Fuel Protests

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:36 pm on 25th October 2000.

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Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 6:36 pm, 25th October 2000

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.