|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the marvellous way in which, through legislation for which he was responsible, he has championed the cause of those workers. Indeed, the whole House is indebted to him, as are those shop workers who can be required to work on Sundays against their will.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I was interested to hear that the Leader of the House believes that the Government are fully aware of the dangers of terrorism, but I am less than reassured to discover that the civil defence grant has been cut in real terms, that no public information campaign is being mounted to alert people to the dangers of terrorism, that there is no particular campaign to ensure that people are trained to know what to expect, andmost intriguingly of allthat the Civil Contingencies Bill seems to have stalled. Will the Leader of the House ask whichever Minister happens to be currently responsible for homeland security to explain the position to the House, and in particular to explain why the Bill is making no progress?
Mr. Hain: The Secretary of State and the Ministers responsible will want to study carefully the points that the hon. Gentleman raises before responding. I remind him, howeverI am entitled to do so because he makes an important pointthat the policy announced by the shadow Chancellor would lead to a big cut in homeland security budgets, and as a result our security would be infringed and threatened. That is exactly why the Chancellor announced yesterday a continuation of investment in infrastructureincluding in homeland securityin our education system and in our other public services, so that this country can provide high quality services, and that the security issues about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned can be properly addressed. Those issues would not be addressed if the Conservatives won the next general election.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description[Mr Gordon Brown.]
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): We welcome the Government's decision to put education at the heart of this year's Budget debate. Education shapes the nature of our society, the future of our children and our nation's potential. It is essential that we as a people, and as a Parliament, get education policy right. All of us in this House will doubtless want to join in paying tribute to the teachers, professors, lecturers, dons, teaching assistants, support staff, governors and heads who work so hard and with such dedication throughout UK education. Generally, they do so for little reward compared with other professions, and often in very difficult circumstances and with far too little public recognition. We will come later to the aspects of education on which the parties differ, but we surely can, and should, put on the record with absolute unanimity our collective congratulations, praise and thanks for what our nation's education professionals achieve, and inspire others to achieve.
We Conservatives are happy to acknowledge that important progress has been made since 1997just as was made in the preceding years. I shall turn in a moment to several aspects of what the Chancellor had to say in the Budget about education which we are very happy to welcome. But although progress has undoubtedly been made in some elements of education in recent years, sadly, other elements have been going backwards. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers says that there is an attack on a teacher every seven minutes in our schools. Truancy rose by 22 per cent. in the five years after 1997. Seventy-nine special schools have been closed, yet such schools often offer the very best education for the most disadvantaged children. The Government missed their 2002 targets for English and maths attainment at key stage 2, and they delayed their 2004 targets by two years.
Regrettably but clearly, things have got worse in all these areas since 1997, but let us consider another critical area: skills, productivity and vocational education, which is essential territory in any consideration of budgetary and educational issues. It is common ground between the parties that the UK lags behind our competitors in vocational training and education, and has done so for many years. This is in no way a new issue, and there are no magic wands or instant solutions. But given the priority that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and successive Education Secretaries have given to this matter, and the huge sums of public money spent, after seven years things should be moving forward, at least. Sadly, the reverse is true.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a cultural problem within schools and further education colleges? One difficulty is that a number of courses teaching specialist construction skills are closing, and until we can encourage more youngsters into vocational training, such problems will remain.
Mr. Collins: My hon. Friend, as ever, makes an excellent point, which is backed by his detailed knowledge of the subject. As he says, this problem has been with us for long time, and sadly, the closure of existing courses indicates that things are getting worse, rather than better.
What has been the effect of these developments on the UK economy as a whole? In his very first Budget, the Chancellor said that his priority was to raise Britain's productivity performance dramatically. There has been a dramatic change all rightfor the worse. In the first six and a half years of this Government, productivity growth averaged just 1.6 per cent. per yearbarely half the 2.8 per cent. growth that was achieved in the previous six and a half years. "Things can only get better," they said. In the vital area of skills and productivity, things have only got worse.
There was, however, much that the Chancellor announced on education in his Budget that we Conservatives can warmly welcome. Indeed, it would be churlish not to happily offer such an endorsement, given
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): We have heard many versions of the passport idea, which has led to great confusion both within and outside the House about how exactly the system will work. Can the hon. Gentleman explain it in more detail in his speech, or would he be prepared to attend a sitting of the Education and Skills Committee to provide us with more detail on his plans?