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Mr. Letwin: I do not know whether the Secretary of State has had an opportunity in his role as "shadow Chancellor" to examine page 259 of the Red Book. If he has, will he confirm that the Chancellor intends to follow the rule of sharing the proceeds of growth between 2007–08 and 2010–11? Perhaps the Chancellor can show him the page. Will he read out the figures for the percentage of GDP occupied by spending?

Mr. Darling: The Conservative party is committed to cuts over the cycle and substantial reductions in expenditure. That is completely different from the Government's policy. The Conservative party has committed itself, regardless of what is necessary, to cut public expenditure. That works out at £17 billion less this year and £16 billion less thereafter. That would have an effect—and that has been Conservative policy for most of the decade. I believe that it originated in the Witney and West Oxfordshire Gazette in October 2000, when the now leader of the Conservative party was a prospective parliamentary candidate and first set out his belief that spending needed to increase below the economy's growth rate. The Conservative party had the same policy in 2001 and in 2005. That is why it is suffering its current difficulties.

Conservatives have, more by error than judgment, got themselves into an economic policy that would, through their dogmatic adherence to a rule that makes
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no economic sense, threaten the stability that we have built up. That is one reason why Conservative policies have no credibility. People will not be able to trust the Conservatives. Indeed, as the shadow Chancellor, who is sadly not with us today, said last September:

He continued by saying that the Conservative party's

He was right.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Government have been in power for many years, so they have had a long bash at governing. If spending on education has increased so much, why is a secondary school in my constituency being demolished when there is overcrowding in the other secondary schools and children are left at home with no education?

Mr. Darling: Approximately 20,000 schools have been repaired or replaced. Throughout the country, it is striking that there are so many new schools and schools beings refurbished. That is happening in my constituency and in constituencies all over the country. I suspect that most Conservative Members know that. They also know that class sizes are falling and that there is better IT equipment as well as other facilities that were simply not there eight or nine years ago.

If the Conservative party sticks to the third fiscal rule, it will mean that in future, it will not be possible for it to match our expenditure. I wonder whether the shadow Chief Secretary was right yesterday when she said that the Conservatives would not accept our proposals to increase expenditure on children who go to state schools so that it begins to match the money for those who go to private schools. Do they accept that?

Mr. Letwin: My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) said no such thing. She was referring to aggregates. We have made it clear that we have no objection to the Chancellor's 1 per cent. increase in spending on Britain's schools.

Mr. Darling: Not only did the shadow Chief Secretary refuse, but the shadow Chancellor refused, when he was pressed on television last night, to commit himself to that amount of expenditure. [Interruption.] Sadly, I do not have the "Newsnight" transcript and I can therefore only go on the impression that the shadow Chancellor gave. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Again, debate is breaking out throughout the Chamber. Let us debate the Budget resolutions.

Mr. Darling: Perhaps we could clear up the matter. I am happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman who speaks, at least today, for the Conservatives. Is the Conservative party committed to increasing education spending so that we spend the same per head on children who go to state schools as on those who go to private schools?

Mr. Letwin: I made it clear that we have no objection to the 1 per cent. increase in school spending that the
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Chancellor included in the Red Book. Will the Secretary of State tell us when it will happen and by what stages, and how much money the Chancellor will spend on that weird and waffly promise, which is a nice idea? Can he tell us anything about how and when it will be funded? We could then make a mature judgment about the proposition. Neither the document nor the Chancellor's speech contain any details about it. I hope that the Secretary of State will acknowledge that simply spending the money is not enough. That is the point that we have been trying to get into his head, and the Chancellor's head—and if they do not get it, the children of this country will suffer.

Mr. Darling: I think the right hon. Gentleman has just said that that was a nice idea—which could be Tory-speak for no. However, my answer to the question is yes, we are committed to increasing capital expenditure up to 2010–11, as was set out by my right hon. Friend yesterday.

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): I would be grateful to know the time frame the Government have in place to meet their aspiration for expenditure on schools in the state sector to equal that in the private sector. How has that time frame changed since the Prime Minister made his original announcement on the subject in 2001?

Mr. Darling: As I said earlier, we have increased education spending and we will continue to do so. I would never wish to misquote any Conservative Member, but when the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet was asked whether the Conservatives were going to match us on expenditure, she said: "That's not the answer." That seems to raise significant doubt whether the Conservatives have any intention—let alone the ability—to match us on that. If they were prepared to match our goal of increasing expenditure on education so that we spend the same on children in state schools as on children in private schools, they should say so, rather than attempting to dance on the head of a pin and avoid the question.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Darling: I shall give way to the right hon. Member for West Dorset, then I must make some progress.

Mr. Letwin: Let me repeat these simple questions. The Secretary of State wants us to match something. Right. When? How much? And how has it changed since the Prime Minister made the commitment?

Mr. Darling: The right hon. Gentleman could start by answering that he will meet our commitment to increase capital expenditure by 2010, as set out by the Chancellor yesterday—[Interruption.] Well, he does not want to answer that question. The Conservatives are finding every which way to avoid answering it. The reason why they have to do that is that they are stuck with this rule,
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which means that they are committed to a reduction in expenditure. That means that they could not meet the goal that we have set ourselves.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling: No, I want to make some progress, but I will certainly give way later.

With education, transport or any other measure, it is important to ensure that we are in a position to make real choices, and that is what the Budget allows us to do. As the Chancellor said yesterday, there are choices to be made between tax reductions and investing money to improve services and infrastructure in the long term. That is why we reject the idea that we should be tied to a dogmatic rule that would prevent us from making that choice.

On education, I agree with the proposition advanced by some Conservative Members that this is not just about money. It is also about implementing the necessary reform. However, there is a difference between us, in that when we see schools that are in difficulties or failing, we are prepared to do something about it, both in terms of teaching skills and of making the necessary investment.

Mr. Graham Stuart: The right hon. Gentleman says that when the Government see schools that are in difficulties or failing, they take action. As the Member for Beverley and Holderness, I have next door to me the authority of Hull, which boasts two members of the Cabinet among its Members of Parliament. In Hull, however, the Government are not turning the schools round. They are letting down the pupils. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about that?

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