Home Page

Column 577

Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to refer to a serious matter that has been raised by a number of hon. Members today. I should have thought that you might ask for another point of view to be expressed, and I hope that the Prime Minister is listening.

Mr. Speaker : I am very sorry, but the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is not possible for the Chair to call everyone who wishes to catch my eye on a question. It is just not possible, and it would not be fair.

Mr. Hume : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you agree that the issue and the question are too important to be addressed in such a short period and that we should have a full statement on the matter?

Mr. Speaker : That is a different matter.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I raised with you the question of a meeting in this House to be held by a cult leader. I now have further information that I believe you should consider. A copy of a speech that the gentleman gave to his members has come into my possession, which states that, after his death, they should kill each other. Is it proper, and is there anything that you can do to stop such a meeting taking place?

Mr. Speaker : That is not a matter of order for me.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) : I wish to raise a point of order arising from Prime Minister's questions, Mr. Speaker. You may be aware that there was a report from the Press Association at lunch time that the Prime Minister would make a statement in the House on the Irish question. I accept that you have no responsibility for what appears in the media, but, following the comments of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), does it not go to show that it would be far better for the Prime Minister to make a statement on that important matter rather than arrange for a planted question?

Mr. Speaker : That is a totally different matter.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : In reply to defence question No. 11, the Minister outlined the assistance that was given from Belize to Jamaica. I believe that my question was in order when I asked whether the same assistance could be given to Nicaragua in view of the ecological disaster that came to light last weekend. May I ask that you read the record tomorrow and give a ruling on the matter because I think that my question was appropriate?

Column 578

Mr. Speaker : I cannot give such a ruling. If hon. Members are sophisticated enough, it is not too difficult for them to get their questions in order. The hon. Lady started her question by talking about Nicaragua when she should have been talking about Jamaica.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to delay the pig sticking that we are about to enjoy, but, further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), I should point out that she was getting round to that point. [Interruption.] That is exactly what happened. Unfortunately, you were denied hearing what she was saying because of all the yobs on the Government Benches and the noise that they were making.

Mr. Speaker : We have a very important debate today. If I had to listen to Members getting round to subjects, I would be here a very long time.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which is consequential to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). I ask you to accept that you can make a ruling on the repeated practice of the Government to use Question Time as a means of airing subjects that should be introduced in the form of statements. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to treat the matter seriously, to consider it overnight and to give a ruling tomorrow.

Mr. Speaker : The House knows that I am not responsible for deciding whether statements should be made. Further, when an hon. Member asks a question, I cannot tell what the answer is likely to be. All that I am concerned about is whether the exchange is in order. I heard nothing today that was out of order.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : With due deference, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you when we have ever had to subject ourselves to a test to determine whether we are sophisticated enough to ask relevant questions? My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) asked whether it was important to help a certain country following a hurricane. Why should not such help apply to another country in the same area? When Nicaragua was mentioned, Conservative Members shouted so loudly that even you could not hear the point, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I did hear it. I think that we should get on. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) to the fact that the main question was directed to the hurricane that hit Jamaica.

Column 579

Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[ Sixth Day


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [22 November]

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows : Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Sir Giles Shaw.]

Question again proposed.

The Economy Mr. Speaker : I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I have selected also, for Division only, the amendment in the name of the leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats.

Given the pressure to speak in today's debate, I intend to impose a 10- minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock. I express the hope that those who speak before that time do not speak for much longer than 10 minutes. Those who exceed that time will prevent their colleagues from participating in the debate.

3.37 pm

Mr. Gordon Brown (Dunfermline, East) : I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add :

"But noting the economic mismanagement which has brought the worst trade deficit in British history and the highest interest rates of any major industrial country, humbly regret the way in which current policies have pushed up mortgage rates and other prices and charges and have damaged home buyers, low income families, and industry striving to improve competitiveness ; further regret the proposals in the Gracious Speech for the privatisation of electricity and water which will put up prices, and are deeply concerned by the absence of any strategy for correcting the mistakes of the last Budget and improving long-term investment for building durable economic strength."

