I beg to move,
That this House notes that, despite warnings from Her Majesty's Official Opposition, the Government refused to listen to the grievances brought to them by business and commerce, most particularly by hauliers, farmers, pensioners, the disabled and by those on low incomes or living in rural areas, thereby provoking the fuel protests in September; condemns the Government's initial complacency about the protests which later turned to panic; deplores the Government's repeated increases in taxation, despite having no mandate to do so and notes that the increases in the tax on petrol and diesel have become the symbol of the Government's betrayal of their tax promises; urges the Government to address the problems their tax increases have caused, by reducing tax on hard-working families, pensioners and businesses, including an immediate reduction in road fuel duty; and laments the fact that, despite the increases in tax on the travelling public, the Government has allowed the road system to deteriorate and has failed to deliver the improvements in the transport system which it promised and which the public expected.
First, Mr. Speaker, may I add my congratulations on your election? This is the first chance that I have had formally to do so.
Can there be any more explicit symbol of the Government's complacency, arrogance and evasion than the failure of the Deputy Prime Minister to be present in the Chamber today?
I find that an astonishing remark from the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister informed the hon. Gentleman exactly why he cannot be present today: he is attending a series of meetings on the closure of the west coast main line and issues related to the Hatfield crash. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members who understand the Deputy Prime Minister's priorities will entirely understand the reason for his absence.
That is not what the Deputy Prime Minister's office told me. I was informed that the right hon. Gentleman was having meetings in his office, where I imagine he is sitting at this moment. Nobody will detract from the importance of his dealing with the Hatfield crash, but it is clear that he could have spared the time to be in the House today. The debate is about a crisis that almost brought the country to its knees, yet on the first occasion on which the House has had a chance to debate that crisis, the Deputy Prime Minister shows disdain for Parliament and the British people. What is the point of having a Secretary of State who will not appear for a debate on his own handling of a national crisis that almost brought the country to its knees? The Deputy Prime Minister has been leading the Government's anti-car campaign. Only yesterday, he said:
I am constantly available to discuss such matters either in statements or other debates…There are many matters that I am prepared to debate, and I commonly come to the House.—[Official Report, 24 October 2000; Vol. 355, c. 150.]
That apparently does not apply in a time of national crisis.
Why is the Deputy Prime Minister not here? The truth is that he probably wanted to be here, but he has been told not to be here. He has become the most ridiculous figure in the Government. His attitude is so cynical that he sends his baggage by chauffeured Jaguar to the House of Commons while he takes the train to appear environmentally friendly. His contempt for Parliament is also contempt for farmers, hauliers, pensioners and those who live in the countryside—contempt for the people whom we are elected to represent. They will see that his place is empty today, and they will know that he has learned nothing from the crisis.
If we are to pursue such a fatuous debating style, I could ask the hon. Gentleman why the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) was on holiday during the fuel crisis, when, according to the Evening Standard, he had been given advance notice of the protests. I shall not stress that point, because it is fatuous. The hon. Gentleman should explain why his party is being so disingenuous. It launched the fuel escalator and then disclaimed responsibility for it—
For the sake of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), I shall ignore that ridiculous intervention. We are in a fine state when hon. Members cannot go on holiday without the country coming to a standstill. Perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister is on holiday now. Why is he not here? That is the question.
The Government have created a problem by increasing tax by stealth. They have turned that problem into a crisis through their complacency, and the crisis into humiliation through their sheer incompetence. They had no mandate to raise taxes; they promised not to raise them. The Prime Minister said:
We have no plans to increase taxation at all.
They promised to protect the isolated and pensioners, and not to be a tax-and-spend Government. Fuel duty has become a symbol of the tax betrayal of the British people.
There is no point in the Minister and the hon. Member for Harlow hiding behind the fuel duty escalator, although I am sure that they will try to do that. The Government had three Budgets in 21 months and they increased the escalator to 6 per cent., but they did not use the money for the environment or transport. The motorist now pays £350 more a year in tax, yet the Government have spent less than the previous Government on transport.
In one of the shabbiest manoeuvres of the Parliament, the Government said that they would come off the escalator, and they put up duty by an "inflation" increase of 3.3 per cent., while pensioners got an increase of 1.1 per cent. Seventy-five pence does not buy even one litre of petrol. What sort of a system of social justice is that? In three years, a Labour Government have increased fuel taxes by 34 per cent. and the state pension by only 8 per cent.
I do not believe that The Daily Telegraph supported the increase in fuel duty. It has been explicit about its view of a manoeuvre that uses a different inflation rate for pensioners from that for fuel tax. That is a shabby manoeuvre.
Let us not have any hiding behind a green smokescreen either. It is technology and not taxation that is reducing pollution from our cars. Since 1997, traffic has increased by about 6 per cent., but pollution is falling because of cleaner car technology. The only effect that the Government's campaign against car users in increasing the price of travelling by car can have is to marginalise those who can least afford to pay the price. The Government are penalising the poor, pensioners living in the countryside and farmers, whose livelihoods are threatened. The Government have used the most regressive tax for their own revenue-raising purposes. We have by far the highest fuel taxes—
I shall not give way. I wish to make some progress.
We have by far the highest fuel taxes in Europe, and there is no excuse for that. The Government have increased the annual tax on road users by £8 billion. They are driving 55,000 hauliers out of a job. Last year alone they destroyed the livelihood of 22,000 farmers. They have penalised those on low incomes who depend on the car, such as farmers, pensioners living in isolated areas and the disabled.
Mr. Lembit Ã–pik:
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it seems that, ironically, people in the countryside—farmers, hauliers, those who work in the countryside and people living in rural areas—are paying the most for fuel even though they tend to depend the most heavily on haulage and private transport?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Farmers and those living in the countryside in constituencies such as his are being marginalised and penalised. We are talking about a regressive tax that hits the most vulnerable first and the Jaguar drivers last.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is persistent, but there can be no doubt about who in the House is the friend of the hauliers. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, met representatives of the Road Haulage Association only this morning. We are proposing a cut in duty. We have proposed the Brit disc and other measures.
The Government have done nothing. Indeed, they have tried to assert that there is no need to do anything. They have masqueraded as a green Government. They have disguised their stealth taxes as something to do with the environment. Yet they have put nothing back into transport and nothing back into the environment. They have spent less on the transport system than the previous Government. The real truth is that this has been a cynical exercise in tax raising. The Minister for the Environment and the Deputy Prime Minister have proved mere patsies in the hands of the Treasury.
I shall not give way. I wish to make some progress.
Ministers cannot say that they were not warned. We told them and we voted against the previous four increases in duty. The director general of the Confederation of British Industry told them:
The Government must address the overburdening nature of tax on fuel.
Ben Gill, the president of the National Farmers Union told them:
We have said over and over again to the Treasury that it was only a matter of time before the farmers' patience on fuel taxes runs out—the current level is extortionate.
The Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association gave similar warnings, but the Government would not listen.
The East Anglian hauliers even tried to set up a meeting. They wrote to the Prime Minister, to the Deputy Prime Minister and to the Chancellor, and I have their responses. They read:
I regret that pressures on
time make him unable to attend.
Unfortunately, the Chancellor regrets he must decline your kind invitation.
Sadly the PM's diary commitments make it impossible for him to join you.
It has not proved possible to find a Minister to attend
on his behalf. They did not want to know. They were in denial.
Then the protests started. First, a small group at Stanlow oil refinery, then a few more, and then the whole country joined in.
How did the Government respond that fateful first weekend? They treated the protest with provocative disdain. Lord Macdonald went on the "Today" programme when the protests first started. He had an opportunity to say that he understood and was listening, but he dismissed the protesters as un-British. That first weekend, the Secretary of State for Scotland twice claimed that the Government had not increased up duty at all. Astonishingly and absurdly, throughout the week, Ministers, including the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, carried on claiming that the Government had not put up fuel duty.
It would be wrong to be critical of junior Ministers alone. The real question is why it was left to them. Where was the Prime Minister? Was he touring high-tech sites trying to dodge the protest? Where was the Deputy Prime Minister? Hiding in some Chinese restaurant? [Interruption.] Where was the Chancellor? Nowhere to be seen. He was enjoying the sight of his colleagues stewing in the juice of his stealth taxes. [Interruption.]
Not until Tuesday did senior Ministers put their heads above the parapet. When they did, was it to say, "We have understood. We are listening, and we are on the job"? Not a bit of it. They tried to blame everyone but themselves—it was all the action of a small minority; it was the oil companies; it was all down to intimidation. [Interruption.] In the Prime Minister's immortal words:
It will all be getting back to normal within 24 hours.
Normal? Business losing up to £250 million a day, schools closing, shops running out of food, street cleaning suspended, funerals postponed, Portsmouth hospital running out of insulin, operations cancelled: the only things that were normal were the spin, the hype and the dissimulation. [Interruption.]
The only thing that was normal was the fact that the Government knew nothing about how business worked or how tanker drivers were employed. They thought that oil companies, like Victorian mill owners, could order their drivers back to work. [Interruption.] The only thing that was normal was that the Government looked round for someone else to blame. [Interruption.]
The Government looked for someone else to blame. They were in denial. Even in the midst of humiliation they could not understand what had happened. The Deputy Prime Minister—I am sure he is listening—said:
I can't understand why farmers complain. They can use red diesel at 3p a litre tax.
He obviously does not understand that farmers have to drive their stock to market, their feedstuffs to the farm, and their children to school in remote areas. They cannot use red diesel for that.
The title of the debate is "Fuel Protests". The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning that the fuel protests had brought the country to a standstill. Indeed, he has just outlined the mechanism by which it was brought to a standstill, and the effects of that standstill. It was brought to a standstill by people blockading fuel depots. Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to condemn those who parked their vehicles and blockaded fuel depots, thus threatening hospitals?
We waited a long time for that intervention, and it illustrated admirably the fact that Labour Members are still in denial. They think that it was a blockade. It was not; it was a protest. They think that it was all to do with intimidation. There was scarcely any intimidation.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The report states:
Though there were instances of intimidation, police say they have recorded no official complaints…Relations with the police were good. Negotiations to allow through fuel for emergency services were amicable.
A spokesman for Cheshire police, in charge of the protests at Stanlow, where the blockades started, said:
We had no reports of intimidation in Stanlow at the time. They have been logged subsequently. As far as we were concerned, with the exception of a couple of incidents, the protests were peaceful.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that I have a list, prepared by the oil companies, of 185 instances of intimidation? Is that not a reasonable source of information?
I think that the police are a very reasonable source of information. While we accept that there may have been some instances, the question is, who leant on the oil companies to prepare their list in the first place?
The Government are still in denial. They want to think that it was all down to intimidation; they want to think that it was all down to the oil companies; they want to think that it was all down to blockades. In fact, it was a tax revolt supported by most of the British people.
Just to add to the provocation during the week of the protest, a transport Minister said on "Newsnight" that he had been consulting closely with the hauliers forum throughout the year. He omitted to mention that the chairman of the Road Haulage Association had just resigned from the forum, saying:
we have been stonewalled, fobbed off and passed from pillar to post.
It was the Government who, with their arrogance and complacency, enraged the protesters and public opinion. After the famous 24-hour deadline for normality had come and gone, we witnessed the sight of a panic-stricken Secretary of State for Health threatening meltdown. The National Blood Service had to issue an announcement accusing him of scaremongering.
This had all the classic hallmarks of a new Labour crisis. First the Government denied that there was a problem; then they tried to spin it away; then they made promises that they could not keep. Finally, they resorted to scaremongering. This was a protest of their own making, turned into a crisis by their own complacency, which became a humiliation that they still do not understand.
Since then, the pattern of arrogance and evasion has continued. What could be more disgraceful than attempts, through smears and leaks—at a time when what the country needs is listening and conciliation—to claim that the crisis was all to do with blockades or intimidation, when we all know that it was not?
No. The hon. Gentleman has had his chance and blown it; he has made far too much noise already.
The protest was supported by the vast majority of decent people in the country—hard-working people, car drivers and non-car drivers. According to the MORI poll, it was supported by 84 per cent. of the public. Astonishingly, 76 per cent. of those who had no car supported the protest. If the Government still seriously think—as they evidently do—that they can drive a wedge between the protesters and the public, they are making yet another fatal mistake.
We are not talking about special interest groups. We understand the demands for a Brit disc scheme. We understand the case for special rebates, but people do not just want special tax breaks, loopholes or fiddles; they want a tax cut. The protest was a taxpayers' revolt. Only the Government could think of a taxpayers' revolt as a hauliers' blockade. People are saying that they want fairness and honesty in taxation. They want no more stealth tax. They want a cut in fuel duty now.
The Prime Minister sought refuge in the argument, which we heard again earlier, that a cut in tax means a cut in health or education.
No, I will not give way. I have given way plenty of times and many other Members want to speak.
Only this week, the Ernst and Young report confirmed that there will be a £16 billion surplus this year. The fact is that the Chancellor is profiteering from the increase in crude oil prices. Every time the oil price increases by $1, he makes an extra £330 million in revenue from petroleum revenue tax and VAT. He has not only a financial but a moral duty to alleviate the hardship that he has created. If there was a green argument for increasing duty when the price was low, there can be no such argument when the price is at an all-time high.
The Government must act now to save the countryside and those who live in it. If there is a green argument, it is not about the cost of petrol and pricing people off the roads, but about the future of the countryside as a working environment in which farmers can earn an honest living.
The Government must act to save the road hauliers who are going out of business and those who are conceding their businesses to foreigners. The number of foreign lorries is growing in this country.
The Government must act to help those who are less well off and depend on their cars. If they do not act, the public will—and the Government will have only themselves to blame—not just on the streets, but at the ballot box.
September was a watershed in the life of new Labour, and the clock is now ticking. The Prime Minister, who made his political creed out of being in touch, has now made a principle of being out of touch. The Deputy Prime Minister said that he was always available for debate, but he dare not show his face today. They created the crisis; they raised taxes with no mandate; they manufactured their own humiliation and they have been living in denial ever since. The Prime Minister said that everything would get back to normal within 24 hours. On the contrary, for new Labour, things will never be the same again.
The hon. Gentleman has intervened several times. Many hon. Members want to get into the debate. I have had to put a time limit on speeches and he is taking away their time. Does he still have a point of order?
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
applauds the tough, long-term economic decisions taken by the Government to create a platform of stability on which to invest in education, health, transport and law and order, building a Britain where there is opportunity and security for all; recognises the difficulty that has been caused to some sectors of the economy due to the rapid increase in world oil prices over the past 18 months; welcomes the Government's determination to set its economic and fiscal policy within the context of the normal budget and democratic processes; deplores the previous Government's record of boom and bust and under-investment in the nation's vital public services; notes that the proportion of the cost of petrol accounted for by VAT and duty is lower than when this Government took office in May 1997; welcomes the Government's environmental record which has seen Britain lead the world in the fight against global warming; and welcomes the Government's 10-year plan to modernise the nation's transport system, cut congestion, deliver real choice and see a 42 per cent. real term's increase in spending.
