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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab):
I welcome my right hon. Friends statement and especially the extra resources for schools. Although extra funding per pupil and for schools is welcome across the board, does he agree that we need to target resources at the children with the greatest educational needs? Yesterdays Ofsted report recommended extending to other areas the inner city challenge scheme that has been implemented in London. Teachers involved in the scheme have reported that having access to external
expertise and, most importantly, extra resources has helped them to increase attainment in their secondary schools. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a scheme is a way of tackling inequalities in education?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The matter concerns us all. The number of young people who are staying on in education, especially in school, is not high enough, especially given the challenges of the global economy that I have mentioned. Some 90,000 young people now receive educational maintenance allowances. However, my hon. Friend is right that we should build extra help around that. We can learn from what has happened in London. I have suggested that there should be more mentoring support and a project to catch people in their earlier yearsbefore 14when there is a danger of them drifting into trouble and antisocial behaviour. At the same time, we need to persuade people who leave school at 16 to stay on in other forms of education. I look forward to discussing those important ideas with my hon. Friend.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Chancellor will recall that more people were unemployed in Wellingborough in October 2006 than in October 1997. He will also be aware that we have seen the largest rise in unemployment this year of any country in the developed world. Will that be the Chancellors legacy to the British people?
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman seems to think that there was an election in October 1997. In fact, we were elected in May 1997. The figures for May 1997 show that 1,826 people were unemployed there, while the latest figures, from October 2006, show that 1,535 were unemployed. I say to the hon. Gentleman, as a reasonable man, that in the period we have been in government, unemployment has fallen in his constituency.
As far as the general situation is concerned, I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that 1.6 million people were unemployed when we came to power. The figure is now less than a million. He will also find that there were 26 million people in employment when we came to power, whereas there were 29 million at the last count. Over the past nine years, unemployment has fallen and employment has gone up substantially [ Interruption. ] If the Conservatives want a debate on unemployment, Labour Members will welcome it. Conservative Members might then explain why, when they say that they are attacking unemployment, they spend most of their time attacking the new deal, which is designed to stop unemployment.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): How much time did the Chancellor spend thinking about the islands when he doubled air passenger duty rates? He should know that there are very few routes over the islands that can be completed in a reasonable amount of timemany involve travelling for 12 hours or longer. Is Labour turning its back on the Western Isles? If so, the price will be paid next May, when Alasdair Allan will take the seat.
Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): Why, having raised £2 billion today for the next year, did the Chancellor choose to make barely a passing reference to the issue that is of the strongest concern to everyone in my constituency and many people throughout the country: cuts in service provision in the NHS? Out of the 265 pages of the pre-Budget report, only two paragraphs are devoted to health service provision.
Mr. Brown: The health service has already beengiven £5 billion more this year, and it will get between £5 billion and £6 billion more next year; I have announced those figures before. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) says that he resents the fact that we had to raise money from air passenger duty. I think that he said that we would raise £2 billion [Interruption.]
Mr. Brown: The issue is that if we are to pay for hospitals and health servicesand we are spending£5 billion more on the health service this year than we did last yearthat money has to be made available, and the money depends on striking the right balance between tax spending and stability. The hon. Gentleman criticises us for our tax measures, although he himself demands more spending, and that is precisely the contradictory position that the Conservative party is starting to represent.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is hard to tell what the Chancellor does more: wriggle or fiddle. Today, there was only a single occasion on which he gave a straight answer to a straight question. Will he confirm that productivity growth under the Major Government was, on average, higher than it was at any time under this Labour Government, and that productivity growth has fallen in each term of the Labour Government?
I just gave the figures: productivity in the last economic cycle was 1.9 per cent., and productivity in this cycle is 2.4 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman
wishes to answer questions, he should look at the contradiction in his own position. According to his website,
GrahamWorking for Beverley & Holderness ... a tireless worker,
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): If the Chancellor does not have one of my leaflets, I am happy to send him one. I welcome what he said about improving public procurement, but I have concerns about his comments on expanding the powers of the Office of Government Commerce, which has 22 criteria for judging sustainable procurement. Why are we expanding its powers? Is that not in direct contradiction to his aim of improving public procurement?
