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Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): On local government settlements, does my right hon. Friend accept that this year's local government debate was severely truncated, and that as a result many of us who wanted to make representations were unable to do so? I accept his earlier comment that the level of settlement was above the rate of inflationat the time the rate was 2 per cent., yet Hertfordshire got 3.6 per cent.but the reality is that inflation in the education sector is acknowledged to have been running at 10.6 per cent. As a result, the further education college in my local area, which depends for funding on the Learning and Skills Council, has not implemented any increase in lecturers' wages since 2002, is making 10 per cent. of its staff redundant and is axing many of its courses. Does my right hon. Friend accept that, overall, the local government settlement and miscalculations have in some ways done a great deal to diminish the quality of life, compared with the wonderful things that the Government have done in many other areas?
Dr. Reid: It is correct that in contrast with the overall settlementmy hon. Friend mentioned a figure of some 3.7 per cent. for his areathe rate of inflation in education was higher, but it is also true that within the overall settlement there was a higher percentage increase for education than for other areas. The burdens that were put on education through increased pensions, and so on, amounted to some 11.5 per cent., but the average increase in education provision totalled some 12.5 per cent. In all, some £2.7 billion was put into education, while the inflation constraints that he mentions constituted about £2.45 billion. So the Government made adequate provision for the pressures that he describes.
I should like to take this opportunity to correct some figures that I mixed up earlier. In fact, in terms of local authority expenditure this Government have provided a 25 per cent. increase over the past few years, while during the last few years of the previous Conservative Government there was a 6 per cent. cut.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): Now that the Leader of the House's constituents are set to benefit from free eye tests and dental checks, will he find time to debate extending these provisions to the rest of the country?
Dr. Reid: In terms of general expenditure on the national health service and medical provision, there is no doubt that the entire country has benefited enormously from this Government. How that money is
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East): Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on the professional duty of journalists to protect their sources? In an alarming number of cases, the courts are ordering journalists to betray confidential information given to them in the public interest. They include the case of Mr. Robin Ackroyd, on whom judgement will be made in the Court of Appeal tomorrow.
Dr. Reid: I obviously cannot comment on a specific case. A difficult balance is involved, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will have heard what my hon. Friend said.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk): The Leader of the House will be aware that the Government's response to the Victoria Climbié inquiry, in the form of a Green Paper, is eagerly awaited. It was originally suggested that we might expect that response before the end of this month, but that now seems unlikely, given the right hon. Gentleman's exposition of business. Can he give us any idea of when we might expect the Green Paper?
David Wright (Telford): Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look at the recent Commission for Health Improvement report, "Getting Better", which discusses how increased investment in health in the UK and better national standards are leading to significant improvements? May we have a debate in the House on that matter?
Dr. Reid: I am eager that this report be debated in every conceivable forum because, as my hon. Friend says, it is the clearly stated conclusion of this independent inspection body that the national health service as a whole is getting better. There are of course areas that we want to improve, but I note that the chairman, Dame Deirdre Hine, has said:
Dr. Reid: The consultation is ongoing, but I will do what I can to look into the specific problem that the hon. Gentleman mentions if it is inconveniencing or in any way prohibiting his constituents from participating fully in any consultation.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): Will the Leader of the House reconsider that part of his answer to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), that related to the Parliament First document, "Parliament's Last Chance"? In particular, will he recognise that there is an important distinction between modernising the procedures of this House and reforming its politics? Will he also give consideration to the several recommendations in that pamphlet about strengthening the role of Parliament in scrutinising and monitoring the Executive? They are very much in line with the Liaison Committee's report of a couple of years ago, entitled "Shifting the Balance". If put into practice, they would greatly strengthen the role of this House in relation to governmentto the benefit both of government and of Parliament as a whole.
Dr. Reid: As I said, I welcome any contribution to this debate; we want a lively democracy and a lively debate about the means of it. I cannot say that I welcome a particular aspect, because I have not read the pamphlet. Obviously, scrutinising the Executive is a very important role for the legislature in this country, but we are all aware that arrangements here are not like those in the US. It is not as simple as having a legislature and an Executive: we have an Executive who are embodied in the legislature, and it is the Executive by virtue of the fact that it is part of the legislature. The relationship between Parliament and Government is very important, and I welcome all contributions as to how the relationship can be conducted to the benefit of our democracy and of the people of this country in the future.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): We anticipate that announcements will be made later today that billions of pounds are to be invested so that the Olympic games can be held in the UK in the near future, yet we in Northern Ireland do not even have a national stadium. When planning our business, will the Leader of the House try to arrange for a debate on the matter? It could be held in the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, which is still to meet in Northern Ireland. Will he undertake to consider the matter and, I hope, arrange such a debate before too long?
Dr. Reid: I would not wish to pre-empt anything that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who has just taken her place on the Front Bench, is due to say. However, during my period as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I gained some understanding of and sympathy with the point of
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): On the European Convention, my right hon. Friend is right to remind the House that the country is governed by Parliament and not by plebiscite, and that the right place for such debates is this House. However, does he share my concern that there is a widening gulf between the people and the political elitesthe ones who make the decisionsabout the future of Europe? If he does share my view, will he ensure that adequate time is found for discussion on the Floor of the House of any constitutional implications of the European Convention? That would also allow Labour Members to have the pleasure of seeing the continuing civil war among Opposition Members.