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Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend makes his own point, but I am not concerned with what happened in the past. I am concerned with the present Session of Parliament and the Bills that have to go through. Each timetable motion that I introduce can be justified on its own merits in the circumstances of the time, and this one is no exception.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the textile industry? There is great apprehension about the negotiations on the multi-fibre arrangement, which is vital to the future of the textile industry, particularly in Bradford which has lost a number of jobs, particularly over the past 10 years? In addition, water privatisation concerns not only workers and pensioners who are worried about increased prices, but employers in the textile industry who have expressed strong opposition to the Government's proposals. Therefore, a debate is even more urgent.
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise that the multi-fibre arrangement is important, but I cannot promise an early debate on the matter. However, I note that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is answering questions on Wednesday and if the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he may care to press him then. I treat with some scepticism the hon. Gentleman's remarks about privatisation and employers because nothing in our water privatisation proposals justifies increases in prices.
Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern over the mounting evidence of abuse of the contracting-out system for the political levy and the continued existence of closed shops in Britain? Will he give the House an opportunity to debate those important issues and to bring forward examples of those abuses so that changes can be made in the Employment Bill before it leaves the House?
Mr. Wakeham : The Government are well advanced with their review of the operation of the pre-entry closed shop. The December White Paper entitled "Employment for the 1990s" made it clear that the pre-entry closed shop was a barrier to employment. The Government will also be considering many other areas of industrial relations and trade union reform.
[That this House condemns the decision of the South African courts to jail for six years 18 year old Charles Bester following his conscientious objection to serving in the South African armed forces ; notes his statement in court after hearing his sentence, you shall know that truth and the truth shall set you free' ; and calls upon the South African government to immediately release Mr. Bester.] He is an 18-year-old Anglican who has been jailed for six years in South Africa for refusing to join the South African defence force. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, considering that 87 hon. Members from all parties have signed that motion and that 55,000 people from churches all over Britain have signed petitions calling for his release,
Column 1140the Foreign Secretary should give further consideration to placing pressure on the South African Government for Mr. Bester's early release?
Mr. Wakeham : The Government reject the early-day motion to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Such decisions are a matter for the individual concerned. However, we understand why some South Africans choose to refuse to do military service and respect the sincerity of their views.
Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are those among us who supported the Official Secrets Bill on the ground that much of it is desirable but who find it impossible to accept the guillotine motion on a measure which has attracted its most intelligent criticism from Conservative Members?
Mr. Wakeham : The judgment about a timetable motion should be whether the time allowed is adequate for proper and balanced discussion. My motion stands up to that test and that is why I hope that my hon. Friend will support it.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 398 calling for the resignations of the Secretary of State for the Environment and of the Minister for Water and Planning?
[That this House deplores the announcement by the Water Companies Association that up to a quarter of all households face increases in their water bills this year of between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. as a direct result of water privatisation proposals ; demands a full and proper explanation from Her Majesty's Government as to how such a situation could arise from a proposal which Ministers have said will be good for the consumer ; and calls for the immediate resignation of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Water and Planning.]
On the off chance that that advice is not taken, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment so that hon. Members may learn why up to one quarter of households face an increase of up to 50 per cent. in water charges as a direct result of a measure which the Secretary of State told the House and the country would be good for the consumer? Will he accept from me that it is not good enough to say that the matter can be dealt with in Committee as hon. Members on both sides of the House want to discuss it, particularly those hon. Members from the north-east of England, where up to 1.5 million households will be affected?
Mr. Wakeham : I can deal with it straight away. I entirely reject the allegations made by the hon. Gentleman. He was talking complete nonsense, and the matter does not bear close examination. Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Could I reinforce the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), because anything that can be done to prevent our right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) from developing hypocritical tendencies will be helpful to his place in the history books?
Mr. Wakeham : I have quite enough to do to organise the business of the House and to keep it running smoothly. I have announced a timetable motion for the Official Secrets Bill next Monday, and I shall be happy when that debate is over.
Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith) : Since curried eggs have given the general public a good run for their money in more ways than one, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will ensure that the former Health Minister, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), pays into the public kitty--the Exchequer--the proceeds from her forthcoming book? We should remember the important principle that no Member of this House should benefit from public office. She will certainly benefit from that book.
Mr. Wakeham : I do not believe that that proposition stands up to any inspection at all. There are long-standing traditions and rules about the way in which we conduct ourselves in public affairs. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is at all helpful.
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : There has been speculation in the press today that the Government's programme to relocate Civil Service jobs in London is to be accelerated--up to nine tenths has been mentioned. The move to take jobs to the areas where people need jobs is most welcome. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that move, and can we expect an early debate?
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Will the Leader of the House find time next week or in the near future to debate the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the need to extend it to give anonymity to people in employment who have spent convictions and have served a prison sentence? Will he also take time to read early-day motion 403?
[That this House questions the judgement of the North London Polytechnic governors in permitting the employment to take place of an Irishman connected with terrorism and who was convicted and imprisoned for offences related to explosives and is concerned that this person is in a position to influence young people at taxpayers' expense.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr. Cryer) has tabled an amendment :
[Line 1, leave out from judgement', and insert and justice of those honourable Members who seek to vilify viciously and hound an employee of the polytechnic of North London who has served a punishment for a crime and has then sought and sustained work in the community ; and regards with abhorrence those who seek to force such people into perpetual unemployment and isolation merely in order to obtain political capital from a media which shares their own questionable values.'.]
Does he not think that the actions of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) in publicly naming and condemning someone who has a spent conviction and is working legally and properly in my constituency is a disgrace? The right hon. Gentleman should not have done so. The spirit of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act should mean that there is anonymity, so that people can get on with the rest of their lives, having served their sentences.
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman's concern for individuals is a bit one-sided. If I had heard from him some appreciation of the understandable anger at the way my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)
Column 1142was treated when he visited the polytechnic of North London, I would have considered his comments to be of more value. The polytechnic is an independent institution which is responsible for the employment of its own staff.
Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : Has my right hon. Friend noted on the Order Paper today motions 39, 40 and 41, which in one form or another have appeared almost daily ad nauseam and, more to the point, at great public expense? Two of those motions seek to change the procedures of this House and the other seeks a massive increase in our allowances. Are there not more proper ways to pursue those sorts of issues? Is my right hon. Friend not amazed at the effrontery of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) who seeks to finance his administrative empire at the cost of nearly £100,000 per year? Is there no way in which this paperchase can be stopped?
Mr. Wakeham : I can understand my hon. Friend's anger, but the question of the right of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) to put matters on the Order Paper is not for me. I am sure that the rules of the House have been observed and the hon. Gentleman is entitled to do so. Whether he furthers his cause by repeating these motions on the Order Paper is, of course, a matter of judgment. I do not believe that it is a matter on which I should comment.
[That this House expresses its grave concern at the continuing existence of the National Dock Labour Scheme ; deplores its debilitating effects on the economies of the port areas, most of which are in inner city areas ; notes that the Scheme has presided over a decline in the number of registered dockers from 78,000 in 1947 to less than 9,500 today ; notes the Wharton Econometrics Forecasting Associates Group study that 45,000 extra jobs would have been created in the ports but for the Scheme ; observes the need to clear these restrictive practices well before 1992 ; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to make the necessary arrangements to abolish the Scheme and set our ports free.]
It already has the support of 129 hon. Members and it expresses growing concern about the continued inactivity of the Government. Does he recognise that this motion represents the frustration of many hon. Members who represent port constituencies at the continuing collapse of our wharfs and port companies, notably in Grimsby and Aberdeen recently? Does he recognise also that we are missing many opportunities brought about by the advent of 1992 for distribution centres on behalf of major companies from abroad, which are now going to the continent due to the adverse effects of the dock scheme in our own British ports?
