Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Browning: I thank the Leader of the House for that information.

Will the right hon. Lady ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to come to the House to make a statement about the school achievement awards? Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have been notified this week by the Minister for School Standards that something has gone seriously wrong in the Government's school achievement awards. The Department states:

As a result, schools that have already been notified that they have won a school achievement award have not actually won it, and must now be written to, to be told that a mistake has been made. Schools that were omitted from the original list are now also to be written to.

We understand that, in order to ensure that there are no tears, the schools will be given the money anyway, whether or not they achieved an award. It is a bit like the Caucus race in "Alice in Wonderland", as everyone gets a prize, except that the schools that genuinely did not achieve an award at all will receive no money, while others that did not achieve an award, but in different circumstances, will get the money. The Secretary of State should make a statement to the House, as it seems that one or two Ministers in the Department for Education and Employment should do a little bit of detention for getting it all so wrong.

I want also to make a helpful suggestion to the right hon. Lady, who will know that, in last week's business questions, she said in response to a question about the deferment of county council elections:

That remark was made just four days before the Prime Minister changed his mind. Of course, we all saw her holding to that line on television at the weekend and, indeed, on Monday morning. It occurred to me that, when most business meetings reconvene, the agenda usually contains an item called "matters arising". It also occurred to me that I might support such a suggestion from the Modernisation Committee. If, at the end of the business statement, we were able to deal with clear, although not deliberate, inaccuracies arising from the previous week's

5 Apr 2001 : Column 503

questions, it might help us to conduct our business in a more business-like manner. I hope that the right hon. Lady will consider that positive suggestion.

Now that we know that Parliament will not be dissolved for a while, the Government should find Government time for a debate on foot and mouth. I know that the Minister of Agriculture has answered questions today, but it was disappointing that he did not make a statement this week. I hope that the right hon. Lady will ensure that, as soon we return from the Easter recess, the Government allow a day's debate on foot and mouth. The Opposition have done that on two occasions.

Will the right hon. Lady explain the procedure on submitting written questions to the Table Office in the possible run-up to a general election? I gave the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) notice that I would use him as an example, but I do not believe that he is the only one. Already, £4,000 of taxpayers' money has been spent on no fewer than 31 questions about other people's constituencies. There are rules about that matter, and I hope that the right hon. Lady will be sufficiently anxious to find time for the House to consider the way in which some hon. Members are suddenly, for some unexpected reason, interesting themselves in other people's business.

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Lady asked first about the school achievement awards. I am sure that she is disappointed that the money is staying with the schools, thus depriving the Opposition of a chance to criticise. She asked about the error and whether Ministers would apologise. I have not asked, but I doubt whether Ministers personally made those calculations. However, it appears that a little more progress on the numeracy hour is needed somewhere in the Department for Education and Employment.

I finally worked out the hon. Lady's question about deferring the local elections. I know that respected national newspapers have a corrections column, but I do not plan a similar feature for this Session. As she knows, I have repeatedly reminded Opposition Members, often to their displeasure, of the strong representations that we have received from the tourism industry, and stressed that they had to be taken into account along with representations from the agriculture sector. In that sense, we said nothing different from what was said previously.

The hon. Lady requested a debate on foot and mouth and expressed regret that there was no statement this week. We have had Agriculture questions today, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture arranged a presentation to keep hon. Members informed. They are therefore up to date.

The hon. Lady asked about the submission of written questions. I am delighted that she asked me that because it gives me an opportunity to use some information that I have been carrying around for weeks. I am sure that she is keen for her constituents to know that, in her constituency, more than 21,000 pensioners received the winter fuel allowance, more than 8,000 pensioners got the free television licence and more than 2,500 families receive the working families tax credit. I am sure that she is eager for them to know the extent to which they benefit from a Labour Government. I sympathise with Opposition Members about the problems that that causes for them.

5 Apr 2001 : Column 504

Day after day, they claim that nothing has changed for the better and that policies are a complete failure, whereas unfortunate figures reveal the opposite.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for statements to be made to the House from every appropriate Department as soon as possible--preferably before the election--setting out in detail what the Labour Government have done for every official Opposition Member and for every Member representing other minority parties on the Opposition Benches? I feel from the comments of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) that they do not want us to know.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is unfortunate for Opposition Members that the facts contradict so many of their arguments. It is especially unfortunate because, as my hon. Friend will be aware, the policies being proposed by the Opposition mean that if they were elected to government, many of the gains would speedily be removed from their constituents. Their position is understandable. I sympathise with my hon. Friend's request. I am not sure whether I can readily arrange for all the information to be made available, but I suppose that it is possible that it may get into the public domain somehow or other.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that, at the end of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food questions a few minutes ago, many Members on both sides of the House had not had their questions answered? May I ask the right hon. Lady to consider carefully what can be done next week to bring more information before the House? On a previous occasion, the Minister of Agriculture took questions after the normal time, which was extremely useful to the House. It was a great deal more useful than debates, because we were able to extract much information from him.

May I suggest to the Leader of the House that, as we have been reminded on a number of occasions now that it is the Prime Minister who has taken charge of the programme of eradicating foot and mouth, the right hon. Gentleman should make a statement and answer questions next week before the Easter recess? As the Minister of Agriculture said a few minutes ago, the next seven days are critical. It is clearly unsatisfactory for us to adjourn for the Easter recess, for quite a substantial time, at the moment when the Minister says that the situation is critical.

We have heard nothing for several days from a number of interdepartmental groups, including the rural taskforce, which apparently is not to meet again, and the Cabinet Committee on rural affairs. Confused messages are being given to the country from different Departments and an evident lack of resources is being made available to deal with the problem. For example, we are apparently recruiting vets from overseas while retired vets over 65 years of age are being turned away, even though they have volunteered their services. Is the Prime Minister prepared to face the questions that we wish to put to him on behalf of our constituents?

Mrs. Beckett: It is my understanding that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture gave a presentation

5 Apr 2001 : Column 505

yesterday and it is now 12.42 pm, so the argument that a further statement and update is needed today is not especially well founded, particularly as we have had Agriculture questions. I understand that many Members wished to ask questions and not everyone was able to get in. I sympathise with those who were not. However, that is understandable in the circumstances that now obtain. I do not think that my right hon. Friend can be accused in any way of neglecting his duty to the House or failing to make available to the House as much information as he possibly can.

The notion that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should make all the statements on foot and mouth is not well founded. My right hon. Friend is in charge of the entire Government, and remains so. [Interruption.] Indeed, Opposition Members try to blame him for everything; that is perfectly true. The Government are doing as much as anyone could reasonably expect to keep the House informed. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I announced last week when the House would adjourn for the recess, without any comment.

Next Section

IndexHome Page