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Mr. Portillo : I am extremely surprised that the right hon. Gentleman believes that the ambitions to bring down rates of inflation and interest rates and to keep tight control of national debts and borrowing are to be regarded as in some way harmful policies. If we were to allow our borrowing to get out of control, it would mean that year by year more and more public spending would be pre-empted by debt interest payments, and less and less would be available for priority public spending programmes. I cannot believe that that is what the right hon. Gentleman seriously wants.
11. Mr. Hendry : To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the number of new car registrations in the latest period for which figures are available ; and what was the comparable figure for the same period last year.
Mr. Hendry : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that most encouraging reply. Is he aware that the SMMT expects car production to be up 12 per cent. next year, which is clear evidence of the recovery in the car industry? Does he agree with me that one major component of that recovery will be Toyota in Derbyshire, whose model the Toyota Carina--it might perhaps have been better named the Toyota Edwina, in view of the support received from that quarter--comes off the production line next Wednesday?
Mr. Lamont : My hon. Friend is absolutely right that foreign investment in the motor industry in this country is making an enormous contribution both to manufacturing output and to our exports. As my hon. Friend said, the SMMT is expecting a substantial rise in production, not just next year, when Nissan, Toyota and Honda come on stream-- [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen are quite wrong. Those companies are British companies just as much as any others. They have invested here and deserve to be regarded as British companies, just as those who came from the United States are regarded as British companies. Furthermore, I notice that DRI Europe, which does the forecasting for the SMMT, is forecasting that in the United Kingdom car output will rise from 1.4 million to 2.7 million in 1997. That is a tremendous contribution from foreign investment and ought to be widely welcomed by everyone in the House.
Mrs. Browning : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the warm welcome from the Confederation of British Industry to the autumn statement is welcomed by many businesses, particularly small businesses? In particular, will he encourage his right hon Friend the Chancellor, in considering measures for the Budget, to look at the tax treatment of capital allowances so that small businesses can, under a favourable taxation policy, carry forward profits for capital purchases from one tax year to the next?
Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend was certainly right to draw attention to the breadth of support that there was for the autumn statement : it came from the CBI, the Institute of Directors and a very large number of different business leaders. I believe that one of the reasons why it was so welcomed was that the Government were responsive to ideas that had been put to them by British business. My hon. Friend seeks to take the debate on further by putting forward new proposals that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor might wish to consider in his Budget. I cannot at this stage pre -empt what may be in that Budget, but I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Hain : Why did the Chief Secretary not report the statement of the Engineering Employers Federation, which said that the Government's policies were not only economically incompetent but industrially illiterate as well?
Mr. Portillo : Why, in turn, did the hon. Gentleman not refer to the CBI, the chairman of Grand Met, the British Retail Consortium, the Institute of Directors, Williams Holdings, GKN, Wimpey, the National Association of Estate Agents, the Halifax, the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the chief executive of the SMMT, the Rover group, Vauxhall, the chief executive of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, or any of the others?
Mr. Brandreth : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Chester the chamber of commerce has warmly welcomed the broad range of measures introduced in the autumn statement, warmly welcomes the fact that we now have the lowest interest rates in the European Community and believes that the only missing ingredient is confidence, which in Chester is now beginning to return?
Mr. Portillo : I have been very pleased by some of the news from the north-west. General Motors and Vauxhall have invested £190 million in a new V6 engine plant at Ellesmere Port, and AMCOR in my hon. Friend's constituency of Chester has invested £25 million to build a new corrugated box manufacturing plant. I am sure that that is good news for my hon. Friend and for all his constituents.
Mr. Mandelson : Would not growth in the north-west and the rest of the country be greatly assisted by greater financing of capital projects? Has not the president of the European Investment Bank said that if the bank were
Column 992asked, it would increase and speed up the financing of capital projects throughout this country and Europe? Why have the British during their presidency not asked the bank to do so?