Mr. Wakeham : The Government understand the strong feelings of many hon. Members about the dock labour scheme. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I have nothing further to add to the statements which have been made previously.
Column 1143Opposition Supply days we debated the north/south divide? In view of the dramatic improvement in the north-east and the economic recovery of that region--which was led by the example of the Chancellor's activities--does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the Opposition refuse to debate this subject publicly and to give it an airing during Opposition time, the Government should find time to beat their own drum about the excellent way in which the north-east of England has recovered?
Mr. Wakeham : I agree with my hon. Friend. The way in which the subjects for Opposition Supply days have changed over recent months is significant. I believe that the Opposition, too, recognise the great improvement that there has been in the economic fortunes of all parts of the country. I wish I could find time for a debate on the north-east in Government time, but at this time of year there is a substantial legislative programme to get through, and I fear that I must concentrate on that, tempting as my hon. Friend's request is.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : My right hon. Friend will no doubt appreciate the importance of the Channel tunnel to many parts of the country, especially the English regions and Scotland and Wales. Will he consider giving time for a debate in the House on the connections between the regions and the tunnel? No doubt my right hon. Friend appreciates that British Rail is considering its plan, and it could probably benefit from listening to the views of many hon. Members who represent those regions and who could help it to plan for the future.
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the fact that British Rail would certainly profit from listening to the views of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. I wish that I could find time for a debate in the near future, but I fear that it will be difficult.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : In the light of the sustained criticism from both sides of the House of the proposed guillotine on the Official Secrets Bill, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are playing into the hands of those who want a written constitution? Does he agree that, where a Government have a vast majority and propose to reject government by consensus, that should be balanced by the Government being especially respectful of the rights of the House of
Column 1144Commons? Would it not be better to risk wasting parliamentary time than to have the Government appearing heavy- handed?
Mr. Wakeham : I agree with most of my hon. Friend's propositions, but, having weighed those propositions, I have concluded that it is now the right time to introduce a guillotine motion on the Official Secrets Bill.
Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : May I provide an antidote to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), the hon. Friend of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on previous Labour Governments which guillotined authentic constitutional Bills, such as the one on devolution, and, in his rack and thumbscrew phase, our right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who guillotined the most serious constitutional measure that this House has seen this century--the European Community Bill? Can I ask my right hon. Friend to get on with liberalising the law on official secrets as soon as possible because, by some miracle, a future Labour Government may come into being and carry out their policy of instituting more prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act than any other party?
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend is right. Whether or not a guillotine should be used--as I believe the bishop once said on another occasion--is "a matter of principle that has been settled". We are just haggling about whether this is the right time or not. I noted an interesting comment by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), to whose utterings and sayings I always look before moving a guillotine motion. He said :
"it is constitutional Bills for which guillotines are most required. the House should not give the impression to anybody that there is something extraordinary, improper or contrary to our traditions in the application of timetable motions to constitutional Bills."--[ Official Report, 16 November 1977 ; Vol. 939, c. 585.] I bow to the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge.
Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe presented a Bill to establish a compulsory code of practice for funeral industry directors : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 10 March and to be printed. [Bill 69.]
[Relevant document : First Report of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee on the Autumn Statement 1988, House of Commons Paper No. 89 of Session 1988-89.]
Mr. Speaker : We now come to the debate on public expenditure. Before I call the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
That this House takes note of the White Paper on the Government's Expenditure Plans for 1989-90 to 1991-92 (Cm. 601-609, 611-619 and 621).
Perhaps I may be permitted to say at the outset that I am sure that hon. Members will be extremely pleased to see the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) in his place for this debate. We warmly welcome him and look forward to hearing his remarks.
This is the tenth year in which the Government have published a public expenditure White Paper. In those 10 years, the advance in our economic prospects has been mirrored by great improvements in the management of public expenditure. At the same time, the format, coverage and content of the White Paper have improved beyond recognition.
