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Chris Grayling rose

Mr. Boateng: I fear that more wind is blowing in our direction.

Chris Grayling: The Minister said that the road haulage industry welcomed the proposals. However, it has said that it is extremely anxious about the time that it may take to introduce such as scheme. In the absence of a scheme, it faces several years of continuing competitive disadvantage. Can he provide reassurance on that point?

Mr. Boateng: The industry has said no such thing; it says that it is important to get the scheme right because we must ensure that it maintains its competitiveness. It welcomes the close working relationship that it has enjoyed with the Government since 1997. We would drive a coach and horses through that if we accepted any of the Opposition's amendments. I do not intend to do so, and I urge the Committee to reject the amendments, should the Opposition be foolish enough to put them to a vote.

Mr. Chope: The Financial Secretary blusters too much. His explanation implied that some foreign lorries may not be subject to the charge. Why should that happen? It could happen if there were no reciprocal arrangement and no requirements for interoperability. Some foreign lorries that do not have the necessary technological equipment on board and which could not be made subject to the charge would be able to continue to use our roads, in competition with our own hauliers, without having to pay towards the cost of those roads.

8.15 pm

The fact that the Minister is not prepared to accept amendment No. 32 must ring alarm bells in the British haulage industry. It will lead hauliers to believe that although the Chancellor says that hauliers from overseas should pay their fair share, the Financial Secretary is not prepared to commit himself to ensuring that all foreign lorries will be subject to such a charge. I find his response on that extremely unsatisfactory and probably rather revealing.

The Financial Secretary says that there will be offsetting tax reductions—a suitably vague expression. It is very hard to hold somebody to account for breaking a commitment to providing offsetting tax reductions. The Whip on the Treasury Bench smiles knowingly, but such language is so much part of new Labour. The Government say something that is designed to give the impression that the road haulage industry will not suffer any additional tax as a result of the measure, but they are using words that will enable them to wriggle later and use the measure to impose those very taxes.

When we see the Government's record, is it any surprise that we are suspicious? That is why we drafted an amendment that sets out precisely in legal terms what the Financial Secretary said to the hauliers at his meeting with them in January this year: that there would not be any additional costs for them, compared with the existing duty regime. The Financial Secretary shakes his head, but I am told that that is what was said at that meeting.

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Amendment No. 30 gives the Financial Secretary the opportunity to put on the record and in legislation the terms of his commitment. He is right—it would bind his successors. However, if a commitment is made to a major reform such as this, which necessitates the co-operation of the road haulage industry, it is important that that should be carried forward on the basis of mutual trust. What the right hon. Gentleman said in response to the arguments in support of amendment No. 30 will not have enhanced that trust and will make the haulage industry much more suspicious.

I hope the Financial Secretary will recognise that what he said tonight will not have increased the trust between the road haulage industry and the Government. I hope that he will subsequently be able to put that right.

Mr. Boateng: Everything that we have said tonight is consistent with what we have shared with the road haulage industry over many, many months. Our commitment is to its competitiveness and to ensuring that we get a scheme that delivers to the industry what it seeks—equal, fair treatment with foreign road hauliers. That was our manifesto commitment, and our proposal will deliver it practically and in a way that enhances and strengthens the competitiveness of the road haulage industry, which does a great job for the country and which has widely welcomed the proposal. With his contribution tonight, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has done nothing to enhance his own credibility and that of his party with the industry.

Mr. Chope: Why are we having a war of words about a matter that should be non-controversial? [Interruption.] My hon. Friends say that we may have to press the matter to a Division. When is the measure to be introduced? The Financial Secretary told the road haulage industry that it will be brought in by March 2006, yet he is not prepared to sign up to an amendment which states that that is the date by which it should be brought in.

Mr. Boateng: The measure could be brought in in 2005—as quickly as possible—[Interruption]

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order.

Mr. Chope: If that is the Financial Secretary's commitment, there is no reason why he should not accept amendment No. 31, which states that the measure should be

If he introduces the measure in the spring of 2005, so much the better.

It is symptomatic of the arrogance of this Government that they are not prepared to agree to these modest amendments. If it is not the will of the Committee to vote on them now, hon. Members may well wish to return to them at another stage. The Financial Secretary will then have a chance to reflect with the road haulage industry on the words that he has uttered tonight. When the industry has had a chance to work out what those words amount to, it may insist that we put the issue to the vote on Report, so that it can have the assurances that it seeks. Meanwhile I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 134 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Bill (Clauses 4, 19, 23, 26 to 29, 87 to 92, 131 and 134 and Schedules Nos. 1, 5 and 38) reported, without amendment; to lie upon the Table.


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

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Environmental Protection

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),


Question agreed to.



9 May 2002 : Column 401


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