Previous Section Home Page

Madam Speaker : Order. When we have a statement, the whole idea is that Members can question the Minister.

Mr. Tracey : On the national lottery, my hon. Friend said that the present work will continue. Can he guarantee to the House that it will not lack staff to deal with the many applications that will undoubtedly be made for national lottery funds ? I hope that the Sports Council will be able to set an example to the various other organisations distributing national lottery funds, which will be considerable.

Mr. Sproat : I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. Yes, the lottery division of the present Great Britain Sports Council will proceed fairly seamlessly into the English Sports Council. There will be no difficulty.

Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : I welcome very much the setting up of the streamlined United Kingdom Sports Council. Can the Minister clarify whether there will be any more resources for school sports associations, which are keen to get sport going among our young people ? Why does he not think that the Minister should chair the new forum ? That is the only way in which we will get it to be really accountable to this Parliament.

Mr. Sproat : I thank the hon. Lady for her kind welcome, which I very much appreciate. Her first question is very important. I said that we would be asking governing bodies to make absolutely clear in their business plans what proposals they have for links between schools, other youth groups and sports clubs outside schools, but in the community. We may be saying rather more about that if and when we make an announcement about sport in schools.

On the hon. Lady's very kind suggestion that I should be chairman, which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) also mentioned, without undue modesty I can say that the fewer politicians and ministerial nominees, the better. I look to the new chairman to provide firm and strong leadership for British sport.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I welcome my hon. Friend's statement. Is he aware that I am the president and chairman of two school sporting bodies, and that I took five coaching certificates and coached in five sports in addition to academic teaching for 23 years ? I have a great interest in the field--all amateur, unpaid. Will more top sportsmen come from schools and clubs as a result of my hon. Friend's excellent work--the Brian Laras and Sebastian Coes of this world--and will it give a special opportunity for all children to enjoy and take part in sport ? Will he support the payment of teachers who

Column 590

coach, as well as putting money into clubs to coach children, as the Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts recommended two or three years ago ?

Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend's qualifications are extremely impressive--I did not know the depth of the detail--and I will undertake to add him to the list of people I consult on the details of this statement.

As for more sportsmen coming through schools, that is my aim and I believe that it will be helped by the statement. I will consider my hon. Friend's third question.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I do not have a CV and I do not want to interfere in the love relationship that the Opposition Front Bench and the Department of Heritage have entered into this week. How will the six independent members of the Sports Council be appointed and whom will they be independent from ?

Mr. Sproat : They will be appointed by the Government and be independent from the Government. They will also be independent of vested interests in sport. For example, the British Olympic Association will, quite rightly, have a member, and amateur non-Olympic sport will have another. By independent members, I mean people who are independent from those particular sections of the sporting community.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : My hon. Friend referred to ministerial appointees. Does he plan to use their talent in particular ways and perhaps to use it more than it has been used in the past ?

Mr. Sproat : That is a very interesting question. Yes, is the short answer. When I got this job, I was struck by the fact that I did not know what the ministerial nominees were supposed to be telling me, or what I was supposed to be telling them. When I went round the regions I was extremely impressed by their talents. As a minimum, first, I want to get five of them on to the English Sports Council, so that we have proper regional influence in that council at a national level and a two-way flow of information and experience. Secondly, I want to meet all the nominees in each region and also to meet all of them together at least once a year, so that we can have a two-way flow of advice.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Does the Minister see, as a result of the changes, more money going to the regions for the provision of sporting facilities and involvement in sport ? Does he see a role for the Sports Council in providing a replacement for Wembley stadium, which would provide this capital and the country with a national stadium worthy of the 21st century ?

Mr. Sproat : On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I certainly see more money going to grassroots sport in the regions. One of the troubles with the present Sports Council--terrific as it has been in so many ways--is that too much money has been spent on publications, pamphlets, conferences and seminars and too little has been going directly to sport. I want to change that and focus the money going to sport in the regions.

