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Mr. Battle: My right hon. Friend is at a meeting of one of the Cabinet Committees, at which she is entitled to be present. Under the previous Government, about six Bills were put through by Under-Secretaries of State. There was no sign of any member of the Cabinet anywhere near them. For the right hon. Gentleman to make such a miserable point belittles a contribution in which I was becoming interested.

Mr. Redwood: I am glad that the Minister realises that I have some strong points on the Bill, but there are wider points that we must make because we need to know how the Bill is being handled. We can see that the President is not interested in it. I think that she read some of it for the first time on the Treasury Bench when she popped in. I should be at a meeting of the shadow Cabinet this evening, but I thought it more important to be in the House of Commons debating the priority measure chosen by the DTI ministerial team.

The President of the Board of Trade has shown contempt for the House in many ways--by refusing to answer questions, by refusing to come clean about what her Ministers can and cannot do, and now by refusing to be here during most of the proceedings on her chosen piece of legislation.

Mrs. Roche: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Redwood: I was about to say something nice about the hon. Lady, but I will give way instead.

Mrs. Roche: First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I appreciate his courtesy in doing so. I am not usually one of the world's pleaders, but I plead with the right hon. Gentleman not to say anything nice about me because I would hate my credibility with my colleagues behind me to sink and be damaged.

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. Did the then President of the Board of Trade show contempt for the House and neglect when on 12 February 1991 the right hon. Gentleman, as Minister of State, introduced the British Technology Group Bill? Is this not a case of one rule for the Conservatives when they were

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in government and another for us now that we are in government? I am sorry that the Opposition have to go to such lengths to make the points that they have made today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I plead with right hon. and hon. Members to recall that this is the Wireless Telegraphy Bill.

Mr. Redwood: That warning will be well heeded by the Opposition, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hasten to reassure you that I have spent most of my time on remarks on the Bill and on the handling of the Bill. It is important, however, to establish which Minister or Ministers will be handling the Bill and why, and how they might be handling it.

From memory, I think that the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was in the House in support. I cannot be sure about that, but my right hon. Friend was a courteous Secretary of State who answered the Opposition's questions, oral and written, whereas I have had terrible trouble getting any answers out of the present DTI, making me wonder why Ministers are so reluctant to answer such straightforward questions. Why could I not be told during the summer who was on duty and who was on holiday? That is not a terribly difficult question to answer, but I was told that the information was a state secret and that the question could not be answered. Why can we not be told what Ministers can and cannot do?

I return to the Bill, as I have been enjoined to do. I should like to know what happened in the United States when spectrum auctions were introduced. Has the Minister studied that? Has he followed the way in which the bids got out of control and bankruptcies followed? Has he factored that into his calculations?

I see that the one semi-competent Minister in the Department has been drafted in, in part, to help on the Bill. The normal pattern of life at the DTI is that the President decides or dithers, she then passes the matter to the Minister of State, he then gets into a muddle and we have to call upon the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry. I am afraid that I am about to flatter the Minister because I am well aware that it could do her untold damage with her hon. Friends and that would help our cause further. It was no idle slip when the Minister of State called his hon. Friend right honourable. He obviously felt that she was calling the shots and that that dignity should soon pass to her. I predict that we may well find that in Committee the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry does a lot of the work. I look forward to discovering whether that comes true.

The Bill is what civil servants call a brave Bill. "Well, Minister," say the civil servants, "it's the right thing to do and it's very brave of you to take it on." This is a simple measure to tax people for being successful--to tax all those new businesses in telephony, paging and messaging which need access to the airwaves. It may be the first step on the road to that most perfect of all Labour taxes: a tax on breathing--a tax on air itself.

It will be part of the Government's style that they impose back-door taxes on everyone who moves and on quite a few who do not. We have seen it in the Budget and now they are back for more. They are starting with the microwave fixed links and the mobile radio concerns. We need to know why it should be them. Why are the Government discriminating in this way? Why is there an injustice in the Bill and in their intentions?

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Considering the events of the past three weeks, I wondered whether the Bill was perhaps a part of a larger plan--to discipline the spin doctors who have spun so out of control. I have been told that spin doctors do most of their work on mobile telephones, and that they are some of the biggest users of the airwaves. What better way of bringing them to heel than by taxing their little game?

Mr. Battle: What do those comments have to do with the Bill?

Mr. Redwood: They are central to the Bill, because the Bill is a tax on spin doctoring, and it will impose a cash limit on the Department that employs them. Even some Labour Members understand the point of my comments. If that is the Government's objective in passing the Bill, however, I should tell them that it will not work. The first law of spin doctoring is that of its own indispensability. If there are cuts to be made in departmental budgets, they will be made not among the spinners but elsewhere.

I then wondered whether the President of the Board of Trade and her men have decided to pursue a vendetta against the new methods of control over Labour Members, because the Bill will impose a pager tax. Perhaps there is seething indignation over the way in which Labour Members are being silenced and fed the daily banality on their pagers. It is the President's revenge, striking at the very nerve centre--for there is no heart--of new Labour: the command and control module at the Mandelsonian core. The policy will not work.

Dr. Palmer: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Redwood: Surely there is not a reply on the pager already.

Dr. Palmer: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene once more. I should like merely to return the debate from his increasingly frivolous comments to the subject of the Bill. Did he disagree with the Conservative party's general election manifesto, in which Conservatives decided to call for competitive pricing in large parts of radio management--so that substantial revenue increases would result?

Mr. Redwood: As I said, my principal objection to the Bill is its wide-ranging tax-raising powers and the likelihood of a £1,500 million tax increase.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): Answer the question.

Mr. Redwood: I will not go into my views on the details of the most recent Conservative manifesto, which was put to the electorate and rejected. We are now working on a much better model to present next time to the electors. Meanwhile, our job is to try to hold this miserable Government to account and to discover why and by how much they wish to tax those in the telecommunications industry. I think that we shall find that new Labour lives by pagers alone, whatever the cost--which I am sure that Ministers will pass on.

It is a pity that the President of the Board of Trade thinks that this Bill is the most important legislation when we could be debating competition legislation or some

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other measure in new Labour's job destruction programme. Her dithering for almost half a year over the P and O and Stena matter threatens jobs and livelihoods on cross-channel services. Why can she not be in the Chamber today to debate that matter? In the brewing industry, 1,500 jobs have been lost because of one of her few decisions. There has been no debate in the House about those job losses, although Labour Members in affected constituencies are quietly seething. It is time for those hon. Members to speak up for their constituents.

The President's Department is busily watching the collapse of the coal industry, and there has been no vigorous response to the unfair German competition which is threatening our pits. The President did nothing when Asfordby closed, and she stands poised to do nothing as other pits close. It is no wonder that the new President's old friends on the left feel that she has abandoned them.

What a pity it is that the President cannot spare any of her own time to look into the plight of the Cornish tin industry when it, too, is threatened with closure. Instead, she confines herself to taxing success.

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