Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Against the background of the widespread pre-election bonanza which so many people are now enjoying, would the Prime Minister discuss with the N.E.D.C. the serious report produced by some of his erstwhile advisers who are now with the Child Poverty Action Group, that the gap between the poor and the rest is not being narrowed?
In regard to the hon. Gentleman's reference to a bonanza, I would refer him to an interesting article and chart in the Financial Times this morning, which shows the whole progress of the electoral-political cycle under the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member—[Interruption.]—I resent these interruptions. I thought that the hon. Gentleman, then and now, was one of the most distinguished adornments to his party. I could not understand why his right hon. Friend dropped him from the Front Bench since he is far better than the lot now sitting on the Front Bench opposite. With regard to the Child Poverty Action Group, this matter was dealt with fully by my right hon. Friend, I am sorry to say, after last week's Question on this matter, in a television programme. But I will send the right hon. Gentleman a copy of the telediphone recording.
Would my right hon. Friend not agree that this Government have done more to deal with genuine poverty than any Government that have ever existed? Is it not also true that certain newspaper reports, for example, the Sunday Times this weekend, have grossly exaggerated statements which were made, and that a careful analysis of those statements shows that they were quite different from the headline which appeared in that newspaper?
I thought that my hon. Friend saw off the Sunday Times as regards that article on Sunday. I am not responsible for newspaper reports, but—[An HON. MEMBER: "Get on with it."] I am trying to get on with it, but right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are tempting me. I was not even responsible for the hysterical article by the Leader of the Opposition in the Daily Mail this morning. Knowing how rattled he is becoming, my fear was that it was not written, as usual, by his scriptwriters; I fear that he wrote it himself.
With regard to the more serious question on family poverty—[Interruption.] I know how happy right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are to return to it. With our action in first of all abolishing the earnings rule for widows which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite refused for 13 years, and making the 20 per cent. increase in the real value of old-age pensions and other benefits, and then our action, which was not popular—and which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite can use on the doorsteps—about family allowances, we have successively dealt with the main aspects of poverty in the country, and we shall do more over the next five years.
While we are all delighted that the Prime Minister had time this morning to read the article in the Daily Mail and sufficient time afterwards to think out the statement that he has just made, no doubt he will also have found a little time to read the reports in The Times, the Financial Times and The Guardian of the warning which the I.M.F. has given the Government that the balance of payments surplus which may have been achieved will be endangered by the wages spiral which is going on at the moment. Without accepting the obviously circumstantial language in which those reports have been reported, will the Prime Minister repeat this warning to the country?
As for reading the article which the right hon. Gentleman seems to be glad that I have read, it was so over-written and in such small print that it was very difficult to read. But at any rate what I read of it was hysterical and rattled.
With regard to the reports, I cannot be responsible for newspaper reports about the I.M.F. I know that the I.M.F., which came here to see whether we were conducting satisfactorily our £300 million pledge on the balance of payments, is now satisfied that we are running at a surplus of more than £500 million. I recall the Leader of the Opposition saying in the debate on the last Budget Statement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The right hon. Gentleman has raised the question of this very long article in the Daily Mail, and he is going to get it now. In the I.M.F. context, I remember his saying in the last Budget debate that it was impossible that we could reach our balance of payments pledge, and producing a most gloomy view.
With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's latest question—
Always looking for some little dark cloud in the sky, hoping that it has got an electoral silver lining for him, the right hon. Gentleman is now concentrating on the wage situation. I can tell him that we remain as competitive in relation to other countries which have also got a wage situation as we here. The right hon. Gentleman, who has shifted his ground from one point to another, will get no satisfaction out of this one.
Is the Prime Minister really saying that a document of the importance of the I.M.F. report has not been made available to him? If it has been made available to him, is he saying that he has not read it? If he has read it, is he denying that the warning was given to the Government about the present wage spiral? If he is not denying it, will he give that warning to the country?
Of course I have read what the I.M.F. has said. But if the right hon. Gentleman wants a balanced statement, it will consist of 85 per cent. encomium and congratulations to the Government on what we have done, contrary to everything that the right hon. Gentleman said we would do, and a certain anxiety on the wage question—
Let the Prime Minister publish the I.M.F. report, and we shall be able to judge for ourselves the percentage of the various make-ups of it.
As for the abandonment of the prices and incomes policy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did that in his Budget speech with the express proviso that there would be legislation to deal with the industrial relations problem, which the Prime Minister abandoned.
I must correct that. We have published far more information on this question than the right hon. Gentleman's Government ever did. The right hon. Gentleman is in the unhappy position that, when he was in charge of these affairs under the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), who, with an £800 million deficit, said that the country—[Interruption.] No doubt it was the Leader of the Opposition who drafted for his right hon. Friend the phrase
… the economy has seldom, if ever, been more strong …
with an £800 million deficit. Now they have to learn to live with a £500 million surplus, and, in his usual nit-picking way, the Leader of the Opposition tries to find any small grain of comfort for himself.