I have received representations about Wembley stadium. I will consider them and make an announcement on another occasion.

Column 591

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham) : Can my hon. Friend explain whether national lottery funds will be available, through the new United Kingdom Sports Council, for both the revenue side and the capital side of sports projects ?

Mr. Sproat : The money will be distributed not by the UK Sports Council, but by the English, Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish councils, but the UK Sports Council will obviously give expert advice on matters that have a United Kingdom-wide application.

On my hon. Friend's important point about capital and revenue, there will be an opportunity for revenue funding to come from lottery funds, as long as it is part of a capital project. There cannot be such funding from the lottery where no capital sum has originally gone into a project.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) : Last week, while you were enjoying the air at Wimbledon, Madam Speaker, I had to put up with the recorded version of that great event because I was at an athletics meeting in my constituency, where a very important question was raised which is appropriate to this statement. In my region, one of the concerns that have been expressed is that the previous body failed properly to evaluate the strategic needs within the regions and to identify areas where gaps in provision existed. Will the Minister confirm that part of the work of the new regional body will be to undertake that strategic review and fill in those gaps, wherever possible ?

Mr. Sproat : Yes. The hon. Member makes a very good point. Almost the main reason why I want ministerial nominees to continue, but to be attached to the sports council for the region, is exactly that--so that there is a direct flow of information up to the national body from the grassroots about what is needed there and back again, to ensure that national policy is practised in the regions. That is a very good point and I hope that I have met it by what I have proposed.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his moves to re-establish sport in schools ? It is certainly desirable that our children should be fitter, healthier and more competitive. Where will the headquarters of the new sports councils be located and where will the English Sports Council be located ? Will he consider moving it out of London ?

Mr. Sproat : I thank my hon. Friend for her comments on the importance of competitive team games in schools. The headquarters of both the United Kingdom and English councils will be in London--but in different buildings, so there will not be too cosy a relationship. My hon. Friend's interesting suggestion that the English Sports Council's headquarters might be moved out of London in future is certainly possible. I will look to the council to come forward with proposals, if it so wishes--provided that they are cost effective.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) : To whom or to what will the real estate and other properties of the present Sports Council be transferred ?

Mr. Sproat : All the national centres in England will, as my hon. Friend would expect, go to the English Sports Council. The centre in Wales, at Plas y Brenin, will also go to the English Sports Council because of a complicated legal ownership arrangement. It will be up to the English

Column 592

Sports Council to say in future that it does not want to run national centres but to privatise or sell them. It is up to the council to make proposals in due course.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement that he will consider private finance in relation to the new councils' funding. How does he expect to ratchet in private finance to ensure the best value for every pound spent of public money ?

Mr. Sproat : As my hon. Friend knows and emphasises by implication, we are extremely keen to attract private finance on every possible occasion. A good example is the current sponsorship scheme whereby the Government match pound for pound up to £3.5 million, grossing £7 million, to be pumped into sport. That is a paradigm of what we would like to see in the new body.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton) : I congratulate my hon. Friend on his statement and on the proposal to reduce the number of bureaucrats in the new UK body from 180 to 20. Can he assure me that the money saved in that way will be pumped back into grassroots sports ?

Mr. Sproat : Yes, I certainly can. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point which goes to the heart of our attempts to concentrate, target and cut out peripheral activities in leisure and recreation-- important as they are--and concentrate on sport. We will cut the money out of bureaucracy and put it straight into sport itself.

Madam Speaker : Thank you all for your co-operation.

United Kingdom (Inequalities)

Question again proposed.

11.31 am

Mr. MacShane : Thank you, Madam Speaker, for allowing me to rejoin this important debate. We heard a fine speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East, who constructively set out the problems that worry many Labour Members and which have certainly concerned me since entering the House two months ago. If I had to sum up the root cause of the pain and distress that come to my attention at my surgeries or in correspondence from my constituents, it would be growing inequalities in our country.

