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Sir Robert Smith: The hon. Lady does not seem to understand that what matters is the total costs across the operation. The North sea is an extremely expensive place to operate in physically, and those costs are the reason why the tax regime has been lower in the past to encourage investment. The Chancellor has recognised that in the past, but has now changed his mind. No classic textbook on taxing business says that the tax regime should be changed at midnight so that companies have no chance to plan for it, no chance to take it into account and no chance to incorporate it in their business plans.

Dawn Primarolo: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the announcements on allowances and future investment and the reform of royalties are part of a fair and balanced package for the North sea.

Many issues have been raised in the debate, but I want to deal specifically with the points that several hon. Members made about small businesses. They continued to confuse the number of statutory instruments and the number of regulations on businesses. They quote figures that are incorrect. More than 95 per cent. of statutory instruments have no impact on business. Many have only a local or temporary effect.

Opposition Members' obsession with regulation and statutory instruments leads them to confuse the debate. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) made a number of points about small businesses, the self-employed and unincorporated companies. He also dealt with national insurance, in particular class 2 and class 4 contributions. Class 2 for those earning below £4,025 a year is zero, as is class 4. For all other levels in

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class 2, it is £2 a week. Only for those in class 4 whose earnings are between the lower and the upper profits limit does the charge rise to 7 per cent.

The comments about burdens on business, especially on the self-employed, from national insurance contributions failed to recognise the additional benefits that those in the self-employed sector get from the national insurance fund.

Mr. Prisk: As the hon. Lady will realise from having attended the debate, my point was that the Budget specifically excluded the self-employed from tax cuts, yet it happily included them in the tax rises under national insurance. I was challenging that inequality.

Dawn Primarolo: The hon. Gentleman should look again at the Budget and at the work that the Government have already done to see the benefits for unincorporated business, including the 40 per cent. first-year allowances, the 100 per cent. capital allowances, the over-indexation of the 10p starting rate, the cut in the basic rate of tax and the changes to the quarterly payments for PAYE.

The hon. Gentleman should also consider what small businesses themselves are saying. Chris Thompson, the chief executive of Express Engineering Group, who employs 350 people in the north-east, said:

He went on to say that the benefits that his company will receive from the training and R and D tax credits vastly outweigh any other concerns.

The Budget has been about enterprise, fairness and investing in the national health service. Economic stability is the foundation for achieving a fairer and more inclusive society. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) said, the health of the nation goes hand in hand with the wealth of the nation. This is a Budget to

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make our NHS the best insurance policy in the world, with fairness and enterprise together, and I commend it to the House.

Debate adjourned.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.



Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.


Wireless Telegraphy

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Elections (Sierra Leone)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

10 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): I appreciate the opportunity to initiate the debate, but before I speak about the elections in Sierra Leone I must mention the recent allegations that aid workers sexually abused children in refugee camps in that country. I hope that the Government are taking that issue up with aid agencies and the Government of Sierra Leone.

The subject for the debate is especially relevant as campaigning is well under way and the election will be held in three weeks, on 14 May. It is critical for the peace process in Sierra Leone that the elections are successful. It is also important for Africa, where democracy is still such a frail plant, that they are peaceful and that the outcome is accepted—whether President Kabbah and the Sierra Leone People's party are returned to power or a new President and a new Government are in Parliament.

Without going into all the details, it will be salutary for the House to remember that until January a civil war had been going on in Sierra Leone for 11 years. During that period, several attempts were made to re-establish peace and the democratic process, but unfortunately—to put it mildly—they all failed. We must hope that Sierra Leone is on the verge of a miraculous recovery after those years of untrammelled violence, during which unspeakable atrocities were committed. Indeed, we can only marvel at the recovery that has been made, and should regard with wonder the way in which—during the past few months especially—the political leadership across the party spectrum and the people at large have tried, with much success, to put the violence and bloodshed of the past decade behind them and have focused on reviving democracy, breathing new life into the meaning of peace.

That is a huge change for the better, but it did not happen on its own. The involvement of the United Nations through the United Nations mission in Sierra Leone—UNAMSIL—has been critical in brokering and maintaining peace; while the British armed interventions at vital points, especially between May and September 2000, were generally regarded in Sierra Leone as essential for the success of UNAMSIL. Indeed, many people would say that the activities of British troops in Sierra Leone between May and September 2000 saved the Lomé peace agreement of July 1999 from being merely fine words and enabled the political leadership and the people of Sierra Leone to focus positively on restoring democracy. So far, they have responded magnificently.

British and UNAMSIL military efforts have been crucial, and well publicised, in bringing about the current situation in Sierra Leone, where the politicians and the people are vigorously participating in the presidential and parliamentary elections. What is not so readily recognised, nor so well publicised, is the work of independent organisations, such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the International Foundation for Election Systems, the British Council, the Institute for Peace and Development and the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights in Sierra Leone, and official bodies such as the British high commission, the Department for International

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Development and the UN Development Programme. Between them, a huge effort has been made and is still being made—even during the campaign—to strengthen democracy, the democratic process and the political parties in Sierra Leone.

