House Of Commons
Wednesday 27 February 1980
The House met at half-past
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Message From The Queen
Double Taxation Relief (United States Of America)
reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address, as follows:
I have received your Address praying that on the ratification by the Government of the United States of America of the convention and protocols set out in the schedule to the draft order entitled the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (The United States of America) Order 1980, which draft was laid before your House, an order be made in the form of that draft.
I will comply with your request.
Oral Answers To Questions
Nursery Education (Urban Aid)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to announce his decision on the Avon county council's application for urban aid for nursery education in that county.
I hope to do so in March.
In reaching his decision, will my right hon. Friend recognise that my constituency has suffered for many years from a totally inadequate number of nursery schools? Will he also bear in mind that the establishment of a nursery class at Twerton—part of Avon's plan —would meet a genuine educational and social need?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern. That is one of the factors that we shall bear in mind when considering the various projects that have been put forward.
Rate Support Grant
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make public the criteria by which he will judge the efficiency of individual local authorities when deciding the allocation of rate support grant under the unitary method.
Under block grant, an authority spending significantly above its assessed standard expenditure will receive a declining rate of grant. The method of assessing standard expenditure will be developed in full consultation with the local authority associations.
Under the unitary system, will ratepayers be able to judge, in due course, whether their local authority is efficient? If so, will the system be explained in a manner that is comprehensible to ratepayers? Is my right hon. Friend aware that multiple regression analysis does not receive instant understanding from readers of the Mid Sussex Times—or from their Member of Parliament?
The principle of block grant and the standard rate poundage is principally a method for the distribution of the public funds involved in the rate support grant. Various anomalies will arise under the standard rate poundage. My hon. Friend's worthy concern for his ratepayers will be best met by the publication of comparable information about the performance of different authorities under the various categories. That is an important ingredient of the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill. I hope that it will help all ratepayers.
In looking at the type of information that will be published on a comparative basis, will the Minister consider such an important yardstick as the number of council houses that stand empty, awaiting sale? Is he aware that in the borough of Wandsworth there are 700 such council houses? Is that not a typical example of gross inefficiency? Is it not the consequence of policies that have been foisted upon local authorities by the Government?
If we are to look at this issue objectively, we must consider the number of empty houses in other boroughs—for example, in the borough of Lambeth, I believe that there are five times as many houses standing empty as a result of its policy of municipalisation. People are being deprived of any possibility of occupancy.
When my right hon. Friend considers the rate support grant, will he also look carefully at the submissions of the joint authority associations that he has recently received? They go some way to meet the Government's proposals for control of expenditure. Is he aware that, in addition, they remove some of the more objectionable features of the present system?
I can confirm that we are now considering their submissions carefully. We hope to meet the associations very shortly.
As the Government still do not have the slightest idea how to operate part VI of the Bill and no chance of getting agreement with local authority associations on that, will they drop the provision at least from the present Bill and negotiate further with local authorities until an acceptable scheme is produced?
The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to criticise us if we did not have meaningful consultations with local authority associations on the details of how the block grant scheme will work. That is precisely what we are committed to, and that work is under way.
Urban Development Corporations
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how long he expects urban development corporations to be in existence; and how he plans to review their performance.
The UDCs will remain in being long enough to enable them to do their job of regenerating their areas. Their reports and accounts will be laid before the House, and their performance discussed as their programmes and applications for Exchequer moneys are examined.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he ensure that a balance is maintained between provision of new housing and provision of industrial infrastructure so that these projects become self-financing and do not constitute a drain on the county areas?
I am anxious that as much work as possible within UDC areas is self-financing and attracts additional private sector support. I believe that the precise balance of policies must await the establishment of the UDCs and their first policy decisions.
Although the House realises that urban development corporations are in their very early stages, will my right hon. Friend say what other plans he has to help regenerate ailing older cities?
The repeal of the Community Land Act and the establishment of land registers will be important features of our attempt to bring into use land currently lying derelict in urban areas.
Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many households have been rehoused under the provisions of the Housing (Agriculture Provisions) Act 1976.
My hon. Friend is no doubt referring to the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976. The figures obtained by the Department show that by the end of 1978, 1480 households were rehoused under the Act, as a result of applications to local authorities.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the pre-emption clause introduced into the Housing Bill in Committee will, in practice ensure that local authorities are fully able to discharge their responsibilities under the Rent (Agriculture) Act?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That change in the Bill has been widely welcomed.
What action does the hon. Gentleman propose to take over authorities that are not implementing the Act? What action will be taken if local authorities find themselves completely without council houses at their disposal to enable them to offer alternative accommodation?
The Act is monitored by the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food. Our view is that the Act is operating satisfactorily. We believe that the changes that we are making to revive the privately rented sector, and particularly the introduction of shorthold, will be material in meeting the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
Local Government Expenditure (Wages And Salaries)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what percentage of local government revenue expenditure was accounted for by staff wages and salaries as at (a) the financial year 1973–74 and (b) the latest date for which information is available.
In 1973–74 wage and salary costs accounted for just over 50 per cent. of gross local government revenue expenditure of 71 per cent. of gross current expenditure. In 1978–79, the figures were 51 per cent. and 69 per cent. respectively.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that it indicates an imperative need to continue to restrain staff levels and levels of wage settlements in local government? Will he urge on local authorities, wherever possible, a policy of retrenchment in staffing levels to ensure that the money available is used for services rather than excessive staffing?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing these important points to the attention of the House. I have asked local authorities to constrain manpower recruitment wherever possible. I am absolutely sure that, in the present climate of public expenditure, the more that the available resources can be used to provide services rather than increase the number of employees the better.
May I endorse the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Major)? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in my local authority the increase in the wage and salary component last year was 39 per cent.? If that is 39 per cent. of 70 per cent., how can it possibly be said that local councillors are effectively in control of finances in their authority?
