Union defeats Labour on pensions

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Delegates have inflicted an embarassing defeat for the Government over pensions.

Delegates have inflicted an embarassing defeat for the Government over pensions.

Union bosses voted 60 percent to 40 percent for an "immediate and substantial increase in the basic pension" and a link "to, for example, average earnings or inflation whichever is greater".

Rodney Bickerstaffe, General Secretary of the public sector union Unison, appeared to refuse a deal sources close to Chancellor Gordon Brown thought had been done by refusing to change his position.

He refused to withdraw a motion which called for the restoration of the earnings link despite hours of behind-the-scenes bargaining.

A multi-billion boost for nursery education, adult literacy and school buildings was unveiled by Education Secretary David Blunkett. He pledged all three-year-olds whose parents want it will be guaranteed free nursery places by September 2004, at a cost of £2 billion.

And £7.8 billion - including around £6 billion of new money - will go towards refurbishing more than 7,000 schools and the complete transformation or rebuilding of 650 schools in England. Mr Blunkett also announced an extra £150 million for adult education, saying Labour would make cutting the number of functionally illiterate adults - estimated to be around seven million - a priority if it won the next election.

Mr Blunkett also announced a "new national Basic Skills Strategy" to back the extra cash for adult education. "This will be a critical second term priority for us - lifelong learning is more than a slogan, we are making it a reality, starting with those who missed out first time around."

Ambitious plans to cut the maximum waiting time for cancer treatment to one month by 2005 were announced by Health Secretary Alan Milburn. He said the aim was to achieve "the fastest improvement in cancer services anywhere in Europe". The new cancer plan the number of specialists will rise by almost one third, there will be nearly 300 more cancer scanners and radiotherapy machines and a new National Cancer Research Institute will be set up to develop the best treatments.

Mr Milburn said: "As a result of this expansion, the plan shows how we will cut waiting. A one month maximum from diagnosis to treatment of breast cancer next year - and for all cancers within five years. By 2010 our cancer survival rates will be amongst the best in Europe."

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook demanded that Slobodan Milosevic stand down after losing the first round of the Yugoslav presidential contest, declaring him a "beaten" man.

Mr Cook insisted there was no point in having a second, run-off round in the contest because the scale of Milosevic's defeat had been overwhelming.

Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement is being jeopardised by the Government's failure to implement in full the Patten report on the future of policing in the province, Sinn Fein claimed. Gerry Kelly, party Assembly member for Belfast North told a fringe meeting that Ulster Secretary Peter Mandelson was gambling with the success of the peace deal.

Mr Kelly said he did not want to Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble driven from power. "We want David Trimble to be saved. He is the leader of unionism, he did sign up to the Good Friday Agreement." But saving Mr Trimble could not be at the expense of ignoring Republican concerns about the policing Bill.

The grammar school entrance exam is an "anachronism" that should be rendered obsolete as standards at primary schools rise, Mr Blunkett said.

He was lambasted earlier this week by opponents of the 11-plus after campaigners in Kent abandoned their fight to get enough signatures of parents to force a ballot on the future of the county's selective schools.

But Mr Blunkett, who has in the past suggested grammar schools will disappear by 2011, made it clear he believed improvements in ordinary state schools should do the anti-lobby's work for it.

Former Conservative MP Shaun Woodward branded the majority of Tories "instinctive racists" and said feelings they had stirred up led to hate crimes against ethnic minorities. Mr Woodward, who defected to Labour earlier this year, said Home Secretary Jack Straw had been wrong to talk about "bogus asylum seekers". But Conservatives' strategy of playing the race card at the May local elections resulted in race attacks and possibly even killings.

Labour MP Barbara Follett warned a "gender gap" was opening up in politics with women finding it increasingly difficult to trust the Government. Ms Follett (Stevenage) told a fringe debate that trust was the key issue why women voted Labour in 1997. She said it was time for the Labour leadership to start softening its language. "We could the lose the next election if we keep using words like 'tough' and 'tough choices'."