My right hon. Friend's Autumn Statement revealed that we now have the strongest fiscal position of any major nation. That is due in no small measure to the policy of firm control over public expenditure that we have followed consistently for several years. That policy has played an important part in the revival of our economic prospects and in the growing strength of our economic performance.
I have no doubt whatsoever that firm expenditure control is necessary. It is the right policy for the economy, and it is the right policy for the taxpayer, too.
Public spending has a central role to play in the provision of services that we all care about. But it differs from private spending in one important respect. It involves spending money, compulsorily extracted from the taxpayer, and then spent on his or her behalf by the Government on priorities that the Government determine and that, by and large, the taxpayer must accept. I believe this means, therefore, that the Government have two clear responsibilities. First, spending other people's money must be justified on merit. That means that it must meet a social or economic goal effectively and efficiently. Secondly, total spending must be no more than the taxpayer can bear.
Our policy is controlled growth of public spending--growth that we know we and the taxpayer can afford. The practical effect of being prudent is that, in the long run, we do more for services. Within the parameters that I have set, public spending has an essential role to play ; beyond them, it can be an unsustainable drain on the nation's resources, as the Opposition proved between 1974 and 1979, when borrowing reached over £110 billion in today's terms, and inflation soared. The House will recall that public expenditure then had to be savagely and swiftly slashed--most notably, capital spending. We are determined that will not happen again. Firm control of the total level of public expenditure and the right choice of public spending priorities are absolute prerequisites of proper economic management. That has
Column 1146proved to be true in the past, and it will remain true in the future. There should be no expectation in any part of the House or beyond that a fiscal surplus will encourage additional expenditure that cannot be justified and cannot be sustained.
This year, we have made two important changes to the White Paper. First, we brought forward much of the material on the public expenditure totals to the Autumn Statement in November. The House has already debated that statement and considered the Government's overall policies for public expenditure. The White Paper now before us focuses on the detailed composition of our spending plans. The second change is that we have split the White Paper into separate volumes for each Department. This makes it much more accessible and easier to use. For example, from now on, someone interested in the cost of Scottish roads needs to buy only the Scottish volume. Departmental Select Committees will find this approach much more convenient. [Interruption.] It is an attractive colour, as Opposition Members may have noticed. There is none of that nasty red.
It also moves towards the creation of separate departmental reports which, from 1991, will be published with each Department's main Estimate. This will improve clarity and assist the House in its scrutiny of departmental programmes and Estimates.
These changes reflect helpful recommendations, for which I am most grateful, from the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, and from the Committee of Public Accounts. I am sure they will be welcomed by everyone who uses the document.
I am grateful also to the TCSC for recognising the vast improvements in recent years in both the quality and quantity of the information provided in the White Paper. It has expanded dramatically from a single slim volume in 1979 to 19 volumes in the present year, although the House will be relieved to know that expenditure itself has not grown at the same rate. Nor is it a dry document. It is a detailed and comprehensive account of our stewardship of public expenditure. It provides more and better information than ever before both on how we spend the nation's money and the value that the public get from that expenditure-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members may not think that the value that we get is important, but we do. That may be one of the distinctions between us.
The wealth of material in the White Paper reveals beyond any doubt that we pay the same close attention to the detail of expenditure as we do to the overall totals. But it is the substance of the White Paper, rather than its presentation, that is important. [Interruption.] As bedside reading, I would much rather read these White Papers than the notes from the IMF that the Labour Government used to get. This White Paper illustrates deep changes in the level of public expenditure and its distribution to priority services. In the decade to 1978-79, the average real growth in public expenditure was nearly 3 per cent. In the decade since 1978-79, we have halved that growth so that it is now comfortably within the growth of the economy. The growth in the ratio of public spending to national income, which had been rising since the mid-1950s, has been halted and reversed. The past seven years have seen the largest and most sustained fall in the ratio since the unwinding of the wartime economy. It is now at its lowest level for over
Column 114720 years, and it is set to fall still further. We are now living within our means and not beyond them, and we propose to keep it that way.
Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : Talking of living within our means, will my right hon. Friend confirm that of the £170 billion national debt today, the equivalent of £110 billion was incurred by the Labour Government from 1974 to 1979? If we did not have to pay the interest burden on that debt, we could spend much more on other programmes or carry on with tax reductions.
We want, and now have, fiscal prudence and lower taxes. We have it because of stable planning, value for money and sound finance. This firm control means that we need no panic cuts of the sort we saw under the Labour Government in the 1970s, which damaged so many services.
The most notable programme to beneft from the firm public expenditure control that we now have is the National Health Service, which we made a top priority in the last survey. I shall ask a question of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East. Is he content with the resources that we have made available to the National Health Service, compared with previous plans? There has been an unprecedented increase of £2 billion next year and £2.5 billion the year after. I remind him that those record sums are more than what he said were necessary at this time last year. At his pre-Budget press conference, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said : "We believe the minimum extra provision which should be made in the Budget is £2 billion."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman had his answer in the Autumn Statement, and it exceeded his demands.
Real resources for health care have been increased by over 37 per cent. since 1978-79. As a result, in England alone, there are now 77, 000 more hospital doctors, nurses, and other staff directly caring for patients than there were in 1978. They are better paid and better equipped.
But that increase in resources, massive though it is, is only part of the story, for better value for money is important too. And the number of patients treated has increased faster even than the level of resources. The National Health Service in England is now treating 1.25 million more in- patients, 2.6 million more out-patients and 440, 000 more day cases than in 1978. The number of coronary artery bypass grafts has quadrupled, cataract operations have more than doubled and bone marrow transplants have increased 15 times. Better performance by the National Health Service has meant better health for the nation. What a shame that the Opposition so frequently run it down by saying that it is under-resourced and unable to cope.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : If that is true, how is it that I was told last week by the Brompton national heart hospital that the number of coronary bypass operations rose by 100 per year, from 600 to 1,200, over the six years up to 1984 and then stuck at that level, because it simply did not have the resources to increase it further although the demand was there, and that this year it is going down by 100? That is very far from the picture the right hon. Gentleman has given me of what is happening in the National Health Service.
Mr. Major : I have given the picture of what is happening in the National Health Service across the whole of the country. It is not a question of whether those figures are right ; those figures are right, and that is what is happening in the NHS. I will tell the hon. Gentleman what else is happening, for it is relevant, and even he, I suspect, will welcome it. In all age groups the mortality rate fell between 1979 and 1987, partly, of course, as a result of the growing excellence of the National Health Service. For children under one and aged from five to nine, death rates have fallen by about one third. That is a staggering improvement that everyone will welcome--everyone, it seems, except perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). The proposals that we announced last week will produce a still better, more responsive and more efficient Health Service. Let me make it absolutely clear that we are not privatising the National Health Service as the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)--who I am sorry to see is not here--absurdly suggested. His leak on that matter was as inaccurate as his leak on the level of community charge reimbursement some months ago. I say to the hon. Gentleman "Better luck next leak". He has been wrong on each occasion so far. We are modernising the National Health Service, making it more efficient and better resourced. Perhaps the Opposition had better do the same for the hon. Member for Livingston, for his leaks are deeply inaccurate and, as he is the same age as the NHS, I suspect that he is just as much in need of reform as it is.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Just as the Chief Secretary seems to be wrong about heart operations at the Brompton hospital, so he is wrong about the National Health Service being safe in the Prime Minister's hands. Is he aware that the Bradford royal infirmary, according to yesterday's Telegraph and Argus , is to have a new private clinic within the hospital, and that the general manager for Bradford has already announced that the three biggest hospitals in the Bradford health district are going to opt out of the National Health Service? He seems to be wrong about Brompton ; he is definitely wrong about Bradford.