May I take the opportunity—it is my first—to congratulate you warmly, Mr. Speaker, on your elevation to the Chair? I hope that you enjoy your speakership as much as we are delighted to see you occupy it.
It is always a pleasure to welcome the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) to the Dispatch Box, on this occasion to debate the countryside, fuel prices and the environment. It is not so much what he says as the way he tells them.
One would never guess, listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech about transport and the countryside, that his Government left the countryside so denuded of public transport that, by the end of their Administration, fewer than one in four parishes had even a single bus service once a day. One would never guess from his denunciation of the fuel duty escalator that it was his Government who started it and we who ended it. One would never guess, when he referred to his party's concern for the countryside, that his party was responsible for the biggest concreting-over of the countryside in road-building programmes since Roman times. One would never guess that the biggest invasions of the green belt—the sell-off of 3,000 acres of green belt for development, together with the most extensive damage of sites of special scientific interest—all occurred in those years of wanton destruction.
I will in a moment.
One would never guess, when the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells finally came to his killer fact—that his party would cut 3p per litre off fuel duty—how that was to be paid for, let alone what it would do to the environment. It would, in fact, cost more than £1 billion. That is perhaps rather small beer for a party that has a £16 billion hole in its public accounts.
The hon. Gentleman's speech was, let us be fair, an entertaining flight of fancy, but it was more devoid of answers and more full of holes than a Swiss cheese. For a change, let us turn to the facts.
I will in a moment.
September saw widespread protests in the UK, throughout Europe and further afield about the cost of fuel. Those protests followed large increases, as we are all aware, in the price of crude oil: from around $10 a barrel at the beginning of last year to more than $30. That has been a global problem. Other countries affected by the protests included France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Holland and even Australia.
I will as soon as I have made the point.
Since the March 1999 Budget, petrol prices in the UK have risen from 66p per litre to about 80p per litre today, an increase of 14p, but only a very small percentage—1.9p—of that increase was caused by the 2000 Budget. That was the lowest Budget increase in fuel duty for 11 years.
Over the past 18 months [Interruption.] I can talk about a longer period if that is what the hon. Gentleman wants. It is true that, under his Administration and this Administration there has been a long-term and continuing reduction in the price of oil. In 1993, the hon. Gentleman's Government decided, quite rightly in my view, to introduce the fuel duty escalator. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we continued it because when the price of oil continues to go down steadily and over a long period it is right to remind motorists that there is an environmental external cost of motoring that needs to be read into the petrol price.
Now that we have had a tidal wave of price increases from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries it is absurd to continue with the fuel duty escalator. That is exactly why the Chancellor has abandoned it. He has also said—it is sensible and right—that he will take account of all the relevant factors—environmental and others—in determining, on a case-by-case basis, the appropriate rate of duty. He will certainly take account of the environmental cost.
Having said that, I want to take issue with what was said by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells. The Government have recognised—of course we have—that strong feelings are aroused by the issue of fuel prices. We have been listening and we will continue to listen carefully and in detail to those concerns. Having listened, we have already taken substantial action.
I am happy to give way, but I am about to tell the hon. Gentleman about the action we have taken.
The Government's amendment to our motion states that the Government recognise
the difficulty that has been caused to some sectors of the economy due to the rapid increase in world oil prices over the past 18 months.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that any of those difficulties have been caused by the Government's taxation policies?
I believe that during the time that we have had to face the consequences of those enormous increases in international oil prices the increase caused by Government fuel duties is marginal.
The hon. Gentleman must take account of the fact that for hauliers, it is not just a question of fuel duty. They are concerned about wider taxation. If we compare the situation abroad, we can see that foreign hauliers have to pay toll duties and higher VAT. I remind the House that corporation tax in this country is the lowest of any industrialised country and that helps many hauliers.
I will not give way now. I am aware that this is a short debate and that many hon. Members wish to take part. I will give way later, but I want to make some progress.
I will give way to my hon. Friend later.
Last November, the Chancellor abolished the fuel duty escalator and, as a result, duty is now 6 per cent. lower, in fact it is 3p less per litre—where did I hear that before?—than it would otherwise have been. [Interruption.] I am delighted that that has pleased Opposition Members. [Interruption.]
The Chancellor also announced that, in future, all real-terms increases in fuel duty will be put back into investment in transport. That contradicts something wrongly said by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells. Substantial assistance for hauliers was delivered at the last budget in the form of large reductions in vehicle excise duty for heavy lorries at a cost of £45 million to the Exchequer. Also, the introduction for 44-tonne lorries was agreed from next February. The VED for five-axle 40-tonners was cut by no less than £1,800 and by £500 for 38 and 36-tonne lorries.
The Minister is making the very fair point, which was made to me last week by hauliers, that much of the effect has been caused not by fuel tax policy, but by external factors. Nevertheless, does not the Minister accept that, for hauliers, the combined effect of world oil prices, the exchange rate and the tax has created a situation in which not only they, but the customers who depend on them to get their goods to market cannot survive? That is the issue that the Government will have to address.
The hon. Gentleman perfectly fairly makes the point that, as he said, the combination of all those factors at this time has produced a perhaps unique situation. That is exactly why the Chancellor has made it clear that he has been consulting extensively with all the relevant interests and that he is continuing to do so. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, the Government will be coming forward with a clear statement on the best way forward to take account of all those circumstances.
As I said, for the past month Ministers have been having regular meetings with representatives of the haulage industry, farmers and representatives of the fuel protesters. Discussions on the competitiveness of the road haulage industry—which is precisely the point just made by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce)—are continuing through the road haulage forum. Last week, I attended the conference of the Countryside Alliance, to listen to its concerns about the impact of high fuel prices on people in rural areas, and I made it clear that the issues raised have been taken very seriously.
Will the Minister now come clean with the House? Surely he agrees that, since this Government came to power, the increase from taxation has been far bigger than the increase from the movement in oil prices. As for the price of diesel—which is affecting the haulage industry, and driving it into bankruptcy—does he remember the 12 per cent. increase in 1999? That is within his 18-month period. Will he not take that into account and just come clean that it is the Chancellor who is robbing the motorist and the haulier?
The right hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience and knowledge, but I think that he is making a very partisan and unreasonable point—[Interruption.] He knows that perfectly well. Until the early months of last year, oil prices were continuing to decrease to some of the lowest real-terms prices that we have ever experienced in the international oil industry. It was therefore entirely proper and right to continue and extend what the previous Government had done in the fuel duty escalator, and that is exactly what we did. However, we did take account of the fact that there are substantial cost effects of doing so, and that some of the hauliers certainly would have suffered as a consequence.
It is for precisely those reasons that we have used other means to ensure that those cost pressures are reduced. The reductions in VED have been extremely large. The Chancellor may well decide to continue them, but that is a matter for him. However, we have been very well aware of the situation, and that it is not only the fuel duty that is a relevant factor.
I also wish to make it clear that the Government have repeatedly stated—I state it again now—that we will be not be press-ganged into making short-term decisions on taxation policy outside the normal Budget cycle. The Government have a duty to govern in the interests of the nation as a whole, and we will.
I am not here—I do not think that Opposition Members expect me to be here—to discuss the Government's future taxation plans. That is a matter for the Chancellor, and he will be making his pre-Budget report shortly. He will, as I said, make decisions in the light of all relevant factors—which include not only the level of tax, but all environmental and other factors.
If anyone doubts that, let me remind the House that he is the Chancellor who, in the last Budget but one, produced the greenest Budget ever; who is committed to a climate change programme, which we shall publish in a few weeks and will set out ambitious CO2 reductions, including in transport; and who, in almost all his Budgets, has produced a string of fiscal measures designed to encourage cleaner fuel-efficient motoring. I think that the nation can trust him to take a very sensible and balanced decision.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. He made an important point about global warming and the Chancellor's efforts in greening our policies. Will my right hon. Friend make the case for the environment, contrary to the arguments from Opposition Members, as in the past decade the carbon dioxide from transport has risen from one fifth to one quarter of the carbon dioxide produced in this country? Opposition Members want to duck that argument, but the previous Government introduced the fuel tax levy because they recognised that something had to be done about global warming, which is even more important than concerns about taxation policy. It is important and that needs stating.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point and I endorse what he said. When he and other hon. Members see the climate change programme which will be published shortly, they will see that we have fully taken on board that point.
It is not just a matter of what the appropriate taxation level should be. In 1997 we inherited from the previous Government a public transport system that was in the most rundown state for decades. I say that advisedly. That appalling legacy undoubtedly contributed to the frustration and anger that was manifested last month.
Having had experience of the hon. Gentleman in Committee, when he always jumped up and said, "On that point", I shall test him and find out.
I am grateful to the Minister. On the subject of the Government's record, there have been four increases under the fuel escalator in three years. Until last Sunday the Minister was still advocating that we should use the fuel escalator to increase prices above the rate of inflation. Is he still in favour of it or not?
In answer to an earlier question, I made it clear that my view is that the fuel duty escalator had a very real role and I respect the decision of the previous Government to introduce it. I also think that we were right to continue it. I repeat that where there is a massive and unprecedented increase in the international oil price, the role of the fuel duty escalator simply disappears and the only thing to do is abandon it. I have also said—and it is certainly the Government's position—that we are not abandoning environmental considerations. We shall certainly never do that. Indeed, they are a very strong component of the climate change programme, but we have to look at all the considerations at the right time, year by year, and that is what the Chancellor has said he will do.
No. I am not saying that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] It is a matter of semantics. What I said was that we would certainly have to consider the matter again, not in terms of a fuel duty escalator, because I accept that where the international oil price is bobbing around like a cork on the sea it is absurd to put in place an escalator provision. However, it makes sense to look at the issue on a case-by-case basis, including whatever is appropriate to ensure that motorists realise the environmental externality in their costs.
In July, the Government launched a 10-year plan for transport, building on the integrated transport White Paper and delivering a £180 billion investment package to modernise the nation's transport system, to cut congestion and deliver real choice. I would point out to the House that that is a 42 per cent. increase in real terms in spending compared with the past 10 years.
I shall give way again shortly.
The plan, which will deliver improvements across all modes of transport, is designed to tackle the legacy that we inherited of under-investment, fragmentation and short termism which have resulted from 20 years or more of neglect of our transport system.
Does the Minister understand that what is worrying hauliers so much is that their businesses are collapsing because of unfair competition. They are looking for a level playing field. Businesses in the United Kingdom are being undermined by hauliers from continental Europe who have the advantage on them. In those circumstances, have the Government taken any initiative with the European Union to see whether in a common market it is possible to have a common approach to the level of taxation so that there is a level playing field?
There has been consideration of what is called a "eurovignette" and there are other proposals to try to achieve that. The UK, of course, has been involved. We wish to ensure the continuing competitiveness of our haulage industry. There is a competitiveness section within the road haulage forum which is looking precisely at the facts and figures to ensure that we achieve that competitiveness. I ask the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) to wait for the Chancellor's pre-Budget report, as that is the point at which the Government will make a formal statement in answer to his perfectly fair points.
I will not give way for the moment.
In formulating our approach to transport, the Government have been very conscious—rather more so than Conservative Members—of our environmental targets. Road transport is one of the major sources of air pollution, especially in urban areas. The transport sector is also the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change, arguably, is the biggest environmental challenge that we face globally.
That is not a trendy intellectual scenario of the middle-distance future; it is with us now. In the last few weeks, we have seen the worst flooding in Kent and Sussex in living memory. Two years ago, the east midlands experienced the worst flooding for a century. France experienced the most destructive storm of the last century which killed dozens of people and caused losses running into billions. That is paralleled by similar disasters on an even greater scale across the world. I repeat that measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport will need to play a central role in helping the UK to meet its international and domestic climate change objectives.
The real lesson of the fuel crisis, in my view, is the need for us to reduce our overdependence on oil and to switch to a greater use of renewable sources of energy. The Government have already invested in a number of measures to support the uptake of cleaner alternative fuels and technology, including low rates of duty on road fuel gases. A low rate of vehicle excise duty on electric vehicles offers significant incentives for drivers to switch.
Through my Department's powershift programme—whose budget was increased to £10 million in March—we are offering more and more grants to help those who wish to purchase gas and electric vehicles. Under the 10-year plan, the Government are committed to doubling the amount spent on cleaner vehicle initiatives by 2003–04.
I am most grateful to the Minister, who is making a careful and reasoned case. However, will he accept that there is a world of difference between targeted measures which attack congestion and overuse of vehicles in urban areas—where there are real alternatives in terms of public transport—and the situation in rural areas where there is no alternative, where people are simply penalised and where they are the least able to pay that imposition?
I am extremely concerned about the situation in rural areas, for which I carry a responsibility within Government. [Interruption.] I entirely accept that the—[Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I must refer to the constant barrage of interruptions. The Minister is being generous in taking interventions. It will not help hon. Members who are seeking to catch my eye later in the debate if they continue their interruptions.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) makes a fair point. He knows that we have begun to address this matter by spending £170 million on rural bus services, which has produced 1,800 new and improved bus services. He may dissent—and I accept that it is not enough—but it is a great improvement on what went before. If he can bear to wait for the rural White Paper, the Government will come forward with further proposals which seek in an innovative and valuable way to try to address the particular problems of rural areas.
Those fiscal measures are programmes sponsored by the Government and will increasingly make a major contribution to our climate change programme. In addition, under the voluntary agreement which, I am pleased to say, we have secured between the EC and motor manufacturers in the western world, CO2 emissions from new cars will be reduced by no less than 25 per cent. over the next eight years. Together with changes made by the Government to company car taxation and vehicle excise duty, that is expected to produce annual savings of 4 million tonnes of carbon by 2010, which is one ninth of the target that the UK must meet.
Further to the Minister's reply to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), does he accept that in rural areas it is impossible for the excessive fuel duty increase to be passed on to customers? Will he therefore apologise to my constituent Mr. Martin Edge, who used to be president of the Road Haulage Association in Shropshire? In 1997, Mr. Edge employed 30 people, but last week he lost his business and house.
Of course, I am sorry to hear of that case. I hope that the hon. Gentleman told his constituent the truth that the causes of the current problem go deep. They are not immediate and go back to the effects of the fuel duty escalator, which began under the previous Government and, in conjunction with other external factors, proved excessive and led to the results to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We are trying to address the matter, and the Chancellor will shortly respond with a series of measures that will begin to address the matter fundamentally.
The Government continue to reform taxation and reward those who drive cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Cleaner fuels are becoming more widespread, thanks largely to lower fuel duties, which we introduced on fuels such as ultra-low sulphur diesel and petrol and gas fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas and compressed natural gas. In addition, owners of cars with engines up to 1200cc benefited from a £55 cut in vehicle excise duties in the last Budget. More than 2 million vehicles benefited from that tax cut. From March 2001, all new cars will go into one of four bands based on their rate of CO2 emissions. Under the new system, 95 per cent. of new cars will pay up to £70 less tax, with a total reduction of £400 million. From April 2002, company cars will be taxed on the basis of their CO2 emissions, which should deliver savings for company car drivers choosing cars that are more fuel-efficient.
