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Mr. Jim Murphy: Has my hon. Friend noticed that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the leader of the Scottish National party, who spoke directly before my hon. Friend, has chosen to leave the Chamber?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am having some difficulty understanding how that relates to the narrow discussion of the Third Reading of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Alexander) said that they would allude directly to the comments of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. He refused to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South, and he has since left.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is nothing to do with the content of the debate. If there is any matter that is out of order, I hope that the Chair will be equal to it.

Mr. Leslie: I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope later to deal with the points made by the absent Member for Banff and Buchan, and perhaps other hon. Members will do so.

I was talking about the national debt, and the £25 billion of interest charges that the taxpayers have to raise year on year just to stand still. That is a great weight and burden hanging around the neck of the public. That £25 billion could have been put to good use if the Conservative Government had not run up such debt by borrowing to finance their policies. They should have followed the policies that are in the Bill, and ought to have abided by a code for fiscal stability by which borrowing is used only to finance investment. From now on, the nation must practise good housekeeping: we must not borrow unnecessarily.

The Bill contains interesting clauses on income tax. I was a member of the Committee that examined the Bill and sat through many hours of Conservative comments and speeches. However, the Opposition did not table many amendments. Conspicuous by its absence was any mention by Conservatives that Labour has kept its promises on income tax, and has not increased the basic rate or the top rate. When people talk about Labour

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breaking its promises, we must remind them that that is nonsense. Many years ago, Conservatives raised the spectre of a Labour tax bombshell, but people can see from the Bill that a Labour Government can be trusted with the nation's finances. The Government have delivered on the crucial income tax component of Labour's manifesto.

I am glad to say that the Bill provides for a scheme that will greatly benefit the poorest countries in the third world. The scheme is called millennium gift aid. According to the Library, many hundreds of millions of extra aid will be channelled to the third world. In co-operation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and, I think, the United Nations, a list of those countries has been prepared. We must make sure that we use not only monetary donations but donations in kind by the public and businesses to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

Mr. MacShane: In that context, does my hon. Friend agree that the country felt proud of a Chancellor who took the lead on the international financial stage? Does he also agree that that is in complete contrast to the mean and continuing cuts in overseas aid by the Conservative Government? The Chancellor's song resonated around the world, and at long last Britain could be proud.

Mr. Leslie: My hon. Friend is right: it was refreshing to read the Chancellor's comments in the Mauritius mandate. Through the millennium gift aid strategy and by other means, he took great steps to reduce the debt burden in third-world countries. I was pleased to note the Chancellor's generosity in the Bill. When we have the opportunity, we should shout about such achievements.

The Bill contains provisions for savings and investment. The Government are implementing strong policies to encourage saving and to make sure that we continue to provide generous tax relief to TESSAs and PEPs. That will be continued in a broader savings vehicle, the individual savings account, which will contain a wider variety of products.

Mr. Love: Does my hon. Friend agree that it was outrageous that, before Labour came to power, more than half our people had no savings, and that the previous Government did nothing to change that?

Mr. Leslie: That important point needs to be underlined. Encouragement for people to make pension provision has been lamentable. The Conservatives did nothing about that, and the spectre of unfunded pension liability grew year by year. They made no provision for people who had not been encouraged to save.

Thankfully, the Government's policies go a long way towards making savings more accessible, through a wider range of vehicles, and also more understandable. For example, there are welcome plans to make ISAs available in supermarkets and at other public interfaces. Ordinary people, not just those who can understand the fine print of TESSAs and PEPs, unit trusts and open-ended investment companies, will be able to save. It is a pity that there are not more OEICs.

Mr. Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend deals with an important part of the Bill. We have been accused of

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making U-turns. Does he agree that we engaged in extensive consultation on savings and listened to people, and that the Opposition criticised us for doing so?

Mr. Leslie: That is correct--you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Many people are cynical about politics, and that arises from the fact that 18 years of so-called consultations were completely hollow. The previous Government made up their mind before they consulted. They went through the motions and engaged in a mechanistic process every other day. It is refreshing that this Government listen to responses, reflect on them and incorporate them in their policies. The principles of ISAs have been carried through, and the detail reflects the views of those who responded to consultation. The Bill goes a long way towards making ISAs a reality.

There has been discussion of inheritance tax and historic buildings. In Committee, Conservative Members sought in their old traditional way to defend the rights and privileges of the wealthy elite. They tabled amendments to preserve a loophole in the law that gave such people unnecessary benefits and denied the wider public access to objets d'art.

The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn), who is not in his place, spoke about his contribution to the nation's history. He asked hon. Members to consider what a great philanthropic soul he was. He said that he opened his house, and that letting people "traipse" through the drawing room showed that "one was egalitarian".

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is drifting.

Mr. Leslie: I may be drifting, but the point I was seeking to make was the lack of reality forthcoming from the Opposition during the debate on the Bill in Standing Committee.

Sir Robert Smith: While the hon. Gentleman is on that issue of the Bill, does he recognise that, while there might be concerns to tighten loopholes, any legislation must be careful not to be retrospective? If someone has entered into an agreement with the state to do something in return for a tax concession, to revisit it could be considered retrospective. The matter must be carefully considered, case by case and on its merits. We must ensure that abuses do not arise, but we must recognise that there are genuine individuals who have a contract with the state, which should not be abused.

Mr. Leslie rose--

Dr. Palmer: Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Leslie: May I pursue the line of argument?

This is not a private business agreement. This is the Government making decisions in the best interests of the overall economy. It is perfectly within the remit of the public sector and the Government to look at the varied effects of taxation, making sure that the best, most efficient and most effective deal can be got for the taxpayer. Clearly, throughout the passage of the Bill, the Liberal Democrats, making pledge after pledge and

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spending commitment after spending commitment, never understood that they needed to raise some money to subsidise their giveaway bonanza.

Dr. Palmer: Does not my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition are stretching the concept of retrospective taxation when they talk in those terms, because, on that basis, one could say that any Member of Parliament should be able to object if the taxation rate on the salary that we had been led to expect were to be different after a year or two? Surely that would be unreasonable. Any financial arrangement that one may make with one's employer is on the understanding that external events, such as inflation under a Conservative Government, higher taxation under the Conservative Government or other events in government or outside, could affect it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is abusing the terms of the Third Reading debate, wide though they may be. As he has only just come into the Chamber, perhaps he should take the temperature first. Mr. Christopher Leslie.

Mr. Leslie: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) speak for themselves, and strongly bat down the ridiculous comments of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith).

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