Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. How can he possibly expect us to believe what he has just said in the light of the assurances from the party opposite when they were in opposition that they would never privatise National Air Traffic Services?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I just made a simple statement that the Bill will include a very clear situation in which it will not be possible to do that without primary legislation. In that case we are not saying that it will never happen; we are saying clearly that it will not happen without primary legislation. Therefore, the matter will have to come back for a full debate. We are not saying that it will never happen: no government can sensibly say that.

In the case of an exchange of equity or limited sale of shares, it would not be sensible or practical to seek parliamentary approval through a separate Act of Parliament, but the Bill will make provision that such a proposal will be debated and voted upon in both Houses of Parliament. The reforms are a balanced package that will give the Post Office the greater commercial freedom that it needs while introducing more competition and better regulation into the UK market. This will mean better services for individual consumers and businesses.

To further our commitment to maintaining an up-to-date legal framework for business, we shall introduce the Limited Liability Partnerships Bill to allow firms to incorporate with limited liability while retaining the organisational flexibility of a partnership. The Bill takes account of the changing commercial environment by adding to the choice of business entities available to all firms.

The provisions that we propose for the Insolvency Bill will complement the Government's determination to encourage enterprise. What we propose will assist the rescue of businesses which are in short-term difficulties but are otherwise viable. We shall also improve the procedure for disqualifying those who have shown themselves unfit to run a company.

We shall also bring forward legislation to modernise the framework under which companies are registered and deliver documents that are placed on the public record. The measures proposed will benefit all those who use the services provided by the Registrar of Companies.

The Government have included a Nuclear Safeguards Bill in their programme for this Session. This Bill is needed to allow the entry into force of a new agreement made with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Atomic Energy Community. The agreement is part of an international effort to strengthen nuclear safeguards. The Bill will contain the legislation necessary to ensure that we can fulfil our international obligations and we hope that it will be supported by all sides of the House.

23 Nov 1999 : Column 331

The Government are committed to promoting enterprise and fairness not only in the UK but in global markets and, above all, in Europe. We are unabashed European reformers. But Britain cannot influence others in Europe from the periphery. Only by working closely with our European partners and the Commission have we been able to pioneer new approaches aimed at strengthening Europe's competitiveness. The Government are winning support across Europe for their agenda to deliver a positive environment for entrepreneurs to enable Europe to become the most advanced knowledge-driven economy in the 21st century.

In March next year there will be a special European summit in Lisbon with the theme of employment, economic reform and social cohesion. It gives us a key opportunity to chart a new strategy for Europe and drive forward our agenda. We hope that the summit will enable us to draw a line under the old approach of governments telling business what to do through a mass of red tape and regulation, to shift the focus to governments working together to identify best practice in developing the environment within which businesses can succeed and to concentrate our minds on what creates new jobs rather than protecting old ones.

We shall work to support the Portuguese presidency in making economic reform, employment and the knowledge-based economy the central themes of the Lisbon summit. We shall push for a commitment to action for small firms. We can do that only by being at the heart of Europe. At home and abroad the aim of our policies is to combine enterprise and fairness. We have made great strides in our time in government, and the legislation we are introducing in this Parliament will take forward our agenda of modernisation and reform.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches it is a privilege to open this debate on those aspects of Her Majesty's gracious Speech that touch on industry and social and economic affairs. I very much look forward to the debate on these issues and to the contributions from the many speakers on all sides of the House, especially from the nine maiden speakers, which the Table tells me may be a record. I know that many of my noble friends and other noble Lords have particular points to raise on different aspects of the 28 Bills under consideration. Therefore, I thought that it would be most helpful if I attempted to draw your Lordships' attention to what the gracious Speech tells us about the Government's overall approach.

I am afraid that I shall be unable to follow the injunction of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, against too great a party political approach. I do not have the strength of character to apply that self-denying ordinance to my response. I hope that the noble Lord accepts that, as the Government have just carried out what some would say is the most brazen party political

23 Nov 1999 : Column 332

act in the 600 years of your Lordships' house; namely, the expulsion of half its Members. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said,

    "it is high time to subject this Government's performance to far more critical scrutiny in this House".--[Official Report, 18/11/99; col. 34.]

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the noble Lord suggest that the expulsion of half our Members is a more brazen political act than the expulsion of all of them in 1649?

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, that is a very good point. I thank the noble Earl. In that context, we should remember that Her Majesty's gracious Speech was made on behalf of a government led by a Prime Minister whose first reported meeting of the week is with his pollster--a meeting which is said to last longer than his meetings with his Queen, his Cabinet or Parliament.

In the gracious Speech the words "modernisation", "new", "reform" and "change" were used 17 times, which is almost one a minute. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, in opening the debates on the gracious Speech, confirmed that we all needed to modernise. Why does our Prime Minister oblige everyone from Her Majesty the Queen to the members of the Front Bench opposite to repeat the word "modernisation"? Psychologists would tell us it is because the Prime Minister may be one of those persons who feel that they have to alter the landscape to prove that they exist. In the words of the editor of the Guardian, they have a "messianic instinct". Persons like our Prime Minister feel the need to interfere with human affairs and refuse to accept the existing state of things. They are attracted by Karl Marx's famous exhortation to activism:

    "Philosophers have only interpreted the world ... the point is to change it".

