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Chris Huhne : I share many of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), particularly about the measures that the Treasury has introduced to deal with tax avoidance. The scope of those measures means that we often have to rely on the word of the Paymaster General, who is effectively telling us, "Trust me, I'm the Paymaster General." That is an enticing invitation given that she has been in that post for a lengthy period, but she will not occupy it for ever.
These powers might be used by people with a less beneficent view than the one that she expresses towards taxpayers. It is unfortunate that the checks and balances in the Bill are not stronger, because the scope of the measuresI am thinking particularly of schedule 8 and transfer pricing, for exampleand the powers that we have given to HMRC are very substantial indeed.
In another neck of the woods entirely, I regret, and I believe we will have in our constituency surgeries a substantial number of complaints about, the Treasury's unwillingness to be a little more flexible on the gift aid provisions relating to museum admissions. Setting a minimum of one year or requiring an excess charge of 10 per cent. over the entry price means that a number of smaller museums will suffer considerable problems.
The performance of those on the Treasury Bench on the issue of REITsreal estate investment trustsreminded me of the recent performance of the Paymaster General in dealing with another classic Treasury case, that of tax credits, where the issue is not the objective of a particular policy, but its implementation. REITs is another case of the Treasury failing to deliver on promises made time and again to the House in respect of a measure that has wide cross-party support across the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Government Benches. Once again, the Treasury has not delivered, on a measure that would provide a real prospect of the financial services industry being more competitive in an area where a number of other countriesthe United States and various continental countrieshave already introduced similar measures.
On simplification of the tax regime, we were disappointed that the Treasury was not more open-minded in introducing a proposal for a tax law commission. That has wide support among professionals,
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who are after all the people advising us on the matter and also HMRC. The tax law commission would go beyond the tax law rewrite project in being able to propose ways of simplifying the tax code that would command broad support. The argument from the Treasury Bench was that the commission would pre-empt the powers of the House of Commons. I do not believe that for a minute. It would be a professional body that could put forward proposals, and the Government could accept or reject them.
The insurance provisions tell us more about the motivation of the Bill than almost anything else. A substantial change is proposed in the basis of the taxation of the life assurance industry through secondary regulation powers given to the Treasury without adequate consultation or scrutiny in the House. That tells me that the Treasury is rather more worried about the prospect of revenue than about the prospect of good tax legislation.
Finally, I thank the Clerks for all the support they have given my hon. Friends and me in tabling amendments. I thank the Economic Secretary for the assurances that he gave us earlier today on the qualified investor schemes, which will be of benefit to the City and the financial services industry. I thank you, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your support through these often arduous proceedings.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Olympics. I do so in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Gleneagles and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in Singapore, and in my capacity as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Britain's bid.
All of us know the news; each of us will be able to recollect for the rest of our lives exactly where we were when the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, read out those magical words: "The city which will host the 2012 games is the cityof London." But my right hon. Friends and I thought that the House would welcome this early opportunity to send its congratulations to all those involved in what is a magnificent achievement for the United Kingdom as a whole in securing not only the Olympics but the Paralympics.
Our first thanks must go to the International Olympic Committee for the confidence that it has shown in the United Kingdom's bid and we should salute the strength of, and support for, the other four bids on the final shortlist.
When the original discussions took place over two years ago as to whether the Government should back a bid for 2012, there was enthusiasm in principle, but much anxiety about whether in practice London could win. We knew even then that we faced extremely tough competition. It is a tribute to the extraordinary dedication and imagination of all those involved to have taken the project from just a dream to the reality that it becomes from today. The work of Lord Coe, Keith Mills and their team has been immense. Barbara Cassani set the foundations, but Lord Coe has taken the inspiration and energy that made him one of the world's greatest ever athletes and channelled it into building a powerful bid for London. His performance here, as it was on the track, has been phenomenal. On behalf of all Members, I pay tribute to him and to all those involved with him.
London's bid was built on a special Olympic vision. That vision is of an Olympic games that will be not only a celebration of sport but a force for regeneration. The games will transform one of the poorest and most deprived areas of London. They will create thousands of new jobs and homes. They will offer new opportunities for business in the immediate area and throughout London.
One of the things that made our bid distinctive and successful is the way in which it reaches out to all young people in two important respects: it will encourage many more to get fit and to be involved in sport and, whatever their physical prowess, to offer their services as volunteers for the Olympic cause.
The nation has united behind this vision. The latest polls show that 80 per cent. of people backed the bid and more than 3 million people sent individual pledges of
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support. There has been a terrific partnership between the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and the Greater London authority; the chairman of the British Olympic Association, Craig Reedie, and all his colleagues; and Mike Brace, chairman of the British Paralympic Association, and his colleagues.
Hon. Members from across the political spectrum have contributed to the success of this bid. Leading the Government's efforts have been the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I know that I speak for all colleagues when I say that I have personally witnessed, as have we all, her extraordinary personal commitment in tirelessly championing London's cause. Officials at every level in her Department, supported from elsewhere in Government, have worked fantastically hard and with great skill.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport have lobbied hard in Singapore. They were joined there on behalf of the official Opposition by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) and on behalf of the Liberal Democrats by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). On behalf of the Government and the bid team, I thank hon. Members for the enthusiastic cross-party support for the bid.
Today we can celebrate. From tomorrow, we start to realise the Olympic vision in our bid. The Prime Minister has already announced the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport as Minister for the Olympics. Lord Coe will become chair of the organising committee. Keith Mills will help to oversee the transition. Before the summer recess, the Government will introduce a Bill to set the statutory framework that we need to ensure the delivery of a successful games. Work to improve London's transport network will continue. A new Olympic lottery game will start soon. Tenders for Olympic-related work in east London have already been submitted and major contracts that relate to the games and the broader infrastructure will be concluded in the next few weeks.
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