There is a clear decision to be made between the parties in this debate. In the Opposition we have a party that, during its term in office, devastated public transport in rural areas, concreted over more of the countryside than any Government before or since and abandoned the fuel duty escalator on the first whiff of populism. It is now looking to get behind what it calls a people's revolt and stir it up—that from a party that likes to see itself as the party of law and order. The Opposition are now so desperate for votes that they will promise anything—even 3p off the price of petrol—without regard to how that will be paid for or the damage that it will do to the environment.
On this side of the House, the Government have published a plan to invest £180 billion in Britain's rundown transport system, have already directed nearly £200 million into improved transport in rural areas and are determined to maintain a fair and proper balance between taxation and the needs of the countryside and the environment. The battle lines are clear, and I commend the Government amendment to the House.
Like many other hon. Members, I too was disappointed by the speech from the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), which seemed full of rhetoric and devoid of new ideas. However, I agree entirely with the part of his speech that had to do with the absence of the Deputy Prime Minister from the Chamber today.
The Minister said in response to the comments of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells that the Deputy Prime Minister was engaged this afternoon in meetings about the closure of the west coast main line. I was advised two days ago that the Deputy Prime Minister would not attend this debate, so one of two inferences can be drawn: either the Deputy Prime Minister knew two days ago that the closures were going to happen, and therefore should have informed the House about them in his statement yesterday; or the meetings were arranged more recently, in which case time could have been set aside to enable the Deputy Prime Minister to be here for this debate.
Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister told the House that safety was his guiding principle. I have no doubt that, notwithstanding the arguments on either side of the fuel crisis, safety was an important feature of that crisis. If lives were not lost because of the blockades, they were certainly put at risk. If safety is the Deputy Prime Minister's top priority, he should have been here to tell the House what action the Government intended to take to ensure that lives would not be put at risk if similar blockades were imposed.
I wish to make it clear again to the House that not only is my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister attending meetings about the closure of the west coast main line, but he is also taking part in other meetings to do with the Hatfield crash. I made that clear earlier, and the hon. Gentleman should take that information on board.
I accept entirely what the Minister says. However, my point is that it would have been possible for the Deputy Prime Minister to arrange to be in the Chamber at least for part of the debate. I, for one, regret his absence today.
However, I wish to remind the House of something else that happened yesterday, apart from the Deputy Prime Minister's statement about the Hatfield crash. For the first time in three and half years, the Prime Minister made a major speech on the environment, in which he acknowledged the explicit link between car use and climate change. He talked about the need for co-operation and leadership to press forward the green agenda, and he made it clear that time was not on our side.
The Prime Minister's speech shows that he has undergone a major conversion and demonstrates a radical shift in his thinking. If the House is not convinced, we need only look back to what was going on at the time of the fuel crisis. On 22 September, all other European countries took part in the European car-free day. Every European Government bar our own formally supported that major European initiative to draw attention to the environmental consequences of our over-reliance on the car.
The fuel crisis was a further example of the Prime Minister's welcome change of heart. Not for a minute do I wish to demean or criticise the Minister for the Environment's environmental credentials, but I wish to point out to the House that he was remarkably absent from our television screens during that crisis. Neither the Prime Minister nor any of the other Ministers who spoke during the fuel crisis at any time mentioned environmental issues in their comments.
A year ago, the Liberal Democrat party made promises involving billions of pounds of extra expenditure, almost all of them predicated on income from fuel duty and environmental tax. Overnight, however, the party decided to suspend those promises. Is that not a little odd? The Liberal Democrat policy now is that levies on fuel would not be raised for the next five years, irrespective of whether the world price of oil is $10, $20 or $30 a barrel—what hypocrisy that is.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I hope in a few minutes to address that very point. Whether a political party continues to believe that environmental issues are crucial but that other ways might be more appropriate to address them in the light of changing circumstances is an interesting point. That is just what we have done.
No, I wish to make a little progress. Unlike the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, I want to put some suggestions into the arena on how we might move forward.
During the fuel crisis, I genuinely believed that the protesters had some quite legitimate concerns, particularly those from rural areas who have no adequate public transport and no adequate alternative. The Minister told us to wait for the rural White Paper to come along and solve all these problems. However, the rural White Paper is rather like a rural bus—we wait and wait, but still it does not come along. We look forward to seeing it eventually, although we have been told it has been delayed for yet another few months.
During the entire discussion about the fuel crisis, it has been suggested that this is a simple problem that can be dealt with by simple solutions. The issue is incredibly complex, and it requires a complex solution. It must not only address environmental issues, as I argue strongly, but take into account economic issues and social justice.
We know from studies done at Lancaster university that the growing number of cars on our roads is leading to about 15 million people suffering health problems that are, at the least, aggravated by traffic fumes.
I will in a moment.
We hear from the British Medical Association that traffic pollution causes at least 3,000 deaths a year and brings forward tens of thousands of others.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whom I hope will not impale himself too firmly on the fence. Will he confirm that tax on petrol has risen by 34 per cent. in 41 months, that that rise has been far greater than that imposed on champagne, and that those two facts represent the most damning possible indictment of the Government's priorities?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point in his own inimitable way. I am delighted that he has as much knowledge about champagne prices as about fuel prices. I suspect that many of the people whom I represent are more concerned about fuel than champagne.
The hon. Gentleman again illustrates single-minded thinking about just one issue. We must take into account environmental as well as economic issues. We know from the Confederation of British Industry that congestion on our roads is costing British industry some £20 billion a year. As for social justice, as others have said, the poorest people in rural areas are suffering from what might be called transport poverty. They need to be provided with assistance as well. We must address all three factors. That is why a simplistic solution, such as the one being offered by the Conservative party, cannot be a sensible way forward.
The Conservatives are suggesting a 3p cut in the price of fuel; the protesters want a 15p cut. Let us take the middle road and consider the implications of cutting the price by 9p. It is quite simple—a typical motorist would save less than £110 a year. For a person with a 1.8 litre Ford Focus doing 10,000 miles a year at 38 miles a gallon, the saving would be £109.50.
The Tories are not proposing a cut of 9p, however—they are proposing 3p. According to calculations in a note sent to me by the Library on 11 October, the savings for the average motorist on the Conservative proposals for a 3p cut would amount to £30.50 a year, or 59p a week. That is, I suppose, slightly more than the 42p a week that they are offering pensioners.
The Tory stance on such matters is all over the place. We know that Lord Lamont introduced the fuel escalator in 1993. Despite much more recent Conservative attacks on the Government on the matter, the leaked document, which many hon. Members will have seen and which accompanied the Conservatives' May 1997 general election manifesto, stated that a Tory Government would keep the open-ended commitment to increase petrol duty. When the Tories went into the previous general election, they were in favour of keeping the escalator.
I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is in the Chamber. The House will recall that at the beginning of the crisis, he suggested that there should be a 5p cut in the price of petrol. However, his right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) responded by saying that it would be wrong to change policy in response to the fuel protests. Yet three days later, the shadow Chancellor himself proposed a cut of 3p per litre. The Conservatives are all over the place.
The matter is even more interesting than that. On 31 August—hon. Members should note the date—the Leader of the Opposition put out a press release through Conservative central office. It stated that he was
calling for immediate fines on an hourly basis against individuals involved in the blockading.
The right hon. Gentleman also demanded compensation for those who had suffered financial loss and inconvenience because of the blockades.
We have noted the date. Which blockades was the right hon. Gentleman talking about? They were, of course, the French blockades. However, only a few weeks later, when it came to the English blockades, he described those who were blockading as "fine, upstanding citizens".
It is no wonder that Mr. Geoffrey Lean, in The Independent on Sunday, wrote:
The Conservative policies on transport do not progress far beyond naked opportunism.
The Leader of the Opposition, who should from now on be called "Bandwagon Bill", has really demonstrated the art of jumping on bandwagons.
During Prime Minister's questions, was it not interesting to hear that rather barbed remark made by the Leader of the Opposition about his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath)? Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition was a little bit miffed with the Father of the House. I know why. The Father of the House was too honest when he was interviewed on the "Today" programme on 3 October. He said:
What people are saying is that he—
that is, the Leader of the Opposition—
suddenly produces these policies out of the blue—this was certainly true of petrol—and of course then people aren't impressed.
They say you are just making it up on the spur of the moment…That is a very dangerous technique to follow.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware—as my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) pointed out—that the Conservative party voted against the Government's previous four big increases in petrol tax? By opposing rip-off Britain at the pumps, we are being entirely consistent. Will he take back his remarks about bandwagons? We made the bandwagon; it is an extremely democratic one and it is going to win.
I do not want to trade voting records with the right hon. Gentleman. However, if he examines them, he will find that the Liberal Democrats voted in the same way as him, but we at least had the honesty to say that the reason we did so was that we believed that any money raised from the proposed increases should be ring-fenced and used to improve support for the travelling public—not least through improved public transport.
I will not give way.
I hope that I have demonstrated that the Conservative party is all over the place with its policies and position.
No, I will not. I have made it clear that I will not.
The Conservative party policy is not even a popular policy. An opinion poll, carried out by NOP and quoted in the press on 6 October, found that 68 per cent. of those questioned would prefer to stick with the current fuel tax if it guaranteed less pollution and better road and rail links. That survey found that a similar proportion of people would prefer to have the 3p from fuel tax spent on green schemes for the environment than on a Tory plan to cut the price of petrol by 3p a litre. The Conservatives have come up with a simplistic solution, which does not address all aspects of the issue. Let me briefly discuss those aspects and the way forward.
The road haulage industry undoubtedly faces problems. Some of those problems come from unfair competition. The industry also has problems relating to overcapacity; it has not been said before, but it is true.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when the road hauliers came to the House, lobbying very hard to have the axle limits increased from 38 to 44 tonnes, part of their argument was that that would improve productivity? As one cannot go on driving lorries indefinitely, in effect they have 10 per cent. oversupply of both vehicles and drivers.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. Although I understand the pressures from the European Parliament on this, I was very disappointed that we went down the 44-tonne lorry route, not least because of the impact that I and many other commentators believe it will have on our ability to move more freight on to our rail system. However, the haulage industry does have a problem of unfair competition with continental operators. That problem may have been somewhat exaggerated, and many in the industry now accept that, because when one considers the totality of costs, taking into account labour costs, road tolls and other forms of taxation, it can be demonstrated that the unfairness is not quite as it was initially presented. Nevertheless, I believe that there is still a further case to be made—
The way that I believe we should be moving—the Minister has at least given a hint that the Government might be supporting this, and it now appears to have all-party support—is to make progress on the European vignette scheme and reduce vehicle excise duty further. VED has been reduced for lorries, but it should be reduced further. At the same time, we should introduce through the vignette scheme a means whereby foreign lorries using our roads have to contribute.
I am most grateful. Perhaps it may enlighten the hon. Gentleman if I tell him that the haulier who was trumpeted by the Government two years ago in the infamous KPMG report told me today that he moved his entire operation to Luxembourg—an operation which, thanks to the Government, is reduced from 100 trucks to 70. That haulier would be £1.5 million better off, which is the advantage in fuel duty and VED over the social costs and corporation tax in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman should have a look at some of the latest documents put out by the bodies that represent the industry—the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association. They themselves now acknowledge that the competition argument was somewhat overplayed at the start of the debate. There will of course be individual cases; I must talk about the industry as a whole.
What is the way forward? Many things need to be done. There needs to be a massive increase in investment in public transport. It is a great shame that, during the first three years of a Labour Government, they actually spent less on public transport than their Conservative predecessors. We need increased investment in alternative fuels. Although I welcome the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday of additional funding, I must point out that, over the past three years, research into alternative forms of energy under this Government has been dramatically cut.
On the point raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, the time has come to deal with the two key environmental issues that matter—namely, pollution and congestion. The time has come to make a clear commitment to cap the level of fuel duties and, for environmental reasons, to deal with the problem of congestion by supporting those local authorities that want to introduce congestion charging, provided that there has already been a significant improvement in the availability of public transport.
We also need to deal with the problem of pollution. We need to go further than the Government have done so far, although we welcome the start that they have made by linking more carefully VED with the level of pollution that is caused by a vehicle to the point at which the most fuel-efficient and pollution-reducing vehicles pay no VED at all.
I agree with several of the ideas and policies that the hon. Gentleman has introduced, including those involving congestion charges, but is it not the Liberal Democrats' policy to introduce a carbon tax? Will he explain how a carbon tax can be introduced with a five-year cap on fuel increases? Would not that introduce enormous distortions into the process? How could the system possibly work?
Given that many other hon. Members want to speak, the House would not want me to give a detailed discourse on that matter, although I am more than happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman later about it. The crucial issue involves CO2 emissions and the other pollutants that come from vehicles. That is why we believe that the link that the Government established between VED and emissions is crucial. We should like to take the process further.
No, I shall not.
We also believe that stronger measures are required to support those in rural areas. For example, a strong case can be made for introducing rate relief for rural filling stations. There should be a specifically targeted mechanism that will help those who live in rural areas to, for example, convert to liquid petroleum gas. There should also be specific support in rural areas for alternative forms of public transport, including dial-a-ride and taxi buses. Those schemes must be eligible for the fuel duty rebate, and I look forward to the Government's making such an announcement. We also need to promote support for car sharing and car pooling, and we understand from leaks that the Government may well do that.
I notice that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is now present. Does he recognise that by Monday he can allow the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to help one sector of the rural economy that is greatly affected by fuel prices? It could be helped by allowing the release of agrimonetary compensation that is available, although the deadline is next week.
We all look forward to the answer that the Minister will give when he winds up the debate.
I hope that I have made it clear that this is not a simple issue and that there are no simple solutions. We need solutions that deal with the environment and the economy and that promote social justice. The knee-jerk reactions of the Conservative party—it might think that its reaction was populist—are not fully thought through, and they will not solve the real problems that concerned protesters in September.
We need a package of measures, and that is what the Liberal Democrats have offered. I am delighted that our proposals are recognised as realistic. I note, for example, that in The Independent on Sunday, the journalist Jo Dillon wrote:
Conservatives have yet to produce a credible policy at all. The Liberal Democrats, as ever, have the greenest policies. It is their policies that are most likely to resolve the growing transport crisis.
Whether or not that is true, I hope that the Government and, in particular, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his forthcoming statement, will pick up on several of our positive proposals. They are not the knee-jerk reactions that we have heard from the Conservatives.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, but I am extremely disappointed that we heard no positive policies from the Opposition—we merely had a knockabout. I understand that they like to have a go at the Government but, surely, if there really is a crisis, we should have heard something positive from them about their alternative proposals.
