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Mr. Gauke : I presume that the hon. Gentleman supports the Education and Inspections Bill. In general, does he welcome the move to diminish the role of LEAs and to give greater power to schools, so that they do not have to deal with local government bureaucracies?

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman tempts me to discuss a Bill that is not the subject of this debate—and I know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you would admonish me if I went down that path. I voted for that Bill because it is in the best interests of our pupils and of education, but passing legislation is not enough; we must also give schools the money to implement these policies, which is exactly what the Chancellor has done.

The second specific expenditure item in the Budget—which I fully support—on which I want to touch is the money being given to prepare our children and young people for the 2012 Olympics. If we are to host the Olympics, it is absolutely vital that we have world-class athletes and that our young people are able to win medals. We cannot start indulging in these activities one or two years before the event. I know that we had a Labour Government for only three years before the millennium; nevertheless, we started our preparations for it far too late. We have six years in which to prepare our young people for the Olympic games, and we should all welcome the £600 million that has been allocated to allow us to train world-class athletes. There is a feeling in the east midlands, and Leicester in particular, that it is very much a London affair. By having the mini-Olympics all over the country—we certainly wish to ensure that we have them in Leicester—we will be able to train our young people early to compete with the best in the world. Starting six years ahead of time is right, so I welcome what the Government propose for the Olympics.

I also welcome the small but significant amount of money that will be provided to enable a memorial to be set up to those who died in the London bombings on 7 July last year. It is easy to forget and move on, but it
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is important that we understand the kind of society and country in which we live. Allocating funds for a memorial is not a mainstream issue for the Treasury—although of course money is—but it sends a powerful message that we stand united in the face of terrorism and that we will remember the innocent people who died, of all faiths and no faith, on that day. It is essential that we as a country recognise that and I hope that the money will be well spent. I hope that we will make a better job of it than we did the Diana memorial, which keeps flooding and which nobody can visit because people keep falling over. What a terrible memorial to a great public figure. I hope that the new memorial will be properly designed and executed so that we can remember those people properly.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has just told us all the things that he welcomes in the Budget. Given the situation of the NHS in Leicester, does he welcome the fact that the Chancellor did not mention the NHS yesterday?

Keith Vaz: My right hon. Friend the Chancellor spoke for one hour and two minutes, and that was a very, very long speech—as we all know. I do not think that we would have wanted my right hon. Friend to speak for any longer than that, so I quite understand it if he did not mention every single aspect of policy that the Treasury has been involved in over the past few years. He does not need to mention the NHS because he has given so much money to the health service in Leicester. From 1997 to 2006, the amount of money going to the health service in Leicester increased by 97 per cent. Waiting lists have gone down. However, I wait to hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health whether she will give the go-ahead to the pathway project, so that the three hospitals in Leicester that have been told that they can have £765 million can go ahead—just like Barts hospital, which has already received permission. However, that is not an announcement to be made by the Chancellor. As the hon. Gentleman knows as a former Health Minister and spokesman, it is the Secretary of State for Health who makes such announcements.

Mr. Burns: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman understands that the Chancellor did not have enough time to discuss health in his Budget, but does he not think that his constituents would have been interested in how the money that will be made available to the health service will deal with the deficits in Leicester?

Keith Vaz: No, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is also a Member of Parliament for Leicester. We know where to go and whom to ask if we have any problems with the health service. I assure him that I shall meet my right hon. Friend shortly to ask her what is happening about the pathway project. I know that the money has been allocated and that the architects have spent £60 million on the hospital, so we want to know when work will start. Having my right hon. Friend there is very important because she will be able to give us the answers. We will expect those hospitals to be built, because that is the promise that was made. It is an issue
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not for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and I will certainly raise it with her.

Mr. Bone: The hon. Gentleman and I share the same strategic health authority; it is the worst funded in the country, which is why we have problems in the health service in the east midlands. Would it not have been useful if the Chancellor had done something to even out funding?

Keith Vaz: No, because my right hon. Friend has done a huge amount for our health service, which we welcome, so the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is not for my right hon. Friend. The money has been allocated and it now has to be spent. I am happy about the amount we received in Leicester, but I want the three hospitals to be modernised. That is the promise that was made and we shall hold everyone to it.

In his intervention from the Back Benches, the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who has now resumed his Front-Bench duties, said that I supported everything in the Budget. I do, but two important elements were missing and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General will deal with them in her response.

The first missing element was specific support for the textile industry. Thirty years ago, 140,000 people worked in the textile industry in Leicester; today, the number is 28,000. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), whose constituency is in the Northampton area, knows that textiles also affect his constituency. I am worried about the industry—about the high level of imports to the European Union and the EU's failure to act properly to stop the dumping of goods. I want specific measures and help for the textile and footwear industries in Leicester, which are important not just for Leicester but for the whole country. If we invest in them, it benefits our whole economy. Before the war, one in every five white shirts in Europe was manufactured in Leicester. We had a huge textile and footwear industry, but it is disappearing. I ask the Treasury to look at that industry before the next Budget, to make sure that specific help can be given.

The second omission from the Budget speech would have taken up only an extra minute—unlike the health service. It is the Treasury's current assessment of our readiness to join the euro. In his Budget last year, the Chancellor said that he was not authorising a new assessment, but it is important that the Treasury keeps the five economic tests under review. I am fully signed up to the need for us to pass specific tests to join the euro. I understand why the Chancellor has said that it must be done, but I am concerned that we are not keeping the tests under review. In previous Budgets, my right hon. Friend has talked about the need for an assessment, so I hope that in the winding-up speech we will find out what has happened to the current assessment. We may not have met the five economic tests, but we need to be kept informed.

My final point is about the Lisbon agenda, whose sixth anniversary we celebrate this year, and our role as a competitive economy in ensuring that the rest of
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Europe reacts to the Kok report, commissioned by the European Commission last year, and to the decisions being made this very day in the spring European Council. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General is a frequent visitor to ECOFIN, so she knows what it is like to deal with our European colleagues and how difficult it is to move countries along. The Lisbon scorecard is extremely important, because Lisbon was the first European summit to benchmark European economic success. We asked why, over the past decade, America was able to create 10 million jobs, while in Europe we could create only 1 million. It was due to the nature of our economies.

As my right hon. Friend knows, two reports have been issued this week. One was from the BRUEGEL group—the Brussels European and Global Economic Laboratory—and said that we were doing extremely badly and were way down the list in respect of the Lisbon scorecard. The second assessment, by the Centre for European Reform, was that we were at the top of the Lisbon scorecard, one of only three European Union countries to have met all three of Lisbon's employment targets.

It is all very well having the best economy in Europe, but we also need—I say this in all friendliness to my right hon. Friends—to ensure that we export some of that economic success to the rest of the European Union. That needs leadership from the United Kingdom on such issues and an acceptance that we must strive to achieve the benchmarks. We are leaders in Europe in economic reform and in the competitiveness of our economy. All that I ask is that we give emphasis and focus to those successes in the year that comes.

I have only praise for the Budget. I send a big thank you from my constituents to the Chancellor and his Treasury team for giving us the cultural stability that has been lacking in Britain for so many years.

2.40 pm

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