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Mr. Winterton: May I give an answer to the question that the hon. Gentleman has just posed rhetorically? I believe that the hauliers and farmers--who were widely supported--wanted to make a point that they could not make other than by means of a blockade. Once the blockade had shown itself to be successful, they immediately called it off because they did not want to
Questions must certainly be asked about the oil companies. We in Scotland were being fed information by the media, including television. In Grangemouth protesters arrived 24 hours before the protest started, and were given accommodation by guess who--the refinery. They were even given showering facilities in case they became a bit warm and dusty during the day. I suspect that the police were taking them flasks and sandwiches. There was such a wonderful, sweetheart relationship. That was not my experience in 1984.
In discussing what happened only a few weeks ago, it is not right for hon. Members to describe themselves as democrats and then condone in any way, shape or form the blockading of our refineries. Those hon. Members who believe that the protest was a coincidence and a popular uprising should consider that the SAS--the best trained troops in the world--took four or five weeks to prepare and effect the rescue of five of our soldiers who were held hostage in Sierra Leone. If it takes the best trained armed forces in the world five weeks to rescue five men in Sierra Leone, hon. Members should not try to kid me that a lot of organisation was not done behind the scenes by certain faceless, unrepresentative people. That is what I fear most about the protests.
The Government must, and will, react to the situation in the industry, and we shall hear more about that in the coming days and weeks. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should think carefully about what happened in our country a few weeks ago; it is very dangerous for anyone to condone what we all saw.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and am grateful to him for having given way to me. I am sorry that he did not take my response to his rhetorical question more seriously because I genuinely believe that several organisations, representing hauliers, farmers and people living in rural areas, were so unhappy about the fact that the Government were apparently not prepared to listen to their genuine grievances that they felt they had to take the action that they did. However, they took it for only the length of time needed to impress the Government with the validity of their case, and they ceased their action before it became a serious embarrassment to the emergency services, the health service, other essential services and people's employment. My intervention was genuine and sincere. The concern is that the Government have not been listening.
There is a serious problem in rural areas. If the hon. Gentleman were to visit villages such as Wincle, Wildboarclough, Rainow, Kettleshulme and Higher Poynton in my constituency, he would see areas where there is little or no public transport. There is no metro--I am delighted that the metro is expanding in Greater Manchester--and the only public transport is a bus or two a day--if that. The buses generally come at inconvenient times. The people who live in those remote rural areas and villages could not possibly have an acceptable quality of life without the use of their own cars.
Mr. Efford: The hon. Gentleman is making the case for rural drivers, but I wonder whether he made it when the fuel duty escalator was introduced. Between 1992 and 1997, the then Government raised an extra £5 billion. The hon. Gentleman will know that because it is the answer to the question that he tabled in 1998. What was he doing then for rural drivers, and to provide alternative benefits to people who use the roads?
Mr. Winterton: I can reply with some emphasis because, as my party in government knew well, I was voting against them more often than not. In fact, I think that I registered my first objection and vote against an increase in fuel prices way back in 1981. I have been registering my concern ever since. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) remembers my intervention. I am sorry that I was not listened to then. I have often not been listened to in this place, but there have been occasions when--I say it with some regret--I have been right and the Government of the day have been wrong.
In rural areas, there is poverty and there are people on very low incomes. To live to a reasonable standard and quality of life, those people need their car. The recent blanket policy of increasing fuel prices has been extremely detrimental to their ability to lead the standard of life that many of us expect.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) rightly referred to Manchester airport and the extra rail link, which I supported, to take stone from the Derbyshire quarries to the second runway. It was particularly necessary because, as the hon. Gentleman knows--he is very knowledgeable about these matters--the A6, along which most of that aggregate would have travelled, goes through the villages of Disley and Newtown in my constituency and would have been totally unable to cope with that volume and weight of commercial traffic. It was for that reason that we had an extra length of rail line put in, but, in many rural areas, we do not have the regular public transport that people in urban areas take for granted. I fully support the metro.
I have some first-class road hauliers of international renown in my constituency. I refer to R. H. Stevens, Bell Transport, Whittakers Transport, Kirk's of Poynton and Swains of Poynton. They have the best quality wagons, maintain them to the highest possible degree and pay their drivers good wages. They are finding it extremely difficult to compete, particularly with companies that come in from the European Community. The Government must look at that.
I fully support the limited proposals--they are only limited--that have emanated from Her Majesty's Opposition. I support what we have said on reducing the price of fuel by 3p per litre. The figure is rather more if taken in relation to a gallon.
I am not making a special plea for myself. All right, I have a Range Rover. I am proud of having one. It is top of the range. I use it quite frequently to come with my wife to London--two of us, by the way, travelling in one car, for which I get one allowance. The allowance is very modest if we compare it with that which I would get as a Member of Parliament travelling first class from London to Macclesfield and from Macclesfield to London. I am saving the taxpayer a lot of money, but we do it because it can be done in the same time as travelling by rail. We are able to bring provisions and other things to our flat. We do not have to take taxis from my home to the station and from the station to the House of Commons, so there is good purpose, but I make a loss on every mile that I cover on parliamentary and constituency duties because of a decision that the House took two or three years ago. I deeply regret that.
Let us understand that rural areas are vital. If we want to depopulate them, we can do so by continuing along the present path. I know that the Government are giving some support to the development of alternative fuels such as liquid gas. If I can continue to afford to run my Range Rover in the future, I should be interested in using liquid gas instead of petrol. What support are the Government giving to the development of the fuel cell, which is an important source of energy for vehicles?
Do the Government realise that everything that is in our superstores, whether they are in town or in out-of-town shopping complexes, has to be delivered by vehicle? There is no other way in which all the goods that people want and demand in their shops can be delivered. If the price of running a vehicle is high, it will affect the price of the goods in the shops. There is so much to be taken into account in this debate. I sometimes feel that debates across the Chamber on critical subjects affecting all our constituents are sterile and too often about scoring political points.
Let us look at this matter. Transport is vital. We cannot deny people the right to be mobile as part of their job and way of life. Surely we must have a fair tax system. At the moment, that tax system is grossly unfair and weighs particularly heavily on those who are least able to pay. Let us deal with this debate seriously--I ask the House and the Government to do so.