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The effect of the two speeches was the same. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said last year that the Opposition welcomed many measures in the Bill, but would still vote against itand the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet used exactly that phrase. The core of the speech did not become clear to me, or, as he made clear in his inimitable way, to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). As a result of my hon. Friend's performance, I may not be needed on the Standing Committee again, because all the vacancies will be filled by one person. I look forward to his performance in due course.
The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet did not tell us what she supported. She seemed to be using one of those throwaway phrases that seem convenient for the Opposition but are, in fact, very destructive. I urge the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who will wind up the debate for the Opposition, to find a constructive element. What measures in the Bill does the Conservative party support? If Conservative Members are honest with themselves, and, more particularly, with the House, they will say that there is a good deal in the Bill that they support. However, for tactical reasons, they do not want to admit that. If there are a good number of measures that they support, their reasoned amendment becomes less reasonedopposition for opposition's sake.
I made an intervention on the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) when he was talking about productivity. The hon. Member for South-West
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Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) also intervened during the same passage of that speech. The right hon. Member for Wokingham accepted that productivity in the private sector was reasonableI am paraphrasing him, so those were probably not his precise wordsbut said that that was not his point. He did not criticise private sector productivity when I put to him next year's putative growth rate, which will go up to about 2.75 per cent., which is above trend. He said that there was a problem with productivity in the public sector. I put to him the point, which he did not deal with, that it is very difficult to measure productivity in the public sector. The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire accepted that point in an earlier debate.
What point was the right hon. Gentleman making? I suppose that it may have been a cheap political point. He spoke of the crisis in the NHSa phrase that I reject out of hand as a cheap, unsupportable gibebut seemed to contradict himself by encapsulating in the crisis the idea of job losses in the public sector. I do not say that such job losses are an easy thing to deal with; we have all read the facts in the newspapers and heard them on the news, and we all have our own views on the matter. According to the right hon. Gentleman's own logic, however, if there are job losses in the public sector, that means by definition that the public sector is becoming more productive because there are fewer people working in it. I therefore have no idea what exact point he was making.
The right hon. Gentleman accepted that private sector productivity was goodI agreebut then confused his argument by pointing to the very fact that makes public sector productivity more likely than not. It seemed to me that the convoluted and overtly political point that he was making damaged his argument. It was rather cheap, and it is also rather representative of the poor arguments being made by the Opposition. Returning to my original point, is this opposition for opposition's sake, or are there serious issues to be discussed here?
That may become clearer in Committee, when the Bill will be looked at in detail, clause by clause. On Second Reading we are dealing with the principle. It seems to me that the principle governing this Bill, and many of the Bills that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has brought to the House, is that it reverses the unfortunate, and sometimes tragic, history of the Treasury. I am talking about what is known as the dead hand of the Treasury. Traditionally, the Treasury was the Department that simply said no"No, no, no." The Chancellor has made it clear that the Government cannot allow that, and now the Treasury has been part of the engine for reform. I welcome and applaud that, and I think that this Bill is an example of it.
I shall pick out a few clauses that show how the Treasury has ceased to be a dead hand and become an engine for change. Labour Members would certainly argue that we are in government precisely to be an engine for beneficial change. There are four areas in which the Bill makes such changes. The first three are social measures, deregulation and what I will simply call business-friendly measures, and anti-tax avoidance measures, which in an intervention I called fair taxation. It is only right that those subject to regulation by the Finance Bill should pay as the democratically elected Government say they should, rather than avoiding their
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social and economic responsibility as corporate or private citizens. The final category is that of green measures, about which many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken.
Health having been my main policy interest since I entered Parliament in 1997, I think that one of the major clauses is the one dealing with tobacco dutyclause 1. That might seem a routine Budget measure, but if we look at a range of Budgets, we see that it is not. Raising tobacco duty sends out the right message about tobacco consumption, as it is designed to do. It runs in parallel with a Department of Health measure, the White Paper "Smoking Kills", which sets out the number of avoidable deaths from smoking-related diseases per year. When the White Paper was being drafted, that figure was about 120,000, and I am happy to say that it is beginning to decline. It declines not by accident but through the Government expressing their will and taking a lead, and through the public being willing to follow that lead.
Making cigarettes more expensive and raising from 16 to 18 the age at which people can buy cigarettesa measure that I understand is coming on streamis all part of the direction of travel of social change and reform. It is effective in preventing children from starting smoking, which is the key. Evidence is beginning to emerge that such measures are effective, and I welcome that. We are also helping those who want to quit to do so.
Mr. Dunne: In view of the hon. Gentleman's valiant attempt to use excise duties as a means to introduce his specialist subject, the health service, does he agree that it was a considerable disappointment and surprise that the Chancellor, in his Budget speech, did not once mention the NHS?
Stephen Hesford: If we are trading cheap remarks, I suppose that I could say to the hon. Gentleman that he has only just come into the Chamber and has not had the courtesy to take part in the debate. [Interruption.] Well, I must be blind then, because I have been sitting here.
Another measure dealing with smoking is the Health Bill, which has been through this House. The banning of smoking in public places, with its aim of employee protection, received overwhelming support in the House. It is another weapon in the armoury in the fight against smoking. I, and no doubt many right hon. and hon. Members, would like to see an anti-smoking ethos rather than a smoking ethos embedded in our society.
Clause 2 deals with a related but different issueevasion of the duty on tobacco products. It has two consequences, and perhaps the House agrees with that. It is an anti-avoidance measure. It raises revenue on a product that revenue should be paid on. It also seeks to cut off an area of criminality. According to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs figures, it is estimated that currently one in six cigarettes and half of all rolled tobacco consumed in this country is illegal. That cannot be right. The practice is dangerous and wrong, and duty should be paid, as it is by law-abiding citizens. As I understand it, the purpose of clause 2 is to oblige tobacco manufacturers to cease to produce tobacco in a way that facilitates smuggling.
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It is rather surprising to come to terms with the fact that major international companiesmajor plcswould do something that they know, or suspect, has the effect of facilitating smuggling. In a previous Parliament I was a member of the Health Committee, which, for obvious reasons, undertook a major inquiry into tobacco products. One of the outstanding things to emerge from that inquiry was the connection between tobacco production, marketing and the moving around of tobacco products. That facilitated smuggling. I would like to think that the Bill is dealing with that issue.
On the back of the Health Committee report in 1999, the DTI started an investigation into several major UK and other national tobacco manufacturers, known as "big tobacco". I welcome clause 2. It is estimated that if the anti-avoidance scheme comes into operation it will prevent big tobacco from making between £33 million and £55 million a year by unjust enrichment, and by not complying with duties.
I shall briefly mention clause 13. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer making vehicle excise duty a green issue, so the gas guzzlers pay, to encourage the use of smaller cars.
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