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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Has the Leader of the House been informed that the Secretary of State for the Environment is reconsidering the Torbay ballot on the selling of council houses, for which only 16 per cent. voted in favour? As it looks as though there will be a re-run ballot, may we take it for granted that, in line with the practice used by the Government against local authorities, since the Government have made a mistake in the legislation the cost of the re-run will be paid for by the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I shall certainly refer it to my right hon. Friend.

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Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Sheffield, Hallam Liberals have been sending me cheques for monitoring my speeches? Is it not time that we had a debate on this in case Short money, which is public money, is being used for such purposes?

Mr. Wakeham : I did not know that the Liberals in Sheffield had been sending my hon. Friend cheques for monitoring his speeches. No one sends me cheques for monitoring mine. However, I can understand that in Sheffield they believe that my hon. Friend's speeches are so good that they deserve that sort of support. I would find it hard to believe that that was the purpose for which Short money was given--or that that was what it was being used for.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread support for just one initiative announced last year by the former Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)--the proposal to impose a ban on the production and sale of a form of chewing tobacco that goes under the trade name Skoal Bandits? Will there be an early opportunity for the House to consider regulations that would impose such a ban?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not know of any proposals. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : Bearing in mind the serious catalogue of murders in the Province of Northern Ireland, will the Leader of the House consider giving time for a full-scale debate on security there? My constituency has bourne the brunt of attacks along the border, recently and for many years. In the Castlederg area at least 20 members of the security forces have been murdered, yet not one person has been brought to justice or found guilty of those murders. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman can understand the frustration and fear with which people living in the border areas have had to exist for many years.

Mr. Wakeham : I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I fully understand his feelings and those of his colleagues in Northern Ireland about the difficulties with security. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as one of his prime concerns, continually tries to improve the arrangements. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take it amiss if I tell him that it is difficult to see how I can arrange a debate in the immediate future--although the subject is worthy of proper discussion in the House when time is available.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : Does the Minister think it appropriate that we should have an immediate debate on the dangerous practice of carrying chemicals by air? Following the importation into this country of 27 tonnes of PCBs from Canada to a spot near my constituency, I have been carrying on a long and detailed correspondence with the Department of Transport.

I was alarmed this morning to receive a letter which agreed that these products cannot be properly safeguarded in a crash or fire but said that the Government intended to do nothing about that. The letter seemed to suggest that

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PCBs would not survive an air crash. If they had been on board the aircraft that crashed over Lockerbie, they would not have survived. They would have changed into dioxins and dibenzofurons. A situation like that at Seveso might have recurred, and large tracts of country would have been unhabitable for decades. The Department of Transport does not think that this is a serious problem. Is it not time that this House told it that it is?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman knows much more about this than I do, but I do not think he has correctly interpreted my right hon. Friend's position. He is concerned about the possible release of dioxins in the extreme temperatures of a fire. As a first step--by which I mean the first from this moment--he will discuss with the Health and Safety Executive and the Civil Aviation Authority whether to propose an international review through the ICAO.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : In view of the Prime Minister's significant statement at Question Time today that the Government are taking active steps to prevent British firms from participating in the building of the chemical warfare establishment in Libya, could we have a debate next week to enable the House of Commons to send a simple message to the other EEC countries that their Governments, particularly Germany, should follow exactly the same course? Appalling problems are created by chemical warfare. If the EEC is meant to stand for freedom and liberty, is there no procedure whereby that course could be followed, with the Government's splendid example being sent as a clear message to the other EEC countries?

Mr. Wakeham : The fact that I cannot arrange a debate next week does not mean that the Government are not pursuing these matters within the EEC with great determination and fortitude.

Points of Order

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At Question time today you took a point of order from my colleague the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). Later on, during Question Time, you took other points of order. The result was that three minutes of the precious time that we have for Northern Ireland questions were taken up with points of order. I have been in this House on other days during Question Time when you have ruled that you would take points of order after Question Time. Will you please follow that procedure for Northern Ireland and give us the three precious minutes that we need each fortnight, together with the other time allocated to us, to handle affairs of great importance in our Province?

