HC Deb 13 December 1984 vol 69 cc1197-8
8. Mr. Nellist

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is satisfied with the current state of the economy.

Mr. Peter Rees

In spite of the coal strike, GDP rose by 3 per cent. in the year to the second quarter of 1984, inflation was about 5 per cent. and employment was up some quarter of a million.

Mr. Nellist

If the Minister is so confident about the state of the economy, why, within the next few hours, are the Government proposing to introduce regulations in the House to cut housing benefit for up to 16,000 single, striking miners, and tens of thousands of other people who live with relatives? The impact of that, in economic terms, may be a few million pounds, but it will be disastrous for individuals. Does not that type of cut pale into insignificance when compared with the £4.5 billion that the Government have spent trying to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers?

Mr. Rees

I am not aware that the Government have spent any money trying to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers. On housing benefit, the rest of the House, if not the hon. Gentleman, will be aware that claims have been made which were not envisaged when housing benefit was introduced.

Mr. Forman

Would it be possible to make a modest but significant improvement in the state of the economy by implementing, at an early date, the recommendations of the recent Management and Personnel Office report on Government purchasing, which showed that savings of between £400 million and £1.5 billion could be made if they were followed through?

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend is right. We are considering urgently how those measures could properly and practicably be introduced. Significant economies could be made if those proposals were adopted.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Chief Secretary accept that to cut wages is no way to bring about an economic revival? Does he appreciate how nauseating it is to see well-paid business men on the Conservative Benches advocating the abolition of wages councils? Why does the Chancellor not accept that the wages councils offer minimum protection for the lowest paid in our country?

Mr. Rees

I shall not comment on the hon. Gentleman's nausea. He has his own tastes and approach to these problems. I suspect that those of my hon. Friends who have been advocating that course feel that it would enable people who are at present excluded to be priced back into employment.