Next Thursday, 14 July, the French will celebrate the 205th anniversary of their revolution, which inscribed in world history the concepts of liberty, fraternity and equality. These days, I yield to no one in my admiration for attacks on political correctness, but perhaps we should use the word "solidarity" instead of fraternity. The Government have been taking our liberties, destroying our solidarity and increasing inequality. We are all born unequal, live unequal and die unequal--but some are more unequal than others. For 15 consecutive years, it has been the Government's project to increase inequality. Some people--including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)--may passionately believe that a fully equal society can be created on Earth. I do not share that opinion.

Column 593

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that God has clearly not been reading the socialist manifesto, as He continues to create people unequal ?

Mr. MacShane : If the hon. Gentleman returns as regularly as we all should to the Book of Genesis, he will find a paradise created on Earth, which for thousands of years has set the guidelines for socialism and equality.

I share the view expressed earlier that Britain is a far richer and more productive society than ever before. Why are those increased riches and productivity so unequally shared ? Why have other countries that have become richer and more productive in the past 15 years been able to ensure a fairer and more equal sharing of their increased riches ?

Before the statement, I referred to the OECD report, which was a forerunner to the Institute for Fiscal Studies report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East, referred. That report, published in "Employment Outlook" in June 1993, shows that whereas there has been a decrease in earnings dispersal--a technical term meaning who has the cake and the butter in our society--in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands in the 1980s, the sharpest increase ever in OECD history was recorded in Britain. It is interesting and important to note that societies that set a goal of equality in their policy framework turn out to be high-performing economies. The earnings of Britain's top 10 per cent.--the deciles, to quote the new word that has crept into economic discourse--between 1980 and 1992 increased 51 per cent., while the bottom one tenth, or poorest, saw their earnings increase just 11 per cent. That shows a 4 :1 ratio between the top one tenth and the bottom one tenth, which is a clear statistical indication of growing inequality in Britain. Also in the 1980s, although the years do not match exactly, in Italy and Germany the gap between the bottom 10 per cent. and top 10 per cent. of earnings stayed constant or even narrowed.

It is not simply a question of economics. We must move the debate beyond statistical exchanges on deciles, poverty, absolute poverty, and whether or not more households have central heating. I am delighted that there is more central heating in the homes of Britain, but I remain worried about the one third of the population who are without it. I would find it hard to believe that any hon. Member has not seen constituents at his or her surgery who cannot meet their fuel bills. To have central heating in one's home but to be unable to afford using it is an expression of the inequality that worries Opposition Members. There is inequality also in education and in the absence of adequate nursery provision. We have the same number of people going to university as our leading competitors, but in the Netherlands--which produced Mr. Ruud Lubbers, the would-be President of the European Commission, according to the Prime Minister--49 per cent. of the work force have technical or craft qualifications whereas the figure in Britain is only 27 per cent.

Lady Olga Maitland : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. MacShane : I am sure that the hon. Lady will have a chance to make a speech. Given that the statement and questions lasted 40 minutes, I do not want to take up too much time. I may give way later, but it might be more

Column 594

helpful if I were to finish, to give other hon. Members a proper chance to speak consecutively, in joined-up sentences.

