This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
There is a consultative document about the future of wages councils, which has still to be decided. Evidence shows that if we set a legal minimum wage that tends to lead to increased unemployment.
We referred to the Camp David agreement, which sets out explicitly that the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people should be honoured. As my hon. Friend knows, we fully support resolution 242.
Can the Prime Minister explain why, in the social security proposals outlined yesterday, no figures were given for the amounts that the unemployed, the sick and disabled, pensioners and families may expect to receive under any new arrangements? Why were no figures given for the number of households which can expect to lose as a consequence of the loss of housing benefit?
In accordance with custom, we have still to decide the figures for this year's uprating— [Interruption]. It is according to custom. It is done either on a historical basis or on a forecast. We rejected the forecast and chose the historical basis. That means that we must wait for the May retail price index figures, which are not published until June—[Interruption.] That method has been approved by the House. It is more certain than forecasting. As we have yet to decide this year's figures, we are hardly likely to decide figures for two years hence.
We have been told that this is a major shake-up of the social security system. Is the Prime Minister really trying to tell us that after thousands of hours of civil servants’ time, endless wrangling in Government committees and three Cabinet meetings, she has no facts, no figures and no estimates? We are not asking for precise figures; we want dependable estimates of what the effect will be on families who need the benefit incomes of which they are about to be deprived.
The right hon. Gentleman clearly drafted that supplementary question before he heard my reply to his original question. He might recall that even his Government determined the uprating annually on a forecast basis. We do it on a historical basis. His Government followed that procedure. We uprate each year and we like to know precisely what the figures are before we decide the uprating.
With the celebrated toings and froings, the postponed Cabinet meetings and the wrangles that took place, absolutely nobody can reasonably be expected to accept what the Prime Minister has said. Is it not a fact that she is trying to hide what the outcome of the proposals will be, and that even she is ashamed of her proposals? Can she not give figures? Is she afraid? Is she innumerate, or simply mendacious?
No, Mr. Speaker, factual. There has been an annual uprating of social security benefits for many years. That is the fact. It is only the right hon. Gentleman who is capable of ignoring the facts. He cannot be expected to be believed if he does.
Will the Prime Minister confirm one aspect of the proposals announced yesterday? Is it the case that elderly people on low incomes, living in purpose-built housing, will in future find themselves losing part of their rate rebate and also, unless they are on supplementary benefit, housing benefit as well? If that is the case, does the Prime Minister not recognise that that means that many elderly people will not be able to afford to go on living in accommodation which successive Governments have encouraged to be specially built for them?
In the Green Paper, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, it is intended that everyone shall be expected to pay some contribution towards rates, save possibly those on supplementary benefit. I think it is right that everyone should be expected to make a contribution towards rates so that we do not have a position in which those who make no contribution at all can demand enormous increases in local authority expenditure at the expense of other people.
Can my right hon. Friend clear up one point? Why is it suggested that everybody should have to make a contribution to rates when we understand that rates are to be abolished?
My right hon. Friend will have heard that point referred to in my right hon. Friend's statement yesterday, if in fact he heard it. In the meantime, there are rates. We cannot say what will happen if we bring forward legislation to change rates to other taxes.
Returning to the dearth of information in terms of detailed figures in the social security review, may I ask the Prime Minister to confirm that in the Rowe report on housing benefit, paragraph 319 refers to the detailed analyses and computer studies that were available. Why have the Government not made them available to the House? I warn her that if she does not do that, and does not put some arithmetical flesh on the bones of the new structure, she will stand accused of wilfully attempting to stymie comment or, worse, she will be accused of political cowardice.
No, Mr. Speaker. This is a Green Paper. If the hon. Member looks in some of the separate volumes he will find many figures already there on a number of things. There are far too many to have been absorbed in the short time that the paper has been out. We are not yet prepared to put figures to particular benefits for very good reasons because we believe in sound finance — [Interruption]. Yes, Mr Speaker. It was the Government whom the right hon. Gentleman's party supported who did not believe in sound finance. It was the Labour Government who took us to the International Monetary Fund. We believe in sound finance and we shall wait until we are nearer the time to determine the uprating. It is the Labour party that believes in spend, spend, spend, with no thought of where the burden will be put on the working population.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present social security system to which the Opposition seem irretrievably wedded is so complex that many people in need do not take up the benefits to which they are entitled? Does she therefore believe that the bold reforms proposed yesterday by our right hon. Friend will enable many people in real need to take up benefits to which they are entitled—something effectively denied them by the Opposition?
