It is, of course, the right and duty of Her Majesty's Opposition to challenge the position of the Government of the day. It is [column 446]also their right to test the confidence of the House in the Government if they think that the circumstances warrant it. I make no complaint about that. But when the windy rhetoric of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock ) has blown away, what are their real reasons for bringing this motion before the House? There were no alternative policies—just a lot of disjointed, opaque words.
It cannot be a complaint about Britain's standing in the world. That is deservedly high, not least because of our contribution to ending the cold war and to the spread of democracy through eastern Europe and Soviet Union—achievements that were celebrated at the historic meeting in Paris from which I returned yesterday.
It cannot be the nation's finances. We are repaying debts, including the debts run up by the Labour party. It cannot be the Government's inability to carry forward their programme for the year ahead, which was announced in the Gracious Speech on 7 November. We carried that debate by a majority of 108.
The Opposition's real reason is the leadership election for the Conservative party, which is a democratic election according to rules which have been public knowledge for many years—one member, one vote. That is a far cry from the way in which the Labour party does these things. Two in every five votes for its leader are cast by the trade union block votes, which have a bigger say than Labour Members in that decision: precious little democracy there.
The real issue to be decided by my right hon. and hon. Friends is how best to build on the achievements of the 1980s, how to carry Conservative policies forward through the 1990s and how to add to three general election victories a fourth, which we shall surely win.
Eleven years ago, we rescued Britain from the parlous state to which socialism had brought it. I remind the House that, under socialism, this country had come to such a pass that Nicholas Henderson one of our most able and distinguished ambassadors felt compelled to write in a famous dispatch, a copy of which found its way into The Economist, the following words:
“We talk of ourselves without shame as being one of the less prosperous countries of Europe. The prognosis for the foreseeable future”,
he said in 1979, was “discouraging” .
Conservative government has changed all that. Once again, Britain stands tall in the councils of Europe and of the world, and our policies have brought unparalleled prosperity to our citizens at home.
In the past decade, we have given power back to the people on an unprecedented scale. We have given back control to people over their own lives and over their livelihood—over the decisions that matter most to them and their families. We have done it by curbing the monopoly power of trade unions to control, even to victimise, the individual worker. Labour would return us to conflict, confrontation and government by the consent of the TUC. We have done it by enabling families to own their homes, not least through the sale of 1.25 million council houses. Labour opposes our new rents-to-mortgage initiative, which will spread the benefits of ownership wider still. We have done it by giving people choice in public services—which school is right for their children, which training course is best for the school leaver, which doctor they choose to look after their health and which hospital they want for their treatment.
Labour is against spreading those freedoms and choice to all our people. It is against us giving power back to the people by privatising nationalised industries. Eleven million people now own shares, and 7.5 million people have registered an interest in buying electricity shares. Labour wants to renationalise electricity, water and British Telecom. It wants to take power back to the state and back into its own grasp—a fitful and debilitating grasp. Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The right hon. Lady says that she has given power back to the people, but more than 2 million of them are unemployed. Has she given power back to them? Inflation is 10.9 per cent. Is that giving power back to the people, compared with rates throughout the rest of Europe? Is the frittering away of £100 billion-worth of North sea oil, which no other country has had, giving power back to the people? Will she kindly explain that—and how pushing many people into cardboard boxes and taking power away from them is somehow giving power back to them? The Prime Minister
Two million more jobs since 1979 represent a great deal more opportunity for people. Yes, 10.9 per cent. inflation is much higher than it should be, but it is a lot lower than 26.9 per cent. under the last Labour Government. Yes, we have benefited from North sea oil. The Government have made great investments abroad that will give this country an income long after North sea oil has ceased. We have provided colossal investment for future generations. Labour Members ran up debts, which we have repaid. We are providing investment for the future; we do not believe in living at the expense of the future. Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
If things are as good as the Prime Minister is outlining, why are her colleagues not happy for her to continue in the job of defending that record? The Prime Minister
These are the reasons why we shall win a fourth general election. We have been down in the polls before when we have taken difficult decisions. The essence of a good Government is that they are prepared to take difficult decisions to achieve long-term prosperity. That is what we have achieved and why we shall handsomely win the next general election.
I was speaking of the Labour party wanting to renationalise privatised industry. Four of the industries that we have privatised are in the top 10 British businesses, but at the very bottom of the list of 1,000 British businesses lie four nationalised industries. Labour's industries consume the wealth that others create and give nothing back.
