Is my right hon. Friend aware of how delighted the nurses are at the recent pay award? Does she agree with the nurses at the Charing Cross hospital who were telling me at the weekend that they thought it would go a long way towards improving recruitment and that nurses' morale was greatly improved as a result of the Government's decision to implement the award in full?
Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend. The award in full to nurses, doctors, dentists and professions allied to medicine has been widely welcomed. It means that we shall be able to recruit more nurses in areas where there were shortages, such as paediatric nursing and intensive care units, and that nurses will be getting about 44 per cent. in real terms above what they were getting in 1979, and doctors about 30 per cent. extra in real terms. It is a good award for those who work in the Health Service, and it is good for the patients.
Two weeks ago I asked the Prime Minister whether she would amend the social security regulations to restore housing benefit and help with rates. She then replied, "No, Sir." Today, I ask her the same question. Does she give the same answer?
We are spending far more on housing benefit now that ever was the case during the life of the previous Labour Government. We have reformed the fundamental structure. The fundamental reform was correct.
Why is the Prime Minister unable to answer the question? She knows that she has been wrong. She knows that she has done wrong. Why does she stand on her dignity instead of doing what she can to help others to maintain their dignity? We know that she must make changes. Why does she not just get on with it and not unnecessarily prolong the anxiety and the hardship which hundreds of thousands of people in Britain are now suffering? The two weeks since I asked her that question might be a short time in politics, but it has already been a long time for those in poverty and in worry.
We do not stand on dignity. We in fact provide more resources—more cash—because the economy run by this Government has enabled us to provide more resources for housing benefit, social security reform and the Health Service. If we went back to the previous Labour Government we would have to cut the social services, housing benefit, the Health Service and nurses' and doctors' pay. I am sure that not even the right hon. Gentleman would want that.
Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to make it clear that it is totally unacceptable for picketing to turn into blockade and that those who want to go to work have the right to do so and will be fully protected from violence and intimidation?
The only right to picket is a right to peaceful picketing. Any violence is a criminal matter and people who resort to it must expect to be dealt with accordingly by the prosecuting authorities and by the courts. It is a sad day when trade unionism has come to the amount of violence which we sometimes see on picket lines.
Will the Prime Minister confirm—Mr. Speaker not having certified the Local Government Finance Bill as a money Bill—that it would be entirely within their Lordships' constitutional right to seek to amend and improve the operation of the poll tax as contained in the Bill? Will she further accept that the more the poll tax is understood by the public, as well as by parliamentarians, the more unacceptable it has become? Their Lordships would be performing a public service by sending the whole thing back here for reconsideration.
The matter of the constitution is not only for me; it is for their Lordships' House and for Mr. Speaker. It is for them to decide, and they have rules which must govern the decisions. It is not a matter for me.
With regard to the community charge, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. The more that is generally understood about it, the fairer it is seen to be. It is far fairer than the system of rates and rating revaluation, particularly on capital values, to which the right hon. Gentleman seems to want to cling.
—has navigated safely through this House, will my right hon. Friend look again at the arguments for the central financing of education, now that we have a national curriculum, national tests, and are funding centrally schools that opt out of the system?
I think that that would mean wholly central control of education. There is no way in which a Department of Education and Science could administer the education system. The laws were set in the 1944 Education Act—and have been amended since—within which local authorities have to pursue their duties. Having been a Secretary of State for Education and Science, I do not think that the Department of Education and Science could ever run education centrally; nor do I think that it would be desirable that it should do so.
Will the Prime Minister advise me on how I can assist one of my constituents, a lady who has an income of £76 a week, and who has, as a result of these changes, lost £11 per week in housing benefit? How can she continue to feel that she is part of the enterprise society when she is far worse off working three days a week as a shop assistant than she would be if she stayed at home? When the Prime Minister eventually administers the Admiral Byng treatment to the Secretary of State for Social Services, will she consider administering similar treatment to the Secretary of State for Employment, as he has been the architect of the mess in which the Government find themselves?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, it is not possible for me to deal with individual cases. Whenever I have tried to do so, I have found that when we look into them there are substantial factors which have not been fully put into the question. I remind the hon. Gentleman that if we went back to the amount spent on housing benefit in 1979 it would mean cutting the total spent by 52 per cent.
Did my right hon. Friend read the remarkable speech which our right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) made recently, in which he praised the part which the so-called working classes now play in supporting the Government? We all agree with that. However, for the avoidance of doubt, will she confirm that there is still room in the Government and in the Conservative party for the nobility, the gentry and the middle classes?—[Interruption.]
My hon. Friend is just about the only person who could ask that question in this House, and I wish to goodness that we had more like him.
Will the Prime Minister consider the case of Mrs. Niner, a lollipop lady in my constituency, who lives with her husband, young daughter and two teenage sons in a two-bedroomed maisonette? Over and above the existing rates level, they will be faced with an extra poll tax bill of £1,138 per year. Can that be stopped, or will the Government's poll tax juggernaut run down my lollipop lady?
If they are faced with a poll tax —a community charge—of that dimension, it must be because they have a very extravagant local authority. That is partly the trouble. Many Left-wing Labour authorities have put up the rent and rates, saying that the taxpayer can afford to pay for them, but the fact is—perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell his lollipop lady and many others—that under this Government the amount spent on social security, in particular on health and pensions, has vastly increased beyond anything that could have been contemplated eight years ago.
At a time when many people are working hard to repair and improve Anglo-Irish relations, was it not unhelpful, to say the least, for the Irish Prime Minister to make such a savage attack on the British Government's policies last weekend? In particular, was it not irresponsible of him to advocate a unitary state in Ireland, when his own country's Government so recently put their names to a document forswearing that until such time as the majority of people of Northern Ireland want that to happen?
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The highest priority must be the defeat of terrorism, which could be a threat south of the border, as it is in the north. The defeat of terrorism requires unstinting effort and effective co-operation across the border. We shall continue to press for that and to seek reassurance from the Irish Government that the speech to which my hon. Friend referred does not mean that they are backing away from their responsibilities under the agreement.
I wanted to ask the Prime Minister why the Government Whip objected to the Second Reading of my Grandparents (Adoption of Children) Bill last Friday. However, as she was not prepared to reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, does that mean that the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Members must continually badger the Government so that they realise that changes are needed in the proposals for social security? As the Prime Minister refused to answer the Leader of the Opposition, will she answer my straightforward question? Is the Prime Minister going to make any changes to housing benefit in the new proposals for social security?
I will answer the hon. Gentleman as I answered the Leader of the Opposition. This year about £46 billion is being spent on social security—a sum vastly in excess of anything contemplated seven or eight years ago. There are more pensioners, the eligibility for people who are disabled has been increased and we are concentrating more money on families, especially on low income families. It was time that we had a fundamental reform, and it was the right reform.
During my right hon. Friend's most welcome visit last Friday to the thriving city of Nottingham, where many of my constituents work, did she notice two key characteristics: first, that last May the administration was taken over by a Conservative council for the first time; and, secondly, that the initiative to restore and rejuvenate those parts of Nottingham which require it are being led by a private sector initiative?
I had a good visit to Nottingham. I saw those now responsible for the sound administration and careful finances of the city, which was flourishing. I saw excellent industries, some of which did not exist some years ago and which had taken over where there had been a dying industry and were providing new jobs, which is good. I saw excellent industries, an excellent administra-tion and excellent arts and sports facilities.