The Opposition said how hard pressed some farmers are. I accept that some hill farmers in particular are suffering, but what did they offer them? They said that they understood that the effect of a cut in the duty on red diesel would be insignificant. Then they talked about livestock going to market. Livestock does go to market, but not so regularly that the increase in fuel duty would significantly affect hill farmers' incomes. We need to approach the problems of the hill farmers in a different way. The fuel duty makes only a marginal difference to them.
Truckers do have problems, but there was no recognition of them from the Opposition. The basic problem for the truckers is that there are too many drivers and too many vehicles. Part of the problem is of their own making. They lobbied for much higher axle weights. They said that it would result in an improvement in productivity, and it has done so for some individuals, but it means that there is not enough work to go around.
That is not the only problem for the truckers. Britain has also seen a steady change in the amount of trucking going on. Huge amounts of coal were once taken to power stations by lorries, but most of that business has disappeared. People have gradually come to recognise that it is much better to put goods back on to the railways. For example, the construction of the second runway at Manchester airport by the filling in of the Bollin valley originally required thousands of lorryloads of limestone from the Pennines, but an extra two miles of railway were put in and it was all transported by rail.
Everyone talked about the policy of getting more trade off the roads and on to the railways, but the consequence of that is that we now have too many drivers. That is sad for someone who has become an owner-driver, mortgaging his house to do so, but such people are now in a market where there is a glut. We must look at ways in which to take some of that surplus out of the market. That will be of far more use to the drivers and the owner-drivers than reducing fuel duty because too many people are still chasing too little business.
I accept that some extra lorries are coming from Europe, but in almost every European country the balance of trade is in our favour. It may be that we should be trying at least to protect our trade. The Opposition could have come up with some proposals, but they have not done so today. There are many arguments in favour of the introduction of a Brit disc. We need to look at some positive measures, and the first would be to reduce the number of truckers in an over-supplied market.
I accept that haulage costs will be forced up, but the basic problem is one of too many people looking for the business. That is why so many of them are going out of business. That has nothing to do with fuel charges.
I accept that my constituents find the fuel duty increase burdensome, but most could change their behaviour to meet the difference created by the tax. First, far more of them could simply observe the speed limits. In areas such as mine, considerable sums are being spent on installing traffic calming measures because people drive far too fast. If they drove more slowly, their cars would work more efficiently and it would be far better for our attack on the problems of global warming if people behaved more sensibly.
In Opposition contributions to the debate, there has been no recognition of the problems of global warming.
No, I have a limited amount of time.
The Opposition must recognise that global warming is a major problem. If we are to tackle it, we must all use transport less. It would be far better for us to do that now than to have to spend huge sums of money on increasing coastal defences, dealing with flooding and so on. Gradually, my constituents are accepting that message. They all say to me that, if we must use motor cars less and if we must transport goods less to deal with global warming, we need better public transport now.
I am delighted that the Government have given the go-ahead in Greater Manchester for the new metro system to be expanded. They should be commended for that, but I plead with them to consider a few more points while the Transport Bill is going through the House of Lords.
First, there is the relationship between the local transport plans and the Strategic Rail Authority. I hope that the Government will consider giving a higher priority to the local plans, to allow some balance in bargaining. In my constituency, there is a conflict about the priority that should be given to people getting from Newcastle to Liverpool or simply from Guide Bridge to Fairfield. It involves the use of the same bits of track for one purpose or the other.
My next point concerns bus lanes. In much of Greater Manchester, there will not be trams. Bus lanes will work if people see the buses getting to their destination more quickly than cars, but it is important that, when we get the bus lanes in place, contracts can be let so that we have bus operators competing for the contract, rather than buses competing down the bus lane for the business. Again, in the legislation that is going through the other place, the Government could achieve a better balance.
Finally, we need to encourage one system in this country for people to pay their fares. On buses, a huge amount of time is wasted while the driver collects the fares. In most European cities, a carnet or similar system is used so that people can get on and off buses quickly, without having to slow down the entire process to pay their fares.
My plea to the Government is that they should re-examine one or two of the measures in the Transport Bill and get on with the commitment to get good public transport in place, so that we can reduce our dependence on carbon fossil fuels and make a real contribution to reducing the risk of global warming.
I have declared my interests in the Register of Members' Interests, but perhaps I should remind the House of one interest that I share with the Deputy Prime Minister: both he and I are Jaguar drivers. There is, of course, a very big difference. I have to pay for all my own fuel, whereas the Deputy Prime Minister, I believe, often has his fuel bought for him by the taxpayer.
One of the most worrying aspects of this unpleasant saga is how out of touch the Government have become in such a short time. It is not as though we failed to warn them. On many occasions, the Opposition have brought to the House the democratic cases for lower fuel taxation and for more justice for road haulage industry participants, for farmers and for the many other people who need diesel and petrol to go about their daily business.
I remember attending a Treasury Question Time long before the protests built up on streets. I asked the Chancellor the simple question: what was the price of a litre of petrol, and how much of that was tax? The Chancellor could answer neither part of the question, so out of touch was the man who had just massively increased taxes in the Budget. He did not even know that the tax was so high.
The Government have increased the tax by 34 per cent.; they increased diesel tax by 12 per cent. in one go. They ignored the advice of the Conservative Opposition that the fuel escalator was high enough. They not only stayed on the escalator, but decided to invent another, with an even sharper ascent so that even more hauliers could be driven out of business more quickly, and more people could be driven into fuel poverty on the forecourt, by the pump.
What change of behaviour does my right hon. Friend believe that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) expects from my 83-year-old, law-abiding constituent, who lives in the heart of rural Buckingham and undertakes journeys to outlying villages to perform her charity work, and is savagely clobbered by the Administration?
The Government seem to believe that poor people have no right to drive a car. It is obvious that they will drive poor people off the roads before those on better salaries. The Government are perpetrating highway robbery without the charisma of Dick Turpin or the good intentions of Robin Hood. We are considering a pariah Government, who rob the poor to give to the rich. Indeed, they give to the super-rich; they give to themselves, and to the Treasury, which has more money than it knows what to do with, and more than it budgeted to receive. The Chancellor is about to make a statement to explain that he got all his Budget figures wrong earlier this year, and that he has a bigger surplus than planned.
The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats ask how the Conservative party would afford the cut in taxes on motorists and the haulage industry. It is easy. The windfall that the Government are receiving is huge; it is bringing in far more money than the Chancellor budgeted for only a few months ago. We do not even recommend returning all the windfall because my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), the shadow Chancellor, is such a prudent and cautious man. However, we recommend giving some of it back because it is taxpayers' money. The Government's intention to pocket all the unexpected windfall money is a rip-off.
I must press on, because I want to make several points. The Government have made their case often, and have presented many foolish arguments. I shall deal with some of them.
We heard briefly from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry during the crisis. He said that, if we cut taxes now, there would not be enough money for schools and hospitals. That is entirely false. No supplementary Budget has been produced to give more money to schools and hospitals since the windfall petrol tax money started to come in. We all know that the money will not be spent on schools and hospitals. If the Government wanted to spend more money on them, they would have had to announce more spending to the House because they had not planned to obtain the windfall tax.
We were told that the Government could not change Budgets during the course of a year. Yet the summer supplementary estimates show that the Government changed their Budget plans not so long ago. They increased spending not on schools and hospitals but on all sorts of other items of public expenditure from the Export Credits Guarantee Department to Inland Revenue administration costs. They regularly change their Budget plans, as previous Governments have done, during the year. However, when it comes to a just change, for which the public is hungry, to give back some of our money, which the Government should not have taken and had not planned to take, they are strangely silent, wooden, and unable to change their mind or make an adjustment.
I do not urge the Chancellor to be imprudent or incautious with the family silver or with our money. However, if he is such a stickler for his Budget judgment, he should try to return to it. My constituents and I would now settle for the amount of tax that the Government were planning to take from motorists in the previous Budget. At the time, I believed that it was far too much, and I argued against it. My hon. Friends and I voted against it. However, we would now settle for that amount, which the Chancellor would have robbed from us, because the windfall means that he will take up to £4,000 million a year extra than those high Budget amounts.
We are then told—
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House where he thinks that the windfall is coming from? There is not, as some have suggested, a value added tax windfall, for example. VAT receipts are pretty much on track with the Budget projection.
The figure of up to £4,000 million comes from independent accountants and it may be an overestimate. However, a large sum is coming, primarily from petroleum revenue tax and other taxes that are levied upon those bringing oil from the North sea. A huge windfall will come directly from the price of oil. It will come also from VAT. The Minister might like to check past statements on the wonderful machinery within the Treasury. He will discover that even the Prime Minister has admitted that the Government are receiving more money from VAT than they were expecting, and that quite a bit of that extra VAT receipt will come from petrol and oil products.
That was a carefully worded intervention. The hon. Gentleman seems to be conceding that there will be a large windfall from PRT and taxes on the oil companies. I look forward to seeing shortly the statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that those commentators who are predicting that there will be a large increase in revenues compared with the Budget forecasts in May are right, and that much of that will be from the motorist or from the haulage industry. I suspect that we shall see another shortfall in spending of the sort that the Government have regularly recorded year by year but have tried to suppress.
There is no Budget case for hanging on to the money. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, taxation is bankrupting the haulage industry. It is not driving lorries off the road because it is swapping the business from British hauliers to French, Belgian, Italian and Spanish hauliers. Is that what the Minister wants? I thought that he was a British Minister in a British Government. He should stand up for the British haulage industry.
Why are the Government so dilatory in introducing the Brit disc, which the Conservative party suggested a long time ago? We think that we should charge foreign lorry operators more for using our roads and cluttering them, and charge British lorry operators rather less so that they have more chance of competing fairly. I see the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) nodding in agreement. He has run a haulage business, or has been involved with one. He knows that what I say is true. We are not being fair to the British haulage industry.
In many rural areas, there are no bus services or train services that people can use, so that they might leave their car at home. The Government have done nothing to change that position. Many of my constituents in a suburban area get up every morning and draw back the curtains to see whether the integrated transport policy has yet arrived. They find that there is still no bus stop within a mile. There is still no train station within 5 or 10 miles. They have no choice. They must use their car, van or lorry to get about or to go about their business. It is high time that the Government understood that and did not tax people into oblivion for doing what they need to do because there is no proper alternative.
The Government have cruelly let down the motorist. They are now penalising him or her by their failure to get up and running an integrated transport strategy that would provide the motorist with a decent alternative. The Government decided to penalise the British haulage industry to help the foreign haulage industry. The Government decided to tax the poor off the road so that the rich and those in government can travel with fewer people getting in the way.
The Deputy Prime Minister, who unfortunately is not in the Chamber, once memorably said that he would fail if he did not reduce the amount of traffic on the roads. We now discover that the only way that he has of doing that is to so anger British motorists and lorry drivers that he drives them off the road because he has driven them out of fuel.
I hold the Government responsible. When I went along the queues at the last remaining open petrol station in my constituency during the dispute, everyone told me, inconvenienced as he or she was, that the blame rested with the Government and not with the protesters. The Government should listen. They should understand that there is a strong democratic movement outside the House. They should understand also that the Opposition speak for the overwhelming majority of the nation when we say to the Chancellor, "Get these taxes down now. It is our money and we want it back. It is a rip-off. You do not need the windfall."
It is rich for the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) to talk about defenders of democracy.
I want to concentrate on the politics of what happened a few weeks ago and to address the subject of the debate. Is the cost of petrol and diesel too high? Yes, and no one thinks that that is good for the economy. The question is how we can reduce the cost of fuel. It cannot be done simply through the fuel tax levy. The tripling of oil prices cannot be ignored. A few weeks ago, the Opposition promised to take 3p off a litre of fuel, but the cost of fuel has increased by almost that amount since then. Conservatives and free marketeers should know that the price of anything, including diesel and petrol, is determined by the price that the market is prepared to pay.
I do not accept that a cut in the fuel tax levy would automatically reduce the price of fuel. What would there be to stop the oil companies making more profit? There are great problems in the road haulage industry, but they are not caused just by the fuel tax levy. As the Minister said, there is a combination of factors.
Road hauliers suffer from the actions of their colleagues in the road haulage industry, because the big road hauliers cut the throats of the small companies. Many small road haulage businesses in my constituency are in trouble, usually as a result of the cut-throat approach of a lot of the big road hauliers who run the industry through the Road Haulage Association. The big road hauliers—not the small business man, whose interests I thought the Conservatives claimed to represent—benefit more from what the association suggests.
I want to talk not only about the many single-driver businesses in the road haulage industry but about the thousands of people who are employed as drivers. Many drivers in my constituency who are in the road haulage industry work 60, 70 or 80 hours a week. A constituent came to me last week whose husband works 70 hours a week driving a coal truck, but qualifies for working families tax credit. There are problems, but not just for those who run businesses within the road haulage industry. The industry has the problem of providing good terms and conditions for its work force. We should not ignore that.
I have been a Member of this place for 13 years. Over the past few years, we have debated how to improve our democracy, and that debate continues. We must take account of what happened a few weeks ago. We must be careful to protect our democracy. What I saw in our country a few weeks ago was far from democratic. I was criticised for making the fair point that, as a miner for 23 years, in 1984–85, when I was on strike fighting for my job and to save my community, I was treated a wee bit differently from the protesters in 2000. That has to be questioned.
The Road Haulage Association was faxing, e-mailing and telephoning its members in my constituency days before the protests. It sent people to the demonstrations and protests. To say that the event was spontaneous is just a bit rich, and I do not accept it.
The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman)—I paraphrase—referred to the Prime Minister's immortal words, "Things will be getting back to normal in 24 hours". Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately, in a sense—I was ill during those few days, and was at home watching everything live on Sky television. As I saw it all unfold, I was worried about what I saw. The Prime Minister met oil companies and the police, and then made his statement about things getting back to normal within 24 hours. In fact, within 24 hours not only were things not getting back to normal; they seemed to be getting increasingly worse.
On the Wednesday of that week, the Prime Minister had another meeting with the oil companies and the police. Within hours of that meeting, the protest was being called off. It is in that context that I raise my point about the defence of democracy, and the need to ask how we, as a Parliament, can defend it.
If what happened was a spontaneous act—a popular uprising which happened just like that, and was called off just like that, as it was—questions must be asked. What led to its being called off? I do not know whether the Prime Minister will be able to tell us for 30 years about the conversation that took place in Downing street, but I am certainly worried about it.
A Member of Parliament, the late Norman Buchan, told me when I arrived as a new Member, "Jimmy, always suspect a conspiracy until proven different". That was good advice. I am not persuaded by apparent coincidences such as the one I have mentioned. Questions must be asked about the way in which things were happening—and not just in this country. The protest began in France, came to the United Kingdom and then went to Belgium, Germany, Italy and Holland, in that order. We have been told by those who organised it here that they wanted parity in Europe.