Mr. Brown: A document is to be published on procurement, and the hon. Gentleman will understand that that process extends right across Government. Today I announced, on procurement, that schools and designs for schools will be subject to an excellence test for carbon. What I announced today about the Office of Government Commerce was different: it was about the role that it is to play in reducing the fees that the Government pay to private agencies.
That the draft Compensation Act 2006 (Contribution for Mesothelioma Claims) Regulations 2006, which were laid before this House on 2nd November, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.
That the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment No. 2) (England and Wales) Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved. [Tony Cunningham.]
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): This month, the European Council will be held on 14 and15 December, and the formal agenda will, as usual, cover a wide range of topics. On Africa, we expect that the conclusions of the Council will inject some momentum into the EU Africa strategy by highlighting key priorities for action. On climate change, we will push to maintain the momentum generated at Lahti by strongly reaffirming what was agreed, at that summit, on the linkages between energy security and climate security, on the strengthening of the EUs emissions trading scheme, and on establishing a new process for Heads of Government to review progress and set a forward-looking agenda.
Margaret Beckett: I shall get a little further with my speech before I give way, if I may. We expect that a significant proportion of the Council will be spent discussing the justice and home affairs agenda and, in particular, migration. Goods, money and people are moving around the world in greater volumes and more freely than ever before, and that makes the fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration more complex and difficult.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I welcome debates on European business on the Floor of the House, but may I raise an issue that I have raised with the Minister for Europe, and in previous debates? It concerns timing. Todays debate coincides with the start, in15 minutes time, of a meeting of the European Scrutiny Committee. How can Members on either side of the House who have a particular interest in European business possibly be in two places at the same time?
Margaret Beckett: I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, because it is unfortunate when such situations occur, as they do, from time to time. He will know, however, that it is not a matter for me.
As I say, we expect that a substantial part of the agenda will be justice and home affairs. The Hague programme of 2004 set out a comprehensive framework for EU co-operation, and it was supplemented by the action plans on counter-terrorism, drugs and human trafficking, and by the global approach to migration that was agreed at the Hampton Court summit during the UK presidency last year. The Council will examine how we can use the 2006 review of the Hague programme to put an even tighter focus on the practical implementation of those measures, and on how we can make sure that those clear priorities are given the appropriate resources.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con):
Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity of the Council to reassert what was admitted at the timethat the Dutch and French referendums, which resulted in a no vote in 2005, effectively meant that the European
constitution was well and truly dead? What does she intend to do to thwart the declared intention of the German Chancellor to use the German presidency to breathe new life into it?
Margaret Beckett: To be honest, I very much doubt that the subject of the constitutional treaty will be raised, because as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, the German presidency, which begins in January, is committed to undertaking a thorough review to try to establish what the position is and whether there is consensus, and if so, what it is. I doubt that the outgoing Finnish presidency will want its last Council to be dominated by a subject that it cannot possibly draw to a conclusion.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con) Will the subject of the two European Parliaments be on the agenda? Many Opposition Members think that a lot of money is wasted by having a Brussels Parliament and a Strasbourg Parliament. Phenomenal amounts of money are wasted every year. Will she put forward the idea that there should be only one Parliament, and so save the taxpayer huge sums of money?
Margaret Beckett: Let us be quite clear, in case anyone should misunderstand: of course, there is one Parliament, but it uses two buildings. I take the hon. Gentlemans point entirely, and indeed we have long expressed sympathy with it. This is not a pejorative point, because a decision on the subject would have to be unanimous, but the decision to keep using two buildings was taken under the last Conservative Government, and not under this Government. However, I know that the Conservative Government tried hard to change that decisionand so do we, when any opportunity arises.
Mr. Redwood: Will the Foreign Secretary promise the House that she will not offer up the sacrifice of the veto in any more areas of policy whatever, and does she accept that we need to keep the veto powers that we hold?
