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Last week the Leader of the House said that Sir Alistair

Is he still grateful to him? On the same day as Sir Alistair’s interview, two Ministers were accused of helping a lobbying company by giving it sensitive information. May we have a debate on Ministers’ adherence to the ministerial code?

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This week the Treasury’s ex-permanent secretary said that the Chancellor has a

That is not just name-calling; it has serious consequences for Government policy.

Perhaps it was the Chancellor’s cynical view of mankind that made him think that he would get away with presenting yesterday’s tax con as a tax cut. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 3.5 million families will be worse off. It is a con because when the Chancellor says that he is cutting income tax, people opening their pay packets will realise that his so-called tax cut is cancelled out by stealth taxes elsewhere; it is a con because when he says he is cutting business taxes, small businesses will know that their corporation tax is going up; and it is a con because the changes to income tax will not even come into effect for another year. Will the Leader of the House confirm that when we vote next Tuesday, we will be voting for the existing income tax system—a 10p starting rate and a 22p basic rate?

Given his smoke and mirrors performance, it is perhaps no wonder that the Chancellor went quiet on the Lyons review—another tax bombshell waiting to hit hard-working families. Given his reluctance to talk about council tax, may we have a debate on the Lyons review?

When he is hitting hard-working families, the Chancellor likes to talk about his tax credits, but Sarah Walker, his director of benefits and credits, says that officials do not expect claimants to understand their tax credit

It is no wonder that four in 10 of those eligible do not claim it, but how typical of the Chancellor that he takes people’s money with one hand and gives it back with the other, but only if they have filled in a form first. May we have a debate about the chaos of the tax credit system?

Before the Budget, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister gave keynote speeches on increasing choice in the NHS, but it is the Chancellor’s Stalinist desire for central state control that has caused the cuts in NHS services. Last weekend, 12,000 doctors turned out on the streets of London to protest against the Government. On Monday, the Secretary of State for Health refused to apologise to them. Yesterday in his Budget speech, the Chancellor referred to himself 96 times, yet he mentioned the NHS just once, and that was to re-announce what he said three years ago. May we have a debate on the crisis in the NHS?

I am sure that, like Macavity, the Chancellor and the Leader of the House will have an alibi or two to spare, but to describe yesterday’s Budget as a tax-cutting Budget was worthy of propaganda from Stalin’s Politburo. Was not yesterday’s tax cut yet another tax con for Britain’s hard-working families?

Mr. Straw: Those are tired old lines that should have been used yesterday.

On Zimbabwe, I am glad that the right hon. Lady welcomes the proposed statement. She is absolutely right in what she says about the way in which that once wonderful country has collapsed as a result of the mismanagement, and much worse, of President
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Mugabe. One figure tells it all: life expectancy has shifted in recent years from the age of 60 to 34.

I am glad that the right hon. Lady welcomes the statement on Northern Ireland, too. Let me make it clear again, as I did last Thursday, that the choice for the Northern Ireland parties on 26 March—next Monday—is either devolution or dissolution. There can and will be no legislation to alter that date. Her Majesty’s Government believe that the people of Northern Ireland want to see the institutions restored and very much hope that the parties will seize the opportunity of restoration on 26 March.

On Alistair Graham, I pointed out last week that it was perfectly normal for the term of office of the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to end after one term, and that has indeed been the consistent practice. In respect of trust in politics, I will send the right hon. Lady interesting opinion survey material which shows that in recent years trust in politicians has actually increased. It is particularly high where people know and appreciate the work of their own politicians. That may have something to do with the fact that we have been returned to office in three successive general elections.

The right hon. Lady then wittered on about the Chancellor and a tax-adding Budget. She has obviously not read the Red Book, or the National Audit Office endorsement of the figures in it, because if she looks down the figures in table 1.2, to take one of the many tables, she will see that hard-working families have in fact benefited significantly as a result of my right hon. Friend’s Budget. She talks about 3.5 million families. Since she raises the issue of tax credits, let me tell her that their introduction has transformed the lives of millions of hard-working families. Moreover, it has ended the genuine and serious evil under the Conservatives whereby people were trapped in unemployment and unable to get out of that trap because it would cost them more to go back to work than to stay on benefit.