Mr. Speaker : When a point of order is raised with the Chair, it must be taken if it requires immediate attention. That is what I did today. I fully agree with the hon. Member that if it is not a genuine point of order it merely wastes time. I hope that that will not occur. I am, nevertheless, bound to take points of order when they are raised, to determine whether they require immediate attention.

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Autumn Statement

[Relevant documents : European Community Documents Nos. 9510/87 on the creation of a European Financial Area and the supplementary explanatory memorandum submitted by HM Treasury on 20 June 1988 and 6427/88 on medium- term financial support for member states' balance of payments.]

Mr. Speaker : Before I call on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to move the motion on the Autumn Statement, I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. In view of the number of right hon. and hon. Members who have said that they wish to participate in the debate, I propose to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock. 4.11 pm

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Nigel Lawson) : I beg to move,

That this House approves the Autumn Statement presented by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer on 1st November 1988 ; endorses the action taken by Her Majesty's Government to ensure that inflation resumes its downward trend ; welcomes the prospect of continued growth and strong investment as the basis for maintaining the trend of rising employment ; and congratulates Her Majesty's Government on the continuing reduction in the share of national income pre-empted by public expenditure.

The whole House owes a debt of gratitude, once again, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) whose Committee has produced a report on the Autumn Statement.

One matter which greatly exercised my right hon. Friend and his colleagues was the manifest shortcomings of a number of the published economic statistics. As he knows, the Government share this concern, and set up a scrutiny of Government economic statistics. That first stage is now complete, and the Government are now considering the findings. A comprehensive report will be published in due course. In recent years, it has become customary for me to use the occasion of this debate, on the Autumn Statement, to announce the date of the Budget. I am happy to follow that precedent, and inform the House that the Budget this year will be on Champion hurdle day, 14 March--that is, in a little under nine weeks' time. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite will no doubt wish to make a note of this in their official Labour party filofaxes, which I see were among the prizes to be won in the 1988 Labour party Christmas lottery--along with a Black sea cruise for the Ron Todd wing of the party. As usual, the Budget will be the occasion to announce the rates of taxation for the coming year and the projected size of the public sector borrowing requirement--or, to be accurate, in the new era which our prudent fiscal policy has ushered in, the size of the public sector debt repayment, or Budget surplus. What it is not is an occasion for announcing changes in public expenditure. Our public spending plans for the coming year were announced in the Autumn Statement, which we are debating today.

The House will be aware that public spending in the current year is likely to be the lowest which it has been, expressed as a share of total national income, for more than 20 years, with a further decline in the ratio likely in the years ahead. This has been achieved by sticking firmly to the planning total published in last year's public

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expenditure White Paper, while ensuring, within that total, significant extra money for priority programmes, from the Health Service to roads. Overall public spending has been further contained by the reduction in the burden of debt interest that flows directly from the transformation of the massive Budget deficit which we inherited from the party opposite--equivalent to some £25 billion in today's terms--into a substantial Budget surplus.

I will leave other aspects of public spending to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, who will be winding up this debate--if, Mr. Speaker, he is fortunate enough to catch your eye--and who so skilfully conducted last year's public spending round. I would only add that firm but common-sense control of public expenditure remains, as it has always been, central to our economic strategy and a major contributor to the economic success which we are now enjoying. It is a success widely acknowledged by British business and industry, who have seen productivity and profitability improve beyond recognition, and now have the confidence to invest on an unprecedented scale. It is a success, too, widely recognised abroad, where Britain's standing has never been higher. One sign of this is that last year, despite a substantial current account deficit on the balance of payments, the pound stayed strong and our foreign exchange reserves ended the year at an all-time high ; and of course it is a success widely enjoyed by the British people, who see steadily rising living standards, more people in work than ever before in our history and inflation far lower than it was under Labour.

Indeed, only Labour has failed to recognise the transformation that has occurred to the British economy. As even Pravda, which I know the Opposition read carefully, was obliged to point out in an article on Britain last month :

"the Left have been in retreat for ten years, unable to respond to the Thatcher challenge, unable to adapt to life in the 1980s." One of the key reasons why we have been able to achieve this long-term success is that we have never shirked taking the measures which are necessary to deal with short-term problems, even if those measures were unpopular. Getting the economy right does not mean that there will never be problems. That idealised state of affairs is not for this world.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Lawson : I shall give way in a moment.

