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Low Incomes (Tax Burden)

14. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What steps he is taking to reduce the tax burden on people on very low incomes. [62338]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Ivan Lewis): The Government have already done a great deal to reduce the tax burden on people on low incomes. We have introduced the 10p starting rate of income tax, reformed national insurance contributions and introduced the working tax credit for hard-working families and the minimum income guarantee for pensioners.

Mr. Bellingham: Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), I should like to quote the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn). In Tuesday's Budget debate, he said that the number of people

Those are not the words of some junior Labour Parliamentary Private Secretary, but the wisdom of one of the most highly regarded new Labour Ministers of his generation. Will the Minister tell us whether the right hon. Gentleman is right or wrong?

Mr. Lewis: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) would be happy to hear the hon. Gentleman describe him as one of the most highly regarded Labour MPs, although I do not think that he was saying that when my right hon. Friend was Secretary of State for Health and he was asking him questions across the Dispatch Box.

I shall respond directly to the hon. Gentleman's assertion. The number of families facing a marginal rate of more than 70 per cent. has fallen by more than 700,000 since 1998, from 740,000 to 240,000. The reality for low-income families is a take-up rate of 89 per cent., compared with 57 per cent. under family credit. For the poorest, the rate is 93 per cent. As we are talking about the burden on low-income families, let us remember when there were high interest rates—and therefore high mortgage rates—and when there was no minimum wage, no working tax credit and no minimum income guarantee for pensioners. Let us also remember what mass unemployment did to people on low incomes.

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): When the Paymaster General put through the tenfold increase in the one-year income disregard from £2,500 to £25,000 in Standing Committee last week, Conservative Members argued vehemently against the measure before voting for it. Will the Minister take this opportunity to explain to them again exactly how this extremely imaginative measure will help and support working families into, and back into, employment?
 
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Mr. Lewis: Conservative Members are clearly disoriented at the moment. They are not sure whether to be right-wing ideologues or to support people on low incomes. When we consider the consequences of incentivising people to work rather than to remain on welfare, we see that that is one of the primary reasons why people's standard of living is growing and why the unemployment figures have never been lower.

HIV/AIDS

15. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What estimate he has made of the level of funding the UK would need to contribute to achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment in developing countries. [62339]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Forty million people around the world have HIV and 4.9 million people were infected last year. The total funding gap is therefore £16 billion. The United Kingdom is committed to spend £1.5 billion from 2005 to 2008. We are the second largest donor in HIV/AIDS, and we are supporting programmes that cut the price of antiretroviral drugs. On that and other
 
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issues, I am today publishing the seventh annual report of our Government on the International Monetary Fund.

Dr. Harris: I welcome that answer and pay my tribute, which is shared in many quarters, to the Chancellor's leadership on this issue internationally. Will he accept, however, that unless we ensure that not just our contribution but everyone's—encouraged by his leadership—is met, the danger is that, because there is a target, funding and infrastructure will be taken from other health priorities in the countries concerned to meet that target? I hope that he will agree that that is an issue.

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has taken an interest in these issues over time. The sad fact is that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which was to be a fund of $20 billion, is financed only to the tune of about $2.7 billion. We will have to do better in future years if we are to make the 2010 target. I believe that the only way in which we can do that is to find new forms of innovative financing, such as we have found for vaccinations, and such as we can find for other drugs. It is important that we get a consensus in this country to promote an international finance facility for those issues, so that we can then win support around the world.


 
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Business of the House

11.31 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the weeks after recess?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business for the week after the Easter recess will be as follows:

Tuesday 18 April—Second Reading of the Commons Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 19 April—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will propose an Humble Address to mark the occasion of Her Majesty the Queen's 80th birthday, followed by consideration in Committee of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Thursday 20 April—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Friday 21 April—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 24 April—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

May I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, record on behalf of the entire House our thanks and appreciation for the extra duties that you have undertaken in recent weeks?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mrs. May: May I join the Leader of the House in thanking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the extra duties that you have performed in the Speaker's absence over recent weeks?

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I note that today, the last day before the recess, there are 39 written statements by Ministers, with no chance for questions to Ministers. Given his responsibilities to the House, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that in future fewer written statements and more oral statements are made by Ministers?

On Tuesday, the Foreign Office published its White Paper, "Active diplomacy for a changing world", which moves the Government away from an ethical foreign policy to a policy of "active diplomacy". Will the right hon. Gentleman make Government time available for a debate on that White Paper?

According to a survey by the Faculty of Public Health, only a third of primary care trusts believe that they can deliver public health effectively. This month, there have been more than 4,700 job cuts in the health service, the Daily Express reports that cuts in vaccination programmes could put children's lives at risk, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), a former Health Secretary, complains that £200 million has been spent on consultants—not medical consultants but management consultants—and the man the Chancellor asked to sort out NHS funding, Sir Derek Wanless, said today:


 
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What a fitting epitaph for this Government. And yet, with all of this, the Health Secretary says in an interview in today's Financial Times, that this year the health service has

Perhaps it was the best for deficits and job cuts, but not for patients. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure a debate in Government time so that the Health Secretary can come to this House and hear from Members what is going on in the health service for which she is responsible?

May we have a debate on equal opportunities? In his Budget the Chancellor cut tax relief on home computers, which could hit women particularly hard. The Government have scrapped the scheme of NHS golden hellos, and have cut funding for the NHS flexible careers scheme. Both schemes were intended to help women return to the health service. They are also cutting funds for the Equal Opportunities Commission. Those are hardly signs of a Government who are committed to equal opportunities and helping women in the workplace. We need a debate on the Government's policy for women.

May we have a debate on the elderly? According to a survey by GE Life, about one in five people think that they will have to work part-time to supplement their incomes in retirement—double the current number. And what can they look forward to in retirement? The Chancellor has cut help with their rising council tax bills. A report from the Healthcare Commission, the Audit Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection said that older people were subject to "patronising and thoughtless" attitudes. Age Concern has said

The elderly will not even be able to take up evening classes. The Association of Colleges tells us that funding will be frozen, charges will shoot up and classes will close.

Finally, may we have a debate on the meaning of Cabinet government? We have been waiting for a ministerial reshuffle for some time, and the time may have come. After all, a week after the Budget statement the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning told us that people were being taxed to the limit, saying

Admittedly, attacking the Chancellor may be the way in which to keep a job at the moment. The Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for International Development has said that "the Prime Minister himself" is the key issue for voters, and that he should

Just at the time when the Prime Minister has changed his mind and supports elections to the House of Lords, the Leader of the House has told the Press Gallery that he is against a democratically elected second Chamber.

Somehow I feel an Easter recess reshuffle coming on. I wish the right hon. Gentleman a very peaceful and uninterrupted recess.
 
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