Margaret Beckett: No. Next weeks agenda will be a full one, but one topic is likely to dominate the discussion: enlargement. We hope that the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting, which takes place on Monday and Tuesday, will settle questions that relate specifically to Turkish accession, but there is a possibility that they will need to be on the European Councils agenda for Thursday and Friday. The Council will, in any case, consider issues relating to enlargement more generally.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
On enlargement, the Governments position remains one of firm support for Turkeys entry to the EU. What does the Foreign Secretary perceive to be the main stumbling block to its
entry? Obviously, in recent months, there has been a problem with regard to Cyprus. Does she feel that those problems are surmountable, and that we can get on track, to try to enable Turkey to open some more chapters?
Margaret Beckett: I am sure that those problems are surmountable, but I will not disguise from my right hon. Friend or from the House the fact that there are a range of difficulties, or that the problems are complex. However, I believe that they can be addressed and, indeed, overcome in time.
Members on both sides of the House have been admirably clear and consistent in their support for enlargement. That stems from a recognition that it is in the best interests of this country and, indeed of Europe as a whole, for the process to continue. The European Council offers a chance for EU leaders to send a strong signal that our strategic commitment to enlargement remains. The EU has been asked, not least by Dutch and French voters, but by others, too, to show that it has brought concrete, tangible benefit to its citizens. Enlargement is the single process that has done most to improve the lives of the people of Europe as a whole. In making that claim, I am referring in part to the startling transformation that EU membership has wrought in the lives of people in new member states. When I accompanied Her Majesty the Queen on her state visit to the Baltic states earlier this year, we saw countries that were unrecognisable from only a decade ago.
It is not just those coming into the club who have benefited. We have all done so. Across southern Europe, we are no longer bordered by unpredictable dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal, but by stable democracies. To the east, our neighbours are not stagnant communist states, but dynamic, vibrant and free nations. Each successive wave of enlargement has provided new jobs, new markets and new opportunities for investment. The 2004 enlargement added 74 million consumers, making the EU the worlds largest single market, and the economies and workers of the new member states have boosted growth across Europe.
Daniel Kawczynski: The Foreign Secretary mentioned the new eastern European states that have joined the EU. She will be aware that Poland is experiencing terrible difficulties exporting meat and agricultural products to Russia because of Russian boycotts. Does she agree that we must help Poland and other countries if their trade is unfairly blocked by the Russians?
Margaret Beckett: I am aware from my former membership of the Agriculture Council that there are such problems from time to time. The Commission and EU member states as a whole do everything that they can to support and help to resolve those problems when they occur.
Mr. Cash: The Foreign Secretary referred to the free nations. She will be aware that further integration has undemocratic consequences, as it has an impact on qualified majority voting and states ability to decide the policies they want in general elections and subsequently. In the light of what she seems to want, why does she not espouse the proposal that some of us have introducedof an association of nation states in Europe instead of the European constitution and its fellow travellers?
The same process of improvement has taken place in Romania and Bulgaria. Both countries have made dramatic progress since the EU invited them to join in 1999. They have free media, they hold free and fair elections, and they benefit from thriving civic societies. Economic growth has recently averaged 5 per cent. a year, unemployment has fallen, inflation is low, and standards of living have improved dramatically. That, too, is good for all of us. UK exports to Romania have trebled in a decade. Our exports to Bulgaria increased by 41 per cent. last year. Better governance and a stronger judiciary make our investments in both countries less risky, more transparent and more competitive.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary predict how many people will come from Romania and Bulgaria following their accession in January next year? As she will be aware, the Government predicted that 15,000 economic migrants would come to the UK from the last group of accession states, but in fact the figure was about 500,000. May we have a prediction, as well as a little more detail about the transitional derogation that the Government have mentioned?
Margaret Beckett: First, the Government did not make a prediction. [ Interruption. ] No, the Government did not make a prediction. Someone at, I think, the London School of Economics or an independent group or organisation made a prediction, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government themselves made no such prediction. Secondly, most people who have come to this country have come to work, and they are in employment. They have not all stayed, and they will not necessarily stay in the long term. That pattern has emerged not just in this country but elsewhere as a result of enlargement. As for Romania and Bulgaria, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have put in place processes to try to control the flow of people into the work force.
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