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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Local Government Finance

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14A(1)(a) (Consideration of draft deregulation orders),

Credit Unions

Question agreed to.


Rural Crime

10.12 pm

Mr. Nicholas Baker (North Dorset): I have the honour to present a petition from my constituent, Mrs. Olive May Smith, and others to the House, arising out of an horrific armed robbery on Milborne St. Andrew post office in Dorset in my constituency on 22 December 1995, as a result of which the Smith family suffered serious injuries.

The petitioners ask the House to urge the Home Secretary and the Government, together with the police authorities in Dorset and other rural areas, to target rural crime and to see that police manpower is increased so as to deal with the threats to our community life from violent law breaking of this kind.

The petition has my full support and I am grateful for the opportunity to present it on behalf of my constituents.

To lie upon the Table.

19 Mar 1996 : Column 278

Home and Share Ownership

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Burns.]

10.13 pm

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield): The house-owning and share-owning democracy in which we live has come about through successive Conservative Governments. Before we look at the effect that it has had on our nation and people, we must look back to the chaos of the late 1970s, after five years of Labour Government.

The most embarrassing moment, which made a laughing stock of the whole British people, was when the then Labour Chancellor, Mr. Healey, on his way to Heathrow received a message that the International Monetary Fund was not going to trust him or the Labour Government with any more borrowed money; and that from that moment on the fund would be running the finances of our country. In other words, the country was bankrupt and the receivers had moved in. Britain was broke. The IMF asked the Chancellor to turn his car around since the ticket in his pocket was invalid, as neither he nor the Government could pay for it: "Please return to No. 11 and hand over the keys of the safe." The only thing the Chancellor ever turned around was a 747 going to New York. It certainly was not the economy.

That was just one of the reasons why we needed a Conservative Government--to enable our people to have a stake in their own lives through home and share ownership. I could give 60 other reasons, but I shall list just six.

First, in 1979 there were rats as big as cats running around Leicester square, because the Transport and General Workers Union said that the rubbish was not to be collected. Unfortunately, after five years of a Labour Government, the cats themselves were bedraggled, demotivated and dispirited--rather like the rest of us.

Secondly, we could not bury our loved ones, because the TGWU said that the gravediggers could not dig the graves. Thirdly, all the hospitals were shut to new patients, and urgently needed drugs could not be delivered to other patients because the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the National Union of Public Employees--now parading under the name Unison--would not let anyone cross the picket lines manned by rent-a-mob.

I suppose that nobody will ever forget that lady dying of cancer on the pavement outside Kingston general hospital. This is not new or old Labour: it is Labour.

Fourthly, we had a top rate of income tax not of 40, 50, 60, 70, or 90 per cent. but of 98p in the pound.No wonder nobody bought shares--anyone receiving a dividend would have had to hand it over to the IMF. People say that it will not happen again. They are right--not while we have a Tory Government. But I would not be so sure if that lot over there were ever given power. [Hon. Members: "Where are they?] Not here.

Fifthly, inflation in 1977 was running at 26.9 per cent., and over five years of Labour Government it averaged15 per cent. No wonder the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) is not prepared to say whether inflation is at the right level, or should be lower or higher. The fact is that, with inflation this low, he is totally bewildered and does not know what to say.

19 Mar 1996 : Column 279

Sixthly, in the 1970s public utilities were losing money alongside the nationalised industries. After privatisation, British Steel leaped from making losses of £1.774 billion in 1979-80 to making profits of £733 million in 1989-90. I could go on and on, but I think that what I have said has set the scene for this debate.

I turn first to Government policies in respect of share ownership. The Labour leader, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), said on 1 November 1987:

Unlike the right hon. Member for Sedgefield, the Conservative party do not consider selling off those industries the closest thing to legalised political corruption, because it enables employees to share the success of the company they work for.

It is worth noting, too, what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the Labour Chief Whip, said about the privatisation of British Steel.He called it

The hon. Member also declared that, if British Airways were privatised,

It must be the only pantomime horse in history that has proved worth backing. British Airways is now the most successful world leader, with more international scheduled services than any other airline.

Is it not remarkable that the RMT has purchased 7,500 shares in Eastern Electricity, 10,000 shares in Thames Water, and 15,000 shares in British Gas? The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), in January this year, produced a report on the alleged failure of water privatisation. He declared that his report documented

Well, if it was such a failure, why did his union buy 10,000 shares in Thames Water?