Mr. Portillo : First, I believe that one of the reasons why such a broad welcome was given to the measures contained in the autumn statement was that it offered so much protection for capital projects. Individual projects that we have announced, such as proceeding with the Jubilee line, are of tremendous symbolic significance and very helpful. As for the European Investment Bank, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have some proposals regarding the bank which he will wish to put to the European Community at the Council meeting in Edinburgh.
This morning my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister presided at a meeting of the Cabinet before departing to Edinburgh for the European Council meeting.
Mr. Hinchliffe : Does the Leader of the House agree that the extent of marriage breakdown in Britain, and especially its implications for the children involved, is a matter of great concern to the nation as a whole? Will he press on the Prime Minister the need properly to fund the conciliation and counselling services undertaken by organisations such as Relate and the National Children's Home? Does he recognise the direct connection between the Government's policies and the current incidence of marriage breakdown?
Mr. Newton : As it happens, I know well from my own previous and, indeed, present association with Relate that a great deal is going on between the Government and that organisation and others to help in this very important matter. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's question as an expression of his support for our encouragement of those organisations.
Conservative-controlled? Will he also suggest to the Prime Minister that he might choose to visit Monklands, the constituency of a member of the Opposition, where he will find a local authority riddled with nepotism?
Mr. Newton : I think perhaps the proper response to that question is that it is to be hoped that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who is also holding a meeting in Edinburgh, might pay a visit to Monklands and look into it himself.
Mrs. Beckett : The position that the Lord President describes is certainly that which should exist, but I do not think that anyone else will think that it is the position which does exist. Does he recognise that a two-tier Europe with Britain in the second tier is just what British business has long feared, and that if that happens, it is not only likely to be extremely damaging but will be in no small part due to the incompetence of the Government's economic policy and their chaotic mismanagement of the British presidency?
Mr. Newton : I do not quite know on what basis the hon. Lady puts her point that nobody agrees with us. The whole of British industry knows that Labour policies in relation to the social chapter, tax policies and payroll tax would mean that Britain would be in the slow lane throughout the world.
Mr. Gallie : Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday 9,000 Rangers fans travelled to Germany at a cost of £300 per head to witness Rangers' magnificent win over Moscow? Does he agree that on that basis there is light at the end of the recessionary tunnel?
Mr. Ashdown : Will the Leader of the House respond to the question of which I gave him notice yesterday so that he might have a chance to discuss the answer with the Prime Minister? In view of the deteriorating situation in the area, will he give us a categorical assurance that the Government, working with others, are not prepared to allow the city of Sarajevo to fall to the aggression of the Bosnian Serbs?
Mr. Newton : I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Yeovil for his courtesy. I can tell him that the British Government see no justification whatever for continued Serb aggression in Sarajevo or anywhere else in Bosnia. Clearly, the western powers to which he referred could give the sort of undertaking that he seeks only by introducing a massive injection of foreign military power. The Government have made it clear on a number of occasions that they do not believe that such an intervention would contribute to a solution of the crisis. The right hon. Gentleman will know, however, that after the steering committee meeting of the conference on Yugoslavia here in London there will be a meeting in Geneva next week when the main item on the agenda will be the war in Bosnia.
Miss Emma Nicholson : Will the Lord President lead the House in condemning the religious violence which has now spread worldwide? Will he also agree that the International Moslem Foundation, a moderate organisation, and the Al Khoei and Ul-Bayt based in the United Kingdom, are just as horrified as we are by the violence and are solid and sincere members of the United Kingdom?
I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave a moment ago.
Mr. Banks : I say this with no disrespect to the Leader of the House, but this is like getting 24 points on the football pools and finding that the first dividend is only 50 pence. Does the right hon. Gentleman have any regrets about the fact that the Conservative party sent two experts from its dirty tricks department to help President Bush, that the Foreign Secretary sent a telegram to James Baker saying "happy shooting just before the election, and that some idiot authorised a search of Bill Clinton's files? Is it any wonder that in Arkansas the Prime Minister is regarded not so much as an FOB as an SOB?
