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The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The creation of a sustainable, stable macro-economic framework since 1997 has provided the foundation for productivity growth in UK firms. We have a long-term ambition to ensure that Britain achieves a faster rate of productivity growth than its main competitors, thereby closing the productivity gap. The Chancellor's pre-Budget report takes us a step nearer that ambition.
Mr. Griffiths: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. When he considers the efforts of small and medium-sized companies to increase their productivity, will he examine the issues surrounding the charges for authorisations under integrated pollution control? A small company in my constituency, Abril Waxes, has found that it has to pay £7,000 for its authorisation, which might be the same as that paid by a company such as BP. Will he consider a system of sliding scales based on output for such charges?
Mr. Boateng: My hon. Friend takes a very close interest in these matters and I am grateful for his support for our objectives. He makes a fair point and I will ensure that officials consider his proposal and get back to him on our likely capacity to be able to introduce such a measure.
The pre-Budget report sought to help small businesses through the simplification of VAT and by further reforms to the business tax system. I hope that they will assist the sort of firm that he rightly said has particular concerns about compliance costs.
The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): The Government are committed to abolishing child poverty within a generation and halving it by 2010. As a result of tax and benefit changes announced in the last Parliament, there are now 1.2 million fewer children in poverty than there would otherwise have been. In addition, the Government have put extra funds into services specifically available for children, such as sure start, neighbourhood renewal and the children's fund.
James Purnell: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that ending child poverty also depends on making work pay? Does she remember the shadow Chancellor campaigning relentlessly against the minimum wage in the 1992 election and claiming that it would cost
Dawn Primarolo: Poverty is complex and multi- dimensional, as my hon. Friend will realise. To tackle child poverty, it is necessary to deal with low incomes through the minimum wage and the tax and benefit changes that the Government have introduced. We need to tackle the problem of workless households by ensuring that people can get into work, stay in work and keep more of the money that they earn. The working families tax credit is an example of how we do that. We must also invest in public servicesin particular, education and healthto give the best start to our children and to ensure that they are able to develop their potential without the scar of poverty destroying their lives.
The House will wish to know that on Monday 10 December there will be a debate relating to the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between member states in European Standing Committee B. This rearranges the debate adjourned last Monday.
Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week and beyond. On his last point, you will recall, Mr. Speaker, that in response to points of order raised by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), at column 185 of Hansard on 4 December you helpfully invited the hon. Lady in particular to follow up the important constitutional issue that arose following what my hon. Friend called "a shambles" in the European Standing Committee last Monday? Based on what that Committee saidor, strictly speaking, was not able to say; it has yet to reach a decisionand what was said in the equivalent Committee in another place, the Government are surely unable to take a position on European arrest warrants in the Council of Ministers, which is meeting even as we speak.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give an absolute undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will make no commitment on that matter until the proper parliamentary process has been completed. As the Committee will not meet again until next Monday, I hope that he will say categorically that the Government will not take a position on behalf of this country in that Council of Ministers before the Committee concludes its deliberations and the parliamentary process is completed. It is an important matter, and I am sure the Leader of the House, with his well-known respect for the parliamentary process, will readily be able to give that guarantee.
The Leader of the House has so far shared his views on what he chooses to call the modernisation of the House of Commons only, we are told, with the parliamentary Labour party. Before he shares his views with the rest of usI do not know when that will bewill he guarantee that his proposals will strengthen the House of Commons and Parliament vis-à-vis the Government and reduce the Government's stranglehold on our parliamentary process, which they are seeking to tighten? Moreover, will he guarantee that nothing that he does will give Members of Parliament the opportunity to reduce their role in this place, or allow them to bunk off rather than be here fulfilling their parliamentary duties? Those undertakings will be very important when we all come to consider the proposals, as I hope we will eventually be given the chance to do.
[That this House is deeply concerned by the contents of the Press release entitled 'Labour Thugs Attack MP', issued by the Labour honourable Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham on 4th December, in which he complains of 'an intimidatory move' by the Labour honourable Member for Bradford South, 'prodding . . . in the back' by the Labour honourable Member for Lewisham West,
I am sure that the Leader has memorised it, but while he is waiting for his Parliamentary Private Secretary to give him a copy, I can tell him that it concerns a press release entitled, "Labour thugs attack MP". [Hon. Members: "Oh no."] Yes, this is a very serious allegation, which must worry you, Mr. Speaker, as it does the rest of us. The MP concerned is the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden), and he has made serious allegations about which we are all most concerned. He says that he has been both verbally and physically attacked by members of the Government.
It is one thing for the Government to hold the House in contempt; we have almost got used to that. But it is quite another if the Government are now so desperate that their MinistersWhips, after all, are on the payroll and have ministerial boxes and carsare now physically and verbally attacking an independent-minded Member simply because he takes a view that is different from, and independent of, that of the Government. If the House of Commons is about anything, it is the ability of Members to take an independent view and to be accountable to their electorate and no one else. Here we have another direct threat against Members' independence, and I hope that you agree, Mr. Speaker, that it is urgent that we debate the matter. Let us have it out in the open and hear what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham has to say, and then let us decide how we, the House of Commons, can protect Labour MPs from their own Government.