Further to the prior notice that I have given my right hon. Friend on the subject of the forthcoming intergovernmental conference, will he reassure the House that, contrary to indications in The Sunday Times this week, the Government will bid for a net retrieval of power from the European institutions? Is not our resolve in this matter an increasingly defining issue between the Government and the Opposition? Does he agree that our determination to secure the powers of the nation state contrast utterly with the Leader of the Opposition, who has nothing but a soundbite and a submissive smile—[Interruption.]
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me notice of the broad subject that he intended to raise. I did read the speculative story in The Sunday Times, which is speculating on decisions and matters that are still under discussion, which have not remotely been concluded and will not be concluded for some time. The general approach that the Government will take has been set out on many occasions. We believe that Community action should be used only where it is necessary and valuable and should not include going into what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has called the nooks and crannies of daily life. At the IGC, I shall block any attempt to extend Community competence into intergovernmental areas such as foreign affairs, defence and home affairs and I shall aim to strengthen subsidiarity, which has already led to a reduction in Commission activity. My hon. Friend is entirely right about the differences between the Conservative party and the Opposition, and they become clearer.
Let me make it entirely clear to the right hon. Gentleman what I said in the House, without any dissent from him or any other hon. Member, when I set up the committee. I said then:
Recommendations affecting the Members and procedures of this House will, of course, be for the House to decide."—[Official Report, 25 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 759.]
We have now seen the report. I have said repeatedly that I favour greater transparency and accept the broad principles of the Nolan committee. We need to examine how those principles will work and what their implications will be for Parliament. I hope that that can be done on an all-party basis, which would be in the interests of the House, so that the country can see that the House is seeking to live up to the highest standards which I wish it to have and which, I believe, the right hon. Gentleman has also said he wishes it to have.
I welcome that and I take it that that answer ensures that the new committee will look at how but not whether the recommendations are implemented. Can the Prime Minister therefore say whether it is his understanding that the new committee will report before the long summer recess its recommendations on how the Nolan recommendations are to be implemented?
We have set out some detailed proposals on what might be the remit of the committee and they are the subject of current discussion with the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). Those discussions must continue with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in the hope that an agreement on that remit is reached.
On the speed of reporting to the House, I certainly anticipate that the committee will make rapid progress. I hope that agreement could be reached on publishing at least an interim report before the House rises for the summer recess. The committee itself must determine how rapidly it can discuss the matters in question.
There is no doubt among those hon. Members who have taken the trouble to read the Nolan committee report that it refers to many matters of great difficulty, on which the Nolan committee believes the House should decide how they are carried forward. This is a matter of great importance to the future of the House and it is vital that it is properly examined and got right.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, at 6 o'clock last night, the House rejected a Labour-inspired amendment that would have cost the taxpayer £250 million. Is he also aware that, at 6 o'clock last night, the Leader of the Opposition was addressing an audience of City fat cats—[Interruption.]—and promised to renounce the high tax and spend policies that have characterised every Labour Government since the war? Is my right hon. Friend aware that that was the fifth time the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that he was wrong? He was wrong on the Common Market; wrong on defence; wrong on industrial relations reform; and wrong on privatisation. Five wrongs do not make a right leader for the country.
I was not aware of the coincidence of timing between the Opposition amendment, designed to spend more public money, and the right hon. Gentleman's proposal to cut inflation and cut down on public spending. I have to say to the House that I am unsurprised by that contradiction, which is by no means the only contradiction between what the leader of the Labour party says and what the Labour party does. Every time we have dealt with monetary policy to restrain inflation, we have been criticised by the Opposition for putting interest rates up. Every time there has been a dispute of some sort, they wish to spend more money on it. Every time we have tried to restrain expenditure, they have called for more expenditure. There is, to put it kindly, a disconjunction between what they say and what they do.
Has the Prime Minister had time today to read the latest edition of the "Socialist Economic Bulletin"—[Laughter]—which demonstrates that, since 1979, dividend payments as a proportion of gross domestic product have increased by £22 billion per annum, while manufacturing investment last year was only £12 billion? What can the Government do to ensure that increased dividend payments do not squeeze out productive investment?