When the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his Autumn Statement at the beginning of the month, he told us that the balance of payments deficit for the 12 months of 1988 would be £13 billion. Last Friday he had to report that for the first 10 months of the year the deficit was more than £12 billion, the worst trade deficit in British history. The right hon. Gentleman told us also at the beginning of the month that inflation would rise to 6.25 per cent. by the end of the year. By 18 November the rate had already surpassed that figure and was 6.4 per cent., the highest inflation rate in Europe with the exception of Greece. He expressed the hope at the beginning of the month that interest rates would stay at 12 per cent. Last Friday, they went to 13 per cent., making them without exception the highest rates in Europe. Interest rates in Britain are now 2.5 per cent. higher than those in America, 5 per cent. higher than those in France, 7 per cent. higher than those

Column 580

in West Germany and 8.5 per cent. higher than those in Japan. According to the CBI, these interest rate rises damage the international competitiveness of our industry. At the CBI conference a few days ago, Mr. Norman Riccard of C. & J. Clarke accused the Chancellor of the Exchequer of gambling with the economy. Mr. David Pennock of Astell Scientific accused him of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Mr. Terence Lilley complained that the dice are too heavily loaded against British industry. Yet another delegate accused the right hon. Gentleman of strangling the economy.

All that happened before Friday's interest rate rise from 12 per cent. to 13 per cent. It is hardly surprising that, with industrial and borrowing costs up by £1,300 million since June, the CBI should report pessimism among exporters and should predict that investment, high this year, will nearly halve next year and fall to only 1.5 per cent. in the year after that.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer should know all about that. After all, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that high interest rates were not only

"the last thing that industry wants,"

they were also

"damaging to economic activity in general and the financial position of companies in particular."

Those comments were made by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1980. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1980 is the Chancellor of the Exchequer before us today.

This Chancellor and the Government told us in the previous Gracious Speech that they would pursue policies

"designed further to reduce inflation".--[ Official Report, 25 June 1987 ; Vol. 118, c. 39.]

The policies designed to reduce inflation further have raised inflation from 4.1 per cent. then to more than 6 per cent. now. With inflation blipping at 5 per cent., then 5.5 per cent., then 5.9 per cent. and now 6.4 per cent., and with it due to blip, temporarily of course, again with the rail fare rises in January, oil and food price rises in February, prescription rises in March, rates, rents, water and poll tax rises in April, and with gas and Telecom bills still to come, that is so substantial and sustained a blip that 1989 will be the fourth year in succession when inflation is above the European average. We hear that from the Chancellor

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) : Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the inconsistency of complaining about rising inflation and complaining about increased interest rates designed to bring down that inflation rate?

Mr. Brown : The first effect of rising interest rates has been to push up mortgage rates. That has fed through into the real living costs of people up and down the country.

We hear all this about inflation from the Chancellor who promised us in 1984--repeated in 1987--that he was the Chancellor with the objective of zero inflation.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South) : May I remind the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) of what happened in the House on 25 October, which was the last occasion when the hon. Gentleman opened a major debate for the Labour party. On that occasion he blundered so badly in his speech that after he sat down he had to go upstairs to pressurise the Official Reporters to amend Hansard so that it included words that he had not uttered in the Chamber. All the hon. Member has shown is that-- [Interruption.]

Column 581

Mr. Speaker : Order. I do not think that that is true.

Mr. Yeo : Will the hon. Gentleman--

Mr. Brown rose --

Mr. Yeo rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) has finished his intervention.

Mr. Yeo : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which affects every hon. Member. If hon. Members cannot attend debates, they rely on the Official Report to inform them. On 25 October the Official Report contained words purported to have been used by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East which were not used by him. That fiddling of the record took place at the specific request of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I know about this. I have looked into the matter and I have had a definite assurance from the Editor of Hansard that no such changes were made by the hon. Member.

Mr. Yeo : Mr. Speaker, I refer you to column 494 of the Official Report for 27 October 1988 when you confirmed that the record had in fact been changed and you apologised. The assurance that I now seek fom the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East is-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. What the hon. Gentleman has said is quite correct. I did say that, but I subsequently looked into the matter and I had an assurance from the Editor of Hansard that no alteration was made at the specific request of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). It was a mistake in the Hansard reporting.