The present levels of rate fixing indicate that there are considerable numbers of Conservative authorities that are very much in control and therefore able to effect considerable constraint in the rate levels. It must be a matter for the individual judgment and accountability of the local authority and its councillors in each area.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the operation and effectiveness of article 4 directions in planning control.
In general, yes, but we are prepared to consider any particular difficulties.
May I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and invite him to consider whether there might be firms of speculators developing these leisure plots, particularly in the Home Counties, and leading prospective purchasers to believe that they might have planning potential? Does my hon. Friend agree that article 4 directions are negative, do not help the planning process and certainly do not protect the purchaser? Further does he agree that the answer is to redefine the words "agricultural use" in the town and country planning Acts?
I also deprecate the practice of selling these small leisure plots. The purchaser often suffers the full effect of the law and the vendor escapes. I am aware of the weakness in article 4 directions. However, I must point out that they are concerned with the use of land and not ownership. I shall carefully watch the County of Kent Bill, which is in the other place.
Does the Minister agree that a great deal could be done by reducing the powers of the planning department, particularly in urban regeneration? Has he considered setting up enterprise zones, free of planning controls, to help small firms?
I sympathise with much of what my hon. Friend says, but that is not a matter for me.
Building Societies Association
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to meet the chairman of the Building Societies Association.
I have no immediate plans to meet the chairman of the Building Societies Association. We last met on 18 January, and will meet again as appropriate. My Department has close and frequent contacts with BSA representatives.
When the right hon. Gentleman's Department is next in contact with the BSA, will he ensure that building societies are urged to compete more vigorously with each other so that potential house purchasers have a wider choice of terms and conditions and, in some cases, less exacting ones?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there are a number of reports, and I have conducted my own investigations into the wide issues that form the background to his question. It would be wrong for me to anticipate the conclusions that I shall draw from those reports. It is worth making the point that any step of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has in mind might easily lead to higher mortgage rates.
When the Secretary of State next meets the BSA, will he tell the association that it is no part of the Government's policy to adopt the recommendation in a report published in the past week which could lead to a tax on owner-occupation not dissimilar to schedule A, which some of us spent a decade urging the previous Conservative Government to abolish?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the question of schedule A, which I understand is the subject of a bitter defeat of myself in the processes of Government, because I failed to get it re-introduced. As the words have never crossed my lips since the return of this Government, it is unlikely that that is a true story.
As the Prime Minister is meeting the guru Milton Friedman today, will the right hon. Gentleman pass a message through the right hon. Lady to ask whether his philosophies are working with regard to housing. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when MLR was 70 per cent. mortgages reached a record height and yet the banks were making hundreds of millions of pounds in extra profits?
The hon. Gentleman will, therefore, want to support the Government in our efforts to reduce public expenditure, which is the root cause of the problem to which he draws our attention.
Domestic Property (Rating)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will take steps to end the present arrangement whereby householders who save energy through the installation of insulation or by the installation of solar heating incur additional liability for rates.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether, between rate revaluations, he would consider exempting from rating all improvements to domestic property within the curtilage of the building or any third schedule addition, in order to encourage the continuous improvement of the national housing stock.
Most new small improvements to domestic property, including energy-saving measures, are already exempt from rating between general revaluations under section 21 of the Local Government Act 1974.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that many such changes, which are subject to rates, are extremely desirable at a time when we wish to preserve energy? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the United States householders who install such devices and arrangments save tax, yet here they are taxed more? Will the Government do something about that?
The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that, provided the improvement does not add more than £30 to the rental assessment—and the majority of energy-saving methods do not—it will not normally be caught under the rating provision.
Does not my right hon. Friend consider that it is a waste of effort by the district valuers, who have to value every single improvement to establish whether it is more, or less, than £30? In view of the Government's commitment to the improvement, not only of owner-occupied homes but also council dwellings, should not the Government take another look at the matter?
The point that my hon. Friend makes is perfectly fair. This is a difficult issue. Resentment is felt by existing ratepayers who have been assessed when others are not assessed under this provision. At the same time, as my hon. Friend rightly says, it is Government policy to encourage improvement whenever possible. There is much feeling that this extra niggle for ratepayers, who are rated on improvements that they make, is a discouragement to such improvement.
Has the Minister received today representations from the British Association of Insulation Manufacturers? What is his response to its allegation that there will be over-capacity among its firms as a result of the reduction of the 21 per cent. in the amount of money available for insulation in his announcement last week together with the 50 per cent. reduction in the overall amount available for insulation?Secondly, what assistance will the right hon. Gentleman give [HON. MEMBERS: "One question".]
Order. Hon. Members are quite right, provided they apply the same rule of one question to everyone.
The hon. Gentleman has asked his question.
The question relates primarily to rating. Some comments in the press today about insulation grants are highly misleading. It is suggested that insulation for council houses is no longer available. This is now covered under a single block. It is open to local autho- rities, if they so choose, to engage in the largest insulation programme in their history.
While my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on reviewing insulation, is there not a strong case for a total review of rate surcharge and rate poundage? If we believe in an energy-saving policy, should not the Government be taking a lead?
My hon. Friend will know that this is a further example of the problems of the rating system. It is receiving active consideration.
Housing Investment Programme
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the housing investment programme allocations for 1980–81 for (a) England, (b) the North-West and (c) Blackburn; and what the corresponding allocations were for 1979–80, expressed on the same price basis as for 1980–81.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now give the date when he will be announcing the housing investment programme allocation for 1980–81.
Housing investment programme allocations for 1980–81 were announced on 21 February. Such comparisons are usually made at public expenditure survey prices. At 1979 survey prices, the 1980–81 figures sought are for England, £1,601 million; for the North-West region, £226 million; and for Blackburn, £6 million.The corresponding allocations, at 1979 survey prices, for 1979–80 were for England, £2,351 million; for the North-West region, £308 million, and for Blackburn, £8·7 million.
