Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the council tax levels set by the district councils in my area for middle-range band D houses? Labour York is charging £101, a 21 per cent. increase; Liberal Democrat Ryedale is charging £78, a massive 57 per cent. increase; while in neighbouring Conservative Hambleton, householders are getting a £32 refund. Does that not show that Labour remains the high-tax party, that a protest vote for the Liberal Democrats can prove very expensive and that people are better off under the Tories?
I can confirm what my hon. Friend has said. Examples similar to those that he has given can be found right around the country. The Labour party has sought repeatedly during the local election campaign to mislead people with comparisons on council tax, but it knows, as everyone else should know, that, band for band, like for like, Conservative councils are infinitely cheaper than Labour councils and substantially cheaper than Liberal Democrat councils.
We have done for nurses precisely what they asked of us. We have provided them with their own review body and met in full its recommendations. That is something that no previous Government were prepared to give nurses. We have given them that. A great many nurses have now accepted the national settlement, to which, of course, must be added the local settlements.
The Prime Minister is surely aware that the review body set a national figure and that it included the local component because of Government pressure to do so. He therefore cannot shuffle off responsibility on to it. Is not the effect of Government policy on the health service now to pit nurse against nurse, hospital against hospital, doctor against doctor? The result will be to divide and rule and the commercialisation, demoralisation and break-up of the health service, when people want to see the national health service run as a proper national service for the people.
No Government at any stage have funded the health service as generously in terms of pay or other aspects of it as we do. Set against what the right hon. Gentleman has just had to say, can he perhaps explain whether it is fair or unfair that nurses' pay has risen by an average 78 per cent. in the past six years, which is twice as fast as the economy as a whole? Does he also recall that, under the Labour Government, nurses' pay actually fell—it did not even maintain its value; it fell? Since then, it has increased by 78 per cent., and nurses have, as they have always sought, an independent pay review body that is, I remind the right hon. Gentleman, independent.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who are indulging in political knockabout on the subject of tower blocks are ducking the real issue, which is how we can help the people who live in tower blocks? Will my right hon. Friend urge all local councils to co-operate with the Government in getting rid of tower blocks?
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. Yesterday, I tackled serious issues that affect the lives of many people in inner cities. As a smokescreen at that time, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) issued a press release purporting to represent my record at Lambeth council. Even a cursory checking would have shown the hon. Gentleman that every aspect of that press release was a falsehood.
It is, of course, more than a quarter of a century ago, so I have had the facts checked. The buildings for which I am supposed to have been responsible were designed and approved by the Labour council, before I was elected to the council, let alone became housing chairman. The Leader of the Opposition may well shift uneasily in his seat. He speaks of higher standards in politics and he allows the Labour party to indulge in falsehoods, day after day.
Would not the Prime Minister's great predecessor, Winston Churchill, turn in his grave if he knew how much of the public's money was now being spent to purchase his state papers, while investment in the nation's real assets—our children and their education—is being cut to ribbons by the present Government?
The right hon. Gentleman, I am afraid, has his facts entirely wrong about the state papers. What were purchased were the personal papers of Sir Winston, which could have been freely sold to any number of buyers, and which Sir Winston had decreed, through his trustees, should go to his subsequent descendants. It is those papers that have been purchased.
The archive, as a whole, includes state papers and personal papers, many of which have no connection whatsoever with Sir Winston's time in government. The personal papers could have been freely sold to any number of buyers. It was to maintain the archive intact that the national heritage memorial fund, which is independent, decided to fund the purchase of the personal papers from the Churchill family trustees. The Government decided at the same time to transfer the state papers, similarly, to Churchill college.
There is no question whatever of lottery money having been used to purchase papers that are the property of the state, and the right hon. Gentleman was wrong in his remarks.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the rather nasty and vindictive policy being pursued by the Lib-Lab pact on Essex county council, which is withdrawing support for the transport of children to grammar schools? Does he agree that, while the Opposition parties try to speak the language of choice and diversity, they continue to have the language of envy and vindictiveness engraved on their hearts?
I am surprised to hear what my hon. Friend has to say in view of the repeated comments about education from the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and his hon. Friends. It seems that they are concerned about discrimination only when it does not involve some pupils in Liberal Democrat-controlled authorities, whose parents happen to have chosen for them to go to grammar schools.
The Prime Minister has clearly had time to reflect on the statement that he made yesterday about inner cities and their housing conditions, but does he remember that in 1979, £7 billion was spent on housing investment and this year the figure has been cut to £2.5 billion? Is that not another example of the Government saying one thing, but doing another?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the records through the years, he will find that the changes made in inner cities—all of them beneficial—have been opposed by him and his colleagues throughout the past 16 years. The 12 urban development corporations, which are now credited with turning round the worst inner city centres, were opposed by the Labour party. Estate action and housing action trusts were opposed by the Labour party. The single regeneration budget, which is helping to fund the scheme that I saw yesterday in Hackney, was opposed by the Labour party. The deputy leader of the Labour party, who has a loose connection with facts most of the time, seems to believe that his party was responsible for the private finance initiative. May I remind him that the Labour party has opposed us time after time over moves to bring private capital to the inner cities. I know that the Labour party is stealing many of our policies, but the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) should have some shame and not try to steal all of them.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the continuing Northern Ireland peace process and the encouraging signs therein. When does he expect the talks with Sinn Fein to start and how long are they likely to last? I know that that is a difficult question. Is my right hon. Friend optimistic about the outcome?
The exploratory talks with Sinn Fein will start before very long. Those exploratory talks must be concluded, with a number of matters settled, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has set out on a number of occasions, before we can enter into the political talks process itself. I very much hope that the exploratory talks can begin very speedily.
Charities will find that they will be substantial beneficiaries of the national lottery—that will continue to happen year after year. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed the substantial help that will go, not only to charities, but to a number of other worthy causes, as a result of the Government's initiative.
Is the Prime Minister aware that 250 jobs are about to be created by the reopening of a colliery in Nottinghamshire and that the Asfordby pit in my constituency is about to go into full production? Will my right hon. Friend call on the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to give credit where credit is due? The right hon. Gentleman should recognise the success not only of a privatised coal industry, but of the gas industry. After the passage of the Government's Gas Bill, will not the benefits of competition and choice be extended to every domestic consumer of gas in this country?
I imagine that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) heard what my hon. Friend had to say. Despite the ridiculous predictions from the Labour party time after time, competition has reduced prices in the gas, electricity and telephone industries. I see no reason to suppose that it will not deliver a successful coal industry. In the case of gas competition, domestic customers should see their bills fall by about 10 per cent. thanks to the measures taken—something I should hope that everyone would welcome.
Has the Prime Minister read the recent speech by Mr. Michael Grade about the rise of Rupert Murdoch? Does he think that it is right that a foreign-owned corporation headed by a ruthless megalomaniac should control one third of our newspapers and much of our television? Does the Prime Minister plan to do anything about it?
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have been studying the law relating to cross-media ownership. That study is not concluded and, as soon as it is, we shall publish what we propose to do.
As to Channel 5—which is clearly what the hon. Gentleman has in mind—the process of choosing a Channel 5 licensee must be, and is being, conducted on the basis of long-standing rules legislated by the House.
Will my right hon. Friend ask the Lord Chancellor to think again about paying legal aid in civil cases to people who are not ordinarily resident in this country? Is my right hon. Friend aware that our constituents object to that practice, not on the basis of the applicant's nationality, but because there is not enough money in' the legal aid fund to pay legal aid to our middle-income constituents who have paid taxes all their lives?