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Mrs. Helen Liddell (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. Like the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) and others, this will probably be the last time that I shall speak in the House. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place. I do not blame him for going for a cup of tea because we have heard the speeches of the hon. Members for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) and for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) in every Budget debate for the past eight years. I absolve the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) of that because he always gives a considered analysis of the Budget. I may not agree with it, but it shows deep consideration.

I had a particular reason for wanting to wish the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire well for the future. When I entered the House in 1994 after a traumatic by-election caused by the death of the late John Smith, the right hon. Gentleman was, in his normal courteous way, the first Member to wish me well for the future. I should therefore like to take the opportunity to return the compliment and wish him well. I remember that he spoke about the pre-1997 state of his then constituency of Peterborough. My experience of Airdrie and Shotts under the previous Conservative Administration was markedly different, however, and it is for that reason that I rise to congratulate the Chancellor on this Budget.

I disagree with the right hon. Member for Fylde, who took up the theme of the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire that this is a vote-winning Budget. It is not. What will win an election is the fact that this Budget is incremental on other Budgets that have gone before. Almost everything that the Chancellor talked about in this Budget builds on initiatives that have already been undertaken.

I know, as a Member of Parliament for a particularly deprived area, that my constituency comes top in terms of the transfer into employment of people of working age. That is a considerable achievement in an area blighted by the end of the coal mines and badly affected by the end of the steel and shipbuilding industries. Such an achievement would have been impossible were it not for the actions of this Government from 1997 onwards. Pensioners in my constituency will share the view expressed by Age Concern this afternoon, warmly welcoming the Budget. The constituents whom I have had the honour to represent have seen a significant change in their well-being as a consequence of the Government's actions.
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I come from an area in which no pensioner—indeed, no individual—would ever have known what it was like to have £200 in their hand at one time. Yet that is what the winter fuel payment has meant for my constituents. Something else that would not have been possible without the sound management of the economy and the consideration of the Treasury—something that the Chancellor did not mention in the Budget—is the payment to miners who have suffered ill health. I represent a constituency in which the pits closed 30 or 40 years ago, and where there are 240-odd men whose health was damaged as a consequence of their work in them. In my constituency of 58,000 souls, £9.3 million has already been paid out to some of the poorest people, almost all of whom are pensioners. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined, when I made my maiden speech in 1994, that that would happen.

I made my maiden speech in a debate on the Finance Bill. I was too naive to realise, when the Whip sent me in to do so, that I was making a job application to serve on the Bill's Committee. This was at a time when no Member could say that they had worked on a Finance Bill until they had seen the sun come up over St. Thomas's hospital night after night. I remember the subjects that I spoke about during the deliberations on that Bill. I talked about pensions, and about the difficulties that people had experienced as a consequence of the personal pensions mis-selling during the lifetime of the previous Conservative Administration. I was privileged to be able to play a part in putting that right.

I also remember talking about the assistance needed by the creative industries, especially the film industry. Manufacturing industry in this country will never be the same again, but when we are experiencing growth in our economy, we can turn to the part of that economy that adds to the overall well-being of us all, namely the creative industries. I have seen this happening in Scotland and throughout the country, and I hope, at some point in the future, to be able to sing the praises of our creative industries in another part of the world.

The assistance that the Budget has given to small and medium-sized enterprises in reducing the burden of regulation is something that I feel passionately about. I made my maiden speech on the need to encourage SMEs, because I had previously been the chief executive of a small company that worked with such businesses. Reducing the burden of regulation can make a great change to those small companies, probably more so than any other aspect of what the Government can do.

I say to the Paymaster General, who is in her place, that merging Customs and Excise with the Revenue and simplifying value added tax are direct incentives to more and more people to consider joining the growing band of the self-employed who set up small businesses. They are the ones who can generate the wealth that we want in this country, which will enable us to have the public services and the lifestyle that everyone is entitled to.

Everybody in this Chamber is well paid, and if push comes to shove we can dig ourselves out of a hole by throwing money at our problems. All Labour Members, I am sure, represent people who cannot do that. I listened to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs complaining about the public services, although he was unable to answer a question about what he thinks is the right level of public services. He seems to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
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When we talk about public services, we are talking about not only the human resources directors and the guys who run the transport, but the men and women who will be going into people's houses at 9 or 10 o'clock tonight to sit with the terminally ill to allow their families to have a rest. We are talking about the teachers and the classroom assistants who are giving our children an opportunity to have a future of the kind that we were guaranteed because of the nature of the education we received. We are talking about public services that can transform not only people's lifestyle, but their ambitions for the future.

The Chancellor concentrated on education, in particular ensuring that the children in our primary schools go to school in a safe, sound and dry environment. In 1996, I went to a school in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), which still had outside toilets and had water coming in through the roof. In place of that school is a brand new, state of the art school.

I know what it is like: my kids sit down at computers, but I visit houses in my constituency where the youngsters do not have access to computers. We need to give every child that opportunity or we will not have the high-tech, high-wage economy that Members on both sides of the House want for the future. This is about making fundamental changes that all add up.

The right hon. Member for Fylde talked about confetti, but the reality is that although every change in the Budget, if considered in isolation, might not mean a lot to all of us in here, each one will have a meaningful effect on the lives of the people we represent. It is the sum of the parts that makes the difference.

This has not been talked about much this afternoon, but I believe that when the Chancellor took the decision on that first weekend in government in 1997 to give operational independence to the Bank of England, achieving the climate that was to reduce interest rates and allow more and more people to become home owners and more and more people to set up businesses, a fundamental change was made to this economy. We shall reap the benefits for years to come.

I believe that the Government have achieved a lot and I am delighted to have had an opportunity to play some part in that.

Mr. Marshall : My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that this might be her last speech to the House. We have been friends for 35 years, ever since she started work, as a wee lassie, in the Scottish TUC offices in Glasgow. Like other colleagues, I want to thank her for the courtesy, kindness and assistance that she offered to us all when we raised constituency cases with her when she was a Minister in various Departments. I am sure we all wish her every success when she takes up her appointment as high commissioner to Australia.

Mrs. Liddell: I thank my hon. Friend very much indeed. He has been a great friend for many years, although I am not sure whether I like the fact that he referred to 35 years. I am getting to the stage where I prefer to lie about my age just as much as I lie about my height.

I commend the Budget to the House. I am privileged to have played a part in some of the Government's successes. There have been successes, but there is much,
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much more to do. That is why the next few weeks and months are very important for the people of this country. I hope that there is another Labour Budget this time next year and I hope to be listening to it on the BBC World Service.

5.25 pm

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