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Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:49 pm on 20th April 2004.

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Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 3:49 pm, 20th April 2004

I am complaining not about the tax law rewrite but about the Government's policies. We have had further examples this year of their having to fill the Finance Bill with measures to unwind the effects of tax loopholes and reliefs introduced in previous Budgets. The shadow Chief Secretary has already mentioned the corporate tax measures that unwind the effects of the zero tax rate introduced only two Budgets ago.

We shall have an opportunity in the couple of months that we take to deal with the Bill in Committee to discuss many of the clauses in great detail. Today, I want to focus on the broad sweep of the Bill and the Budget, and to follow to some extent the structure of the excellent report published by the Treasury Committee just a couple of weeks ago—a report that usually informs our debates on the Finance Bill at this stage. I want to discuss the macro-economic background and some of the key public expenditure issues before coming to some of the salient tax issues.

At the urging of Mr. Henderson, I pay tribute to the Government and those in the wider economy for the unprecedented period of economic growth that we can celebrate this year. Of course, that is essential background to the Budget. The success of the economy and its ability to create jobs is one of the factors that allows us politically to concentrate on issues such as the improvement of public services, which was far less salient in the late '70s, the '80s and the early '90s, because so much of our political and economic debate had to focus on the crisis in the macro-economy, and in particular on the huge level of unemployment. When I was first getting interested in politics, the claimant count was well over 3 million, and it is a great pleasure to note that it has now fallen below 900,000, which would have seemed an almost impossible target back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

It is a great pleasure for me in my first Parliament to represent a constituency where the major complaint from business is about the shortage of employees. Unemployment is less than 1.5 per cent. in Yeovil—and throughout south Somerset and into Dorset. In fact, the major employment issue that I have to deal with is the controversy that can arise when people from Portugal and other countries are brought into communities such as the town of Chard because there are not enough employees to fill the posts in local businesses. That is a nice problem to have.