Will the Minister explain why a detailed written question was required from my right hon. Friend, the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) to force out from the Secretary of State an admission that next year's housing investment programme allocations involve a massive 33·4 per cent. cut—£955 million—and not the £540 million, which the Secretary of State put forward in his statement? Is the Minister aware that many opposition Members feel misled and deceived by the Secretary of State's statement last Thursday?
If the hon. Gentleman consults the January 1979 White Paper, produced by the previous Government, he will know that the comparisons made are between out-turn in one year and future provisions in a subsequent year. That was precisely the basis on which my right hon. Friend made his announcement. In no way was he misleading the House.
Does the Minister realise that the Government's housing policy means that many new houses that should be built will not be built this year and that modernisation of houses will not take place in the numbers required? This will greatly affect the whole country and especially the South Yorkshire area where I live. Will he confirm that £2·10 is to go on each council house rent? Furthermore—
Order. So far as I can understand, it is one complicated question.
Has the Minister taken note of the Tory-controlled local councils that are objecting to the Government's policy on this issue?
The allocations made for this year reflect the fundamental determination to bring the public expenditure that this country can afford into line with what the nation is producing. That is the essential background to the allocations that we have made.
Will not my hon. Friend agree that by pursuing the Government's policy of selling council houses, he is re-cycling money at present locked up in bricks and mortar, to provide homes for those in need?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. It is strange that Opposition Members are at one moment complaining that they have not sufficient money and the next refusing to sell council houses which they know perfectly well add to their allocation.
Will the Minister say what changes in assumptions have been made about the extent of housing need in the public sector since the housing policy review was published? This assessed housing need in that sector as 290,000 households requiring houses per year with 170,000 houses becoming available for re-lets, leaving 120,000 needed? Is it correct, according to the figures published last week, that the shortfall will be at least 85,000 families without housing?
The basic change in the assumption made since the previous Government's Green Paper was published is that we believe the private, as well as the public, sector can make a contribution towards rented accommodation.
Is it not a fact that the production of public sector housing has been declining steadily over the last three years? Is that not a legacy from the previous Labour Government?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Opposition Members will want to recall that over the last five years they succeeded in halving capital expenditure on housing in real terms.
Will not the Minister and his entire Front Bench abandon the deliberate, disreputable policy of fiddling the figures of housing expenditure? Why did they pretend, last week, that it was a cut of 21 per cent. when the Minister admits in his answer to me that the cut is £967 million in local authority housing allocation? That is a 33·4 per cent. cut.
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, on the basis of the comparison that he makes, he is taking into account the allocations made by the previous Administration. Those allocations would have been underspent by hundreds of millions of pounds.
Local Authority Services
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received regarding cuts in local authority services.
Many members of the public, local authorities and other bodies have written to me about this. I am impressed by the widespread recognition of the need for economies.
When will the Minister realise that the doctrinaire, monetarist policies pursued by his Government—that are splitting his own party wide open, according to The Times editorial yesterday—are bearing down so heavily on the most vulnerable sections of the public that some action will have to be taken if local councils are to avoid imposing 50 per cent. rate rises? As long as this policy continues, local council can no longer service the people. What do the Government intend to do?
If there were the slightest nuances of difference of view among my right hon. and hon. Friends, the rubbish put forward by the hon. Gentleman would have solidified our view. In a situation when we have called for a 1½ per cent. cut next year, it is possible for per cent. next year, it is possible for efficient and prudent authorities to make those economies without enormously damaging cuts such as some authorities seem to be choosing to make for the maximum political capital.
If my right hon. Friend receives any representations about cutting the cost of services, will he point them to the borough of Preston, Tory-controlled for the past four years, which has reduced its rates over that time from 32p in the pound to 8p in the pound and is maintaining that figure this year by cutting its costs carefully?
In local authorities, as in companies and other walks of life, there are some well-run authorities and others that have failed to match the same standards. What my hon. Friend says about the record of Preston is most interesting. I look forward to going there on Friday and seeing at first hand how these economies have been made. I am sure that for concerned authorities there are lessons to be learnt from the better run authorities.
Is the Minister aware that, whatever may happen in Preston, in the borough of Wandsworth the Government's policies have produced the worst housing situation since the war?
I am obviously not here to discuss every individual authority, but it is worth comparing the future rates performance of relavent adjacent authorities. I believe that the rate will rise in Wandsworth over two years by some 18 per cent. In an adjoining authority it will rise no less than 90 per cent. during that period. The effect on small businesses and the commercial economy of the area, and the general well-being of the residents of that area will clearly be far better in the hands of the first authority than in the hands of the second.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the majority of local authorities had not acted responsibly and had not made reductions in expenditure, as advised by the Government, and had not cut waste, rates increases this year would have been intolerably high?
I can confirm that the first assessments that I made when we came into office indicated that if economies were not made at that time the rate increases that were inevitable and in the pipeline, stemming from all actions of the previous Government, would have been substantially higher than the rate increases now being advised.
Does the Minister agree that one of the most essential local authority services is the provision of housing? Will he ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to visit the Southend, East by-election and explain why his announced 21 per cent. cut in housing expenditure for local authorities is 40 per cent. in Southend? Will the Minister allow me to help the Secretary of State in explaining away that 40 per cent. cut by showing that the right hon. Gentleman is politically unbiased because he has cut local authority housing capital expenditure in the Prime Minister's constituency by 25 per cent?
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman deliberately chose to put to me a question on housing since he knows that I do not have responsibility for that subject. I wonder, too, whether he was somewhat afraid of the straight answer that he would have got from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction.
Will my right hon. Friend note the new-found solicitude on the Labour Benches for the affairs of Essex? Is there a reason, which appears to be escaping me at the moment, as to why the home help service, instead of being cut back as it is in some areas, should not be passed on to some form of organisation combining the voluntary and the private sectors?
The girl guides?
I am impressed by the widespread recognition throughout the country —much more widespread than is apparent to Labour Members—of the need for economies and for an intelligent approach to the difficulties we face. Many councils are finding alternative ways, such as joint funding and voluntary help, to provide services in the interests of all those who genuinely need help and whom we should now all be concerned to help.