The hypocrisy continues. The Labour-controlled local authority pension funds have invested more than£1,000 million in privatised companies. The Leader of the Opposition will be pleased to know that the value of privatised shares held by his local authority, Islington, is more than £24 million. However, that sum pales into insignificance compared with the investment level of South Yorkshire, whose shares are valued at more than £100 million.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Good God!

Mr. Evans: As with education reform, Labour party members throughout the country are benefiting from the policies of economic reform and privatisation, but they are resolutely sticking to the Leader of the Opposition's line, which is to say one thing and do another.

I am sure that we would all like to know that the RMT sponsors shadow Cabinet modernisers such as the right hon. and hon. Members for Holborn and St. Pancras, for

19 Mar 1996 : Column 280

Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), for Garscadden, and for Livingston (Mr. Cook). Another union, the GMB, has bought shares in Rolls-Royce, British Telecom, British Steel and British Airways. The GMB sponsors shadow Cabinet high fliers such as the hon. Members for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), for Eccles (Miss Lestor), for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson).

It is therefore not surprising that the Prime Minister has welcomed those moves--so do I--by stating:

It is not surprising, however, that Islington has joined the stockbroker belt, since one of its residents is hot-footing it to join the toffs at the Oratory.

As a measure of the success of privatisation, the following facts are of especial interest. One: since privatisation, British Telecom's prices have fallen in real terms by 35 per cent. on average. Two: there is now no waiting list for telephones to be installed. In 1984, there was a waiting list of 250,000. Three: domestic gas prices have fallen by 23 per cent. in real terms since privatisation in 1986. Gas prices in Great Britain are lower than those in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, and an additional 1.5 million customers have had their supply connected to the mains since 1986. Four: the average annual household gas bill, including VAT, is down by20 per cent. since privatisation. Five: the average domestic electricity consumer will pay approximately £2 a week less in real terms in 1996 than in 1994.

The reality is there for all to see. When Labour was thrown out of office in 1979, the nationalised industries were costing the taxpayer £50 million a week in losses--£2,600 million a year. Today, in Conservative Britain, newly privatised industries pay approximately £60 million a week in taxes on the profit they earn in the private sector--£2,000 million a year. Privatised industries, particularly the utilities, gave the public what wasfor many their first opportunity to be shareholders. Now12 million people are shareholders.

I am delighted that, in 1984, someone could buy shares in British Telecom for 130p each, and that, 11 years later, in November 1995, those shares could be sold for 414p. People began to believe again that they could have a stake in their country and their future. Had Labour had its way, none of those 12 million people would have had an opportunity to invest in the future. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield talks of a stakeholding nation. I say to him, "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Next!"

As for home ownership, we have the lowest mortgage interest rate for 30 years. In February 1979, the minimum lending rate was 14 per cent.; in 1996, most lenders' standard rate is 7.25 per cent. Every 0.25 per cent. reduction in the interest rate, when passed on, means a saving of £6 a month on the average mortgage.

What has home ownership done for this country? Let us start with "An Englishman's home is his castle"--and that undoubtedly goes for the rest of the United Kingdom as well. That is why we do not want Labour to give Britain away to Brussels, as it would. The difference between us and that lot over there is that we stand four square behind the union jack, while they stand four square behind Jacques Santer under the skull and crossbones of Brussels.

19 Mar 1996 : Column 281

Notwithstanding Labour's total opposition to the right to buy, 1.3 million people who were once downtrodden tenants of the feudal barons of local authorities now own their own homes, and many are still applying to buy them--800 a week, according to the 1994 figures, which are the latest available. That is despite the scare stories from Opposition Members.

We know that Labour fought tooth and nail--Labour-controlled councils, and Labour Members of Parliament--to stop people owning their own homes, although Labour council leaders and Members of Parliament owned their own homes, and, in some cases, had bought their council houses. That is another instance of their saying, "Do as I say, not as I do."

Nothing says that more clearly than the 1983 Labour party manifesto, on which the Leader of the Opposition and his shadow Chancellor were elected to Parliament, which stated that they would

Yet, for the umpteenth time, there are U-turns all overthe place. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield said,on 5 March 1996:

Do we or the British people believe him? Of course we do not. Why should we? The effect of the Government's policies on home and share ownership has been that we, the people, are once again a proud nation. The Great is back in Britain. We have transformed people's aspirations. They can and do own the houses in which they live. They can and do have a real opportunity to invest in the infrastructure and future of our country. Long may it continue.

Today, people sit in the homes they own, and instead of watching a Labour party broadcast, they turn to the financial page on teletext to see how their shares are doing. They know that, under the Conservative Government, they will continue to prosper and be part of a great United Kingdom.

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