As the Prime Minister ponders the implications of yesterday's shabby U-turn in favour of the better-off, has it not occurred to her that any future indication by her of the Tory spirit of one nation must serve only to highlight her own entrenched position on unemployment? "There is no alternative", as she puts it. [Interruption.] Does she not see that the danger ahead, as her rebellious Back Benchers become increasingly rattled, is that having turned her Secretary of State for Education and Science and her Chancellor of the Exchequer this week, they may ponder whether the lady herself may be for turning?
The hon. Gentleman clearly worked very hard at that question, although I think he lost his way a good deal long before he came to a conclusion. I thought that yesterday's statement was received rather well. [Interruption.] I think it was well received rather widely. There is an increase in the science budget, and it is far above what it was in 1978–79.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, contrary to what has just been said, and contrary to what was said in the press this morning, the decision yesterday on student grants enhanced the reputation of her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science? [Interruption.] It enhanced the reputation of this House. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with some of her other right hon. Friends and ask them to be equally forthcoming and flexible on other things in the coming year?
I thank my hon. Friend for the first part of his question. With regard to the second part, no, I shall not urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to allow more public expenditure. I remind my hon. Friend and other hon. Friends that there is a great need to lift taxation at the threshold to help those who are on comparatively low wages, and to increase the gap between those on social security and those on earnings.
Is it not the fact that, in the course of making a desirable concession yesterday, the Government robbed science in order to save their own skin, regardless of the damage thereby inflicted on British engineering, medicine, industry and technology? The Secretary of State for Education and Science said last week that
the desparate plight of the scientists could not wait longer.
How is it that they can wait longer this week?
The science budget for the coming year is greater than the science budget for this year. Under the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, the science budget for 1984–85 is £530 million, compared with £274 million in the last year of the Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman must have been very angry with his colleagues on that occasion.
The right hon. Lady is misleading the House and the country. She should know that if one compares like with like the annual rate of growth in investment in science under the Labour Government was four times as high as it has been under the Tories. Does she admit that for four years the Government have been cutting research expenditure? Is she aware that only last week the Advisory Board for the Research Councils reported that worse was to come because the decrease in investment in science would continue as a result of Government policies? When will the right hon. Lady give up her obsession with cuts, and wasting national assets, and act in the national interest?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about an obsession with cuts, but the biggest cuts in public expenditure in the past 10 years were made by the Labour Government between 1976 and 1977. Those cuts were bigger than anything ever known. Taking everything at 1982–83 prices, the Labour Government cut public expenditure by £9 billion in one year. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the fact that his party cut public expenditure by a far greater amount than ever before.
One moment—I have not yet answered the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. He is too anxious. After that £9 billion cut, the best that the Labour Government could do for the science budget in 1978 was £274 million. It has now gone up, by far more than inflation, to £530 million. The right hon. Gentleman should be congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I should very much like to be able to do that, but I should have to congratulate him, again, on misleading the House. Does the Prime Minister admit that, whereas in 1979, under the Labour Government, all the alpha projects were paid for, only half of them are paid for now? If she is so proud of the Government's record, will she undertake that there will be no further cuts in the research budget in the future?
The right hon. Gentleman is no person to say that there should never be Government cuts, when his party holds the record for cuts in public spending. They were very hard cuts—cuts in the real value of the Health Service, and real cuts in aid. My right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has done excellent things for science, as I have shown. If the right hon. Gentleman's argument is true, perhaps I may point out to him that there are far more alpha projects now as a result of what the Government have done for science.
I applaud the action of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science yesterday, but would it not be a good idea to undertake a long-term review of public expenditure as a whole, across Departments, and to bring that forward along with a review of revenue at the beginning of the year so that the fullest consultation with the House can take place? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, so far, the autumn reviews of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor have been far too much like Russian roulette, with the pistol pointing at our feet, and that it is time the system was changed?
As my hon. Friend knows, there are always difficult choices to be made in public expenditure, but it cannot simply go on and on rising. We saw the effect of that in the mid-1970s, when we finished up at the IMF, with the biggest single public expenditure cut ever known, and the biggest borrowing, which we are still repaying. We have to take steps to contain public expenditure, and all other Governments have to do the same. There are difficult choices to be made. Naturally, I am anxious to let my right hon. and hon. Friends have as much information as possible. We can learn a great deal by looking back, but there is no way of getting out of difficult choices. If we are to help people on low wages to have bigger net take-home pay, we have to find a way to cut taxation.
Has the Prime Minister read the article in January's edition of Accountancy about the National Coal Board's accounts? It is written by five independent academics, who conclude that the NCB's accounts do not, in their view, form
an adequate basis for informed management decisions".
Is she aware of their view that the "Accounting Statement for Pits", known as F23, is a totally flawed instrument with which to make pit closures because of its policy towards depreciation, stocks and surface damage? Will she tell the House whether F23 is the accounting basis for pit closures? If it is not, what is the accounting basis? Will she make a full and detailed statement to the House on this issue, which is central to the entire dispute?
If the hon. Gentleman regards the matter of coal merely as one of accounting—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and thinks that it can all be done with mirrors, he will be happy if we eliminate the £1·3 billion a year subsidy to the National Coal Board. That is not a matter of accounting, but a matter of fact —[Interruption.] It is plain that that is a matter of fact. [Interruption.] I am talking about the £1·3 billion of taxpayers' money. Regarding the accounts at Cortonwood [Interruption.]—
The National Coal Board believes that the calculations of the academic accountants are misleading, especially because their calculations were based on 1981–82 results, when Cortonwood lost £6·2 a tonne. In 1983–84 it lost £32 a tonne. If it is only a matter of accounting, we could cut the £1·3 billion subsidy and be much better off.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Derbyshire county council is planning to spend £1·3 million on a party political propaganda campaign? Is she further aware that the Scargillite leader of the council describes such spending as a mere pinprick? Is this not typical of the sheer contempt with which Socialists treat public money?
Yes. As my hon. Friend says, there is no such thing as public money. Money comes from taxpayers and ratepayers, and it could be spent on their own families if it were not taken for other purposes.
As someone who was for four years Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is a scientist and an honorary fellow of the Royal Society, does the Prime Minister not feel that it was niggardly to withdraw the money that science desperately needs, and merely spoil the statement yesterday and the ship for a ha'porth of tar?
No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman knows that Governments must make difficult choices. He is in the comfortable position of being in opposition, when he refuses to make those choices. He had to make them in government. Indeed, he was a member of the Government who made the £9 billion cuts in one year after years of profligacy.
Is the Prime Minister aware that a vast and growing number of people are deeply worried at the division, bitterness and economic decline that her Government have brought to the country? Before irreparable harm is done, will she make some concessions so that we can settle the coal strike, and will she shift her economic policy so that we can begin to deal with unemployment?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that the Conservative Benches welcome the flexibility demonstrated by the Government yesterday. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that a stable economy is the best way in which industry and technology in industry can be developed over the coming years?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest that we should do everything that we can to assist enterprise and those who work in industry. That includes raising taxation thresholds so that there is an increasing gap between low incomes and social security benefits.