Previous Section Index Home Page

29 Mar 2007 : Column 1625

Mr. Timms: I hope that the hon. Lady is as proud of winning the Olympics as I am. It is right that as soon as we won the bid we thoroughly reassessed the costs. Now we have a secure financial basis on which to proceed. The International Olympic Committee said of the preparations earlier this month that it was assured and impressed across the board. That is a good position to be in and I hope that the hon. Lady will acknowledge that.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): The Olympics have been welcomed by everybody in the country, but there is concern that the budget will mean that projects, such as the restoration of the Newbridge Memo in my constituency, may be starved of vital lottery cash. In his discussions with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, will the Minister ensure that such projects across the country will not be put in direct competition with the Olympics for lottery funding?

Mr. Timms: A good deal of care has been taken to ensure that the voluntary sector is protected. The voluntary and community sector will continue to receive the promised £2 billion lottery funding from the Big Lottery Fund between now and 2012. Both existing programmes and future resources for the voluntary sector are protected. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend. The lottery contribution to the Olympics is of a similar amount and over a similar period to the lottery contribution to the millennium celebrations. That is about right for what we should expect the lottery to contribute to the games.

Smith Institute

3. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): On how many occasions the Smith Institute has held meetings at No. 11 Downing street since 1997; and if he will make a statement. [130441]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): No. 11 Downing street is used for official meetings, engagements with external representatives and charity events. The Smith Institute applied for permission to use it on a monthly basis in 1997, and sometimes more regularly. That has been the basis of its usage since then.

Michael Fabricant: We heard last month how the Smith Institute was up into the wee small hours trying to enliven the Budget and brighten up the image of the Chancellor, who is now frowning. He has forgotten how to smile. Yet, following the Budget, the population know that it was a con and the Labour party has dropped one point. Is No. 11 now going to evict it?

Mr. Timms: The basis on which the Smith Institute uses No. 11 is exactly the same as for everybody else. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will press his colleagues on the Front Bench to tell the House whether they will support the public spending projections that we published in our Red Book. That is what people will want to know. Will the Tories fund public services adequately, as we are committed to doing in future, or not? That is the critical question, and we are waiting for an answer from his Front-Bench colleagues.

29 Mar 2007 : Column 1626

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Does the Chief Secretary agree that publications such as those on social enterprise, diversity in Britishness, and restorative justice produced by charities and voluntary organisations, including the Smith Institute, help to produce more intelligent government, and that we should listen to those organisations?

Mr. Timms: I do agree with that, and it has been valuable to open up No. 11 Downing street to use by charities—well over 60 of them—over the past 10 years. They have all contributed to improved policy in that period.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I agree with the Chief Secretary on that point. Would it not be a good idea to have a seminar on tax at No. 11 Downing street in the near future, so that the Government could explain more clearly why they were right to introduce a 10p tax rate in 1999, and right to abolish it in 2007?

Mr. Timms: I can tell the hon. Gentleman very clearly why that happened: it is because we introduced the 10p rate before the tax credit system was in place. Now that it is in place, it is doing the job that needed to be done.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): The Chief Secretary’s first answer was extremely helpful, so let us try another question on him. How many of the monthly events to which he referred did the Chancellor attend? We do not need the details; we just want to know how many he attended.

Mr. Timms: I do not know the answer, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it is very few.


5. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): What recent progress has been made on the international finance facility for immunisation. [130443]

10. Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the UK’s contribution to the international finance facility for immunisation. [130448]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): The UK contributed £1.3 billion over 20 years to the international finance facility for immunisation. I can announce today that South Africa has become the seventh country to join the facility, which will vaccinate over 500 million children throughout the world, and will save nearly 10 million lives.

Mary Creagh: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, and I congratulate him on his great commitment to a global challenge. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one in four children dies before their fifth birthday. That is a human catastrophe on an almost unimaginable scale. On the administration of the fund, do countries have to sign up, or will the money be distributed through aid budgets? When the fund is administered, will we ensure that the vulnerable children in the most conflict-ridden and fragile states receive the vaccinations that they so desperately need?

29 Mar 2007 : Column 1627

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The aim is to vaccinate all those children who, at the moment, are denied the chance of vaccination. That means that the countries where least is done will be the countries where most is done in future. The fund will be distributed through the GAVI Alliance. The fund operates in every continent and it operates as a charity. Much of the money comes from the Gates Foundation and from Governments, and the fund has a record of success that is perhaps second to none in the development field. I hope that there will be all-party support for that new facility.

