I have listened with increasing disbelief to the catalogue of whining, whingeing, moaning and groaning which has eminated from the Opposition, as I did last year. They really are very bad losers. They recognise the Government's achievements but try to find fault with them. One has to admire their ingenuity in managing to find fault where practically none exists.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said that people would regard with nausea the way in which the Government have continued to help the same friends they have helped in the past. That is true. We have consistently helped pensioners and we have done so again this year. The abolition of the earnings rule and the raising of the age allowance presumably are greeted with nausea by the electorate of Banff and Buchan, if we are to believe the hon. Gentleman. We have consistently aided charities and this year we have doubled the limit for charitable giving, yet we have been led to believe that that will be regarded with nausea. We have made the most significant contribution of any Government in the past decade to the financial independence of women, and this year we have helped them through assistance with savings schemes as women are often the savers in the family. Yet that is supposedly greeted with nausea.
Once again we have helped the lower paid by raising the tax thresholds, and particularly by the reforms of national insurance contributions. We have also helped small businesses through corporation tax changes, so we have helped our friends as we have in the past. I cannot believe that pensioners, charities, women, the lower paid and small businesses regard the Budget in quite the same light as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan does.
The hon. Member went on to say that Government policies militate against those living in the north, particularly in Scotland, and favour those in the south. But his examples were rather peculiar. First, he quoted mortgage tax relief. I nearly did a double take because the level of relief is the same whether one lives in the north or south, but property prices are very much lower in the north. I should have thought that the system of mortgage tax relief would encourage the purchase of property in the north and migration to the north. That is not a regional policy to be deplored if the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan wants to encourage investment in the north.
To my utter amazement, having been involved in it recently, the hon. Gentleman then mentioned the Channel tunnel and its attendant rail link. He said that somehow that was of vast benefit to the south. He should try telling that to my constituents who fought hard not to have it. We are witnessing the devastation of the southern environment to bring prosperity to the north.
We need a regional policy, but it must be a policy connected with regional pay which would finally enable those in the south to recruit as they deserve. It is a poor show for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan to talk about regional discrimination when we discriminate heavily in favour of Scotland in terms of public expenditure. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is no longer in the Chamber to hear what I am saying.
Another hon. Member who is no longer in the Chamber talked about inflation and what he called the balance of payments crisis and the iniquitous level of interest rates. He appeared to think that such things were indicative of general failure. It is a tribute to the achievements of the Government and of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor that we now get hysterical at the thought of an inflation rate of 8 per cent. Over the past five years the average rate of inflation has been 5 per cent. When the Opposition were in power it was 15 per cent. and they tolerated 20 per cent. or more. They did not appear to regard it with anything like the hysteria they are trying to work up over a mere 8 per cent.
We are facing the problem of success. The Opposition do not understand that because they never have success and do not understand the problems associated with it. Yes, we have a balance of payments problem but it has not been brought about because exports have fallen. In fact, exports rose by 5 per cent. and are predicted to rise by another 7·5 per cent. We are facing the problems of a prosperous country whose inhabitants can afford to buy overseas. We are facing the problems of prosperity, not poverty. The Opposition know well how to address the problems of poverty and failure because they have had to cope with them for so long. They do not understand the problems of success and they cannot masquerade our outstanding achievements as Government failures.
The Opposition fail to acknowledge that interest rates have been low for several years. Therefore, when they have to rise, it looks painful. Over the past 15 years, interest rates have been higher than they are now and they have seldom been as low as they have been in the past couple of years. Once again, we are suffering from the reputation we have built ourselves of being able to have low inflation, low interest rates and an extremely successful economy. The slightest blip is greeted by the Opposition as proof that somehow our policies are not working. Our economy has never been more buoyant and we have never had a greater boom.
The only slight degree of sympathy I felt with anything said by Opposition Members was when the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said that he wished the excise duty had been increased on drink and cigarettes. I sympathise and want to control the consumption of both those commodities. I am particularly alarmed at the increased incidence of uncontrolled drinking among the young and the increase in smoking among young girls.
However, we have to be practical. A few extra pence on the price of a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of whisky will not make any real difference to consumption. Somehow, if such commodities are a regular part of someone's life, people seem able to afford them regardless of what happens to taxation. We need a campaign of public information and health education, particularly among the young. We already have some such campaigns but I should like to see more. However, that is a matter for another debate.
In summary, the Opposition cannot recognise the difference between success and failure. They do not recognise that we have looked after, yet again, those least able to look after themselves. They fail completely to recognise what we have done for the financial and social status of women and for our pensioners. That failure of recognition reflects only their total lack of morale. They know that they could not achieve what we will have achieved and that the electorate will never give them an opportunity to try.