What it does mean is getting the fundamentals right, which we have done, and then tackling short-term problems effectively and decisively, as and when they emerge.

Mr. Ewing : I am anxious to ask the Chancellor a question before he passes from the section of his speech in which he deals with his success as Chancellor. Interest rates are higher now than they were when he became Chancellor, inflation is higher than it was when he became Chancellor, and people are finding it much more difficult to meet their mortgage payments than they were when he became Chancellor. Does he claim the credit, or does he take the blame for that?

Mr. Lawson : I have to tell the hon. Member--although I know that many of his hon. Friends on the Front Bench

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do not understand this--that interest rates inevitably fluctuate. They have fluctuated before and they will fluctuate again. In particular, sound management of the economy means acting firmly to deal with the sort of inflationary pressures that emerged in the second half of last year, when it became clear that total spending in the economy was growing at a wholly unsustainable rate. That is why interest rates have had to rise.

As every schoolboy should know by now, there is no way in which inflation can be controlled other than by a sufficiently tight monetary policy, and that means having the courage to raise interest rates as and when it is necessary to do so. There is nothing new in this--nothing new at all. It is what all other successful countries do. It is what we--unlike the disastrous inflationary Labour Government who preceded us--have always been prepared to do, and have consistently made clear we would continue to do, throughout the 10 years since we first took office.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Lawson : In a moment.

As a result, the underlying rate of inflation, as measured by the RPI excluding the distorting effect of mortgage interest payments, which reached 5 per cent. in July, is likely to edge up a little over the next few months, perhaps to the 5.5 per cent. or so which it reached during the last inflation blip in 1985. But then, just as it did in 1985, it will start coming down again. Let there be no doubt about that whatever. Monetary policy works, and the passage in the official Opposition amendment before us today, urging us to "combat inflation" and "move interest rates downwards" betrays that irredeemable economic illiteracy that is their hallmark in every economic debate which we have ever had.

Mr. Wareing : The Chancellor said that the Government, and indeed any responsible Chancellor, should not veer away from any unpopular decisions. Why was it that, before the last Budget, Robin Leigh-Pemberton, that famous Left-wing Governor of the Bank of England, advised the Chancellor on a cautious Budget? Why did the Chancellor not take his advice then? Why is he not taking his advice now when making a statement in advance of the Budget?

Mr. Lawson : My conversations with the Governor of the Bank of England are amiable, cordial and private. I would like to express my thanks today for the dinner which the Governor of the Bank of England gave in my honour last night.

So far as the recorded RPI is concerned, the position is complicated by the fact that, of all 12 nations of the European Community, we are one of the only two--the other one being Ireland--that is daft enough to include mortgage interest payments in its retail price index. So, for example, next week's RPI figure for December would show a further rise of almost half a percentage point, simply because a mortgage rate fall made the December 1987 index artificially low, even if there were no change in underlying inflation at all.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : How can the Chancellor of a Government who make home ownership

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a fundamental objective of their policy say that the cost of home ownership is not relevant to an assessment of inflation by the majority of householders in this country?

Mr. Lawson : There are home owners in other European Community countries which even the deputy leader of the Liberal party--or whatever he is--ought to be aware of. As I said, of the 12 nations of the European Community, only two are foolish enough to have mortgage interest payments in their retail price index.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Lawson : In a moment. I have just given way.

But to assert that monetary policy works-- [Interruption.] I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition wishes to make a contribution or whether he is simply muttering from a sedentary position?

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn) : If the Chancellor wants to fool himself, that is up to him, but he must not fool the British people. He knows very well that every single comparable country in the OECD has included in its comparable figure with the retail price index a figure for the payment of expenditure on housing. He knows very well that those figures are directly comparable to the inclusion of mortgage figures.

Mr. Lawson : It is again my task to seek to educate the Leader of the Opposition. Of the other 10 countries of the European Community that do not include mortgage interest payments, there is a minority, it is true, that do have as a proxy for the cost of owner-occupied housing--it is a minority--imputed rents. The majority have nothing at all. So the Leader of the Opposition was trying to mislead the House, no doubt through his own ignorance.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne) : Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Lawson : No. I have just given way to the Leader of the Opposition. [Interruption.]

Mr. Sheldon rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that the Chancellor is not giving way.

