I have been asked to reply.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is travelling to Brussels for the European Council meting and other meetings. I understand that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) is also attending a meeting of socialist leaders in Brussels—the Brussels fringe. I am informed that he will sign a communiqué, but I have no information about whether he has read it.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing concern among some Conservative Members that our defence cuts may have gone too far, considering the situation in Russia and the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology? Further cuts must mean a loss of capability. Surely, the lesson of the Gulf war was that it took almost all our Army and Royal Air Force logistic capability, ammunition and spare parts to keep only two brigades and a few RAF squadrons in being for a few days' fighting. Should not we review capabilities and commitments as well as costs?
I believe that the Government have struck the right balance between our commitments, our resources and our capabilities. Our aim is to maintain the effectiveness of our front-line forces, while improving the efficiency of support services in Whitehall and elsewhere, and I think that that is what we shall achieve. We shall certainly not adopt the policy of the Labour party conference, which only three months ago voted to scrap our nuclear shield and to cut our defence spending by about £7·5 billion.
Why, having run away from a debate on VAT on fuel this Tuesday—[Interruption.] The Lord President may not have heard me so I shall ask again: why, having run away from the debate on VAT on fuel this Tuesday, have the Government decided to run away next Tuesday from debates on statutory sick pay and on the increase in national insurance contributions?
The Government are in no way running away from debate. We provided an extra day for the debate on the Budget, but even that extra time did not enable either the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen or their Whips to table the right motion at the right time. That was sheer parliamentary incompetence. Perhaps they were running away because they thought that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) might not be able to vote for what they tabled.
The Lord President has run away yet again from the question that I asked him. Is not the Government's problem that those two measures expose their hypocrisy and deceit? They claim that they are lifting the burdens on business when really they are piling them on. They claim to be the party of low taxes, although they have imposed the biggest tax hike in British industry. Is that why they are running away from proper scrutiny of the Bills?
It is quite clear that another reason why Labour Members did not get their amendment right is that they simply had not done their homework on the proposals. The combination of the SSP proposals and our proposals for employer contributions brings about a net reduction in the costs to British industry.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that one country in Europe above all in recent years has faithfully followed the Delors prescription of ever-mounting labour market regulation, ever greater public spending, growing public sector debt and ever more intervention and meddling in industry? Spain suffers from 22 per cent. unemployment as a result of those policies. Is it any surprise that both the socialist manifesto in Europe and the shadow Chancellor espouse exactly those policies?
My hon. Friend might have added that that self-same Spain is one of the countries that have a national minimum wage, and it has 22 per cent. unemployment. My hon. Friend is right that what Europe needs above all is to cut its costs and develop more flexible labour markets. That is what we have been seeking successfully to do.
The way to increase unemployment is to espouse the policies of Labour Members, who have signed up to a 35-hour working week, a minimum wage and raising business taxes to the levels in other European countries. Heaven knows what else the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) is signing up to in Brussels this afternoon.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since his Government were elected in 1979 with a law and order platform, recorded crimes in Leicestershire have increased by 237 per cent. but the Government have permitted the number of police officers to increase by only 7 per cent? Is not it a scandal that in those circumstances the Government have announced a second year in which the number of police officers is to be frozen? Is not it a scandal that all that the Home Secretary can call for is individual citizens to fight crime in the street? The Government have become one not of law and order but of crime and disorder.
My right hon. and learned Friend has set out a range of policies to support the police, to release from paperwork into practical action against crime a large number of police and to take effective action in the criminal justice field along lines which I hope Labour Members will support but which their record is one of consistently opposing.
My hon. Friend points out accurately and encouragingly what the Japanese ambassador said. The ambassador went on to say:
I see no reason why Britain should not remain the most favoured location for Japanese investment in Europe as long as the factors which have attracted this investment remain in place.
Those factors will remain as long as this Government have anything to do with them. They would be destroyed only if we were unlucky enough to be inflicted with a Labour Government.
When will I get answers to the questions that I have tabled about what is going on in the meetings of the Council of Ministers in Europe? There have been two Heads of State meetings, one in Edinburgh and one in Brussels. At those meetings, it was said that there would be transparency and openness, and that reports would be made to the House as to what the voting arrangements are in the Council of Ministers where the decisions are made.
The Prime Minister has promised that all Departments will give that information in answers, but that has not been done. The matter has been raised with the Leader of the House during business questions, but it has not been answered. The right hon. Gentleman will not even answer the letters that I wrote to him in June and in November. Can the House have an answer now?
The Edinburgh decision meant that the Council's rules of procedure had to be changed and that has taken longer in some respects than we would have wished. Our purpose remains precisely as was stated. I anticipate that my right hon. Friend will report to the House in the wake of the Council that is about to take place.
Given that the virtue of capitalism is that it harnesses private energy for the public good, will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the decision of Leyland-DAF to give £200 worth of shares to each of its employees for Christmas? Does not the success of that company in turning itself around prove that private enterprise and not socialist subsidy is the best recipe?
All right hon. and hon. Friends will be as pleased by that news as is my hon. Friend, who might have added that Leyland-DAF vans has also announced an £8 million development programme.
I am not surprised, but I thought that we might have heard from the Opposition given their concern about Leyland-DAF a few months ago. The Opposition like to broadcast only bad news. My hon. Friend will recall that the Labour party wanted the Government to pump millions of pounds of subsidy into Leyland-DAF, as had the Dutch and Belgian Governments. As it is, the Dutch Government spent £100 million of taxpayers' money in subsidies and it has saved fewer jobs proportionately than we have.
Yesterday at Station road in Llanrwst in my constituency, a serious flooding incident devastated eight or 10 businesses as a direct result of negligence by contractors which were employed by the Welsh office. Will the Leader of the House impress on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales the need for full and urgent compensation for those businesses?
First, on behalf of the whole House and through the hon. Gentleman I express sympathy to his constituents for their unhappy experience. I think that all hon. Members would want to join in that.
Beyond that, I do not wish to comment in detail on something that I have not had a chance to look into. As the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, my right hon. Friend is in the Chamber and I am sure that he will examine what he has said.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the latest local government ombudsman's report, which shows that maladministration by council housing departments is the biggest single cause of complaint? Does he agree that this Government have done more than any other to promote private ownership? Is he aware that the Opposition now agree that the private rented sector badly needs a boost?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's long and welcome interest in housing. Of course, I am well aware of his new pamphlet and, by some happy chance, I have a copy with me. It is yet another example of fresh thinking in housing, and I welcome my hon. Friend's contribution to the debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, who wrote a foreword to the report, will want to discuss the ideas in my hon. Friend's pamphlet with him.
Is the Lord President aware that due to the inclement weather yesterday in the midlands and the north there have been no trains through my constituency of Nuneaton from Liverpool and Manchester? Does not that show the frailty of the infrastructure on the west coast main line, which is being stretched to breaking point? Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on the fact that what was said in the Budget was only a promise that might be fulfilled in two years? Will the Government now pump prime the infrastructure of that line by putting money into it?
Given what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said at the time of the public expenditure announcements in respect of the west coast main line, that is one of the most ungenerous questions that I have heard for some time. It also bears out the old joke that the Government even get blamed for the weather.