Does my right hon. Friend agree that education, and particularly the quality of that education, are paramount in many people's minds? Is he aware that in Birmingham we have excellent grant-maintained grammar schools which are under threat from the local Labour council, which intends to strangle them to death so that there is no choice for the people of Birmingham, despite 96 per cent. of them saying that they want their grammar schools maintained? Will my right hon. Friend join me in supporting educational excellence.
I was not aware of that proposal, but I am unsurprised to hear that that is the view of the Labour local authority; it clearly has no concern for the views of parents about education—a point which the Leader of the Opposition neglected to mention. As a general principle, I agree with my hon. Friend that the Labour party opposes choice on assisted places, on city technology colleges and on grammar schools. Its top priority on day one, as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, would be to take away parents' choice to keep their schools independent of council control.
As the Prime Minister has registered that some in his party regard the proposals put forward by our European partners next week on monetary union as a fudge, and as one of his Ministers has said that they are a fraud, although many others will see them as Britain's last opportunity to be at the heart of Europe rather than its periphery, will he now tell us his view of the proposals? Are they a fudge, a fraud or an opportunity not to be missed?
We are at a very early stage in the negotiations on economic and monetary union and on political union. As to the proposals to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor told the House in January that
the Government have made it plain to our European partners that we cannot accept any changes to the treaty of Rome which would bind us to a single currency or a single
monetary policy without a separate decision by the United Kingdom Government and Parliament."—[Official Report, 24 January 1991; Vol. 184, c. 470.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the evidence is that, in local government, competitive tendering has given the public good value for money? Does not that mean that we should have similar policies throughout the public sector, including the national health service?
My hon. Friend has considerable knowledge of the health service and he is, of course, entirely right. Abolishing competitive tendering for support services would threaten the loss of the savings of £150 million a year that have been achieved in the national health service thus far. Opposition to those improvements and to efficiency improvements worth £400 million could only remove more than £500 million from the health service, year after year after year. That is the policy of the Opposition, but not of the Government.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, prior to the last election, the Government gave a categorical assurance that if re-elected they would not increase VAT? Bearing in mind that, having been re-elected, the Government doubled VAT, will the Prime Minister invite the electorate to believe future election promises? If so, can he now say categorically whether the Conservative party, if re-elected, will increase VAT further?
Characteristically, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is telling only half the story. He utterly neglects to mention the fact that there was precisely corresponding reduction in local tax by way of the reduction in the community charge.