TONY BLAIR sought to take the heat out of the simmering hospital crisis by promising an extra pound;12 billion over the next six years.
The pledge, made on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost, is designed to bring Britain's spending on health up to the average for the rest of Europe and would mean a 5 per cent increase, on top of inflation, every year until 2006.
It has provoked a rearguard action from senior ministers - including Education Secretary, David Blunkett - who are worried that Alan Millburn, the Health Secretary, will win the lion's share of the Chancellor's growing budget surplus - the so-called election "war-chest".
With Labour's private pollsters warning that the health service is now seen as the public's biggest concern, state education could lose out to investment in nursing and hospital beds.
The announcement was accompanied by the news that teachers are to receive across-the-board salary increases of between 3 and 3.5 per cent. Good teachers will become eligible for a further pound;2,000 rise under the Government's performance-related pay scheme, due to be unveiled later this month.
Ministers will be hoping that the above-inflation deal for teachers will help to solve the current staff shortage. However, a GuardianICM poll suggests that one reason for the shortage may be the public's perception that teaching is rather less well paid than it actually is.
Asked how much the average primary teacher earns per year, the public's response was pound;18,700. This compares with the actual average of pound;22,511. Asked how much a primary teacher ought to be paid the response was pound;22,000 - less than th average teacher earns already.
This somewhat mixed message does not detract from the fact that school teachers remain high in the nation's esteem, with only nurses and doctors given more respect - ahead of university lecturers, police officers and vicars (and well ahead of estate agents and journalists at the bottom of the league).
Meanwhile, anti-grammar schools campaigners suffered a setback when the High Court ruled that a Government adjudicator had acted unlawfully by ordering three Wandsworth
secondary schools to cut the number of pupils they select by ability from 50 to 25 per cent.
The ruling could have far-reaching consequences for other councils which had been forced to reduce partial
selection in the wake of the adjudicator's decision.
The Government this week also responded to another legal intervention - this time by the European Court - by announcing that parents who use a slipper, cane or belt on their children could face jail sentences.
The sanction is part of proposals for a new law put forward by health minister John Hutton, under which parents would keep the right to smack their children on the bottom. But a health department consultation paper puts forward proposals for tightening the law relating to physical assaults on children.
The consultation was ordered after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that a British father who beat his son with a three-foot-long cane was guilty of assault and that English law had failed to protect the boy from "inhuman or degrading treatment".
The man was acquitted in court after using the defence of "reasonable chastisement". The Government will now modernise the law to comply with the European Court's ruling.