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7.44 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): No one should be surprised at the token and transitory presence of Conservative Members during our discussion of this vital Bill. They must find it extremely distressing, I am

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convinced, to see the beginning of the end of the work that they did over 18 years and to see the damage that they inflicted on so many members of our society being reversed.

The Bill, indeed, starts to reverse major parts of the previous Government's policy. Eighteen years of Tory rule produced greater inequality than at any time since the second world war. The poorest 20 to 30 per cent. of the population failed to benefit from economic growth, and the poorest payed the highest marginal rates of tax. Moreover, unemployment--in terms of the number of households suffering unemployment--doubled so that one in five households had someone out of work. I represent the most deprived constituency in the most deprived city in the country, so, day after day, I see the evidence of what happened. I note that all but three Conservative Members find the debate too painful to listen to.

The Bill will enact a Budget to start a new era. It will give more help to most members of our society, and it will give the most help to those who are the worst off. The poorest 20 per cent. of households with children will gain an average of £500 per year--that will assist 3.8 million children. That is in great contrast to Conservative Budgets, which inflicted the greatest hardships on the poorest and gave the greatest benefit to the best off. The Bill reduces the high marginal rates of tax on those in the lower income groups, which makes a significant start in ensuring equity.

The Budget helps all families. It provides for the highest ever increase in child benefit--again, that is in stark contrast to what happened under the Conservative Government, who significantly reduced the value of child benefit. The Budget also extends the new deal, to give new hope of employment to younger people and older people alike. The official Opposition are still opposed to that measure.

The Bill will direct most help to those who need it most. In doing so, it will develop and stimulate the economy as a whole. That is why I welcome the Budget's provision for significant capital investment, which will be implemented in such a way as to improve services for the community and to create relevant and important jobs. For example, the £250 million extra investment in education--making a total of £2.5 billion extra investment in education--will improve services and buildings and provide further essential jobs. The £500 million extra investment in the national health service--making a total of more than £2 billion extra--will improve services and employment.

The £500 million extra for public transport will help us to secure better infrastructure to improve our environment; it will also develop the economy and produce more jobs.

Mr. Patrick Hall: My hon. Friend mentioned extra money for education and health. Does she agree that it is ironic that the Opposition parties have criticised the Government for not spending enough extra on education and health when the Government have spent far more than the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats would have spent, according to their printed and announced programmes?

Mrs. Ellman: Indeed. The Budget marks a decisive change. We are investing in the economy and in jobs.

In addition to significant capital investment, the Budget makes special efforts to help small and medium enterprises: the backbone of our economy. The Budget

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encourages that important sector by raising capital allowances and reducing taxes on those enterprises. Its encouragement for more innovative technologies promises more jobs, to the benefit of the whole economy.

The Budget should be considered in the context of the Government's general policies. It is directed towards producing more social and economic fairness. The Government are intervening to ensure that its benefits are felt where they are most needed, which is why we are going ahead with regional development agencies that will bring together the public, private and voluntary sectors to invest in regional economies. I note that the official Opposition are opposed to regional development agencies, as they are opposed to anything constructive.

The Budget promotes our efforts to deal with social exclusion, which is another inheritance of the 18 years of Tory rule. It also promotes communications. It took a Labour Government to rescue the shambles of the channel tunnel rail link deal left by the Tories. That will be important to the regions and the whole country.

Mr. Derek Twigg: My hon. Friend will know that my constituency is only a few miles from hers. She hit on the important point that the Budget and the Government's general policies are designed to benefit not only the south-east but the whole country. We want the communication links to be in place and the economy of the whole country to be vibrant.

Mrs. Ellman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is essential that the Budget should deal effectively with the macro-economic situation, but for that to be effective we also need mechanisms to deal with regional and local issues, to ensure that the benefits are enjoyed where they are most needed. I applaud the Government for all that they have done on macro, micro and regional levels.

The Budget is the beginning of the creation of a new era. It is highly regrettable that the official Opposition cannot even bear to hear about it.

Mr. Love: Does my hon. Friend note the fact that Her Majesty's official Opposition moved none of the amendments that they tabled today? The foreign earnings deduction amendments took a whole day in Committee, but no one from the official Opposition was here to move them today.

Mrs. Ellman: My hon. Friend demonstrates effectively the official Opposition's ineffectiveness and irresponsibility. Their record speaks for itself. They created a divided society and record unemployment and showed a callous disregard for justice. The Budget is the beginning of a new era and I commend it to the House. I look forward to the Government developing policies that will bring social and economic justice to the country as a whole.

Mr. Patrick Hall: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am inspired by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) to seek your guidance on whether the absence of contributions from the official Opposition demonstrates a sustained abdication of responsibility.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a matter for the Chair.

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7.55 pm

Mrs. Liddell: Several of my hon. Friends have drawn attention to the vast emptiness on the Opposition Benches. It would be useful if the House were aware of the fact that the official Opposition asked for two days to discuss the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House. As a Government who are committed to proper accountability and scrutiny, we were happy to arrange for those two days, but chaos has reigned on the Opposition Benches from day one.

I thought that the high point--or perhaps the low point--had come when the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) had to be got out of his bed in the middle of the night and brought into the House to adjudicate in a fight between his Front-Bench and Back-Bench colleagues. The Whips had totally abdicated responsibility and had to send for the right hon. Gentleman to haud the jaikets, as we say in the west of Scotland. I am glad that he had the chance to change out of his jammies before coming to the House.

We have had a good debate, and I commend my hon. Friends for some studied speeches that obviously took great preparation. We take the job of government extremely seriously. We regard the tasks of government and of representing our constituents as a privilege, which is why we have worked so hard on Third Reading. I am grateful to my hon. Friends on the Back Benches for the assistance that they have given to Ministers.

I pay especial tribute to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who has had the heaviest burden. This has been a lengthy and detailed Bill. Not all the work takes place in the House, because much preparation has to be done in advance.

The debate has been remarkable in that we have had the rare privilege of a visit from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). It is always a pleasure to see him at his work. I am sorry that he did not manage to stay in the Chamber terribly long, but he addressed us from his Olympian heights and I will respond to him with pleasure.

Mr. Salmond rose--

Mrs. Liddell: I have to consider whether I should give way to the hon. Gentleman, because, with characteristic arrogance, he refused to take interventions from my hon. Friends this evening. However, I will of course take his intervention, because it is so rare a pleasure to see him at his work.

Mr. Salmond: That must be the longest preamble to giving way that I have ever heard. [Hon. Members: "Get on with it."] Well, if the concession is so long, the intervention can be long as well.

The Economic Secretary is building a case on the presence or absence of hon. Members in the Chamber. Where, then, are the Chancellor and the Prime Minister?

Mrs. Liddell: Running the country.

The hon. Gentleman made a number of points--[Interruption.] I wish my hon. Friends would stop making me laugh. [Interruption.]

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