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Mr. Aitken: I heard the question, more or less. The answer to it is that the hon. Gentleman has provided only half of the true picture. Of course the local government settlement is tight, but in Barnsley, for example, there are unspent school balances of about £3 million, there has been a standard spending assessment increase of 30.4 per cent. over the past five years, and expenditure per pupil is at the rather satisfactory figure of £1,570. Even allowing for inflation, that is roughly three times the amount spent when the Labour Government were in office. The schoolchildren of Barnsley have not had a bad deal from the Government.
Mr. John Greenway: Cleveland county council, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), is not alone in the north-east in having had the foresight to plan for the teachers' pay award. North Yorkshire county council provided in its budget for a 2.5 per cent. increase in pay, and although finding the extra £300,000 will not be easy, it will not mean the kind of cuts in the classrooms that we have heard about from the media. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that local authorities that have done the right thing this year will not be starved of cash next year, and that their patience with the Government's policy will be rewarded with a better settlement in future?
Mr. Aitken: I congratulate my hon. Friend and his North Yorkshire local education authority on having done the right and responsible thing and cut their cloth according to what was necessary to deliver good standards of education. On my hon. Friend's second point, of course we acknowledge that this year's local government settlement has been tight. I hear what he says about
Column 1177ensuring that neither in North Yorkshire nor anywhere else are schoolchildren subjected to unreasonable pressures-- but we do not believe that we have put unreasonable pressure on this year. The local government settlement is tight but fair.
Sir George Young: We keep a range of information under review, including that in the Department of Social Security's households below average income analysis and the Central Statistical Office's analysis of income distribution and the effects of taxes and benefits.
Mr. Barnes: Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that we should know the facts before we make decisions. Should we not know the full facts about income and wealth distribution, and about the range of poverty? Between 1974 and 1979, the Labour Government had a standing Royal Commission on income and wealth distribution, but the first act of the new Conservative Government was to disband it. Should we not have an investigation covering more subjects than those that the Minister mentioned?
Sir George Young: Of course it is important to have the facts, but if we examine the expenditure of the poorest 10 per cent. in this country-- the poorest three quarters of a million people--we find that roughly half of them spend more than the average. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the facts with care before he comes to any conclusion.
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is right. He will know that we have adopted many supply-side measures precisely to increase the capacity of this country to promote wealth. There are also measures in the current Finance Bill that take those policies further.
Ms Armstrong: Is the Minister not a little complacent, given that the deputy chairman of the Conservatives has reminded the party that the British people are fed up with the rich getting richer on the backs of the poor? Is it not time that the Government took action on the matter? They have an opportunity in the Finance Bill to agree to taxing excess share options. Why do they not take it?
Sir George Young: The Opposition will have absolutely no credibility on the subject of poverty until they come up with clear and costed proposals to deal with the problem and have identified exactly how they will pay for them.
Column 1178Sir George Young: Average net income rose by 36 per cent., in real terms, between 1979 and 1991-92. There were increases for all economic groups and all family types.
Mr. Skinner: Why does the Minister not tell us the whole story? Is not the truth that, since 1979, the richest 10 per cent. in Britain have had £50 billion cumulatively in tax cuts? Instead of attacking the nurses and teachers with paltry wage increases, and attacking pensioners, why do not the Government redistribute that money to ensure that pensioners, the national health service, the social services and local government have the right finances to offset the cuts?
Sir George Young: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to ask his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench why the Labour party tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill to give--for the first time--tax relief to exactly the sort of people about whom he is complaining, on the bills which they pay for tax planning.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Maclennan: As the Prime Minister failed last night to persuade his campaign manager--the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of Maastricht--on Europe, how can he hope to persuade anyone else? Will the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) be joining those without a Whip, or will they join him within the ranks of the anti- Europeans in the Conservative party?
Mr. Devlin: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Lloyds bank survey of the north of England which shows that one third of all businesses in the region expect to take on additional staff in the next three months? Is he also aware that there has been a 13 per cent. drop in unemployment in the neighbouring constituency of Sedgefield? Why do we never hear any of that from the Member who represents that constituency?
The Prime Minister: I am pleased to hear about the drop in unemployment in Sedgefield, although I thought that it had fallen by 16 per cent. I am delighted to see unemployment dropping throughout the United Kingdom, and we intend to pursue policies which ensure that it will continue to drop.
Mr. Blair: In the light of yet another report today on an excessive pay package in a privatised monopoly and of his own threat on Tuesday to legislate, will the right hon. Gentleman back an amendment to the Gas Bill a week on Monday that would give the regulator the power
Column 1179to cut prices where pay deals are excessive? Would that not send the clearest possible signal to the utilities that the game is up?
The Prime Minister: I set out the position clearly to the right hon. Gentleman on Tuesday, and he should know that the role of the regulator is to protect the interests of the consumer. I do not propose to extend that role. The regulators are introducing competition and bearing down on prices. As to the underlying premise of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I set out that we shall wait and see the report from Sir Richard Greenbury and his colleagues. We shall then take action upon that, including legislative back-up if that is required.
Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister not know that the Greenbury committee has said that it will not propose any legislation and its report will not be out for months? Furthermore, its main recommendations will not affect the abuses in the privatised monopolies. The anger is now, the abuses are now: why will he not act now to put an end to the abuses?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman's assertions are, frankly, wrong. I made clear the other day the subjects that I believe need addressing--the need for complete and open disclosure over remuneration and the need to ensure that bonuses and share options are firmly based on company performance. Those subjects need consideration. When we have recommendations that cover those, we shall consider them, and I have made it clear that, if necessary, we shall provide legislative back-up. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I believe that it is both necessary and desirable to wait until we have that report and that information so that we can consider what action is necessary.
