Did the Prime Minister see the article in yesterday's Daily Mirror stating that the scanner used on the prince at the Royal Berkshire hospital was bought from the proceeds of jumble sales and sponsored walks? Is the Prime Minister aware that the ambulance which brought the prince to London was from a service that is actually breaking down in Greater London and that Great Ormond Street hospital, which looked after the prince so well, is turning away sick children because of the pressures on its services and has been kept open only by public begging? What sort of society is it that can find all the money in the world for weapons of death and destruction, but when it comes to keeping hospital wards open and buying vital medical equipment, has to use sponsored runs, flag days and jumble sales?
I am sure that the whole House and the country will join the hon. Gentleman in sending best wishes to Prince William. We all hope that he will make a full recovery as speedily as possible.
The Government found £33,000 million for the national health service, which is four times as much in cash terms as any previous Government have ever found. The private collections and private donations which go towards providing equipment such as scanners show, above all that the people of this country, including the Conservative party—in fact, often led by those in the Conservative party—care sufficiently for the national health service to cherish it and provide extra resources for it.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those same views, clearly articulated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the "Today" programme this week, command the support of the majority of British voters, as evidenced by a recent opinion poll showing that 63 per cent. oppose the single currency?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right about that. It is becoming increasingly recognised in this country and the Community that moves towards economic and monetary union which did not reflect proper convergence would be damaging, not only for this country, but for the whole of the Economic Community. That has been our position since the beginning of the negotiations and it remains our position, together with our constant intention to preserve the prerogatives of this House.
Will the Prime Minister tell us what in concrete terms he intends to do to ensure that further harm does not come to small businesses as a result of the high interest rates being imposed upon them?
The principal damage and difficulty that small firms have faced in recent years has been the collapse of demand not only in Britain but abroad as a result of a general downturn in trade and inflationary problems. Inflation is now falling rapidly, and that is a matter of the greatest concrete concern to small businesses, as they have repeatedly testified.
It is obvious from that answer that the Prime Minister is not going to do anything in concrete terms. Is it not obvious that high interest rates are the policy of the Government and that the banks' behaviour is the result of financial deregulation, also the policy of the Government? Why does not the Prime Minister change the policies, as he should, or will he remain the betrayer of small businesses?
The right hon. Gentleman, having other things on his mind, has clearly not noticed that inflation is falling rapidly and that interest rates have fallen by 3·5 per cent. in recent months. That will make a dramatic difference to individuals' prospects and, most particularly, to prospects for small and large firms.
Small businesses which used to have arrangements to pay 3 per cent. above base rate on their overdraft facilities are now paying as much as 17 per cent. —[Interruption.] Oh yes, they are. Conservative Members should talk to some of the people who run the businesses which are paying that kind of money. How can such huge charges contribute to fighting inflation or to sustaining the small business sector?
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard the gasp of frank disbelief at what he said a few moments ago. I hope that he will provide clear illustrations, not an isolated example, of what he has just said. What is necessary for the future health of Britain is, first, to ensure that we bring inflation down to a low level; secondly, to keep it there; and, thirdly, so as to ensure that that happens, never again to have a Labour Government.
Has my right hon. Friend had time today to read about the dreadful events taking place in Labour-controlled Hackney—[Interruption.]—where council officials have been racketeering on the backs of the homeless and illegally renting out properties? [Interruption.] Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a scandal, and will he condemn the empty properties that Hackney, Lambeth, Islington and Liverpool have that could be brought into use?
In so far as I could hear the question over the chanting from Opposition Members, I believe that it concerned Hackney borough council. Anyone who wanted an example of the Labour party in power could only have seen it in recent years in local government in places such as Hackney, and I do not believe that they will have liked what they have seen. Labour repeatedly feigns concern for the homeless, but Hackney has more than 2,000 properties empty.
Reverting to the important question of a single European currency, has the Prime Minister yet had a chance to study the important speech made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) last night? Am I right in thinking that the Prime Minister's personal opinion is that a single currency may be a good thing eventually, but not yet and not for the foreseeable future? Does he not think that that "yes-maybe" approach to the question is now so hedged about and qualified as to be almost devoid of any meaning? When will he come to the House and tell the country what he thinks is the right course of action for Britain to take in this fundamentally important economic issue?
The hon. Gentleman clearly has not been listening over the past two years, because we have done it repeatedly. We have made it plain to the House and to our European partners that we cannot accept any changes to the treaty of Rome which would bind us to a single currency or a single monetary policy without a separate decision by this party, by this Government and by this Parliament.
When the Conservative party has won the next general election, the hon. Lady will see, and will perhaps have learnt by then, that no Government at any stage give categorical assurances—none have, and none will. But I can say to the hon. Lady that we have no present plans whatsoever to increase value added tax.
Has my right hon. Friend had time to read a report published yesterday by the respected City firm, Goldman Sachs, which concludes that a minimum wage policy would destroy jobs, increase inflation and lead to a reduction in output? Does he agree that it is totally irresponsible of the Labour party to continue peddling that policy?
Yes, I have seen that report and it shares the views of the Government, the Fabian Society and many others. A minimum wage would have devastating effects for people. It would encourage others to seek to raise the general level of wages. It would raise inflation and unemployment, and a National Institute estimate—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen, because this would affect people and their jobs, about whom they claim to care. The institute estimates that a statutory minimum wage would raise price levels by 3·5 per cent. at the end of three years, and would reduce the level of gross domestic product by 0·5 per cent. That is the likely cost of a Labour Government.