If the Minister of State does not want to comment on individual authorities, will he agree, as a statistical fact, that the inner cities in general and inner London in particular will suffer most from the Government's cut-back in local authority expenditure?
In looking at the record of problems and the need for economies I do not single out individual parts of the country. There are problems right across the country in many areas. It is interesting to note the degree of resolution and intelligence being employed by different councils in facing those problems.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to announce those names of the local authorities which will be required to publish land registers.
I am now considering this matter and will make a statement as soon as possible.
When the information is published will my right hon. Friend be taking steps to make it clear that the local authorities in whose areas land is being left idle can be identified? Will any pressure, other than that springing naturally and spontaneously from local public opinion, be brought to bear upon them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in this matter. I hope shortly to indicate where these registers are to be established in the first instance. I very much hope to establish a co-operative attitude with local government and to have consultations on the matter. However, at this moment I should be grateful if the House would bear with me since I am not yet in a position to publish details of the specific areas.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will seek to take powers to control proposed increases in water rates.
Is the Minister aware that on Merseyside the proposed increases in water rates include 28 per cent. for Ellesmere Port, 25 per cent. for the Wirral, and 25 per cent. for Liverpool? These increases, with increases in the general rate of more than 50 per cent., and coupled with large increases in rents and gas and electricity charges, are knocking the consumer and the householder punch drunk. Do the Government have any genuine intention of trying to control inflation?
I shall restrict my observations to water charges. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is concerned about the increases and is to see one chairman of a water authority to discuss the high increases. However, much of what the water authorities have had to do relates to what happened before 3 May and to the unrealistic assumptions that they took last year. An example was the assumption that wage costs would be about 5 per cent., when the industry eventually had to settle for 16 per cent. That factor had a considerable bearing on the situation.
Will my hon. Friend spell out most clearly that the main reason for the vast increases in water rates this year is to counter the deficit caused by the calculation last year based on wages rising by the 5 per cent. norm of the previous Government?
I thought that my hon. Friend would have realised that that was exactly what I was trying to say. It is apparent that in future I shall have to give longer rather than shorter answers. Of course, my hon. Friend is entirely right.
Is the Minister aware that in the North-West employers face massive increases in water charges for equipment which is connected with sprinklers and other fire-fighting equipment? Is the Minister willing to take this matter up with the chairman of the North-West water authority, because the increases represent a penalty on good employers?
The hon. Gentleman is a little late in the day. Some 40 other hon. Members have already corresponded with me about this. I am happy to say that already the authority has reduced the expected charge by some 50 per cent., and I hope that it is reconsidering even that.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the practice of the water companies of engaging in direct billing is rubbing salt in the wound and is causing great financial embarrassment to consumers? Cannot he do something to reduce the level of the charge?
Direct billing was well under way under the previous Administration, and it would have been wrong for us to prevent it when we came into office. The water authorities claim financial advantages for the system. My hon. Friend is clearly as concerned as we are about the matter. I can assure him that we are looking carefully at all the costs that the authorities are passing on to their consumers.
Since the Conservatives did not support the Labour Government, either in the wages policy they were trying to pursue or in the 16 per cent. settlement for the water industry, why have they agreed to a settlement of 22 per cent., which most people regard as reasonable in comparison with awards to gas and electricity workers? As the Prime Minister said last week from the Dispatch Box that water bills are too high, what are the Government to do about them?
The right hon. Gentleman can hardly claim success when, under his Government, a 5 per cent. wage increase ended up as 16 per cent. The difference between our policy and that of the Labour Government is that we believe that wage increases are a matter for the employer —the National Water Council.
Wildlife And Countryside Bill
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has to have fresh consultations on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill.
My right hon. Friend is continuing discussions with interested parties and we intend to publish a paper in the spring describing the revised proposals in detail.
Is my hon. Friend aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious to see this legislation for the protection of vulnerable species enacted as soon as possible? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will not allow discussions to be so protracted as to prevent this legislation from being brought forward as early as possible in the new Session?
I entirely agree that this is an important matter. There will be no delay once we have dealt with the discussions and consultations that we are now engaged in.
In view of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on common land in 1958, and the recommendations made two years ago by the working party from the hon. Gentleman's Department that the general public should have access to all common land, will the hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that he will consider including a clause in this Bill to deal with this problem?
We are certainly considering all these matters and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that issue will be considered. We shall see how the hon. Gentleman's Ten-Minute Bill gets on today.
When the Minister consults the representatives of the Country Landowners Association on this matter will he take into consideration the considerable number of people who are employed in rural areas and on the moors? This is an important issue in relation to employment in rural areas.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we want harmony in the countryside. We appreciate the traditional pursuits of those who live there. Those people have every right to continue those pursuits.
In view of the delay in bringing in this Bill—I presume that that is because of lack of parliamentary time, not because the Government do not like the Bill—will the Government assist the Nature Conservancy Council in taking over any land threatened as a result of the delay?
The hon. Gentleman is right. The delay in the introduction of the Bill is purely due to lack of parliamentary time. We are in the closest touch with the Nature Conservancy Council and we listen to its views with great care.
Cheshire County Council
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will meet the leader of Cheshire county council.
I hope to meet him on Friday 14 March.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Will he discuss with the chairman of the Tory-controlled Cheshire county council his objections to the dictatorial powers that the right hon. Gentleman arrogates to himself in his Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill? Will the Secretary of State ascertain from councillor Richardson that the clauses in the Bill that are objectionable to Labour councillors are equally objectionable to Tory councillors?
First I would have to identify any dictatorial powers. I do not think I would be able to do that.
Property Services Agency
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is taking to reduce the level of staffing in the Property Services Agency.
