Finance Bill Second Reading

Charles Walker condemns the burden of hidden taxes for middle class families which are buried within the complexity of the Bill.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am surrounded by four excellent gentlemen: my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), two knights of the shires-my hon. Friends the Members for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton)-and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I am sure that if he pulls his finger out in the next few years, he, too, will be a knight of the shire or even a right hon. Gentleman.

This has been an excellent debate. I am not taken to acts of naked partisanship in the run-up to a general election, and I shall resist that temptation for at least the next 30 seconds. I have read the Finance Bill from cover to cover and it is very grim reading. It is a very concerning document. Its 167 pages are a metaphor for this Government's failing over the past 13 years. This is what we are left with: impenetrable clauses talking about figures and numbers that nobody could possibly understand unless they were working in a bank inventing impossible figures and numbers that would eventually bankrupt this country. It is not a document for growth: it is a document for further contraction in our economy.

We, in this place, have every right to be hugely concerned about this document, but the issue is not whether we are concerned: it is whether our constituents are concerned, and they should be. In this document, we have yet more hidden taxes-hidden taxes on middle-class families, hidden taxes on working-class families, frozen allowances and higher duties. Those will all damage people's quality of life. This is going to be a very short speech, as we prepare for the general election. The only people who are doing well out of this document are the people who publish "Tolley's Tax Guide", which has trebled in size over the past 13 years. If we have much more of this, it will treble again in just the weeks ahead.

Mr. Cash: Earlier in the debate, when my hon. Friend was not here, I ventured to suggest that we should consider a flat-rate tax. This legislation is so complicated and absurd that we have to find a way of reducing it. The rest of it is over-complicated for the people out there in our constituencies, and it is simply a milch cow for the accountancy and legal professions.

Mr. Walker: I agree. It is absolutely impossible, even for well-educated people who think they might have an understanding of these things, to penetrate the complexity of this document. As we speak, accountants and advisers around the country are popping champagne corks because they are the only ones who will benefit from this document.

I shall not try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you will want me to talk about specific clauses, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham has pointed out, there are so many clauses that it is impossible to do justice to even one of them, let alone all of them, in this truncated debate. I shall conclude by saying that we have had the boom and that this document represents the bust. It is a depressing and frightening 167 pages, and I am sure that the bulk of it will be rejected by my constituents, because it certainly is not an offer that they will feel able to sign up to.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am happy to put this question to my hon. Friend, but if he is unable to answer it, I intend to try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ask a single question of those on the Treasury Bench. Is my hon. Friend worried that the Budget does very little to reduce the Budget deficit? Unless we reduce our indebtedness in this country, the money markets are going to lose confidence in our ability to take sensible steps to do that. If they lose that confidence, we will lose our triple A credit status, which will immediately lead to increased taxation, increased interest rates and, I believe, increased unemployment. Is my hon. Friend, who is a young and virile Member of this House and who will go a long way in his parliamentary career, able to answer that question, or will I have to put it to those on the Treasury Bench in a speech, short though it will be?

Mr. Walker: This must not turn into a love-in, as we have serious matters before us, but I shall miss my hon. Friend greatly in the next Parliament.

The tragedy of the past 13 years is that all our constituents are left having to carry an enormous of burden of debt. The Government have no money: they spend our money on our behalf, and they borrow money on our behalf. Our hard-working constituents are left with the millstone of this Government's debt around their necks. That is a disgraceful legacy, and one that the Government should be ashamed of.

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