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Children's Services

5. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): If he will make a statement on current and projected levels of public spending on children's services and provision for the under-fives. [213419]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Total investment in Sure Start, child care, nursery education and children's services is expected to rise from £7.3 billion to £9 billion in 2007–08. That is to ensure that not just some children but every child has the best start in life.

Lawrie Quinn: I thank my right hon. Friend not only for that answer but for the incredible priority that the Government have given to such an important matter for the future of our nation. Last Friday, I visited a brand new children's centre in the Barrowcliff area of my constituency. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how the ambitions for the people of east Whitby for a similar children's centre can be rolled out in the future? I hope that he will be able to continue with those policies so that those people can achieve what they really want.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend has supported the creation of the Sure Start centre in his constituency. The number of Sure Start children's centres will rise from the 550 that we have at present, to 2,500 over the next few years. That major extension in the number of Sure Start centres has been made possible by the extra spending that we are proposing. The unfortunate thing, however, is that the Conservative party plans to cut that spending on those children's programmes.
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Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): We welcome the extra money for children's welfare. I take it that that money is spread throughout the United Kingdom, not just the English and Welsh economy. Given the presence on the Treasury Bench of a Northern Ireland Minister who is responsible for education, may I press the Chancellor to ensure that some of that money will go to help the homework clubs, which have been doing a lot to improve the welfare of children in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Brown: The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner), who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, has informed me that that is exactly what he plans to do, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to congratulate him in person.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): May I congratulate the Chancellor on his excellent programme of alleviating difficulties for children, particularly with the Sure Start programme and its like? Does he agree that even more money could be spent effectively and that the source of that money may well be a windfall tax on the excessive profits of the banks? I suggest that he start with £8 billion—the additional profit over the £40 billion that they recorded for last year.

Mr. Brown: Without the need for a windfall tax, we have managed to increase investment in those services by £1.7 billion over the next few years—that is why my hon. Friend's constituency can look forward to something like three or four Sure Start centres—but that would not have been possible without our decision to use this country's resources to invest in children. In the old welfare state, children and mothers received maternity services and vaccination, and they were then asked to appear for school at five years old. The range of services now available in Sure Start, day care, and nursery places, as well as all the help that is now available to mothers, shows that this is the new frontier of welfare policy, helping every child in this country.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): May I invite the Chancellor to put right the erroneous statement that he just made? The Conservative party supports the expansion and improvement of Sure Start, as he knows only too well, and I hope that he will not wish to mislead the House. I am sure that he would not want just to grab headlines without doing the figures first, so will he explain how he intends to increase the number of Sure Start centres from about 500 to 2,500 over the next three years—a five-times increase—when he has only doubled the amount of cash that he has given to that programme?

Mr. Brown: The number of Sure Start centres in the programme will rise first from 550 to 1,000, then to 2,000 and then to 2,500, and they are all properly
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financed, as the hon. Gentleman can see from our programme. As for the Conservative party's programme—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) gets only one bite at the cherry.

Mr. Brown: The shadow Chancellor should listen to this. We would look in the first instance to some of the money currently spent on Sure Start to fund the programme, thus cutting

to which the shadow Chancellor referred when he was shadow Home Secretary. During a Conservative party conference, he said:

Again, he has got to answer for a proposal to cut Sure Start budgets.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): May I tell my right hon. Friend that there is an excellent Sure Start project in Fleetwood in my constituency? I am looking forward to the extra money that he has announced enabling more Sure Start projects and more children's centres, but will he make sure that, as the funding for Sure Start projects is incorporated into mainstream budgets, especially those of local authorities, there is a proper framework within which they will further develop the children's centres and Sure Start to ensure that that excellent project continues?

Mr Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing the Sure Start programme in her constituency. She is absolutely right to suggest that there must be help with early learning and health services for the young child and the mother. One of the advantages of the Sure Start programme is that we get invited sometimes as Ministers to open those Sure Start centres. To see a Sure Start centre working, with all the parents and children directly involved in its running, is something that makes me proud of our Government's achievements.

Government Borrowing

6. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect of levels of Government net borrowing on the level of taxation. [213420]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The 2004 pre-Budget report set out the Treasury's latest projections for net borrowing and tax receipts.

