Labour run out of time to save the playground

Inside Parliament: House adjourns before proposers arrive; Ex-Chancellor urges vote on currency
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Indy Politics
A Labour bid to block Government plans to abolish minimum requirements for school buildings was derailed last night when the Commons rose abruptly earlier than expected.

MPs had been due to debate an Opposition move to annul new rules scrapping the 15-year-old regulations, which lay down minimum standards on the amount of space which must be provided for each child in schools and playgrounds.

Labour had imposed a three-line whip for the vote which had been due around 11.30pm. But the junior health minister John Bowis, winding up the previous debate on the second reading of the Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill, ended his speech earlier than expected.

The Bill was swiftly given a second reading without a vote, but as the Labour proposers of the move to annul the new rules were not present in the Chamber, Deputy Speaker Michael Morris adjourned the sitting at 9.49pm.

The Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard arrived for the scheduled one-and-a-half hour debate, initiated by the Opposition, just as the House rose.

Asked later about the loss of the debate, the Labour Chief Whip Donald Dewar said: "I have no comment to make."

Lord Lawson yesterday lent his authority, as a former Chancellor, to calls to John Major to promise a referendum on any move to join a European single currency.

In a very different analysis to that of the present Chancellor, Lord Lawson told the Treasury Select Committee that if the Government decided to join a single currency, then before the Commons voted the issue should be put to the British people. "I think realistically a referendum is bound to happen," he said.

Lord Lawson's comments will be music to the ears of Tory Euro-sceptics who want the Prime Minister to include a referendum pledge in the party's general election manifesto. But earlier this week Kenneth Clarke said a referendum need only be considered when and if the Cabinet decided to join. He had claimed the Prime Minister was of the same opinion. The Chancellor, however, is virtually the only Cabinet minister left who will express any sympathy for a single currency.

Though Lord Lawson left office in 1989 after six years at 11 Downing Street and now, as a director of Barclays Bank, describes himself as a "superannuated politician", his doubting view is more prevalent. "The reason I don't wish to see us join is because it is essentially a political enterprise which is at best premature and worst extremely damaging," he said.

It was likely to be damaging while the peoples of Europe were not in favour of submerging sovereignty into a wider entity. "To do so prematurely would be to strain the political and democratic fabric very, very considerably and give a field day for the most unpleasant national, xenophobic demagogues in every country in Europe."

But the committee, hearing opinions on the final stage of economic and monetary union, was offered a very different scenario by Lord Kingsdown, formerly the Governor of the Bank of England, Robin Leigh-Pemberton. A single currency enthusiast, he disagreed with Lord Lawson's assertion that the project was essentially politically inspired.

The debate had been too much concentrated on sovereignty and constitutional issues, he said. More attention should be paid to where the jobs were going to come from over the next 20 years.

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