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Rob Marris : I think that I understand the thrust of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but he wants to have it all ways. He wants certainty; he wants discretion; he wants the state to be providing free tax advice; he does not want the state to be providing free tax advice. I appreciate that these are difficult issues, but he seems to be proposing the reverse of what he said earlier, which is that the state should be providing free tax advice. I draw a parallel with the planning system. When someone puts in a planning application and it is refused, he puts in another one and another one and keeps tweaking it until he gets approval. Someone proposing to get around tax rules for a tax gain might seek clearance, but get knocked back. He might then put in another request and then another. He is looking for free tax advice, which we just cannot give.
Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman has shot his own argument out of the water. There is a sense in which one can draw a parallel with the planning systemplanners are given advance clearance on how the authorities will use their power in the absence of planning consent to tell someone to take down a development that he might otherwise have contemplated putting up.
The position in tax law as it operates is that, too often, taxpayers have to make their arrangements blind and ignorant of how tax law will be applied in the given set of circumstances that they are creating. People putting up a building have certainty when they do so that they have finally got planning consent before it goes up. That is exactly the sort of certainty, in advance of people organising their affairs, that should be available to taxpayers, but too often is not because of the Revenue's resistance to the principle of advance and binding clearances.
That is the first point. The second point is more mechanical. I am delighted, for two reasons, to see my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) back in his place. The first, and most important, is that I am delighted to see that he is smiling and clearly feeling better than he was earlier. The second is that I want to refer to some of the things he said about the way in which the Red Book has evolved over the years. If I may say so to my hon. Friend, I always think that we make a stronger case in politics when instead of saying that standards have slipped and that we want to go back to a previous golden age, we chart a way forward to the re-establishment of principles that I agree
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are very important. Those principles are the certainty and high quality of the information that should be available to the House in making decisions about the public revenues.
The Red Book published in March contains two tables on the revenue effect of measures that the Chancellor plans to take. Two lots of measures are listed as protecting the tax revenues. Those on page 186 total just over £1 billion of full-year revenue effect. Those on page 188, which were announced prior to the Budget, constitute a revenue effect of about £1.2 billion. In planning the public finances, the Chancellor assumed that those various measures to combat tax avoidance would protect the public revenues to the tune of about £2.25 billion, but the House has no external way of checking the numbers that the Government produce.
There is a suspicion abroad that every time there is a hole in the public finances, the Chancellor goes around the Treasury looking for a series of anti-avoidance measures that will allow the figures to look better than they otherwise wouldto the tune of £2.25 billion this yearand that we never close the loop. We never know whether the anti-avoidance measures raise any money or, if they do, whether it comes close to the sums that are claimed for them. Although more recently the out-turns have come closer to the forecasts than they have done previously, there is a suspicion that one reason why there were significant gaps between forecast and out-turns is that the claims made for the anti-avoidance measures were never lived up to in practice. That is relevant to the problem as it relates to anti-avoidance, but it is also part of a much bigger problem.
One of the proposals by the Conservative party in the last Parliament was the need to strengthen the information that is available to Parliament, independent of the Government, on the likely course of events in the public financessomething akin to the Congressional Budget Office that serves the American Congress, giving it advice, independent of the Government, of the likely effect of both revenues and expenditure, and therefore of the likely scale of public borrowing. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench described that as an independent fiscal projection committee. I hope that they follow that through.
There are two parallels in our system. The first is the National Audit Office, where a structure exists to provide advice to the House through the Comptroller and Auditor General and the institution of the Public Accounts Committee. We could establish a similar organisation to provide to the House an independent view of the likely course of the public finances.
The second parallel is the claim that is oftenin my view, rightlymade by the Government that they improved the quality of macro-economic decision making by making the Bank of England independently responsible for monetary policy. I am not in favour of taking the fundamental Budget judgments away from the Chancellor. What I am in favour of is giving to this House, which is supposed ultimately to control the purse strings and to be the source of parliamentary power, an improved quality of information on the likely course of public revenues, the likely level of Government expenditure and the likely impact of individual Budget measures.
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The proposal surfaced in the last Parliament, but in truth it has been talked about for much longer. If we are looking for waysas we should beof strengthening the accountability to Parliament of Ministers, it would be a huge step forward if Parliament had its own source of information about what the Government publish in the Red Book. That is why I linked the proposal to what my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford said. One way of achieving that is, as he suggested, to go back to an independently produced Red Book, if such a golden age ever existed. Another wayin my view, preferableis to give Parliament a stronger source of independent advice with which to challenge Ministers and to hold them to account.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) on an excellent maiden speech. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] The hon. Members for Newport, East (Jessica Morden), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) and for Bristol, East (Ms McCarthy) also made excellent contributions. They are a hard act to follow. I am also delighted to take part in the same debate as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is a great parliamentarian of our time. It is a great honour to speak in the same debate.
I intended to make my maiden speech when we discussed the Queen's Speech, but was thwarted for the best of reasons by my wife having a baby at a most inopportune moment. I hope that the House will be as patient with me as it always is with people who speak in the Chamber for the first time. I intendmuch to everyone's delight, no doubtto start off as I mean to go on by being brief.
