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Mr. Campbell-Savours: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The British haulage industry wants to know the answer to my question. Why cannot the Tories answer it now on the Floor of the House? What is the figure--
Mr. Norman: The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is persistent, but there can be no doubt about who in the House is the friend of the hauliers. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, met representatives of the Road Haulage Association only this morning. We are proposing a cut in duty. We have proposed the Brit disc and other measures.
The Government have done nothing. Indeed, they have tried to assert that there is no need to do anything. They have masqueraded as a green Government. They have disguised their stealth taxes as something to do with the environment. Yet they have put nothing back into transport and nothing back into the environment. They have spent less on the transport system than the previous Government. The real truth is that this has been a cynical exercise in tax raising. The Minister for the Environment and the Deputy Prime Minister have proved mere patsies in the hands of the Treasury.
We have said over and over again to the Treasury that it was only a matter of time before the farmers' patience on fuel taxes runs out--the current level is extortionate.
Unfortunately, the Chancellor regrets he must decline your kind invitation.
Sadly the PM's diary commitments make it impossible for him to join you.
How did the Government respond that fateful first weekend? They treated the protest with provocative disdain. Lord Macdonald went on the "Today" programme when the protests first started. He had an opportunity to say that he understood and was listening, but he dismissed the protesters as un-British. That first weekend, the Secretary of State for Scotland twice claimed that the Government had not increased up duty at all. Astonishingly and absurdly, throughout the week, Ministers, including the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, carried on claiming that the Government had not put up fuel duty.
Mr. Norman: It would be wrong to be critical of junior Ministers alone. The real question is why it was left to them. Where was the Prime Minister? Was he touring high-tech sites trying to dodge the protest? Where was the Deputy Prime Minister? Hiding in some Chinese restaurant? [Interruption.] Where was the Chancellor? Nowhere to be seen. He was enjoying the sight of his colleagues stewing in the juice of his stealth taxes. [Interruption.]
Not until Tuesday did senior Ministers put their heads above the parapet. When they did, was it to say, "We have understood. We are listening, and we are on the job"? Not a bit of it. They tried to blame everyone but themselves--it was all the action of a small minority; it was the oil companies; it was all down to intimidation. [Interruption.] In the Prime Minister's immortal words:
Mr. Norman: The Government looked for someone else to blame. They were in denial. Even in the midst of humiliation they could not understand what had happened. The Deputy Prime Minister--I am sure he is listening--said:
Mr. Blizzard: The title of the debate is "Fuel Protests". The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning that the fuel protests had brought the country to a standstill. Indeed, he has just outlined the mechanism by which it was brought to a standstill, and the effects of that standstill. It was brought to a standstill by people blockading fuel depots. Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to condemn those who parked their vehicles and blockaded fuel depots, thus threatening hospitals?
Mr. Norman: We waited a long time for that intervention, and it illustrated admirably the fact that Labour Members are still in denial. They think that it was a blockade. It was not; it was a protest. They think that it was all to do with intimidation. There was scarcely any intimidation.
Mr. Norman: I think that the police are a very reasonable source of information. While we accept that there may have been some instances, the question is, who leant on the oil companies to prepare their list in the first place?
The Government are still in denial. They want to think that it was all down to intimidation; they want to think that it was all down to the oil companies; they want to think that it was all down to blockades. In fact, it was a tax revolt supported by most of the British people.
Just to add to the provocation during the week of the protest, a transport Minister said on "Newsnight" that he had been consulting closely with the hauliers forum throughout the year. He omitted to mention that the chairman of the Road Haulage Association had just resigned from the forum, saying:
This had all the classic hallmarks of a new Labour crisis. First the Government denied that there was a problem; then they tried to spin it away; then they made promises that they could not keep. Finally, they resorted to scaremongering. This was a protest of their own making, turned into a crisis by their own complacency, which became a humiliation that they still do not understand.
Since then, the pattern of arrogance and evasion has continued. What could be more disgraceful than attempts, through smears and leaks--at a time when what the country needs is listening and conciliation--to claim that the crisis was all to do with blockades or intimidation, when we all know that it was not?