Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Following the fuel protests, the Tories announced on television that they would cut

25 Oct 2000 : Column 229

petrol by 3p a litre. The hauliers want a cut of 15p. How much is the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) offering them?

Mr. Norman: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that question. I shall refer later to the Brit disc. It is our proposal to--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: How much?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has already made an intervention. He must not shout, "How much?".

Mr. Campbell-Savours: How much?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must behave himself.

Mr. Norman: The Government have masqueraded as a green Government. I have no doubt that we shall hear more about that today.

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. Speaker: Order. These are matters for debate and have nothing to do with the Chair.

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.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Norman: I shall not give way. I wish to make some progress.

Ministers cannot say that they were not warned. We told them and we voted against the previous four increases in duty. The director general of the Confederation of British Industry told them:

25 Oct 2000 : Column 230

The Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association gave similar warnings, but the Government would not listen.

The East Anglian hauliers even tried to set up a meeting. They wrote to the Prime Minister, to the Deputy Prime Minister and to the Chancellor, and I have their responses. They read:

the Minister's


on his behalf. They did not want to know. They were in denial.

Then the protests started. First, a small group at Stanlow oil refinery, then a few more, and then the whole country joined in.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Norman: No.

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. Blizzard rose--

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:

25 Oct 2000 : Column 231

The only thing that was normal was the fact that the Government knew nothing about how business worked or how tanker drivers were employed. They thought that oil companies, like Victorian mill owners, could order their drivers back to work. [Interruption.] The only thing that was normal was that the Government looked round for someone else to blame. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We cannot have a free-for-all. Hon. Members should not shout across the Chamber. That is not what I am looking for.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): We are trying to keep ourselves awake.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will keep the hon. Gentleman awake.

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:

He obviously does not understand that farmers have to drive their stock to market, their feedstuffs to the farm, and their children to school in remote areas. They cannot use red diesel for that.

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. Miller: That is not true.

Mr. Norman: Let me read this from The Observer, dated 17 September 2000.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I appeal again for calm. The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) is entitled to a hearing.

25 Oct 2000 : Column 232

Mr. Norman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The report states:

A spokesman for Cheshire police, in charge of the protests at Stanlow, where the blockades started, said:

Mr. Miller: Will the hon. Gentleman accept that I have a list, prepared by the oil companies, of 185 instances of intimidation? Is that not a reasonable source of information?

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:

It was the Government who, with their arrogance and complacency, enraged the protesters and public opinion. After the famous 24-hour deadline for normality had come and gone, we witnessed the sight of a panic-stricken Secretary of State for Health threatening meltdown. The National Blood Service had to issue an announcement accusing him of scaremongering.

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?

Next Section

IndexHome Page