May I give an answer to the question that the hon. Gentleman has just posed rhetorically? I believe that the hauliers and farmers—who were widely supported—wanted to make a point that they could not make other than by means of a blockade. Once the blockade had shown itself to be successful, they immediately called it off because they did not want to inconvenience the people of this country any further, or to cause dire emergencies in the health service and other essential services.
That is a rather favourable view from the hon. Gentleman, whose opinions I normally respect.
Questions must certainly be asked about the oil companies. We in Scotland were being fed information by the media, including television. In Grangemouth protesters arrived 24 hours before the protest started, and were given accommodation by guess who—the refinery. They were even given showering facilities in case they became a bit warm and dusty during the day. I suspect that the police were taking them flasks and sandwiches. There was such a wonderful, sweetheart relationship. That was not my experience in 1984.
I am sorry; I will not give way because I shall finish soon.
In discussing what happened only a few weeks ago, it is not right for hon. Members to describe themselves as democrats and then condone in any way, shape or form the blockading of our refineries. Those hon. Members who believe that the protest was a coincidence and a popular uprising should consider that the SAS—the best trained troops in the world—took four or five weeks to prepare and effect the rescue of five of our soldiers who were held hostage in Sierra Leone. If it takes the best trained armed forces in the world five weeks to rescue five men in Sierra Leone, hon. Members should not try to kid me that a lot of organisation was not done behind the scenes by certain faceless, unrepresentative people. That is what I fear most about the protests.
The Government must, and will, react to the situation in the industry, and we shall hear more about that in the coming days and weeks. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should think carefully about what happened in our country a few weeks ago; it is very dangerous for anyone to condone what we all saw.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and am grateful to him for having given way to me. I am sorry that he did not take my response to his rhetorical question more seriously because I genuinely believe that several organisations, representing hauliers, farmers and people living in rural areas, were so unhappy about the fact that the Government were apparently not prepared to listen to their genuine grievances that they felt they had to take the action that they did. However, they took it for only the length of time needed to impress the Government with the validity of their case, and they ceased their action before it became a serious embarrassment to the emergency services, the health service, other essential services and people's employment. My intervention was genuine and sincere. The concern is that the Government have not been listening.
The hon. Member for Clydesdale and I spent time together at Catterick camp not many moons ago, and we got to know each other better than we have done in the House. We respect each other for the roles that we play here. That is what the House is about: it is a matter not just of Government versus Opposition but of Members understanding the role that they play individually. I believe that the hon. Gentleman understands my position.
There is a serious problem in rural areas. If the hon. Gentleman were to visit villages such as Wincle, Wildboarclough, Rainow, Kettleshulme and Higher Poynton in my constituency, he would see areas where there is little or no public transport. There is no metro—I am delighted that the metro is expanding in Greater Manchester—and the only public transport is a bus or two a day—if that. The buses generally come at inconvenient times. The people who live in those remote rural areas and villages could not possibly have an acceptable quality of life without the use of their own cars.
The hon. Gentleman is making the case for rural drivers, but I wonder whether he made it when the fuel duty escalator was introduced. Between 1992 and 1997, the then Government raised an extra £5 billion. The hon. Gentleman will know that because it is the answer to the question that he tabled in 1998. What was he doing then for rural drivers, and to provide alternative benefits to people who use the roads?
I can reply with some emphasis because, as my party in government knew well, I was voting against them more often than not. In fact, I think that I registered my first objection and vote against an increase in fuel prices way back in 1981. I have been registering my concern ever since. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) remembers my intervention. I am sorry that I was not listened to then. I have often not been listened to in this place, but there have been occasions when—I say it with some regret—I have been right and the Government of the day have been wrong.
In rural areas, there is poverty and there are people on very low incomes. To live to a reasonable standard and quality of life, those people need their car. The recent blanket policy of increasing fuel prices has been extremely detrimental to their ability to lead the standard of life that many of us expect.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) rightly referred to Manchester airport and the extra rail link, which I supported, to take stone from the Derbyshire quarries to the second runway. It was particularly necessary because, as the hon. Gentleman knows—he is very knowledgeable about these matters—the A6, along which most of that aggregate would have travelled, goes through the villages of Disley and Newtown in my constituency and would have been totally unable to cope with that volume and weight of commercial traffic. It was for that reason that we had an extra length of rail line put in, but, in many rural areas, we do not have the regular public transport that people in urban areas take for granted. I fully support the metro. I want it to be extended to many other areas of Greater Manchester, but we cannot overlook the position of people who live in rural areas.
I have some first-class road hauliers of international renown in my constituency. I refer to R. H. Stevens, Bell Transport, Whittakers Transport, Kirk's of Poynton and Swains of Poynton. They have the best quality wagons, maintain them to the highest possible degree and pay their drivers good wages. They are finding it extremely difficult to compete, particularly with companies that come in from the European Community. The Government must look at that.
I fully support the limited proposals—they are only limited—that have emanated from Her Majesty's Opposition. I support what we have said on reducing the price of fuel by 3p per litre. The figure is rather more if taken in relation to a gallon.
I am not making a special plea for myself. All right, I have a Range Rover. I am proud of having one. It is top of the range. I use it quite frequently to come with my wife to London—two of us, by the way, travelling in one car, for which I get one allowance. The allowance is very modest if we compare it with that which I would get as a Member of Parliament travelling first class from London to Macclesfield and from Macclesfield to London. I am saving the taxpayer a lot of money, but we do it because it can be done in the same time as travelling by rail. We are able to bring provisions and other things to our flat. We do not have to take taxis from my home to the station and from the station to the House of Commons, so there is good purpose, but I make a loss on every mile that I cover on parliamentary and constituency duties because of a decision that the House took two or three years ago. I deeply regret that.
Let us understand that rural areas are vital. If we want to depopulate them, we can do so by continuing along the present path. I know that the Government are giving some support to the development of alternative fuels such as liquid gas. If I can continue to afford to run my Range Rover in the future, I should be interested in using liquid gas instead of petrol. What support are the Government giving to the development of the fuel cell, which is an important source of energy for vehicles?
Do the Government realise that everything that is in our superstores, whether they are in town or in out-of-town shopping complexes, has to be delivered by vehicle? There is no other way in which all the goods that people want and demand in their shops can be delivered. If the price of running a vehicle is high, it will affect the price of the goods in the shops. There is so much to be taken into account in this debate. I sometimes feel that debates across the Chamber on critical subjects affecting all our constituents are sterile and too often about scoring political points.
Let us look at this matter. Transport is vital. We cannot deny people the right to be mobile as part of their job and way of life. Surely we must have a fair tax system. At the moment, that tax system is grossly unfair and weighs particularly heavily on those who are least able to pay. Let us deal with this debate seriously—I ask the House and the Government to do so.
It is always a great pleasure to follow my honourable neighbour, the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), a fellow Cheshire Member. I appreciate the sincerity with which he put his case—and the occasion on which he gave me a lift in his 4.2 litre Range Rover.
I want to explain to the House what happened on the night of 7 September at Stanlow refinery in my constituency—and I hope that hon. Members will listen to my observations and refrain from some of the silly language that has been used during parts of the debate.
Stanlow is a major hazard site to which unimpeded access for emergency vehicles 24 hours a day is vital. The smallest incident at that refinery must, if necessary, be able to be dealt with by the full resources of the north-west fire brigade—including units from further away than the constituency of the hon. Member for Macclesfield. The emergency services need that access in case an incident turns out to be serious.
A few minutes after 10 o'clock on 7 September the refinery was blockaded, and the main oil terminal entrances were physically blocked. That is intolerable as it puts my constituents at physical risk. That is not an acceptable way to conduct a dispute, whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue.
I noticed that in a press report in the Essex Evening Gazette the shadow Transport spokesman's office explained that
They were informed by hauliers that the protest would start this week.
In other words, the shadow Transport spokesman had prior notice of the incidents that were to take place in my constituency and put my constituents at risk. When reading the report of my speech, I hope that he will consider that next time he might have the good grace to tell me, so that I can inform the police and the relevant authorities because of the major safety issues involved.
Intimidation has been mentioned, and there was intimidation. A total of 185 incidents have been collated across the country. They were gathered—[Interruption.] Does the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) wish to intervene?
I apologise for intervening from a sedentary position. I was simply saying that there was prompting from the Government because the Government asked the oil companies to find out. The incidents were not reported to the police. If they had been genuine, they would have been reported at the start.
I made a rather angry intervention on the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). I accept that he knows more than I do about running a supermarket, but I suspect that I know more about cracking oil—and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border knows a little as well.
It is important to understand the safety culture that surrounds those drivers. Quite rightly, under successive Governments safety standards in the oil industry have been driven higher and higher.
No, I will not give way.
That is commendable action by the industry and it needs to continue. In one incident a driver was boxed in with a white van at either end of his vehicle, and was
prevented from proceeding. Is the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border saying that that is not intimidation? Is he saying that the leader of the protest, whom I met at about 3 o'clock in the morning on 8 September, was not being intimidating? I can read from my notes of that meeting—the only notes that exist. The leader of the protest said:
Our only objective is to stop all fuel getting out of the plant…If the riot police move on us tonight, what happened in France will seem like a picnic. I do not care if Stanlow blows up.
Those may be the words of an angry man, but that is not acceptable, and it is intimidation. I wrote to the Leader of the Opposition with my observations and asked him whether he thought that people making such comments were fine upstanding citizens. He ducked the question, saying:
Both police and independent commentators have confirmed that the protests were largely peaceful.
His language was beginning to shift. He went on:
However, on several occasions I made it clear that those organising the blockades should call them off and instead make their protests through the ballot box.
Despite the fact that the shadow Transport spokesman knew about the protest and must have known about the serious risk to my constituents, and despite the fact that it was apparently the view of the Leader of the Opposition on 13 September that people should withdraw, he did not bother to tell the Leader of the Opposition what was going on. Such protests are entirely unacceptable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) advanced an interesting conspiracy theory. I, too, recall the late Norman Buchan—and I know some of his poetry, but I shall not recite it just now. I believe that it is not possible to advance the conspiracy theory too far. The simple fact is that the road being blockaded at Stanlow was a private road. Unfortunately, it belonged not to the Shell oil company but to the Manchester Ship Canal company. At 3 o'clock in the morning it was extremely difficult for the police to find any basis in law on which to act. They eventually did act on the basis of the issues that I have mentioned, and the physical blockade was lifted.
I have seen some splits in my time. I have seen some splits in my party, and I have certainly seen some splits in the Conservative party—but what is clear is the lack of cohesion among the representatives of the farming and haulage industries. When I told the gentlemen leading the fuel protests, whom I met on the night in question, that I had had discussions with the regional officer of the National Farmers Union in Cheshire about some of the issues, they said, "NFU—do you know what those letters stand for?" I shall not say what they said it stood for. Similar remarks were made about the Road Haulage Association.
The Treasury cannot have a rational debate with a disorganised group. There has to be a proper co-ordinated structure. I do not deny that hauliers and farmers have issues that are worthy of raising, but I urge them to raise those issues through the proper channels of the Road Haulage Association, the National Farmers Union and other existing structures.
I tell my right hon. Friend the Minister that the Government will have to address both short and long-term issues. The main short-term issue is how we should respond to rocketing crude oil prices. Just the other day, my domestic fuel tank was filled. Thanks to the Government, there was no VAT or fuel duty on that fuel. Nevertheless, because of the huge increase in the price of crude oil, the price of that domestic fuel has increased from 11p to 24p per litre in the past year.
Something has to be done in the short term. I ask the Government to consider carefully what can be done to continue downward pressure on vehicle excise duty. Such action would ensure that car ownership was not penalised, but it would not remove the pressure on those who drive excessive mileage. The fact that VED is a difficult tax to police, and is evaded by many domestic motorists and hauliers, also suggests that it should be reduced significantly. Additionally, deals could probably be done involving emissions reductions in exchange for vehicle excise duty reductions.
Technology—fuel cells and battery power have already been mentioned in the debate—offers some possible longer-term solutions. As technology advances and the nature of power transmission changes, we will be better able to decide where to find the funds necessary to support our road and other transport infrastructure. People in rural areas who tele-work from home also can benefit from a new strategy.
Today, we are trying to address an immensely complicated issue in a very short debate—[Interruption.] Opposition Members think that the issue is simple. I tell the House that we should get away from direct conflict, which does not assist the debate. As the hon. Member for Macclesfield said, we should get round the negotiating table, to find both short and long-term solutions that serve the interests of all our citizens.
I shall keep my comments short because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.
As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, despite the rhetoric that we have heard from the Government in the past few months, the facts are clear: the Library produced the figures showing that the price of fuel, in extra duty and VAT, has increased massively since this Government were elected. The general public do not see diesel and petrol prices in terms of percentage increases in tax as a proportion of the total price, they simply see increase after increase, tax after tax. They have become ever more frustrated at the Government's inability to handle the situation, and they want the Government to admit at last that they have made mistakes.
The Government have told the public—they told us again today—that the increases are due to the price of oil, the need to put money back into the economy and the need to save the environment, the NHS and the transport network itself. I dread to think what would happen if the Deputy Prime Minister's dream of reducing traffic congestion came true. If the Government had achieved those goals, the economy and our vital services would have ground to a halt.
I think that we all accept that the price of oil has increased greatly. However, that fact only makes the Government's spurious remarks about public services, deficits and jobs more ridiculous. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that by the end of August the increase in the cost of oil had already netted the Chancellor £930 million.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said, under Labour petrol tax has increased while public services have been getting worse. If the Government want to link fuel duty and public services, they have to explain why they have given British motorists the highest petrol prices in Europe while at the same time allowing the waiting list to see a consultant to increase by almost 200,000, class sizes in our schools to increase, police numbers to decrease by 3,000, and roads in Britain to deteriorate to their worst condition in 26 years.
If the Government are really prioritising hospital spending, why do they continue to charge fuel tax on NHS vehicles? Last year, £18.5 million of the NHS budget was clawed back by the Treasury in fuel tax on ambulances and other medical vehicles. What Labour gives with one hand, it takes back with the other. Treasury Ministers might ask themselves how many hip operations or junior doctors that money could have paid for.
We are debating an important subject. During the recess I was contacted by hauliers in my constituency, as other hon. Members were in theirs, and I spent some time talking and listening to them. It is a sad situation. They told me that their livelihoods were being destroyed, and their industry was becoming fiercely uncompetitive. They are at their wits' end. They also told me that no one listens to them. At least I listened. I also gave them my assurance that I would push the Government for answers to the questions that so many of them asked about fuel taxes in Britain.
Hauliers in my constituency told me that they hoped that the Government would not do deals in smoke-filled rooms with the oil companies just to get themselves off the hook of possible future protests. Hauliers want real solutions to real problems, and a long-term plan to ensure that our haulage industry can get back on the toad. The facts are that the price of fuel duty is too high, that the Government can afford to reduce it, and that, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, the haulage industry is on its knees.