Mr. Major : The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both counts. If there is a private wing to be added to provide a better health service for the community, I am delighted. Those hospitals are not going to opt out of the National Health Service ; they remain within the NHS but with proper local community management as NHS trust hospitals. The trouble is that the hon. Gentleman lives in the blinkered world of the 1940s and has not noticed that it has moved on.
One further area of priority that I know is of interest to Members of the Opposition is capital expenditure.
Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East) : Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the Health Service and the plans to reorganise it announced recently, can he tell us, since he must have been consulted about this, what will be the cost to the taxpayer of subsidising private health care for pensioners?
Mr. Major : It will entirely depend upon the take-up at some future stage, but the net saving to the National Health Service as a whole brought about by the fact that people will be able to exercise choice--which I appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not like--may be substantial.
Mr. John Smith : I take it from the Chief Secretary's reply that he cannot give an answer to my question--what is the cost of the subsidy? Am I to understand that this was agreed without understanding the public expenditure consequences of the decision?
Mr. Major : I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the sum is modest and that in due course it will be available to him. Something else will be available to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a few moments : that is, information on public expenditure to correct some misinformation which the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) gave some time ago.
As the White Paper shows, we have increased provision for next year by a massive £2.75 billion, bringing total public sector capital spending to a record £27 billion. Within that sum is substantial extra investment in roads and public transport. An extra £220 million is being provided next year for motorways and trunk roads in England, with a further £250 million in 1990-91. There is, in addition, substantial extra investment in London transport, including improved safety standards and refurbishing the Central line.
The Opposition are often critical of our record on capital spending, though I am bound to say that they are the last people in the world with any right to be so. For example, in the 10 years since 1979, real spending on motorways and trunk roads in England has gone up by 30 per cent. ; it fell by 40 per cent. under Labour. Our plans provide for a further 20 per cent. increase by 1991. The record is the same for capital spending in the National Health Service : up by 30 per cent. in England, in real terms, since 1979 ; down by over 30 per cent. under the last Labour Government. Prison spending fell by 60 per cent. under Labour ; it has increased by over 200 per cent., to provide modern and necessary prison facilities, under the present Government. And so on. The record of successive White Papers speaks for itself. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks for the Opposition perhaps he will acknolwedge that record and not misinterpret it.
Last month my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East by how much he would increase public expenditure. We still await an answer from the hon. Gentleman, and I look forward to it. Nor am I optimistic that we shall get one today because the hon. Gentleman plainly has no idea what his public expenditure costs would be. He is into promises but not into costing them. Let me help him with some of the more recent promises that I have seen-- [Interruption.] It is a clear indication that the Opposition do not like it when they will not listen, but, whether they like it or not, they are going to get it.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition came back recently from his trip to Botswana--I hope without the difficulty that he has had on other occasions--with a pledge to increase aid spending by £1.9 billion. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) is reported--I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell me whether this is accurate--to have pledged a further modest £4,000 million boost for research and development. Health charges, we are told, would be abolished, depriving the NHS of half a billion pounds in revenue. How would it help Bradford if that sum disappeared from the Health Service?
Column 1150But that is just a dipstick sample of the Opposition's spending promises. I understand very well why the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East, who is a wise politician on occasion, said on 22 January :
"I will be keeping a careful eye on commitments."
He knew his colleagues only too well. After the last few weeks he will keep a fairly careful eye on the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East as well, if I am any judge.
In the meantime, in a spirit of helpful inquiry, perhaps I can add another question on capital spending as this is an important issue to hon. Members on both sides of the House. The question is simple and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East and his hon. Friends will undoubtedly wish to respond to it. Which would the Opposition prefer, this Government's record on investment or that of their predecessor, the Labour Government?
