Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 8:52 pm on 10th March 1992.

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Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth 8:52 pm, 10th March 1992

I have tried for some weeks to catch Mr. Speaker's eye during Prime Minister's Question Time, because I wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman something of fundamental importance. Unfortunately, I did not succeed, so I might as well put my question to the House now.

When the Government first took office in 1979, the United Kingdom was—according to its gross national product, and to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other reputable authorities—the fifth richest nation in the world. When the Conservatives leave office next month, the United Kingdom will be the 10th richest country in the world. It has fallen five places because it has experienced comparative decline. That ought to transcend party political differences. The severity of the situation can be seen in all our constituencies. It can be seen in the young people who are without skills and opportunities. It can be seen in the rising crime rate, the problems of the health service, and the difficulties facing our schools.

I hope that any politician and any British citizen would judge a Budget on whether or not it arrests the decline that has been inflicted on this country for the last 12 or 13 years. Unfortunately, today's Budget will do very little to stem that decline.

I was surprised that a Yorkshire Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), could perceive advantages in the Budget. The City might perceive its advantages, but in those areas where there is a need to create wealth the Budget is largely irrelevant. It scatters concessions about like confetti at a shotgun wedding, and they are of little significance.

Despite the Budget's welcome concessions to pensioners, it does not address basic problems. What have the Government done for youth, the nation's future, and investment? What does the Budget do to remedy the grievous economic conditions that exist in Britain today? Whatever the Government may say before the general election, the Chancellor admits that the public sector borrowing requirement will total £29 billion. The Government do not have that money. Over the past 13 years, they have demonstrated beyond all doubt that they are unfit to exercise stewardship of the nation's economy.

Since the Government took office, they have received £111,000 million in offshore oil revenue, and scores of billions of pounds from privatisation. What is there to show for that money? Fiddled employment statistics.

Yesterday, I gave my local press a story about a 12½ year-old-child whose whole education and social life is blighted because she cannot have an operation. Her mother, who is a very decent lone parent, does not have £900 to pay for that operation. The Government had all that loot from privatisation—all that wealth from North sea oil—and yet still injustices of that kind arise.

I have been drawing another problem in my constituency to the Government's attention for months. I refer to the future of one of Britain's most important industries. The hon. Member for Keighley fought my constituency some time ago, and will be aware of the vital importance and achievements of its engineering steel industry. It is capable of competing with any similar industrial establishment in the world. It holds world production records and can knock Germany, France, Italy, the United States and even Japan into a cocked hat in producing high-quality engineering steels.

As a result of Government policy, it cannot work full time because the privatised electricity industry has put extra premiums on evening use, for under the Conservatives the values of the television soap opera are more important than the creation of wealth. This industry in my constituency in the last two years has faced huge increases in electricity charges.

The Government say that the industry has the power of the consumer. But it is the biggest consumer of electricity in the Yorkshire region. That does not seem to weigh heavily on a Government and a supply industry that are no longer concerned about exports, about the creation of wealth and about the preservation of the industrial base. The Government have given industry no priority, and there is no priority in the Budget.

When the Government were giving out revenue support for local authorities, I did not think they were being fair and, about 18 months ago, I made speeches in the House on the subject. Since then, I have analysed the position in my local authority and compared it with the two, well trumpeted Tory favourites of Westminster and Wandsworth. In this financial year, the borough of Westminster received £911 per head by way of revenue support. The borough of Rotherham received £211.

The most expensive item for local authorities is education, and in my part of the world the school population is nearly twice that of Westminster, yet the latter received five times as much as Rotherham in revenue support. Had Rotherham been treated on the same basis, not only would we have had no poll tax to pay, but every man, woman and child in the Rotherham Westworth and Rother Valley constituencies could have received £750. That would have been stupid, of course, because the money would have been better invested.

We in Britain are not investing in the creation of wealth. There is nothing in the Budget, for example, about one of the most serious problems facing Britain. In the late 1970s, my area had virtually beaten the housing problem. Now, because of the sale of council houses and particularly because of the enormous reduction in local authority house building, we are in a sorry state. Local authority housing is the only hope for half the population of the country who cannot afford to buy.

Since the late 1970s, 20,000 names have gone on to the waiting lists in my area. The only hope for those people is for the local authority to get on with building. It has the capital to do that, but the receipts from council house sales have been frozen. Had the Government really wanted to stimulate the economy in an area such as mine—which, in housing, is suffering enormous problems; the people generally have suffered economic devastation as a result of Conservative de-industrialisation policy—they would have allowed that stimulus, brought hope, and thereby reduced the queues of people attending the surgeries of councillors and Members of Parliament.