There is no greater privilege than to represent one's constituency in Parliament. Shipley is a fine constituency within the Bradford district in West Yorkshire. Indeed, it is one of the few Conservative constituencies in a metropolitan area. Although Shipley is the largest place within the constituency, it is a rich and diverse area, with Bingleyhome of the Bradford and Bingley building societybeing the second-largest place. It also includes lovely villages such as Harden, Eldwick, Cullingworth, Wilsden, Denholme, Micklethwaite, Burley-in-Wharfedale, Menston and Baildon, where I have the pleasure to live.
The most famous part of the constituency is Saltaire, home of Salts mill, developed by the philanthropist Sir Titus Salt. It is a world heritage site and I recommend it as a great place to visit. Shipley, like the rest of Bradford, also has great curries. The Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet like the Shipley constituency, too. I know this because of the number of times they visited it before the election. I hope they continue to do so.
The greatest strength in the constituency is the people who live there. They are generous, resourceful and compassionate in equal measure, but above all they have great common sense and speak their mind. They also respect people who speak their mind even if they disagree with them. I assure hon. Members that I am a straight-talking Yorkshireman who will not be afraid to be controversialalthough, as tradition dictates, not on this occasion.
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Shipley has been very lucky to have been represented in Parliament by men of great distinction, particularly over the past 50 years: Geoffrey Hurst was independently minded and served his constituents so well that people still refer to him today; Sir Marcus Fox represented Shipley for 27 years and was a hugely respected figure both inside and outside Westminster; and, for the past eight years, it was represented by Christopher Leslie.
At 24, Chris Leslie was the youngest MP to be elected in the Labour landslide of 1997, but he quickly made a reputation as one of the most able of that intake. As someone who had been born and brought up in the area, Chris clearly cares about the Shipley constituency. His talents in Westminster, acknowledged by Members on both sides of the House, marked him out as an effective Minister. Add to that the fact that he is a very nice guy and popular, it made him a formidable opponent. It was a great achievement of his to win the seat in 1997 and then to retain it in 2001. He came within a whisker of holding on to it again at the recent election. He should be proud of his record. He accepted defeat with the good grace that I knew I could expect of him. I suspect and hope that we have not heard the last of Chris Leslie in the political arenaalthough hopefully not in Shipley.
One thing was clear at the recent election: politics and politicians have never been held in such low regard by the public. We should all be greatly concerned by that. I feel that, all too often, politicians set out to be popular, with the inevitable consequence that they become anything but popular. I believe that politicians should set out to be respected rather than popular, and that respect can last for ever. We all have a responsibility to reverse the decline in the public's perception of us. If all I achieve in my time in Parliament is to have done my bit to change that perception, I shall feel that I have done something worth while.
My right hon. and hon. Friends, especially the most ambitious of the new intake, will be greatly pleased to learn that I have no desire to rise through the ranks as a shadow Minister and, after the next election, as a Minister of the Crownthat is, all my right hon. and hon. Friends will be delighted apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who has the great misfortune to be my Whip. I wish to remain on the Back Benches and to speak up for the things that matter to me and my constituents. I want people to know that when I say something, I say it because I mean it, not because someone has told me to say it. I believe that that is the best way I can help to restore people's faith in politics.
Before entering Parliament, I worked for the supermarket chain Asda in customer service and marketing. It provided the best possible grounding for a politician because I met so many people from so many backgrounds. Whoever said "the customer is always right" never worked for Asda. I encountered the customer who accused us of being racist towards Irish people, because we sold "thick Irish sausages". Trying to persuade her that "thick" related to the sausages and not to the Irish was beyond me. Hon. Members should therefore understand why I will campaign hard against
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the blight of political correctness, which is doing so much damage to our country. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
Although Asda is part of a huge multinational company, Walmart, I also have experience working some years ago for my mother in her small businessa betting shop in Doncaster. I gently suggest that the lack of business experience on the Government Benches should lead Ministers to listen carefully to those who have first-hand experience of creating wealth and employment in this country.
There are many issues that have to be dealt with in Shipley, including crime, the horrendous traffic problems at Saltaire and the finance of the local national health service trust. I will be a persistent advocate of action to improve the Shipley constituency. I also want a better countrya country in which hard work, thrift and doing the right thing are rewarded, unlike now; a country where the Government do less and encourage individual freedom and responsibility; and a country that has a sovereign Parliament, not one run by a corrupt and inefficient institution called the European Union, which we subsidise to the tune of billions of pounds a year.
During the general election campaign, I encountered not one business or constituent who thought that tax evasion and avoidance were a substantial problemalthough many complained that taxes are too high. Businesses need less regulation, not more. I suspect that the real reason for the measures in the Bill is to raise extra money for an increasingly financially embarrassed Government, rather than to make the tax system fair. The best way to prevent tax avoidance and evasion is to have fewer taxes to avoid and evade.
As I said at the start of my speech, there is no greater privilege than to represent and serve one's constituents in Parliament. I am truly honoured that the people of Shipley have put their trust in me to follow in the footsteps of my illustrious predecessors. I shall work hard to ensure that I do not let them down.
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