Before Opposition Members answer, perhaps I can help them out a little-- [Interruption.] I will come to statistics in a moment. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East complained last month that general Government investment was falling. I thought that that was a fishy claim so I investigated it. It is a very fishy claim. I push aside the fact that general Government investment is a very selective measure because it excludes much of public sector capital. However, even on the selective measure which the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East chose, he made his claim on the basis of a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the figures. His figures were not the figures for total gross investment. His were net figures, net of receipts. Effectively, they were net of council house sales.-- [Interruption.] Obviously the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East does not understand what he said, or he would not be chortling now. By being net of receipts, the hon. Gentleman's figures effectively excluded the new investment made possible by those receipts.
By that logic, if I sell my house and use the proceeds to build a new one, my contribution to investment is zero even though there is another home and another home owner. That is why the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East are fishy. Last month I said that the hon. Gentleman was a purveyor of more dodgy material than Arthur Daley. I am now bound to say that I realise how unfair I was to Arthur Daley, now that I have had a chance to examine the figures.
If the hon. Gentleman had got his figures right, he would have realised that general Government investment is now 10 per cent. higher. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East should listen and then he might not make the same mistake as his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not like it, but he should listen.
If the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East had got his figures right, he would have realised that general Government investment was nearly 10 per cent. higher in real terms in 1987 than in 1979 and was not falling. The indications are that 1988 will show a further increase, not a reduction.
By contrast, between 1973 and 1978, Government investment fell by more than 30 per cent. In that period the Government's investment figures fell by that percentage on either basis, gross or net, because council house sales were not permitted by the Labour Government and so the availability of receipts to add to spending did not arise.
Column 1151When the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East has finished giggling with his hon. Friends, I hope that he will acknowledge that his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East wittingly or unwittingly misled the House. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will spare us lectures based on the wrong figures and answer my straight question. Whose investment record does he prefer, ours with more investment or the previous Labour Government's with declining investment? The country knows very well which is the better. [Interruption.] I can see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to answer and I know why. He has no answer to that question.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman prefer the efficient and effective public services that exist now to the impoverished services which we inherited? We look forward to his reply because we could not get an answer to that from his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East last month.
Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield) : Is not the Treasury's presentation of the figures partly responsible for the misunderstanding under which the Opposition seem to be labouring? Why does the Treasury persist in deducting the proceeds of the sales of privatisations and council houses from capital spending? Would it not be better to show the gross capital spending and the proceeds separately?
Mr. Major : If my hon. Friend was to consider chapter 21 of the White Paper--I know that he is an accountant and I hope that that is not a disadvantage for him--he will see that the figures are perfectly clear for anyone who chooses to read them.
The figures produced by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East for investment also neglect investment by public corporations. Perhaps he believes that investment in water or railways is unimportant. The Government do not, as the White Paper shows-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East believes that to be so, perhaps for the first time in his life he will listen to me.
How much higher does the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East think that British Rail's investment in railways will be in 1991 in comparison with investment in 1978-79? He does not know. Will it be 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 or 50 per cent.? What does he think? Investment in railways is set to be more than 75 per cent. higher in real terms by 1991. That is the biggest renewal programme in rail since the switch from steam to diesel. It will be 75 per cent. higher than at the end of the last Labour Government's period of office. That is a "cut" which most people would like to see.
As the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East referred to cuts, between 1973-74 and 1978-879 investment in railways hardly increased at all in real terms. That is the record which the hon. Gentleman tries to forget. A similar story applies to water. The volume of investment is half as high again this year compared with 10 years ago. There is a £1 billion programme to improve sewage treatment work over the next four years. That must be compared with the chronic under-investment during the 1970s. Investment in water was cut by the Labour Government by 25 per cent. in the five years to 1979-80. That led to an outdated and overloaded sewerage system which we are now renovating.
The lesson is clear. A successful economy can invest, and we are. An unsuccessful one cannot and cuts