Yes, Mr Speaker. I hope that it will also enable most of those entitled to benefit to understand how the benefits are calculated, which is virtually impossible at the moment.
We have yet to determine what the upratings and figures will be. I said earlier that we had not yet decided on the upratings, which are due to take place in November. It is, therefore, not the time to decide what will happen in a few years’ time.
Given the prediction that there will be many more pensioners in the first quarter of the next century and the fact that the Opposition would change nothing, will my right hon. Friend confirm the estimate of one leading journal that our children could be paying a basic income tax rate of up to 45 per cent. to fund pensions?
Bearing in mind the promises that the Opposition regularly make for increases on everything, this country would soon be bankrupt with the policies that they propose.
At a time of mass unemployment and growing poverty, how can the Prime Minister justify what will clearly be seen as a blatant and vicious attack upon the poorest sections of our community? Is it not a fact that the Prime Minister fails absolutely to understand the reality of poverty and that her intention is to make the poor pay for the crisis which she and her Government have brought about?
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the statement made yesterday he would have heard that one of the objects of restructuring the welfare state is to see that those in need, especially needy families who are in work as well as those out of work, profit more from the social welfare system than they do at present.
Some years ago the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), in a different incarnation, said that the permissive society was a civilised society. In the light of the recent football hooliganism, would my right hon. Friend care to comment on whether that might be the approach of the Social Democratic party to such behaviour?
In any society, we all have to live by rules. We all have to uphold those rules and the law. Beyond that, we live within our own self-discipline or become prey to every whim, appetite and instinct. Most of us prefer to live by the rules of society.
Does the Prime Minister stand by the suggestions made by some of her Ministers that any pay settlement for the nurses which is above 3 per cent. must be paid for by savings inside the National Health Service? Does that not mean that a pay settlement for nurses which is only at the rate of inflation will result in cuts in nurses’ jobs? Is that not an appallingly unfair way to treat a dedicated profession?
I hope that the decision on the pay review bodies will be announced shortly. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that if everything demanded is in the upward direction the burden on other taxpayers will be enormous. Therefore, we have to live in total within the means that have been set out in the White Paper.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the social security changes that were announced yesterday are simpler, fairer and saner than ever before? Nevertheless, when my right hon. Friend, as Prime Minister, reviews the position in the year 2010, will she ensure that I receive the pension that I deserve?
I believe that our proposals can be properly financed and delivered. That would not be so unless we had embarked upon this exercise to restructure the social services.
Does the Prime Minister understand that the resentment felt by many people in Bradford when the Bradford fire disaster was linked with the riot in Birmingham has been greatly intensified by the linking of the Bradford and Birmingham incidents with the Brussels incident? Will the right hon. Lady instruct Mr. Justice Popplewell to complete his inquiry into the Bradford disaster quickly? When will she announce what money the Government will give for the rebuilding of the Valley Parade ground so that it can become a community sports facility serving all the people of Bradford?
The terms of reference of Mr. Justice Popplewell's inquiry have been set, and I believe that they were the right ones. Spectators who go to grounds must be protected on safety grounds and must be protected from hooliganism. Both aspects are being considered by Mr. Justice Popplewell, and I believe that that is absolutely right. The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said yesterday about money. A good deal of money is going through the Football Trust and the Football Grounds Improvement Trust for these matters. Last year an extra £3·3 million was paid out of the Football Grounds Improvement Trust because there were no further applications for improvements. We are considering the finances through a working party, and all the groups concerned are represented on it. We shall need to know the results of that working party's inquiry, and what the fire investigators and surveyors say before we decide on giving any extra money for the grounds.