The hon. Lady knows that VAT on fuel has been approved by the House on several occasions—I think from memory on four occasions. It was introduced two Budgets ago, and clearly it would be a very important vote if a fresh vote were manufactured on the issue. But it does not fall into the same category as the European Communities (Finance) Bill.
The Opposition find one of the most successful businesses in the UK amusing. The company was awarded a most respected award in a Management Today survey last week. The chairman of Rentokil said that, in his experience, our low inflation, low costs and record exports were unprecedented. Is that not the real story and the background to today's Budget statement?
There is no doubt that business men and business women around the country recognise that we have the best combination of economic circumstances for many years, and my hon. Friend is quite right to say that that is the background to the Budget. There is no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor will sketch out further details shortly.
I am happy to do as my hon. Friend asks, and I think that that would be the overwhelming view of every hon. Member. Recently, when it seemed as though—yet again—the integrity of Kuwait's border was threatened, British troops and aircraft were there to defend it. That would of course be the position were that to happen again.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that last year his Government spent £355 million on management consultants? Is he aware that such a sum of money would have paid every pensioners' bill for VAT on fuel? Does the Prime Minister not feel that the time has come for his Government to get their priorities right and to put the needs of pensioners before the profits of City consultants?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, substantial sums of money have been made available to assist pensioners with their value added tax on fuel bills. Very large sums have been made available and there is no relationship between that expenditure and expenditure on management consultants to help improve the efficiency of the Government, to release resources, to keep taxes down and to help ensure that there is money available to assist pensioners and others.
Does my right hon. Friend share the widespread disappointment that Norway will now not be alongside us in our battle against a federal Europe and a single currency? In view of the immensely strong ties that exist between our two nations, will he and the Government do their utmost to ensure the continuation of the European economic area, which is such a beneficial arrangement for Norway and the whole of Europe?
I am extremely sorry that the Norwegian people decided not to join, but of course we respect their decision in that. Norway would have been a net contributor to the European Union, and on many issues, but perhaps not all, it would have been a valuable ally for the British point of view in Europe. I am, however, delighted that Austria and the other EFTA states have decided to join.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in my constituency alone hundreds of children from less well-off families benefit from the assisted places scheme? Is it not a shame that the Labour party wants to deprive children of that opportunity, especially when some in its leadership have had the benefit of a similar opportunity?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the assisted places scheme. The whole purpose of that scheme and, indeed, of the education reforms generally, is to give children opportunities that otherwise they would not have had. I regret very much that many of those opportunities seem to attract the opposition of the Labour party. One of the more distasteful sides of politics is seeing those who have climbed up the ladder of opportunity kicking it away from other people.
My right hon. Friend will remember the speech that he gave last Thursday at the staff college at Camberley. We know how well the students there received that speech. In it, he referred specifically to Bosnia and said that we could not impose peace on those who did not wish to accept it. He said that if we tried to do so we would leave many hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground. Will the Prime Minister give us all an assurance that those troops—British, French, Dutch and all the others who have served in Bosnia—will be our first priority and that, if need be, he will make sure that they come out of that mess safely?
Let me say to my hon. Friend that I reject totally some of the lurid and misplaced criticism of the United Nations protection forces that have been made in some American newspapers in the past few days. The protection forces in Bosnia are not a combat force; they were never intended to be a combat force; they are not equipped there to be combat force. They are there on a humanitarian mission, and that mission has saved the life of hundreds of thousands of Bosnians.
I very much wish UNPROFOR to continue its humanitarian work, as long as it can do its job without there being unacceptable risks to the United Nations troops that are there. However, I have to say to the House that if the parties to the conflict make the humanitarian task of UNPROFOR impossible, if they intensify the war rather than seek a peaceful settlement, they could create the conditions in which the United Nations would have no choice but to withdraw. I do not wish that to happen, but I have to say to the House that that could happen.
When the Prime Minister was first elected four years ago, he set himself the aim of creating a nation at ease with itself. In the light of last night, at which of the following does he think he has been more successful—creating a nation at ease with itself or creating a party at ease with itself? [Interruption.]
I am grateful to hon. Members on the Labour Benches for suggestions as to how I should reply to the question from an hon. Member on the Liberal Benches. Given the fact that one can find a different Liberal policy from each Liberal to the next, and a different Liberal policy from each door to the next, each street to the next and each constituency to the next, I think that the hon. Gentleman should look at his own party before he criticises mine.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in a recent survey of every household in my constituency, more than 90 per cent. expressed themselves satisfied with the national health service? That is reflected in other surveys. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those newspapers that continually talk down one of the finest health services in the world?
I will happily join my hon. Friend in that. There is no doubt about the affection for the national health service and, although we often hear a great deal of generalised criticism of it, that criticism tends not to come from the people who have just had treatment in the national health service. They tend to be very supportive of it, and rightly so, because of the treatment that it offers and the service that it gives.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will wish to join me in congratulating Customs officers, including those based at Holyhead in my constituency, on their efforts to combat drug smuggling. Does he agree that those efforts would be severely damaged if reports are true that 4,000 Customs officers are to lose their jobs as a result of an announcement today? How will that equate with the fact that the Prime Minister has announced the war on drugs? Will it not blow a gaping hole in his policy?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right about the importance of the battle against drugs; hence the domestic and international initiatives that we have taken and the work set in train by the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. Whatever may happen to the budgets to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I can assure him that the battle against drugs will not suffer.
I certainly look forward to meeting Senator Dole tomorrow, and I know that he is also meeting my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. We have a wide range of matters to discuss, and I am sure that those discussions will be fruitful and productive.
Will my right hon. Friend consider giving to the shareholders of privatised utilities greater powers to decide the salaries of their directors in advance, rather than reading about them months after the event?
I seem to recall that there was a referendum on that issue some years ago. The hon. Gentleman knows, and in their hearts most people know, that the establishment of a Scottish Parliament would be immensely damaging both for Scotland and for every other part of the United Kingdom. It may well be Labour party policy, and we shall test to what extent over the weeks ahead, but it is not a thought-out policy, it is riot a policy in the interests of Scotland, or of the people of Scotland, and it is not a policy in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.