Yes. Any alternatives would be infinitely worse, as we all know when we have been through a rating revolution. A rating revaluation based on capital values would be even worse, and a local tax would be abhorrent to most people.
Was not any change that the Prime Minister was to make supposed to be related to the ability to pay?
If that is the case, why is the right hon. Lady having such difficulty persuading her party in this House and the other place?
Has my right hon. Friend had her attention drawn to the practice attributed to President Reagan of consulting an astrologer before taking decisions? Has she considered appointing a resident astrologer at No. 10 Downing street? I should make it plain that I am not applying for the post.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the widespread dismay that there will be about the news that the United States Senate has decided to delay ratification of the INF treaty? As the Prime Minister is such a strong public supporter of the treaty, and as she knows of the damaging consequences that there would be for East-West relations if the treaty were to fail, will she use all her influence in Washington to ensure a speedy ratification of it?
I share the hon. Gentleman's view that it is important that that treaty be ratified, and I have made that view known. I understand that the Senate postponement relates to United States-Soviet Union differences over interpretation of inspection rights. Among those are rights under the treaty to inspect missiles and missile stages leaving those missile assembly plants subject to permanent monitoring. It is not for us to interpret the treaty, but I believe that there is sufficient time for that to be properly resolved before the President visits Moscow, and I hope that the treaty will be ratified by that time.
Yes. I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents on having the wisdom to do that. It was important that they should do so, because councils elected now will be those which impose the first community charge. We have to remember that councils decide the community charge.
Has the Prime Minister had time to consider the reply that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment gave me last Tuesday? If so, will she confirm that it is Government policy to employ people on the grounds of merit alone? How does that square with the recent list that was put in the Library in answer to my question about employment in the Civil Service?
In view of the increasing difficulty faced by young people on low incomes in obtaining homes in rural areas, will my right hon. Friend agree to review the allocation of Housing Corporation funds, only 3 per cent. of which go to rural areas, even though 20 per cent. of the population live in those areas?
I know that the proportion is very small, but the guidelines covering Housing Corporation allocations to rural areas have recently been revised. Funding will be targeted on smaller and more isolated agricultural settlements, with a view to doubling the present level of housing association provision in those areas. It is not a great deal, but it is a start. As my hon. Friend is very well aware, one also has to get planning permission for increased housing in rural areas.
As a result of the recent housing benefit cuts, many senior citizens in my constituency of Glasgow, Pollok and elsewhere have been asked to pay double their previous rent and rates from resources that are already overstretched. Will the right hon. Lady consider ways of ending the fear and hardship that her Government's policy has imposed upon the elderly?
If the hon. Gentleman's constituents are in local authority housing, their rent and rates are a matter for the local authority. [Interruption.]
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest threats to world peace at the moment is the amount of chemical weapons stored by the Soviet Union? Does she further agree that the use of chemical weapons in the middle east has greatly exacerbated that threat? Is she prepared to take a lead among the leaders of the free world to find a solution to this appalling threat to our future?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war has been very worrying indeed, as none had been used since world war 1. It concerns us all. I also agree with my hon. Friend that it is a matter of great anxiety to the West that the Soviet Union has a very large stockpile of chemical weapons and has modernised them, whereas we got rid of ours long ago. We shall use all our diplomatic skills to try to get an agreement on chemical weapons, preferably to abolish them altogether, but, as my hon. Friend is aware, verification is the most important factor. I believe that we may get further in negotiations on this matter.
I refer the Prime Minister to the absolutely unsympathetic and misleading reply that she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie), when she tried to put the blame for the change in housing benefit on local authorities. I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to a letter today in The Times from a widow of 89 who worked until she was 75 and who, because her income was 85p over income support level, has had her housing benefit decreased by £1·25.Will the right hon. Lady confirm that that was the Government's intention, so that the poor elderly should subsidise tax cuts for the better off?
No. The amount spent on housing benefit now is about £5·3 billion, and every two households are contributing not only to keeping themselves but to keeping a third house. With regard to the recent reforms, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services said:
We do not think it right to compensate"—
Of course I am reading. I am reading precisely what my right hon. Friend said. He said:
We do not think it right to compensate for those increases in rents introduced to coincide with the new housing benefit scheme, nor increases in rates."—[Official Report,. 27 April 1 988; Vol. 132, c. 360.]
The new system does not compensate for those latest increases. It offers transitional protection for the system just before then and for the rent and rates then levied.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a brand new textile factory is being built in my constituency at a cost of £3 million, without Government subsidy? Is she aware that this is the first new textile factory to be built in the Colne Valley for over half a century? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an illustration of the growing confidence of industrialists in Yorkshire and of the success of the Government's economic policies in bringing jobs and prosperity back to the north of England?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that he has a new factory in his area. The textile industry is doing very well. It is effective and competitive. It produces excellent designs and is providing many jobs. As my hon. Friend knows, unemployment is now falling in all areas, including the north-west.
Does the right hon. Lady recall that the last question that 1 put to her was on the subject of litter? The right hon. Lady acted with great alacrity in having a photo-call in St. James's park, which nationally achieved good results. If other hon. Members had done the same in their constituencies, it would have helped the nation to get rid of this curse. Will the right hon. Lady now turn her formidable talents to asking local authorities and the members of the farming community to stop cutting their verges surrounding our countryside? Will she try to persuade the farming community to stop cutting hedges at the same height and width, or we shall finish up with one National Hunt course?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the landscape that we seek to conserve has largely been created by farming. There was a period when grants were given to take hedges out, but that period has long since ceased. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we do not want a countryside that consists largely of prairies, without many of the old hedges that we used to see.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this week there are six Chinese parliamentary or Government delegations in London, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union group, which she met earlier today? Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to say what she sees as the present relationship between Her Majesty's Government and the People's Republic of China?
I saw a representative of that group today. The relationship between Her Majesty's Government and China is very good. We have the excellent arrangement of the Hong Kong agreement that we signed. Trade is increasing and we wish to increase contacts between the Chinese people and this country. Cultural contacts are also increasing.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that tourism creates many jobs and that we wish to increase it. I wish him well in that area.