Korea and Malaysia devote 22 per cent. and 18 per cent. respectively of public expenditure to education, while the UK spends only 12 per cent. UK Government spending on education as a percentage of gross domestic product declined from 5.4 per cent. in 1979 to 4.8 per cent. in 1991. At the same time, Government support for private school fees increased from £3 million in 1982 to £76 million in 1992. That is an example of the growth in inequality in education. There is inequality in the way that we are governed. There are now more Tory placemen and women appointed to Government-established quangos than there are democratically elected local councillors. There is inequality in our very political structure. Long gone are the days when Conservatives sat for northern or industrial seats--the Minister, the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) is an exception--or, indeed, had any real knowledge of poverty and inequality. Gone are the days when service in the armed forces at least facilitated some contact between the ruling classes and the ordinary people.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) referred to the trade union movement as being confined to barracks. I am not sure whether he served in the armed forces, but that expression refers to a punishment--to a denial of rights because of some breach or dereliction of duty. Not a great deal of passion has been aroused in this debate, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that some of us find it deeply arrogant--and oh so typical--that the 7 million members of our trade union movement should be considered to be people on punishment parade, confined to barracks and not allowed to play a part as equal citizens in the labour market and the world of work. The inequalities in our government, education and economic systems relentlessly feed upon themselves. We must deal with the important question of what produces inequality. Although I would argue--and my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East correctly asserted--that, in part, it is a deliberate Government policy, some market, global and technological changes are also having an enormous impact. In 1992, 4,000 employees at the General Motors Vauxhall plant in Luton produced 170,000 cars. That is a doubling of output per worker since the 1980s, which I welcome. However, their wages have not risen by anything remotely like the increase in productivity.

In the United States--the figures are roughly comparable with those for the UK--productivity grew between 1980 and 1990 by about 4 per cent. per annum, but the real take-home pay of workers in the manufacturing sector decreased by 3.5 per cent. In theory, any decline in the wages of workers in industrialised countries should be offset by an increase in the wages--the purchasing power--of workers in the newly industrialised countries, especially in Asia. Investment and technology have poured into countries such as Mexico, but the purchasing power of Mexican workers has declined by up to 50 per cent. In Malaysia, a country which is rocketing up the productivity and output tables, the take-home pay of the industrial worker is stagnant or even declining.

That is an important point in the debate on inequality, because, throughout most of the 20th century, whether under Conservative or Labour Governments, there was a narrowing of the gap in equality because increases in productivity were matched by increases in pay. To put it

Column 595

crudely, workers have been able to buy what they make or use the services that they provide. Now, the productivity-pay link has been broken, partly because of globalisation factors and partly because of technological change. As yet, we have not found a method to pay everyone in employment sufficient to sustain a decent standard of living.

I accept that this country has a lower level of unemployment than some of our competitors, but all the new jobs are part-time. [Interruption.] The majority of those jobs are part-time and at pay rates insufficient to sustain a full and normal family life. Indeed, I seem to recall that either the Secretary of State or the Minister made just that point in an important speech recently and said that the absence of a male breadwinner was having a serious impact on the quality of family life. We have to find the mechanisms to deal with that. It will be as great a problem for the next Labour Government as it has been for this Government, or should have been had they ever sought seriously to deal with it.

It appears to me that we tackle the problem of inequality through a mixture of policy, precept and example. The steel industry is of great concern to my constituents, who read with some shock this week that the chairman of British Steel has been awarded a 54 per cent. pay rise. That takes his pay this year to 33 times the average earnings of a steel worker. Of course, a steel worker gets reasonably good money--about £15,000 a year or £310 a week--but the Latin American ratio of 33 :1, which is increasingly evident in pay rates, will corrupt and corrode the sense of community and relationship needed to make our work forces perform competitively and with team spirit and co-operation.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that such pay rises give young people entering the industry the ambition to become the chairman of British Steel ? Does he further accept that in his ideal economy such a large industry would be nationalised, whereas it is in fact in private hands and contributing to taxation and revenue to help the very poor people whom he says he wishes to help ? Those nationalised industries that used to be a drain on the nation's resources are now contributors--the blood suckers have become the blood donors.

Mr. MacShane : I could enter into a debate about how to make a great deal of money in a very short time through contacts, knowledge

Mr. Corbyn : And property speculation.

Mr. MacShane : I leave it to my hon. Friend to deal with the unpleasant remarks of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan).

The hon. Gentleman was quite wrong in his assertions. In 1960, Italy's gross domestic product was half that of Britain. Since then, there has been wide public ownership in Italy while Britain has privatised its great industries. Italian GDP has now moved ahead of Britain, which is slipping down every international comparative league table for the rich, the middling rich, the-not-so rich and the poor alike.