Since 1 April 1979, the staff of the agency has been reduced by 7 per cent. As part of my review of the work of the Department, I intend to look at the functions of the agency with the object of establishing the scope for further reductions. Meantime, I am confining recruitment to the filling of the most essential vacancies.
In the light of that reply can my right hon. Friend indicate what aspects of the Property Services Agency's work might be contracted out to private enterprise?
Any area where I feel that the private sector could do the job more effectively.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the work of the PSA is likely to increase in one respect and will therefore not allow for reductions in staff? Is he aware that I refer to the increasing number of unemployment benefit offices which will be required as a result of the Government's economic and industrial policy?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have taken into account that when unemployment rose under the Government of whom he was a member the number of people who were employed in the PSA was reduced.
Is my right hon Friend aware that the PSA is one of the most unpopular bodies associated with central Government? Is he further aware that there is grave disquiet about the excessive staff and that many of my hon. Friends feel that much of the work of the PSA could be better carried out by private enterprise?
I believe that there is scope for reducing the size of the PSA and that there is work within the PSA that could be better done by the private sector. However, I have to say that there would still remain a viable job for the PSA that could be done only by a public sector body. I shall do my best to ensure that what remains of the PSA is run as effectively as possible.
Would the Secretary of State care to publish to the House comparative figures showing whether there has been a saving as a result of contracting out professional work already from the PSA to private consultants or whether those jobs are costing more?
I think that this would be an excellent subject for investigation by the Select Committee that monitors my Department.
Birmingham (Water Supply)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, in view of the effect on Birmingham's water supply, he will institute a review of the decision to allow the diversion of additional water from the Elan reservoirs to the River Wye.
This decision was taken jointly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. We have been looking at the timing of implementing the variation to the Elan Valley reservoirs abstraction licence and we shall be writing to the Severn-Trent water authority about this.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the decision to divert water from the Elan reservoir to the River Wye significantly reduces the reliable supply of water to Birmingham? Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that in the event of a very dry summer Birmingham will not be allowed to run out of water?
My hon. Friend will remember that this decision came about because of the drought and its effect in southeast Wales. I can give him the assurance that Birmingham's water will be protected. The decision letter stated that the Secretaries of State were confident that the Welsh Water Authority would have due regard to the Severn-Trent water authority's needs respecting the Birmingham supply.
Will the Minister, having regard to what will be the phenomenal growth in demand for water in Birmingham over the next 20 years, inform the House of the progress in the provision of new reservoirs in Wales?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the acceptance of the need for an increase in water consumption year after year is a matter of deep concern. Perhaps the House should occasionally think about water conservation rather than regularly discussing the creation of more reservoirs. If the hon. Gentleman cares to write to me shall be happy to give him an answer.
Council House Sales
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is yet able to announce his proposals for reducing delays in processing applications for council house sales.
The changes in the general consents referred to in my right hon. Friend's answer of 1 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) will help to avoid such delays.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, because of the immense demand by people to buy their own home, there have been considerable delays in processing applications and making valuations? Will the Minister confirm that local authorities can, to avoid such delays, contract some of the work out to private enterprise estate agents and solicitors, thus ensuring that delays do not occur?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. They can most certainly do so and we would encourage local authorities to do that where they think that it is right.
Instead of worrrying about council house sales should not the Minister be far more concerned with the devastating blow inflicted and the misery caused by the decision last week, when the House was deliberately misled?
I am also concerned about realising the aspirations to home ownership of council tenants.
Does not the Minister agree that the Government-imposed cuts in public expenditure by local authorities have meant reductions in staff and that that in turn has meant a delay in the processing of council house sales? Is he aware that local authorities are justified in not diverting staff needed for other essential housing matters to this particular activity?
The hon. Member should take note of what happened in Leeds when the Conservatives took control of the council and started to sell council houses. There was a reduction in council staff at the same time.
Amble North Pier Breakwater
asked the Secretary or State for the Environment when he expects to receive the proposals of the Alnwick district council for the repair of the Amble North Pier breakwater.
It is a matter for the Council to formulate proposals and to decide when to submit them. I can assure the hon. Member that any proposals submitted will be carefully considered on their merits.
Does the Minister realise the impossible position in which the council was left when the Ministry of Defence, having caused years of delay to the project—and having promised a massive contribution to it—withdrew from it less than a year ago? Will the hon. Gentleman involve the Ministry of Defence fully in the negotiations that take place and ensure that that Department makes some contribution to the cost, if the council is not to be involved in capital costs and, consequently, rate increases of which his right hon. Friend would most certainly disapprove?
The hon. Gentleman is right in that the Ministry of Defence is involved in this in the sense that the council has made certain proposals to that Ministry. However, I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will realise that this is a matter for the Secretary of State for Defence. All I can promise is that when the council makes application to us we shall give that application the fullest consideration.
Council House Sales (New Forest)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he has had with the New Forest district council concerning the sale of local authority houses to tenants.
I have had no discussions with the council on this subject but I am sending my hon. Friend copies of the correspondence my hon. Friend has had with it.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents in Lymington, Pennington and New Milton who live in local authority houses are angry that their desire to buy their houses is being thwarted by the obstinacy of the supposedly Conservative council? In order to enable me to redeem my pledges to my constituents at the last election will my hon. Friend make it clear beyond peradventure that the Government will maintain their firm promise to ensue: that those people will have the chance to buy the homes, in which many of them have lived all their lives?
I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no wavering from the provisions of the right to buy and I am confident that his powers of persuasion will, sooner or later, persuade the Tory authority in the New Forest to give the right to buy to its tenants. In case Labour Members draw an incorrect conclusion from what my hon. Friend has said, I should point out that the information available to me indicates that of the 195 Conservative-controlled local authorities, 194 are selling.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his discussions with the British Olympic Committee on the siting of the Olympic Games.
I have had several informal discussions in recent weeks with the office bearers and the general secretary of the British Olympic Association. The siting of the Olympic Games was included in the subjects covered. I am fully aware of their approach to the subject and they are in no doubt of the strength of the Government's views.
