§ 3. Mr. Baldry
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has of the number of personal equity plans now in existence.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Mr. Nigel Lawson)
About 450,000 personal equity plans have been taken out to date.
§ Mr. Baldry
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the welcome boost to personal equity plans in this year's Budget will increase the number of people who have a personal stake in the success of British business and encourage businesses to invest further because their ability to raise equity will thus be enhanced? Given all those advantages, does my right hon. Friend not think it somewhat sad that the Labour party should oppose this year's Budget proposals to expand personal equity plans? Does that not reflect the Labour party's inherent opposition to the spread of wider share ownership and a property-owning democracy?
§ Mr. Lawson
Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend is quite right. The Labour party is wholly opposed to share-owning democracy and they were opposed to property-owning democracy. Indeed, for years and years they opposed the sale of council houses to their tenants until eventually public feeling was so strong that they had to change their ways. The measure in this year's Budget will give personal equity plans a new boost. One of them—permitting new issue shares to go into personal equity plans instead of, as previously, purely cash—is an important change. I can announce today that this facility will be extended to shares issued by building societies when converting to plc status, and this includes the Abbey National.
§ Mr. Cryer
If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is so committed to a share-owning democracy, will he introduce legislation to allow shareholders to determine whether a small clique of Tory sycophants in the boardroom hand over shareholders' money to the Tory party, or is he stopping short of spreading democracy to shareholders so long as the Tory party coffers are substantially swollen, like himself?
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. Member's paranoia becomes increasingly tedious. Company shareholders can, if they are dissatisfied with the management of any company, vote that management and vote those directors out of office—and that is democracy.