Because individuals and families have more power and more choice, they have more opportunities to succeed—2 million more jobs than in 1979, better rewards for hard work, income tax down from 33p in the pound to 25p in the pound and no surcharge on savings income. Living standards are up by a third and 400,000 new businesses have been set up since 1979—more than 700 every week. There is a better future for our children, thanks to our hard work, success and enterprise. Our people are better off than ever before. The average pensioner—— Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Will the right hon. Lady give way? [column 448]The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman will just listen, he might hear something that he did not know. The average pensioner now has twice as much to hand on to his children as he did 11 years ago. They are thinking about the future. This massive rise in our living standards reflects the extraordinary transformation of the private sector. Mr. Hughes
There is no doubt that the Prime Minister, in many ways, has achieved substantial success. There is one statistic, however, that I understand is not challenged, and that is that, during her 11 years as Prime Minister, the gap between the richest 10 per cent. and the poorest 10 per cent. in this country has widened substantially. At the end of her chapter of British politics, how can she say that she can justify the fact that many people in a constituency such as mine are relatively much poorer, much less well housed and much less well provided for than they were in 1979? Surely she accepts that that is not a record that she or any Prime Minister can be proud of. The Prime Minister
People on all levels of income are better off than they were in 1979. The hon. Gentleman is saying that he would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich. That way one will never create the wealth for better social services, as we have. What a policy. Yes, he would rather have the poor poorer, provided that the rich were less rich. That is the Liberal policy. Mr. Hughes
No. The Prime Minister
Yes, it came out. The hon. Member did not intend it to, but it did.
The extraordinary transformation of the private sector has created the wealth for better social services and better pensions—it enables pensioners to have twice as much as they did 10 years ago to leave to their children.
We are no longer the sick man of Europe—our output and investment grew faster during the 1980s than that of any of our major competitors. Several Hon. Members
rose—— The Prime Minister
If hon. Members would be a little patient, it would allow me to get a little further.
No longer a doubtful prospect, when American and Japanese companies invest in Europe, we are their first choice. Britain no longer has an overmanned, inefficient, backward manufacturing sector, but modern, dynamic industries.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the level of inflation. Yes, in 1987 and 1988, the economy did expand too fast. There was too much borrowing, and inflation rose. That is why we had to take the tough, unpopular, measures to bring the growth of money supply within target. Inflation has now peaked and will soon be coming down. Inevitably, the economy has slowed, but we firmly expect growth to resume next year. For the fundamentals are right. Our industry is now enterprising. It has been modernised and restructured. In sector after sector, it is our companies which lead the world—in pharmaceuticals, in telecommunications and in aerospace. Our companies have the freedom and talent to succeed—and the will to compete. Mr. Sillars
The Prime Minister is aware that I detest every single one of her domestic policies, and I have never hidden that fact. [Interruption.] [column 449]Mr. Speaker
Order. Mr. Sillars
However, it is always a greater pleasure to tackle a political heavyweight opponent than a lightweight Leader of the Opposition—[Interruption.[—who is afraid to explain why, after a lifetime of campaigning to get rid of nuclear weapons, he is going to plant three Trident missiles in my country.
Can I take the Prime Minister back to the question of the poor getting poorer? Does she not realise—even at this point, five minutes after midnight for her—that, because of the transfer of resources from the poor to the wealthy, the poll tax was unacceptable, and that it was because of the poll tax that she has fallen? The Prime Minister
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that I have the same contempt for his socialist policies as the people of east Europe, who have experienced them, have for theirs. I think that I must have hit the right nail on the head when I pointed out that the logic of those policies is that they would rather the poor were poorer. Once they start to talk about the gap, they would rather that the gap were that—[indicating[—down here, not this—[indicating[—but—[indicating.] So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer. One does not create wealth and opportunity that way. One does not create a property-owning democracy that way.
Can I now get back to the subject of industry and an industrial policy from which Scotland has benefited so much, and from which it could never have benefited under the Government that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan Mr. Sillars ) used to support, and under the political policy that he espouses now?
Yes, our companies have the freedom and talent to succeed, and the will to compete. And compete we must. Our competitors will not be taking a break. There must be no hankering after soft options and no going back to the disastrous economic policies of Labour Governments. No amount of distance lends enchantment to the lean years of Labour, which gave us the lowest growth rate in Europe, the highest strike record and, for the average family, virtually no increase in take-home pay. Labour's policies are a vote of no confidence in the ability of British people to manage their own affairs. We have that confidence. Confidence in freedom and confidence in enterprise. That is what divides Conservatives from socialists.