What is the justification for allowing the Moscow branch of the Chase Manhatten Bank to continue its commercial operations, allowing the EEC to sell butter to the Russians and keeping an ambassador in Moscow while saying to the athletes "You cannot go"? Since President Carter has got what he wants in New Hampshire, is it not time to end this humbugging nonsense?
The hon. Gentleman is totally misguided as to the reasons why we have taken such strong action and are advising our team not to go to the Olympics. It is intolerable that we should go there while the invasion of Afghanistan continues.
Will my hon. Friend make sure that the British Olympic Committee is told that it is unacceptable for it to say that the Government's proposal is bringing politics into the Olympics when the committee connived at the exclusion from the Olympics of Taiwan, Rhodesia and South Africa? These were political decisions.
I should make clear that it was the International Olympic Committee rather than the British Olympic Committee which took those decisions, but it is a statement of fact that South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games, and that was a political act.
Was South Africa not excluded by the International Olympic Committee and not by any Government? Is not my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) correct in saying that it is intolerable to expect Sebastian Coe and other distinguished athletes to confront the Russian military might when ICI has just announced the opening of a new office in Moscow and a Minister has made clear that export guarantees for trade with Russia will continue? Is it not disgraceful to discriminate against sport in this way?
The right hon. Gentleman is getting steamed up. He does not seem to accept the basic reason for the Government's attitude, which is the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. That is an extremely serious situation and that is why we have taken many steps against the Soviet Union in trade and technology.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker in view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek, for the third time, to raise the matter on the Adjournment.
Urban Development Corporations
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how much money will be allocated to urban development corporations in their first year of operation; and on what terms.
The amount of money to be allocated to UDCs in their first year will depend upon the scale of their proposed programmes, and the extent to which these can be accommodated within the Government's public expenditure plans. Loan finance will be made available for commercial-type projects, and grant for non-commercial type projects. I intend to table an amendment in Committee delineating those types of expenditure which would be eligible for grant.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of his hon. Friends have visited docklands and seen the vast dereliction there and that we sympathise with and understand the problems? However, does he also realise that, in an era of finite resources, many other urban areas are looking carefully at the financing of the UDCs?
I understand my hon. Friend's concern. He will be aware that other urban programmes are administered through my Department and are of help to the areas where the worst problems of urban dereliction exist outside docklands. However, the Government's view is that the two areas where UDCs are to be set up, London and Merseyside, are examples of such extreme dereliction that urgent action is necessary.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that equally as important are the executive powers given to the corporations to get on with the job and their ability to acquire surplus lands from local authorities and statutory undertakings with the minimum of bureaucracy?
My hon. Friend understands the problems clearly. It will he for hon. Members to decide what powers to give to the UDCs when we put the order before Parliament. I shall certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.
If the corporations are to be successful—and a figure of £200 million was mentioned at one stage—is it not reasonable that they should be told soon how much money will be made available to them?
It would be helpful if we knew what they wanted to do with the money before we answer that question.
The establishment of the corporations and the injection of public money will not, of themselves, regenerate ailing urban areas. What is needed is an injection of private funds and private investment. How will the UDCs achieve that?
I know that my hon. Friend understands the problems well. The purpose of the money that we shall make available to the corporations will be to clear the areas to encourage private sector investment, which, alone, will lead to the success that we want to see.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make a personal visit to Liverpool docklands before deciding on the allocation of money to the area?
I have visited the area many times and I shall certainly go there again.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will be in a position to make a statement about the future of the Development Commission and its associated organisation, the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas.
I expect to receive the report of the review group this week. After studying it I shall be consulting my colleagues about the findings.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the substantial contribution that the Development Commission and its associated body COSIRA make in promoting economic activity in rural areas in the English countryside? Does he agree that the long delay that has occurred in determining the future of the commission has caused great anxiety in those areas?
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says and how right he is to emphasise the good work done by the commission and COSIRA in the rural countryside in developing employment and industry. It is important that we get it right and that is why we are looking carefully at the situation. We shall make decisions as quickly as possible so that the countryside does not lack help in development.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that COSIRA is moving to new offices in Salisbury in a few weeks time? Will he guarantee that, before it packs its bags, it will know that it will be able to continue its excellent work?
I shall be surprised if there is any problem over the offices in Salisbury.
Does my hon. Friend accept that this quango, like others, tends to grow like Topsy and that while a number of factories are needed in rural areas, there is a limit? Is he aware that in my constituency moving a factory from one village to another is not progress and that taxpayers' money has been used to build factories that are standing empty while there are plans to build still more?
That is why my right hon. Friend set up the inquiry into the future of the Development Commission and COSIRA. It would be foolish to anticipate the report as we have not yet seen it, but once we have studied it we shall come to decisions.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in places such as west Essex the principal difficulty facing small businessmen wishing to set up in rural areas is frequently finding a site? Will he ask local authorities to provide more industrial estates, which will help to give small business men an opportunity and assist in preserving the green belt?
I have indicated previously that I recognise the importance of the Development Commission and the work that it has done in the countryside, but I do not want to anticipate the report, which we shall receive this week.
Local Authority Manpower
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the effect on local authority manpower of the abolition of Parker Morris standards and the housing cost yardstick.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what effect he expects the abolition of Parker Morris standards and the housing cost yardstick will have on local government manpower.
It will be for each local authority to judge what savings it is able to make, but our proposals to reduce substantially the Department's detailed intervention in individual housing schemes should assist local authorities to make manpower savings.
Does my hon. Friend consider that the abolition of Parker Morris standards and the housing cost yardstick will help to bring down housing costs in the public sector?
It will materially help local authorities to tailor standards to what they see as appropriate for those on their waiting lists, and for those who want rented accommodation. In so far as it helps local authorities to make economies, it should have a beneficial effect on house prices.
What effect does my hon. Friend consider the abolition of the housing cost yardstick for Parker Morris standards will have on the quality of new building in the public sector?