Mr. Khan: I spend a considerable amount of time visiting and working with churches in my constituency. They are tremendously proud of the progress made since 1998, when 70,000 people protested peacefully outside the G8 summit in Birmingham to try to put the issue of debt higher up the agenda. There has been a doubling of aid, the cancelling of debt and the front-loading of aid. Bearing in mind the link between international poverty and international security, will my right hon. Friend make sure that those items are higher up the agenda when the UK takes over presidency of the United Nations Security Council next week?

Mr. Brown: That will indeed happen, and I can also say that the subject is on the agenda of the G7 Finance Ministers meeting in Washington in April, and there will be a further meeting in June in Germany. We will do what we can to raise the issue to a higher level on the international agenda.

Next Thursday at Gleneagles, there will be a conference that has been put together by the churches to discuss the progress that has been made since Gleneagles. I hope to be able to speak at that conference, and I am pleased that the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, is to address the group. The conference will hear that international aid has grown, that the finance facility has been created, and that the facility for education for all, which will mean that every child has the chance of education, is moving forwards. That will lead to a conference that will be held in Brussels on 2 May so that we can secure proper funding for education, as well as vaccination.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): If the striking success of the measles initiative is matched by the output of the immunisation facility, what estimate has the Chancellor made of how much earlier the millennium development goal to reduce child and infant mortality will be reached by comparison with what would otherwise be the case?

Mr. Brown: I wish that I could tell the hon. Gentleman, who takes an interest in these matters, that the world was on track to meet the millennium development goal on child poverty, but there is a great deal more to do. The immunisation facility will help, because one in five African children dies before the age of five, but we also need a trade deal so that there is economic development in those areas; we need action on education, so that we tackle illiteracy; and we need the infrastructure programmes that are necessary not only to bring industry to those areas, but to enable
29 Mar 2007 : Column 1628
them to trade with the rest of the world. All those things must come together if we are to be able to meet all the millennium development goals, particularly those for young people.

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I am sure that the Chancellor is aware that the lack of insulin availability in sub-Saharan Africa kills more people—more children—than tuberculosis, malaria or AIDS. Following the passing of the UN resolution last December, will the Chancellor seek to ensure that insulin availability in Africa is included in that important programme to reduce that killer disease globally?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that, and I will endeavour to put the issue on the agenda. One of the great problems of health care in Africa and the developing countries is not simply the absence of medicines or of doctors and nurses, but the absence of health care systems with the capacity to deliver what is available, even when it is available. I am pleased that the international facility that we have created and the GAVI Alliance are now taking seriously the next stage, which is to try to build capacity in health care systems. If the hon. Gentleman goes around Africa, he will find that the number of midwives in many countries runs only into hundreds and the number of nurses in many countries is lucky if it runs into thousands. That is an issue of health care capacity that we must address, as we address, too, the supply of particular drugs.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): It used to be said that this kind of measure had very little electoral support. I joined the Labour party 36 years ago, because I believed that a Labour Government would be responsible for such initiatives and global leadership. I am delighted that it is happening, and a great many of my constituents believe that it is one of the most important things that the Government are doing.

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a very big interest in those matters and communicates regularly with his constituents on those and on other issues, particularly in support of the Budget, as does the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), who gave an extraordinary speech from the Conservative Benches in favour of the Budget only a few days ago. On Make Poverty History, the figures are now available, and one in three teenagers wore a Make Poverty History armband during the campaign. The idea that we were talking only to a minority —[ Interruption. ] Well, the Conservatives may laugh at people being involved in international development issues, but the idea that hundreds of thousands of young people took an interest fills me with hope for the future, and they will therefore reject a Conservative party that cannot even tell us whether it will match our international development spending.

Wealth/Income Inequality

6. Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): What the levels of (a) wealth and (b) income inequality were in the UK in (i) 1997 and (ii) 2006; and if he will make a statement. [130444]

29 Mar 2007 : Column 1629

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ed Balls): The gap between the incomes of the richest 10 per cent. of our population and the poorest 10 per cent. has narrowed since 1997 from a ratio of 4.1 to 4—a measure of overall inequality that rose sharply between 1979 and 1997 from a ratio of 3 to 4.1. The measure of wealth inequality has also declined modestly.

