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The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Andy Burnham):
As I said earlier, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will make a statement on the provisional local government settlement for the next three years very shortly, and my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to comment further then. However, I am sure that the Secretary of State and her colleagues
have noted his points about damping. The challenge is to ensure that there is enough stability in the local government system, while at the same time making progress towards equity and conveying funds where the needs are greatest. That is the balance that must be struck.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): In the comprehensive spending review, will the Chancellor ensure that there is a balance between money given to schools in rural areas and money given to schools in urban areas? Is he not disappointed that after 10 years, and despite all the money that the Government have invested in reading in schools, the school reading age figures are the worst ever?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): Standards have improved, partly becauseas was pointed out a few moments ago by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretarywe have been increasing spending in schools. As for the balance of spending in rural and urban schools, it will be taken into account by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. However, the hon. Lady must face the fact that if we are to improve skills, particularly reading skills, we must be prepared to put the necessary money into schools as well as reforming them. So far, the Conservatives show little appreciation of that.
T8.  Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Apprenticeships are very important in my constituency and it is great news that the number has trebled over the past 10 years, but can my right hon. Friend assure me that we will have the resources to double the current number so that my constituents families can develop world-class skills?
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. There is a target of 400,000 apprenticeships in England; we have 250,000 today, and my hon. Friends constituency is getting its fair share. I also note that over the past 10 years of economic success enjoyed under this Government there has been a welcome increase in the number of people there who are economically active there, from 37,000 to 46,900.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Can the Chancellor put the record straight? Last week, during business questions, the Leader of the House said of the measures the Chancellor was taking in relation to Northern Rock:
we are concerned to ensure that no Northern Rock shareholder, employee or saver loses out.[ Official Report, 22 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 1347.]
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): I set out our approach to Northern Rock in my statement on 19 November. I said then that the Governments priorities were first to ensure that the money lent by the Bank of England was returned, secondly to ensure that we protected the interests of depositors, and thirdly to ensure the wider stability of the financial system. Those are and remain the Governments objectives, and I think everyone is aware of that.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that according to a recent report commissioned by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, bogus self-employment in the construction industry is losing the Exchequer £2.5 billion? Will he take measures to deal with that?
Angela Eagle: The recent estimates that we have made of the money lost to the Exchequer from bogus self-employment in the construction industry is closer to £360 million, but I assure my hon. Friend that I am looking into what we can do on that difficult and complex area of construction.
Mr. Darling: As I have said on many occasions, all the lending made by the Bank of England is secured against Northern Rocks assets. That remains the case and, as I said a few moments ago in reply to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), one of my three central objectives in relation to getting a solution is to make sure that the money is repaid.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the notorious NatWest Threes decision yesterday to plead guilty to conspiring with Enron staff to defraud NatWest of $19 million. Does he agree that that vindicates the changes that the Government made to our extradition rules with the US, and that Opposition claims that
Mr. Darling: Like many Members, I heard that news this morning on the radio, but I do not have the details so I cannot comment on them. I believe, however, that our country has the right extradition arrangements, and that we will always act in the best public interest.
Tuesday 4 DecemberIt is expected that there will be an oral statement on the publication of the board of inquiry report into the Nimrod crash, followed by Opposition day [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled Politicisation of the Civil Service, followed by a debate on the performance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Wednesday 5 DecemberIt is expected that there will be an oral statement on the annual benefit uprating, followed by Estimates [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on standards of conduct in public life, followed by a debate on benefits simplification. Details will be given in the Official Report. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Thursday 6 DecemberIt is expected that there will be an oral statement on annual uprating of local authority allocations, followed by a topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill, followed by a general debate on fisheries.
Mrs. May: I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for coming to the House and giving us the future business. I am only sorry that she refused my request that she come to the House earlier this week to make a statement on the sleaze scandal that engulfs her. This afternoons topical debate, chosen by the right hon. and learned Lady, is on the prospects for apprenticeships in England. Why are we not debating genuinely topical issues, such as party funding sleaze? [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Lady [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I shall refer to a number of items of business for next week. On the issue I have just referred to, I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that she might be Labour party chairman, but she is also Leader of this House, and her
first duty must be to Parliament and not to her party. May we have a statement on the political party funding Bill? During Labours deputy leadership campaign, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs declined a dodgy donation from Janet Kidd, after being warned by Baroness Jay that the donation was in fact from David Abrahams. At the same time, we now know
Mr. Speaker: Order. That is nothing to do with the business for next week. [Hon. Members: It is.] Order. Let me be the referee. I say that it is nothing to do with the business of next week, and I tell the right hon. Lady that she must move on from this subject. She has made her point. It is possible to overdo it, and she should move on [ Interruption. ] Order. It does not help when others shout across the Chamber. I am trying to be the referee. Let us move on.