It is right that local authorities, with the considerable reservoirs of experience which they have at both officer and member level, should make judgments as to what is the best value for money for their capital investment programme.
Was the Parker Morris standard not introduced to stop councils from building future slums? What will the Minister do about that when the Parker Morris standards have been abolished?
We are perfectly confident that local authorities, spending their allocations, will take care to ensure that they receive value for money.A number of authorities, of both political persuasions, have approached the Government in recent months asking for the relaxation of Parker Morris standards in individual schemes. We have been treating those applications sympathetically.
European Community (Council Of Ministers' Meetings)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the main business to be taken by Ministers of the European Community during March. The usual written forecast of business was deposited in the House yesterday. Heads of State and Government will meet in the European Council in Brussels on 31 March and 1 April. At present four meetings of the Council of Ministers are scheduled for March.The Agriculture Council is expected to meet on 3 and 4 March, and again on 26 and 27 March, to continue discussion of the Commission's proposals on CAP prices for 1980–81; the proposed economies in the CAP to help balance the markets; and to streamline expenditure and proposals on policy regarding agricultural structures. Ministers are also expected to discuss the common organisation of the market in sheepmeat and French import controls; the extension of the application of the European currency unit in the CAP; and proposals to extend current arrangements for the distillation of wine. The Finance Council is expected to meet on 17 March to resume discussion of the Commission's latest paper on convergence and budgetary questions. The Council is also likely to consider the report on the European monetary fund; the Commission's first quarterly review of the economic situation in the Community; and the proposal for a second tranche of loans under the Ortoli loan facility. Ministers will also continue their consideration of the financial effects of Commission proposals for CAP economies and the annual agricultural price-fixing. The Foreign Affairs Council will meet on 17 and 18 March and is expected to discuss preparations for the next European Council, at which our main concern will be to find an adequate and lasting solution to the budget problem. Foreign Ministers may also discuss Community reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the Community attitude to the global negotiations on international development issues, which are to be launched by the special session of the United Nations General Assembly late this year; safeguard action on synthetic textiles; the Community's external steel policy; a report on Community relations with the Gulf States; the conclusion of the European Community-Yugoslavia cooperation agreement; a follow-up to the meeting of the European Community-Turkey Association Council on 5 February; and a review of progress in negotiations on adaptation protocols for Greek accession. The Council will also examine the short list of developers' projects selected by the Belgian Government for the construction of a new building to meet the Council's accommodation needs following enlargement.
As it is now painfully obvious that in spite of the aristocratic swanning around the capitals of Europe by the right hon. Gentleman there is not to be an early meeting, what contingency plans has his Cabinet produced for dealing with the budgetary question, if we are not even to receive the same sort of offer as was made at earlier meetings?What does the Cabinet intend to do? Does it intend not to pay over our proportion of the VAT? If not, how long does it expect to continue paying for many of the absurdities of the existing Community policies? When the discussion of the sheepmeat regime takes place will it be made clear that the sort of action taken by the French at the present time, which removes one ban and replaces it with a totally unacceptable import levy, will not in any way contribute to any Community understanding? Will the Lord Privy Seal tell us that it is his intention and that of his right hon. Friends to resist any attempt to push forward an ethyl alcohol scheme that would have a great effect on jobs and on the relevant industries in Britain? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that when the cane sugar arrangements are discussed the interests of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries will be borne in mind, as well as those in the sugar industry in this country who are directly involved? Does it really seem sensible, when there is already an outpouring of moneys that the Community can hardly afford, to con- sider developers' plans for yet another building to meet the Council's accommodation needs?
To take the hon. Lady's last question first, as the present building would not be large enough following the enlargement of the Community, I should have thought it highly necessary to have a new building.On the question of sugar, of course the points raised by the hon. Lady will be taken into account. I agree that the latest French measures are no less illegal than their previous measures. The hon. Lady's first question, as she must realise, is entirely hypothetical. We hope to make progress in the normal process of negotiations, which is now taking place. We shall seek every possible means to achieve a solution.
At which of the many meetings to which my right hon. Friend referred will butter be discussed? When it is, will he make it abundantly clear—or will my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs make it clear—that in no circumstances will the British Government agree to sell subsidised butter to the Russians so that they have more money for guns?
The matter will be discussed at more than one meeting. It will probably be discussed by the Foreign Affairs Council as well as the Agriculture Council. As my hon. Friend knows well, it is our view that such exports of subsidised butter to Russia are wrong and should cease. He will remember that there was a Council decision on 15 January that traditional patterns of trade should continue. We are monitoring the position carefully and will take account of his remarks. He will be aware that other countries take a slightly different attitude.
Will the Lord Privy Seal explain what he intends to do about the £1 billion contribution to the budget, 80 per cent. of which goes to the CAP? Will he confirm that unless there is unanimity of agreement, the position of the CAP will not be changed one jot, and that we shall continue our pathetic stance of accepting all the rules of the EEC, making no move to get out and paying through the nose for it?
The figure is nearer 70 per cent., but I agree that it is far too high. I do not think that there is anything pathetic about our stance. We have not the remotest intention of getting out of the EEC.As I said earlier in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), our intention is to continue negotiating and to reach an agreement. On the tour to which the hon. Lady referred, in childish terms, at least I can say that everybody agreed that it was in the interests not only of Britain but of the Community to get the issue out of the way.
Accepting what my right hon. Friend said about the continuous discussions on budgetary policy since it was last discussed by the Council of Ministers, will he tell me at which meeting it will be discussed again in the next few weeks?
I made it clear in my statement that it will be discussed at the Council of Ministers' meeting on 17 and 18 March. Above all, it will be discussed at the summit on 31 March and 1 April.
What has become of the special summit meeting on the British budget contribution, which was pressed for by the Prime Minister in February?