The hon. Gentleman will be less surprised than others to know that I have, in fact, read the "Socialist Economic Bulletin"—not least because he invited me to do so before answering his question this afternoon. [Laughter.] Old Lambeth connections die hard.
I believe that the hon. Gentleman understates the importance of dividends, which, with capital growth, are the reason why people invest in the first place. We have at the moment perhaps the best environment for investment in this country that we have had for very many years. Three years of steady growth with low inflation has given companies the stability to take investment decisions in a secure economic environment. We can see now that investment is increasing, and the Confederation of British Industry forecasts manufacturing investment growth of 8 per cent. in the next year.
Since 1980, United Kingdom investment has grown quite substantially. In the present economic environment, I would expect it to continue to do so.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is great anxiety about organised crime in this country? Is he aware that the Leader of the Opposition is shortly to take a Labour roadshow to north Tyneside, and would it not be appropriate if that entertainment included the Labour leader's opinions on the current police investigation into serious allegations of corruption and organised crime in the north Tyneside Labour party?
I am not aware of the details to which my hon. Friend refers, but I know the enthusiasm with which the Labour party likes to see matters examined and debated publicly, so no doubt the party itself will wish to hold a public inquiry into any allegations against any aspect of the Labour party.
Bearing in mind the sleaze and the conduct of this place, which is a debate that has been going on for some time, if the Prime Minister really wants to demonstrate to the public at large that we are going to get our act together in this place, will he ask the Conservative members of the Select Committee on Members' Interests to stop blocking the consideration of evidence and remove the Tory Whip, so that we can proceed in a proper, democratic way?
Before the hon. Gentleman shouts himself into trouble, I should like to say that he also knows that the membership of that Committee is approved by the House before it sits.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes:
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is ludicrous to try to set economic tax rates by taking the international average? Was not the import of the Leader of the Opposition's speech last night simply to try to disguise, in his characteristic way, his intention of increasing income tax rates? I take that because most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries have a higher rate of tax than this country. Instead of saying it directly, as usual the Leader of the Opposition tried to disguise it behind words.
It is clear that there was a certain lack of transparency in what the right hon. Gentleman said last night. There is no doubt that the UK top rate of income tax and national insurance contributions is the lowest of any country in the European Union, and we have every intention of keeping it that way. We also have the lowest main rate of corporation tax among the major industrial countries, and the burden of taxes on business in the UK is lower than in any other G7 country except Canada. That is in spite of the increases in taxation that we have had to undertake in the past few years to deal with the expenses following on the recession.
However, as the right hon. Gentleman is obviously worried about tax levels, I hope that he will demonstrate that, if and when we are able to reduce taxes, by joining us in the Lobby when we do so.
Would it come as a surprise to the Prime Minister to learn that I am one of his admirers—indeed, I might be his only admirer? In that capacity, does he accept my great anger at the outrageous attack made upon him by Margaret Thatcher who, in her book, likens him to some sort of incompetent train spotter? That is a disgraceful attack and I think that we all feel very strongly about it. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to damn all Mrs. Thatcher's policies that have got him and his Government into the appalling mess in which they now find themselves?
The fraternity that exists between former Lambeth councillors perhaps does not entirely extend to the hon. Gentleman. It is less of a surprise to hear that he may be an admirer of mine than a shock and a disappointment.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern among some Conservative Members at the idea that homosexuals may shortly be admitted to the armed forces? Is it not true that a barrack room or a ship are not just places of work for service personnel but their homes? Should we not take account of the wishes of service personnel in making that decision? I ask for my right hon. Friend's assurance that he will uphold the promises that were given to the House before legislation to remove the criminal offence of homosexual activity in the armed forces went through Parliament without a vote. Will he assure the House that, if the present court case overturns the status quo, the matter will be brought to the House so that we have the opportunity to reverse the decision?
The House reached a decision some time ago and I do not wish to anticipate the result of the current court case. Clearly, if it produced a different set of circumstances, we would have to examine it.
As to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I think that the service chiefs have made their view clear about the matter, and I share that view.