Andrew Selous: With the Government forecasting their borrowing at £93 billion over this Parliament and a further £114 billion over the next four years, and with corporation tax revenue, especially, expected to be lower than forecast, will the Chief Secretary tell the
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House which taxes will rise to pay for that borrowing? Will he do that with a little more accuracy than the Prime Minister, who when asked before the last election,

replied, "They shouldn't"?

Mr. Boateng: The hon. Gentleman well knows that our borrowing is sustainable. We have an excellent forecast record. For him to suggest for one moment that the Government need to learn anything from him or his party about borrowing is to live in cloud cuckoo land. The fact of the matter is that today's borrowing at 35 per cent. is way below that in 1996–97, when it was 44 per cent. of gross domestic product. He should remember that in every year since 1997 and in every year of the forecast period, tax has been seen to be below that projected in the last Budget for which the Conservative party was responsible. Our party has delivered stability and continuing growth, but his party is one of borrowing, boom and bust.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): Is there not a difference between a Government who borrow to invest in public services as part of the economic cycle, and a Government who borrow to waste money on unemployment because they believe that unemployment is a price worth paying?

Mr. Boateng: I am afraid that that is true. That was the record of the last Conservative Government, under whom we saw some 3 million people unemployed, double-digit interest rates and double-digit inflation. At the end of their period in government, they were paying more on the amounts that they had borrowed than they were on education. Conservative Members should be ashamed of that record.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Was the Institute for Fiscal Studies right to say in its "Green Budget" that the Government would need to borrow £3 billion more than the amount predicted in the pre-Budget report owing to

Mr. Boateng: I always listen with care to anything that the hon. Gentleman says—after all, he is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I listen with care, too, to the reports and work of the IFS, because that is well worth while. Only two weeks ago, it said that the most recent public finances data were good news for the Government and that current receipts were on track to meet the Treasury's pre-Budget report forecast. Indeed, it said that current spending was moving closer in line with that outlined in the pre-Budget report. I listened to that with care, and the reality is that the Government have met their fiscal rules and will continue to do so.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Chancellor reminded us a while ago that highly indebted countries in Africa were spending more on interest than education. Given that that situation with schools and debt existed in this nation in 1997, what is the appropriate ratio today?

Mr. Boateng: We are trying to ensure—and we will ensure—that we do not return to the days when
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borrowing was at 8 per cent. We will continue to ensure that we maintain our commitment to our fiscal rules and a programme of investment in our public services and infrastructure. That is the way in which we ensure that we continue to have growth to such an extent that we have had 50 consecutive quarterly periods of growth. That is a record to be proud of and we intend to maintain it in government.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): Has the Chief Secretary found time this week to read the comments of the Prime Minister's former chief economic adviser, who says:

Does the Chief Secretary find it refreshing that the Prime Minister receives such candid advice on the Chancellor's economic policies, and will he avoid blocking Britain's economic arteries by avoiding further tax increases?

Mr. Boateng: There is one answer both to the hon. Gentleman and to the former economic adviser. It is that the present Government with the present Chancellor have delivered 50 consecutive periods of growth and seen the creation of 2 million jobs, low inflation and low interest rates. A Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member would see a return to double-digit inflation, double-digit interest rates and—yes, I am bound to say it—boom and bust.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): How much extra tax and borrowing are likely to be needed to deal with the wave of unemployment that will hit my constituency if it is subjected to the £54 million worth of cuts that the shadow Chancellor has threatened?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have told the hon. Gentleman before. The fact that I have a good memory is causing difficulties for him.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): Does the Chief Secretary recall the Chancellor saying not long ago that there are two different types of Chancellor of the Exchequer: those who fail and those who get out in time? What connection could there be between the present black hole in the public finances and today's news that the Chancellor is moving to the Foreign Office?

Mr. Boateng: There is no such black hole and I am not aware that any credibility attaches to such news.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Chief Secretary aware that I am a bit of an expert on blocked arteries? I have just come back from hospital where I was told, "You have to keep with a consistent regime—stick with what is working. And one thing you must always remember is: never go back to a lousy diet"—like we had with the Tories.

Mr. Boateng: I could not agree more with that recipe for good health. Long may it continue.
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