Our stewardship of the public finances has been better than that of any Government for nearly 50 years. It has enabled us to repay debt and cut taxes. The resulting success of the private sector has generated the wealth and revenues which pay for better social services—to double the amount being spent to help the disabled, to give extra help to war widows, and vastly to increase spending on the national health service. More than 1 million more patients are being treated each year and there are 8,000 more doctors and 53,000 more nurses to treat them. Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
rose—— The Prime Minister
That is the record of eleven and a half years of Conservative Government and Conservative principles. All these are grounds for congratulation, not censure, least of all from the Leader of the Opposition, who has no alternative policies. Mr. Ashley
rose—— [column 450]The Prime Minister
I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but then I should like to move on to say something about Europe, because what the Leader of the Opposition said about it was, to say the least, opaque. Mr. Ashley
The Prime Minister mentioned disabled people, and as she is always anxious to be honest with the House, would she care to give a wider perspective about what has happened to disabled people under her Government? Would she care to confirm the official figures, which show that, in the first 10 years of her reign, average male earnings rose by 20 per cent. in real terms, whereas benefits for disabled people in that period rose 1 per cent. in real terms? How well did disabled people do out of that? The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is very selective indeed. He knows full well that, in the past 11 years, we have spent twice as much on the disabled, over and above inflation—not twice as much in cash terms, but twice as much in terms of what the benefits will buy—especially in the mobility allowance and the Motability scheme. This has been quite outstanding and has been brought about because, under our policies, we have been able to create the wealth which created the resources to do that, among other things.
During the past 11 years, this Government have had a clear and unwavering vision of the future of Europe and Britain's role in it. It is a vision which stems from our deep-seated attachment to parliamentary democracy and commitment to economic liberty, enterprise, competition and a free market economy. No Government in Europe have fought more resolutely against subsidies, state aids to industry and protectionism; unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy and increasing unaccountable central power at the expense of national Parliaments. No Government have fought more against that in Europe than we have.
We have fought attempts to put new burdens and constraints on industry, such as the social charter which would take away jobs, in particular part-time jobs. For us part of the purpose of the Community is to demolish trade barriers and eliminate unfair subsidies, so that we can all benefit from a great expansion of trade both within Europe and with the outside world.
The fact is that Britain has done more to shape the Community over the past 11 years than any other member state. Britain is leading the reform of the common agricultural policy, getting surpluses down, putting a ceiling on agricultural spending. We have been the driving force towards the single market which, when it is completed, will be the most significant advance in the Community since the treaty of Rome itself. We have done more than any other Government to resist protectionism, keep Europe's market open to trade with the rest of the world, and make a success of the GATT negotiations.
We have worked for our vision of a Europe which is free and open to the rest of the world, and above all to the countries of eastern Europe as they emerge from the shadows of socialism. It would not help them if Europe became a tight-knit little club, tied up in regulations and restrictions. They deserve a Europe where there is room for their rediscovered sense of nationhood and a place to decide their own destiny after decades of repression.
With all this, we have never hesitated to stand up for Britain's interests. The people of Britain want a fair deal in Europe, particularly over our budget contribution. We [column 451]have got back nearly £10 billion which would otherwise have been paid over to the EC under the arrangements negotiated by the Labour party when it was in power.
Indeed, what sort of vision does the Labour party have? None, according to the Leader of the Opposition. Labour Members want a Europe of subsidies, a Europe of socialist restrictions, a Europe of protectionism. They want it because that is how they would like to run—or is it ruin?—this country.
Every time that we have stood up and fought for Britain and British interests, Labour Front Bench spokesmen have carped, criticised and moaned. On the central issues of Europe's future, they will not tell us where they stand. Do they want a single currency? The right hon. Gentleman does not even know what it means, so how can he know?—[Laughter.] Mr. Kinnock
It is a hypothetical question. The Prime Minister
Absolute nonsense. It is appalling. He says that it is a hypothetical question. It will not be a hypothetical question. Someone must go to Europe and argue knowing what it means.
Are Labour members prepared to defend the rights of this United Kingdom Parliament? No, for all that the right hon. Gentleman said. For them, it is all compromise, “sweep it under the carpet” , “leave it for another day” , and “it might sort itself out” , in the hope that the people of Britain will not notice what is happening to them, and how the powers would gradually slip away.
The Government will continue to take a positive and constructive approach to the future of Europe. We welcome economic and monetary co-operation: indeed, no other member state has gone further than Britain in tabling proposals for the next stage, including the hard ecu. But our proposals would work with the market and give people and Governments real choice.