The last time that we discussed the matter I told the right hon. Gentleman that it was decided at Dublin that it would be a matter for the presidency, namely, Senor Cossiga, to decide whether there was a sufficient prospect of agreement to make such an early summit worth while. He decided that that condition precedent was not in existence.
My right hon. Friend said that monetary matters may be considered. Does not he agree that the relative stability of European currency exchange rates since the introduction of the European monetary system has provided a welcome degree of confidence, on which businesses can make decisions? Will he consider ensuring that Britain becomes a full member of the scheme?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the EMS has obviously benefited Europe. However, he and our partners are aware of the particular difficulties that we face because of our currency being a petrocurrency. Therefore, we must consider the matter even more carefully than we would otherwise have to do.
Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the growing pressure for some import controls over subsidised steel and, indeed, car imports into this country from the Community? Have the Government raised this matter with the Council of Ministers, or with Ministers? Can he explain why we should have to pay more for our food than we would have to pay on world markets, whereas in a crucial industrial area we are being badly hammered by subsidised imports?
There has been no pressure on us to ban imports of steel or cars. As to the right hon. Gentleman's general question, as he was a member of a Government who twice applied to join the Community, and as he remained a member of the Government, after the referendum, he knows the answer to that question perfectly well.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm robustly that there is every prospect of the British budget deficit problem being satisfactorily solved and negotiated during the next few months and that that will not be a problem with proper European co-operation and good will between the member States? In contrast to the hysteria from Labour Members, surely we must continually remind ourselves that the figure of £1 billion is only the inflation increase on the original White Paper figures when we joined.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important, not only to us but to the Community, that we should reach an agreement on this matter. There is no doubt that we have an unanswerable case. We shall continue to put it, and the negotiations are continuing.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what he intends to do about the policy of the French Government to carry out what are termed "illegal practices", first, by banning imports of British mutton and, secondly, by opening their doors to mutton and putting a levy on it? What steps is he about to take to stop these illegal practices by the French Government?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. As I said earlier, those practices are illegal. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have pressed the Commission to take interim measures in the courts. As he also knows, the Commission is the guardian of the Treaty and it is for it to act, not for us. We can only ensure that our views are made very clear, and that is what we have done.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that those who are now pressing for import controls are those who urged that in our relations with the EEC we should have industrial free trade as a better solution than membership of the Community? Will he remind them that membership of the EEC is something conceived not as a solution to Britain's short-term problems but as a framework within which, over generations, this country can better secure its future?
My hon. Friend is perfectly right. There has been a most distressing pattern of events by the Labour Party, of which it will be well aware. Basically, when it is in government it is in favour of the European Community and when it is in opposition it is opposed to it. That is not a proper way for a responsible party to behave.
In the light of the statement made by a Conservative Member of Parliament that the Cabinet is openly split on EEC matters, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is still the Government's policy to get rid of our net contribution to the EEC? Can he also say how he will be successful in the negotiations about that unless he is prepared to take action to back up his words?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's original premise, and I do not know where he got it from. As I have told the House frequently, we are seeking a genuine compromise. However, our partners are well aware that our margin for manoeuvre is small, and that remains the position.
In view of the special problems of the fishing industry, at which of the meetings will that matter be discussed?
I think that the Council responsible for fishing has been postponed until April.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question, notice of which I gave his office this morning and which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody). It relates to ethyl alcohol. Can that subject be put on the agenda for 3 or 4 March? A £50 million investment is at stake at Grangemouth, and BP Chemicals must know one way or the other which way the proverbial cat will jump?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving my office notice of that question. We share his view of the importance of the matter. He will appreciate that we cannot dictate the agenda. I shall certainly bring the matter to the notice of my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman will realise that the discussion of an alcohol regime properly takes place in the Agriculture Council, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is fully aware of the wider industrial implications about which the hon. Gentleman talked—in particular, the important investment problem at Grangemouth.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be much easier to organise and deal with transgressions of the Treaty if we concentrated upon those and did not constantly use the EEC as the excuse for Britain's failure and under-production?
I agree with my how Friend. Our problems, which date over a number of years, are very deep-seated, and it is entirely wrong to use the European Community as a scapegoat for them. Nevertheless, as I am sure the whole House will agree, there is a fundamental problem with regard to the budget, which needs to be solved.
Order. I do not propose to call any hon. Member twice. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising, if they will co-operate with me.
I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman mention the proposals that the President of the Commission at the Savoy yesterday said would be put to the Council before the end of March. Is he aware that there is a proposal for a common energy policy, about which the President said that the only way to save energy was to increase its price, if necessary by a levy?
I am sorry, but I am not aware of what went on at the Savoy yesterday. The Commission is certainly considering proposals for a common energy policy, and when it comes forward with proposals we shall give them serious consideration.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in any discussions on the possible accession of Turkey he will reiterate the Government's view that there can be no accession without a firm and just final solution to the problem of Cyprus?
With respect, I think that my hon. Friend is jumping two fences at once and has gone rather further than we are at the moment. Turkey has not yet applied to join the Community. It may do so, but that is some way ahead. While, like him, I am anxious to see the problem of Cyprus solved, I do not think that it should be linked to Turkey's accession to the European Community.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just announced to the House that you would not call an hon. Member twice. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that precedent has it that many hon. Members have been called twice in the years before he took the Chair? Will he reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend—
The hon. Gentleman does not address me as "the right hon. Gentleman".
I apologise, Mr. Speaker.
I remind the House that it is true that from time to time hon. Members are called twice. There is an exception this afternoon. I understand that the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) wishes to be called again at the end of questions. I indicated that in this series of questions I do not propose to call any Back Bencher twice. It is not fair to the House. We have other business to conduct.
The Lord Privy Seal spoke of an adequate and lasting solution. Will he confirm that by adequacy he meant not less than £1,000 million? As there was insufficient agreement to call a meeting of Heads of State in February, what evidence does the Lord Privy Seal have that a meeting called in March will produce agreement?
As to the amount of money, as I have already said, we are seeking a genuine compromise. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that s