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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I would be surprised because that would be an extreme measure to take as regards differences which are marginal or apply in both directions. As I made clear in my first Answer, the climate of sustainable economic growth which has been achieved under this Government is significant, as is the issue of other costs which apply to all businesses, whether or not they are road haulage operators. I refer to corporation tax and income tax.
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, would not the Government be wiser to take note of the old adage that when the cost of transport is put up, that puts up the cost of just about everything, and that that applies particularly in Britain which is essentially a road-based economy?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course it is true that the costs of transport affect many sectors of the economy. However, our reasons for increasing fuel duty and vehicle excise duty arise to a considerable extent from our statutory obligations under the Kyoto agreements. I hope that my noble friend will agree that pollution affects all sectors of the economy as well as transport costs.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, will the Minister give his reaction to the action of Eddie Stobart, which is, I believe, Britain's No. 1 road haulage company, which is now registering 250 of its trucks on the Continent? Does the Minister condemn that practice on the ground that it constitutes tax avoidance, or does he praise it on the ground that it maintains competitiveness and employment in a key British industry?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have met Eddie Stobart and I have a great respect for him as an entrepreneur. If he chooses to register a certain number of vehicles overseas--a very small proportion of his fleet, I may say--he will of course at some stage run up against cabotage rulings. He may find himself in the position where, if he operates a domestic haulage service in a country other than that in which his vehicles are registered, he will be breaking the law in one country or another.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, is the Minister aware that as a result of the price differential many lorries are taking large amounts of petrol through the tunnel and on Channel ferries--some in supplementary or additional tanks? Are the Government concerned about the safety implications of this practice? If so, what will they do about it?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as far as concerns taking normal full tanks through the tunnel and on cross-Channel ferries, there is nothing the Government can do about that. The vehicle manufacturers have the responsibility of making sure
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if the Government have to put up the price of petrol in this country in order to meet their Kyoto targets, can the Minister explain to the House and to those of your Lordships who have been on holiday on the Continent during the summer why other continental countries do not seem to feel any obligation to do likewise?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is not for me to answer for other European countries; it is for me to say that they are other European countries--a point which seems to have escaped noble Lords opposite. The noble Lord's experience is probably the same as mine--although he has had a good deal more time than I to travel around Europe recently--that other countries have also been putting up their fuel taxes.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that the Government will continue with the excellent line they have taken on this issue in order truly to reflect the social and environmental costs of road transport? Will the Government continue to try to find ways to mitigate any burdens on industry--not from this particular measure but from other similar measures in environmental taxation--and not waiver from what is a good, strategic and long-term approach to a deep issue in this country? Can the Minister further assure us that the Government will not waiver in the face of the short-termism that we hear from the Benches opposite?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Chancellor said in his July 1997 Budget that the increase in real terms which took place then would be continued in future Budgets". Indeed, in recent Budgets we have allowed for a continuing increase of the same size in real terms for our public expenditure estimates for the next three years. If my noble friend is asking me about the dim and distant future, such as a period when we might expect to see a return of a Conservative government, I must advise him that I am not willing to go that far into the future.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is logically the case that where there are longer distances, more fuel is consumed. The overriding arguments, which I have made clear in my previous answers, apply to Scotland as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the review has now completed its work and the report is due to be submitted to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary shortly. Publication of the outcome of the review is likely to follow in the very near future.
I am sorry that this issue remains in the long grass where the Attorney-General left it. Perhaps the Minister will react to some other criminal memoirs that have been doing the rounds. Is he aware that it is now a matter of public record that when they should have been running the country, the previous Conservative administration were indulging in what is described as a madhouse of chicanery, double dealing and leaking? In addition, they spent last week walking with dinosaurs. Is not it now clear that for our democracy to function we need a proper, public-spirited, effective Opposition and that the Liberal Democrats will now provide it?
As to criminal memoirs--or political memoirs that might be considered criminal--it is not for me to comment. It would be presumptuous for such a new Minister to comment on the relevant merits of the Opposition parties in the House.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. Does he agree that the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, had nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper? For that he should be congratulated because, as usual, the Liberal Democrats have irrelevant policies.
As to the matter in hand, does the Minister agree that in principle no convicted criminal should benefit financially while in prison or on parole? Can he say whether the Prison Service has reviewed the standing orders on these matters, which his predecessor said would be carried out in July? Can the Minister say whether that matter is part of the Home Office review?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful for the question. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the publication of the review which, as I said, is due in the very near future. As to prison standing orders, I am advised that they are constantly kept under review; that they effectively deal with the problem of memoirs
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is completely and utterly shameful that criminal thugs--Biggs, for example--should profit from their crimes? Is not it also shameful that the national press and publishers lionise and fete such people on the one hand and, on the other--I refer particularly to the national press--criticise the Government and the Home Secretary for not dealing with crime in a proper way?
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