As I said, the chairman of British Steel has had a 54 per cent. pay increase--bringing his earnings over the steel workers to the Latin American ratio of 33 :1--while his employees have had to be content with 3 per cent. That

Column 596

may encourage the one man or woman in a million who aspires to be the chairman of a great company, but it will do absolutely nothing for the thousands of people in Rotherham who would rather work in a small, middling or large company, have a good job, apply their skills and talents and have a wage sufficient unto their needs.

The figures for Rotherham are extremely stark. We are told that Britain is back in the middle of an economic boom and is out of recession, that Britain is leading the way and Europe is in the doldrums. Yet between May 1992 and May 1993 the number of income support claimants in Rotherham rose from 33,000 to 37,000. Children receiving free school meals--that necessary but unpleasant aspect of charity, as some boys and girls line up to be identified as the new victims of Tory policies--has risen from 7,000 in 1991 to 9,000 this year. No parent likes to mark their child out by claiming free school meals, but that is the record of growing inequality in just one constituency.

Rotherham has adopted an anti-poverty strategy and it has proved to be one of the most impressive in Europe. [ Laughter .] Conservative Members may laugh and scorn, but their natural supporters in the chamber of commerce and business community of Rotherham--there were only 2,000 Tory voters in Rotherham at the last election, but that was an aberration ; they will come back--support the anti-poverty strategy.

On a tiny budget of less than £250,000, the anti-poverty unit has been able to undertake a wide range of initiatives. It has set up a credit union, encouraging local savings and loans clubs in the poorer areas, and the Rothercard, a discount scheme which allows low-income households to benefit from high street shopping, low-cost sport and recreation. It has initiated community projects such as a newspaper in Canklow, a community advice centre in Ferham and a "community chest" fund in Dinnington in the constituency of my good and hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). It has taken redundancy action and other concrete, small-scale initiatives to help to combat inequalities in my constituency. I commend this approach quite seriously to the Minister.

Such problems will continue for many years, so I invite the Minister to organise a European conference to examine other and similar initiatives. I know that my friends in Rotherham would give the Minister a warm welcome if he would care to cross the Pennines to see an example of South Yorkshire initiatives in action.

It is a Rotherham problem and a national problem, but the debate must be set in a world context. The hon. Member for Teignbridge referred movingly to a man from the third world who had to bring his child to Britain for an operation, but his country might be able to afford its own national health service if its debts were cancelled and the banks took their fangs out of the third world and allowed it to develop properly.

If the third world were given fair terms of trade and encouraged to develop, more doctors and professionals would stay in their own countries, rather than many of them having to come to the north to find a good job and adequate income. Growing inequality will continue in our country while we have growing inequality in the world. We need a social clause for the new World Trade Organisation so that world trade contributes to a win :win situation, enriching all those who participate, rather than, as world trade has for the past 15 years, increasing wealth

Column 597

for the north with some increasing wealth for take-off countries, but worse inequality and poverty for many countries in the rest of the world.

We may not make the poor rich by making the rich poorer--I see smiles on the faces of the rich on the Conservative Benches--and the failure of communist countries proves that quite conclusively, but we can make the poor a lot less poor by making the rich accept that they are part of a community with equal responsibilities and equal duties even if they have unequal privileges.

Mr. Nicholls : We have already heard, and it is a well-known fact, that when tax rates are reduced, the amount that the rich contribute to the tax take increases. Surely what is important is the amount of money available, not the size of the gap. That is the case that the hon. Gentleman must answer.

Mr. MacShane : If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my speech he would know that that is precisely the point that I am seeking to make. Every economy that seeks to keep the ratio between what the top and bottom earners as narrow as possible, such as Japan

Mr. Duncan : Why ?

Mr. MacShane : I shall answer that. The top executives of Sony, Nissan and other great Japanese companies earn between seven, 12 or perhaps up to 15 times as much as their workers.