Mrs. May: This morning, the Home Secretary said that the Government are considering changes to legislation as a result of the issues arising from the party funding debacle in the Labour party. If the Home Secretary was prepared to make that statement to the media, she should have been prepared to come to this House and answer our questions.
May we have a debate in Government time on the Governments internal communications? We have had several issues over the past week in which it was clear that a Member of the House of Lords, Baroness Jay, who sits on the Government Benches, revealed certain information about party funding to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to others. We now have working in the Leader of the Houses office someone who used to administer the 1000 club of donors to the Labour party. However, the Leader of the House says that none of those people ever asked her
Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Lady may ask about communications, but let us not get into the detail of this matter. There will be other opportunities [ Interruption. ] Order. We are talking about business questions. The right hon. Lady is experienced enough to know that she should ask for something to be debated and then move on. She should not go into the detail of this particular matter, because that is for another time.
Mrs. May: Thank you for your advice, Mr. Speaker. I try to be as helpful to the House as possible in giving explanations as to why debates on certain matters might be necessary. These matters do drive at the heart of Government
Mr. Speaker: Order. Do not shout at me, Mr. Stuart. As I have told the House before, I am guided by the rules that the House has given me, and those rules tell me that this is business questions. So do not tell me how to do my job. You would not know where to start.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There are already questions about a planning application in Durham, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local
Government has said that she has initiated a review of the issue of planning applications by third-party intermediaries. When will she make a statement to the House about the outcome of that review?
May we have a debate in Government time on the proper functioning of the ministerial code so that the Leader of the House can explain why, in the middle of September, she declared a donation to her deputy leadership campaign to the permanent secretary at the Department for Constitutional Affairs? With new questions emerging today about the role of Jon Mendelsohn, such a debate [ Interruption. ]
Such a debate would enable the Leader of the House to say whether her campaign team was approached by Mr. Mendelsohn about whether they wanted to be put in touch with secret donors. There are several questions to be answered and the Leader of the House must make a full statement.
The Leader of the House, the Prime Minister and the Labour party treasurer are like the three wise monkeys. They see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Quite simply, it wont wash. The public know sleaze when they see it. The people know spin when they hear it, and the voters will know what to do when they have their say: they will get rid of this sleazy Labour Government.
Ms Harman: The right hon. Ladys questions give me the opportunity to tell the House what I have already said publicly. In respect of my deputy leadership campaign and donations to it, my campaign team and I acted at all times in good faith. We acted at all times within both the letter and the spirit of the law. We had three very clear rules: we would accept donations only from people we knew personally, whom members of the campaign team knew personally or who were existing donors. We checked every donor to ensure that they were on the electoral register as a permissible donor. When we discovered there was a problem
Mr. Speaker: Order. I remind the Leader of the House that I told the shadow Leader of the House that at times she was going beyond the business of the House. The right hon. and learned Lady is now going beyond the business of the House. She does not need to say those thingsshe is not discussing the business of the House.
Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. and learned Lady should not go into the detail of the matter because it is not the business for next week. She has said that she acted in good faith; she should now move on.
The right hon. Lady asked about topical debates. The proposal came from the Modernisation Committee. The Government responded and we brought a Standing Order before the House to change the rules. The first topical debate, which was very well attended, was on immigration and was suggested by the right hon. Lady. The second topical debate was on climate changea matter we all regard as important and topical. Today, we have a topical debate on apprenticeships. The right hon. Lady is perfectly entitled to propose subjects for topical debates, which we announce on Mondays, and I welcome her and other Members doing so. If they make proposals, I will consider them.
The right hon. Lady talked about the comments of the Home Secretary this morning, when my right hon. Friend was asked about party funding. The shadow Leader of the House and Members know that in the Queens Speech we announced our intention to legislate on party funding. The Liberal Democrats were prepared to co-operate in all-party talks, but unfortunately we have not been able to bring our conclusions to the House because the Conservatives walked away from the talks.
The right hon. Lady asked when the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will come to the House to report on her review. My right hon. Friend will do so when the review is concluded.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): May we have a debate on the increases in military spending that have been authorised under the Government to assist our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to discuss the remarkable fact that last Tuesday General Sir Richard Dannatt and Colonel Richard Westley came to the House to brief 50 Members of both Houses on what they called the significant increases that had taken place, yet last Friday a group of superannuated military top brass, in a comfortable billet in the other place, opened a huge bombardment on the Government for doing the opposite?
Ms Harman: There are Defence questions next Monday and no doubt my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to catch the Speakers eye to raise that point, especially as there are topical as well as pre-planned oral questions. As he raises an important point about defence spending, may I point out that the UK spends more on defence than any country in the world except the United States? The Conservatives were cutting defence spending. When we came in we increased it. Were the Defence Secretary to be making a statement on that point, I think he would be saying that while we have increased defence spending, the Tories were cutting it, and although they now say they want it increased they will not say by how much or as what percentage of GDP. They will not say where the money will come from and they will not say what would have to be cut to pay for it.
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