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Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Since I first met her, she has been anxious to put forward the case

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for proper housing policies. Representing that city, she has been active in pursuing the case for better housing. The suggestion that she has made is a matter for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, who is considering innovative ideas to tackle the shortage of houses in some parts of the country and the substandard housing in others. My hon. Friend should put her suggestions to him. There will be a statement to the House on this matter on Thursday.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Now that the Chancellor has abandoned double and treble counting, he has announced increases of 6 per cent. a year for English education and 7 per cent. for English health. Does he accept that the knock-on effect in Scotland and Wales will be increases in those vital budgets of little more than half those amounts? Will he tell us definitively whether he intends to accede to the demands of the Deputy Prime Minister and the other anti-Scottish forces in the Cabinet and on the Back Benches and scrap, review or revise the Barnett formula, or does he think that the restrictions on the rate of increase will do the job for him?

Mr. Brown: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is arguing for more public spending when his party has been going round the country telling us not to raise the oil taxation that is necessary to fund increased public spending. I would think more of the former leader of the Scottish National party if he matched the spending that he is demanding with an ability to support the necessary revenues. As for support for education in Scotland, the outstanding fact that he should never forget when he tries to throw percentages at us is that spending per head in Scotland is higher than spending per head in England.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Does the Chancellor acknowledge that, for public services to improve, public service workers' pay needs to improve? Some of them do a top job, but are very low paid. Will the Chancellor say what is in this settlement to enable fairer pay for public service workers?

Mr. Brown: Public service pay is a matter for local government management in negotiation with local government workers. My hon. Friend knows that a real-terms rise is proposed in the salary negotiations that have been taking place. When the issue of low pay is raised, everyone should remember that what we have done with the tax credit system since 1997 is to help low-paid workers—whether it be through the working families tax credit or now through the employment tax credit that is being introduced. Many low-paid workers are being told by their unions that they are worse off, but some of them are £50 a week better off.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): The Chancellor is announcing how he will spend future tax revenues, which are wholly dependent on the performance and growth of the economy. Can he confirm that he still forecasts that

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the British economy will grow by more than 3 per cent. next year? Given the pause in growth that we have had this year, is he happy with that? The executives at Worldcom and Enron overstated their revenues. Is the Chancellor guilty of the same crime?

Mr. Brown: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, of all Conservative Members, should indulge in such short-termism: as he knows, and as happened when he was advising a Conservative Government, we publish forecasts twice a year. We have published our forecast in the Budget, and we will publish our forecast in November in the pre-Budget report.

The hon. Gentleman should also know—I find that the Conservatives are not willing to be up to date at all on this—that the fiscal rules we have set are set over a cycle, and will be met over the cycle. That means that borrowing for necessary investment can take place, but it also means that we must have a current balance. As I have said, there is a margin for prudence in the figures that I announced in the Budget, and we are uprating from today.

The hon. Gentleman—this Conservative Member—should be congratulating us on the fact that unemployment in his constituency is now 0.7 per cent. He should also remember, when he asks about public spending and whether we can afford it, that in his election commitments he said:

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde): I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcements on housing. Will they cover areas with substandard housing such as Hattersley in my constituency?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a mantra of reform without investment is just code for cuts, and shows that the Conservatives are the party of spin and we are the party of delivery today?

Mr. Brown: The fact that the Conservatives talk of reform in general, while the shadow Chancellor gave no details of any single reform during the 20 minutes for which he spoke today, surely proves to anyone who is prepared to listen that talk about reform is simply camouflage for the real Conservative policy of public spending cuts. Back Benchers must be thinking twice about what the shadow Chancellor says. The Conservatives promised higher spending on health and education at the last election and said that they would match our plans during the Parliament. Now Conservative Members are being told by the shadow Chancellor and their leader that the policy of the Conservative party is cuts in health and cuts in education.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have time-restricted business to protect. I remind the House that there will be a debate on public expenditure next Tuesday.

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Moorside Mining

4.56 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, to debate an important matter that requires specific and urgent consideration, namely,

After receiving welcome state aid under the European Union programme, Moorside seemed set for a bright future. It is a reliable producer, providing high-quality coal, and has full order books. Owing to the ending of insurance cover, however, since this morning the underground work force of 27 have not been allowed to enter the mine for their normal shifts. The mine is now in a condition in which it could be flooded and destroyed.

To operate a mine it is necessary to meet statutory requirements, including the holding of employers' liability insurance. The limited number of brokers who have been willing to supply such cover pushed up payments considerably. Moorside's coverage, which has just run out, cost 350 per cent. more recently than it did a year ago. Moorside's insurers now refuse to renew the coverage at all. It has so far proved impossible to obtain alternative cover even with the help of the DTI.

One problem is that insurers fear that emphysema and vibration white finger claims will need to be met—claims from miners who, during their working lives, worked at Moorside only for short periods. That is an exaggerated fear.

We need to discuss the options available for Moorside's survival. They include the issuing of a DTI bond, and the DTI's facilitating an alternative solution involving, for instance, the Association of British Insurers. A sensible way forward would be a self-insured scheme similar to that of UK Coal: all mines would pay a reasonable fee, with Government cover, while the moneys in the scheme grew. The comprehensive spending review, which we have just heard, needs to find Government funding to handle such insurance problems. The problem that I have raised is beginning to affect other small mines and other businesses. Betwys colliery, in south Wales, is experiencing similar difficulties.

I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will agree to the Adjournment of business to allow us to discuss the ways and means of saving the last coal mine in Derbyshire—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. In the end, the hon. Gentleman's speech was well-timed, and I am sorry to interrupt him on his last word. I have listened carefully to what he said, and I must give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I

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do not consider the matter that he raises appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, so I cannot submit his application to the House.


Firearms Amendment (No. 2)

Mr. David Wilshire presented a Bill to make provision for the regulation of the purchase of air weapons. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 July, and to be printed. [Bill 179]


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 117(6) (Standing Committee on Regional Affairs),

Question agreed to.

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