§ 5. Mr. Denham
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is his estimate of the number of jobs that would be lost as a result of the introduction of a 17.5 per cent. rating of value added tax on books and newspapers.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe)
I am not prepared to speculate on matters still within the realm of hypothesis.
§ Mr. Denham
Is not that a most extraordinary and complacent reply? Is it not the case that the imposition of VAT on books and newspapers has been widely canvassed as an option in the Budget, and that it has been estimated by the printing industry that the measure would cost 20,000 jobs? Yet the Minister has not even bothered to estimate the consequences for employment.
How many other measures that may be announced this afternoon in the Budget have slipped through the Minister's fingers without any estimate of the consequences for unemployment? Why on earth do we have Ministers for employment if they will not do their job properly? Is there not one cut in public expenditure on 907 which we can all agree—getting rid of Employment Ministers' salaries because they are not prepared to do the job they are paid for?
§ Miss Widdecombe
The job that I am paid to do is not to be led into using the Department's investigation resources by the mere speculation of the Opposition. Why does not the hon. Gentleman confine himself to some facts? Instead of spreading gloom and despondency, why does he not point out that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 13 per cent. since January? [Interruption.] I shall believe that the Opposition really care about employment when they greet questions like that with cheers.
§ Mr. John Townend
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is illogical for the working man to have to pay VAT on the boots and shoes that he needs to go to work, but not on The Sun, pornographic magazines or The Tatler? Does she also agree that the printing industry has benefited from our industrial relations legislation, which has enabled it to cut its costs, more than any other industry?
§ Miss Widdecombe
I suggest that my hon. Friend puts his question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at an appropriate time.