Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 30th April 2002.

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Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe 4:46 pm, 30th April 2002

Indeed. Until now the Conservatives have always said through gritted teeth that they were willing to finance a national health service free at the point of use. They have not said that they were willing to finance it well, and we know from their period in government that they are not, but they have been willing to finance it on some basis. It now appears that that is not the case. That is a matter of grave concern to people out in the real world.

Let us return to the Westminster world, where we all feel at home and where we debate our points of order and our points of sophistry at our leisure. Another aspect of the Budget that has received widespread support is the commitment to a reduction in duty for combined heat and power, the reductions on methane and the support for green vehicles. The recent reports from the Cabinet Office on the future of energy expenditure in Britain make it clear that if we want to make significant progress within our lifetime, we must start now. We cannot delay.

I welcome the fact that the Chancellor has opened his doors to representatives of each of the industrial groups developing alternatives to the standard petrol engines, to encourage faster development. I welcome that not just because of the impact that it will have in Britain but because if Britain takes a lead in this area, we are likely to have an export market that will dwarf many of our present markets.

On my next point, I declare an interest: I advise my former company, Novartis, which is a multinational company involved in pharmaceutical research. The proposals to aid research in Britain are welcome, as they reinforce Britain's position as a science base. We cannot underestimate the importance of those proposals because, in the long term, the profile of the British economy will depend on whether we have that significant research base.

It is entirely possible that we could give up Britain's traditional scientific advantage and concentrate on call centres, insurance services and other traditional or not so traditional activities by which we could make a living in the world market. However, if we want balanced, long-term development that will benefit Britain not only under this Government but under any future Government whom we might imagine in our nightmares, that scientific base is essential, so I very much welcome those proposals.

I want to allow other hon. Members to speak, so I wish to make a final point on the Budget. I very much welcome the attempt to cut the illegal use of rebated fuel. Those of us who watched the fuel protests will have been struck by the large number of farmers who drove around on motorways and elsewhere, and many of us wondered whether they conscientiously siphoned out their rebated fuel before setting out. During the Select Committee hearings, Conservative Members attempted to find out which class of people were affected. The answer, of course, is the criminal class. That is the class of people who misuse rebated fuel for the purpose of making a profit.

I have a query for Ministers about whether it makes sense in the long term to have what is in effect a subsidy for farming through rebated fuel and whether it would not be better to have a market rate for that fuel and support farming by other means, possibly those that would attract match funding from the European Union. In the longer term, with our new Labour attachment to market mechanisms, it probably makes sense to move red fuel back towards the market rate, especially as we are trying to reduce the overall impact.

In concluding on that technical note, I should like to welcome the positive and focused nature of the Budget. To those who say that people on the street are horrified and alarmed by the one percentage point increase in national insurance contributions, all I can say is that the feedback that I have had from everyone I have spoken to in my constituency suggests that if that increase delivers the goods—the health service for which people hope—they will be hugely relieved, pleased and looking forward to a better future.