Mr. Roger Evans : Is the hon. Gentleman aware of recent economic papers on the effect of the Laffer curve on Japan and how it is believed in Japan that those penal rates of higher taxation are depriving the Japanese economy of a chance to keep ahead in the longer term of South Korea and Hong Kong, where tax rates are much more equal ?

Mr. MacShane : What is worrying Japan is that, by the year 2020, about 40 per cent. of the population will be 60 or over. It is facing the problems of a maturing economy and demand for social provision. Less than one in five houses is connected to a mains sewer. Hon. Members who have visited Japan will know how crowded and inhospitable much of ordinary life is in Japan. That is what is concerning policy makers in Japan. I study Japan quite closely, but I have yet to see any strong evidence that anybody seriously involved in Japanese policy making is concerned about tax rates, which are lower than most of those in west Europe.

Perhaps the most dominant feature of Japan, Singapore, Korea and the successful economies of the past 50 years has been their much narrower ratio between the earnings of the broad mass of employees and the top bosses. It is a culture of fair pay and investment rather than the rentier culture which increasingly dominates our unequal society.

Mr. Duncan : As someone who lived in Singapore for two years, I can bear witness to how successful its economy is. We should watch it as we consider how to structure our own. The hon. Gentleman has already admitted that one does not necessarily make the poor richer by making the rich poorer, yet everything else that he has said today conflicts with that admission. Should not he be mindful of the fact that if the spontaneous order of a society

Column 598

is interrupted and if equality is forced on that society, it inevitably reduces that country to poverty, as history shows ? Perhaps he should remember that Shakespeare said

"untune that string, And hark! what discord follows".

Mr. MacShane : I am also an admirer of much that has been achieved in Singapore--it is strong on discipline, clear about chewing gum, utterly opposed to smoking and very keen on short hair. They are all values which Singaporeans enforce with some vigour. Of course, Singapore is a society shaped by the great secretary of the Fabian society at Cambridge, Lee Kuan Yew. For some of us who know that country, we see it as a Fabian society on earth with slightly better food, but, alas, with a cultural and moral order with which I am not sure that Conservatives could live. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton managed to live there for two years, and I congratulate him on giving up his Toryism, his Englishness and his sense of spirit and fun. However, I know that Conservatives will go to any corner of the earth to earn money.

You asked me for concrete policies and pledges

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I was not being asked. I think that the hon. Gentleman has perhaps forgotten the rule.

Mr. MacShane : Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I believe that I heard such calls from the Conservative Benches, and I refer them to my ten- minute Bill on page 4049 of the Order Paper. However, I suggest the following general remedies. Yes, let us copy countries that are currently more successful

Mr. Streeter : Cuba.

Mr. MacShane : For God's sake, the hon. Gentleman is driving Britain to Cuba. There are parts of my constituency where I suspect that the quality of life is worse than in Cuba and certainly a lot less warm. As Conservatives create an unequal Britain, they may find that they are met by a revolt such as that which swept Mr. Castro, a friend of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, into power 30 years ago. Let us copy and learn the lessons of the most successful countries such as Germany, Japan and the dynamic Asian countries. In each of those countries, one finds that the notion of preventing inequality where possible is built into public policy. Let us link the future of work and the time spent at work to the technology necessary to produce what our country wants. If we want to ensure that earned income provides the economic wherewithal for the majority of citizens, we need a new concept of pay, productivity and output. We should use the market as a servant, not a master. Taxation should be based on the ability to pay, but let us set a target for equality.

I was delighted to hear that, in a speech to the Trades Union Congress on Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Employment, in what was otherwise a rather vacuous speech, referred to full employment as something which the Government should support. I invite the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security to join the Secretary of State and add equality to full employment.

Above all, we must avoid the Latin American road down which we are going, and even the north American road. In the cities of north America, as in Latin America, no one can walk the streets at night. Drug taking,

Column 599

prostitution and criminality are the norm. We must also avoid the creation of a handful of super-rich and a middle class that often lives in anxiety and insecurity.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton quoted Shakespeare. In response, I shall quote Francis Bacon who some say may even have written the quotation used by the hon. Gentleman. Bacon said : "Of great riches there is no real use, except it be in their distribution ; the rest is but conceit."