Mr. Newton : If the hon. Member for Newham, North-West were to win as much as 50 pence on the pools, he would be doing better than I did in the days when I did them. On his question, he may like to know that there have been some very friendly exchanges between President-elect Clinton and the British ambassador only yesterday evening, and that President-elect Clinton has made it clear that he looks forward very much to meeting my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister after the inauguration.
Mr. Luff : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, among the many issues facing the Edinburgh summit, the Government attach the highest possible priority to the future financing of the Community, and especially to securing Britain's abatement?
Mr. Newton : I assure my hon. Friend that that is precisely the case. Future financing, enlargement and finding a solution to the Danish problem are important key items on that difficult agenda. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will certainly make it clear that Britain has no intention of compromising on the abatement.
I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Kilfoyle : As we approach Christmas, may I draw the Lord President's attention to the publication today of "Sick to Death of Homelessness" by the housing charity, Crisis, and to the "This Week" television programme this evening entitled "Dying for a Home"? One of the conclusions drawn is that of the 617 deaths of homeless people up to 31 August this year, 65 per cent. were preventable, given proper housing and good medical care. Is that not a terrible indictment of the callous disregard with which the Government treat those least able to help themselves?
Column 995year, the number of households accepted as homeless has fallen, the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation has fallen by nearly a quarter, and the number of people known to be sleeping rough on the streets of London has dropped by about 60 per cent. according to an assessment made by the voluntary organisations themselves.
Mr. Hargreaves : Notwithstanding the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) about our intervention in Sarajevo, will he consult the Prime Minister to ensure that an undertaking is given to come to the House and provide a debate before any British troops are used for anything other than strictly humanitarian aid purposes?
I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave some moments ago.
Ms. Jackson : Is the Lord President aware that more than 7,000 homeless families will spend Christmas in bed-and-breakfast accommodation without the means or resources to prepare the simplest of meals? In the light of the growing body of evidence of the ill health and malnutrition suffered especially by the children of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, does not the right hon. Gentleman think it time for a boarder premium to be paid to such families so that while they wait for the right to a home at least their children have the right to a decent diet? Or is he prepared to allow the increasing poverty and homelessness on our streets to be accompanied by scurvy and rickets?
Mr. Newton : I have already commented on the general question of homelessness. The hon. Lady will know that, in addition to what I have already said, it has recently been announced that the Government are to put a further sum of nearly £90 million over three years into the rough sleepers initiative to tackle some of the problems which worry her. She will also be aware that, as a result of the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security a few weeks ago, there will be a real increase in the value of income-related social security benefits next April.
Column 996I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Clappison : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in view of the great interest that parents have recently expressed in information about their children's examination performance--information which they have every right to have and which the Government have allowed them to have, but which the Opposition would deny them--parents would feel huge disappointment if some teacher unions boycotted their children's tests?
Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. A boycott of the tests would betray the pupils who have been working hard at the national curriculum and who deserve to have their achievements recognised. Her Majesty's inspectors' reports on the trial tests have said that they were a great success. It is absolutely right to say that it is time that the Opposition stopped opposing everything that helps to improve the quality of education and choice for parents.
Mr. Boyce : Given the state of the economy, the homelessness and the poverty in this country today, does the Leader of the House agree that the worst possible scenario is that the Government know what they are doing?
Mr. Newton : When the hon. Gentleman makes such a point, he might remember that in the past two years the rate of inflation has been more than halved and interest rates have been more than halved. We see exports at record levels and we see increases in retail sales. In the past three months, we have seen a 20 per cent. increase in car production.
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Duncan : Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who try to criticise the basis on which houses have been valued for the purposes of the council tax risk severely misleading the public? Does he agree that it is relative house prices and not absolute house prices that matter? Does he agree that we have devised a fair basis for the fair implementation of a very fair tax?
Mr. Newton : I of course agree with my hon. Friend that the purpose of the valuations is a comparison between relative property values. I agree even more with him that a system that takes relative values into account-- alongside other factors, including rebates--will be far fairer than the discredited rating system to which the Labour party wishes to return.
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