This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I will be attending a dinner given by Premier Zhao Ziyang of the People's Republic of China.
When my right hon. Friend goes to Milan on 28–29 June for the European Council meeting, she will find that the agenda includes the Dooge report, which recommends a conference of representatives of member states to negotiate a European union treaty. Since the Dooge report says that such a conference in itself would be the initial stage of such a treaty, will my right hon.
Friend decline to send a representative, on the ground that there is no support in this House or in the country for further European union?
I have often spoken about European union. The phrase is understood in this country in a totally different context from that in Europe. I wish that people would not use it. In this country it raises fear of federation. It is not used in that way in Europe. I would be absolutely against a federal Europe. I agree with my hon. Friend about a special intergovernmental conference. I think that it would be superfluous. I know that some of my colleagues in Europe would like to have it, but if we consider the European Council itself, it is an intergovernmental conference and we do not need an extra one.
On Tuesday the Prime Minister told us that she wanted to be factual about the implications of the social security review. Will she now act upon that and tell us how many million householders will lose as a consequence of the changes proposed in housing benefit and, of those, how many are likely to be people with small occupational pensions who are to be penalised for a lifetime of thrift?
The right hon. Gentleman is aware of the reply that I gave. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services pointed out that the cost of housing benefit had gone up from £1.2 billion in 1979-80 to £4.2 billion this year, he indicated that we were hoping to save some £500 million from housing benefit. We cannot be more specific until the many rates are set much later.
Why will the Prime Minister not answer the question? We know that she has the information. We know that the DHSS and the Cabinet have the information. The housing benefit review team said in its own paper that it was satisfied that despite all the complexities it had "a reliable indication of the major effects" of the changes being proposed. That is what we have asked for—a reliable indication. That is what the millions of people who will be affected want. Why will the Prime Minister not come clean?
I have indicated to the right hon. Gentleman that savings of £500 million are hoped for. That is only one sixth of the increase that has occurred in housing benefit between 1979 and 1984. That seems to me eminently reasonable. The precise effect on the many people will be known when the specific rates are set, and particularly when the decisions with regard to rates are made.
No, Mr. Speaker. I have indicated—perhaps I should reiterate it to the right hon. Gentleman — that taxpayers' expenditure — [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman always forgets that all the money he would give away comes from the pockets of his constituents. Taxpayers' expenditure on housing benefit has risen from £1.2 billion in 1979 to £4.2 billion—[Interruption. ]
Taxpayers' expenditure on housing benefit has risen from £1·2 billion in 1979 to £4·2 billion this year. That is an enormous increase. We hope to save something like £500 million, which is only one sixth of the increase that has occurred in our time. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the taxpayers of this country could not afford his programmes.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, whatever decision is made by the United States Congress on disinvestment with South Africa, this Government will continue to encourage investment and trade with that country, not only for the 150,000 or so jobs that it generates over here, but for the sake of the underprivileged blacks in South Africa itself, for whom disinvestment would cause great harm and distress?
That is the decision that FIFA has made. I think that we fully understand why it has made it. I hope that we shall be able to take steps that will restore our good name both at home and in international football.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman most warmly, and I am grateful for the response that his question has evoked from all parts of the House.
Was the Prime Minister consulted about the disgraceful decision to announce the Government's decision on nurses' pay by means of a written answer? Does she really think that a written answer is more appropriate than a statement in the House on a matter of such interest to hon. Members on both sides of the House?
Since 1979 the decisions on review body reports have normally been announced by written answer. Under Labour, it was the normal practice for decisions to be announced by written answer.
Does not the scale of starvation in Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa demonstrate the need for a continuing, co-ordinated international response to solving the problem of starvation in Africa? As both the Uniied States and Russia have been somewhat partisan in wanting to establish spheres of influence in north Africa, does not that give Britain a marvellous opportunity to take a positive lead in the United Nations to try to ensure that we can eliminate starvation from the world by the year 2000?
As my hon. Friend is aware, we have announced that we are sending an extra Hercules to the Sudan. We have provided some money for a light aircraft. We are also taking part in European action to try to get more of the food well distributed in the Sudan. I take my hon. Friend's point about taking the lead in the United Nations. The United States has also been generous in the food that it is planning to send to the Sudan.
Will the Prime Minister take time today to read the report by the independent firm of City accountants, Coopers and Lybrand, which shows that the transitional cost for the abolition of the Greater London council ranges between £122 million and £167 million? In view of that enormous cost and the defeats that her Government's Bill is now experiencing in the House of Lords, will she take this opportunity to drop her personal and vindictive campaign against the GLC, sack her Secretary of State for the Environment at the next reshuffle and accompany me across Westminster bridge to make her peace with Ken Livingstone and the GLC?
I understand that the report estimates the transitional costs of change that arise from redundancy payments, which would occur in any event if the GLC chose to run its affairs efficiently. The report to which the hon. Gentleman has kindly drawn attention also shows that annual savings will flow from the abolition of the GLC and that the GLC is grossly overmanned at present.
Of course I support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I shall be around, but whether I shall be around when the vote occurs I cannot tell, because I have two or three overseas visitors to see.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that anyone who knows anything about the social security system—a category of people which unfortunately does not include the Leader of the Opposition or the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) — knows that the overwhelming requirement is for a system which is simpler and more understandable to those who use it and which directs more of the expenditure to those in real need? Is she aware that, accordingly, the proposals announced by the Government on Monday have been very warmly welcomed?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the proposals have been warmly welcomed. They are also very realistic. I agree that we should have benefits which we are satisfied a future Government can deliver, and not the empty promises that we get from the Opposition.
Is the Prime Minister aware that Sir John Hermon, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has not met his opposite number, Laurence Wren, Chief of the Garda, in the past two years? Does she agree that public recriminations between the two men does not assist the fight against terrorism?
Consultations between the Garda and the RUC do not necessarily have to be conducted at the top level. The consultations are conducted very well and co-operation is close, for which we are very grateful.
The Government are very anxious that more competition should be introduced into local authority contracts. That is our policy and it will continue to be so.
Many invitations have been thrust upon me from all parts of the House. I hope that I shall be around to respond to one of them.
In the light of the tragic events in Brussels last week, does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the notable exception of the Cambridge case, the punishments meted out by the courts have been woefully inadequate and no deterrent whatever to football hooliganism?
I believe that the Cambridge case heralded a new era. I should also point out that the Court of Appeal had previously made it abundantly clear that, in serious cases of violence at football grounds, the right sentence should be a prison sentence. I hope that that will be observed in all other courts.