§ 5. Mr. Lawrence
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what information he has received about the response to the personal equity plan scheme since its introduction.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Nigel Lawson)
The personal equity plan scheme has had an excellent start. Although it only began on 1 January, more than 150 plan managers have already been registered, and the response from investors has been most encouraging.
§ Mr. Lawrence
In view of the recent criticisms of fund managers, that they engage in short termism, is it not particularly welcome that individual shareholders, who, after all, have shown consistent loyalty to British industries, are welcoming so enthusiastically this splendid Government initiative?
§ Mr. Lawson
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. Of course, there is a great deal in what he says. This Government have been consistently seeking to enlarge share ownership in this country. We did it first by new concessions for employee share schemes, then through the privatisation programme. As a result of those two things combined we have trebled the number of shareholders in this country, and now there is the personal equity plan scheme under which according to the press, some £200 million was invested in the first week of January alone.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
Does not the survey carried out by the Financial Times show the claims that the Chancellor is making for this scheme to be nonsenes? Is it not the case that higher tax-paying people and existing investors are buying personal equity plans, as we warned they would during the passage of the Finance Bill? Will the Chancellor look at the scheme again to seek to ensure that it attracts not existing but new investors?
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. Member is mistaken. Barclays, for example—one of the biggest of the plan managers—recently announced that roughly a quarter of its personal equity plan investors were first-time share buyers. The hon. Member owes the House an explanation of where the so-called alliance stands on financial and City issues, given the fact that, in the important debate last night, the leader of the Liberal party voted in one Lobby and the leader of the SDP voted in the opposite Lobby.
§ Mr. Cash
Does my right hon. Friend agree, following up the point that he has just made, that this Government 476 have helped the small shareholder and helped to distribute wealth throughout the country? Has not the alliance demonstrated, by what it did yesterday, that it does not have the slightest interest in those principles for which it purports to stand?
§ Mr. Lawson
My hon. Friend is right. As I have indicated, the only Government and the only party who are dedicated and are effectively bringing about wider share ownership in this country are this present Conservative Government. We have already, as I indicated earlier, trebled the number of shareholders in this country, and with the further progress on the privatisation programme and with the further progress on personal equity plans, which, despite the many critics, are proving an outstanding success, we shall increase this further.