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Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the First Minister for his questions. We discussed some of those matters when we met last week, and I was delighted to visit Northern Ireland a few weeks ago when we launched the economic initiative. I applaud the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministers for all their efforts to achieve economic growth and modernisation in Northern Ireland. The settlement is
Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): My right hon. Friend's statement will be enthusiastically welcomed in my constituency, which is the home of Daresbury laboratory, a world-leading scientific research facility. Will he consider the centre for accelerated science imaging project as soon as possible? Daresbury laboratory is designed to secure its future. Will he give it his backing?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend always makes a persuasive case for his constituency. He knows that such decisions are not for the Treasury but for others. However, my hon. Friend rightly said that the science budget had been increased. It will greatly help the north-west region that he represents so well, and other regions of the country. The 10 per cent. increase in the science budget and the extra £1¼ billion by 200506 in partnership with Wellcome Trust, which is contributing an extra £250 million, means that we can start to build for the next generation in science. What I have seen in the north-west offers great hope for the future. Science in the region will expand as a result of the measures.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The Chancellor plagiarised a phrase that I used at Prime Minister's questions three weeks ago when he said that the mark of a civilised society was the way in which we treat our elderly. Why has he sanctioned a mechanism whereby taxation can be transferred from the south to the north? Why should an elderly person in Cheltenham have his funds transferred to someone in Cleveland? Why should parents in Gloucester have their funds transferred to a school in Gateshead? Surely everyone who pays taxes deserves equal treatment. Will the Chancellor ensure such equal treatment?
Mr. Brown: We are one United Kingdom, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome what we are doing for the elderly. We are raising the basic pension, and the winter allowancewhich the Conservatives opposedfree television licences for the over-75s, and the new pension credit are among the other measures that we have taken to help today's pensioners. The hon. Gentleman should be in favour of what we are doing, and, so far as community care is concernedI suspect that that is part of the issue that he is raisingthe 6 per cent. increase in real terms of the social services budget in this three years' budgeting is far more than any Conservative Government ever did.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I certainly welcome the reforms of the national child care strategy proposed in my right hon. Friend's statement, and I hope to explore that matter further in my Adjournment debate on Wednesday. On the education maintenance allowance, which Doncaster has piloted, does he recognise and accept that this is not just about investment in 16 to 19-year-olds? By providing the allowance, we can help those who are socially excluded from university education to gain the
Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I wish her well in her debate on child care. I hope that the figures we have announced for the additional investment in child care will be matched by the creation of child care businesses, and by more local authorities and other organisations getting involved in the business of providing child care. I also hope that the money available will be quickly converted into the child care places and the carers that we need.
Education maintenance allowances are an innovation that has worked in the third of the country in which they have been piloted. The staying-on rate at school has increased from 5 per cent. to 8 per cent. This has been proven to be a worthwhile experiment, and any barrier to staying on at school that can be removed is worth removing. What my hon. Friend says about further and higher education and the applicability of this measure is obviously something that she will persuade Education Ministers to look at.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): Will the Chancellor tell us by how much debt interest will rise over the next five years, first in cash terms, and, secondly, in real terms? Will those figures include an estimate for interest on the increasing amount of off-balance-sheet debt that the Chancellor is accumulating?
Mr. Brown: On the hon. Gentleman's point about off-balance-sheet debt, we have done what no other country has done[Interruption.] Conservative Members should be congratulating those who were Ministers in the previous Conservative Government, because we have consistently published
Mr. Brown: Well, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to accuse the previous Government, whose practices we have followed, of cooking the books, it shows how out of touch with that Government he wasas we thought. So far as contingent liabilities are concerned, we publish all the details on that matter and we have had discussions about it in the Select Committee on the Treasury. [Interruption.] It is all very well for the Conservatives to shout about contingent liabilities, but we are following the practices that have been pursued by previous Governments, and have done so over the last few years. The table on contingent liabilities is regularly published. So far as debt interest is concerned, it is a share of gross domestic product and will remain at around 2 per cent. over the next few years.
Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): On any test, this is a make-or-break statement for public services. If we do not begin to see world-class public services as a result of this kind of spending announcement, we are never going to see them. Much therefore hangs on what my right hon. Friend has said today. Will he say a little more about what he rightly described as the need to ensure that, when
Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has always taken an interest in the workings of government and in how we can improve them. In our first term, it was obviously crucial that we ensured that there was a proper framework for economic stability, and that we got people back to work and increased employment. The money that is now flowing into public services has been made possible by achieving that. The question is, how do we get best value for money? I insist that we need the independent and statutory inspection that my hon. Friend has described, so that people can see for themselvesthrough proper accountabilitywhether services are delivering.
Equally, in dealing with failing institutions, it is incumbent on us, as people who believe in the public services, to take early and pre-emptive action when organisations, institutions and services are not delivering as they should for the people. That is why I have read out to the House a number of measures proposed by individual Departments for dealing with failing institutions. I look forward to further discussions in the House about how all these reformsthe public service agreement targets, the devolution of responsibility, the independent audit and inspection, the proper rewards for success and the penalties for failure when institutions do not serve the publiccan be pushed through. I should have thought that, instead of laughing at those reforms, the Conservatives would welcome them.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): May I ask the Chancellor the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), which he failed to answer? How much, in cash terms, will debt interest payments rise in the next five years?
Mr. Brown: It is estimated that debt interest payments in 200506 will be £22.8 billion. In rough terms, that is half what they would be if we had the debt levels that we had under the Conservative party 10 or 20 years ago.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South): I warmly thank my right hon. Friend for listening to those of us who were calling for increased investment in housing, especially given the atrocious legacy of housing need that we inherited from the previous Tory Government. By 1997, there was a £19 billion disrepair backlog, 2 million were in negative equity, homelessness had doubled and local authority housing investment had halved. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in areas such as mine, there is no space for further new building of social housing? Would he consider ways in which we can ensure that local authorities bring back into use private long-term empty property? In Luton, there are seven private empty properties for every homeless family. That would be a productive way of tackling the housing need that was left by the previous Tory Government.