Mr. Yeo : The alteration was certainly not made at the request of a Conservative Member. On referring to the tapes, we found that they recorded something different. The assurance that I seek for the protection of hon. Members who are not present here today is that no Opposition Member will seek to falsify the official record of today's debate.

Mr. Speaker : What the hon. Gentleman is alleging is incorrect. The mistake was not the mistake of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that we should dispose of this matter.

Mr. Dobson : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), no doubt completing the task given to him by the Tory Whip, clearly said that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) sought to falsify the account. That allegation should be withdrawn, and if he will not withdraw it, he should be withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker : In view of what I have said, and the assurance that I have had from the Editor of Hansard, will the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) withdraw the allegation that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) asked for the record to be changed?

Column 582

Mr. Yeo : I entirely stand by what I said, Mr. Speaker. The record of the tapes for that day shows that different words from those that appeared in Hansard were used by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East.

Mr. Speaker : I am not concerned with that. What I said was that I looked into the matter at the time and I have an assurance from the Editor of Hansard that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East did not ask for the alteration to be made. All I am asking of the hon. Member for Suffolk, South is, as a matter of honour, to withdraw his allegation against the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Yeo : I gladly withdraw it, Mr. Speaker, if we have an assurance that no-- [Hon. Members :-- "No."]--Opposition Member will seek to tamper with today's record. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. No qualification please. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw the allegation absolutely.

Mr. Yeo : I withdraw the specific allegation that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East falsified the record.

Mr. Brown : I, too, have a letter from the Editor of Hansard, Mr. Speaker, apologising for the mistake that he made. [Interruption.] Since Conservative Members persist in demanding to know what the letter says, it says :

"I understand that you may have been caused some embarrassment, for which I apologise. If the issue is raised, please feel entirely free to quote my assurace that the responsibility for this regrettable mishap is entirely mine."

Hon. Members : Withdraw.

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is an important debate. There is great pressure to speak. The hon. Member for Suffolk, South has withdrawn what he said. We must get on with the debate.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a very important debate in which the House and the country have a great interest. There is no point in raising further points of order with me about it. It has been dealt with by me and by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East.

Mr. Brown : The House wants to challenge the Government's case on interest rates, inflation and the balance of payments deficit, and deplores the stunts of Conservative Members.

Our case against the Chancellor--

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have had read to the House a letter from the Editor of Hansard in which, by his own admission, he has confirmed that the record was not an accurate account of what took place on that day. Obviously we want to get on with the debate today but I wonder whether I can call upon you, Mr. Speaker, to discuss the matter again with the Editor of Hansard so that the House may know the difference between the BBC tapes and what was reported to hon. Members in writing.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is only wasting time. Issues of this type bring no credit upon the House. A letter from the Editor of Hansard has already been read to the House. The official record is Hansard, not the tapes.

Column 583

Mr. Brown : Our case against the Chancellor is not only the clear damage that he has been doing to British industry by high interest rates ; it is not only that the expectations he has raised with tax cuts in the spring he has betrayed with price and mortgage rises in the autumn ; it is not only that the British people are now paying many times over for his mistakes--as consumers with price rises, as home owners, as families suffering from the freeze on child benefit and as citizens with deteriorating public services. Our case against the Chancellor is that he should have known all along that to engineer a short-term consumer boom that was not underpinned by the strength of long-term, prior and adequate investment was bound to be unsustainable and bound to end in high trade deficits, high interest rates and higher inflation, with other economies, not ours, benefiting from the increased demand in Britain.

Conservative Back Benchers ask the Chancellor whether there will be a hard or soft landing. They should be asking him why there should have to be a landing at all. Higher interest rates, higher inflation and higher deficits are not the result of international events beyond his control. He cannot blame OPEC, oil sheikhs, American Presidents or the lack of international co-operation. The higher interest rates, higher inflation and higher deficits are the direct result of mistakes made in the Treasury--mistakes for which the Chancellor has not yet had to pay but for which millions of British people are already paying dearly. When people ask nowadays what is to be done by the Government, they no longer ask which policies of the Chancellor will succeed but who will succeed the Chancellor.

