Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hayes: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he agree that the easiest way to address the anomalies that he describes would be through a national funding formula, which would bring greater equity. Is he aware that the base figure used to calculate education standard spending assessment in terms of cost per pupil is based not on a thorough and detailed analysis of what it costs to educate a child, but on a statistical convention?

Mr. Kidney: That is music to my ears, although the hon. Gentleman's remarks contrast entirely with what the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), who speaks for the Opposition on local government, said to me in the debate on this year's local government settlement. I am delighted that there is at least one Conservative Front-Bench supporter of a national minimum entitlement for funding children's education. The local government finance Green Paper proposes that very measure, and I was heartened to see the same formula repeated in the schools Green Paper.

The Government have consistently accepted that the current formula is unfair and change will come. Earlier this Parliament, they tried to make piecemeal changes to the formula, but found that there would be unintended

7 Mar 2001 : Column 362

consequences. They also tried to achieve a consensus among local government representatives, but they would not play ball. The Government's own determination has led to the production of the Green Paper that will eventually lead to change, although change requires legislation and is therefore still some way off.

That is disappointing, but the good news is that the Chancellor has built on the success of last year's Budget in which, for the first time, he announced flat rate payments for every school in the country. Today he announced an enhanced rate for those payments, guaranteed for the whole of the next Parliament, which is excellent. At least no one can complain about their school getting the same amount as every other school in the country. That will go some way to alleviate the unfairness--until the unfairness itself is made a matter of history by new legislation.

Following our entertaining diversion through history, my final point is about a war. The leader of the Liberal Democrats again mentioned the war chest, which has been consistently referred to over the past 12 months or so. It was implied that it represented a lot of money that had been gathered together only to be given out on the eve of an election, but that idea has proved to be wrong. However, thanks to the Labour Government, there is a war going on in this country--a war on poverty.

At home, the war is about relieving the poverty of children, families and pensioners who struggle to survive. Overseas, it is about helping the world's poorest countries through debt relief, support for United Nations development targets for eradicating poverty, bringing primary education to all children and putting public health in reach of all citizens. That is a war that I encourage, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to continue it in the next Parliament.

We inherited a situation in which 4 million children in this country were living in poverty. For the first time ever, a Government have announced the target of eradicating poverty, giving themselves 20 years to do it. Policies such as increasing child benefits, the national minimum wage, the working families tax credit and the children's tax credit are making an impact and during this Parliament, more than 1 million children have been raised out of poverty. If the blistering pace of the past two years is continued, we can meet the target to eradicate all poverty within 10 years, not 20.

The same is true for pensioners, and it was right for the Government to target first the poorest pensioners with the minimum income guarantee. Between 1 million and 2 million pensioners have been lifted out of poverty in that way. In the Stafford constituency, those who receive the minimum income guarantee have told me what a difference it makes to their personal circumstances. No amount of increasing the basic state pension within affordable limits could have achieved that so quickly.

Next, we must face the problem of those who do not qualify for the minimum income guarantee because of modest savings or a small occupational pension. That is what the pension credit is about. From 2003, it will help not 1 million or 2 million pensioners, but up to 5 million. The consultation on the pension credit has gone down well in the Stafford constituency. In the meantime, all pensioners appreciate the winter fuel payments and help with their bus fares. The over-75s agree that the free television licence is fair. Britain leads the world's efforts

7 Mar 2001 : Column 363

to achieve meaningful poverty reduction around the globe: from debt relief and free trade to UN development targets and access to medicines, we are at the forefront of the war on poverty.

I conclude with a reference to the late Audrey Wise, my parliamentary colleague--a former Member for Preston who died last year. When Audrey was between seats, she lived in Stafford. I knew her and her family very well and I still see her husband, John, often. She contributed to the debate on the 1979 Finance Bill and was oft referred to because of the 1977 Rooker-Wise amendment, which she introduced with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who is now a Minister of State. The amendment provided for the indexation of personal allowances. Audrey said:

In my view, we are all workers now. We are engaged in serious work in trying to unlock the talents of all our citizens and trying to marry economic efficiency with social justice. We have come a long way in four years, but there is yet much unfinished business, be it improving productivity, eradicating poverty or protecting the environment. There is plenty of work to keep a Labour Government busy for many years to come.

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It may help the House if I say a few words in response to concerns expressed by hon. Members about the availability of Budget documents. This year, as in previous years, packs of Budget literature, containing the main Budget document or Red Book, press notices, a summary leaflet and other key papers published alongside the Budget, were readily available.

The Government have also made an increasing amount of supplementary information available on Budget day, covering more detailed and technical information. As in previous years, the Treasury ensured that all that information was available in sufficient quantities in the Vote Office shortly after the Chancellor has concluded his statement.

There is absolutely no substance in any suggestion or allegation that information is being concealed from Parliament. I give that absolute commitment to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. On the contrary, the Government are making more information alongside the Budget available than ever before.

Following the approach adopted by Customs and Excise in previous Budgets, this year the large volume of specialist technical information previously included in Inland Revenue press notices has been published in a separate series of Budget notes, as referred to in the pack, making the material issued more accessible and usable. This specialist, detailed, technical information is available on the Inland Revenue website and from Somerset house. Precisely the same amount of information is available this year as in previous years.

7 Mar 2001 : Column 364

If it is convenient for Members, I will certainly require the Treasury to arrange for copies of those notes to be placed in the Vote Office before the debate resumes tomorrow. I emphasise, however, that all the information that is available, is available to Members.

Mr. Luff: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Although the Opposition are grateful for the Minister's courtesy, I am afraid that her point of order fell well short of our expectations.

I do not think the Minister understands the exact nature of the information that has not been made available to Members. I am looking at a list of press notices that would normally have been available in a wodge about two inches thick; instead, we have a thin document from which a number of items are missing. They include "Further help for Small businesses", REV C and E 1; REV 3, "Tax boost for employee share ownership"; REV BN 8, "Stamp Duty Reserve Tax and Individual Pension Accounts"; C and E, BN82/01, "VAT: Increased turnover limits for registration and deregistration" and--what about this one?--REV BN 21, "Loophole closed in controlled foreign company rules". Then there is "VAT: Changes in fuel scale charges".

I am afraid, Madam Deputy Speaker, that information of that kind would have been made available in earlier years as part of the Budget bundle. The Minister should reflect on what she has just told the House.

Mr. Sayeed: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been present for nearly five hours--certainly since 2.30 pm. I am not able to get to Somerset house, to a computer or on to the internet. I require the documents here, and I consider it an extraordinary insult to Parliament that the Government should not provide Members of Parliament with them.

Next Section

IndexHome Page