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Mr. Jones: Like my hon. Friend, I welcome that change. Is he, too, looking forward to seeing those on the Conservative Front Bench getting rid of their gas-guzzling cars and following the great example set by their leader in choosing an ecologically friendly Government car?
When I cycled into the House of Commons yesterday morning, I was interested to see a large number of Conservative Front Benchers also coming in by bike. I am sure that that was not a one-off
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gesture purely for the purposes of Budget day, and I am equally sure that we shall soon see hon. Members from across the House following their excellent example.
If we can achieve public consensus on an increase in vehicle excise duty on cars that consume more fuel, perhaps we can now start moving into a political space where we can take the even more difficult decisions that will be necessary to tackle climate change, particularly in terms of transport.
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government's green taxes have not kept pace with inflation, and that they have actually fallen as a proportion of people's expenditure? If we are serious about introducing green taxes to encourage people to use more environmentally friendly cars or aeroplanes, they need to be uprated fairly regularly.
We will have to revisit the level of tax on fuel for motor vehicles. However, the Chancellor said yesterday that he would delay the decision on an increase in fuel duty until later this year by continuing the freeze until 1 September, and there are good reasons for doing so. The present high level of world oil prices will clearly have had a bearing on that decision, which is understandable. However, I would not be surprised if there was a concern somewhere in the Chancellor's mind about the possible political consequences were we to return to a regular uprating of vehicle fuel duty.
If we seriously look at the issue, we will all know that, in spite of recent increases, the cost of motoring in real terms has gone down over the longer term and that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions as a result of increases in road traffic has been an important contributor to the UK's overall greenhouse gas position. One of the most powerful factors influencing the extent of use of motor vehicles is the cost of motoring. We cannot get away from that. We all know that it is true.
If we are really serious, we have to do something about the problem. Yet again, we have not heard any serious suggestions from those on the Opposition Front Benches about what we might do to recognise that reality. We certainly did not get them from those on the Conservative Front Bench. When the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) was not in the Chamber, I quoted from the comments made by the Liberal Democrat leader in the Budget debate yesterday. He criticised the new vehicle excise duty on 4x4s as being a very limited measure. I made the point that the impression that we gained from the comment made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats and repeated elsewhere during the day was that he was against the measure because it did not go far enough. He was in favourso it would appearof a higher increase in vehicle excise duty. That is certainly in line with what the hon. Member for Rochdale has just said. He nods so he seems to agree that he would like to see higher vehicle excise duty on the top-range vehicles.
When I pressed this point with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland earlier in the debate, he seemed to say that he was not in favour of an increase in tax on the
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high fuel-consuming vehicles in certain circumstances. He seemed to say that he would be against such a measure in remote and rural areas. One suspects that there is a close correlation between remote and rural areas and Liberal Democrat constituencies. Once again, we see the Liberal Democrat tendency to talk green at one level, but to explain to their constituents that it will not really affect them. Someone else will be green, but not them.
Paul Rowen: I apologise for not being in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) made his remarks. I was in the Standing Committee considering the Road Safety Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who owns a Jaguar, made it clear that there should be a higher tax on his car. However, we must draw a distinction between farmers who may need a Range Rover to do their jobthey can be recognised, and they are already exempt through the red diesel provisionand those who use their car for leisure. Exemptions could be made in certain circumstances. That is the point that my right hon. and learned Friend was making.The general point is that there must be a proper discussion about the use of green taxes if we are going to get people
Mark Lazarowicz: The point that I was making rather meekly was that the Liberal Democrat policy was to be in favour of being green in general, but not of being green in particular. I shall leave the House to decide whether the hon. Gentleman has refuted my assertion.
Mark Lazarowicz: I cannot but agree. The position of the Liberal Democrats has been of some interest to the House, and I notice that, at the end of yesterday's debate, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who also speaks for the Liberal Democrats on these issues, seemed to endorse the proposal from the Energy Saving Trust for the increase in VED at the top end of the range to go up to £2,000 rather than £200. That appears to be the direction of their policy, but no doubt it would not apply to Liberal Democrat voters living in Liberal Democrat constituencies.
Mr. Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that for the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), drives a large Jaguarclearly, he does not transport sheep around in itthe challenge would be to give up that vehicle as a good example for the green lobby in this country?
The leader of the Liberal Democrats happens to be a constituent of mine, and I
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must admit that I have not seen him drive his Jaguar around the constituency with sheep or anything else in it. I shall leave it to him to make his choice.
In directing my comments at the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and, for that matter, Scottish National party and Unionist Members, my purpose is to say that if we are to get a genuinely comprehensive approach to controlling emissions from motor vehicles, we must address the cost of motoring. Unless that cost gradually increases, we will see increasing use of motor vehicles, with the consequential effect on CO 2 emissions. If hon. Members accept that, as I am sure that they would, it is fair for me to ask them to give a guarantee to the House. Were the Chancellor, later this year, to go ahead with the increase in fuel duty, would they back him in that decision and not jump on a bandwagon with all sorts of unsavoury individuals to say why they cannot support an increase in that particular case?
Mr. Graham Stuart: The hon. Gentleman demeans his green reputation by playing party politics to cover up the Government's failure. There are serious points to be made in this debate, and he is more than capable of making them. Is he aware that this year, for the first time in a number of years, the CO 2 emissions impact of the United Kingdom's newly bought vehicle fleet is worse than that of the previous year's fleet? That is an unfortunate turn for the worse under this Government.
Mark Lazarowicz: I was not trying to go too far down the road of making party political points, but the nature of the Chamber tends to encourage one to do that. My fundamental point is that if we are to get a real political consensus on tackling climate changea genuine one, not a notional onethat requires parties across the Chamber to recognise the steps being taken. When, later in the year, we inevitably debate the level of fuel duty, I hope that the same commitment to tackle climate change will be shown by Opposition Members, rather than, as often happens, they deciding to jump on whatever bandwagon seems most popular with voters in the short term.
Stewart Hosie: The hon. Gentleman is generous. I also enjoyed the badinage between him and the Liberals. On a serious point, however, does he recognise the difference between a working 4x4 vehicle used by a hill farmer to take feed to a field of lambs in the late spring when there is snow on the ground, and a brand new Porsche Cayenne sitting outside a large house in Kensington?
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