The right hon. Gentleman is of course right to say that savings are important for this country. What he should take account of, though, is not simply the net savings ratio, which, as the pre-Budget report shows, is set to grow on the basis of the policies for stability that we put in place, but what is happening to the overall level of savings, the gross level of savings, which is robust. Moreover, very importantly, the 1999 figures for the long-term level of savings, the most recent year's figures that we have, show that gross savings were £3 billion higher than in 1996 and £5 billion higher than in 1995.
On 14 December, when I asked the Economic Secretary much the same question—reported at column 792 of that day's Hansard—as my right hon. Friend has asked, the House heard what can only be described as a rather meaningless burble. Can the Chief Secretary now answer some straight questions? First, is the savings ratio, which he described as set to rise, at its lowest level for 37 years or not? Secondly, does he or does he not accept that instead of creating an endowment society, in which people save to be independent, his Chancellor's policies of proliferating means tests have destroyed the incentives to save for millions of people?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes. On what is happening to household finances, he and his colleagues would do well to make a rounded assessment, because what is happening—and this is the experience of ordinary, hard-working families at whom Opposition Members sneer—is that we have rising real living standards, going up very much faster than under the Conservatives; household wealth at record levels; and household debt as a proportion of that household wealth actually falling. So consumers, householders and hard-working families are very much better off than they were under the Conservatives. It is our platform for stability and sustainable growth that provides the best basis for savings in the future, not the cuts, stop-go, boom-bust instability offered by the Conservative party.