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I shall be brief because I realise that other hon. Members want to speak. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his Budget. In reading the very small print on the last page of the Budget document, I am especially delighted that the Chancellor has listened to hon. Members from all parties who supported a reduction in VAT on sanitary products to 5 per cent. The 250 hon. Members who signed my early-day motion on the subject will applaud the Chancellor's sensitivity in acknowledging that those products are not luxury items and his understanding that the measure helps not only women but families, especially poor families. Perhaps it is a pity that the Chancellor missed the opportunity to announce the measure himself.
As was previously mentioned, the campaign to reduce VAT on sanitary products began in the 1970s after the failure to categorise them as essential items in the family budget. Many Members of Parliament who were involved in that campaign are still in the House. In the 1980s, Shirley Williams, now Lady Williams, held a campaign on the issue, and in the early 1990s my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who is now a Minister, led another campaign. A petition that contained 500,000 signatures was presented to Mrs. Thatcher in the 1980s, but it was completely ignored.
Despite all efforts, previous Chancellors have refused to right the glaring wrong. My right hon. Friend has recognised that while VAT on sanitary products is a female issue, it is also a family issue and a poverty issue. A family with a mother and two teenage daughters on a low income or benefit cannot avoid the expense of sanitary products. They are not like bread or jam; women cannot decide, "I'll skip it this week."
Today's measure is fair and lowers the cost of a necessity. It sends a message to women that the Government will continue to work towards equality in the tax system as well as in the workplace and in society.
Life without sanitary products would be unpleasant, unhygienic and unthinkable. That is why 15 million women spend so much throughout the year on sanitary protection. I welcome an important measure for women everywhere.