Mr. Lawson : I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman would have made a much more telling intervention than that from the Leader of the Opposition. I am afraid that I had to choose which one I was giving way to, and I chose the Leader of the Opposition. I must now carry on with my speech.

But to assert that monetary policy works is not to say that we are relying on monetary policy alone. It is a matter of not being afraid to use monetary policy where monetary policy is called for. But of course it is buttressed by the firmest fiscal stance of any Government since the war : for the first time for at least half a century we have a Government in this country that are engaged in repaying the national debt, and will continue to do so next year too. It is this immensely strong fiscal position that guarantees that the historic tax reforms and tax reductions in last year's Budget--for which I make no apology whatever--will remain fully in place, to the immense benefit of the British economy in the years to come.

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I understand full well that the Opposition do not like it. What they want--what they have always wanted--is to see income tax put up. That is why they voted against each and every reduction in income tax--each and every one of them.

I recognise, of course, that the rise in interest rates will mean that people with mortgages will have to curb their spending on other things, in a minority of cases considerably, in order to meet the higher mortgage payments. Indeed, the policy would not be working if this were not so, and there are growing signs that it is working. But the Opposition's charges that the Government have been deliberately stoking up borrowing, apparently by keeping interest rates persistently too high, again betray their irredeemable economic illiteracy. What we have done is to give people the freedom to choose how much to borrow, in the light of what they think they can afford. That judgment has to take account of the fact that mortgage rates do go up and down, as I told the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) earlier.

Mr. Tony Banks : Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Lawson : Later.

Responsible people know this--even though the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), whom I am glad to see in his place, evidently does not, judging from his recent pronouncement on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench about

"home buyers who budgeted sensibly in taking out their mortgages, who mortgaged themselves up to the hilt". [ Official Report , 8 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 423.]

Mr. Tony Banks : Does the Chancellor accept that some people borrow money for the simple reason that they need to cover their costs and are forced into a great amount of debt? The Chancellor seems not at all concerned about that. Will he do anything about the expansion of credit in this country? This morning I received another invitation to spend £800 on a Visa card by 31 March to get two free tickets to America. Surely the Chancellor should do something about that. [ Hon. Members :-- "Take them."] If he lends me the money, I shall.

Mr. Lawson : I am afraid that I do not have the pleasure of knowing the hon. Gentleman sufficiently well to know whether he is capable of resisting temptation or not.

What we heard from the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was not sensible budgeting. That was Labour budgeting. In a society which treats people like adults, it must be for individuals to decide for themselves how much it is sensible for them to borrow. That is the only way to a free and responsible society, and that in turn is the only way to a successful economy.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South) : When, in due course, as the Chancellor says, interest rates go down, will the exchange rate go down also? [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Chancellor has knocked over his glass of water.

Mr. Lawson : I have a temporary liquidity problem.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking me to predict the course of exchange rates in some hypothetical circumstances. I am not even prepared to predict the course of exchange rates in less hypothetical circumstances, so I am not prepared to answer the hon. Gentleman.

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He has been in this House long enough to know that I never predict the course of either interest rates or the exchange rate.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) rose--

Mr. Lawson : I must move on a bit now.

As far as the impact of interest rates on companies is concerned, the plain fact is that companies are now in a far stronger financial position than they have been for a very long time.

Whereas, in 1980, company borrowing amounted to some 45 per cent. of the total value of their equity, by the end of 1987 it was down to around 28 per cent. At the same time, their profitability has been transformed : the rate of return on capital employed has trebled from 4 per cent. in 1980 to 12 per cent. now. Moreover, although short-term interest rates have risen considerably, long-term rates this time have barely moved at all. With the Government now actually redeeming some of their outstanding debt rather than making continuing demands on the markets, there are excellent opportunities for borrowers who wish to take advantage of this market for fixed-term and long-term borrowing. Last year, for example, there were over £10 billion of fixed-rate long-term sterling bond issues, and there is likely to be even greater scope this year.

Much concern has been expressed recently about the sharp fall in the personal savings ratio--the proportion of personal disposable income that is saved. It has certainly been dramatic. Equally certainly, high interest rates, which make savings more attractive and borrowing less attractive, are likely to reverse this trend--not least because the sharp fall in the personal savings ratio has been overwhelmingly caused by the sharp rise in personal borrowing, since savings are measured net of borrowing.