I also say to the right hon. Lady that what we have had from the Chancellor—who has been a brilliant Chancellor over the past 10 years, setting this country on a course, from bottom among the G7 countries to second only to the United States—is sensible prudence in being able to balance moderate increases in public spending against what the country can afford. I contrast that with the utter failure of the shadow Chancellor in recent months. He says that he is going to read the riot act to his shadow Cabinet colleagues to avoid their making further spending plans. The shadow Transport Secretary evidently did not hear that, because he went on to announce just recently that he was going to spend an extra £14 billion on building a new rail link from Scotland to London.

Conservative Members do not like my mentioning this, but if one adds up Conservative spending plans and then takes account of their pledges to cut taxes, one sees that Conservative economic policies simply do not add up one little jot, whereas Labour’s economic policies for the past 10 years, and going forward, not only added up but produced unparalleled prosperity, investment in public services and jobs.

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Finally, the right hon. Lady asked me about a debate on the national health service. I would be delighted to have such a debate any time. Part of that debate can be about the huge improvement in East Berkshire primary care trust in the right hon. Lady’s constituency. She forgot to welcome the fact that yesterday there was a £38 million increase in spending for her PCT, announced as part of the £8 billion increase for the health service.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I also thank the Leader of the House for the innovation of announcing statements in advance?

In the Budget statement, the Chancellor said:

Of course, that was when he introduced the 10p rate in 1999. He has now removed it by sleight of hand. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) did not notice, but we did. The effect is to increase higher marginal tax rates for the low paid, discourage work and increase in-work poverty. Following the Budget, can we have a debate on inequality, because inequality is increasing in this country, as the Young Foundation report on rural poverty—often hidden in this country—pointed out yet again? It is time that we had a debate on the effects of what the Chancellor is doing.

May we also have a debate on the position of small businesses? The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) mentioned small businesses, but did not refer to the fact that small businesses are facing a £900 million hike in corporation tax. Earlier, we heard the extraordinary, preposterous argument from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that that would somehow benefit small businesses, who would be delighted to pay £900 million more, because they might be able to claim some of it back in allowances. The increase will hurt small businesses, and we should have a debate.

Last week, I asked whether we could have a statement on the Lyons report. The Leader of the House said that that would be encapsulated in the Budget debate. However, the Budget statement did not mention council tax once. It mentioned the Lyons report, but only in respect of industrial property. Council tax is the tax that has the biggest impact on pensioners and those on fixed incomes. After long cogitation, the Lyons report says that the answer to reforming council tax is to carry on with council tax. The only answer to council tax, however, is to scrap it. Can we have a debate on that?

Lastly, can we have a debate on surveillance? The Leader of the House may have noticed the innovative plans by the Conservative-run Ealing borough council to put spy cameras in tin cans to catch people putting out wheelie bins early. Obviously, for Ealing borough council, beans means fines. May we have a debate on whether Big Brother is getting out of hand?

Mr. Straw: I award the hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House’s prize for a very good line: far better than the ones that we get from the Conservative Front Bench.

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My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, is about to announce an inquiry into issues of surveillance. I hope that he will ensure that the activities of Conservative-controlled Ealing borough council and its spy cameras in tin cans are given a wider audience in evidence to his Select Committee.

On the more serious matters of the Budget, the hon. Gentleman needs to look not only at what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor spelled out in great detail in his excellent Budget statement yesterday but at what is in the Red Book and the National Audit Office endorsement of the Red Book figures. He will see that small businesses, and business overall, have benefited, as have the majority of working people, as has become clear from the individual examples given by many newspapers, not necessarily Labour-supporting, in their Budget analysis today.

The hon. Gentleman has every opportunity to debate the issue of the Lyons report and the effect on small businesses in the next three days of debate on the Budget. As I am sure that you will confirm, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is absolutely in order. I am interested that the Liberals have decided to lead with their chin on their demand to abolish the council tax. We all accept that it is not a particularly popular tax, but the one thing that can be said about it is that it is infinitely better than the alternative so often trumpeted by the Liberal Democrats—a local income tax.