The philosophical root of Marxism is the concept of historical inevitability--the march of history--which it is senseless to criticise and against which we fight to our certain doom. In Marx's writing only the brightest and most gifted are ever aware of these forces of modernisation. These are Marx's "world-historical figures" who tower over, and are contemptuous of, their puny contemporaries. As these omniscient beings contemplate the discomfiture and destruction of the Philistines, they believe that they have some crucial insight into the nature of the universe. Professor Popper described it as follows:

    "Whatever is on the side of change is just and wise; whatever is on the other side, on the side of the world that is doomed to destruction by the working of the forces of history, is foolish, ignorant, retrograde, wicked".

They suspect anyone who does not share their attitude towards change as a daring and revolutionary challenge to traditional thought. Is this beginning to sound like anyone we know? For Karl Marx and our Prime Minister "the forces of conservatism" are a feeble symbol of a creed that is no longer relevant to the new realities of their blueprint for a new order. They both believe--what else could their deification of

23 Nov 1999 : Column 333

modernisation permit--that their own brand of change is the latest and boldest achievement of the human mind. The achievement is so staggeringly novel that only a few people are sufficiently advanced to grasp it.

Do the Benches opposite doubt my analogy? I urge them to consider the following description by Isaiah Berlin and ask themselves of whom they are reminded:

    "Like the astrologers and soothsayers whom they have succeeded, they cast up their eyes to the clouds, and speak in immense, unsubstantiated images and similes, in deeply misleading metaphors and allegories, and make use of hypnotic formulae with little regard for experience, or rational argument, or tests of proven reliability. Thereby they throw dust in their own eyes as well as in ours, obstruct our vision of the real world, and further confuse an already sufficiently bewildered public".

Let us consider some of the dust that this Government throw in our eyes. They are shown the OECD figures on tax and say that they are,

    "not up-to-date information".

They are shown the ONS figures on tax and they say that they,

    "do not relate to the tax burden".

They are shown tax figures provided by the House of Commons Library and say,

    "We have never accepted the figures produced by the House of Commons Library".--[Official Report, 11/11/99; cols. 1446-1447.]

They are shown the BMA's figures on health service spending which indicate that £18 billion is only £9 billion and they say--nothing. What sort of people are we dealing with? The only figures they accept are the figures that they produce themselves.

We should remove some other dust from our eyes, too. This is a government which, at a drop of a hat, will, as they did in the preamble to the gracious Speech, joyfully praise their achievement in overcoming the malign inheritance from the previous government. I believe the Minister did that today. But all talk of inheritance ceases when they hear that they inherited the lowest taxes in Europe, the lowest unemployment level of any major European country and the longest period of low inflation for 50 years. Professor Mervyn King recently reminded me that there have now been 29 consecutive quarters of real economic growth--a post-war record. Unless my maths fail me that means that only nine of the 29 fell under this Labour Government.

Does not dust get in one's eyes, too, when one contemplates the contradiction between a Prime Minister who said,

    "We have no plans to increase tax at all"

and a Chancellor who now says this month,

    "We've always been clear that the tax burden had to rise"?

Is it true, or not, that Britain's tax burden is now the fastest growing in Europe? Is it true, or not, that tax revenues have risen in every quarter since Labour came to power? Is it true, or not, that Britain is paying more tax than Germany for the first time in a generation? If it is not true, then have all these independent institutions gone mad? Perhaps they should be "modernised."

23 Nov 1999 : Column 334

When the former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and Mr Ken Livingstone agree on something we had all better take notice. Sir Peter Kemp said that the Labour Government had committed "heresies" in their tax presentation. Mr Livingstone elaborated. He said,

    "We haven't increased the top rate of tax and the standard rate of tax, but we have increased a lot of other taxes ...We have done it with all these stealth taxes. I just think it would have been better to have honestly told people beforehand".

The fact is that there have been many debates in your Lordships' House on the subject of tax, the tax burden and the tax figures. In order to try to resolve the issue once and for all I asked the House of Commons Library a very simple question: whether it could compare the increase in prices over the life of this Government according to their own figures with the increase in taxes. I received the answer just before I came into the Chamber for this debate. I was astounded by the figures. Between 1996-97 and 2001-02--in other words the life of this Government--tax revenues are expected to rise by nearly 35 per cent compared with increases in prices of a little over 13 per cent.

The Library's analysis of tax revenues is based on the Treasury's preferred measure of net taxes and social security contributions. The Library's calculation of inflation is measured by two means: the GDP deflator or RPIS, which are both Government accepted measures. So the fact is that taxes are rising by nearly treble the rate of inflation. The cost of tomatoes is up 13 per cent, of cars 13 per cent and of Mars bars 13 per cent, but the cost of taxes is up 35 per cent. In other words--and I say again--taxes are rising about three times as fast as inflation.

As Mr Blair himself said,

    "If people don't trust you to look after their money, they won't trust you on anything".

He need look no further for an explanation of his own and the Government's weaker poll ratings.

It is to focus on that point about the tax figures that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has tabled his historic amendment to the gracious Speech.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page