Fuel is a vital commodity to my constituents. They use their cars not as a luxury item but to get to work and to the shops, and to get their children to school. They are not impressed by the Government's tired rhetoric or the way in which they continually pass the buck. My postbag, like that of many of my colleagues, has demonstrated the breadth and depth of concern about fuel prices. The view in my constituency is that enough is enough.
A disabled driver in my constituency sent me a copy of a letter that he has written to the Deputy Prime Minister. He wrote:
As a result of this government's policies, many people are trapped in rural areas, with no alternative to the "infernal" combustion engine. You call tax on fuel "indirect tax". You are wrong. When there is no alternative, such a tax becomes very direct and very painful.
The concern expressed in that letter is being echoed across the country.
Another constituent wrote:
I am willing to add my voice to the thousands of others protesting about the unacceptable price of fuel in this country. The general public…have complete solidarity with the activists because we all know that we are being bled dry in this country by indirect taxation. Is the Government trying to kill off what's left of our industry?
I have passed that correspondence to Ministers, and I await their reply. How does the Minister respond to my constituent who sums up the Prime Minister's response to public outrage at the high level of tax in Europe as
pay my price for petrol or walk…?
My constituent continues:
Marie Antoinette took a similar view when the price of bread became unaffordable, and we all know what happened to her.
My constituents will not be impressed by the Government's failure to put forward a senior Minister to answer our and their concerns. They will not be impressed by the Government's stubborn refusal to reduce taxes despite their electoral promises, nor by the fact that the Government are blaming everyone but themselves for a problem that is of their own making.
The Government can call on the police for support. They can call on the armed forces to force through fuel supplies. They can call on motorists to leave their cars at home and struggle to work and school on inadequate public transport—but when the time comes for a general election, the public will have the last call on the Government.
Let me say first that I disagree whole-heartedly with the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I consider hon. Members' car allowances to be extremely generous and I would willingly see them cut if it would encourage hon. Members to use smaller vehicles that are more fuel efficient.
I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is willing to tolerate the bully-boy tactics that resulted in cancelled operations and radiotherapy and losses for business in my constituency. It even provoked the comment from the brother of Brinley Williams, one of the protagonists in the campaign, that he had lost a considerable amount of money. He accused his brother of playground bullying.
My constituency is a large rural area and it has not taken recent events to make me aware of the concerns of many of my constituents who rely heavily on their cars to gain access to essential services. It is an issue that I have been raising with Ministers for the past three and a half years, unlike the Opposition, who have pursued one course in office and another out of office.
Although the Opposition may wish to focus the debate on fuel taxation, a glance at the other underlying issues will show that it is precisely because of their action, or in many cases lack of action, that the United Kingdom faced the problems it did during the protests in September.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to make his own speech. He has intervened many times and I have only 12 minutes.
It is important to look at the underlying issues. They include the declining world oil supplies and the failure of former UK Governments to plan for that decline; the level of continued dependence on fossil fuels and the failure of past UK Governments to invest in alternative energy supplies and to recognise the need to support essential services in rural areas so that people are now more than ever dependent on transport to reach those essential services.
In Pembrokeshire we have two oil refineries, one in my constituency. They were both affected by the blockades in September when protesters held the country to ransom. Other specific issues highlighted at the time included emergency planning, the role of the oil companies in recent events—I shall turn to those in a moment in relation to the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood)—the implications of changes by the previous Tory Government in 1992 to the oil warehousing regulations and whether we are prepared to allow a group of bully boys, however noble they see their cause, holding the country to ransom without any comprehension of the damage that they have caused to others in society.
In relation to dependence on oil, during the protests I received an e-mail from a group of oil experts and academics pointing out that by 2009—only nine years away—it is estimated that world demand for oil will exceed supply. If that is correct, it is inevitable by the very nature of supply and demand economics that oil prices will escalate. That brings me to my second point: the failure of the previous British Government to invest in alternative sources of energy and renewables in particular.
I recently returned from a trip to Denmark with the parliamentary renewable and sustainable energy group. Denmark has a commitment to renewable energy and has already met its target for energy production from renewable sources of 1,500 MW by 2005. The UK is producing only 350 MW from renewable sources.
Until recently, electricity generators were unable to produce energy from wind turbines economically—due, regrettably, to the unfortunate lack of action on the part of the previous Government—unless they applied for sites with wind velocity of between 8.5 and 9 m per second. This put pressure for sites in some of the most wild and beautiful locations in the UK and resulted in 89 per cent. of such applications being refused by planning authorities. The previous Government failed to address the issue.
Only now has the system changed and I am told that energy generation would be viable from sites with wind velocity of 7 m per second. This opens up the possibility of development on redundant and auxiliary power station sites currently not used. These are mainly in industrial settings and do not threaten our wild and beautiful areas. A conversation I had with a representative from National Wind Power on my recent visit to Denmark indicated that this could open up a further 1,000 MW of wind turbine production. Those issues are crucial to the debate and show the extent to which the Opposition, when in government, let the people of the United Kingdom down.
My constituents depend heavily on their cars. In many instances this can be traced back to the action, or lack of action, by the previous Government to support rural dwellers. We have already heard that by 1997 only one in four parishes in rural areas had a daily bus service. The previous Government closed 30 rural schools a year and 3,000 post offices while they were in office. I recall from my own experience as a member of the Dyfed-Powys police authority the closure of rural police stations and the refusal of the previous Government to allow our local police authority to increase the number of officers. The introduction of market forces into health services meant increased centralisation as a result of funding pressures and led to the need for rural dwellers to travel to reach those services.
Fuel taxation—which the Opposition have tried to concentrate on this afternoon—is high and we are faced with a dilemma. I want my constituents to be able to access the services that they need, but we must also have a mind to future generations. If we fail to do that, we are not behaving responsibly.
In 1997 the Tories said on page 386 of their campaign guide:
Fuel duty has been progressively increased since the November 1993 Budget to help fulfil our commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Road fuel duties were increased in both 1995 and 1996 in line with the Government's strategy of annual increases averaging at least 5 per cent.
Why have they suddenly shifted to irresponsibility? It smacks of sitting on the fence and facing both ways depending on which audience they are talking to. Surely the responsible approach to the dilemma of fuel taxation is to use the taxation to restore services in rural areas, to invest in alternative fuels and vehicle technology, to reinvest in renewable energy to meet the future needs of British industry and to target motoring tax breaks at essential car users, such as those in rural areas.
It is also interesting that the Conservative party website refers to fuel prices in Denmark and Holland as being 73p and 75p respectively. I have visited both countries in the past few weeks. Those are indeed the fuel prices, but the Conservative website does not mention that in Denmark income tax starts at 50 per cent. and increases to 75 per cent. while in Holland it starts at 40 per cent. and increases to 55 per cent. That compares with a starting rate of 10p and a standard rate of 22p in the UK.
I now turn to the protests in September and their impact on my local area. The staff at the Elf refinery in Milford Haven were quick thinking and coped extremely well with what could have been a serious safety problem. I cannot praise them enough. Although I have only praise for the local refinery employees, I question the role of the oil companies as multinational organisations in these events. Had it been a trade union dispute, I am sure that there would have been no question of protesters using refinery facilities such as canteens, showers and toilets. I was interested to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale that the same happened elsewhere.
Indeed, when I visited the refinery at the time of the dispute there was a line of Portaloos on the grass verge outside the refinery for the use of the protesters. That is hardly an indication of a spontaneous protest. It is also interesting to note that on 20 September the Evening Gazette reported that the wife of the Opposition Transport spokesman explained that they were away on holiday because they had been informed by hauliers that the protest would take place the following week and they had planned to be back by then. I would like a detailed investigation into the role of the oil companies and others in these protests which caused so much inconvenience and hardship to my constituents.
I am concerned about the shortcomings in emergency planning. Throughout the UK, we have emergency planning teams that look at all sorts of potential incidents. This one was overlooked. I would like the Government to look at the oil warehousing regulations which mean that supermarkets keep a small stock of supplies while oil refineries must keep over 60 days' supply.
Finally, I hope that the House will uphold the principle that bully-boy tactics employed by any group against society as a whole—however noble they feel their cause to be—are unacceptable.
The Government and Labour Members still have not learned, have they? They still have not listened to what is going on out there. We have heard today about thugs, bully boys and blockades. We have heard about conspiracy theories, and hon. Members have been critical of the RHA and the NFU for not pulling together. There cannot be much of a conspiracy if everyone was doing their own thing.
The fact is that those protesting in my constituency were hard-pressed owner-drivers, farmers and rural people. It was a spontaneous and popular uprising against the highest fuel prices in Europe.
The Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), criticised the Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), for not appearing on television. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman did not appear on television. I regard him as an honest and decent Minister. He is too honest for his own good, as he found out on Sunday when he admitted that the Government might bring back the escalator. We saw Ministers getting their orders to go on television and tell whopping big untruths about thuggery, intimidation, violence and the imminent collapse of the health service. There was a whole pile of spin and propaganda. Despite the fact that I think that the right hon. Gentleman has policies that are totally wrong, I know that he is too decent to do that dirty, grubby work for the Government.
We heard today about climate change which, of course, is happening. However, it is not being caused solely and uniquely by Britain. The burden of solving the problem should not fall only on United Kingdom businesses. China, India, the United States—these huge consumers of fossil fuels are putting infinitely more pollution into the atmosphere than Britain and should play their part. Why have the Government decided—and boasted after the Kyoto summit—that Britain would take a heavier share of the burden than anyone else?
Oil prices have risen in the last few months and are now up to approximately $35 a barrel. However, oil is the same price throughout the world. The French are paying the same price for crude oil as we are in Britain, yet their fuel is taxed at least 15p a litre lower than ours. The Germans pay the same price for crude oil and their fuel is taxed at least 20p lower than ours. That is why our people protested and why small business men, farmers and lorry drivers protested against a situation that the Government created.
Although I am happy to defend the Minister for the Environment on many occasions, I cannot defend one aspect of his speech today. He was very careful to pick a finely defined time limit, saying that, in the last 18 months, crude oil prices had risen and therefore that the oil price has had a disproportionate effect, rather than the Government's taxation policies. However, the Government boast that they reinvented history from May 1997 and that a new world order began when they came in. The Government have been in power now for three years and it is perfectly legitimate to compare the price of fuel in May 1997 with the price now. In May 1997, the average price was £2.68 per gallon. In September of this year, the average was £3.91 and there are some parts of the country where the price is more than £4 per gallon.
Since May 1997, it is not the price increase in crude oil that has resulted in us having the highest fuel costs in Europe; it is the extra taxes imposed unfairly by the Government on our motorists and businesses because they want to bring in extra revenue.
We have heard stories today about intimidation and, no doubt, there was some. I deplore it, as everyone does. But it was nothing like on the scale of the gross exaggeration that we are hearing from Labour Members and the Government. If there had been intimidation, the British police service would moved immediately to stop it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman describe as intimidation the names of tanker drivers who wanted to carry out deliveries being given to protesters, who did not threaten the drivers on the line but their families in their homes?
If people were threatening families and individuals in their homes, of course that is intimidation and there would have been some disgraceful examples, which we all deplore. However, the Government are trying to pretend that that was on a massive scale and that everyone was doing it. That is not the case at all, as the police said.
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) complained about the cosy, relaxed atmosphere on the picket line and at protests, with police and protesters having amenable relations. That, of course, was because there was very little violence and intimidation. The police made it clear that if any single driver wanted through, they would move heaven and earth to make sure that that vehicle got through. That is their job.
As the police pointed out after the Prime Minster appeared on television on that Tuesday night—like a startled rabbit caught in the car headlights—to say that the police would get things through, if owner-drivers were asked by protesters not to go through and decided voluntarily not to do so, there was nothing the police could or should do. Any single driver who wanted to get his vehicle through was allowed to do so.
To begin with, some people did pull vehicles across the road. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston was careful in his language and said that, at a certain time on the night of 7 September, there was a blockade. How long did it last? When the police asked those involved to move their vehicles to the side, did that not happen almost instantly? When the police said to protesters that they could not stop vehicles and must stand at the side of the road, did they not, on nearly every single occasion, obey that? Of course they did. The Government cannot pretend that an unrepresentative bunch of people blocked the roads and that people who wanted through were stopped, as that is not the case.
Are not the conspiracy theories which we are now hearing a pitiful example of buck-passing by Labour Members who, for 41 months, have voted for policies that made their local industries less competitive and undermined the living standards of their constituents? Is not it right and proper that they should pay the price on polling day?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those were exactly the words that I intended to use when I came to that portion of my speech.
The Government must realise that when our hauliers, farmers and rural businesses are faced with the highest fuel duty and the highest vehicle excise duties in Europe, as their businesses go bankrupt and people are laid off, of course they will wish to protest about it. They are desperate to save their businesses. The Government have got to accept that that is the case. They must stop their propaganda exercise of looking for conspiracies and trying to colour the picture.
No, I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I must conclude.
The Government are trying to blacken the names of those who are protesting in case there is another dispute. If we are looking for conspiracy theories, we should go back to what happened last week, when the BBC suddenly came up with a programme out of thin air, putting on the airwaves a "Today" programme about the terrible intimidation that had apparently taken place a few weeks before. That intimidation was not reported to the police at the time—indeed, it was denied. When the BBC was asked whether it was put up to it by the Government, a spokesman would not comment.
Well, we have got our answer there. How convenient that, on the morning that the BBC decided that there was an apparent intimidation problem that they had not been able to find before, despite efforts to do so with millions of cameras around the country. The BBC was desperate to find examples of intimidation that it could show on television à la miners' strike. It could not find those examples but, two weeks later, unsubstantiated reports appeared. On the day that the fuel task force met, the Home Secretary was able to talk about threats and intimidation, a few hours after the "Today" programme introduced the issue.
Yes, there was a conspiracy, which relates to Millbank and Downing street. We saw that as Minister after Minister was put up to a propaganda exercise, as well as the disaster of the Secretary of State for Health giving an outrageous line on television, which was later denied by the health authorities. The Government have a chance to listen to the protesters who are deeply worried about their situation. Having been given that chance, the Government should listen and cut duty to the rate that existed at the last Budget. The windfall that they have suddenly got from rising oil prices is the people's money, and they should return it to them.
I realise that time is short and that I must keep my comments to a mere two or three minutes.
This is a serious and important debate. I am disappointed that more Members have not been able to speak and, indeed, that there are few of us in the Chamber. For a variety of reasons, the cost of fuel has caused deep anger and frustration, especially in rural areas. I speak for my constituents in Shrewsbury and Atcham in a very rural part of Shropshire, and I have a long history of supporting rural car users and road hauliers in their bid to reduce the price of fuel.
I would like to put on record the fact that I have had several meetings in London and Shrewsbury with Ministers and road hauliers. I presented a petition to Parliament on this very subject in March 1999 and even went on the national BBC programme "Panorama" to call for Government action.