Mr. Peter Bottomley: May I refer my right hon. Friend to the debate on Europe and the single currency yesterday? In columns 1053 and 1056 of Hansard , the leader of a political party dealt with interventions by one of my right hon. Friends, first, by saying that he would give way, but not doing so, and, secondly, by accusing him of inconsistency? Is there not a lesson in that on how to get people to vote on our side by treating them with less courtesy than the Labour party? [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: We had an excitable day yesterday and perhaps we can have a little more calm today, Madam Speaker. The debate yesterday was very revealing in a number of respects. It was revealing because of what the leader of the Liberal party had to say, and it was also very revealing because a number of Labour Members flatly contradicted assertions in the speech by the leader of the Labour party. He was open enough to admit that his party was split and his party was generous enough to show precisely that in the speeches that Labour Members subsequently made.
Column 1180Cabinet from Wales, to speak up from personal experience of the needs and the aspirations of the people of Wales? The present incumbent is clearly incapable of doing that. Given the opinion poll this week, which has shown yet again that there is a 2:1 majority in favour of the powers of the Welsh Office being answerable to a Parliament in Wales rather than to a Governor General, will the Prime Minister stop having such an intransigent attitude to the question and allow the people of Wales to have at least some semblance of national democracy?
The Prime Minister: I do not regard my position as the hon. Gentleman described it and would describe it quite differently. He is aware of my views of the possible difficulties with a Welsh Assembly. I do not believe that it is in the interests of Wales. To be frank, generally if the answer to the question is more politicians, then it is the wrong question. As to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, during his period in office, Wales has benefited from a steady stream of inward investment from the United States and the Pacific rim, and there has been a considerable improvement in the quality of life and the standard of living throughout Wales. Those are the policies that are necessary for the future. An extra tier of government, which would suck a great deal of authority from local councils in Wales, is not the way forward.
Mr. Robathan: Is my right hon. Friend aware of a recent visit to Enderby in my constituency by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), at which he discussed devolution with the Blaby constituency Labour party-- all 25 of them? When my right hon. Friend visits Blaby, which I hope that he will do very soon, will he also discuss devolution, for he will discover that the overwhelming majority of my constituents, many of whom were born in Scotland or Wales, value the integrity of the United Kingdom, oppose devolution and have no interest in a ridiculous regional assembly based in Birmingham or elsewhere?
The Prime Minister: Where there is a proper system of local government, I believe that devolution to an extra tier of government is an unwise way to proceed. There is one form of devolution that I strongly favour, which is devolution straight down to individuals: to let families make their own choice; and to let people have more control over schools, hospitals and local decisions. That is the form of devolution that we favour, not devolution to an extra tier of bureaucrats and politicians.
Mr. Etherington: Will the Prime Minister attend the House tomorrow to vote in favour of the admirable Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall)? More
Column 1181importantly, will he give an undertaking to the House that he will endeavour to ensure that parliamentary time is made available so that the will of the vast majority of people, who want the barbarism of blood sports abolished, can be brought to fruition?
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lancashire county council put £7 million of council tax money into a special contingency reserve to pay a 2.2 per cent. rise in teachers' salaries? Unfortunately, it has not handed over that money to the schools to pay those salaries. Does he sympathise with those in the schools, who feel very angry about that and therefore want to go grant-maintained?
The Prime Minister: A large number of schools have gone grant- maintained because they believe that they can better look after their own interests than if they are retained in the control of the local education authority. I hope and believe that many more will do so in the future, not least for the reasons that my hon. Friend set out. I do not think that anyone can be unaware of the campaign that is being waged at the moment by some education authorities. I noticed the press release produced by the Opposition this morning. If they had looked at the facts of what is to happen to the standard spending assessments of the education authorities that they quote, they might have produced a more straightforward and honest press release.
Mr. Timms: The Prime Minister will recall that, in 1991, the then Secretary of State for Transport announced that the channel tunnel rail link would be routed through east London to promote urban regeneration specifically within east London. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government remain committed to that objective for the rail link?
The Prime Minister: I can certainly confirm the importance of the rail link and I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to let the hon. Gentleman have as much information as is currently available.
Column 1182The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Evennett: Now that the distraction of yesterday's debate is behind us, does my right hon. Friend agree that he should turn his attention to the economic development that has been so successful in recent years, with falling unemployment, low inflation and record exports? Does he agree that the Government's policies are dealing with the real issues that affect the lives of our citizens and that the Opposition have no policies whatever on the economy?
The Prime Minister: I am happy to commend the economic recovery, which is very strong and widespread, and shows signs of being the best economic recovery that we have seen in this country for very many years. I intend to continue to give my full attention to that economic recovery. I wish to ensure that we continue to have growth and falling unemployment, and that we continue to see the levels of investment and growth, particularly in the manufacturing industry, that we have seen of late. Only a continuation of those policies will, over a long period, improve the living standards of the British nation, which is what I wish.
Mr. Fatchett: May I refer back to the issue of top people's pay increases, which was discussed earlier? The Prime Minister has argued that he will leave all of that to the Greenbury committee and its report. Is it right that a Government should delegate that responsibility to an employers' organisation that has a vested interest in top people's pay? Is it not about time that the Prime Minister, who claims that he feels strongly about that issue, gave a lead to the country and introduced his own proposals--or shall we simply be left with government that is all delegation and no leadership?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are thirsting to go down the route of pay policies that the Labour party has gone down for generations. The concern that people feel about that issue is the concern that I spelt out with great clarity to the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) on Tuesday. We are examining that, we are waiting for recommendations on that, and, when necessary, when the facts are available, we shall decide what action needs to be taken, if necessary, including legislation. However, I have no intention of operating in the envious spirit that activates the hon. Gentleman.
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