What is the Prime Minister's policy in all this? What is her attitude to higher interest rates, higher inflation and the state of the pound? Her policy is to bring Professor Sir Alan Walters back to Britain. It is not surprising that Professor Walters has said that he will be taking an increasing role in the British economy. Those are his words. The increasing role he will enjoy at No. 10 will mean a decreasing role for the Chancellor at No. 11. It can hardly have escaped the Chancellor's attention that, although in the past the Prime Minister has applauded the Chancellor as wonderful, brilliant and marvellous, when she went to America and gave half a dozen major interviews, including questions on the state of the economy, she did not think it important to mention the Chancellor's brilliance or even his existence.

"There is obviously quite a difference in emphasis."

So said Professor Walters, describing the disagreements between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. He added :

"Timing is, of course, another aspect of the difference." The difference in emphasis between Professor Walters and the Chancellor is such that the Chancellor believed that close links with the deutschmark were right for Britain. Professor Walters said that that was nonsense, then said that it was "misguided" and then that it had "tragic" consequences. The Prime Minister, it appears, agrees with Professor Walters. The Chancellor thought that reducing interest rates in January was a good idea. Professor Walters and then the Prime Minister thought it was a mistake for which, as Professor Walters said, "We have to atone." Now the Chancellor has been forced to agree with Professor Walters.

The Chancellor thought that a high pound was damaging for British industry, the Prime Minister said that that was mistaken and now the Chancellor has had to

Column 584

agree with Professor Walters as the pound rises. Professor Walters has left us in no doubt of what he thinks are the Chancellor's prospects. He said :

"People are saying he has been there too long."

We know the people in Britain to whom Sir Alan talks. He said : "It may well be that the Chancellor is thinking of moving on." The Chancellor may already be regretting his remarks during happier times a few years ago at a Conservative party conference, when he said that the good thing about staying at No. 11 Downing street was that there was

"no trouble with the neighbours."

Any trouble will not last long, not because relations between the neighbours at No. 10 and No. 11 are always amicable, but because at the will of the Prime Minister they are always terminable. As the Chancellor will find to his cost, the Prime Minister is the one neighbour in Britain with the power of eviction.

This is the Chancellor who, earlier this year, declared the economic problem to be solved ; the Chancellor who, even a few days ago during an interview with Sir Robin Day--of which the tape, fortunately, still survives--said that the British economy, under his leadership, had been transformed, that economic performance was the best in our lifetimes and that an economic miracle had been achieved.

How does the Chancellor explain that economic miracle to the family on the average wage with the standard mortgage--and there are thousands like them- -who received tax cuts worth £12 in March, who are already being hit with an increase in mortgage repayments of £30 a month and who are now being told that that sacrifice is not enough and that they face additional rises of almost £10 a month? The total increase in repayments this year might add up to £40 a month, yet the Chancellor tells us that his interest rate rises have yet to bite. What does the Chancellor say about the economic miracle to the first-time buyer, with £50 a month more in mortgage repayments on average, on top of all the other rises, and set against an average of only £7 a month in tax cuts? They will soon face rises in charges for electricity, water, rates, the telephone and gas--and all that from a Chancellor who tells us in the Gracious Speech--

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford) rose --

Mr. Brown : The Chancellor--

Mr. Tebbit rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) is not giving way.

Mr. Tebbit rose --

Mr. Brown : The second battalions have come to assist.

The Chancellor told us in the Gracious Speech that he would bear down on prices. How will he bear down on electricity prices, water prices, rates and the poll tax?

A few days ago the Chancellor spoke about the necessity to educate his Back Benchers. It is not the Chancellor who needs to educate his Back Benchers about the realities of life ; it is his Back Benchers who now need to educate the Chancellor about the living costs that people are facing, even as mortgages rise.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking) rose --

Next Section

  Home Page