But it is important--this is not always fully understood--to set this in its proper perspective. The United Kingdom's overall national savings ratio has remained virtually unchanged throughout the 1980s, with the sharp fall in personal savings offset by a sharp rise in company savings as profitability has been transformed, coupled with the improvement in the public finances from deficit to surplus. Even so, the strength of the recent investment boom has meant that total domestic investment exceeds total domestic savings, and the gap has therefore had to be financed from overseas. As a result, we have moved into sizeable current account deficit, with a surge in imports of capital goods and other materials for industry, superimposed on a slightly less rapid, but still considerable, growth in consumer goods imports.

But as savings rise in response to higher interest rates, particularly with the collapse of the housing boom, and as the growth of spending slows down from last year's peak, the current account deficit will narrow, although this process is bound to take time.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : Savings may well rise as a result of high interest rates. Nevertheless, without prejudging his Budget, is the Chancellor prepared to use tax allowances and the tax system to stimulate personal savings, which are seriously low?

Mr. Lawson : Of course I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but he will not expect me to make any comments in advance of the Budget.

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Two things are vital to the long-term success of an economy. One is a foundation of sound finance, and that is why, as I have explained, we are determined to take whatever action is necessary to deal with inflation. But what is equally important for economic growth, and hence for the prospects for jobs and for living standards, is the supply side of the economy--productivity, investment, and profits--and the transformation in the supply side of the British economy has been dramatic.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : Before my right hon. Friend refers to the supply side of the economy, in respect of which he will have a good tale to tell, I agree fully with his view that fiscal policy should be medium-term and kept right away from the short-term aim of squeezing out inflation. In addition to high interest rates, what other instruments on the monetary policy side are necessary to control monetary aggregates? Other countries seem to have other weapons at their disposal. Sometimes, the impression that we are relying totally on interest rates and nothing else at all in monetary policy may be misleading.

Mr. Lawson : I think that, if my right hon. Friend, who has made a great study of many of the aspects of this, were to look at what other countries do, he would see that, whereas in the past some other countries have relied on direct credit controls of one kind or another, in every single case they have been abandoned. Look at the case of the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany--even France and Italy who now entirely rely on interest rates, and do not rely on direct credit controls, or anything else other than interest rates, in order to control their monetary policy, for the very good reason that, in a much more open world market and for the avoidance of distortions, that is really the only sensible way to proceed. As I said to my right hon. Friend, that is the practice of every other well -conducted economy nowadays.

Going back to the supply side, manufacturing productivity has grown far faster than in any other major nation in the 1980s, after growing slowest of all in the 1960s and the 1970s. Of course, the industrial relations scene is unrecognisable from the depths plumbed in the Labour Government's winter of discontent almost exactly 10 years ago. Profitability is at its highest levels for 20 years, and, partly as a result, Britain's investment performance has improved dramatically. One of the reasons why we grew more sluggishly than any other major European country in the 1960s and 1970s was because we fell behind in investment. Comparing the rates of growth of investment in the 12 European Community countries, in the 1960s, we came ninth out of 12. In the 1970s, we slipped further, to tenth. But in the 1980s we have shot right to the top--an achievement that bodes well--very well indeed--for the future.

Within the economy, there has been a marked shift in the balance of growth, thus between investment and consumption. In the five years between 1968 and 1973, consumption grew by about 3 per cent. a year, and investment by about 2 per cent. a year. Between 1973 and 1978, the next five-year period, and again between 1978 and 1983, the five-year period after that, in both of those periods consumption grew slowly, and investment actually fell. That was the record of the Labour Government. But since 1983--since 1983-- investment has grown at getting

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on for twice the rate of consumption, so that private sector investment now stands at 16 per cent. of GDP--the highest figure ever.

So much for what the Opposition like to call a short-lived consumer boom. What we have seen is a long-lived investment boom--and one which is set to continue, as the surveys from the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, and the Department of Trade and Industry all confirm.

The transformation--because that is what it is--of the supply side of the British economy has been the foundation for what is already the longest period of strong and steady growth, and the longest sustained fall in unemployment since the war ; and Britain's economic renaissance is set to go on, although growth this year will be slower than in the past two years, particularly so far as domestic demand is concerned.