Danny Alexander: I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, but he will know that the households below average income survey, which was published on Tuesday, shows that on the internationally recognised measure of income inequality—the Gini coefficient—Britain is now more unequal than it was 10 years ago. Rising taxes for the lowest earners announced in the Budget will make matters worse. Is he proud that Britain has become a more unequal society under his Government—in fact, one of the most unequal in the developed world—and what hope for greater fairness can he offer in future?

Ed Balls: I am proud that the latest figures this week show that the gap between the richest 10 per cent. and the poorest 10 per cent. has narrowed. Indeed, the Budget took 200,000 more families out of poverty because of investment in tax credits, which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends opposed.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that the introduction of the minimum wage, which some Opposition Members opposed, has made a huge contribution to improving the position of the worst paid in our society?

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is right. The campaigning by him and other Labour Members was responsible for the introduction of the minimum wage, which has addressed poverty pay and created 2.5 million jobs. It is a pity that my hon. Friend’s compatriots from the Welsh nationalist party are not present to hear his proud record of campaigning.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): The Chancellor just now flatly refused to answer a simple question from my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne). Will the Economic Secretary say whether Mr. Mark Neale, a senior civil servant who gave evidence to the Treasury Committee yesterday, was right or wrong when he said that 5.3 million people will be worse off as a result of the Budget—yes or no?

Ed Balls: Mr. Neale is right to point out that there are more than 20 million winners from the Budget and 200,000 more children taken out of poverty—

Mr. Paterson: Yes or no?

Ed Balls: The hon. Gentleman should compare our record since 1997— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Paterson, you must behave. It is a habit of yours to shout down the Minister answering the question. You should not do that.

Ed Balls: As I was saying, since 1997 we have taken 200 children out of poverty every day. Under the Tories 200 more children went into poverty every day. That is the difference between the parties.

29 Mar 2007 : Column 1630

Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend accept my thanks and take credit for being a member of the first Government to break the link between old age and poverty, and for taking 2 million pensioners out of poverty? Will he consider what can be done to redouble the battle against child poverty, as we have taken 2 million children out of poverty and need to do more to reach our target of halving child poverty by 2010?

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is right. When we came into government, we had unacceptably high levels of pensioner poverty, which we have addressed through the winter allowance, pension credit and rises in the basic pension. We also had the highest level of child poverty of any European country. Because of the measures that we have taken, which Opposition Members opposed consistently, we have had the fastest fall in child poverty of any European country since 1997. We on the Labour Benches are proud of that record.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Is a childless adult earning less than £18,000 a year better or worse off as a result of the Labour Budget?

Ed Balls: Such adults are substantially better off as a result of the changes that we have introduced since 1997 on tax and the working tax credit and measures to get people into work. People with and without children were much worse off under the Conservatives because there were 3 million unemployed and interest rates that were high and crippling. We have addressed that through the new deal and the working tax credit, which Conservative Members have consistently opposed. If they want to match our record, they must match our policies on tax credits, the minimum wage and public spending. Until we get an answer from the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), he has no credibility at all as a shadow Chancellor.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend believe that a nurse and a fireman living together are rich and can pay the estimated £550 extra a year that would result from the introduction of local income tax?

Ed Balls: The family that my hon. Friend describes will be substantially better off as a result of the Budget and the 2p cut in income tax. If the Scottish National party came to power in Scotland, the family would be substantially worse off because of a 3p rise in income tax. It is a great disappointment that no Member from the SNP is in the House to take part in this discussion, which shows their contempt for democracy and for these matters.

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): In my constituency inequality is being worsened by the fact that, as South West Water customers, my constituents are paying the highest water bills in the country. Because regulatory change is needed to tackle the issue, and because the Government will not hit their own child poverty targets unless it is tackled, will the Minister agree to meet to discuss constructively how to deal with this very difficult issue for my constituents?

29 Mar 2007 : Column 1631

Ed Balls: The hon. Lady’s constituents are better off because of the Budget and the measures that we have introduced for families. In a revealing comment, the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes it clear that— [Interruption.]

since 1997

in the hon. Lady’s constituency—again, reforms that she has— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister must be heard. Hon. Members must allow the Minister to speak.

Ed Balls: I was pointing out that on income the hon. Lady opposes tax credits, and on wealth she opposes the child trust fund. If she would support me and this Government in our efforts to reduce child poverty, she would have more credibility on such matters.

Next Section Index Home Page