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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 1:41 pm, 24th March 2011

There has been some confusion on this over the past 24 hours. We know from the OBR that it was told of the 1p cut in fuel duty so late that it could not even get it into its economic forecast. The Chancellor realised at the weekend that he was behind the curve, that he was not setting the agenda, that living standards were a rising issue and that Labour was making the case for fuel tax cuts, so he jumped in late with his 1p cut, but he did not have the courage to reverse his 3p rise. That is the reality. Had the Chancellor done things properly—I can give him some advice on this, because I know how to do things properly on North sea oil tax—he would have consulted the oil companies in plenty of time, explained what was happening, made the case, got their agreement, and then announced the policy in the Budget. I think that many of the oil companies did not find out about it until it was announced in the Budget. That was the problem.

Yesterday afternoon the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—as always, he is not here—was on a television programme about the Budget. He was asked, “How will you stop the oil companies simply passing on the cost in consumer prices?” He said that he did not know, but that he would monitor the oil companies closely. That was the problem. The Government did not do the work, and this was cobbled together at the last minute. That is why it has caused so much confusion and consternation in the past 24 hours. He needed a headline and a flourish to his speech, but he did not want to announce that they were cutting the winter fuel allowance—an announcement we would never have had at the end of a Labour Budget—so instead he announced a cobbled-together, last-minute 1p cut in petrol tax.

The Chancellor is not listening.