§ 4. Mr. Freeman
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received on the proposed establishment of personal equity plans.
§ Mr. Freeman
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that since 1979, when the Government came into power, the proportion of the population owning shares has doubled from 7 to 14 per cent.? Will he accept that this has been a substantial achievement? As we are now to have personal equity plans, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be reasonable to aim for 20 per cent. of the population to own shares, which is close to the percentage in the United States?
§ Mr. Lawson
Yes. The most recent survey conducted by National Opinion Poll showed that the proportion of adults directly owning shares has doubled since 1979 along the lines that my hon. Friend suggested. This has arisen largely as a result of two factors. First, there has been a sharp growth in employee share schemes. Secondly, there has been the Government's privatisation programme, especially British Telecom. We are now adding a third leg to what will become a tripod with the introduction of personal equity plans, which, as I said in my earlier answers, have had a warm welcome throughout the community.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
Does the Chancellor accept that personal equity plans would be even more widely and enthusiastically accepted and welcomed if they gave greater incentives than are at present planned? Does he accept also that the great prize for British industry would be to have an agreement which extended across the political parties on this scheme and on the right hon. Gentleman's profit-sharing scheme, which we very much welcome, which he introduced at the NEDC on Monday? Will he incorporate in the discussions on these matters not only both sides of industry but the other parties?
§ Mr. Lawson
I shall always be happy to listen to representations from the hon. Gentleman and from anyone 841 else before the scheme finally comes into full operation on 1 January 1987. I am glad to know that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the tax concessions under the personal equity plan of complete freedom from income tax on dividends and of capital gains tax on disposals, proposals which were never put into play under the previous Labour Government, of whom the hon. Gentleman was such an avid supporter.
§ Mr. Skinner
Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer recall that after the findings of the National Opinion Poll were published it was suggested by many, and reported, that the increase in share owners from 7 to 14 per cent. arose because there had been a lot of double counting? Will he confirm that the greatest increase of share ownership that has taken place pro rata is in the Government and the Cabinet itself, with nine members of the Cabinet owning shares and with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport leading the way by making money out of the coal strike and privatisation, only to be superseded by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth), who represents Barclays Bank in this place?
§ Mr. Lawson
I regret that I was not able to hear much of what the hon. Gentleman said. Modern Cabinets may be rather large, but to suggest that they account for 14 per cent. of the adult population of Great Britain is going a little far.
§ Mr. Tim Smith
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the refinements to the scheme, which were announced by the Treasury this week to include unit trusts, are very welcome? Who is to issue the plans if the Financial Services Bill does not become law by 1 January of next year, which seems likely?
§ Mr. Lawson
It is important that the Financial Services Bill should become law by 1 January next year, as I am sure my hon. Friend agrees. If that were not so, special arrangements would have to be in force for the interim period.