The hon. Gentleman has failed to read what Lyons says about the local income tax on page 272 of his report. For the sake of greater accuracy, let me read an extract. The report states that a local income tax

The hon. Gentleman sheds crocodile tears for small businesses. The report says:

If ever we had a local income tax, a Liberal Democrat Government would not last a week.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. It seems to have become the custom for Front-Bench exchanges during business questions to be somewhat amply padded. I hope that questions hereafter, if I am to fit them in before the resumption of the Budget debate, will be leaner and fitter.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I will do my best, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My right hon. Friend will have read the very serious stories about the stabbing to death of a young boy in the streets of London. He may also be aware that three people were killed in Greater Manchester in entirely separate incidents involving the use of knives. It is a fact that in our society the knife is probably the most dangerous weapon of choice when it comes to serious injury or death. May we have a serious debate about how we can begin to roll back this menace in our society, and how we can change the culture that
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dictates that the knife and the gun are acceptable and tell our young people that it is necessary to carry knives to be safe and secure in our streets at night?

Mr. Straw: The whole House will share my right hon. Friend’s concern, and we will of course seek an opportunity to ensure that the issue can be debated properly in the House.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) yesterday in Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Prime Minister said that tomorrow the Government would

Apart from the fact that it has taken months for that to happen, for no apparent good reason the Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) said this morning that measures would be taken and that the treaty would then be ratified. It is, of course, the measures and the ratification that matter, not the signing of the convention. May we have a debate on human trafficking in Government time, so that we can hear from a Minister what measures will be taken and when ratification will take place?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman knows that a standard process has always been followed in respect of international treaties and conventions: a signature is followed by a pause to ensure that the necessary measures can be taken to ensure that it is ratified and comes into force. That is what has happened with this convention. As for opportunities for debate, if the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the issue he has an opportunity to raise it on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday the Home Office’s Advisory Board on Naturalisation and Integration held a seminar at the British Museum on the introduction of the new tests in English language and life in the United Kingdom for applicants for indefinite leave to remain? Many Members have anxieties about the implementation of the regulations. Might time be found for a debate along the lines of the seminar, so that Members can be better informed about the regulations?

Mr. Straw: I will certainly consider the issue sympathetically. My hon. Friend and I share a particular interest in ensuring that adequate resources are available for the teaching of English as a second language. The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), recently announced improvements in the system, and, as my hon. Friend will know, we have trebled the resources for English as a second language in recent years.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am sure that the whole House shares my sense of shock at the loss of two Royal Navy submariners on HMS Tireless.
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Although the Leader of the House did not refer to an upcoming statement on what we hope will be happy news about the ordering, at long last, of the two aircraft carriers, if and when such a statement is forthcoming will he seek to ensure that it is in sufficiently broad terms to allow us to consider also the future size of the Type 45 frigate force and the Astute submarine force, which will be part and parcel of any fleet package centred on the new aircraft carriers?

Mr. Straw: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman speaks for the whole House in expressing his condolences for the loss of those two brave sailors who were killed. We send our sympathy to their families and colleagues. Those of us who have been on board submarines know what a potentially dangerous environment it is, and the safety record of the Royal Navy overall is second to none.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Defence questions will take place on Monday, and also that we are planning a day’s debate on defence towards the end of April.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House welcome early-day motion 1137, in support of Anti-Fascist Fortnight?

[That this House warmly welcomes the Anti-Fascist Fortnight being organised by Searchlight between 24th March and 7th April 2007; commends the trades unions and other organisations who are supporting this initiative; believes that the British National Party promotes the politics of hate and bigotry and stands opposed to the creation of a harmonious and cohesive society; and believes that the Anti-Fascist Fortnight will be a chance for all decent people, particularly at a community level, to celebrate the positive diversity of British society.]

A campaign by Searchlight, the Daily Mirror, trade unions and many other organisations has organised the “Hope not Hate” tour to oppose the message of poison and bigotry peddled by the British National party and other far-right groups.

Mr. Straw: Yes, I greatly welcome that. I also welcome an article in today’s Daily Mirror which contains information about two men from my constituency, Khadim Hussain and Ali Akbar Khan, who gave years of brave service for the British forces in the last world war, as their fathers had in the first world war. Hundreds of thousands of people whom the BNP and their allies now wish to denigrate gave their lives to save this country from fascism. We all need to remember that.

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