The Prime Minister recently told the House that the British economy had grown faster than any other in Europe, when it has not; he said that the Japanese economy was in recession, when it is not; and he said that German unemployment was over 3 million, when it is not. Given that series of gaffes, will he now compound his confusion and tell us that he bears no personal responsibility for the appalling slump that is devastating Britain today?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a recession in a number of countries. I quote from what Sir Allen Sheppard of Grand Met said yesterday:
One thing which no one could predict a year ago was exactly how long the recession would last … This recession has not been an exclusively British phenomenon—as some people would have us believe. It is a worldwide problem; only last week we heard the news that Europe's strongest economy, Germany, had slowed down.
Those are not my words, but those of Sir Allen Sheppard of Grand Met.
Will my right hon. Friend consult his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the attempt being made to steal the emblem of the duchy? Is he aware that on a previous occasion when such an attempt was made, the miscreant —an imposter named Lambert Simnel, who attempted to steal the red rose from King Henry VII wasnot only defeated but sentenced to serve as a scullion in the royal kitchens? What does my right hon. Friend think would be the appropriate sentence now?
Does the Prime Minister recall saying a short time ago in his personal statement—in this document from the Conservative party—that "if" Government
borrowing takes the strain, taxes … have to go up
Does he still take that view?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was Chief Secretary for two years and Chancellor for one year. Because of the repayments that were made of borrowing during that period, in the midst of a recession we are now in a better position to borrow prudently—[Interruption.] than we have been at any stage in the past: to borrow prudently and to maintain our commitment to a balanced budget in the medium term. Before the right hon. Gentleman reflects further, he may recall that the borrowing requirement was 91 per cent. of GDP under the last Labour Government—the equivalent to borrowing today £55 billion.
The Prime Minister is now borrowing billions to try to finance a pre-election tax cut, so will he tell us exactly which other taxes he would raise to pay for the bribe?
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that I cannot prejudge my right hon. Friend's Budget, and I have no intention of doing so. He should also realise that tax is levied on people's own money: it does not belong to the Government; it is their money that the Government compulsorily take away from them in taxation. Taxation levels determine how much. We know that the right hon. Gentleman would add to taxation, for he needs to in order to sustain his promises.
The Prime Minister said a very short time ago that "If" Government
borrowing takes the strain, taxes—not just our taxes"—
[HON. MEMBERS: "We have heard this before."] And you are going to hear it again: "If" Government
borrowing takes the strain, taxes—not just our taxes but the next generation's too—have to go up.
Does not the Prime Minister think that he owes it to the country to say exactly which other taxes he would put up to pay for his bribe?
The right hon. Gentleman should have done a little more research. If he had done a little more research and had seen the evidence that I gave to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee in 1987, he would have seen then—when we had a fiscal surplus of many billions—that I indicated that it would be right, in a downturn, to borrow money in a recession. Would the right hon. Gentleman prefer to do what Labour last did —cut the hospital building programme and cut the other programmes? That is what it did before.
I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Corby last Friday to open the magnificent Brooke city technology college. Does he agree that this type of secondary school has a substantial part to play in the future education of our children in the secondary sector, and will he encourage the development of further city technology colleges in our country?
I certainly enjoyed my visit to the Brooke city technology college last week. It is an excellent establishment and has attracted a good deal of support and resources from the private sector. I think that that is the sort of choice that parents want for their children, and it widens the opportunities in education. It is inexplicable to me that the Labour party would wish to stop this continuing and successful experiment.
As the Prime Minister has now had time to appreciate the significance that Scots attach to the phrase "taking stock", will he elaborate on what that means in the Scottish constitutional set-up? Is it an affirmation of what his junior energy Minister says: that it will be acceptable for the Scottish Office to be staffed by Members from constituencies south of the border, or of what his Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Scotland have said in the past 24 hours: that nothing will happen, or is he considering the possibility of affording the Scottish people the right to determine their own future in a democratic fashion'? Will there be a referendum or any other mechanism to establish a Scottish Parliament?
The hon. Lady's party seeks isolation for Scotland. I do not believe that that prescription is in the interests of Scotland or of the rest of the United Kingdom. I said that we would be taking stock, and I meant precisely that—taking stock on the basis of an increased vote in Scotland, on the basis of more Members of Parliament for Scotland and on ways of seeking to increase the strength of the Union. That is what I mean by taking stock.
Is the Prime Minister aware that millions of people are fed up with having to pay extra community charge to cover those who do not pay? Will he encourage all local authorities to ensure that people pay their bills promptly and will he ensure that future charges are reduced when that money comes into council coffers?
Does the Prime Minister agree with the proposition that it is entirely sensible for a Government to borrow prudently in order to fund capital investment to build economic recovery but that it is sheer folly for a Government to borrow in order to buy votes for an election'? Would that not be fiscal philandering of the worst kind?
Without in any way prejudging what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will do in the Budget, I seem to recall that the last Labour Government —on the back of a huge borrowing requirement—cut taxes just in advance of the 1979 election. But if the hon. Gentleman wants to know about investment, let me give him some information about investment. We now have the largest investment programme of capital investment in the national health service that we have ever had. Next year hospital spending in capital terms will be 75 per cent. up on the last year of the Labour Government. Those are the fruits of an improved economy over the last 10 years.
Will my right hon. Friend restate his commitment to the assisted places scheme in our schools, which is an extremely cost-effective way of sending children of high ability to good schools? Is it not short-sighted for both Opposition parties to be pledged to the abolition of this scheme?
Having been Chief Secretary to the Treasury before becoming Chancellor, and Chancellor before becoming Prime Minister, is the Prime Minister really trying to tell us that he bears no responsibility whatever for the recession? Why is the Prime Minister continually trying to blame everyone else when it is his own errors of judgment, mistakes and economic incompetence that have produced the current recession?
I think that the hon. Gentleman builds too much on too little. I made it clear on a number of occasions over recent years that there was, in retrospect, one change that I wish we had not made at the time, but it was one that was urged on us by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. That was the reduction of interest rates immediately on the back of the stock exchange crash, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we were urged to cut them even more by the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). What responsibility will they accept for that?
Can my right hon. Friend give a guarantee that he will never propose the introduction of unnecessary and expensive regional assemblies in England and Wales? Does he agree that when Opposition parties advocate such bodies they do so with the entirely cynical objective of maintaining the over-representation of Scotland in this House in the aftermath of the dog's breakfast called devolution?
Is the Prime Minister aware that since 1979 the crime figures in England and Wales have gone up by 102 per cent., that in the north of England they have gone up by 123 per cent. and that in the Northumbria police force area—my area—robberies have gone up by 240 per cent. and criminal damage by 238 per cent? The Home Office is advising the police to increase the number of officers while at the same time the Department of the Environment is capping local authorities' spending. How does the Prime Minister square that circle?
If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about law and order, perhaps he could explain to me why his party refuses to support the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, which was introduced initially by a Labour Government and is now opposed by a Labour Opposition. He might also have mentioned in his remarks that spending on law and order is up by 80 per cent. in real terms and that there are 15,500 more police officers, whereas Labour left the police force under establishment by 7,000 when it left office. Labour has opposed our measures which have led to stiffer sentences, it would shackle the police with political controls and its answer to rising crime is to blame everyone except the criminal.