|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, the order seeks powers under Sections 1 and 2 of the Energy Act 1976 in the aftermath of the September fuel blockades. I read about them--in the West Australian News. I therefore have no war stories to tell. However, I had to listen to Australians whingeing about their petrol going up to 38p. per litre. I concluded that Australians were lax on fuel use and on their commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.
On the face of it, Sections 1 and 2 seem to be largely written for the purposes of energy conservation and price control. However, reading Section 3, especially Section 3(1)(b), I see that it is more in line with the current situation of threatened disruption to fuel supplies. I understand that an Order in Council under Section 3 is in place and can last for 12 months.
All this has come about because of the blockades and the summer-long fuel price protest. So I have to ask why peaceful and legitimate protest and lobbying spilled over into unconstitutional blockades. I have to hope that the Government have taken all the necessary precautions to deal with the next blockade, if it occurs. That is quite an "if".
I should like to think that the Government have by now listened to the protest and lobbying and that tomorrow the Chancellor will bring forward measures which will take the heat out of the issue. Should that not be the case, it will be necessary for the right balance to be struck between the right of peaceful protest and lobbying and the need for fuel to be delivered. The world's fourth largest economy needs to be kept on track. It falls to the Government to deal with the issues effectively and not to trigger off another blockade.
We have heard about the training of military drivers and of company directors being reminded of their duty to deliver. Tanker drivers have also to consider the case for safety vis-a-vis blockades, provided that it is not a cover up for collusion.
The Minister is in an unfortunate position being unable, I presume, to give us a foretaste of the Chancellor's Statement tomorrow. I hope that action will be taken to reduce vehicle excise duty, which would be administratively easy to do. That would benefit rural areas where public transport is weak and, to an even greater extent, the remote areas and island groups, particularly in north-west Scotland. In these latter areas, the disproportionately high price of fuel has long demanded a reduction in vehicle excise duty in compensation just to bring motoring costs down to city and urban area levels. I also hope to hear about a measure to equalise the cost of cheaper fuel enjoyed by lorries operating in the United Kingdom and based in Europe.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lord, I am slightly surprised that the Minister was able to read his speech with an absolutely straight face, given what everybody knows is going to happen tomorrow. I would like to re-christen this order as the "Helen Liddell to Deeside in the Summer" order. It must have been very pleasant for the Minister to sortie to Deeside to see Her Majesty in the glory of a September day.
That is what we have here and it is being continued. Of course the Opposition agrees absolutely with the Government that when there is a serious threat to order in our country they should take these powers. However, the fact that we are discussing them the day before the Chancellor is due to dish out goodies as though there will be no day after tomorrow amuses me very slightly. The Minister said that there were threats to our fuel supplies. Most of the threats at the moment seem to be concerned with water and not petrol or diesel. That appears to be a far greater threat than to fuel supplies.
Even if we have a problem the Government will simply issue a list of petrol stations to which people in the emergency services can go. The problem of getting the petrol to those stations does not appear to have been tackled by the Government, unless they have come to some agreement with the fuel companies and the drivers. I thought I saw television pictures of the Minister's noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston sharing a press conference with the leader of the protesters saying that there was not going to be any great trouble. I do not believe that there will be.
What I find really amazing is that in the same week that the Government are complaining about the use of motor cars and lorries and global warming, they are also prepared tomorrow to make it actually less expensive for people to motor and use their lorries. The Government have to make up their mind where they stand on this.
I am not going to go on about this. I have said my piece and I do not believe that these emergency powers will be used, as they were not implemented on the last occasion. But if the Government ever really needed to use them properly they would have our absolute support because we cannot allow the country to grind to a halt. The Government will have to be careful that they do not play this strange game too often. I remind them of the little boy who cried wolf far too often. The Government are in severe danger of doing that.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we have listened with great care to the protesters since they began their cause. My noble friend the Minister of Transport, Lord Macdonald, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, have met the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association and the People's Fuel Lobby, among others.
I want also to make it clear that the reserve powers to which this Order in Council provides access enables us to make special arrangements to safeguard supplies of fuel to essential services. We very much hope that it will not be necessary to use the powers again in the foreseeable future. But we are quite certain that we
He anticipates what the Chancellor will say tomorrow. That is unwise until we hear what it is. We can then debate what is the exact balance between lowering taxes on fuel to help people and the issue of global warming which is intimately related to it. I observe that the noble Lord raised that issue, but he did not say where his party stood on it or where he thought the balance should be struck. I respect him for that because it leaves the noble Lord total flexibility tomorrow to approach the subject from whichever direction he chooses.
He rightly pointed out that these particular powers do not tackle the problem of getting oil to the petrol stations. We have a memorandum of understanding with the oil companies, the police and the other participants on that.
As regards global warming, it is perfectly possible--indeed, the experts believe that it is very likely--that in the end there will be more rain in Scotland and a drier South. I am sure that he will be looking forward to that.
Finally, the Chancellor will deliver his Statement tomorrow explaining what we believe is right for the whole country and not what is right for those who shout the loudest. As a responsible Government we have a duty to ensure that essential supplies of fuel are kept moving. These reserve powers are a means to achieve that goal. I commend the order to the House.
The Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales are in favour of wardens being able to secure compliance with the law generally; for example, if someone commits a criminal offence on access land. It would seem odd for a warden to be able to enforce the rules in terms of civil abuse of a right of access, but not in terms of criminal abuse on access land. The amendment would rectify those deficiencies. I beg to move.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page