity, of which they have been deprived by the Government, to vote on "Shifting the Balance"--that is, the shift in the balance of power from the Executive to the Back Benches in respect of Select Committees. Bearing in mind the fact that the Prime Minister has promised a free vote, will the right hon. Lady confirm that Labour Members on both Front and Back Benches will be allowed a free vote on Monday?
Will the Leader of the House give urgent consideration to the proceedings of Bills once they have passed from the Chamber into Committee? In particular, I draw her attention to the proceedings on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. The Minister claimed on Second Reading that, under the programme motion, there would be 16 sittings in Committee. However, when the Sub-Committee met, the motion proposed by the Minister was for 14 sittings.
I know that the right hon. Lady has written to Ministers about that, but it is wholly unacceptable that a programme motion that is debated in good faith by the House should be changed when the resolution is put before the Sub-Committee. The programme motions and the entire programming procedure are still in disarray. As that was the Government's initiative, I ask the right hon. Lady to get a grip as soon as possible.
Could we also have the promised annual debate on small firms? I ask that question because of a press release circulated on behalf of the Cabinet Office by its Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Manchester Blackley (Mr. Stringer). In the press release, the hon. Gentleman claims that over-regulation is a myth. Indeed, according to the Government, small firms in the UK have little cause for concern about red tape. It is not only the Opposition who disagree with that view, but organisations such as the Forum of Private Business, which has listed many questions that challenge the Government's assertions. Will the right hon. Lady arrange for a debate on small firms, so that Opposition Members can question the Parliamentary Secretary on behalf of small businesses throughout the country, about his rather exaggerated claim?
Finally, will the Leader of the House consider allowing a debate in Government time on international development? The subject has not been debated since 1 July 1997, but Opposition Members would welcome the opportunity to share with the House many of our policies, especially in relation to helping the third world. We regard such a debate as a high priority and we hope that the Government will share that view.