We want the Community to move forward as twelve: and from my talks in Paris with other European leaders over the past few days, I am convinced that that is their aim too. Europe is strongest when it grows through willing co-operation and practical measures, not compulsion or bureaucratic dreams. Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Will the Prime Minister tell us whether she intends to continue her personal fight against a single currency and an independent central bank when she leaves office? Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
No. She is going to be the governor. [Laughter.] The Prime Minister
What a good idea. I had not thought of that. But if I were, there would be no European central bank accountable to no one, least of all national Parliaments. The point of that kind of Europe with a central bank is no democracy, taking powers away from every single Parliament, and having a single currency, a monetary policy and interest rates which take all political power away from us. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson ) said in his first speech after the proposal for a single currency was made, a single currency is about the politics of Europe, it is about a federal Europe by the back door. So I shall consider the proposal of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner ). Now where were we? I am enjoying this. [column 452]Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth)
Cancel it. You can wipe the floor with these people. The Prime Minister
Yes, indeed—I was talking about Europe and the socialist ideal of Europe. Not for us the corporatism, socialism and central control. We leave those to the Opposition. Ours is a larger vision of a Community whose member states co-operate with one another more and more closely to the benefit of all.
Are we then to be censured for standing up for a free and open Britain in a free and open Europe? No. Our policies are in tune with the deepest instincts of the British people. We shall win the censure motion, so we shall not be censured for what is thoroughly right.
Under our leadership, Britain has been just as influential in shaping the wider Europe and the relations between East and West. Ten years ago, the eastern part of Europe lay under totalitarian rule, its people knowing neither rights nor liberties. Today, we have a Europe in which democracy, the rule of law and basic human rights are spreading ever more widely, where the threat to our security from the overwhelming conventional forces of the Warsaw pact has been removed: where the Berlin wall has been torn down and the cold war is at an end.
These immense changes did not come about by chance. They have been achieved by strength and resolution in defence, and by a refusal ever to be intimidated. No one in eastern Europe believes that their countries would be free had it not been for those western Governments who were prepared to defend liberty, and who kept alive their hope that one day east Europe too would enjoy freedom.
But it was no thanks to the Labour party, or to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament of which the right hon. Gentleman is still a member. It is this Government who kept the nuclear weapons which ensured that we could never be blackmailed or threatened. When Brezhnev deployed the SS20s, Britain deployed the cruise missiles and was the first to do so. And all these things were done in the teeth of the opposition of the hon. Gentlemen opposite—and their ladies. [Laughter[ The SS20s could never have been negotiated away without the bargaining strength which cruise and Pershing gave to the west.
Should we be censured for our strength? Or should the Labour party be censured for its weakness? I have no doubt that the people of Britain will willingly entrust Britain's security in future to a Conservative Government who defend them, rather than to socialists who put expediency before principle. Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
May I offer my right hon. Friend one measurement of the immense international respect and affection that she enjoys as a result of her policies of peace through strength? An opinion poll published on the west coast of America last month—[Laughter.] Mr. Speaker
Order. This takes up a great deal of time. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to participate in the debate. Will he please ask a question? Sir Eldon Griffiths
The figures are Gorbachev 74 per cent., Bush 75 per cent. and Thatcher 94 per cent. The Prime Minister
I am sure that they were quite right, too. [column 453]
I wish to say a word or two about the situation in the Gulf, because it will dominate politics until the matter is resolved. It is principle which is at stake, as well as the rule of international law.
In my discussions with other Heads of Government at the CSCE summit in Paris, I found a unanimous and impressive determination that Iraq's aggression must not succeed. The resolutions of the United Nations must be implemented in full. That is the peaceful option, Mr. Speaker, and it is there to be taken, if Saddam Hussein so chooses. There was also a widespread recognition among my colleagues in Paris that the time was fast approaching when the world community would have to take more decisive action to uphold international law and compel Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait.
No one can doubt the dangers which lie ahead. Saddam Hussein has many times shown his contempt for human life, not least for the lives of his own people. He has large armed forces. They are equipped with peculiarly evil weapons, both chemical and biological. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Will the Prime Minister give way? The Prime Minister
No, not now.
Twice in my time as Prime Minister we have had to send our forces across the world to defend a small country against ruthless aggression: first to our own people in the Falklands and now to the borders of Kuwait. To those who have never had to take such decisions, I say that they are taken with a heavy heart and in the knowledge of the manifold dangers, but with tremendous pride in the professionalism and courage of our armed forces.
There is something else which one feels. That is a sense of this country's destiny: the centuries of history and experience which ensure that, when principles have to be defended, when good has to be upheld and when evil has to be overcome, Britain will take up arms. It is because we on this side have never flinched from difficult decisions that this House and this country can have confidence in this Government today.