Conservatives are arguing for inequality, presiding over a country growing more unequal ; in inequality matched only by their conceit. I conclude by joining in the hope expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East that there will soon sit on the Government Benches people who have learned the lessons of successful economies, and will put the building of equality back into public policy and make Britain a fairer, better and wealthier place for us to live in.

12.5 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton) : It is a pleasure to participate in this important debate. Having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), it is refreshing for us to learn that even the gilt-edged face of the new Labour party speaks just as much nonsense and waffle as the old, unreconstructed face of the Labour party sitting directly behind him.

The hon. Member for Rotherham spoke of a target for equality. I look forward to that thought being developed by the Labour party in the next two years, but I stand before you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as a disappointed person this morning. Having read the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin), which refers to a range of measures and policies that are needed and a change of direction in existing Government policy, I thought that we would hear from her a list of well thought-out, constructive proposals as to how we might deal with the problems facing some people in the country. I place on record the fact that I accept that some people require help and that we should give that help with compassion and understanding. However, the important thing is not simply to stand up in forums such as this and utter fancy words ; the important thing is to suggest proposals, policies and measures that can help. I noted down carefully the five solutions that the hon. Lady suggested to help the people whom she described as living in deprivation and suffering inequality. She said that recognising the extent of the problem was the first step. I agree that the first step is always to recognise the problem, so let us give her that one for the purposes of a quiet life.

The hon. Lady's second solution was a job creation package, but what does that mean ? What are her specific proposals ? How much would they cost ? Is she suggesting a programme to be funded by national Government out of taxpayers' income ? What is a job creation package ? She gave us no idea.

Thirdly, the hon. Lady talked about creating a new environmental task force, but she did not say who would fund it, how much it would cost, what it would do or how it would create jobs or help people on lower incomes. It was a fancy phrase with nothing behind it. The fourth solution was to help south American countries more. She called for some kind of Marshall plan, but did not say how it would help the people of Britain. As one of my colleagues rightly said, such a programme

Column 600

would surely cost us money and be a greater burden on our taxpayers, thus enabling us to do less for our people. It did not make sense. The pie ce de resistance was the call by the hon. Member for Gateshead, East for fairness in our social security policies. She gave no specifics and she did not explain what she meant. She did not say how we could better target help or resources. I am afraid that it was the same old meaningless platitudes. We have not heard a single solution this morning.

Much of the speech by the hon. Member for Gateshead, East was a discussion of the whole issue of what she called "wage inequality". In other words, some jobs pay more than others. She did not tell us this morning who should decide how much each job should pay. What should we do about wage inequality ? The market says that a certain job should pay a certain rate. What should we do to equalise that with other jobs which the market says should be paid at a lower rate ? The hon. Lady gave us no answer.

Was the hon. Lady talking about direct Government intervention ? Does she believe that we should say to an employer, "No, that is not the right rate for the job. You must pay more or less. You must be in line with other professions and other trades" ? What was the hon. Lady talking about in terms of the solution to wage inequality ? I am afraid that she did not say.

Mr. MacShane : The hon. Gentleman spoke of the Government setting wage limits. How can Railtrack and the unions come to any agreement when the Government have interfered quite crudely in setting the wages that railway signal workers will earn ?

Mr. Streeter : The hon. Gentleman knows very well that that point is a world apart from what I have just described--the suggestion that the Government should intervene to decide what every job or sector of job should be paid. We are talking about the Government being prudent with taxpayers' money in insisting that public sector employees should not be paid more than they can earn in increased productivity.

Ms Quin : Does the hon. Gentleman consider that the Government are prudent with taxpayers' money when they give so much of that money to people who are on such low incomes from their employers that they are forced to claim state benefits ? Does he think that it is fair to subsidise employers who pay Scrooge wages ?

Next Section

  Home Page