Perhaps the best evidence of the transformation of the supply side is the way the economy has forged ahead through the coal strike, through the oil price collapse, and through the stock market crash. There will be further evidence in the way that we shall come through the present problems about which I was speaking earlier. In the past, each and every one of these incidents would have created a major crisis. Now, they are little more than changes of pace in the sustained upward march of the British economy.

Our economic prospects will inevitably, of course--I do not deny this-- depend to some extent on the wider world economy. The closer international co-operation which has been in place for well over three years now has, I am sure, been of great benefit in creating the right climate for healthy, non-inflationary growth, and particularly for investment. As the House will be aware, I was in Washington on Tuesday for an informal discussion with United States Treasury Secretary Brady, and I am sure that the new United States Administration will continue to play its full part in that process of international co-operation.

In this context, a low-profile meeting of the G7--the Finance Ministers and central bank governors of the seven major industrial nations--and of course the first involving the new United States Administration, may well take place within the next few weeks. I have set out in the Autumn Statement the prospects for 1989, and I have explained the policies which I intend to pursue to ensure that our economic success continues. But when he comes to reply, I hope that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) will have the honesty and the courage to set out his own party's policies as well. For in spite of all his very frequent speeches, letters to me and television appearances, the House, I have to say, is little clearer than it has ever been on what Labour's policy on the economy actually is.

We are still waiting to hear what they decided at their retreat into seclusion in a convalescent home at Rottingdean a few weeks ago. We are still waiting to hear the outcome from their much-vaunted policy review, which seems to have disappeared from sight. But I must be entirely fair. That great economist, whom I miss so much, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), has published his proposal to solve all Labour's problems. He recognises that it has already lost the next election. So, on the principle that if he

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cannot win, he is not playing, he proposes that we split the country up into ever smaller units, until we eventually find one where Labour might hope to find a majority.

So now we know what at least one section of the Labour party offers the country--what I might term the Yugoslav solution : total devolution and total ungovernability. It was only appropriate that the entire Yugoslav Government resigned, because they could not find a way out of their economic difficulties, on the very day that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook produced his idea.

But let me come back to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, who is with us, and ask him a straight question--in fact, two straight questions. [Laughter.] I shall ask him three, if he is not careful. First--I know that he does not want to listen but I want to ask him this straight question first--can he bring the House up to date on what Labour's tax policy actually is this week, and in particular what Labour's basic rate of tax would be? I realise that the hon. Gentleman may find this is a tiresome question but I have to say that it is of some interest to the House, and may be of some interest to the country too.

I shall remind the hon. Gentleman that Labour voted against the cut in the basic rate from 29 per cent. to 27 per cent. in 1987, and also against the cut from 27 per cent. to 25 per cent. in 1988. Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) rose --

Mr. Lawson : Yet, when he was pressed on the subject by Mr. Brian Walden a few days ago, the Leader of the Opposition said that, for the 95 per cent. of taxpayers who pay at the basic rate--and I quote from the transcript--

"the possibility of increasing their income tax is very, very remote".

However, I have to say that, when Mr. Walden then kindly offered to change the subject, the right hon. Gentleman exclaimed, "Thank God!"

Mr. Kinnock : Is that in the transcript?

Mr. Lawson : Yes it is.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East will now confirm to the House, having heard what the leader of the Labour party said, that Labour now admits that it was wrong to vote against the cuts in the basic rate of income tax in 1987 and 1988.

Since we are debating the Autumn Statement and the Government's public expenditure plans, perhaps the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, who has, I understand, rejoiced under the title of shadow Chief Secretary for over a year now, can tell us--this is my second question--by how much Labour would increase public expenditure in the unlikely event of their returning to office.

The House will want to hear a clear, honest and straightforward answer to that question, because the only policies we have heard from Labour, throughout the 1980s so far, have been a repeat of the disastrous policies which laid this country low in the 1970s, and would do so again, as the British people so clearly recognise. By contrast, the Autumn Statement offers the prospect of a further year of healthy growth and strong investment with inflation resuming its downward trend and above all, an economy that has been fundamentally transformed for the better. I commend it to the House.

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