No, I am sorry; I have one minute left.
I have been criticised by the left of my party, the right of the Conservative party and even the Road Haulage Association, so I feel that I am starting to get something right. The problem is complex and difficult and, as many hon. Members have said, revolves around many factors. There are no easy solutions: we do not need quick-fix Tory tax gimmicks, but well thought out policies.
I shall put the matter in context. My postbag contains far more post from my rural area about health, education and wider transport issues than about the specifics of fuel tax which nevertheless are important. The effects of the tax on rural areas have been underestimated, although in 1997 the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that poor and rural areas bear a disproportionate effect of the high cost of fuel.
I should like to pay tribute to Shropshire's public services for what they did in those seven days in September to bring fuel into the county. I played a small part on the Wednesday evening, when the leader of Shropshire county council told me that not one litre of fuel could get through, and that that was starting to jeopardise essential services, such as day care, home help and the fire service. The Royal Shrewsbury hospital had to cancel operations, schools were closed and there were even food shortages. It was a desperate time.
Some small rural road hauliers have genuinely suffered. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said about overcapacity, but I should like to mention Jim and Tina Jordan, whom I have known for several years. In October 1997, fuel cost them about 28 per cent. of their haulage business's annual turnover of £400,000, but that proportion is now about 40 per cent. Before Opposition Members get too excited, the year before we were elected, the Jordans spent 31 per cent. of their turnover on fuel. Initially, therefore, the Labour Government helped to bring down that cost.
I am calling for urgent action from the Government. We have 19 days to go and I fear that the protesters will be back. We need a far more genuine and sympathetic understanding of the annoyance and anger in rural areas and must pressurise oil companies to reduce profits and educate the public to use cars less. We need international action to pressurise OPEC and the EU. We need targeted help now for rural groups, including small road hauliers, essential car users and low-income groups. We also need a new ministry of rural development to start to co-ordinate rural policy better.
In summary, I urge the Government to act in the pre-Budget report and urge the protesters not to return. Above all, we do not need Tory tax gimmicks, but real action to help my constituents in the countryside.
Listening to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden), I wonder why he voted for the increases in fuel duty.
We heard two contrasting speeches at the opening of this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) delivered an incisive, analytical speech with flair and imagination, in complete contrast to the ducking and weaving of the Minister for the Environment, who has not bothered to turn up for the winding-up speeches. I am not surprised at that—in fact, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is still a Minister after his speech, which left Government policy on the fuel duty escalator in complete tatters.
At the weekend, the right hon. Gentleman made a gaffe in a television studio, when he said that the escalator might be brought back. The Treasury was put on the back foot, and The Independent reported:
No plan to use the fuel escalator, insists Brown…The Chancellor said he had no plans to bring back the fuel duty escalator under which the cost of petrol automatically rose.
The same day, The Guardian said:
Meacher is rebuked for floating fuel tax escalator…Government spokesmen said ministers had no intention of bringing back the escalator.
In a big article, The Daily Telegraph said:
Brown on defensive over fuel escalator…The Chancellor's intervention followed an unguarded remark from Michael Meacher, the environment minister, who suggested that the escalator could be brought back if world oil prices dipped suddenly.
Could the policy be clearer after that statement from the Treasury?
Under pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, the Minister for the Environment talked about the escalator and said that the Government would look at the matter on a case-by-case basis. What does that mean and what is the policy now? How much does the price of fuel have to fall before the Minister will consider the matter on a case-by-case basis? Will the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is replying to the debate and has the benefit of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury sitting beside him, provide clarity on the policy? What is the Government's policy on the escalator?
For millions of people the length and breadth of this country, the car is a necessity, not a luxury. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser) said, that message is hopelessly lost on the Government, who continue to attack the car and its use at every opportunity. Just nine months after the election, the then Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang), was asked "Are you prepared to tax us, to persuade us, force us even to get out of our cars?". He replied, "Yes, indeed." He was as good as his word.
The facts are inescapable. In May 1997, the average cost of unleaded petrol was 59p a litre; today it is about 80p. The amount of tax on a litre of such petrol was 46p in 1997. Today it is 61p—an increase of 34 per cent.—yet the Chancellor consistently blames the high price of oil. He is obviously not aware that Britain has almost the cheapest pre-tax petrol in the European Union. behind Germany. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) noted in his excellent speech, adding on tax causes Britain to leap to the top of the price league, with petrol that is 23 per cent. more expensive than the EU average.
The reason is straightforward. In the Government's first 21 months in power, they held three Budgets and increased petrol by at least 6 per cent. above inflation each time—that is three annual increases in less than two years. In the 1999 Budget, the Chancellor increased diesel duty by 12 per cent., with a devastating effect on hauliers and farmers.
The net upshot is that, under Labour, people are paying about £7 a week more for their petrol, at a time when the old-age pension has gone up by just over £5 a week. There is the rub: this Government are different from Labour Governments of old. Under Denis Healey, Labour was honest—he said that he would tax the rich until the pips squeaked. Six weeks ago, the pips squeaked all right, except that it was not the rich complaining but ordinary people—hard-working families, and struggling pensioners trying to live on the extra 75p a week. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said, the families hit hardest are those on the lowest incomes. The rich can afford £350 a year, but people on low incomes in the Labour party's heartlands are the ones who are feeling it most.
I will not give way; I do not have the time.
As we look back on the 20th century, we see that the motor car has been the most liberating influence of our time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said, it has freed millions to lead their lives as they choose. That freedom is now under attack. The cost of motoring is overtaking the costs of housing and food as the single most expensive item of expenditure in the household budget.
However, the Government's unflinching hostility to the motorist was best illustrated when the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told the "Today" programme on 11 September:
What people need to answer is if they want to see a cut in fuel duty, 2p off a litre is £1 billion of public spending. Where are those cuts going to occur?
That was a plain and straightforward statement by a senior member of the Government. It was straight intimidation of the British public.
The Secretary of State was saying that cuts in fuel tax mean cuts in spending. He got his cue from the Prime Minister, who earlier had said:
Cutting fuel duty by 2p would cost almost £1 billion…but you don't hear them talking about putting up signs outside hospitals saying the numbers of doctors and nurses will have to be cut because the Government doesn't have enough money.
What both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry were saying was that cuts in fuel duty as a result of continued protest would lead to cuts in public expenditure. Labour Back Benchers quoted that statement like parrots, and according to them schools and hospitals were all under threat—what absolute bunk.
It has been authoritatively reported that, with tax revenues overshooting and Departments underspending, the public sector financial surplus will be huge. Ernst and Young estimates it at £16 billion this year, £10 billion more than the Treasury expected. I see a smile on the face of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
The windfall from the rising price of crude oil will be substantial. The House of Commons Library has been advised by the Inland Revenue that a 30 per cent. increase in the world oil price to $29 a barrel would raise North sea revenues by around £1.7 billion in a full year—a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham.
The oil price today is at well over $31 a barrel, and the Treasury has the extra bonus—
Let us therefore have no more rubbish from the Government about their being unable to afford to make a cut in fuel duty because public expenditure will have to be cut as a result.
The Government's handling of the fuel crisis was lamentable. They were taken by surprise. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield said in his excellent speech, the Government were out of touch. They were not listening to our road hauliers and farmers, whose livelihoods were being destroyed, nor to hard-pressed businesses and families hit by Labour stealth taxes. The Government did not listen to the nurse going to her night duty, to the mother picking up her children from school, or to the pensioner nipping down to the shops. For all those people, the car is a part of their lives.
The Government did not listen to a nation that said, "Enough is enough." During the crisis, it took them four days to find out what was going on. The pumps in Sedgefield were closed. My mother-in-law was seen walking down London's Cromwell road with an empty fuel can, but it was not until the luvvies of Islington could not get to the delicatessen to buy their sun-dried tomatoes that the Government knew that they had a crisis on their hands.
Asked why he thought there was widespread discontent, the Prime Minister said, "Well, I hear the occasional story of that." He should get out more. He said, "Leave it to me. In 24 hours, everything will be back to normal." However, the next day things were even worse.
The Prime Minister was busy saying, "Crisis, what crisis?" I will tell the House what sort of crisis it was: it was a crisis of judgment, management and, above all, trust. If the public cannot trust the Government, they will quickly replace them with a party that they can trust. How can people trust the Labour party when the Deputy Prime Minister behaves as he does? The Daily Mail last Friday carried a story headlined, "Prescott's public transport strategy: He takes the train, his luggage goes by Jaguar". When his spokesman was asked about that, he said that the Deputy Prime Minister liked to travel by public transport.
The Conservative party has long argued for lower taxes in general, and for lower taxes on petrol and diesel in particular. We support the Confederation of British Industry's call for a cut in fuel tax. If we were in government now, we would not be cutting fuel duty—we would not need to, as we would never have got into this position in the first place.
The Conservative party has consistently believed that fuel taxes should be lower, and we have voted against the increases in fuel duty. Between now and the next election, the Chancellor has the opportunity to reduce taxes. If he can, he should; if he will not, we will.
It is worth reminding the Opposition of a few basic facts. The previous Conservative Government introduced the fuel duty escalator in 1993 at 3 per cent. but raised it to 5 per cent. in the same year. Figures published with their last Budget showed that the escalator would carry on.
Our much-thumbed copy of the Conservatives' campaign guide for the 1997 election stated:
Fuel duty has been progressively increased since the November 1993 Budget to help fulfil our commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels—
not a matter that we have heard much about from them this afternoon. The document went on to talk about that being in line with the previous Conservative Government's strategy of
annual increases averaging at least 5 per cent.
That is the basis on which they hoped to be elected. If we had carried on with the previous Government's fuel escalator, taxes on fuel would be higher than they are now. However, we abolished the fuel duty escalator, and we have reduced the rates of vehicle excise duty for 4 million motorists.
The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) said that the Conservative party argues for lower taxes. That may be true, but it does not deliver them when in government. The previous Conservative Government solemnly pledged that there would be no tax increases, but then they introduced 22 Tory tax rises—the largest number ever. That is the record of the Conservative party, and people have not forgotten it.
However, the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), the shadow Chancellor, yesterday told a House of Lords Select Committee that he would scrap the independence of the Bank of England in setting interest rates if he thought that it was being incompetent. Frankly, when one compares what happened when the shadow Chancellor was Chief Secretary to the Treasury with the record over the past three and a half years of the Monetary Policy Committee that this Government established, there is little doubt about whose judgment most people would trust. How can anybody now have any confidence of stability in interest rate arrangements under a Conservative Government? Even now, they have not learned the lessons of boom and bust. They would simply repeat the same mistakes all over again.
We have had to make some tough choices over the past three and a half years. Those tough choices have delivered unprecedented economic stability, benefiting all parts of the United Kingdom. We have put public finances back on track. We have converted a £27 billion deficit at the time of the election into a £16 billion debt repayment last year.
The results are clear: last week's unemployment figures were down to levels that we have not seen since the 1970s. By reducing debt and cutting unemployment, we can allocate money that under the Conservatives would have gone to debt charges and unemployment benefits to better public services instead—schools, hospitals, transport. That has happened not despite the decisions that we have made on taxation but because of them. That means no irresponsible lurches on tax policy and no reckless moves to jeopardise this vital new stability in the economy, which is so important for the future of all of us.
We entirely understand the concern over high fuel prices which has been expressed in recent weeks. We are listening to road hauliers, petroleum retailers, motoring organisations and members of the public. I particularly take the points made about those in rural areas. We have been listening carefully to them.
Let us look at the record on the haulage industry, to which a number of hon. Members have rightly drawn attention, including the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). Let us see how the haulage sector fared under the previous Government. Let us compare the most recent year—1999–2000—with 1992–93, when the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea, became Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In that year, bankruptcies in road transport ran at nearly twice the current level. Company liquidations were more than twice the current level. The figures were more than last year's level in every year while the right hon. Gentleman was at the Treasury. That was the price that the road transport industry paid for Tory boom and bust—twice the pain of today. Of course, it was not only the haulage industry that suffered but the entire economy. No, there will be no going back to Tory boom and bust.
The Lex Transfleet report on the Freight 2000 survey shows that haulage firms, on the whole, in the United Kingdom are planning expansion in the coming 12 months. The report concludes:
this illustrates some optimism in the industry.
As hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, some parts of the haulage industry have serious problems, and I will come back to them shortly. However, the last thing that hauliers need is a return to the Tory instability of the past.
As well as their success in managing the economy, the Government have also been right to use the tax system for environmental objectives, in the way described by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment at the start of the debate. We have provided duty cuts for cleaner fuels and lower vehicle excise duty for cleaner cars. We have successfully used fuel duty incentives to improve local air quality, through duty differentials for ultra-low sulphur diesel and the new one for ultra-low sulphur petrol which has taken effect this month.
To answer the point made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), we have a low rate of duty for road fuel gases. This morning I met promoters of bio-diesel. We are interested in fuel cells and other developments as well.
The overall increases in fuel duties in recent years have played an important role too. They have given clear incentives to design more fuel-efficient vehicles, limit unnecessary journeys and consider alternatives to the car. Those have played a significant part in putting us on track to meet our Kyoto commitments. Real-terms increases in fuel duties between 1996 and 1999 will produce savings of between 1 and 2.5 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2010. That is a substantial contribution to achieving our climate change objectives, and a contribution that I believe all Members will welcome.
Fuel prices have risen since the Budget, as they have in the rest of the world in response to the actions of OPEC and to demand and supply in the global oil markets. The right response is to address the source of the increase, which is OPEC. That is why the Government have been taking international action to help persuade OPEC to increase the supply of oil and to take steps to bring down its price. We look forward to an enhanced dialogue between oil producers and consumers at the international energy forum next month in Riyadh. We welcome OPEC's recent production increases, and we want it to deliver existing commitments to increase output again and to take additional measures if prices remain unsustainably high.
Rural communities are typically more dependent on the car, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) said. That is one of the reasons we have reduced VED on small cars. For many people, a car is a necessity, but even in rural areas many people are without a car. There can be acute travel problems for those in rural areas seeking work, young people, elderly people and those with a disability if they do not have access to a car. That is why we are so committed to supporting public transport in rural areas. That is why the 10-year investment programme in transport is so important in both rural and urban areas.
Let me say a little more about haulage. We are committed to a strong and successful road haulage industry. We have been listening carefully to hauliers and other businesses over recent weeks to ensure that we understand fully the pressures that they face. I have taken part in a number of those discussions, and three things are very clear. First, the way in which fuel prices affect haulage firms varies according to their circumstances. Some firms can pass on higher costs but others simply cannot. Secondly, the competitive pressures affecting the industry depend only in part on the level of fuel prices. There is some evidence of overcapacity in parts of the industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) pointed out. However, there is also a shortage of trained drivers, the industry's most valuable asset.