The WFD has been in the vanguard of that work. Liz Marsh, its programme director for Africa, has family links with Sierra Leone and has been tireless in promoting work with the political parties in order to restore multi-party democracy. In Sierra Leone itself, the WFD programme manager, Catherine Worthing, continues to work flat out to ensure that training is provided for polling agents in at least nine centres in all the provinces, including Freetown. Tony Expedzor, from the Ghanaian national electoral commission, is providing hands-on training and doing a great job. In addition to that training, five weeks ago—after much preparation and work with the leadership of most of the 23 registered parties, the British high commission, the national electoral commission, non- governmental organisations involved in the electoral process, the Speaker and Clerk of Parliament, and resident multilateral and bilateral development assistance agencies involved in good governance—a round-table conference was held in Freetown to focus on strengthening the democratic process in the run-up to the elections of 14 May and beyond.

Dr. Mike Warner, a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute and director of Stakeholder Negotiation Services International, led on the organisation and provision of strategic guidance for the round table. He was ably assisted by Kwabena Mensah, a democratisation consultant from Ghana. I participated with Kwabena in a presentation on the practicalities of parties—government and opposition—working in a democracy. During that day, I also acted as a facilitator to the group that considered the priorities and purpose of national democracies. I spoke briefly at the final session, at which the participants— 19 representatives from 12 of the 23 registered parties, including all those with parliamentary representatives—drew up a memorandum of understanding. Among many other points, the participants agreed

We must all hope, for the sake of the people of Sierra Leone, that the agreement will hold once the outcome is known, on 14 May, of the democratic processes taking place in Sierra Leone. During my five-day visit, I had meetings with the high commissioner and staff of the British high commission, officials from the Department for International Development, and Walter Nicol, chairman of the National Electoral Commission, and his four regional directors. I also spoke to 56 trainee polling agents; members of the public; Joe Hall, director of the National Democracy Institute; Honorie Muyoyeta, lead trainer of the NDI election support programme; and two aspiring women candidates, Salamatu V. Conteh, a teacher who hopes to represent the United National People's party in Parliament, and Amelia Gebanawe, who hopes to be elected as a paramount chief.

Finally, as an MP "addict" I held a surgery, to which I invited round-table participants who wanted to express their feelings about what was happening. Five senior figures from the parties involved came to see me, including Dr. John Karefa-Smart, the then leader of the UNPP, who is now its presidential candidate, and

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John Benjamin, interim chairman of the National Unity party. He is not participating in the elections—that has nothing to do with anything that I said to him—because he failed to become the presidential candidate for the Grand Alliance party and has refused the vice-presidential candidacy. The other senior figures were Pallo Bangura, secretary general of the Revolutionary United Front party—the political wing of the rebel RUF—and its presidential candidate; Cornelius Deveaux, leader of the Young People's party; and Osman Yansaneh, assistant secretary general of the All People's Congress.

One point that emerged from those meetings was the general concern that the NEC was favouring the Government, and in particular that election day could prove chaotic. Many registered voters in urban areas were not sure at which polling station they would be voting, as the station in question would not necessarily be the one at which they registered their right to vote. No polling cards were sent to voters in Sierra Leone. To reduce the queues on polling day, about 500 voters have been allocated to each polling station—a good idea, but many people do not know exactly where they are supposed to vote. As a result, there may be great dissatisfaction and dissent, and the possibility of serious unrest is obvious.

The following day, I spoke to Walter Nicol, the chairman of the NEC, and raised that issue with him. I suggested that, at the beginning of the campaign, the NEC post outside each polling station a list of the voters eligible to vote there, and he promised to consider that idea. When I phoned him this morning, he said that the NEC had decided that, although it could not do as I suggested everywhere, it would do so in the capital, Freetown, and other major towns, where voters could have real difficulty finding their voting stations.

Given the bloody and brutal decade of military conflict, I was encouraged by the positive efforts made by the political parties to ensure that the elections of 14 May will represent a fresh start for sustainable, peaceful democratic politics in Sierra Leone. However, that process is not without real difficulties and, in truth, challenges, given the catalogue of failures since 1991. The criticisms and fears of the opposition parties could be subdued if election observers were in place. There are now only a few small teams of observers across the country, with additional observers arriving during the election campaign.

Anything that can be reported in the Sierra Leone media to show that there is a keen interest in and observation of the elections, especially in the United Kingdom, will help to create confidence in the electoral process and strengthen the acceptance of its outcome. When that high hurdle has been successfully negotiated, it will be crucial to ensure that the issues raised in the memorandum of understanding are followed up.

I want briefly to consider two key issues. First, there should be an overhaul of the Sierra Leone Parliament's administration and working processes. Secondly, preparations to establish democracy at district level should get under way pretty quickly, and I understand that a draft Bill has now been proposed on that subject. That work will need to be done by all-party committees in Parliament, calling on outside expert advice. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the NDI and similar organisations are well placed to provide such advice and guidance. Their work so far has been excellent

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and has made a vital contribution to the progress made in creating confidence in the real possibility of a peaceful transition to democratic politics after a decade of military conflict.

I hope that our Government will be fully involved in those processes. In fact, to some extent they already are, but it will be encouraging to hear that officially from the Minister speaking from the Dispatch Box tonight. I want the Government to act before the elections to ensure that there are sufficient observers to give the opposition parties in particular confidence in the electoral process and, after the election, to sustain the new democratic start for Sierra Leone by maintaining the momentum for peace and economic recovery through financial, technical and expert support.

I close with the words of early-day motion 1098, which I tabled and which has so far attracted 218 signatures:

I certainly hope that that is the future for Sierra Leone.

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