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Mr. Prisk: Will the Chief Secretary give way?

Mr. Boateng: Not at this point.

By raising a fair share of tax from large commercial deals, we shall further the interests of small businesses and give them more protection. The proposed £150,000 threshold for commercial transactions will eliminate the charge on about—

Mr. Prisk: Peanuts!

Mr. Boateng: The hon. Gentleman shouts that out, but he really ought to reflect on his own Government's record in this area. The fact is that when the Conservatives had the opportunity, they did absolutely nothing at all to ensure modernisation and reform of stamp duty. [Interruption.] It is no use their wittering on about this being a new tax; the fact is that they ought to have seen the need for reform. Simply to dismiss this as

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a new tax or a new burden does no service at all to the impulse for reform that existed for many years before this Government took office, but to which the Conservatives singularly failed to respond. This new proposed threshold, which will exempt 35,000 small business transactions a year from tax, certainly does not constitute peanuts; it is something to be welcomed. The removal altogether of stamp duty on non-residential properties in 2,000 enterprise areas will be widely welcomed by small businesses throughout the country, including in the constituencies of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

We are meeting our responsibilities to the environment in terms of the sustainable use of resources. This Finance Bill contains carefully calibrated tax and economic incentives that will encourage this, while not undermining the competitiveness of British business. There are new duty differentials for sulphur-free fuels and bioethanol, and a new, low-carbon band of vehicle excise duty for the lowest CO2 emission cars, which will allow motorists to save up to £110 per year by choosing such vehicles. We are listening to the calls for an increase in the landfill tax rate of £1 per tonne for this year and next, to provide business certainty. [Interruption.] Conservative Members mock the notion that we have listened, but the fact is that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been calling—not least through the good offices of the Environmental Audit Select Committee—for such an increase for many years. We have listened, and now we have it.

We are demonstrating through this Budget a commitment to fairness, a commitment to flexibility, a commitment to public services and a commitment to ensuring that we meet the needs of these times, whereby we deliver where successive Conservative Governments have failed to deliver, recognise and meet the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises, and move forward with investment in public services, tackling poverty and social exclusion despite the global slow-down. As such, I commend this Bill to the House.

4.38 pm

Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs): I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Notwithstanding the Chancellor's absence today, may I add my personal congratulations to him and his wife on their recent announcement? I am sure that the whole House wishes that all goes well for them. I also hope that the experience of the costs of raising a family will in due course convert the right hon. Gentleman to the merits of a lower-tax economy. I should also like to draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests.

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I want briefly to mention the programme motion, which we will reach later. It provides a guillotine for the Committee stage to finish on 12 June, leaving only seven sitting days to debate a complex, if not very constructive, Finance Bill. I suspect that that will not allow sufficient time for a full discussion in territory that is, candidly, not particularly party political, so we will oppose the programme motion.

After the Chief Secretary's interesting speech this afternoon, I am sure that the whole House will feel relieved to have been spared a repeat of the rant in his winding-up speech to the Budget debate. The Chief Secretary will be disappointed by the local election results, particularly by the fact that his and his party's attempt to misrepresent and smear what I said about the scope for reducing waste and cutting non-productive bureaucratic costs failed to affect the outcome. It was a pathetic attempt by the Labour party to divert attention from the Chancellor's economic failures.

I remind the Chief Secretary of Labour's 1997 general election promise to root out

and to

Rather than misrepresenting what I said, the Chief Secretary would do better to get on with precisely that. I also remind him of the debate earlier this year on the Public Accounts Committee reports, which had identified more than £20 billion of waste in public spending in the period that was assessed.

Geraint Davies: The hon. Gentleman knows that action against the waste identified by the Public Accounts Committee has, along with 90 per cent. of its recommendations, already been implemented. He is calling for a further 20 per cent. reduction in overall public expenditure. Where specifically will those cuts be made—out of thin air, or is he talking rubbish?

Mr. Flight: I get rather fed up with Labour Members misquoting what I said. Some items in the Public Accounts Committee recommendations, particularly VAT fraud, are beginning to be dealt with, but it is pathetic that the Government have been in power for seven years and done so little to address waste and fraud. They have enormously increased the costs of bureaucracy—by £3.5 billion on central Government. They have wasted more than £1 billion a year on information technology systems that have gone wrong. They have failed to address effective procurement in the public sector, wasting approximately £4 billion a year. In short, they have been completely hopeless at securing good value for taxpayers' money. If the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) bothered to read the interview, he would find that I was not talking about reducing expenditure on health or education. Indeed, I was talking about realising resources to increase effective online delivery. It is time that the hon. Gentleman ceased to misrepresent what I said.

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Mr. Boateng: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in a memo dated 12 November 2001—predating his interview by some time—he said to the shadow Chancellor:

Does not that amount to charges, or does he deny those words?

Mr. Flight: The Chief Secretary refers to a confidential memo that the Labour party intercepted improperly, which had nothing to do with the interview about cutting waste. Had the Chief Secretary been party to the entire discussion, he would know that we were talking about how to make the best use of the French system in this country. We were not talking about any programme—for which it would not be my responsibility—to levy charges in the health service. If the Labour party plays dirty by intercepting electronic mail, as in this case, it may find that it gets only half the story. The issue is this: why have the Government not addressed the reduction in waste much more effectively?

Mr. Boateng: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Flight: I am afraid that the Chief Secretary has had more than sufficient time to lie and to misrepresent what I have said.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I must invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw one of the allegations that he has just made.

Mr. Flight: I withdraw with pleasure anything improper that I have said, but my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor pointed out in this Chamber that Labour party suggestions that the Conservatives had a programme to cut expenditure on health and education were lies. It was that to which I referred.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would contribute beneficially to the progress of the debate if he specifically withdrew the allegations that a right hon. Member lied.

Mr. Flight: I am happy to withdraw an allegation that the right hon. Gentleman lied and say that I wish he would cease playing the game of misrepresentation.

The Bill—likely to be the Chancellor's last Finance Bill—is a rather poor and lop-sided effort.

Mr. Bellingham : Has not my hon. Friend nailed the ridiculous and absurd idea peddled by the Labour party that the shadow Treasury team wants to cut 20 per cent. across the board? Should not the Government desist from making such accusations?

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