My hon. Friend's comments tend to back up what was said at the 30 discussions I have had with haulage firms in my constituency. If he wants to know the views of the many haulage firms in Cleethorpes, I will send him the results of the survey. It mentions overcapacity, lack of drivers and competitive pressures in addition to fuel costs.
I will not give way again. The hon. Member for Croydon, South did not give way.
All those issues have been raised with us in the road haulage forum that we established more than a year ago and of which I am a member. We meet regularly with representatives of the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, the Transport and General Workers Union and others in the industry. The forum has proved very constructive in helping shape our approach to the haulage industry.
We have, for example, reduced vehicle excise duty on lorries facing the most intense international competition. We reduced the industry's vehicle excise duty bill by £45 million in the previous Budget. That is why the Freight Transport Association maintained at the time of the Budget that
for transport this has been a positive Budget—the morale in the industry is a whole lot better off.
It is worth recalling that The Daily Telegraph called the Budget
the most motorist-friendly in 8 years.
The Automobile Association said:
this is the first time drivers can take some heart from a Budget in over seven years.
We are committed to securing a strong and successful United Kingdom haulage industry. The kind of direct action that we saw in September, however, is not the way to influence the Government. I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) for his account of what happened in his constituency. Nobody in the House should wish the Government to take decisions in response to such action.
At the beginning of the debate, the House will have been dismayed by the refusal of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells to condemn intimidation—as all of us certainly should do. The Government will make their decision in Budgets, not in response to blockades. The key priorities for hard-working families, for hauliers and for businesses throughout the country are to lock in the new stability, which provides a platform for building a more prosperous Britain and has already achieved the lowest levels of unemployment for a generation, and to take steps to address the environmental challenges that we all face. The Government are delivering on those priorities; they will be at the heart of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's pre-Budget report when he delivers it to the House in two weeks' time.
|Division No. 311]||[7 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)|
|Baldry, Tony||Key, Robert|
|Beggs, Roy||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Bercow, John||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Blunt, Crispin||Lansley, Andrew|
|Body, Sir Richard||Leigh, Edward|
|Boswell, Tim||Letwin, Oliver|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Brady, Graham||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Brazier, Julian||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Loughton, Tim|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Butterfill, John||MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew|
|Cash, William||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Madel, Sir David|
|Chope, Christopher||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Clappison, James||Malins, Humfrey|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Maples, John|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Mates, Michael|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Collins, Tim||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Moss, Malcolm|
|Cran, James||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Norman, Archie|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Day, Stephen||Page, Richard|
|Donaldson, Jeffrey||Paice, James|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Paterson, Owen|
|Duncan, Alan||Pickles, Eric|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Prior, David|
|Evans, Nigel||Randall, John|
|Faber, David||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Fabricant, Michael||Robathan, Andrew|
|Flight, Howard||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Fox, Dr Liam||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Fraser, Christopher||Shepherd, Richard|
|Gale, Roger||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Garnier, Edward||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Gibb, Nick||Soames, Nicholas|
|Gill, Christopher||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Spring, Richard|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Gray, James||Steen, Anthony|
|Green, Damian||Streeter, Gary|
|Greenway, John||Swayne, Desmond|
|Grieve, Dominic||Syms, Robert|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hammond, Philip||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Hawkins, Nick||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Hayes, John||Thompson, William|
|Heald, Oliver||Townend, John|
|Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David||Tredinnick, David|
|Horam, John||Trend, Michael|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Walter, Robert|
|Hunter, Andrew||Waterson, Nigel|
|Wells, Bowen||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Whitney, Sir Raymond||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Whittingdale, John||Yeo, Tim|
|Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Wilkinson, John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Willetts, David||Mr. Peter Luff and|
|Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)|
|Alexander, Douglas||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Allan, Richard||Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)|
|Allen, Graham||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Clelland, David|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Clwyd, Ann|
|Ashton, Joe||Coaker, Vernon|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Baker, Norman||Cohen, Harry|
|Ballard, Jackie||Coleman, Iain|
|Banks, Tony||Colman, Tony|
|Barnes, Harry||Connarty, Michael|
|Barron, Kevin||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Corbett, Robin|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Corston, Jean|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Cotter, Brian|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Cox, Tom|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)||Cranston, Ross|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)||Crausby, David|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Benton, Joe||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)|
|Best, Harold||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Betts, Clive||Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Blair, Rt Hon Tony||Dalyell, Tam|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Blizzard, Bob||Darvill, Keith|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Borrow, David||Davidson, Ian|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Dawson, Hilton|
|Brake, Tom||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Breed, Colin||Denham, John|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Dismore, Andrew|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Dobbin, Jim|
|Browne, Desmond||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Doran, Frank|
|Burden, Richard||Dowd, Jim|
|Burnett, John||Drew, David|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Cable, Dr Vincent||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Edwards, Huw|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Efford, Clive|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Ennis, Jeff|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Fearn, Ronnie|
|Caplin, Ivor||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Casale, Roger||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Caton, Martin||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Cawsey, Ian||Flint, Caroline|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Follett, Barbara|
|Chaytor, David||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Chidgey, David||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Clapham, Michael||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)||Lammy, David|
|Foulkes, George||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Galloway, George||Laxton, Bob|
|Gapes, Mike||Lepper, David|
|Gardiner, Barry||Leslie, Christopher|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Levitt, Tom|
|George, Bruce (Walsall S)||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Gerrard, Neil||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen|
|Gidley, Sandra||Linton, Martin|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Lock, David|
|Goggins, Paul||Love, Andrew|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||McCafferty, Ms Chris|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Macdonald, Calum|
|Grocott, Bruce||McDonnell, John|
|Grogan, John||McFall, John|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Hancock, Mike||McIsaac, Shona|
|Hanson, David||McKenna, Mrs Rosemary|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Harris, Dr Evan||Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert|
|Harvey, Nick||McNamara, Kevin|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||McNulty, Tony|
|Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)||MacShane, Denis|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||McWalter, Tony|
|Hepburn, Stephen||McWilliam, John|
|Heppell, John||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||Mallaber, Judy|
|Hill, Keith||Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hodge, Ms Margaret||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Hood, Jimmy||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)|
|Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Hope, Phil||Martlew, Eric|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Maxton, John|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Meacher, Rt Hon Michael|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Meale, Alan|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Merron, Gillian|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Michael, Rt Hon Alun|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Hurst, Alan||Miller, Andrew|
|Hutton, John||Mitchell, Austin|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Moffatt, Laura|
|Illsley, Eric||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Moore, Michael|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Jenkins, Brian||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Morley, Elliot|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)||Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)||Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)|
|Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Mountford, Kali|
|Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)||Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Mullin, Chris|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Norris, Dan|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Oaten, Mark|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Keetch, Paul||O'Hara, Eddie|
|Kemp, Fraser||Olner, Bill|
|Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Organ, Mrs Diana|
|Khabra, Piara S||Osborne, Ms Sandra|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Pearson, Ian|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Pendry, Tom|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Pickthall, Colin||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Pike, Peter L||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Pond, Chris||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Pope, Greg||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Pound, Stephen||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce||Temple—Morris, Peter|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Raynsford, Nick||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)||Timms, Stephen|
|Rendel, David||Tipping, Paddy|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)||Todd, Mark|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Rogers, Allan||Touhig, Don|
|Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff||Trickett, Jon|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Roy, Frank||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Ruane, Chris||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Ruddock, Joan||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Tyler, Paul|
|Ryan, Ms Joan||Tynan, Bill|
|Salter, Martin||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Sanders, Adrian||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Sarwar, Mohammad||Wareing, Robert N|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Watts, David|
|Sawford, Phil||Webb, Steve|
|Shaw, Jonathan||White, Brian|
|Sheerman, Barry||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Singh, Marsha||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Skinner, Dennis||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)||Willis, Phil|
|Smith, Angela (Basildon)||Wills, Michael|
|Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)||Winnick, David|
|Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Wood, Mike|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Woodward. Shaun|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Woolas, Phil|
|Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)||Worthington, Tony|
|Soley, Clive||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Squire, Ms Rachel||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Starkey, Dr Phyllis||Wyatt, Derek|
|Stevenson, George||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E)||Mr. David Jamieson and|
|Mr. Mike Hall|
|Division No. 312]||[7.15 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Atkins, Charlotte|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Banks, Tony|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Barnes, Harry|
|Alexander, Douglas||Barron, Kevin|
|Allen, Graham||Bayley, Hugh|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Begg, Miss Anne|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Bell, Martin (Tatton)|
|Ashton, Joe||Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Benton, Joe||Edwards, Huw|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Efford, Clive|
|Berry, Roger||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Best, Harold||Ennis, Jeff|
|Betts, Clive||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Blair, Rt Hon Tony||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Flint, Caroline|
|Blizzard, Bob||Follett, Barbara|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Borrow, David||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Foulkes, George|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Galloway, George|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Gapes, Mike|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Gardiner, Barry|
|Browne, Desmond||George, Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Gerrard, Neil|
|Burden, Richard||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Godman, Dr Norman A|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Goggins, Paul|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Campbell—Savours, Dale||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Casale, Roger||Grocott, Bruce|
|Caton, Martin||Grogan, John|
|Cawsey, Ian||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Hanson, David|
|Chaytor, David||Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet|
|Clapham, Michael||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Heppell, John|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Hewitt, Ms Patricia|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Hill, Keith|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Hood, Jimmy|
|Clelland, David||Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Clwyd, Ann||Hope, Phil|
|Coaker, Vernon||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Cohen, Harry||Howells, Dr Kim|
|Colman, Tony||Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)|
|Connarty, Michael||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)||Hurst, Alan|
|Corbett, Robin||Hutton, John|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|Corston, Jean||Illsley, Eric|
|Cox, Tom||Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)|
|Cranston, Ross||Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)|
|Crausby, David||Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)|
|Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)||Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)|
|Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Darling, Rt Hon Alistair||Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Davidson, Ian||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Dawson, Hilton||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)|
|Denham, John||Kemp, Fraser|
|Dismore, Andrew||Kennedy. Jane (Wavertree)|
|Dobbin, Jim||Khabra, Piara S|
|Dobson, Rt Hon Frank||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Doran, Frank||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Dowd, Jim||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Drew, David||Lammy, David|
|Drown, Ms Julia||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Laxton, Bob||Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce|
|Lepper, David||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Leslie, Christopher||Raynsford, Nick|
|Levitt, Tom||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen||Rogers, Allan|
|Linton, Martin||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Lock, David||Rowlands, Ted|
|Love, Andrew||Ruane, Chris|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Ruddock, Joan|
|McCabe, Steve||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Ryan, Ms Joan|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Salter, Martin|
|Macdonald, Calum||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|McDonnell, John||Savidge, Malcolm|
|McFall, John||Sawford, Phil|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Shaw, Jonathan|
|McIsaac, Shona||Sheerman, Barry|
|McKenna, Mrs Rosemary||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|McNamara, Kevin||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|McNulty, Tony||Skinner, Dennis|
|MacShane, Denis||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|McWalter, Tony||Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Mallaber, Judy||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Soley, Clive|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Marshall—Andrews, Robert||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Martlew, Eric||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Maxton, John||Stevenson, George|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Meale, Alan||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Merron, Gillian||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Michael, Rt Hon Alun||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Miller, Andrew||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Mitchell, Austin||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Moffatt, Laura||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Morley, Elliot||Temple—Morris, Peter|
|Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Mountford, Kali||Timms, Stephen|
|Mudie, George||Tipping. Paddy|
|Mullin, Chris||Todd, Mark|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||Touhig, Don|
|Norris, Dan||Trickett, Jon|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|O'Hara, Eddie||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Olner, Bill||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|O'Neill, Martin||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Organ, Mrs Diana||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Osborne, Ms Sandra||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||Tynan, Bill|
|Pearson, Ian||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Pendry, Tom||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Perham, Ms Linda||Wareing, Robert N|
|Pickthall, Colin||Watts, David|
|Pike, Peter L||White, Brian|
|Pond, Chris||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Pope, Greg||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Pound, Stephen||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Wills, Michael|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Winnick, David|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Wood, Mike||Wyatt, Derek|
|Worthington, Tony||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)||Mr. David Jamieson and|
|Wright, Tony (Cannock)||Mr. Mike Hall.|
|Allan, Richard||Heald, Oliver|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)|
|Baker, Norman||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Ballard, Jackie||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Beggs, Roy||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Blunt, Crispin||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Keetch, Paul|
|Boswell, Tim||Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing E)|
|Brady, Graham||Key, Robert|
|Brake, Tom||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Brazier, Julian||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Breed, Colin||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Leigh, Edward|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Letwin, Oliver|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Burnett, John||Livsey, Richard|
|Butterfill, John||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Cable, Dr Vincent||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Loughton, Tim|
|McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Cash, William||MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew|
|Chidgey, David||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Chope, Christopher||Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert|
|Clappison, James||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Collins, Tim||Malins, Humfrey|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Maples, John|
|Cotter, Brian||Mates, Michael|
|Cran, James||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Moore, Michael|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Day, Stephen||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Donaldson, Jeffrey||Norman, Archie|
|Duncan, Alan||Oaten, Mark|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Faber, David||Öpik, Lembit|
|Fabricant, Michael||Ottaway, Richard|
|Fearn, Ronnie||Paice, James|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Paterson, Owen|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Pickles, Eric|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Fraser, Christopher||Prior, David|
|Garnier, Edward||Randall, John|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Gibb, Nick||Rendel, David|
|Gidley, Sandra||Robathan, Andrew|
|Gill, Christopher||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Gray, James||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Green, Damian||Sanders, Adrian|
|Greenway, John||Shepherd, Richard|
|Grieve, Dominic||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Hammond, Philip||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Hancock, Mike||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Harris, Dr Evan||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Harvey, Nick||Steen, Anthony|
|Hayes, John||Swayne, Desmond|
|Syms, Robert||Wells, Bowen|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)||Whittingdale, John|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy||Willetts, David|
|Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)||Willis, Phil|
|Tonge, Dr Jenny||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Tredinnick, David||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Trend, Michael||Yeo, Tim|
|Tyler, Paul||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Walter, Robert||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Waterson, Nigel||Mr. Peter Luff and|
|Webb, Steve||Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.|
That this House applauds the tough, long-term economic decisions taken by the Government to create a platform of stability on which to invest in education, health, transport and law and order, building a Britain where there is opportunity and security for all; recognises the difficulty that has been caused to some sectors of the economy due to the rapid increase in world oil prices over the past 18 months; welcomes the Government's determination to set its economic and fiscal policy within the context of the normal budget and democratic processes; deplores the previous Government's record of boom and bust and under-investment in the nation's vital public services; notes that the proportion of the cost of petrol accounted for by VAT and duty is lower than when this Government took office in May 1997; welcomes the Government's environmental record which has seen Britain lead the world in the fight against global warming; and welcomes the Government's 10-year plan to modernise the nation's transport system, cut congestion, deliver real choice and see a 42 per cent. real term's increase in spending.