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Sir Robert Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Leslie: Well, just this once.

Sir Robert Smith: The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) talked about events in the future, whereas I was talking about revisiting agreements that had already been entered into, where the state should tread carefully on the precedent that it sets on how it will behave in future. Agreements depend on both sides honouring them.

Mr. Leslie rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will revisit the Bill.

Mr. Leslie: The Bill did indeed tread carefully, as the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine suggests we should, in relation to this measure. It trod a steady course in ensuring that provisions were fair and equitable, in the spirit of the Government standing up for the many, not the few.

Mr. Love: I echo that sentiment. When the intervention took place, my hon. Friend was talking about conditional access agreements. Does he agree that those had fallen into disrepute, to such an extent that the signatories to the agreements did not need to make access available to the public? Therefore, any talk of retrospection is an argument against honourable change.

Mr. Leslie: Absolutely--an honourable change indeed. In fact, a Channel 4 programme, "The Mark Thomas Comedy Product", highlighted the abuse practised by some people exploiting this loophole in the law. The Bill

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has now tidied up the loophole. It is good to see yet again the Government responding to the concerns of a variety of people, including comedians.

I want to look at other clauses of the Bill, in particular other tax--

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Before my hon. Friend moves on from that point, we had an important discussion during the Committee stage of the Bill, and I want to pick up the challenge that the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) has issued on retrospection. Clearly it is one thing for parties to a contract unilaterally to change that contract. It is another thing for the Government of the day to say that they will give certain reliefs to people who engage in certain behaviour, but it is, of course, always open to Government to say that that relief, or relief in that form, will no longer be available--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. This is not an intervention on the speech by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith). It is the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) who is speaking at present. That is far too long. Mr. Christopher Leslie.

Mr. Leslie: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) was enlightening and useful for me. I should be interested to hear his contribution later in the evening.

We have referred to the hon. Member for Guildford and his drawing rooms, and perhaps Fallon and his salons, but the clause that closes the loophole for heritage buildings, and other abuses on historic objets d'art throughout the country that enjoy tax relief, is an important measure that will be met with wide public acclaim--almost delight.

The foreign earnings deduction is one of the tax loopholes closed by the Bill. Throughout the Standing Committee, the Opposition made much play of the fact that somehow that is a great injustice. I cannot see how the deduction is fair for the good taxpayers of this country--the taxpayers who work day in, day out, paying their income tax and national insurance through pay-as-you-earn and other facilities. Why should they pay their taxes in full when so many people have the opportunity to exploit that deduction, by means of which they pay no tax in this country, and often no tax in the country where they work?

I cannot understand why the Opposition feel that this is a great rallying cry with which to go into the next election. We have a loophole whereby the super-rich have been exploiting the previous Government's wholly inadequate financial regulations by not paying any tax in this country. They remain residents, and are happy to call themselves British citizens, but they do not contribute to this country's public services. That is the important thing.

I do not mind paying my taxes. I can see the connection when I pay my tax, with the money going into the health service, schools, transport networks, and many other beneficial public services such as housing and social services. People need to recognise that it is not fair for

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those people to earn sometimes many millions of pounds yet pay no tax, so that the burden lies on the shoulders of the rest of us who live and work in this country.

Mr. Love: Does my hon. Friend agree that all the concern expressed by Opposition Members during discussion of this issue about charity workers and others whom they would consider to be badly paid employees working abroad, does not square well with the excess £80,000 limit? As that can be doubled over two tax years, people living in this country can earn more than £160,000 tax free.

Mr. Leslie: Indeed. I have made a point about the revenue that we can gain by closing the loophole--£300 million will be raised by closing that loophole alone. I ask hon. Members to reflect on the uses to which that sum might be put in their constituencies, and the public service benefit that could be gained by removing the exploitation made possible by that loophole.

Mr. Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend has so far made an excellent speech. The specific point that he was making was on the overseas foreign earnings deduction. Had the Opposition's amendments on the matter been passed without any explanation about where the revenue would be raised, would they not have created a black hole in the Finance Bill?

Mr. Leslie: That has been the central focus of my work on the Finance Bill. Although Opposition Members may have thought that Government Members were not speaking to the Bill as much as we should have done, I was taking very careful notes on every one of the amendments that they tabled, to determine the possible effect on the Exchequer's revenue if they got their way in the Bill. I shall deal with that point a little later in my speech.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should tell the hon. Gentleman that he may discuss only what is in the Bill, not what might have been in it.

Mr. Leslie: I am very grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and shall ensure that I bear it very much in mind throughout my speech.

Mr. Jim Murphy: I have been listening with some interest to my hon. Friend. I wonder whether, in Committee, much consideration was given to some prominent individuals in the United Kingdom, such as Baron Vestey, who in one year paid only £10 on profits of £2.3 million? It is a very uncomfortable situation for a Baron in another place to be able to act in such a manner. May I encourage my hon. Friend to investigate--if not today, then in future consideration of financial regulations--that very issue?

Mr. Leslie: The issue is very important. Closing such loopholes and ending exploitation of tax regulations by the rich and their accountants--who manage to examine the small print in all financial regulations--has been a success of the Government's approach to the issue. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) is not in the Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies)

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was very successful in comparing the accountancy profession with the bean-counting trade. Although I would never want to draw such a comparison, perhaps my hon. Friend will do so again later in this debate.

Although it is small, clause 116 demonstrates the Government's open-government attitude--which has itself ensured that, even in the hallowed halls of the Treasury and the Inland Revenue, Labour has been making provisions to fling open the doors, clear out the cobwebs and open up those institutions to the wider public, so that there can be better information about taxes and revenue.

Mr. Derek Twigg: It is the people's Treasury.

Mr. Leslie: Yes.

Clause 116 provides for people to claim tax relief from the Inland Revenue by telephone. Taxpayers across the country--including me--who are sometimes confused by their tax affairs, will now be able to pick up a telephone, speak to a friendly tax officer, explain their predicament, and, I hope, receive a very simple and common-sense solution. The facility will be available very shortly to most of the public.

A pilot study--which the Bill provides should begin in Scotland--of telephone claims will be conducted for the Inland Revenue.

Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that enabling claims to be made by telephone is one of the many measures that the Government are considering and starting to implement to reduce the burden on industry and business, and that reducing that burden is very important to industry and business? Does it not also once again demonstrate that the Government are not only listening but taking action?

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